I would invite you to pause for a moment to let this question seep deep inside.

If safe to do so, I would even encourage you to close your eyes and repeat this question like a mantra (aloud if possible):

> What is tiring me?

> What is tiring me?

> What is tiring me?

Do not worry about answers – just embrace the question.

Growing Culture of Tiredness

I increasingly sense a deep tiredness and an inability to find rest in many people I meet. Young and old, it makes no difference. It feels different to what it was even a decade or two ago. Tiredness then was more likely to be cured by a decent night’s sleep. It now feels deeper, as if our psyches and souls are being pulled in multiple directions all at once.

The busyness of our culture, the expectations of ourselves and others and the constant stream of interruptions feel exhausting. It is as if, as the Irish poet and philosopher John O’Donoghue used to say, we are out of sync with our souls and need to sit still to let them catch up.

Alas, where would we find the time?

Acknowledging Our Tiredness

In my experience, this deep tiredness generally goes unacknowledged for a long time. We battle on. We feel we have no choice. Too much remains undone. It is simply the way things are.

And yet, there comes a point when we know this cannot continue. When we are doing ourselves lasting harm. When we come to notice what we have been missing. John captured this beautifully in this extract from his invitational Blessing entitled “For One Who Is Exhausted“:

You have travelled too fast over false ground;
Now your soul has come, to take you back.

Take refuge in your senses, open up
To all the small miracles you rushed through.

Become inclined to watch the way of the rain
When it falls slow and free.

Imitate the habit of twilight,
Taking time to open the well of colour
That fostered the brightness of day.

Draw alongside the silence of stone
Until its calmness can claim you.
Be excessively gentle with yourself.

The full version can be found here: For One Who is Exhausted, A Blessing

Finding the Right Questions

A key step at this point is becoming one with our tiredness. It is about parsing how we have become tired, who and what are tiring us and truly finding the questions behind the questions:

  • How am I tired?
  • What am I tired of?
  • Who am I tired of?

It is helpful to look in and out. We may be tired of the world, but we may also be tired of ourselves:

  • How am I tired of others?
  • Of how they see me?
  • How am I tired of myself?
  • Of who I have become?
  • Of the stories I tell?


> When can I recall not being tired?
> What was different then?
> Might there be something deeper? Tiredness can also be an indicator of physical or mental concerns so if this has gone on for a while consider consulting your doctor.

The important thing is finding your own questions.

As we go through life, we accumulate not only roles and responsibilities, stresses and strains but also ways of seeing and thinking about the world. We tend to carry a range of ‘shoulds’ in our pockets – the world should be like this, or I should be like this. These ‘shoulds’ shape our daily decisions, influencing our actions and reactions based on how we believe things ought to be rather than how they truly are.

These weigh us down and tire us out because we are continually trying to remake the world to fit our expectations. These can be big and small. Anxiety because we are a few minutes late for a meeting. Road rage because other drivers are “idiots”. Concerns about what others will think of how we look or what we say.

Ask yourself:
> How heavy is my psychological baggage?

What Might I Put Down?

Sometimes, it can help to step back and imagine a world without these burdens in order to truly sense their weight. Let’s play!

Imagine taking off all the roles and responsibilities you wear. All the masks you put on each day just to survive in the world. Imagine letting go of the sense that you need to get somewhere and “get things done” and instead just be. No acting. No performing. Just for a moment, embrace this thought!

  • Who would you be if you removed all societal expectations and pressures?
  • What do you imagine yourself doing?
  • What would you say to those around you?
  • How is not being this person tiring you?

We have inherited our right to live from the countless generations and species that have come before us. They lived and died so we can live and die.

What might our ancestors be asking us to do with the gift they have given us?

The religious may believe that there will be a performance review when we die to judge our contribution. I would see it differently. My sense is that we are simply being asked to live. Personally, this offers me an incredible sense of freedom. The sense that we are “living” rather than “living for”. This feels important.

Ask yourself:
> Am I simply living or living for something?

What Might I Savour?

Savouring the awe and wonder at the magic around us and sharing it with others is as positive a contribution as any grand accomplishment. Awe and wonder can be found in every corner of our experience. They can be found in every cloud in the sky, every flower blowing in the wind, every person we encounter…

All we need to do is to slow down enough to notice. In these moments, we are not just marvelling at the world around us but rather reconnecting with our deep inner self, the one unclouded by our shoulds.

Ask yourself:

> How many moments of awe did I allow myself today?
> What did I notice?

> How might I allow myself more such moments during the day?

Indeed, part of the process of adulting is letting go of childhood innocence and foolishness and becoming more serious. In doing so, we can lose touch with deep inner awe simply at being alive.

  • Thinking back, what excited you as a young child?
  • How did that child see the world?
  • What brought you joy and wonder?
  • Where is that child now?

Reflecting on these questions may give a sense for how you might start thinking about treading lighter in this world. We need to feed ourselves and our families and we likely want to make a meaningful contribution to the world driven by our sense of purpose.

And yet that does not mean we have to burden ourselves with unnecessary shoulds. By recognizing and shedding these ‘shoulds’, we can find our way back to that childlike wonder, appreciating the simple joys of existence and walking lighter on this shared journey of life.

Resting should not be another task on our to-do list. Adding it to such a list potentially negates some of the benefits and it risks becoming a chore.

  • Resting is both a way of being and a way of doing.
  • We do not need to sit still or lie down to find rest.
  • Indeed, each moment offers us the possibility for some form of rest.

We may find emotional and spiritual rest on a long hike. We may even find forms of physical rest in times of exertion. I know that when I run, a significant portion of my body relaxes. The same when I swim or surf.

More perhaps than what we do, it is how we do it.

In fact, David Whyte, the poet, speaks of wholeheartedness as the antidote to exhaustion. The wholehearted are those people who, in the words of author and researcher Brené Brown, have the courage to bring their full selves to life and ultimately to each moment within it.

How Then Might I Rest?

Two of the key messages above are that:

  • You do not necessarily need to stop to find rest; and
  • It is not so much what you do but perhaps how you do it.

Many people, including me, find emotional and spiritual rest in cooking, even if it is not always physically restful. And yet, it is not so much the cooking as the time spent alone in quiet meditation that I enjoy.

You may be different. The rest for you may be in dancing around the kitchen to music or to your own rhythm. It may be listening to a podcast. It may be on the other side of the culinary experience – sitting in your go-to restaurant drinking your favourite beverage.

Regardless of the activity, the essence of rest lies in being fully present. Presence is simply that state of having nothing else to do and nowhere else to be. We have all likely been out to dinner with friends who cannot keep their eyes and hands off their phones. Those meals are exhausting no matter how fine the food and wine. It feels like their soul is being pulled in different directions and, in ways, the dinner table is almost competing with the rest of the world for their attention, their love and their energy.

What Is the Next Step?

My invitation is thus for you to become more conscious of when, how and where you find rest, as well as when and where you might not.

Becoming aware of the role played by interruptions and distractions – whether by ourselves or others – can also open the door to more wholehearted experiences.

Also, ask yourself:
> When and where do I physically relax?
> When and where do I feel safe?
> How might I expand that safety zone?

When we feel safe and relaxed, we are more likely to see opportunities for rest everywhere.

Questions for Reflection

Reflection on Rest
#R2 Rest

Questions in the Image:

  • How am I tired?
  • What is tiring me?
  • How might I lighten my load?
  • Where might I find more rest?

Want to Further Explore This Theme?

When it comes to resting, particularly deep soulful resting, I find poetry to be a wonderful companion. My poet of choice is David Whyte, purely because his poetry speaks to me. It resonates deep within. If you are curious but not familiar with David’s work, I would suggest starting with Essentials.

Next Steps – From Reflection to Action: These reflections model pausing and thinking, and hopefully show how this can quickly translate into fresh insights and decisive actions. They are centred around three “archetypal” questions:

  • What have I learnt?
  • What do I need right now? and
  • What are my intentions?

The aim is to practice translating newfound insights into viable options.

Nurturing Curiosity – Daily Practice: This is part of the Nurturing Curiosity series of tools, insights and questions designed to help nurture curiosity as part of our daily practice. In point of fact, every interaction we have is an opportunity to question what we are observing and how we and others are seeing the world. Also remember that questions come in many forms throughout our day.

Just now, as I see a figure walking into the distance with a small bag on his back, I am curious as to the horizons he is uncovering. I wonder: What new horizons may be waiting for me?

About Tom O’Leary

I coach, mentor and teach leaders who are shaping a brighter future.

Leadership can be lonely, the challenges daunting, and the workload overwhelming. I help leaders feel heard, gain clarity, take action, build confidence and thrive! Leaders matter. Their work matters. We need them at their best!

The first step? Becoming more curious. I see curiosity as the key, allowing us to unlock deep insights that directly enhance our ability to think, act and lead.

This means spending time contemplating what might be possible so that when we take action, we can bring all our energy and power to bear.

How Might Tom Help?

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  2. As you are reading this, you are clearly on a fascinating journey. If you feel you would benefit from us doing some work together on some aspect of your journey, please explore this page: Thriving Together!

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