Healthy Mind

The Art of Resting My Eyes: How I Embraced My Family’s Wellness Practice as an Act of Resistance

Hope Lewis

Photo: Hope Lewis; Graphic: W+G Creative
A phrase I’d often hear from my grandmother growing up is “I’m just resting my eyes.” She'd say it while we were watching her favorite TV shows together, and once she mentioned it, I knew her eyes would close while she was sitting up on the couch. She never laid down while resting her eyes; after announcing it, she’d take at least a five-minute moment of rest from whatever was going on around her.

Sitting nearby as she rested her eyes, I always wondered why she did it. Why didn’t she want to keep watching her favorite show?

That's because as a teenager, it seemed odd to me that she’d intentionally miss out on parts of her favorite program. After all, when I watched TV, I didn’t want to miss a single moment. I also wondered why she chose to sit up on the couch and nap instead of lying down in her bedroom. Though I appreciated the time we could spend together, I couldn’t quite make sense of what she was doing.

It wasn’t just my grandma who liked to rest her eyes, either—it was more of a family affair given that both my pop pop and mother could likewise be found doing so while the TV blared in the background. My pop pop chose to take his brief naps sitting up with basketball games on TV while my mom rested her eyes right after dinner while laying down on the couch before the nightly primetime TV shows we'd all watch together started.

As a young adult, I still couldn’t comprehend why my mother, grandmother, and my late pop pop would all close their eyes and take these moments of repose. My brother and I often joked with our mother, telling her, “Oh right, you’re not sleeping, you’re just resting your eyes.” To us, it looked a whole lot like sleeping, after all. And yet, my mom continued to contend she wasn't napping but just resting after an exhausting day.

Finally, after many more years, when I was in the working world, too, I was able to see my family’s practice of resting their eyes in a new way: I even evolved the practice to lay down in my bed in my bedroom to rest my own eyes—and not sleep.

Resting my eyes helped me feel more balanced, more rested, and gave me space to reclaim my own time and well-being as a top priority.

After I lost my job in February 2020, I started my own rest practice. I was seeking a way to both grieve the loss and embrace rest as a deeper healing practice for me and for my ancestors. I found both healing and solace in daily naps or meditation while lying down in my bedroom, and, occasionally, even five minutes of closing my eyes while the TV blasted in the background. I started out small with five-minute rests or meditations throughout the day. The more consistently I took them, the better I felt. Resting my eyes helped me feel more balanced, more rested, and gave me space to reclaim my own time and well-being as a top priority.

My rest practice supported me then and through the summer of protests in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. The mini naps held space for my body and mind to rest and heal from the related anger, grief, and frustration I felt.

As I continued with daily naps and meditations, I reconsidered my family members' practices with more reverence. When I first heard about The Nap Ministry on Instagram, I immediately connected with the message of Tricia Hersey that “rest is a form of resistance because it disrupts and pushes back against capitalism and white supremacy.”

Resting our eyes isn’t just sleeping, and it isn’t really as simple as napping, either. It is much deeper than that. It is about healing the many generations' worth of trauma my ancestors have experienced and what my Black family and I continue to experience amid a capitalist society that still supports white supremacy. Those beautiful moments of respite are a form of powerful resistance against systems that don’t fully honor us. I often think if my ancestors were alive, they’d be happy to see us resting often.

I now imagine them smiling down on me as I take 20 minutes to rest my eyes during the day. I see them rejoicing for each moment I reclaim just for me. So, take a moment for yourself and go rest your eyes. Your body and your ancestors will thank you.

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