The Importance of Rest and Retreat

Isabella Ernsberger, Reporter

In an episode that came out on December 3rd, 2020, The Goop Podcast hosted Katherine May, author of “Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times.” Goop is a wellness and lifestyle brand, founded by Gwyneth Paltrow, and The Goop Podcast is a branch of that company. The podcast is hosted by Elise Loehnen, and covers profound topics from self-compassion and finding purpose to caste systems and religion. In this episode, Normalizing the Need to Rest and Retreat, Elise interviewed author Katherine May and discussed the importance of resting and retreating. The interview touches on multiple categories under the umbrella of needing rest, including overworking oneself, hardship, and control. 

According to May, feeling ashamed of our struggles stems from the notion that we are taught to look down on others’ misfortunes, making us hide our own misfortunes, which can create a lack of respect for the way we feel. When we realize that sadness isn’t an emotion to run from, rather embrace, it creates a certain freedom and release from the stress and worry of carrying that sadness with us. Letting go of that control can be beneficial in multiple ways, according to Katherine, it’s helped her to stop feeling addicted to productivity and has allowed her to let go of the need to control everything. She says, We have got to stop feeling responsible for controlling our lives because that attempt is devastating us, And it’s a lie—we just cannot do it.”

While discussing the idea that we are taught to look down on others’ misfortunes, May comments that, “It stops us from learning that disaster happens, and how to adapt when it does. It stops us from reaching out to those who are suffering, and when our own disaster comes, it forces us into humiliated retreat, as we try to hunt down the stakes that we never made in the first place, or the wrong headed attitude we never held.”  She observes that we search for the mistakes that other people made, what lead to their suffering, in an attempt to not follow the same path ourselves. Our mindset is more so based on “That person is suffering, what can I do to prevent that from happening to me?” rather than, “That person is suffering, so have I…what can I do to help them?” Finding ourselves in others or finding commonalities between experiences, serves as validation to our own experiences, our own emotions. Realizing we don’t need fixing, rather we need to find ways to live with ourselves the way we are, releases tension and anxieties for moving forward.

Working and staying busy seems to be the norm nowadays, but what’s not so often talked about is the need for rest between the two. Recalling her memories of motherhood, and raising her son, Katherine raises the question, “How do we teach our children resilience but also teach them to care of themselves at the same time?” She remembers seeing her son emailing classmates late at night about an assignment, and wondering “when does he get to switch off?” Having an off-switch and creating boundaries between work and personal life is so important. Sometimes, boredom is the greatest gift, and the ability to “just be is” something that should be practiced. 

This discussion comes at the perfect time. Being near the holidays, right at the end of the most chaotic year, and plenty of freetime in the near future provides the ultimate opportunity for reflection. Taking this chance, of quarantine and a non-traditional holiday, for rest and retreat, for being in touch with ourselves, and exploring our happinesses is the greatest thing we can do for ourselves, especially after the year we’ve experienced. Accept what you feel, and remember that, although we are not in control of what happens to us, we are in control of how we handle it.


Listen to Katherine’s interview here: