The Pursuit Of Rest Under Capitalism
Throughout this article, I intermittently extend the invitation for you to take deep breaths.
If you say yes, I ask that you breathe slowly, and if you are able, to do so from the belly, reaching places that the air inside you barely touches.
As Dr. Alexis Pauline Gumbs says, “There is more than one way to breathe.”
It has been a month since I left the so-called United States after 10 years of living there as a migrant. I have been staying in the countryside on an island outside of the West. It is where I spent a significant portion of my childhood. The pace is slower. The natural beauty is lush. Rarely are there any sirens. No industrial landscapes. No overheard conversations about the Monday rush or corporate life. I thought that my nervous system had all the reasons to be calm, and yet, my body can still feel the collective fatigue and political unrest happening on a global scale, no matter my geographical distance from the supposed epicenters of chaos.
We have endured nearly two years of what feels like eons. Uprisings against White supremacist delusions and racialized violence. An ongoing border crisis. A widened conversation about a class struggle that is centuries old. An international economic decline and threats to global food security. More climate catastrophes. A growing awareness of U.S.-funded genocides and international human rights violations. And of course, a crown-shaped, merciless virus that has many of us on our knees.
The pandemic exacerbated but mostly unveiled all that’s already been active in our everyday lives: societal, systemic, and interpersonal oppression and inequities. It feels like a reckoning—not a reckoning to come, but a reckoning that is now.
This level of global fatigue and political unrest hauled our bodies to a different level of capacity, stretching us to certain lengths we never imagined we could hold. We are disproportionately (re)traumatized, disoriented, dissociated, and depleted.
Pause. Deep breath.
More than before, these times make it necessary to access rest and fortification for bodies as finite as ours, so that we may return to daily functioning and presence. But in our capitalistic society, we feel as though rest is more a burden than a right. With the colonial structures we exist in, to understand and pursue rest has to be politicized.
The politicization of rest and care may ask questions like, “When I purchase a product for my livelihood and self-care practices, where will my money go? Will it ultimately go to authorities and companies that fund bills and laws I do not agree with? Will they fund inhumane policies and pipelines?”
“Who are the ones who get to experience a more satisfactory sense of relief and rest?” But more importantly, “At whose expense?”
“Is it ever possible to pursue and experience refreshment and joy outside of capitalism?”
Take a moment and a deep breath.
Now, back to the countryside.
Upon returning, I have been surrounded by a type of community that seems to have a natural impulse to help one another without state “assistance,” because governments in the majority of the global South have failed to provide sufficient relief aid during this pandemic. This then creates demand for community-led efforts to meet people’s basic needs with immediacy. In the West, this is called mutual aid.
The practice and concept of mutual aid are quite normal in my current whereabouts. It is normal to the extent that it does not even bear a name. While this is an admirable aspect of collectivist cultures, romanticizing this social structure during a time of great need might distract from realizing that the normalcy of mutual aid and community-led structures are preceded by the normalcy of poverty and the maldistribution of access and resources. This is especially the case within countries that have histories and present realities of colonization and European imperialism—both of which are fueled by the drive to advance economic prosperity. In other words, capitalism.
Inhale gently. Exhale slowly.
These community-oriented relationship structures are antithetical to capitalist ones. The set-up in capitalism is that a person has to pull someone else down in order to survive. This imposition invokes the spirit of competition, and it commodifies the fear of scarcity. It ruptures our sense of belonging and interconnectedness that shows how our survival and rest are dependent on one another’s—a reality that hyper-individualized North America sets us up to forget and neglect.
No wonder we are tired. Could it be that the fragmentation of our relations has been a fundamental cause of our exhaustion? We were already so far apart from one another, and even more so now being to some degree mandated to isolate ourselves. Is there a way we can strive for more?
In her essay called “Pandemic Is a Portal,” Arundhati Roy writes, “Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next.”
Here we learn that there could be more to experience than our lives of capitalist and individualist impulses. There can be more. But something I might have missed as I envisioned a new and interconnected world is that perhaps its spirit and structures are already here.
I have witnessed glimpses of it here in the countryside. Here in the non-Western regions of the world, communities have an innate understanding that each person’s survival and flourishing depends on everybody else’s. Somehow they intuitively know that rest is only possible because of community and mutuality.
Perhaps, if we inspect more closely, those who are in the West have also shown anti-capitalist ways of experiencing joy and rest. Rebecca Solnit writes in Hope in the Dark, “Most of us would say, if asked, that we live in a capitalist society, but vast amounts of how we live our everyday lives—our interactions with and commitments to family lives, friendships, avocations, membership in social, spiritual, and political organizations are in essence noncapitalist or even anti-capitalist, full of things we do for free, out of love, and on principle. … What we dream of is already present in the world.”
Do we have the emotional muscle to hold this nuance of being in both capitalist and anti-capitalist existences? But more importantly, can we have the emotional muscle to cultivate the sacred inner knowing of our ecological relations, and strive for a life with stronger community-led networks of care and a world without empire?
Gabes Torres is a psychotherapist, organizer, and artist. Her work focuses on anti-colonial approaches and practices within the mental health field. She also focuses on abolitionist organizing on a global scale. You can find most of her work on her official website, www.gabestorres.com, and social media platforms, including Instagram.
Printed with permission from YES! Magazine.