Restlessness drives us to seek new experiences, to explore the unknown, to create something out of nothing. It’s a compulsory component of Transition.
Feeling restless is a sign that change is coming; it signifies that the peaceful status quo is starting to shift. It’s an invitation to transform ourselves. When we’re feeling restless, we’re the caterpillar in its cocoon, waiting to emerge as a beautiful butterfly (or an improved moth, depending on genetics).
But restlessness is also uncomfortable. It’s like an annoying internal itch that we can’t quite scratch.
Sometimes there’s an obvious external triggering event.
But often, we feel a sense of internal disturbance without any clear explanation. This is usually the case when we’re going through a transitional state – like moving to a new city, starting a new job, or going through a breakup. We’re stuck in the limbo of liminal space, waiting for something to happen to restore our sense of stability.
We might feel that restlessness emotionally; intuitively; physiologically; or even subconsciously, as a recurring voice in our dreams or journals.
When we don’t know the reason for our internal agitation, it’s destabilising. Without a logical understanding of our feelings and behaviours, our minds can become unsettled. We don’t like that.
So when we feel restless, most of us will channel our inner Houdinis and try to find a quick way out of the discomfort and back to a state of stillness. In doing that, there are two traps we commonly fall into: escapism and rationalisation.
Trap 1: Escapism – Tempted to run
To ease our restlessness, many of us start with a classic strategy of avoidance.
As Benjamin Hoff wrote in the Te of Piglet, “We try to solve restlessness with more movement. In other words, by increasing our restlessness. The West is full of…restless seekers of instant gratification, larger-than-life overachievers. The West idolizes them because they’re Bouncy and Exciting.”
Social media has helped us all become experts at escapism. Some of us lose ourselves in films, books, social media or real-life dramas. Others develop addictions to work, pills, alcohol or food; or to fitness, dance and spirituality (my go to’s). But even if we binge-watch the entire series of Game of Thrones, it’s still a temporary distraction.
Don’t worry, I’m not advocating a full stop to watching cute puppy videos on Instagram, but trying to distract ourselves is a trap that won’t help neutralise our inner agitation.
Trap 2: Rationalisation – Find the problem and solution at the same time
Once we become aware of inner agitation, our busy analytical minds get hungry for logic: they want a nice narrative. This helps us feel more in control and therefore relaxed… even if our explanation isn’t correct or is only partially true.
We can get very creative trying to find the cause of our inner turmoil so that we can then solve it. We might consult friends and therapists; study the bottoms of tea cups or champagne flutes; seek the wisdom in tarot cards, traditional healers, or best of all, this blog…
The rational mind wants to understand why we feel disturbed. But a focus on narrative analysis is a trap. It not only wastes our time and energy, but it may also exacerbate and prolong the agitation. We exhaust ourselves looking for answers… so we must resist the temptation to keep looking!
When trying to escape from quicksand, the more one flails about, the faster one sinks.
How to resolve restlessness
When we feel a deep desire to get out!, it’s counter-intuitive to stay with the discomfort, but that’s the only way through. The route to inner peace begins with embracing our inner agitator.
Here are three practical steps you can take to ease the agitation caused by restlessness:
1. To partially satiate your mind, identify any clear internal ‘voices’ you’re aware of, and the emotional base underlying them. Is there an unexpressed desire, or unmet need?
2. Align your life in a way to lessen agitation. Clear out jagged edges caused by behaviours, activities, and people that are in opposition to the person you’re trying to become, or who are negatively affecting your energy.
3. Beyond those two steps, if it’s not immediately clear what’s causing the agitation, stop trying to fight, understand, or rationalise the feeling. Recognise that you’re in a restless state of mind, and surrender to it. Learn to accept, allow and acknowledge the emotion to be as it is, knowing that it is a vital part of a transient state of becoming – and it will eventually pass on its own.
Restlessness as a teacher
As the poet Rainer Maria Rilke wrote, “The future is entering into us in this manner in order to transform itself within us long before it happens… So you must not be frightened… when a restlessness like light and cloud shadows passes over your hands and over all your doing.”
To allow transformation to occur, we need to be patient. There is no exotic vacation, psychoactive substance, shamanic wizard or even supreme life coach who has the cure for restlessness.
Of course, that’s challenging advice to implement: these feelings are confusing, uncomfortable and brimming with tension. But as Rilke writes, “Why do you want to exclude any disturbance, any pain, any melancholy from your life, since you do not know what these conditions are working upon you? Why do you want to plague yourself with the question where it has all come from and whither it is tending?”
Sometimes the easiest action to take is no action at all.
So the next time you’re feeling restless, don’t try to escape it. Embrace it. Listen and wait. (After catching up on the latest Instagram videos of parrots imitating cats, of course!)