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The Nap Bishop on why resting is radical resistance

The full episode transcript for A Word from the Nap Bishop.


Into America

A Word from the Nap Bishop

Trymaine Lee: Last month in an art center in Atlanta a small group of people gathered for a collective daydreaming event presented by the Nap Ministry.

Female Voice: This experience was amazing to have an opportunity to just sit and rest with other people.

Lee: There's a large open room with concrete floors. The (UNINTEL) walls have a few pieces of framed artwork. And plastic chairs are spaced apart near the front of the room. Some people are sitting in the chairs. Others are crossed legged on yoga mats. Still others are lying down. One woman is even dancing, gently flowing.

Lee: And leading the congregation into an altered state of consciousness is a woman who calls her the "nap bishop."

Lee: In front of seating area there are potted plants and soft lighting. There's a woman playing the harp and another with Tibetan prayer bowls. Between them sits the nap bishop.

Female Voice #2: One of the things that, like, really sticks with me about her work is how deeply important this work is, resting is to decolonize our body, mind, and spirit but to decolonize our imagination and to be able to, like, get quiet enough, get still enough, get rested enough to be able to, like, open our minds to expansive possibilities beyond the confines of what is currently in our reality.

Female Voice #3: I have a uncle who's from the Dominican Republic. And he was like, "When I came to America I thought they were all zombies," you know? And that zombie is (UNINTEL PHRASE) throughout because of capitalism. So you can call it racism, you can call it capitalism, you can call it patriarchy, you can call it whatever it is that is oppressive, it's worldwide. And it's because there's this lack of humanity and this feeling that you do have to be a machine.

Lee: The nap bishop is Tricia Hersey. And these events and the Nap Ministry are her creations. She also runs the ministry's popular Instagram page and has held virtual events during the pandemic. And while napping is the most visible part of what they do, Tricia says the mission of the Nap Ministry is much bigger.

Tricia Hersey: This is about more than just taking to your bed and slumber. It's a full on, you know, decolonizing movement. It's a movement towards healing. It's a resistance movement, really, towards a system that sees us as nothing but a tool for their production. Maybe it's napping gas, but it's deeper than that, you know? It's a political and social justice issue, truly.

Lee: Racism is a public health issue. The wealth gap, housing and job discrimination, medical racism, police violence, and higher stress levels all come together to mean that Black Americans have worse health outcomes and lower life expectancies than white people.

But one of the factors we don't talk about as much is rest. Study after study has shown that Black people get less sleep than white people. And the quality of that sleep is worse, too. All of the stress and worry that comes with being Black in America often shows up at bedtime.

And lack of sleep is connected to a whole host of health problems like heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes, which all contribute to shorter lifespans. And then there's work. In 2020 Black people were the most likely of any ethnic group to have multiple jobs.

Exhaustion is impacting the whole country. Recently the Labor Department reported that 4.4 million Americans had quit their jobs in September, a record high. People are calling it "the great resignation" or "the big quit." COVID is obviously a big factor here.

Some people are leaving work because of health concerns or to take care of family. But is it possible that people are also leaving work because they're fed with the toxic grind culture, a cultural that glorifies individuals working themselves to the bone in pursuit of an ever-elusive bump in status? Tricia says this culture is a product of white supremacy, that there is a connection between the way work is viewed now in our country's history with slavery. And she's trying to change it.

Hersey: But we're trying to really disrupt a system that thinks that we are still on the plantation. And so how do we do that as we just rest? But God is liberation, and the liberation is not gonna come from an exhausted body.

Lee: I'm Trymaine Lee, and this is Into America. Today as we gather to celebrate the holidays, and while outside the days are getting darker and the year is winding down, we're bringing you a conversation with Tricia Hersey, the nap bishop, on rest as a form of radical resistance.

When my team reached out to Tricia Hersey, what they got back was one of the firmest, most artfully composed, out-of-office replies in the history of email. The autoreply read, "Embrace and Expect Slower Email Responses. I am fully booked as I continue to write, rest, and spend time imagining." Tricia isn't participating in interviews right now. They don't align with her time-management goals. And that's because she's in the midst of a month-long sabbath. But she made an exception for us.

Hersey: To me a sabbath means that there's no labor. There's no email. I'm off social media. I really creating space for myself to just be. And I believe sabbath being connected so much to the religious connotation is, like, it sits there. But it also sits within this idea that Black women have enough.

I've done enough for the year. (LAUGH) Like, you know what I'm saying? Like, I take it every November. So this is the third I've done. It's like a ritual. Every November I look at what's happened through the year and I say, "I've done enough." You know, like, enough is enough.

And so it's really about saying, "No," and saying, "Yes," to what really opens up my life. When you think about a sabbatical in traditional terms, like, people who work for universities or for institutions they take this time away to go and so something. They take the time away, like, take a class, or write a book, or get into some other training that's gonna help them in their career. That's not what this is. This is not me taking a sabbath so I can go more stuff.

Lee: Tricia founded the Nap Ministry in 2016. But she first got the idea a few years earlier. After completing an undergraduate degree in public health, Tricia enrolled in seminary school. The Black Lives Matter movement was picking up steam. Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown had been killed. And seeing the senseless loss of Black life was weighing on her.

Hersey: I was an exhausted Black woman. And that's it. I was just so exhausted. I was to the edge. It was affecting my mental health, my physical health. I was in graduate school at Emory University. I was in a seminary studyin' theology. Real intense, full-time, three-year program.

Had a six year old son. Didn't have any money. Poverty deep. And so I'm working two jobs in graduate school. To be working two jobs, to be in a full-time graduate program while I'm in school from 6:00 in the morning. Sometimes don't get home 'til 1:00. And then I have to stay up for two more hours to do homework. I have a baby. And so I really began to see myself begin to unravel.

Lee: Tricia was grinding, trying to get ahead, like we're all taught to do. But all this exertion was taking its toll, and her grades were suffering.

Hersey: Like, I was getting papers back and the teacher assistant was just like, "I can't even grade this."

Lee: A worn out Tricia was trying to study the Old Testament and other ancient texts.

Hersey: At the same time I was studyin' Black liberation theology. That's my core research when I was in seminary. And I was takin' a class in cultural trauma. I was interviewin' Jim Crow survivors and lookin' at the (UNINTEL) of the body, takin' (UNINTEL) classes.

Lee: Sematics is the study of how we perceive physical sensation from within. And when Tricia started researching more, ideas started falling into place.

Hersey: So all of these things were comin' together for me while I was exhausted. So I really just started to take to my bed. I just started sleeping, and napping, and resting all over campus in between corners, where I can find ten minutes, three minutes. I was just like, "I don't care."

Like, I really got to a point of let the chips fall where they may. I don't give a (UNINTEL) what happens. I'm going to rest. Or if not, I'm not gonna be alive. As I started to just do that, things started to make sense for me. The research started to connect.

I was workin' in archives, looking at plantation labor in the South, and really, like, doing this deep examination of my ancestors and what their bodies were really going through. We hear about all of the terror, the trauma. We know that. But I wanted to know what these micro details, what was really happening.

What time did they wake up, you know? How long did they pick cotton? Like, what happened when you had to go to bathroom? Like, the women when they were pregnant, were they picking cotton? Like, I wanted to know, like, the most simplest details that are overlooked.

Lee: Tricia couldn't help but notice similarities between the lives of our enslaved ancestors and the burn out she was experiencing. That's not to say our hardships are tantamount. But Tricia did realize that our current grind culture and the premium white capitalism places on working ourselves to the bone have roots in that plantation system. And for her enough was enough.

Hersey: And I just started sleepin'. I just started napping, laying down on the couch, sleeping. And I began to really feel like my life is changing. I feel better. I feel more connected. I was having visions and connections with my ancestors that I was in a way giving reparations to them.

Reparations and this resistance started to land itself around what I was doin'. So it was just experimental. It was just a beautiful, curious experiment. I never knew that this was what would happen from it. But my mind opened up to a portal of understanding of what was really going on from a sematic level.

Lee: You know, when you think historically of our people in this country and working from can see to can't see, right, and at the same time this wild stereotype that we are somehow lazy--

Hersey: Yes.

Lee: --right, even though the fatigue and the work is all violence baked into that. And I wonder how as you started to, like, unpack all this and see the connections from them until now, how it actually started to shift your life. So you're talkin' about, like, bein' intentional about your (UNINTEL), connectin' with ancestors, but how did it shift, like, your actual life?

Hersey: Yes. I started to get really good grades. I was getting papers back where I was like, "I wrote that?" You know, I was like, "Wow!" So biologically when I started to see what was happening to my brain I actually was bein' able to download information.

We think grinding and not sleeping is gonna get us to the end. But actually nothing generative can come from it. As I was resting I just began to make better connections between the research I was doing. I was a better mom. I would have to be up three more hours to write a paper.

And I'd be like, "You know what? I'm gonna go to sleep. If I don't get a good grade on that paper, I don't care." Like, I really was at that point. And then I would go to class and get a "A" on the paper. What I had given to the teacher because I was in a rested state was so good that they were like, "You're really makin' connections here."

And so I began to see so much happening from an intellectual perspective, from a spiritual perspective. It really began to boost my self esteem. I just felt better. I looked better. I was getting better grades. I was able to, like, get ideas that I wouldn't have been able to get from an exhausted state.

Lee: At the end of her time in school Tricia wanted to present something that brought together all that she'd been learning.

Hersey: So I created a one-night only, solo piece that was called "Transfiguration." And it was really me looking at all the archival work, all of the film and video, all of the slave narratives I was readin', and just kind of creatin' a piece around resting as reparations to them.

So I had a bed that I laid on. It was, like, lighting and flowers. People came out and watched me really make ritual for our ancestors. It was really, like, speak to them in a way. Like, "I'm resting for you." You know, let's connect here. And it was a beautiful piece to be able to show someone archival work, the music, the sound.

And 40 people came out. And they were like, "I love this." And people were cryin', and people were sleeping at this part of it. And they were like, "When's the next one?" I'm like, "The next one? There's no next one." Like, (LAUGH) "This one night only. This the end of my graduate studies. I just want to share what I've learned in school and what I'm kinda, like, thinkin' about for my research."

They're like, "No. We're tired." And so I was like, "Well, I'll host an event. I'll host one event where people can come and rest." And people came out and slept for two hours. I couldn't wake them. They were done. (LAUGH) They didn't know me. Like, half of the people didn't know me.

It got picked up in a small paper here. And so people were just coming, "Is this the place where I nap?" They were takin' their shoes off and just layin' down. I had this beautiful space with pillows, and blankets, and a rest altar, and lights. And we had a tea bar with chamomile teas and, you know, music playin'. We had a soundtrack. And it was this beautiful, warm space to rest.

Lee: As Tricia thinks back to that first event, the strongest memory is of the emotion that rest unleashed in people.

Hersey: And all these people came out, and they would not wake up. Wakin' up in tears. Like, "I didn't know I was this exhausted." And they were gettin' so emotional about the idea of resting for resistance, pushing back against a system that tells them they're not nothing. What capitalism and white supremacy has done to us has totally ripped apart our self worth. We feel like we're not nothing. We're not anything if we're not producing, making, going, doing. What a lie, you know what I mean?

Lee: So Tricia's work in seminary, her meditations on rest as reparations, and the impact she saw rest could have on people all melded together. She became the nap bishop, leader of the Nap Ministry. She began hosting collective napping events around Atlanta and traveling the country to spread her message.

When the pandemic hit she continued to hold space for folks to come together and rest online. And as the nap bishop, Tricia Hersey practices what she preaches and takes the opportunity to lie down every single day. Over the years Tricia has developed a large Instagram community. Almost half a million people follow her page at the Nap Ministry. And she even has an old-fashioned hotline where people can call in and connect with her organization anytime, anywhere.

Hersey: "Hi, welcome to the Nap Ministry hotline."

Lee: If you dial 1-833-LUV-NAPS, this is what you'll hear:

Hersey: "Here is your faithful nap bishop. And I'm holding space right now for a moment of silence. And I'm just drifting, breathing deeply into my own imagination. This is rest. Silence is a sound. And this is a practice."

Lee: We'll be right back.

Lee: You know, so much of our culture is wrapped around this idea of hustlin' and grindin' and especially for the Black folks. On one hand we have all the history, but also, you know, when I ask somebody what's good, I mean, I'm just grindin', right? I'm hustlin'. And it's such a point of pride almost.

Lee: (LAUGH) But it sounds like we're still shackled to the history in so many ways but also that our lack of seeing rest holistically is havin' some serious effects on us.

Hersey: Absolutely. That is, I think, what this work is about. That's what I didn't realize when I started the work. But now doing it seven years in, it's really an examination of helping people to slowly unravel the systems that we are under in this toxic culture. Capitalism, white supremacy have brainwashed us since birth to believe that our worth is tied to how much we do, that we aren't enough if we aren't grinding on the clock.

And when you really, like you said, go back to the historical things no one's (UNINTEL) at their back enough. Black people know our ancestors were enslaved. We know the transatlantic slave trade, plantation labor. But when we don't really stop to understand, like, the current grind culture we're in right now, it is tied to that. Capitalism is from the plantation.

Lee: At what point in this ministry are you tapping directly back into the past? How much of it is, like, when you're engaging with people, saying like, "No, to be most productive right now, you got to be there for you family, and yourself, and you need to create space." And at what point are you sayin', "But it's also much deeper than that." It plugs right back into our enslavement, and the brutality--

Hersey: Yes.

Lee: --and the slave labor camps.

Hersey: Always.

Lee: How do get to there?

Hersey: So this is a full-on ministry and a full-on movement around helping people to unravel. We're divine mention beings. The spiritual part of my learning understands that our divinity is being degraded by capitalism. It's a push back and say, "No, you can't have me. You can't have my body. I own it. It's mine. I am enough now without doin' another thing." How powerful that is. That's a miracle to be able to do that in a system that we live in, particularly for Black people.

Lee: I've seen, you know, this play out in different ways in, like, the movement spaces. I've engaged with the spaces of the journalist. And this is the Black man in America for a very long time. And even before George Floyd and the mass movement, the global movement, and you had Mike Brown, and Trayvon, and all the long list of names, in those activist spaces they weren't sleeping.

They weren't eating. They were facing down literal dogs, and literal teargas, and literal rubber bullets, and sometimes real bullets. And I wonder through the last several years how our experience of this tugging and pulling socially in America has shaped the way you approach the ministry or how you've tapped into this community and been able to pour back in them.

Hersey: Yeah, I'm an activist. And I'm an organizer. So I know. My dad was a union organizer and community organizer in Chicago my whole life. So I grew up watching him wear his body to ground. Calls at 3:0O in mornin'. Two in the mornins'. Never sayin' no.

I was raised in that. And I began to get a part of the movement in college, and growing up, and watching at these movement meetings where we're, like, working from ten hours a day. And there's not one break to eat. There's not one break to lay down. We're just going, going, going.

And I just saw it as so unsustainable. And so when I really began this work I really was creatin' this work, I think, for everyone. But I was really (UNINTEL), you know, activism. Community organizers. And so I do a lot of trainings and work with a lot of organizing movements.

Training (UNINTEL) or resting as a resistance on ways to see resting as part of the strategic plan for direct action, for a movement. If you're not resting, we won't make it. And we need us to make it. You know what I'm sayin'? And so I do believe that to see resting, to flip it on its side and say, "This is not just an afterthought. This is not something you do after you've burned out, after the person is sick because they've been working for 24 hours a day for a week." This is part of the foundation of our planning, of our strategic plan to push back and to disrupt. It's for us to rest.

Lee: For Black people in particular, right, we're comin' out of COVID and all the losses we've taken, right? The loss of life, the loss of jobs, ongoing police violence that hasn't stopped with any of these trials. We continue to be, you know, abused across this country and brutalized in different ways by the state and (UNINTEL) system. How important is it in this moment in particular for Black folks to harness this idea of rest as radical?

Hersey: For me and what I believe, I believe that it is the foundation for a new world. Nothing can happen without it. I don't think we're understanding how deep it is. I think that time to rest is even more important now because we need new ideas.

We need to heal. We need to create and imagine a new world. So they don't want us truly rested. To really rest, and dream, and imagine your way to make freedom for yourself in that way is really a pushback against everything that they've ever told us about who we are and what we can do.

Lee: And those ideas have been around for a long time. Frederick Douglass talked about that, right?

Hersey: For a long time. This--

Lee: Easy--

Hersey: --ain't new.

Lee: --to make sure that we are under the thumb if we stay exhausted, fatigued, and tired.

Hersey: This is ancient work, you know what I'm sayin'? Like, this is indigenous work. Indigenous people know this. Ancient people know this. Africans, my ancestors, they were resting. Harriet Tubman was resting while she was takin' people on the underground railroad. Like, she was literally stopping to pray.

I think about my grandmother who was, you know, a Jim Crow survivor. She went through the great migration. Then in Chicago. Poverty, worked two jobs. And she sat every day ad rested her eyes for an hour in between her two jobs while she was raising nine children.

She told me she was listening. She was listening to what God wanted to tell her. She was resting her eyes and gettin' a word for her next movement. And so to tap into this dream space and its portal for rest, I think about afrofuturism. (UNINTEL PHRASE) where I was talkin' about imaginin' a new world, dreamin' up a Black plan. Audrey (UNINTEL) sayin' that to really do self care is really political warfare.

To see rest as this subversive movement, to be able to figure out stuff, to heal, to plan, to plot, to push back and say, "You're not gonna have me today, capitalism, I am my own." And to really collectively do that it's a metaphysical work, a spiritual work. It's political work.

Lee: You know, thinkin' back on our conversation, you keep talkin' about resting your eyes. And I can't wait to be somebody's grandfather so I can rest my eyes. "Don't touch my TV." (LAUGH) "Don't change that channel."

Hersey: You thought I was asleep. So you want to change. But no, like, my mother always say that we were runnin' in her house and she was like, "I'm not asleep. Every shut eye ain't sleep." A lot of Black elders do that. When I teach that as a rest practice at some of our events, a lot of Black people come up to me and (UNINTEL), "My grandmother did the same thing. My grandaddy did the same thing." It's a Black, you know, ritual.

It's a tool that they use to connect. And so I think we need to be tapping more into what they were doing. You know, what were they doing so that they were able to live and survive through so much? People think resting is lazy and I'm not doing anything.

You know what? It's, like, I feel like I should be doin' somethin'. Don't you know resting is doing something? (LAUGH) You're actually doing so much that your organs are regenerating. You're spiritually connecting. You're honoring your body.

If you knew what was happening when you were sleeping, you would never miss a nap. Our bodies are their own technology. But when you don't care for them, you won't be able to get to that full potential. My brother is like that. He had two days off. I'm like, "Sit on a couch and chill."

He's like, "I just feel like I should be doin' something. Like, I feel guilty about just sitting here and doin' nothing." I'm like, "That's when you know how deep the brainwashing is when a Black person who has a day off that they're getting paid for, you know, like this vacation time, and you just can't and chill."

Lee: And according to Tricia, the pressure to always be doing something isn't spread evenly.

Hersey: Creative people, artists, inventors, they're not grinding on the ground like that. They're leaving that to the laborers who over here hustling and tryin' to make money just to eat. To rest is a generative state. It is not a waste of time. It is not a luxury.

It is not something you extra do. It's actually gonna get you to the most heightened ideas. The more I rest, the more that this nap ministry takes shape. Peoples like, "How do you do all of this? How are you running this movement alone and doin' all this stuff?"

I'm like, "Because I rest all the time." They're like, "Wow!" Then I'm like, "When I'm rested I work smarter. I wake up with a whole new idea for a brand-new, inventive program, waking up and writing four chapters to books." Just because I'm waking up with just a mindset that is open and tapped in to a higher connective space.

Lee: As we get to the end of the second year of this pandemic, Tricia says that for all the pain and suffering COVID has brought to Black people in this country, trends like the great resignation have shown this has also been a moment to rise up against white supremacy and capitalism.

Hersey: I'm going to stores, and they're like, "We don't have staff. We're closed." And I'm seein' notes on doors in front of these stores like, "They don't pay us enough. I don't want to work there." You know, like, I 'm watching people really begin to slowly wake up from some things.

The systems also have to change. You can't just keep sayin' "rest" and if people are tryin' to be subversive and rest but they still gotta go work five jobs to pay a bill. And so the great resignation's bringing me great joy. I went to a Family Dollar the other day, and there was a note on the door. "We're closed."

I was so happy. It didn't bother me one bit. I wanted to get my dish soap, but I didn't care. I was like, "Power to the people." You know what I'm sayin'? Like, yes, I'm so glad that you're, like, taking your power back. And I think the minimum wage needs to go up.

I think that movement is what I'm really about. People making more money, housing, all the things, you know, people not bein' able to pay rent, gentrification. Like, all the political things that are holding people up from living a full life of leisure, and rest, and connection. I want all those things to change. So, yeah.

Lee: So it's not just the great resignation. It's the great relaxation. (LAUGH) Boom, boom, done.

Hersey: (LAUGH) there you go.

Lee: Rebrand.

Female Voice: That's it.

Lee: Look at the-- (LAUGH)

Hersey: It's the right brand. We have to definitely give honor to you for bringin' it up. (LAUGH) (UNINTEL), yes, that's the trademark now.

Lee: There we go.

Hersey: The great relaxation. I love that. It's beautiful.

Lee: There we go. Well, Tricia, I really appreciate it again. Thank you very much.

Hersey: It was a honor. Thank you.

Lee: As we enter the holiday season we hope you take a moment to rest and dream about the future. You can tweet me @trymainelee. That's @ Trymaine Lee, my full name. Or write to us That was into america at nbc and the letters

Into America is produced by Isabel Angell, Allison Bailey, Aaron Dalton, Max Jacobs, Joshua Sirotiak, and Aisha Turner. Original music is by Hannis Brown. Thank you to Mikah Fuller, Brialle Ringer, and Shana Nunnelly for sharing their experiences at the Nap Ministry's Daydreaming in Atlanta. The event was recorded for us by Claire Reynolds. Special thanks to producer Stefanie Cargill. I'm Trymaine Lee. Rest well, and we'll see you next Thursday.