Sacred Rest

Zenju Earthlyn Manuel
February 23, 2024
a small tree with snow on it

The winter ice sits on sage bushes. It slips off the windows from the heat inside my home. Small birds dance on the bare branches of the cottonwood trees. The scent of burning resin, gathered from the ground beneath juniper trees, fills the room. It is quiet but also not. The birds still sing.

And I’m resting.

It is a practice of mine to rest. My parents worked hard their entire lives. Watching them work day and night, I made a secret vow as a child to stop and allow the peace of my father’s St. Augustine grass to feed me. I enjoyed just sitting looking out. My mother called it daydreaming. Looking back, I would say that I was meditating. The stillness and concentration of just being brought joy and deep nourishment in a world that felt crazy.

Resting in a state of awareness sustains peace. When I feel extreme emotions, such as grief or anger, I take time to sit with how I feel without rationalizing or finding justification. I simply acknowledge that something is happening as I breathe through life, and the tears I shed are evidence of healing. When I feel disconnected from people around me, long walks in the woods among the trees can bring me back to the nature of life, and I’m sustained by my return to the earth. When I’m listening to music—especially my own drumming—a note, a rift, can often touch places deep inside, previously unknown to me.

Yet I can’t just decide that crying, walking in the woods, or listening to music will always be nourishing experiences that lead to a state of rest. Underneath these activities there must be a vow of peace—meaning, I must be willing to stop, take time, and acknowledge the life entrusted to me.

A commitment to peacemaking has moved many in this world. There have been long cycles of accomplishments and new visions over the years. And there have been frayed nerves, bouts of stress, times of weariness, pain, and hopelessness. Peace workers, I suspect, find it challenging to balance the enormous number of hours of activism work with the need to be nourished. The peace that is not “worked,” but surfaces in stopping and resting, is one of vast possibilities.

Experiencing peace need not be an arduous journey of endless work but rather a moment-by-moment resting in order to engage in loving intimacy with others. In this way, a deeply nourished life can take the direction of liberation by which production, labor, is not the measure of our worth. A vow to rest is a vow for peace.

With a vow for peace that includes rest, we can sustain our alignment with the regeneration of the Earth. Like Earth, life must regenerate itself within us and around us. We are earth, wrapped with a cloak of skin, muscles, and bones to protect us, and sent here without reason. We were sent to be sent. We arrived to arrive. We were passed on for a purpose that can only reveal itself in how we live and not in what we decide is our purpose.

We are given a life to sustain. What would it be like to sustain our lives in the way we seek to sustain the planet? What would it look like to have an interrelationship among us that led to rest and nourishment for all, not just certain segments of our society? What if we looked at our level of energy in terms of our capacity to continue the lineage of all life? Can leisure lead to awakening? 

Zenju Earthlyn Manuel is an author, poet, Zen Buddhist priest, teacher, artist, and drum medicine woman. She holds a Ph.D and worked for decades for arts organizations and those serving women and girls, cultural arts and mental health. Her books include The Way of Tenderness: Awakening Through Race, Sexuality, and Gender.

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