Radical rest as sacred action – surrendering to the great mystery

Posted on: 10 September 2021

Something is gravely out of balance when rest becomes a privilege, only accessible to those of us who are wealthy, sick, deeply fatigued or abandoned by the dominant culture for having failed to prove our worth through maintaining constant levels of productivity.

Surrendering personal needs for higher purpose has been celebrated and we now see how this form of self-abandonment has perpetuated burnout amongst activist communities. It is easy to think of activism solely as front-line protest and direct action, but we all have the power to be activists in different ways and often on many levels at the same time.

To truly know our place in the ecology of life, rest must be reclaimed as sacred action.

Across much of the world, the dominant cultural narrative continues to revere productivity and consumption and so, to reclaim rest is to reclaim fully our interconnectedness and the power that lies in our bodies. This is radical, counter-culture action in it’s own right. It is time for rest to become accessible and celebrated, alongside attuning deeply to the wisdom held in our bodies and the body of the earth.

Our failing to acknowledge this need sees us in the midst of a global health crisis whilst many suffer increasingly with chronic conditions, menstrual pain and reduced fertility. We could see our bodies as ‘the canary in the coal mine’ but in actual fact, these symptoms already clearly reflect the suffering of our bereft and neglected earth. As we stand together on the collective precipice, we fear our own grief and subsequent descent. Until we allow ourselves to descend into our grief we remain disconnected and disempowered. Unable to face fully, the implications of societal and environmental collapse. In fact, to deny ourselves the space and time to  connect to our bodies and time to feel the depth of our grief is to collude with the patriarchal narrative.

Those of us with a menstrual cycle are initiated into an embodied experience of the cycles, and if we are fortunate enough to be able to rest during our bleeding time, we are called to meet with the great mystery inside ourselves.

The menstrual cycle offers a regular invitation to connect deeply with our bodies and to respond by moving through life in a different way as we bleed. The preceding days can be fraught as we cling onto all we know. Apprehension builds as our psyche readies itself for a decent into the unknown. Here, in this mysterious under-land we are invited to release into the void. Many ancient cultures recognised the potency of allowing ourselves to disintegrate in this way, but with time and the clutch of the industrialised growth culture, the value of this natural stage of the cycle has been lost in favour of relentless productivity.

We are stuck in summer and have forgotten the sacredness and regenerative power of honouring the deep midwinter that lies within us all.

In mid-life I began my own journey of reconnection with my menstrual cycle and was called to grieve many years of disconnect from my own body. Having charted the ebb and flow of my cycle for some time I began to see clearly how, like the earth, I experienced the four seasons in every cycle. Winter being menstruation, spring being the tender days following my bleed, an expansive summer during ovulation and then, with the cycle coming to a close, the discerning, and distilling energies that led to a certain inner ‘pruning back’ one might associate with autumn.

In celebration of this embodied experience, I began to create nature mandalas during my menstruation as a way of slowing down and honouring my body’s own cries for rest. At that time I had no idea such a potent ritual was being born. Something I would go on to tend to for many years. By regularly inhabiting this place of deep rest I became comfortable with my own un-doing, non-doing and journeying deeply into my own mysterious inner landscape. During this time, I had many deeply healing experiences and often received clear insight and guidance alluding to my next authentic action. I believe that this liminal space offers us the wisdom we need to come into full and sacred relationship with our bodies and the earth. We learn to ‘see in the dark’ be with the inevitability of change, discovering through our bodies that after winter there is always spring.

Each mandala allowed me to become intimate with the plants as they too journeyed through their own seasons and I discovered the exquisite beauty of each stage of the cycle. Yes, there is something gloriously juicy about the summer mandalas bursting with floral elegance, but more profound has been the discovery of a certain fragility, beauty and grace that comes to be known by connecting with my own deep midwinter in alignment with the sacred resting time of our beloved earth. Perhaps more potent because of the grief it brings forth in me. Not just personal, but collective. I have come to learn that my grief too is sacred and welcome alongside my joy and celebration of the vitality of life.

By living again in sacred relationship and harmony with ourselves, each other and the natural world we have the opportunity to discover that together we are stronger and in that way, those of us needing to rest can be held, supported and valued as part of healthy regenerative communities.

Just as fallow lands in winter have the opportunity to regenerate and flourish we too need that time for deep rest, visioning and integration.

In sharing our experience we model a cyclical way of being to those around us and that provides a gentle invitation for them to do the same.

I offer these questions for your own curiosity:

  • How can I honour my own need for rest?
  • Can I become perceptive enough to notice when those around me need practical support, encouragement or holding to be able to step into that space for themselves?
  • What do I need to be able to drop into fully feeling the grief I carry?
  • In what way am I colluding with the dominant cultural narrative that celebrates achievement and action over sensing, dreaming, embodiment and creativity?
  • What rituals or practices help me to connect and affirm my faith in the great mystery?

Decomposing leafI invite you to attune to your body and listen. If you menstruate then how does it feel as you move through your cycle? If you don’t have a menstrual cycle, maybe there’s an inner shift as you attune to the phases of the moon or perhaps you can begin to notice how your body feels as the seasons shift? There is so much waiting for us as we begin to listen to our bodies’ whispers. Let’s not wait until they are screaming before we allow ourselves to stop and become present enough to hear what is calling to be heard.

The dominant culture severed us from our body wisdom and wisdom of the cycles. Let’s reclaim this wisdom and the power to rest deeply, dream creatively and learn how to live truly nourishing and empowered lives.

Sam Lacey