The Japanese Character for Rest Helped Me Find It
When you imagine someone resting, what do you visualize? Perhaps you would describe a person on the couch, or a person curled up under the covers in bed. Maybe you’d imagine a person lounging in a hammock, or suntanning on the beach.
If you were to ask a Japanese person, they would probably describe rest as a person leaning against a tree.
The Japanese character for rest is the combination of ‘person’ and ‘tree’. It’s a universal image, the person leaning against the tree to rest– a representation of rest as not simply sleep or the absence of work, but it’s about being in a safe place, a place where we can feel peace.
Recent work-from-home set-ups have tempted many of us to blend our environments– to eat where we work or work where we sleep–but this sort of blending of environments has made places that are traditionally designed for rest into spaces that aren’t conducive to finding peace.
When we see our work laptop we are reminded of our unread emails, and when we see the stack of mail in the corner we are reminded of our unpaid bills. It doesn’t matter if there is urgency to these responsibilities or not, but their presence can make simple events that should be relaxing–such as enjoying a meal at the kitchen table– something quite difficult to enjoy.
In a similar vein, when we see the dirty dishes and empty cups slowly stacking on our bedside table, or documents and papers strewn across our bed comforter, it becomes very hard to fall asleep in bed. It reminds us that we have dishes to clean, or that we have work that is unfinished, and suddenly the space we turned to for comfort does not feel as safe anymore.
Japanese imagery of rest showed me that the rest isn’t found in a vacuum, that we can’t just close our eyes and put in our earplugs if we want to find real rest. What we really need to feel is safe from the distractions of life; we need to be under our tree.