The idea of “rest” as the theme of ARS VITAE Volume 8 came to me while I was working on the previous volume. Around that time, I had taken on a new project to create an offline platform for the convenings that would complement the contemplative lifestyle that ARS VITAE explores. The new project, which eventually led to meditation retreats as well as conferences on spirituality and science, required a lot of attention, energy and travel. I had to make an effort to carve out the time to put a publication together.
As I worked day and night to meet the deadline for Volume 7, my mind wandered back to the initial thoughts about the philosophy of ARS VITAE when it was created. The concept of ARS VITAE was that our readers would enjoy the tactile experience of holding a book in their hands and actually taking the time to read, not just scroll down the screen on their computers or mobile phones. We publish with carefully chosen paper for this reason. We wanted to capture the lifestyle that allows time to breathe deeply and slowly, a contemplative life in search of clarity and wisdom, not only information.
This philosophy was carried into the process of making ARS VITAE. With every volume, my team and I took care to place enough space for reflection, with pauses in between the pages. We tried to create in the physical book the kind of life rhythm that we hoped to share with our readers. When ARS VITAE was launched, one of my first readers wrote me a letter that the experience of reading ARS VITAE felt like “walking through a Zen garden”. A Zen garden is only truly meaningful if the people cultivating it do it in a state of Zen. The finished product is the manifestation of the intention and practice.
Why, then, is it so difficult to remain in that state of calm and relaxed focus whether in work or in life? Why do we rush through life mindlessly, only to regret it? Do we have a tendency to fill up our plates with too many things? How can we take the time we need with the work and people we love without feeling chased? Is it a question of finding the right balance or do we simply need more rest? And if so, is it physical rest we need or is there something more to it?
So began the journey of understanding “rest”, or more accurately, that which enables us to have a sense of well-being, the feeling of being centered and in a “flow” relationship with life, rather than being dominated by it. The production process of Volume 8 itself became a part of the experiment on rest. I wanted to take sufficient time to put the issue together, time enough for Volume 8 to emerge organically, rather than in a rush to meet the deadline.
Part 1 of Volume 8 begins with a survey of how people perceive and practice rest. We learn that the latest scientific research on rest is driving companies to take rest more seriously and to build it into their work day or work week. Excerpts from philosopher Bertrand Russell’s famous essay “In Praise of Idleness” show that decades ago he expounded that work hours need to be reduced for a more dignified life. Rest, or a fallow period in life, is also seen as a necessary brewing period for many possibilities to transition into a new phase of life.
If Part 1 focuses on physical rest and its relationship to work and life balance, Part 2 delves more into a more fundamental state of rest. Although I decided to give myself more time to work on Volume 8, more time also meant more life happening. Every day, life brought with it new problems and situations to tackle. As I moved to a new country and started a new project, my days were filled with one challenge after another. But although daunting, the physical work and exhaustion were not, I found, the most serious culprits that cause the feeling of being disconnected from life. The complicated entanglements of emotions that arise from human relationships — the expectations, disappointments, the whole plethora of them — however, can often demand a great deal of energy and sometimes drain our joy. As a Confucian scholar asked in Part 2, “can the human mind be fixed onto a state of true rest when it is always having to react to outside situations?” This seems to be a question that man has been trying to answer for ages. Different authors offer different solutions: some recommend a retreat into quietude to get away from the demands of life; some say that inner stillness is possible in the midst of everything and that we must aspire to it; others express it in meditation and poetry.
Continuing the theme of true rest, Part 3 looks more deeply into what happens when the human brain is resting and the implications it has for our health and performance. The brain of one man, research shows, is markedly different from other people. He went through a remarkable change when, suddenly one day, the incessant noise in his mind stopped and became completely quiet. With his “monkey mind” still, he processes life differently. Researchers have discovered that the brains of Buddhist monks and others who have gone through many hours of meditation training show similar changes. Their examples present interesting case studies of the effect of training our minds to be at rest, freed from negative thoughts and emotions. The notion that such changes are possible raises optimism about man’s pursuit of happiness as well as for the future of mankind. How different life would be if we could live in this state of mind.
Aside from more time, Volume 8 is also the result of an artistic direction that we are trying for the first time. Unlike other volumes which showcased the artworks and photos by many different artists, all photos in Volume 8, with the exception of those of Hyon Gak Sunim’s meditation (photographed by Yong-ho Kim), are the works of one photographer, Duk Gwan Moon, who has worked with us from the very first issue. We wanted to present a sense of seamless unity, space, and serenity, as portrayed by the aesthetic lens of one person. We hope that this new attempt enhances the feeling of rest in this volume. As the production of Volume 8 was a search for that which makes us feel more centered in life, we hope that what we have created will also encourage you to embark on your own experiment for a deeper understanding of what true rest means to you.
J. Julianne Lee
Publisher & Editor-in chief