Movement and rest: The modern vs. the ancient view

The Modern Picture: Movement Before Rest

1. We moderns believe that movement is metaphysically prior as well as superior to rest.

2. To move is chiefly to act.

3. Action is goal-oriented.

4. An act is the means by which something other (a goal, an ideal, a target) is realized.

5. Action is governed chiefly by the will.

6. The will is an instrument of effort: of resistance against the non-goal (obstacle, enemy, temptation, impulse, etc.) and of strenuous commitment to achieving the stated goal.

7. Rest is the derivative of movement. It is the absence or lack of movement.

8. Stronger: rest is idleness; it is doing nothing.

9. As such, rest is not just the sheer absence of movement; it is one Great Impediment to the exercise of the will.

10. Worse, idleness is the enemy of the will.

11. Therefore, the will must resist or vanquish rest (= idleness). And when the will is in doubt about itself, it becomes Restlessness.

12. The will is never satisfied. Such a life is full of busyness, exhaustion, tedium, overwhelmingness. In a word: Protestantism.

The Ancient Picture: Stillness Before Movement

1. According to the ancient view, stillness is metaphysically prior as well as superior to movement.

2. The aim of the aspirant is to achieve stillness.

3. What enables the project of achieving stillness is leisure.

4. Meditating, contemplative reading, philosophical discussion, the study of nature, aesthetic creation and appreciation, theurgy, and others: these are the modes by which stillness is realized.

5. Action is derived from stillness as water flows from its source. It is, that is to say, out of stillness that right action comes. Daoists speak of wu wei, Zen philosophers of spontaneous action.

6. The force opposing stillness and the right action flowing therefrom is restlessness. But restlessness is the desire to fill up empty time with tasks, busyness, and work.

7. One lets restlessness fall away by turning to, re-turning to, turning around to meditation and to other meditative activities.


Let go of the modern and return to the ancient.