Rest in Power

Fresh on the heels of my Peru trip, today I took a walk near my Bushwick home in a state of subdued clarity. The world always seems to order itself more cleanly following periods of travel. On the way to my morning coffee, I came across a new work of graffiti, and in the bottom left corner was a little message from the cosmos: “rest in power”.

I have for some time associated the word “power” with many things negative, having an idea of power as power-over someone or something. Leaders are in power. Victims are powerless.Those who don’t have power often want it to assert their specific dogma on this, that or the other. Even the notion of “empowerment” is sometimes offered as a way of dealing with those who have too much power, in the sense of empowering oneself to rise out of oppression. So power and empowerment are sometimes two aspects of the same struggle over a finite amount of power, as if power could be evenly distributed like pieces of a pie.

But maybe power isn’t like this, a system of have/have-not. Maybe power isn't a scarce resource. Which isn’t to say that empowerment is not a worthwhile struggle, just that it is not a process of acquiring power one doesn’t have. Instead, perhaps becoming empowered is a neverending process of awakening to one’s power, of letting the sleepy scales fall from one’s eyes. In an ironic twist, then, we must wake up to find rest.

But this process of opening up to power is a struggle, a conflict. Furthermore, perhaps opening up to power will call us to the cause of aiding others in their process of uncovering power, a doubtlessly conflict-rich cause itself. So how does one “rest” in a power that always appears in conflict? Doesn’t “resting” imply a place outside conflict?

Maybe not. Maybe our aversion to conflict and our cultural attachment to the idea that happiness looks like carefree, tanned bodies on the beach is encouraging us not to be at rest, because we are endlessly searching for that one thing, job, experience, relationship that will close the gap and make us whole. Only then, we think, will we be able to truly rest. Rest, then, is always on the horizon, always in front of us on the path. Power is something we’ve traditionally thought we needed to get to that place of rest.

“Rest in power”.   This little nugget of urban wisdom seems to be offering us another worldview. It is not that rest is ahead of me and power is what I need to get there, but rather that power is my nature and the only time to rest is now.

Spinoza seems to have thought so. To this early modern philosopher from Amsterdam, Nature (which is every being, every thought, every relationship) expresses itself through power. Power is the essence of Nature, our essence. And because the parts of Nature are necessarily in relationship with one another, there are as many conjunctions of power as there are stars in the sky. In other words, conflict and struggle are as much a part of nature as harmony and understanding. So then we might say that waiting to rest is a fool’s errand, because the struggle is real at every stage of the path – in different constellations, surely, but always here.

But how much conflict is too much? Most would find it hard to rest in the face of an unjust war or genocide, or within the confines of an abusive relationship. And even if the conflict isn’t this extreme, the experience of what is too much will forever be different for everybody. What counts as too much will always be a moral question worth asking, and the answer will require different actions and solutions (individually and socially) at different times and in different contexts.

Still, the mythology worth challenging is the one that assumes there is such a place as one completely beyond conflict – the proverbial “heaven on earth”. What if our longing for heaven (an idealized notion of what the world/our lives should be like) is taking us away from today? 

Power has often been a synonym for what we desire. Whether you call power by the name of happiness or success, joy or esteem, enlightenment or liberation, peace or love, power is the thing we think (consciously or unconsciously) we’ll get when we’ve realized one or all of these things we value.  And because we so often presume that these things we desire will arrive unaccompanied by conflict or struggle, we can’t recognize them when they arrive. We can’t see what Eckhart Tolle so quaintly referred to as the “power of now”. Indeed, living in our future-oriented way, we don’t see that all of these things are already here. Power is something we must awaken to. Peace and love, joy and success, enlightenment and liberation are all here now, in the only time that exists.  If we project it out there, ahead of us, then we opt for a worldview in which rest is always waylayed, always suspended.

So rest now. Rest in power. 


Jacob Kyle is a writer and yoga teacher living in New York City. He is the co-founder of Five Tattvas and Editor of the Embodied Philosophy Blog, which he created in an effort to share the transformative teachings of the yoga wisdom tradition. jacobkyleyoga.com

Jacob Kyle is a writer and yoga teacher living in New York City. He is the co-founder of Five Tattvas and Editor of the Embodied Philosophy Blog, which he created in an effort to share the transformative teachings of the yoga wisdom tradition. jacobkyleyoga.com

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