A beautiful glimpse into the daily practice of a modern contemplative, The Deepest Peace reveals poetic moments of stunning clarity from the eyes of a Zen priest. Through silence, stillness, and practice, Zenju Earthlyn Manuel transmits how it is possible to cultivate and experience peace.
While there is suffering in the world and in each of us, there is also the possibility and the experience of peace. As Zenju Earthlyn Manuel, a Zen priest who has written at length on race, gender, sexual orientation, and homelessness, writes in the introduction: “I have testified many times of my suffering. Before I die, I must speak of peace.” The Deepest Peace is a poetic, lyrical ode to the ways contemplative practice illuminates daily life. It is at once a window into Zenju’s personal practice, and an invitation to begin our own.
“There is a peace that appears without effort. Like the desert filling up your eyes. It appears like snow, wind or rain. The simple willingness to be close to the earth will open ground for the deepest peace. It arrives on its own if we let.”- from The Deepest Peace
poetic solitude, poetic justice
In a Zen temple for the first time sitting in the dark, listening to a symphony of birds, earth turning towards the sun, the place suddenly is familiar. The place is inside, an inner knowing of peace that comes with entering a silence beyond quiet. A reaching into the unknown that is frightening. Sitting in this poetic quiet is a force of solitude that rises. Suddenly, there is a different kind of inner monastic life — one without the monastery. A profound witnessing of life that wants to be laid down in words as an offering to the altar of silence. Do I write? I have since the age of eight. How could I not share the times when the sun bursts through the rain clouds and it is my whole life?
The action of writing through the chaos of the world is to engage the sun and the rain. The struggle of the world melts into the beauty of itself. I see it and feel drawn to write from it. It is ancient to write from being steeped in the essential. It comes natural without the knowing of such a thing as Zen.
The evening caused me to pause and read Phyllis Wheatley, an 18th century poet. Her words sit before me. I can feel her words were from a place of silence and not history as her work is viewed. She is not only the child removed at seven years old from West Africa and sold. She is the child bought and perhaps rendered speechless from which the essential erupted into poetry. Her words:
Soon as the sun forsook the eastern main
The pealing thunder shook the heav’nly plain;
Majestic grandeur! From the zephyr’s wing,
Exhales the incense of the blooming spring.
Soft purl the streams, the birds renew their notes,
And through the air their mingled music floats.
(excerpt from Hymn to the Evening)
Like me, Wheatley takes pen to paper for solitude. Her words breathe into the chaos of a world weighed down with slavery. Yet, she attends to the experience of the sun, the thunder and the wings of a zephyr. The birds renew their notes from their morning songs. No one knew in teaching her to read that her life would be a conduit of radiance. Listening to the evening, her words came, taking up temporary but available solitude. She is without any need to be heard. She lives in the inner silence from where the poetry comes to her. Her need is not to be a poet. Her need is to listen. It is where breathing takes place and sanctuary emerges. Refuge is in the silence. Her poetic solitude is poetic justice. Peace without peacemaking.
In my inner monastery, space is made for what will show up. To write is to make a bed for my words as unknown travelers. Will anyone show up? It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter when or how. The time and space will open the door. The tea will be ready. The food cooked so not to disturb the meeting of silence to silence. So, when the words rush in and I am swimming in them, the satsuma sweet potatoes will have already been boiled in lemongrass.
Candlelight accompanies the stillness. Sitting at the desk, the travelers have arrived. My fingers move over the keyboard trying to settle down for the ride. The pecking rhythm joins the transportation of words from the places of arrival and departure. These places are moments that happen without my standing or walking. I am writing to hear.
What is there to hear when the fire burns down the churches? What is there to hear when the temples empty? What is there to know when the old teachers die?
A silent justice speaks. Its message rises through the movement of birds, the running of water, the moonlight on barren land. Justice is open — empty space and time to gather a collective song without words. The silence is doing something to us. We are not doing the silence. Poetic action is and doing what comes from the depth of the earth.
My words go back into the silence once it is heard. To cling to it leaves little space and time for the new message, the new witnessing, the new poetic solitude and action.
Which way does the water flow after the storm?
Words chattering on by themselves. If I let them run all over it will be a mess. I pause. I chop the onions, garlic, and mincing the ginger. Sauté. Mix with the boiled and peeled satsuma sweet potatoes. Pureé with the boiled water scented and flavored with lemongrass. There is nothing to do but let the meeting of the senses happen.