Editor’s Introduction: The Gorilla and the Cardinal

This introduction appears in the issue “Rest and Creativity” (Volume 9, Number 1). Click here to subscribe and download the entire issue

While walking in a recent dream, I stumbled upon a swarm of northern cardinals. Cardinals don’t swarm in the real world, but these did. There were hundreds, crimson, fluttering against each other. Starting atop an old out building, the swarm stretched upward, fanning out into the sky—a pulsing, funnel cloud of red.

I eventually found myself in a large museum atrium. In the center stood a circular kiosk of pamphlets and guides to the exhibits. Suddenly a giant gorilla—nearly Kong-sized—appeared in the atrium, thrashing  through the space and causing mayhem. A museum caretaker sprang into action, ushering visitors out the door and away from the fray. She hurried me to a small break room toward the front of the atrium while the gorilla looked elsewhere.

Once inside, I watched the caretaker pull a rifle from a locker, when, seconds later, the gorilla shoved his outsized head and right arm through the doorway, staring intently at us. Repressing a tremble, she took aim and shot him once in the head. My gut tightened. “Wait,” I thought, “something isn’t right. There’s been a misunderstanding.” The gorilla’s eyes still bright with intent, the caretaker aimed the rifle once more at his forehead, and fired. My body clenched further, a pain racing through my chest. “No, no! He was trying to communicate something to us, but couldn’t speak. You didn’t need to shoot him.” As the gorilla’s movement slowed and his enormous body slumped in the doorway, his outstretched hand turned up, sinewy fingers opening. Perched in the crease of his forefinger was a bright red Cardinal.

• • •

Sometimes the imagery in dreams seems wild and incomprehensible; other times, a metaphor emerges clear as day. Upon waking, I understood the gorilla to be my body, unable to speak in language but trying urgently to communicate two messages: The first was, “Pay attention to me! This is serious. You need to stop. Just stop!” As the cardinal appeared in the gorilla’s hand, I heard the second, “The world’s magic—bright, capable of flight, and full of song—is right in front of you, if you would simply pause.”

In the weeks and months prior to this dream, I’d succumbed to a trap of overworking to produce results that seemed always to evade my grasp. I knew that my life was out of balance, and I repeatedly felt a strong intuition toward the need for balance—for less work and more rest, play, and time with loved ones. Yet I repeatedly spurned the intuition—and the feedback of family—and pushed ahead. In the preceding week, I’d worked late into the night several consecutive days in preparation for a meeting. In continuing to “push through,” to meet too many commitments, I had been the caretaker, shooting the gorilla in the face repeatedly, ignoring the protests of body, intuition, and subconscious. It took the violence of the dream to shake me from the well-crafted illusion of “just a little more” that sacrifices health and balance. In overwork and over-commitment, where had I missed the ordinary magic—“the power of things as they are”1—both in my life generally and that might allow my work to be more transformative?

Although the imagery of a dream may be highly personal, I suspect that many readers in contemporary society share the experience of failing to heed messages from the world that we are working too hard, moving too fast, or living out of balance—and in doing so missing life’s magic. Once trapped in that cycle, it’s hard to break it, even as it wears down the body, dulls the mind, and erodes relationships. The antidote to this cycle is the point of departure for the prompt to which most essays in this issue are a response: rest and creativity. In a world of ever-increasing capitalist speed, how do we stop and rest—truly rest? And if we can carve out space for genuine rest and balance in our lives, how can creativity arise? For we need tremendous creative energy if we’re to address the social and ecological crises of today and transform systems of harm into ones that heal, nurture, and regenerate.

Contributors who submitted in response to this prompt offer hard-won insights for how to rest and allow creativity to arise from a space of non-doing, and three additional pieces featured in the issue dialogue beautifully with these themes. Melanie Anne Gin, Kirsten Mundt, and Mario Obando explore rest in part through the lenses of embodiment and somatic experience, and Yenkuei Chuang’s article reflects on racialized experiences in western dharma communities in ways that build on themes in the former essays. Sandra Del Valle, Gabriella F. Buttarazzi, and Ajit Pyati explore rest, creativity, and skillful means for finding sanity and for empowering their students within educational spaces that frequently fail to support students and teachers alike. Our interview with Aarti Tejuja and Sojourner Zenobia traverses themes throughout the issue while cutting to the heart of what true rest means. Finally, our interview with Kristin Barker builds on the issue’s dialogue to address one of the defining challenges of our time: applying contemplative insights to how we can respond effectively to the global climate crisis.

These authors speak from different perspectives, yet offer shared insight, along with an invitation to contemplate what rest, creativity, and skillful action mean for you. From the editors at The Arrow Journal, we hope you find these essays helpful in your own life, work, play, and rest.

Gabriel Dayley co-founded and edits The Arrow Journal, which investigates applications of contemplative wisdom traditions to confronting pressing social, political, and environmental challenges. He also works in local government climate action, with a focus on ensuring that strategies for climate mitigation and adaptation are equitable, inclusive, and just. Gabriel received an M.A. in International Peace and Conflict Resolution from American University and a B.A. in International Relations from Pomona College. His graduate work focused on the application of conflict transformation to tackling environmental challenges.

Illustration by Rae Minji Lee


  1. Chögyam Trungpa, Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior (Boston: Shambhala Publications, 1988), 103.