Life Lessons

stillness

Stillness.

It’s almost onomatopoeic,  isn’t it?

Elongate the Ss. Exhale at the close. Like meditation, an om.

I’ve been thinking a lot about stillness and the almost countercultural rebellion that seems embodied in the quiet act of slowing down and sitting still amidst the frenzy of American daily life.  A few months in to this new normal outside the regular workaday world and everyone asks, “How’s it going? What are you doing?”, eager to know that I am doing exciting things, doing new things, doing anything other than what I was doing. I try not to disappoint them with my answers: spending time with family and friends, doing things my previous life didn’t allow for. That’s all been wonderful and much of that is documented here.

But the greater–and more interesting– challenge for me has been in the not doing. I was always busy, busy, busy. What does it look like to be me not busy? What’s in my head when I allow the dust to settle, when the snow globe of my existence just sits on the shelf a bit?  I took up meditation. I walk daily. I’m getting reacquainted with the quieted me.

As a wise friend recently observed, stillness is not nothingness. With so much stimulation so readily at hand, I think we’re no longer familiar with stillness, perhaps lost our taste for it, maybe a bit fearful of what comes with it. I find it rich, textured, redolent. Elusive, like a cat that will join you only if you settle first. But then, like that cat, it curls against you, warm, purring.  I like stillness.

When I was a kid, I used to sit next to my grandmother in Quaker meeting and try to sit still longer than she could. It was without question a one-way contest, but I took tremendous satisfaction in honing my skill alongside hers. Recently, I modeled for a friend in art school and drew on those hours next to my grandmother, holding my pose for 20 minutes at a time, across six hours each day, for five days.  Sit still that long and you can’t help but notice things about yourself and everything around you.

And that’s what I like most about stillness, the noticing. The layers and finer notes, the whiff of something so light you can hardly tell it is there. The feel of your own breath in your belly. The sound of an old house settling. The smell of the radiators warming up each morning. The slink of shadows moving across a room.  These are things that you miss entirely when you are anything but still.

I also like the opportunity of it. Stillness opens space and time. It offers the chance to consider and weigh alternatives. It strips away the rush to judgment, the hasty decision, the desperate urge to act regardless. It says, Don’t just do something, sit there.

Life Lesson #6: Don’t just do something. Sit there.

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