Musings on Stillness

“Never be in a hurry; do everything quietly and in a calm spirit. Do not lose your inner peace for anything whatsoever, even if your whole world seems upset.” – St. Francis de Sales

We move so fast.

Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, Google, Ipod, Ipad, texting, IMing, DMing, and on and on and on. It’s a treadmill, a carousel, a super highway. But I’m not posting on the evils of technology and social media. I love social media, the internet, and all things digital and wireless. I see its great good and great uses.

I am taking a time out, though. Something happened to me twice today, that I found interesting. It was stillness. Stillness that led to reflection. Little oases of calm in my day. Little gifts of peace.

The first came in a passage I read in Audrey Niffenegger’s new book, Her Fearful Symmetry. It was the kind of passage that made me stop reading so I could savor it, imagine it, and wish I’d written it. In the story, a man had a tooth pulled, and was told not to smoke for three days so he wouldn’t loosen the scab that formed. He was a serious smoker–the kind who savor the experience the way some savor fine wines. Smoking was a thought-full act to him, not just a passing compulsion. Needless to say, he was upset. But his friend, a young woman who spent time with him, offered to smoke for him. Read this:

Julia put her hand on Martin’s shoulder. They leaned into each other. She turned her head and put her lips to the cigarette; the tip glowed. Martin’s eyes were half-closed, his mouth half-open. Julia tilted her face, and when she was inches away she blew the smoke very slowly…” (p. 257)

Wow. Still.

Then tonight, while I was checking online, looking for nearby shows of my favorite musicians , I came across a Youtube video of singer/songwriter Ray LaMontange. I was clicking around all over the place, answering the phone, reading a bookstore signing contract, and checking my calendar when this came on.

It stopped me dead in my tracks.

I think that state of arrest is what artists crave when they publish their work. If a writer really and truly only wrote for herself, the words would sit on shelves around her house where only she could read them. If a painter only painted for himself, he wouldn’t hang his picture in a gallery. Even a recluse like JD Salinger (who passed away today) chose to publish his work. Why? Because he wanted a response. He wanted to share some truth he knew–even it was only to get a rise out of his audience.

So I come back to you. What makes you still? What arrests you? Is it a prayer? A poem? A painting? A habit? I want to know what makes you step off the merry go round, and sit, and be still?

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5 thoughts on “Musings on Stillness

  1. nstodard says:

    Um, let me think, the flu. Otherwise not a light. It’s a character flaw. Anyhoo. About JD Salinger, when he became a recluse (at a still fairly young age), he continued writing and claimed to do so for himself–only HIMSELF. Isn’t that interesting? And you know what’s also interesting? What his daughter and one of his wives alleged about him in their memoirs? Did you read the piece on him in the NYT? Here’s the paragraph that got me:
    “Mr. Salinger was controlling and sexually manipulative, Ms. Maynard wrote, and a health nut obsessed with homeopathic medicine and with his diet (frozen peas for breakfast, undercooked lamb burger for dinner). Ms. Salinger said that her father was pathologically self-centered and abusive toward her mother, and to the homeopathy and food fads she added a long list of other enthusiasms: Zen Buddhism, Vedanta Hinduism, Christian Science, Scientology and acupuncture. Mr. Salinger drank his own urine, she wrote, and sat for hours in an orgone box.”

    I had to look up ‘orgone box’….yowzer

  2. Jeff says:

    Erika,

    Allow me to offer this to further the theme of your post:

    The French writer Émile Deschamps claims in his memoirs that in 1805, he was treated to some plum pudding by a stranger named Monsieur de Fortgibu. Ten years later, the writer encountered plum pudding on the menu of a Paris restaurant and wanted to order some, but the waiter told him that the last dish had already been served to another customer, who turned out to be de Fortgibu.

    Many years later, in 1832, Deschamps was at a diner and was once again offered plum pudding. He recalled the earlier incident and told his friends that only de Fortgibu was missing to make the setting complete—and in the same instant, the now senile de Fontgibu entered the room.

  3. Kelly says:

    Agree with you that we long for the recognition, but I would go so far as to say the recognition for which we yearn is actually less a need for attention and more for a state of communion. The place where the audience can merge with us and say, oh yes, I get this, I get this experience of being alive. As you did with the smoke scene. Stillness is the place amid the requium, where we know we are looking out: so that, as part of my practice I seek stillness in order to further promote what makes me still. The holy aha that is a gift, that sits me down, perplexed, in the middle of my self from where I can in unified peace be in awe…awareness of such a state makes it so I humm along in anticipation of the next great sweet breath from that place, and more, makes me want to share that gift with you! Experiencing the stillness within/between the ebb and flow comes with a decision to be conscious of our lives as instrument, as tuning fork of Life itself.

    I think??!

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