Monday Author: Susanne Skinner
“Enlightenment is always there. Small enlightenment will bring great enlightenment. If you breathe in and are aware that you are alive—that you can touch the miracle of being alive—then that is a kind of enlightenment” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh
Stillness does not come easily to me. The idea of doing nothing feels like an indulgence I do not deserve. It also makes me fidget.
Buddhist author Thich Nhat Hanh recounts a conversation with an interviewer who points out he is wasting time when he is just sitting. He disagrees, and says when he is sitting, he is truly sitting, feeling the chair beneath him and behind his back. He is conscious of the stillness around him, mindful of the role the chair pays in his ability to focus. Stillness becomes his inner posture.
I read this and think to myself; I can do that.
The reality is, I cannot. At least, not without effort. I am not wired for stillness, a discipline that requires patience and practice. Even when I am attempting to sleep, my 3 a.m. brain presents me with forty years of unresolved issues that need my immediate attention.
Like everyone else seeking this form of peace, I must learn the art of stillness.
Learning to master stillness is the ultimate spiritual goal. It requires that you unplug yourself from the world around you. I don’t know about you, but the world around me is filled with demands. Personal and professional appointments, coupled with a constant bombardment of digital and social media negativity, produce noise rather than stillness. It’s just not that easy.
The art of stillness is commonly called meditation. The challenge I have with this is my inability to slow down and allow my mind to become empty. Mindfulness means focusing on the present moment, which is really all we have. It means suspending judgement and interpretation and focusing on your breath.
I have learned that stillness begins and ends with breathing, and in this, I am showing progress. It is especially helpful when trying to fall asleep. By concentrating on deep breaths, my mind is forced to slow itself and when I add a short mantra, it keeps the infiltration of meaningless data at bay.
The idea of doing this each day became infinitely easier when we moved to Florida. I discovered I could indeed sit for a while in stillness. I try to make it a daily practice and it has rewarded me in unexpected ways.
Living on the water offers its own brand of peace and solitude. I take my morning coffee outside with the sunrise, and think about nothing besides the beauty and quiet around me. In the evening, I find the same tranquility. Stillness is a good way to begin and end each day.
A Book is as Good as a Rest
A book offers a quiet place when the world gets noisy. When I am unable to let go of the incessant need to accomplish my list of things to do, a book offers me an escape. Respite comes in the form of a story that captures my attention to the exclusion of everything else. In my noisy world, getting lost in a book invites a different kind of stillness.
Reading a book is an easy way for me to find relaxation. I do not read on a Kindle or other electronic device, preferring instead the feel of a book and its pages. It’s not exactly meditation, it’s more of an in-between kind of place, with its own brand of introspection and solitude.
When death comes unexpectedly to those we know and love, it shocks our mind, body and soul. We rail against the finality of it, outraged that we had no warning and have no ability to alter the outcome.
Death came twice last week, first to the daughter of my very dear friend, then to a beloved colleague. They were gone with no warning, without opportunity to prepare or brace myself for the sudden and unimaginable loss. Both women were in their forties, much too young to leave this world. When I learned of their passing, sadness and helplessness anchored itself like a stone around my heart.
At times like this, words fail me, and I find myself sitting in forced stillness, telegraphing my heartache and love across the miles. It’s not a bad thing, especially when there is nothing else I can do.
Unexplainable tragedy demands stillness. It is a way to process the grief and hold on to the light of those who left us. In stillness, we remember all of the good, and allow ourselves to feel the pain of their loss. They fill our stillness with their presence.
Death brings our own mortality into the present moment. In stillness, we reflect on the time left to us, whatever that may be, and resolve to make the most of it.
Finding a New Normal
We are getting ready to mark the one-year anniversary of our decision to downsize and move to Florida. The move brought planned changes, pleasant surprises and new routines for both of us.
Although we both work, we eliminated horrendous daily commutes. I have a home office; my husband has a four-mile round trip. This gift of time has not been wasted on either of us. We have a new community of friends and volunteer our time and talents in service to others. We have more time to spend with each other and appreciate the slower pace of our lives.
It’s my new normal, and for me, that includes time to do nothing. It means time to sit and know that I am really sitting.