Sarah’s Slice of Life: The Secret to Stillness
To me, there’s nothing more exciting than sitting in an empty room.
Forget thrilling adventures, impromptu get-togethers and weekend trips overseas. Why would you fly to Paris when you could just stay home and stare at a wall all afternoon? A spontaneous concert four states away? No, thank you. I’ll stay home, sip tea and contemplate.
I know these decisions sound unappealing, and if someone gave me the option of attending a Taylor Swift concert in Pittsburgh or having a quiet evening at home, I’d book a red-eye flight to Pennsylvania.
However, spending that quiet evening at home or taking an afternoon to think both have something in common — something that I would argue gives meaning and substance to our very lives.
I’m talking about stillness, that archaic word that may not have a place anymore in our fast-moving world. Stillness literally means the absence of movement and sound. That seems impossible in a society characterized by moving, chasing and running.
Even if you factor out all the adventures, travels and fun nights, ordinary life still equates to rushed movement. Our ordinary days often shove us in every direction, twisting us around like perpetual spinning tops. But doesn’t that make stillness even more important? Amid a world that always has the lights on, a commitment to stillness seems revolutionary. In fact, it seems vital.
I’m sure most of us would say that being a little more still sounds great but not possible. The calendar is too packed, the schedule too busy to insert moments of stillness into our daily lives.
Writer and theologian Frederick Buechner understood this conundrum, and he writes about it in his memoir “The Sacred Journey.” He labels his ordinary days as both “helter-skelter” and “humdrum” occurrences.
As he was writing on a hot, hazy summer day, he noticed the old banjo clock ticking on the wall behind him. Outside, there was the sound of swallows and roosters. Some carpenters were doing work on his house, and the muffled sounds of their hammers and conversations drifted to him through the walls.
Buechner himself calls these sounds ordinary and random, but strung together, “with their elusive rhythms, their harmonies and disharmonies and counterpoint,” they became the sound of his life speaking to him.
His experience illustrates the secret to stillness. There’s no special time, occasion or event that precipitates stillness and rest. You can do your best to pencil it in between brunch and a meeting at 2 p.m., but it won’t work.
True stillness is not devoid of chaos or movement. Buechner found stillness on an ordinary day by listening to ordinary things — the birds, the clock and the workmen. This “music,” as he calls it, led him to be still and realize that “God speaks into or out of the thick of our days.”
And so, finding stillness in our ordinary days is just another measure of God’s grace.
French mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal also understood what Buechner discovered on that ordinary summer day as he listened to the sounds of his life.
“I have discovered that all human evil comes from this, man’s being unable to sit still in a room,” Pascal writes in his work “Pensées.”
If we forgo stillness and always choose the hustle, then I’m afraid we’ll forget how to be still at all. However, the importance of stillness should not negate the vitality of experiences. Our lives exist between formative experiences and ordinary days. Each has their own importance, and a balance between them enhances their benefits.
So, schedule those adventures to Europe. Book red-eye flights or take the train. Spend your days moving and running through life.
On the other hand, don’t let your movement keep you from ordinary stillness. If you do, you might miss something infinitely more meaningful than a Taylor Swift concert in Pittsburgh. You might even miss God trying to speak to you out of the thick of your days.
Tate is the Editor-in-Chief for the Liberty Champion. Follow her on Twitter
I think your post is very nice. In this modern, hi-tech world, we are expected to have a “work hard, play hard” attitude, and run around like wild dogs, chasing this or that.
As you say yourself, we certainly can do some of that, but there must be room for some “sanity” as well, where we cool down and put things into perspective.
Your example with Buechner is interesting because it exemplifies what I would call “stillness meditation”. Normally, when I speak about “stillness meditation”, I typically mean a type of meditation that is done while sitting in a room.
And the idea you mention from Blaise Pascal is also connected to that idea of being able to sit still in a room.
But, in my opinion, the “stillness” aspect of “stillness meditation” is not that one is sitting still. The “stillness” aspect that Buechner is referring to (which Pascal apparently misses, judging by the quote) does not deal with physical stillness, but is about the avoidance of thinking negative thoughts.
So my reading is that by listening to the sound of the birds, the clock, and the workmen (working, not arguing), there installs itself a stillness in one’s soul. And that stillness is a result of that one’s usual thoughts, many of which are negative in character (complaints, worries, anger, fear, disappointments, etc.), are no longer being focused on.
Therefore, by distracting ourselves from all normal thoughts, we also avoid thinking all those crippling negative thoughts. And when we succeed with this distraction, we can feel a positive stream of love from the universe (or God) that is embracing us. That is my experience.
Thanks again for your inspiring article!