The Magic in Stillness
Like so many, I struggled with our shelter in place period. Among other difficulties, it was challenging to have life slow to a crawl, to have so few demands or activities to engage me. Despite all the times I’ve wished for more time or a lighter schedule, I honestly found it tedious - if not torturous - once it was imposed on me.
I had forgotten how to do stillness, and it was anxiety provoking to have so much down time, to be so aware, and to follow where my thoughts went and sit with them. I know it’s not just me. Our culture doesn’t lend itself to stillness much, or value it. We humble-brag about being overscheduled and how much we have to do, we keep ourselves frantic with activity, and we often admire those who are most visibly moving on all fronts, prioritizing action over reflection.
Very little time is made for stillness and paying attention. Yet our real work is creating the time and space to find beauty and meaning in the ordinary moments, to slow down enough to pay attention to the things that really matter. As we drift into summer, and try to resist the pull of old habits and routines, I especially appreciate this quote by the poet, Eden Phillpotts:
“The universe is full of magical things patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper.”
It reminds me that unless we slow down, we may miss this magic that can be revealed to us.
Although it is so easy and familiar to return to my old baseline, something shifted for me when things were quieter that I want to preserve. I haven’t quite sorted it all out, but here are some of the benefits I experienced in being more still.
• I became more dialed into gratitude. I focused on what matters most to me – connecting with who and what I am most thankful for. During shelter in place I just didn’t have the emotional bandwidth, even though I had the time, to be engaged in anything that felt forced or like filler. This helped me to get clear about what was meaningful or satisfying, and what wasn’t. I put my energy into what I wanted to nurture.
• I found I got back to myself, listened more closely to what I was thinking and feeling, and was more connected to what felt most genuine to me. I had the opportunity to be guided by what I intuitively prioritized and was internally motivated, rather than defaulting to what was just familiar, expected or known.
• I was calmer and less reactive, more intentional in how I chose to be throughout the day. I was able to quiet some of the self-chatter, as well as some of the demands and expectations from others, real or perceived. This helped me to be more intimately engaged with others and recover more quickly when I was struggling.
• I felt greater wonder and curiosity about the world. I explored more that was unfamiliar to me and reacquainted myself with things I’ve appreciated in the past. There was an opportunity to see the world from a new perspective.
It goes without saying, that I have not achieved some enlightened peaceful state in all moments. As we have more freedom and can return to previous activities, a commitment to slowing down will be harder and harder to maintain. But I am going to work to quiet the constant noise and endless cycle of activity to make room for rituals that inspire stillness, reflection, and thankfulness, even as we get back to our old norms.
With summer nearly here, there is an opportunity for a slower cadence. A chance to welcome unhurried moments like those I loved from a childhood unencumbered by demands: Lying in the grass watching the clouds drift by for stretches at a time, spending hours reading on a screened in porch, patiently waiting for dusk to turn to dark so lightning bugs will reveal themselves in the backyard, or sitting tirelessly in an Adirondack chair doing little more than watching light dance off the water, listening to the horns of freighters and being acutely aware of the sun on my skin.
There was a gift for us in the pace imposed on us by the pandemic, as difficult as it was at times. I’m going to do my best to preserve some degree of that stillness to see what it reveals this summer. How about you? What will you do or not do?