Continuing my Mindful Meditation Course: identifying where stillness might be found:
Stillness (also see poem in Mythumbria Dreams)
Stillness: such an elusive state to be in, in this modern world where people are accessible 24/7 via technology and social media – expected to be available, expecting others to be available; minds full of activity and over-stimulation, rarely finding time or space for stillness in order to rest and refresh their minds, bodies and spirits. What might this be doing to our newest generations who have and are growing up within this new paradigm? Many children no longer know how to sit still and read, losing themselves in imaginary worlds; whilst that necessary state of boredom is a stranger to them. Yet it is a state required regularly for the mind to relax and reboot. Burn out must be a real and increasing possibility, with escalating stress problems and mental illness, a world where inactivity, thought, silence is condemned as time wasting, unhealthy or unsociable: Dystopia indeed.
Yet the opportunity for stillness is all around us. Travel brochures woo us with visions of exotic beauty – lakes, mountains, forests; even, unbelievably, in space (Virgin); visions of peacefulness in a chaotic world for a cost.. Yet even in a city stillness is to be found. Our nation is a nation of gardeners and there are wonderful oases of stillness, certainly in my city, from the tiniest urban roof plots to huge spreading suburban gardens and parks. Even a back yard can be transformed – with a few pots of herbs and flowers, a colourful climber or a potted tree – into a place of stillness and serenity.
I love those forgotten areas of a city – the derelict buildings, tumbles of rubble strewn everywhere but nature reclaiming it with splashes of golden buttercups and dandelions, snow white dog daisies, delicate shepherds purse, fragrant ground elder, hawthorn and bramble, butterfly strewn buddleia and nettle, even the occasional lavender or rambling rose- an artist’s palette of everyday ordinariness accompanied by the twitterings of tiny brown birds and cooing pigeons. Step off the pavement into this forgotten space, away from materialism and crowds, and immediately you can feel the peace descend. It is like stepping inside a stone circle. Indeed I have had the same sense of peace, distance, and history within one of these ruined buildings as within the circles on Salisbury Plain, the North York Moors or Machrie Mor. It’s as if the stones – whether deliberately erected as sacred or just time-ruined happenstance – form a bubble around a piece of primal space linking us to the All, the Everything, to Nothing.
Water always has the capacity for promoting stillness for me despite its innate dynamism – the sea, in all its moods, calms my heart, and trickling water can be as meditative as music, maybe more so as it reaches deep into my soul to touch whatever remnants of ancient connectedness remains there. Creating stillness in a city garden is always enhanced by a water feature no matter how ubiquitous. Just that bubbling or trickling noise combined with the sun or moon or starlight reflecting from the droplets of falling rivulets or spinning spirals has the capacity to transcend me. Add the aromas and colours of herbs, roses, scented flowers, the symphonies of songbirds – even if it’s only a common or garden sparrow – and it can lift me away from mundanity and into a tiny piece of peaceful heaven-on-earth.
The sky has a similar effect, if a different cause. Light here is the trigger for stillness – whether the brilliant blueness of a summers day or the watercolour translucency of an icy winter one – both have the capacity for instilling stillness within my crazy heart. Add a few clouds – white fluffiness or brooding menace and the mood is not broken just changed yet stillness remains. If you have the imagination to cope with the grand scale – and to some the vastness alone is a threat – there is a wonderful peace to be found in the contemplation of eternity. I find it infinitely reassuring. Out there is Everything! I might be just a tiny, insignificant part of that – but I am part of that … that Everything. The almost orgasmic feeling of expansion is especially true under a starlit sky – with or without our close neighbour Lady Moon to watch over me. The vast arc-ing velvety spread, with its sparkling embellishments can still even the most turbulent of my thoughts, calming me almost instantly. Similarly with music (of varying kinds) – as my mind expands with the changing notes, it also somehow and conversely, contracts into that still place at my core. Whilst zoning out, as I paint, craft, write or meditate, has the opposite effect: it takes me deep inside my self, narrowing my view yet expanding my mind. How can expansion and stillness be the same thing? They would appear to be paradoxes of each other. I’m not sure if that is true – it is the expansion of my thoughts that lead me to stillness in my mind and heart – perhaps they are the same thing? Stillness can be found in the tiniest flower or the vastness of the universe – both touch my heart, my soul, with peace.
We haven’t had any this year, but I love the stillness that can be found after snow, when the world loses its identity, blanketed in anonymity and soft whiteness. During a snow storm, those feathery twirls of snowflakes hypnotise and calm my mind, sending it down swirling tunnels of infinity and nothingness. Like water (which of course, snowflakes are a form of) stillness here is born out of chaotic movement, fractals of frenzy drifting in unknown patterns that my mind, in trying to understand, finds restfulness within.
Though it’s a long time, now, since I experienced this, I found stillness in that time, after ecstasy had rippled away, following sex with a loved partner, when still lost within the other, not yet separate entities once more. Echoes of this feeling where to be found later, in the eyes of my children and grandchildren, as I held them after their birth … eyes you could fall into, drown in, like a lover’s eyes; eyes that hold the wisdom of the universe (as indeed they do before their new body takes over from their older soul, and they forget their previous lives). That stillness – in either sets of eyes – babe or lover – I would find compulsive, mesmerizing, meditative: I could lose myself in them forever.
Yoga stills my mind and body in ways that defy logic. In the effort of moving the body, in time with the rhythms of my breathing, my mind finds peace and stillness in a way not possible for me in many other forms of exercise, except, perhaps dancing (inaccessible to me now) and Tai Chi. Once again that paradox of stillness out of movement. Somehow out of the calm of the breath-led asanas, a mindfulness of the body emerges, lending me understanding and tolerance of my body’s weaknesses.
Driving in my car, especially long distance, and especially down motorways, I find is a meditative state leading to stillness, without losing attention. That linking of mind and machine; the dance of moving up and down the gears, in and out of lanes, calms me in a way as perverse as eating chocolate is good for my health. Both are true. Driving in my car was where I found the peace and stillness to enable me to make such enormous, life-changing decisions as divorce. Driving round and round, hardly knowing or caring where I was going, freed me to explore opportunities and possibilities, consequences and solutions.
So many forms of and opportunities for stillness in a raging world …