Finding Stillness

P1000894Many moments of stillness occur just before dawn.  When our son was born thirteen months ago, my wife and I became morning people.  It was necessary to prepare for the day at a quiet, dark hour, so that we could get the jump on Arthur whenever he saw fit to wake up at an equally early hour.  To be forthright, I had been falling out of bed before sunrise for months to paint or write before going to the lab.  Yet this was different.  Before, the early rising had been elective; now, it was a requirement.  Lest anyone think this a source of contention, though, it was quite the opposite.  In addition to the fulfillment concomitant with Arthur’s care, there often were–and still are–moments of rarefied and unanticipated stillness.

 

September provided several such occasions.  The seasonable coolness of this year’s fall lured me out onto our deck, which faces a thick row of trees and tree-topped hills beyond.  We live in Nashville, but the landscape as seen behind our townhouse is arranged and adorned so, that was it not for the whoosh of traffic on Edmondson Pike, one could be led to believe they were visiting an area well outside the city limits.  On those mornings, with my coffee perched on the railing, I stood staring into the chill blackness, listening to the night noises.  After a small while, the faintest shade of steely blue light would begin to color the eastern horizon.  We sometimes recognize fine moments while we are in them.

 

Stillness, as understood here, is about being alone with the self.  It is about shutting off the song that is dominating all passive thought, or the quotidian concerns that lend anxiety to routine, and rediscovering the simple joy of being.  It is not about reading or praying (though I encourage both) but about finding time to do nothing other than wallow in your own quality of awareness, attuning the senses to the present environment and drinking in whatever it has to offer, whether it be a twilight chorus of tree frogs or the apocalyptic rage of a rush hour interstate.

 

Stillness is not limited to dark, quiet hours while the world sleeps.  Nor is it the sole property of reverential settings like churches or libraries.  It lies in wait at sporting events, at concerts, at wedding receptions–even at December shopping malls.  As with any inward effort, it may be achieved with more or less difficulty amid the clamor of a churning crowd.  Author Silas House, in an article addressed to aspiring writers, states that the object is to “learn how to become still in our heads”, later adding that we “must become multitaskers who can be still in our heads while also driving safely to work, while waiting to be called “next” at the D.M.V., while riding the subway or doing the grocery shopping or walking the dogs or cooking supper or mowing our lawns.”  There appears to be an art to this internal stillness of which House writes and of which I am attempting to write, something to be worked toward with a goal of mastery.  His article inspired me, but I do not believe the wisdom therein is limited to writers.  There is benefit to us all in moments of stillness, whenever and however we may capture them.

 

 

Work Cited:

 

House, Silas.  “The Art of Being Still.”  NYTimes.com.  The New York Times, 1 Dec. 2012.  Web.  1 Dec. 2012.

 

The Superior Season

“Now it was a cool night with that mysterious excitement in it, which comes at the two changes of the year.” –F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

Fall is my season.  Somehow–and this is something I cannot quite put my finger on–the artistic/intellectual interest I developed at a tender age lined up with the changing of the seasons, and autumn took on a significance which has grown steadily in the years since.  The whole range of fall’s attributes are attractive to me, from the loss of leaves to metaphysical meditations on the waning season of life.  Halloween plays a part, too.  The trappings of the Halloween season have sparked my imagination from earliest childhood.  In the decorations and colors and allegedly haunted things, I see mystery.  And it is mystery that draws me, not evil or gore.  It is the mystery of what is behind these things, hidden and nameless, the unknown.  Non-creative explanations that anything Halloween-related is evil are not sufficient.  That is simply a shortcut to thinking.

Something about this time of year draws me aesthetically, intuitively, and intellectually.  The imagery of fall serves as the vehicle for a sense of mystery that will enhance our lives if we let it—a way to hold on to younger sensibilities.  There is something inviting about the color orange when it is found in nature, whether on a pumpkin or a leaf–especially orange deepening into red, and its inherent contrast with darkness, such as you see in a sunset.  There is mystery in a sunset, a summation of what the day gave us and a curiosity about what the night is bringing, whether that sunset be viewed through the branches of trees or reflected off the backs of ocean swells.

To be honest, I became enamored of both fall and winter, but fall edged ahead on the strength of its sensory accoutrements.  For sight, there are the changing leaves and ripening fields.  For smell, there are smoky bonfires and pumpkin-scented candles.  For taste, there are various hearty, spiced, and sweet edibles.  For sound and touch, there are cool breezes bending branches and twirling leaves.  The artistic education taking place at that impressionable age merged with the pleasanter aspects of the changes taking place in nature.  The exhilaration of a brisk day that whispers of winter–under a lustrous blue sky, with leaves at peak color and twigs barely clinging to their trees–commingled with the elation achieved when a painting from the pages of an Art History textbook would suddenly reveal itself as a thing of complicated beauty.  Every year, when this finest of seasons rolls around, my excitable imagination becomes even more so, and I cling to each day in a vain attempt to make it last longer.