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