Wednesday, June 23, 2010

In quiet

"A capacity for stillness," that is how I think of the primary lesson gained since I stopped trying to be an over-achiever. Years of compressing 30 hours of living into a 24-hour day resulted in pneumonia; the pneumonia lingered and became chronic respiratory infections, chronic fatigue, the usual penalties for not knowing when to stop voluntarily. In retrospect, it is easily identified as part of not knowing a lot of things.

This saga began 20 years ago and I don't recall the moment when I knew it was not meant to punish me but to save me. Learning to be at ease with quiet and one's own company is not something I sought consciously. Being well-behaved, "seen and not heard," were habits from childhood. They bought me some peace in my home but I thought of them as signs of repression; could some part of that behavior be seen as positive?

The learning curve for any new skill seldom goes as I expect. Perhaps it is just me, but I seem to require (by my calculation) a greater-than-normal amount of time to identify realizations, absorb truths, travel from uninformed to a semblance of awareness. This makes it necessary to repeat certain courses. I see you're back taking "Sit Down and Get Quiet" for the third time, Mrs. Kelly. With a determined and patient tutor, Life itself, and my eventual willingness to pay attention, we had something that could, in bad light, be seen as progress.

And now 20 years have passed; arthritis and reduced mobility (plus the 23 stairs between our apartment and the car) have been added to the list and I am no longer confused about why what seemed to be my life took this once-unwelcome turn. In the quiet of mind and body, I've found that I am not who I thought I was. I am some version of a contemplative; not a volunteer in the ordinary sense, but one whose soul required certain conditions in order to expand. Left entirely to the mind, this decision would never have been made.

As I observe the capacity for stillness in my son, I know that it has always been part of me, an undernourished yet significant aspect of my authentic self. I am not able to foresee all the places it will take me, the assignments it will bring, but I know it is the heart of what supports my need and desire to write, to draw, to understand. In his book, The Tao of Being, Ray Grigg says, "Understanding comes effortlessly. It is not acquired but happens...Wonder and soften and open."

7 comments:

Donna B said...

What a beautiful post and lesson! I feel I am moving toward the reality in finding peace in solitude instead of admonishing myself for not getting more done. I am learning the accomplishments will come only when I take the time to make myself happier.

Erin in Morro Bay said...

Ah yes, why does it take us so long to learn that the wonder of solitude is that we get to be with ourselves? Is it just that we don't even begin to appreciate how beautiful we are til we reach that "certain age"?
As always, dear one, a lovely and thought-provoking essay.
Erin

Robert the Skeptic said...

Why is it that we acquire wisdom at an age when we are then too weak, too frail, or too experienced to act upon it?

Penny said...

That's the rub though,isn't it - we have to live through whatever happens in our lives to reach that state of discovery, of "effortless understanding".

If we were all given instruction manuals when we were young, how many of us would actually have read them?

To know ourselves, especially without bitterness or regret is not something everyone manage to do; from your poignant writing here, it seems that you are well on the way to the summit. Some of your readers will be well on the way too, no doubt. The rest of us toiling up the mountain behind you, but having learnt to read the instructions, can only benefit from your words.

Laoch of Chicago said...

This is very poignant.

grrl + dog said...

oh.
If you could distill
the essence of how to be still

and feed it to me
drop by drop*sigh*

it eludes me...

Radish King said...

I've been reading this all week. I don't know how to be still unless I'm reading or writing or looking at any body of water. I do know how to be quiet though and I'm very very good at being alone which I think most Americans are terrified of for some reason.

xo