A Moment of Stillness

It’s amazing the clarity that a moment of stillness can bring.

In one of my favorite books, the main character is fallen in love with in a moment of stillness. She is a busy character, brusque and hearty, pushing her way through the world doing good deeds, never still. Sick people find her a little exhausting. You see her this way for several books, during which she grows from a gawky girl to a young woman, cheerfully sweeping into action the people – and especially the men and boys — around her.

In this chapter, she has just marshaled a team of women to set up, prepare, and serve a rather disgusting – but healthy and inexpensive – free lunch to hoard of demanding and grimy children. As the children depart, the women begin cleaning, but the helpers one by one find errands and appointments and other reasons to leave. She matter-of-factly finishes the cleaning herself, washing and drying dishes and pots and pans, scraping the scraps into a bucket for a pig, scrubbing tables, folding chairs, sweeping the floor. This isn’t her first job that day and it won’t be her last.

When she finishes, she alights on a chair for a moment while she folds her apron, and rests her hands for a moment on it. A sophisticated man-about-town who has been bossed and directed by her for years – when he really just wanted to talk to the grown-ups – enters unseen, and sees her sitting in that moment of stillness, the first time he has ever seen her not moving.

It is then that he realizes that he has fallen in love with her.

There is something about a moment of stillness that helps you see things with clarity. I am convinced that this is why time seems to slow down in a crisis. It is as if the universe is giving you a moment of stillness to make the right decision.

Much of the time we, like the character above, are racing about making things happen. But what happens if we let things settle?

If someone asks a question, what happens when we reply with a contemplative stillness rather than a quick answer? Sometimes they discover the answer themselves or sometimes our answer to them changes.

If someone is suffering and we give them the space of stillness, stillness with a hug, does that comfort more than the usual words we’d say – too often “it will be alright” when it won’t?

If someone is yells at us angrily, does stillness make things worse or better?

Sometimes when people are experiencing hard emotions around me, I use a meditative technique to share compassion with them: I breathe to center myself, then breathe in their emotion, then breathe out, thinking the word “calm” or “safe.” The calmness or safety is for them, but I don’t have to tell them what I’m doing or make a big deal out of it, I just do it. (And I don’t worry about taking in their negativity – we are all infinitely large inside and a little smoke will dissipate in the expansive void within us.) Most of the time this gives them the space to feel what they’re feeling until it passes. Sometimes it makes them angrier, especially when the anger stems from fear, a fear they think I should be sharing, a fear I am not demonstrating by remaining still.

It can be hard to remember to find stillness within ourselves – especially amidst the chaos of the city. Sometimes when I walk through a park, I find it in a reflecting pool, a bowl of water, or even a puddle. That is the stillness I try to offer the turbulent people around me.

Sometimes I am that turbulent person myself and I catch myself, wonder, what is this storm that is taking me? What will happen if I sit in stillness and watch it rage around me?

What are some places that you find stillness? How do you share stillness with others?

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