I have taught myself to stop and breathe. But sitting down and reading, even interesting books, puts me to sleep. I doze off watching TV. Sure, creating, either by writing or assembling in an artistic way, will hold my interest and I can stay focused on that for a very long time, but reading scripture? Listening to talks? Even on topics that matter deeply to me…I nod off like a narcoleptic.
Here’s a problem for people with the same propensity: the web. THE Web. Look around you at a restaurant, on the bus, in the school cafeteria: our heads are down and our lips are sealed. We sit among each other without conversation. We bask in the glow of our handhelds. We are silent. But we are not still.
Yesterday Dave and I were driving somewhere and he mentioned something about smart cars that will drive themselves. It’s on the near horizon, I understand. I said that it worried me, because driving alone in a car is one of the last opportunities we humans have to be still. I’m not talking motionless. I’m talking about being mentally able to let multiple levels of the mind run free. I see our thoughts as travelling in spherical rings around the core of ourselves. On the outermost level, we are driving the car, of course. But the inner rings, especially if we turn off the iPod or radio, are able to spin in whatever direction they want. We can ponder deep concepts, or we can think about what we should fix for dinner. And, interestingly, we can actually do both at once, though we are usually unaware of it. If you know someone who likes to hum, or sing, or whistle, you’re hearing one of those rings of thinking expressing itself. Stop sometime, randomly, and think about what song is playing in your brain. As I understand it, there is usually one down there somewhere. Like, just now I stopped and thought about it, and guess what song came up? Brown Eyed Girl. Seriously? Where did THAT come from? I spent the day in the studio working on my own songs, and Brown Eyed Girl is swirling in my head?
Anyway, what I’m trying to say (mostly to myself) is that when I check my phone every 15 minutes for messages, emails, and to see what everyone is up to on Instagram and Facebook, I am forcing those rings to spin in one direction, at one speed. I have no science to back this. Just experience. Too darn much experience.
My oldest granddaughter, Sophie, gave me this card when she was very young:
Instead, I define my stillness is a purposeful release from compulsion. It is whispering, without words, a message to my inner self…to the Holy Ghost… that I am willing to listen. Sometimes deeply listen. Sometimes casually listen.
Like those self driven cars we may someday be riding in, when we force our brains to follow thin trivial threads, we empower the world to control where we will go. Being still is allowing the master of my soul to guide me. It is calm, and trusting, and not anxious.
I learned once, when someone very dear to me was suffering from severe anxiety, the concept of allowing ourselves to ride the roller coaster of anxiety. When we humans approach something we fear, we instinctively push our hands and feet in front of us and try to stave off the coming demons of our fears, to stop the crash and avoid the fall. The strategy that finally worked was the one that trusted that we would survive the lowest dip in the roller coaster, and after that we would rise again, still breathing, our hearts still beating. The way we got through the ride was not by trying to stop the massive machine, but by taking the ride all the way down, knowing we would survive and rise in the end. I think the key to being still is trust.
Like a child in her parent’s arms, I pray for enough trust to let God lead me where it is most fruitful for me to go. He is kind and wise to remind us that He is God, and He will take care of things He needs to take care of. And me, his little child? I must be still.
We must be still.
My HOPE, mostly for myself, but also for my children and their children, is to learn to be still. Really still. With real intent. In the small quiet intervals of our everydays.
During the season of Lent I make the personal commitment to write every day. I’ve done this for the past eight years, as a token of devotion and thanks to the Lord for giving me a brain that works (usually). I publish these writings here on my blog, unedited and splattered like wet paint, as a way to share them and to keep them for myself and for my posterity. This year I have decided to ruminate on thoughts, ideas, habits and miscellaneous personal practices I would like to put in a figurative HOPE CHEST to take with me into the rest of my life and the life beyond. Besides that, there are bits of advice I would like to tuck into the HOPE CHESTS of my kids and grandkids.