23 Oct Practising stillness 1: Landscape
I remember a line I read in a novel once which described the city as ‘humming with anxiety’. I pictured the cars sat at traffic lights, engines turning over, poised, waiting. The buzz of the street lights, flickering. The strip lighting in the all-night garage displaying food for people on the go, devoid of nutritional content. The energy of the day turning to night.
The restless city, in constant motion.
Years ago I was on a church weekend away. I don’t remember much about the weekend – I don’t think it was a great time for me – but I remember a stream I walked beside, and these verses coming to my mind, from probably the most famous Psalm (23),
“The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
He leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul”
I felt that still small voice inside me prompting me to linger, to watch. And for those few moments, despite the chaos of my life at the time, I felt a calm. As the stream took its course, as it washed over the stones, as it darted under the trees, my breathing slowed and I got a glimpse of what peace might feel like. I dared to hope.
Over the past few years, I have realised spending time in wide open spaces brings me peace.
As a family we often spend time in Anglesey. We arrive for the weekend, or for a week on the fringes of school holidays with brains fried from a busy week, or intense work schedule, or the constant demands of the kids. We fall out of the car and stop. And as we look out over the view to Snowdonia, mentally we exhale. Our shoulders relax in the presence of beauty.
This landscape invites us. Suddenly there is enough time
Being outdoors is therapeutic. Walking in the hills, or along a beach can heal.
I think it is about perspective. Understanding my importance and my unimportance all at the same time.
This beauty is here for me. And this beauty is here regardless of me.
I have a place in this landscape, to see and experience, to witness and enjoy. But these hills and river and beaches will continue to bring joy long after I am gone.
As I walk, I connect into a history, and become part of a story, that existed long before our cities and towns, than our manmade great ideas, and the permanence of this beauty roots me. It ground me. I am reminded there is a rhythm I can choose to connect with, of seasons and tides, of life and death, of suffering and joy.
And this pre-ordained order, it runs deeper than my striving, than my relentless activity. It existed before and will continue afterwards.
It is a stronger truth.
I cannot make the grass grow, or the leaves fall. I cannot will the waves to stop or the sun to shine.
I have a role to play, I must steward well, and love wildly, but I don’t hold the sky up and I don’t make the rivers flow.
There is something reassuring about the indifference of the land.
I came across this poem this week. Mary Oliver says it better than I can;
I Go Down To The Shore
I go down to the shore in the morning
and depending on the hour the waves
are rolling in or moving out,
and I say, oh, I am miserable,
what should I do? And the sea says
in its lovely voice:
Excuse me, I have work to do.
The earth is big and I am small. There is an order beyond my understanding. There is hope despite my knowledge and experience.
The world is generous of spirit. And it brings nourishment.
The sun does not tire of rising, the flowers of blooming, the leaves from turning golden. The waves do not need to be told to stretch onto the beach and the bulbs do not need to be told that they must fight through the dark earth.
Nature responds, reminds, refreshes. Walking by quiet waters, stills by mind. Lying down in green pastures, or on sunny beaches, or under a canopy of spring blossom, restores my soul.
To be practical:
I am trying to find ways to write about how to bring peace and stillness into our normal, everyday, waking and working and sleeping lives. I realise that running off to the countryside every weekend is not a possibility for most of us, we have commitments and schedules and limited resources.
And this isn’t a formula to follow. But there is a principle here. Find an open space, or look to the sky.
Look up. Stop and watch the sun set, or get up early to see the dawn.
Walk out on the hills – borrow a dog if necessary. Go to the park, or walk by the river. Walk in the rain or the sun, walk alone or with others. And look around you. Breathe deeply.
I can’t promise miracles, but I know from experience that when I go outside good things happen.