Monday, October 31, 2011

Stillness {Day 31 and...30, 29, & 28. Ahem}: What Happens after Stillness?

When I started this 31 Days project, I promised myself I wouldn't beat myself up.  Wouldn't give myself a load of guilt-laden grief over short posts, over half-baked ideas, or posts without cool photos.

Lucky I promised that, because I did indeed serve up a fair few of those kind of posts.  And yes, I did just plain fail to post for the last few days of the month.  [Ed note: To be fair, I tried.  Zipped tight into my mummy sleeping bag, cabin camping in a freezing rainstorm, I tried tapping out a post from my iPhone.  Stupid Blogger lost it THREE TIMES.  More on Stupid Blogger tomorrow.]

There were a few good ones in there too, posts that made me very happy to write.  This one, on parenting, was one of my favorites.  Funnily enough (some would argue for synchronicity here) this post, a sort of companion piece to my favorite, was far & away the most-read piece, with more than four times the number of page views of any of the other Stillness posts.

It seems that finding stillness whilst parenting is a giant challenge to all of us, and all we can do is be grateful for the moments when we find both the joy and the Still at the same time.  That - that - is the magic of raising kids.

But this post too was a big hit with y'all - a post considering what to do when the smog of life settles right into your brain and you can't clear it.  I talked about just going out and clearing a tiny corner of your world -ordering, and stilling, a small space for you.  Baby steps, folks, is all I'm asking.  Even those tiny steps will inch you closer and closer to places where you find Stillness more often, and more easily.

Here is the BIG QUESTION, though, the one that's been niggling at me all along each of these 31 Days.  With all this Stillness, what happens to moving forward?  To planning ahead?

I'm worried that it's easy to claim you are searching for Stillness when actually you are hiding from things. Pretending to live in the zen moment when in fact you are just burying your head in the sand about the bills piling up on the desk next to you.

So here is where my Big Idea gets its moment in the sun:

courtesy of Pinterest
I think in our everyday lives, in this crazy 21st century world, it is so much easier to let go.  So much easier to move on to the next thing, the next app, the next gadget, the next screen.  This is why I felt there were at least 31 Things to say about Stillness.

But yes, there must be some letting go as well.  Some willingness to look forward, instead of just in The Moment, if only to make consciously living a life of peace possible, instead of lurching from one crisis to the next.  (Not that I know anyone who lives like that.)

Tomorrow, TOMORROW:  I want you to come back & visit here, because I've got some Big Ol' News, and I can't wait to share it with you.  Big News about what I've decided to do after this 31 Days, and where I'm going to do it.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Stillness {Day 26 and, um, 27}: Living the Lessons

The more astute among you have already clocked that no post magically appeared in the 11o' clock-ish hour last night.  Whoops.

You see, there was another sort of Stillness that presented last night.  The sort of stillness that sneaks up on you, disguised by a silly bathtime dance-off, by Mommy's offer to read TWO chapters (just because), by siblings miraculously content to curl around my shoulders and head like kittens.

A very peaceful bedtime it was, and the kids were delighted to have a mom lounging around on their beds, listening to goofy knock knock jokes and failing to hurry them along in the nighttime routines.

Then came the call for lights out, and with it the discovery that Ms 9's Beloved Teddy was missing.  Yikes.  With the wavering bottom lip and fat hot tears spilling, the rumblings of a major tantrum sounded through the house.

Yet, the Stillness remained - through grace alone I stayed calm, refused to enter into DefCon10 with her, and asked her simply to go find another room in which to rail against the Fates and then, to calm herself.   Shockingly, this worked.

Here is where the Stillness really worked its magic:  as the lights were switched off, and darkness settled around their heads as physically as the down of their pillows, the sadness in her heart came out in whispers - broken heartedness over playground politics, perceptions of difference, questions of identity and growth and.... oh.  You know.  The easy stuff.

And I was able to stop and listen.  To really hear.  She'd felt the stillness in my heart and mind, and trusted that sharing the tumult in hers would be ok.  

I wrote earlier this month about offering Stillness to your kids.  Last night I lived the lesson, and was so grateful I did.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Stillness {Day 25}: Poems in the bottom of our shoes

(44/365) :: About to take my new shoes for a walk

"Poems hide.  In the bottom of our shoes,
they are sleeping. They are the shadows
drifting across our ceilings the moment
before we wake up.  What we have to do
is live in a way that lets us find them."
-Naomi Shihab Nye

As good a definition of Stillness as any I've read. 

You may believe you have no need of poems in your life.  Then you are mistaken.   Perhaps in a month of posts I will not convince you that the sleeping poems in the bottoms of your shoes will change you, but all you must do is look for them.  Your perspective will never be the same.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Stillness {Day 24}: I'm going to go THERE

I hinted at it in my post on airline travel.

Mostly, however, these posts have been carefully skirting the issue.

But [deep breath] I have to be honest with you.  I can talk Stillness all month long, but my dark secret is this:

[clears throat]

[eyes wander towards the ceiling]

Ok. I am a little bit a lot in love with my iPhone.

Seriously?  Is that all?  I hear you eye-rollers mutter out there.  So what?  I'm in love with my iPhone too!  IOS 5 holla! 

Well.  So then the party gets crashed by this guy writing about Henry Thoreau and Walden.  (Another holla! to my friend Don for the link.) Sam Graham-Felson writes about life with an iPhone - no, not just life, but full-time existence with an iPhone.  The first thing we check in the morning, the last thing we check at night.  Sigh.  I *really* wanted not to recognize myself in his descriptions.

I was slow to hop on the iPhone train, but let's just say the learning curve wasn't a burden. I love the email, the Facebook, the Pinterest, the all-of-it.  I love having something to whip out for the kids in a doctors office so that I can get my Achilles' palpated in peace.

But.  But.  To co-opt Mr Graham-Felson's phrase - the iPhone is making my life easier, not better.

When examining one's life through the lens of Stillness, it is hard to make the case for a 62x/day Facebook check. It is dicey at best to suggest that it is important to pin 16 images of Stillness to a Pinterest board in order to find Still in my day.

In our little Stillness experiment I've done a some examination of my phone habit.  I've consciously left my phone on Silent in the evenings when I'm hanging with my husband.   When I play with the kids outside, I leave the phone in the kitchen. 

I'm not quitting my phone.  Honestly?  It had me at the Hello apple.   But I will question the need to hold it in my palm at the bus stop.  I will stop myself before I sneakily check it during bedtime songs & stories. 

This evening I do apologize that I don't have a photo for you, of Ms 3 in a snowman sweater, red velvet plaid skirt, pink & black argyle tights and green frog boots.  It was classic.  But here's the thing:  I was busy playing TV Tag with that funny little girl.  Busy keeping them in hysterics with names of early-80s tv shows and getting smoked by my 7 year old.

Today, my life kicked my phone's ass.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Stillness {Day 22}: Stillness is not always Comfortable

All the soothing images I posted yesterday aside, Stillness can make any of us very uncomfortable indeed.

When we still our minds, the dark thoughts see their chance.  They rear up on hindlegs,  and unleash howls of anger, anxiety, jealousy, or maybe pure fear. 

And in the stillness, the dark thoughts scream, slither and shove for primacy in the front of your brain.  They resent to their core that they've been ignored.


I say, let them come. Let the thoughts come.   Allow the stillness to bring what it may.

My kids have an old picture book that was mine as a child, called There's No Such Thing as Dragons.  A little boy finds a dragon, and every time the boy tries to tell his mother about it, and the mother insists there's no such thing as dragons! the animal grows another few sizes.  It grows and grows (based on repeated denials) until it picks up the entire house on its back, and walks down the street.  The father runs into the dragon, with the house on its back, and the little boy shouts out the window about what's happened, and still the father insists:  but there's no such THING as dragons! 

Finally the little boy confronts his parents, and says (quite reasonably) there IS such a thing, and he's right here with our house on top of him!.

 Poof! Like that, the dragon is reduced to his original, puppy-like size and life returns to normal.

Which is all to say that the thoughts you don't want to spend any time with, the ones that you keep busy to avoid - those are the ones that need to be met face to face.  They must be given space, and Stillness, in order to be reduced to size.

Stillness isn't comfortable, but it's one heck of a dragonslayer.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Stillness {Day 21}: Being Still, the Visual

I have a funny little collection to show you.

I'm obsessed with a site called Pinterest, which is essentially a virtual bulletin board where you 'pin' items of interest that one might run across all over the interwebs.  People can 'follow' your boards, see what you're pinning, and pin it on their own if they're so moved. 

I take the time to explain this, because it isn't H.U.G.E. huge yet.  And really, it is a giant time suck, wherein you can spend 3 hours pinning a zillion things that you'd like to make/do/buy someday but in all honesty will probably never ever look at outside of Pinterest.

Anyway. I've been working on a Be Still board.   (To see the whole thing, you have to click that link.  Or, you know, go ahead & click this one.) These are little gems that have caught my eye in all sorts of contexts; a gestalt, if you will, of the way I look at Stillness.

A favorite path to Still

Being the nerd that I am, I was fascinated to look at the entire thing, and notice patterns: of empty inviting seats, of still waters, of views that invite you in to their visual plane, of soft vintage color, of small moments and quiet drinks.  And books. Always books. 

You will all have your own images that mean Still.  Even if you aren't a visual person, take just a few minutes today to think about what sort of pictures would be Still to you.  Imagine it, do a quick Google search, stick up a magazine photo on your fridge.   There will be something, I'm betting, that will whisper Be Still to you, every time you pass it.

Pay attention to this.  It is Stillness seeking you out.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Stillness {Day 20}: Poet of Stillness

I first discovered the poetry of Gunilla Norris as a newlywed graduate student.  Penniless, living on a student loan, but convinced that we could still create a life of beauty.

Her poetry backs up this idea.  And it's stunning.  Below are some excerpts from her website:

Keeping a cleaned and empty surface somewhere in our homes is a little thing that can have subtle power. Take the kitchen counter, for instance. When cleared of all used up and sticky things, it can be a wonderful reminder to clean the inner counter, too, of its messy complaints and leftovers. A clean surface is a wonderful icon for stillness and peace. It can also be a place of inspiration for cooking up something new.

Keeping silent, we hear the roar of existence

It is a paradox that keeping still can lead us so fully into life and being.

It has always been my understanding that when we are really present in our daily activities, our lives become more luminous, filled with love and grace.  

What little thing could be more powerful than a pause — a simple, "do nothing" breath break so the soul can catch up with the body? More powerful yet would be more of them sprinkled throughout the day. 

These are beautiful thoughts about the depth of our living.   A little tricky, finding profundity in your local bookstore that looks more like Toys R Us, but track it down.  You won't be sorry to read someone articulating the joy of stillness so beautifully.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Stillness {Day 19}: Do you have to be still to be, y'know, Still?

So yesterday I called out the Activity People. The folks who consciously structure a huge amount of busy-ness into their lives. 

This morning I got an email from one of my most favorite Activity People, the one who finally got me off the couch and running.  She'd been catching up on the blog, and right off the bat, she asked me:  "do you have to actually be still to be Still?

No.  Oh my, no.

The Stillness arrives in the strangest of places.  It arrives in the middle of a long run, when you realize you've forgotten the preschool playgroups, the vacation-time bills, the Make Sure I Remembers.  It arrives in the early morning as you switch on the first lamp in a dark kitchen, and make a small circle of light in which to enjoy your coffee.  It is absolutely there as you stomp in puddles, play tag in the backyard, or throw yourself into a game of pickup soccer with friends.

These are just my small moments.  You will find your own.  You can find your own, anyway, if you want.  The quieting of your mind has nothing to do with physical stillness.  It has everything to do with awareness, and gratefulness, of where we are. In that very moment.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Stillness {Day 18}: Are your feet falling asleep?

All this stillness, I mean.  Have your feet fallen asleep?

I knew starting out that Stillness wasn't going to be The Hot Topic of the century.  I mean, there are over six hundred bloggers participating in the 31 Days Project this October!  And I'll be honest:  31 Days to a No-Brainer Wardrobe sounds infinitely more fun than this Stillness stuff.

Stillness is a challenge.  For those prone to navel-gazing like me,  it comes a little bit easier.  I love having the excuse to sit still and think really hard about where and why I am.  But I do have a fair number of friends who are busy busy people.  They are people who structure their entire days - entire lives - around work, sports, activities, playdates, coffee dates, you name it. 

I so envy their energy levels, their focus, their drive.  At heart, a navel-gazer like me is a teensy bit lazy, and likes to explain that away with a lot of talk about introspection, self-knowledge, and um, creativity.  I am pretty much at peace with who I am, and say this with tongue firmly planted in cheek. 

The world needs all sorts, y'know?

But here's where I have the inside track, and why I kinda like my Thinker/Watcher self:  Stillness arrives more quickly for me, these days.  If a silent sort of meditative quality can scream its name on occasion, I am the person who can hear the hollering. 

I find myself noticing it in the middle of a preschool hayride, and I point out to my small girl the spectacle of 20 ducks in formation, black checkmarks in the clear autumn sky.   I am tempted to stop my car in the middle of a two-lane road, just because the lineup of a red barn against autumn trees says to me Stillness Lives Here.  I notice the square of sunlight in the middle of my living room couch, and I am instantly grateful for the invitation and keenly aware of its temporary state.  I lie down immediately, and seize the rare chance for a nap.

All of you Activity People out there, it's ok.  I get you.  I understand that Stillness feels as foreign to you as Tantric Yoga or ... pffft. I don't know - needlepoint?  But it doesn't mean you get a free pass.  Stillness is there for you too.

Just for a minute, today, just for maybe two minutes even, allow yourself to think about Stillness.  Allow yourself to consider the people who live with Still.  Is there anything there you recognize?  Anything there you envy for your own existence? 

I'm betting that all of us wish there was more Still in our lives.


Monday, October 17, 2011

Stillness {Day 17}: Naptime

The end of naps is nigh.

She's so close to four she's planning her 'birfday partee', so tall and strong and funny and mouthy and gorgeous.  She's *this* close to four, and the other 2 had left naptime far behind by the time they'd reached this ripe old age.

But oh:  the profound stillness that comes over her when finally she climbs onto my bed, rubs her soft blanket against her cheek and lowers her eyelids.  Her entire being welcomes the quiet, welcomes the chance to let it all be, just for an hour or two.

As with so much of life, our instincts at three speak to what is basic within us.  The ability to be still and rest peacefully. 

How long has it been since we've laid down our burdens (preschool or otherwise) and rested? 

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Stillness {Day 16}: The Clock Stood Still

I visited a friend's parents today - made my right turn onto their road, following the narrow single lane back towards their familiar gate.  It must have been about this time of year I drove that lane for the first time, twenty five years ago.  I eased into their driveway - almost as familiar as my own parents', and I had the strangest, most beautiful sense of the constrictions of time and space suspending.  

The lovely old farmhouse welcomed me as it has so many hundreds of times - with graciousness, quiet beauty, and imperfection.    The family inside - brothers, sisters, parents, grandchildren, babies -  shared all of those traits and more, as we hugged hello, wondered how long has it been? and traded stories. 

Perhaps it was the warm autumn sun, the alchemy of that warmth mixed with a beautiful October breeze that turned leaves of trees all around the house, and made curtains wave to me.  Perhaps it was the lack of schedule - the willing suspension of deadlines, of timeframes, of task lists.  Perhaps the evanescent magic of fall - a time of year so quick to end, so dark in its finishing days - made the moments there in the farmhouse feel all the more achingly beautiful.

fall sunshine
photo courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

The facts of our lives:  grinding daily schedules, disappointments inherent in adult life, heartbreaks acknowledged but unspoken, did not magically disappear.  But somehow, there in the autumn sunshine, all of our lives became so much larger than the sum of our days, so much bigger than a life of schedule and task.

A family, gathered.  A friend, welcomed.  Somehow the simple rituals of a family together took me closer yet to the essence of Stillness:  awareness of - and gratitude for - history.  For connection.  For time. For love.

These, friends, are the gifts of Stillness. 

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Stillness {Day 15}: Goals on Ice

My view right now is a long stretch of jeans, and my ankle stretched out beyond that - on top of a complicated hierarchy of ice-filled Ziploc bags.  I take turns, icing first the right side, then the left.

I've got my laptop on my lap, looking at photo after photo of Facebook friends - including my own crowd of running peeps  - finishing the Baltimore Running Festival. 

Most of them ran the half marathon today, and I had planned from the minute I finished the BRF last year to be running it along with them. 

And here I sit, icing the same Achilles injury that's plagued me since February 28. I iced these ankles at 6 am, 1pm, and now 10pm.  I did not run today.

I bravely blogged about goals, and game changers, and embracing a season of healing  - a season of stillness, if you will - back in March.  By October 15 I have lost patience.  I don't want to embrace the season of healing.  I want to wake up tomorrow morning and run with my friends in the woods, the way I used to every Sunday. 

But the human body is a funny thing, and Achilles injuries even funnier.  If you tempt them - if you push further than you know you should, you will pay.  Two weeks ago I ignored the twinges, the quiet warning signs that I should know by now to respect, because I wanted so badly to run with a friend in the foothills of LA. 

I'm still paying.  Paying for fighting the Stillness.  Not that I really believe Stillness subscribes to the philosophy of paybacks, but it's one of those immutable rules of Life:  if you ignore what you know to be true, what you know to be necessary, you will always, always regret it.

Tonight, I'm mostly whining about Stillness.  It's true.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Stillness {Day 14}: Being Still - Is it the new bon bon?

The running joke is that the life of a stay-at-home mom involves a fair bit of bon bon eating and soap opera watching.

Reading through the posts of the last 2 weeks, I have to ask myself:  is there a whole lot of eye-rolling going on out there as I tell you all about Stillness, and the small moments of Still that occur in our days?

Sure, I hear someone [ah, the mythical Someone] muttering - sure, it's all well and good to talk about Stillness when you're messing about with preschool pickups and grilled cheese sandwiches.  Of course you have moments of Still - you've got naptime in your house, for the love of Barney!  Meanwhile the rest of us are enduring meetings, taking calls, commuting ridiculous distances.   There's no time for stillness in a life this busy!


But I think there IS time.

You see, Stillness is not so much the absence of other activity.  Stillness is not so much the lack of occupation.

The practice of Stillness has everything to do with grasping your occupations - and your preoccupations - with a firm hand, telling them just a minute.  I will be with you in just a minute.

For just that minute, or even two or even FIVE if you're being really profligate with your peacefulness, leave those occupations exactly where they are.  Freeze frame. 

When I worked I used to keep an amazing hand-thrown vase on my desk, as a focus for those moments of Stillness.  As a mom, I've been known to use chubby fingers or Lego creations for the same purpose. 

Take those minutes to be fully aware of your place in the world, of the outrageous gifts that surround you (autumn leaves, good health, shoes that don't pinch) and of all that makes up your world. 

There is time.  There is always time to still your mind, and be grateful.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Stillness {Day 13}: Perspective

and what we hear depends mainly on what we listen for

what we touch depends mainly on what we reach for

what we taste depends mainly on what we choose to eat

what we smell depends mainly on with what we surround ourselves. [unless you have an ancient golden retriever.  then, all bets are off, and all can be blamed on the canine.]


this could be cheesy pop psychology; this could be the most profound thing to ever turn up on this blog.  i'm undecided.  but a shift in perspective is always - always - key when i am looking for stillness.  so many times it is hidden in plain sight.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Stillness {Day 12}: Slivers of still

a playdate at the park - happy shouts, small legs powering up ladders and shooting down slides.  their mothers are oddly calmed by the rambunctiousness.

a silly lunchtime, with the grilled cheese of so many of our days.   two kids, dissolving into giggles over carrot sticks in nostrils.  their mom was genuinely amused.

a pre-nap storytime, with two small kids curled around their mom like parentheses, listening to the gentle cadences of AA Milne. 

an hour of school with a proud student who felt he was getting it.  who shyly - but handily - breezed through a math test.

it was a no-playdate day.  the mom of the house wanted only to gather her small chicks around her, to have a quiet afternoon with them.

the rain started its thrumming on the sidewalk, and there were instant calls for raincoats and boots.  a dam was built, the puddles were stomped, a broken downspout became an impromptu shower.

three wet Smalls trooped in, stripped off, and ran for the shower.  The call of Can you all wash your hair, if you're in there??? followed them up the stairs.  there was laughing and bossing and hollering, and then calls for cozy pants and warm socks.

the day quietly slipped into dusk, disguised by grey rain clouds.  quiet spread to all levels of the house, and each child found their own small occupations.

baked apples for a special dessert, and real whipped cream which became a group effort. one splashing vanilla, another scooping sugar, with the big sister in charge of the KitchenAid.

Make no mistake: stillness is in every sort of day.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Monday, October 10, 2011

Stillness {Day 10}: Parenting with Stillness. Not an Oxymoron.

When in doubt, choose the kids.  There will be plenty of time later to choose work. - Anna Quindlen

I had a friend post this on my Facebook wall yesterday: any words of wisdom as I enter into stay-at-home mommyhood this week?  After 10 years of working I'm leaving my career and not looking back!

Oh my.  Where to start?  I mean, how long can you go on, on someone's FB wall, without being seen as seriously psychotic, instead of Stay At Home Mom Extraordinaire?

In the end, I shared the only wisdom I felt comfortable with, saying that there truly is no 'one right way', and that to be a great mom you have to trust your instincts, and to treasure each and every minute possible.  True for any parent, tougher for the mom wiping up the 7th glass of spilled milk that day.

On reflection, later today, I realized my advice could be even simpler. 

Be Still, is my advice to stay at home mothers.  To parents, really.

Be still, and know that you are witness to magic. 

Be still, and know that you are participating in a tremendous experiment where no one knows the outcome, but everything is still possible.

Be still, and trace their soft fat cheek with your fingers, because soon that cheek will turn angular and beautiful, but lack any roundness that echoes the infant in arms they were.

Be still, and marvel at their quick wit, their sharp humor, their changing emotions that they don't yet know to hide.

Be still, and let their psychic storms wash over you.  Your peace will be their peace, and they will come to treasure the stillness you can offer them within the safety of their home.

Be still, and let there be mess.  Kids are messy, and there will be a mess.  Absolutely there will be a time for clean up, a time for the character building that tidying up offers, but let there be mess.

Be still, and offer stillness to them.  They will fight it, kicking, maybe even screaming, but offer stillness to them.  Turn off televisions, iTunes, Leapsters, xBoxes, iPods and cell phones and offer your kids the gift of stillness in the home.   A place where they can calm their hearts and minds, and therefore go peacefully into the world.

This is what I can offer as advice to parents of children, size XS to XL:  Be Still.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Stillness {Day 9}: The music will take you there

The hubs and I went out for a little date tonight.  Went to a 'house concert', our friend called it, when he invited us.  A small concert in his home, an Irish singer and her guitar.

We chatted a bit, had a quick drink, then took our seats in the living room.  Fil Campbell stood up front and with the beautiful music of the Irish accent tripping off her tongue before she even started singing,  she invited those who knew the ancient folk tunes to sing along with her.

She began to sing, just like that.  Sad aching music wound its way around the shoulders of the guests:  I saw chins lift, and eyes mist as even the hippest of hipsters heard chords that resonated in the collective psyche of mothers singing lullabies, of grandparents singing forgotten choruses.

What is it about music that so instantly moves, so immediately takes us to distant memories and buried thoughts?

I wondered, in that instant, if this might be something to do with Stillness.  And of course, like all things of Quality, of course it had everything to do with Still.

Music is a thing that can command our entire attention.  Certainly it can be background noise.  Certainly there are forgettable tunes that can - no must - be forgotten.  (Barbie Girl by Aqua, anyone?)

But real music has power like no other to fully still our hearts and minds.  And I'm not just talking a lovely Irish folk tune.   I have clear memories of a Portishead set where I could have been anywhere, at any time, and the thrum of bass underneath would still reach me.  There was a underground jazz club on one of my earliest dates with Nilsen, and the memories are only of sound, and heat, and dark and more sound.  There is the incredible moment on my wedding day, when the trumpets swelled, and my husband (!) and I turned around to walk out and face the rest of our life.  All I have to do is hear the opening chords and I tear up.

Stillness, at its heart, is being aware - keenly aware - of your place in the cosmos and the complexity of all that surrounds you.

Music, I decided tonight, is just about the most direct way to get there.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Stillness {Day 8}: The Dark Side of Still

One of my major reservations about doing a series on Stillness was that I might seem to come across as some sort of Live in the Now expert.  Mindfulness Madam.  Senior Fellow in Stillness.

[Yeah, alright, you long time readers can stop laughing now. I'm serious.  I was worried.]

I am not mindful all day long.  Some days, ok fine A LOT of days I am not mindful at all, and build no stillness into my life whatsoever.  Not real stillness.  Laziness, yes.  Exhausted stupor, oh yeah - every morning when I stagger out of bed, and every evening as I collapse back onto the mattress.  Stunned silence?  More often than I'd like.

Throughout this 31 Days I'm planning to share with you where my darker thoughts go on this subject.  I'll tell you about my Sally Snark inner voice that makes fun of my Stillness meditations, my Judgy McJudgerson inner voice that thinks there a lot better things to do with my time, and my Troubled Goth Teenager inner voice that insists I just don't get it, that I'm just not deep enough, man. 

[No wonder I can entertain myself for long stretches at home alone with the kids.  I've got fantastic multiple personalities to keep me company!]

So this little Saturday night post is just to tell you that it's ok if you don't buy into all this Stillness stuff all the time.  Sometimes, like late on a weekend night when I'm tired and whiny and just want to watch trashy tv?  I wanna say what's the - ugh - *point*?? too.

And then, the next day, I will wake up, do a little shimmy in the shower and get my guru mojo back. I will return to looking for Still, because on those days, just the discipline of the search is enough to get us started.

Wait for it.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Stillness {Day 7}: Go Pull Some Weeds

When I cannot bear outer pressures anymore, I begin to put order in my belongings... As if unable to organize and control my life,  I seek to exert this on the world of objects.  -Anais Nin

Post-vacation life piles up around me.  Laundry, receipts, a week's worth of mail to be sorted and an empty fridge all silently pass judgement on my lack of productivity, my failure to make any concrete progress.

The kids are funny.  They don't register the chaos - they register only that the sun has returned, and mudpies are waiting to be made, and buddies up the street are welcoming them back home.  Friends swirl in and out of the house, and happy shouts of This time I'M Emperor Palpatine!!! ring out from the treehouse.

I felt the panic rise all week - no forward progress, no measurable improvement in the general upheaval that is our house.  The bills, when opened, don't help to calm frazzled nerves.

So I went outside.

Stood out on my walk and irritatedly reviewed the overgrown post-summer foliage.

I pulled up a dead tomato plant.  Then another.  I pulled on the end of a morning glory vine and ended up with two armfuls of twisted dying plant.  I bent at the hips and got right to the root of a perennial daisy. Out it came.  Plant after plant, clods of earth exploding overhead, I pulled out festering old roots, snaking choking vines, and snapped brittle branches one by one.

There is nothing to be done about the weight of tasks that loom over us, day in and day out.  One must simply plod through the laundry, the bills and the contractor meetings. 

But sometimes, the only way to get to Still is to go out and exert control over one tiny corner of your world.   Tidy the garden.  Ready it for the quiet winter season. 

Sometimes, the most direct path to a small corner of Stillness is the path of action. 

Go. Pull some weeds.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Stillness {Day 6}: Stillness and Study

I  attend a class once a week that challenges me as much as any college course.  Any course in my post-grad degree, come to that.

As a teenager, as a young adult, never in a hundred years would I have imagined that a class like this would be the thing that feeds me on a weekly basis. 

It is 2 hours in my week that creates the space for me to think critically, think carefully, and to read and re-read the texts.  In this space I am able to apprehend deeper wisdom through the exchange of ideas, through the study of the text, through the encouragement to examine critically ideas that we've held as Truth our entire lives.

It is 2 hours of Stillness in my week.  A space in which I am forced to still my mind - to leave my to-do lists, my phone calls, and my cherished iPhone alone - and to open my mind to knowledge, insight, and new thought.

This is Stillness.  Stillness of the most generative sort.

It's a bible study at my church, led by our pastor and populated by some of the smartest people I know.

I didn't want to tell you about this part of my life.  Was a little kvetchy about admitting such an active part in my faith.  But as I sat there this morning, in the first class this fall, I understood that I have found a place of Stillness like no other. It is part of who I am, and what feeds me.

It is Stillness of the First Order, and I just had to tell you about it.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Stillness {Day 5} : Not Still at all

I knew there'd be days like this. Knew it from the minute I decided on my 31 Days topic.

Nothing wrong with today in the slightest - bright sunshine at long last, preschoolers playing together nicely, a few things accomplished.

But no stillness.  It was a busy busy day, full of kids and errands and school and laundry and... just normal. No moments of insight, no flashes where I think to myself this. THIS! and know I've found my Still for the day. 

But maybe it is there all along, on those days where there are no flashes, no insights.  The days that tick along gently, with crisp autumn air [finally!] pouring through open windows, little girls who have nothing more to break their hearts than a territory battle over a tower of pillows, big kids who do their homework without gnashing of teeth.

This is its own version of Still:  a quiet mind that navigates its day without major complaint. A contented heart that didn't realize its happy state until the quiet moments of the day in review reveal that actually?

There was stillness all along.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Stillness {Day 4}: Happy, and Still, all at once

A hundred folding seats on a flagstone terrace.  A wedding swirling with guests, drinks, canapes.  Flashes from  cameras blink across the crowd.  Thrumming music surrounds the space, and knives forks and glasses clink amongst the tables.

A wedding is a happy time, surely - but a time for Stillness? 

Oh yes.

The very smallest of still moments as a star-struck nine year old sees herself dressed in flower girl finery, satin slippers on feet and roses in her curled hair.

The moment of still when the bride shyly turns around in her dress and every woman in the dressing room gasps, their eyes welling with full heartedness.

The quiet stillness of a bride adjusting the veil herself, lost in a reflection that goes far deeper than the mirror's offering.

The moment of still as music stops, guests turn their heads simultaneously, a single beat singing out before they see her.

The stillness as the bride arrives at the front, stunning under a thin layer of tulle. For an instant, she is uniquely her, most beautifully her, and singularly transformed by her joy.  That instant right there, she could equally be every bride through history - every woman who is absolutely certain of the love she claims as hers, there at the altar.

That brief second in the first dance, where the groom forgets his concentration on the dance steps and instead is completely absorbed in the amazing gift that is the person dancing with him.

I can't even describe how stunning this bride was, y'all
The remarkable stillness of a crowd absorbing a toast crafted from the heart, emotion suffusing every single word offered.

Make no mistake:  there are many moments of Stillness in a wedding.  It takes a careful heart to find them, and to treasure them, but oh they are there!

Those moments of stillness - of concentrated joy and gratefulness - bring us to deeper moments of joy within ourselves, when we remember, or at least remember to believe in, the possibilities of a transformative love like that. 

On a wedding day, deep in each of our hearts, we ask questions of love.  Those moments of stillness? They are the answers.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Stillness {Day 3}: Humans in Flight

Spent my day flying.  There was a cabin-full of people, all sat still for five hours from LA to Washington.  At the beginning of the flight, after all the boarding and the polite would you like the window seat?, the captain asks all electronic devices be switched off.

For 10 minutes.  And then, blessed relief, all can be switched on again, each of us with our own seat of headphones, our own "electronic devices", our own little spheres of existence.

All of us, sat in our seats, carefully buckled in.  Parked in one spot for the next five hours.

This is stillness, right? 

No.  Not, not still in the slightest.

A cabin full of passengers, each with their own small screen in front of them where you can dial up games, movies, satellite tv - the latest on Jersey Shore, dontcha know - for the entire flight.  You can even click little buttons to let the cabin staff know that you'd like a drink, please.  2 minutes later, your tonic water wordlessly turns up and with a pleasant smile, the steward is on his way.

This is not stillness.

Stillness is not Not Moving. Stillness involves consciousness.  Stillness involves, well, being still.  In heart, in mind, in body.   It doesn't mean watching a whole movie from start to finish.  It means allowing yourself the space to say I'm not going to watch.  I'm not going to listen.  I'm not going to type.  I will simply be here, and be aware of all that is going on around me, and all that is in my head.

A scary proposition, this.  For those of us with phones that can look up anything, present us with information and emails and 'pokes' on a non-stop basis, it is a scary thing to turn it all off.

I sat for a moment, in my seat, looking around at the screens in every seat in front of me. I thought about making my 9 year old next to me switch off to play Bananagrams instead.  And then, sadly, I pulled out my laptop instead, switched on my iTunes, and plugged in.   Stillness escaped, once again, but just for that split second I saw how elusive, how very slippery, the stillness is.

It slips away.

Stillness {Day 2}: A History of Still

"Hurry is not of the devil; it is the devil." (Carl Jung 1875-1961)

It occurred to me that maybe explaining why I wanted to meditate on Stillness for these 31 Days might be helpful.  Some of you lifers may remember when I originally posted this two years ago, but for those of you new to NilsenLife, here's the original seed of Stillness:

I'm just going to say this: I behave terribly when it is time to get little people out the door. Partly because I'm always running just slightly late, always underestimating the time it takes to find one pink Croc, the 2 Very Special Playmobil Guys who are to travel with us, and the big sister who is Officially A Bit Dreamy. Partly because no one seems to grasp just how important it IS to get somewhere on time. Partly because no matter how many times it fails, I keep believing that yelling/sighing/stomping (I know, mature, right?) will actually change the outcome.

In fact, I think this ineffective yelling/sighing/stomping sort of behavior has been a bit of a hallmark of the last year or so. A development that doesn't necessarily fill me with pride.

So this was my Mother's Day present this year:

It is a Lisa Leonard necklace, titled "Be Still." I have worn it almost daily since that day in May - it is beautiful, and a sweet little accessory, but it has become a talisman to me. A meditation, if you will, to remind me in its weight against my collarbone that what is required of this moment is to simply Be Still.

It is so hard for any of us to be still.

Those of us with kids are fully occupied by the next activity, the next fight, the next birthday party. Those of us who work are stressing the next deadline, the next phone call, the next meeting. All of us have homes with dishes, with laundry, with bills to be paid, with projects large and small. We all sit with our computers, clicking from tab to tab, instant messaging-emailing-shopping-Facebooking-blogging. Maybe the TV is on for good measure, just in case all the websites go silent at once.

Psychic busy-ness is a specialty of mine: with worry, with guilt, with blame, with doubt. Yet none of those pursuits will bring me to stillness.

Most just avoid stillness through its antithesis: hurry. We are hurrying to the next thing, hurrying to finish, in a hurry to cook, in a hurry to eat, in a hurry to live.

Really, many have addressed this topic far more eloquently, more deeply than I can. For starters, try this post over at Zen Habits:

We are always on, always connected, always thinking, always talking. There is no time for stillness — and sitting in front of a frenetic computer all day, and then in front of the hyperactive television, doesn’t count as stillness.
This comes at a cost: we lose that time for contemplation, for observing and listening. We lose peace.

I am trying to find Still.

I started this post long ago, right after I got the necklace and I wanted to tell you about my new meditation tool. I'd been doing a lot of thinking about how to preserve stillness in my life, in my kids' lives. I'd been regretting my need to hurry, wondering how I could carve out stillness for my home. And then....I got busy. And hurried. And then I got an email, just ahead of a particularly busy weekend. And this is the photo that greeted me when I clicked 'open':

In every faith, in every tradition, there exists in some form this exhortation - this command: Be Still. It is a command designed to give us nothing less than our lives.

Stop. Cease. Slow Down.


Sunday, October 2, 2011

31 Days of Stillness

I've come up with a new harebrained scheme.  The scheme itself isn't so harebrained, but the fact that I am trying to launch it whilst in Southern California for a family wedding, trying to post a blog before rushing off to rehearsal dinner and introducing the babysitter to the assembly of cousins she'll be watching? That's the harebrained bit.

So.  A bunch of bloggers, inspired by The Nester and her blog series last October, have banded together to participate in 31 Days - a month of blog posts on a theme.

I've been thinking about the idea of Stillness for a while now.  (Maybe all mothers of young kids think about stillness on a daily basis?)  So for thirty-one days I'll be meditating on Stillness in our lives.  I'd love to have you all along on the ride.  Some days in my life offer more chance for reflection than others; on the uniquely non-still days we may have to content ourselves with a photo of a small moment of stillness in my day.

Today, in the midst of preparations, here was my small moment of stillness:

A beautiful lunch with the loveliest of friends, in the California sunshine.
Kids singing together, toddlers stripping in the paddling pool, soccer balls ricocheting.
Here was the stillness we needed, stillness in the presence of friends, and their kids.
Stillness of heart, knowing you are in a place where you are loved.

The very happiest kind of stillness.

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