Friday, September 23, 2022

Friday Ramble - Stillness

Ah, sweet stillness... it's an old word dating from before 900CE, coming to us through the Middle English stilnesse and Old English stilnes, both describing a state in which one is quiet, peaceful, balanced and motionless. There is also the Old Saxon (and Old High German) stilli, the Dutch stollen meaning "to curdle", and Sanskrit sthānús meaning "immobile". At the beginning of it all is the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) root *stel ni or stel meaning "to put, stand, put in order".

It's difficult not to think about stillness at a time of year when wild cousins are about to head south or find nice warm caves and sleep until springtime rolls around again. Birds like geese, loons and the great herons fly south for the winter. Bears, frogs, hedgerows and old trees hibernate and dream their way through the long white season.

Implicit in this week's word are notions of tranquility, rest and connection, an inclusive flowing that takes in our befuddled human selves and the cosmos around us. The late John Daido Loori, a renowned photographer as well as a Zen abbot, wrote that every other creature on the face of the earth knew how to be quiet, but that humans seemed to have lost the ability to "simply be present in the stillness that is the basis of our existence." The mundane world is one (by and large) of noise, haste and stress, and we need stillness now and then if we are to complete our earthly journeys without going completely bonkers.

If this place is about anything at all, it is about stillness. Woodland wanderings, sheaves of mediocre photos, wordy meanderings in the wee hours of the morning, all are merely shaky efforts to be still and be present, located in every breath I take, rooted and at home in the part of the world where I was planted this time around. Geri Larkin calls the process "stumbling toward enlightenment" and that is what it is—slowly tottering toward a place of joyous being that evades description and feels just like home. She also wrote that it is our job in life to dance with our whole breath, our whole body, the whole world, the whole universe. As rough going as this part of the journey is at times, there is joy around here, and there is a fair bit of dancing (mostly just lurching about) too.

Once in a while, something luminous shows itself in a few bars of music, through a cluster of trees or as a dancing presence between one raindrop and the next. Call it kensho or momentary enlightenment—there's elemental magic at work at such times. It's being in tune with clouds and water and hillsides strewn with rainbow-colored leaves. It's Vivaldi's The Four Seasons or Bach's Cello Suite No.1 on the CD player as the day begins and aromatic mugs of Earl Grey at sundown. It's a pocket full of acorns and my red shawl, the blue pottery bowl of Macintosh apples on the sideboard, rosy and fragrant and a perfect expression of autumn in all her glory. I can almost hear the little dears singing, and I suspect they trip the light fantastic when I am not looking.


littlemancat said...

This post is beautiful. I will read and re-read it and try to be still. Your photos move me with their clarity and beauty.
Thank you,

Jim Cummings said...

This photo is sublime. And your musings on stillness strike to the core. Lovely.