Stillness Shrinks Us to Our Own Size


There are three kinds of silence. the first is physical, the silence of the outer world. This quiet world is a precondition for the second silence which is spiritual, the silence of the mind. Which mind, purged of distractions, prepares one for the third silence, the silence of mystical meditation. “When thought stops, words halt, and we move through light toward absolute silence.”

“Without silence, solitude, darkness, how can we come to any sense of our true size, our actual relationship with the rest of the world,” McKibben asks. Or we might add, with the “zone of silence in the middle of every art”? “…when someone is whispering something in your ear, there’s no way to think your own thoughts or feel your own responses.”

Stillness shrinks us to our own size, empowers us to acknowledge our pain, lends us the air into which this pain can, momentarily, evaporate.

~ Gail Sher, One Continuous Mistake: Four Noble Truths for Writers (quoting Bill McKibben’s introduction to his annotated edition of Walden, and Tony and Willis Barnstone’s introduction to the Poems of Wang Wei)

Ah, stillness, solitude, the eternal staring out the window that we poets do. In the noise of the world, we get distracted, our minds start racing toward all the shiny things, and each of them could be an inspiration for writing, but all of them at once, the deluge? We kid ourselves when we think that this constant connectivity of the online community is where we need to be to survive as artists. Yes, there are great places to go and be inspired. Yes, there are other artists out there we want to support and promote when possible. We still need our space, our quiet closet where we hide from the onslaughts of the world, and we get to the places of quiet inside us that speak words of healing to our battered souls.

Out there is comparison and competition. We grow weary of wanting to be so big, so sought after that we no longer have time to sit and wish and wonder. Remember when we had hours to do nothing but stare up at the mountains, and out to the stream, listening to the sounds of birds in the trees, and tiny bubbles coming from still ponds where life grew underneath the water? Remember the longing, and the fulfillment all blended together in the hums and sighs of our own spirit, and nature all around us, and we couldn’t remember if we made that sound or it came to us from the birds?

In a world gone mad, where do we find our still, small voice? Where do you go to get quiet? I find myself lost within the lines of printed material, old-fashioned books of prose and poetry that fill my bookshelves. Time seems to stand still as the words wash over me, and bring me to a place of being small enough to swing from the branches of a particularly well-placed g in the text. Hanging here, and dangling my tiny feet amid the beauty of gorgeous words, I am my right size, tiny enough to adore, to linger over every vowel, to breathe deep the fragrance of the paper, and the ink, to live inside of the phrasing until it is a part of my heartbeat, my breathing in and my breathing out.

It is a shock to rejoin the world of big people crashing around to get small children ready for school. But throughout my day, I remember what it felt like to grace the edges of a g, and swing and sigh in smallness.

photo from here

10 thoughts on “Stillness Shrinks Us to Our Own Size

  1. Oh, to get to that stillness inside in the midst of a life where we know it will crash into the sharp, loud edges of everything else. This is what discourages many I speak with in terms of even starting. But I really love the way you so beautifully and effortlessly share your secret to balance. Remembering, replaying the solitude, knowing that it existed therefore it still exists and is available to be called upon at any time. Wonderful share, Liesl.

    1. Oh, if I have a secret to balance, it is still a secret to me. Ha. I strive for balance. But thank you, nevertheless. Remembering a moment of beauty can have tremendous long-ranging effects throughout our day or even longer.

      1. yes! remembering is similar to practicing a skill in your mind (which actually produces measurable results in the skill one is trying to improve). I think recall is an amazing, and what seems for you to be an intuitive, way to maintain balance by having that peace accessible in moments of need.

  2. I am reading a book right now called The Untethered Soul. It is going to be our book for our Conscious Living Book Study in June. In it, he talks about listening to our mind chatter. Oh my!!! My mind certainly DOES chatter a lot! But I am learning to take “the seat of consciousness” and just observe what is going on in there. It’s great.

    This is a nice reminder to stay present. Thank you!

    1. You know, I have that book, and I have The Conscious Parent. I tend to graze on books, getting a nibble here and there. I am going to attempt to get through these books with you – to learn the discipline of reading something from start to finish. I can do novels, but want to learn to sit with a good book longer and learn the lessons that are being explained.

    1. Thank you! I’m rushing around this morning getting actual things accomplished, so I have something to share on your #whatareyouworkingon !

  3. So many great points here, Liesl! I don’t have enough silence or stillness. I agree with all of the issues above that eventually come from neglecting these important areas. My mind races, I compare myself to everyone else… Thanks for this important and timely reminder!

    1. Thank you. I just picked up another book (The True Secret of Writing) by Natalie Goldberg, the author of Writing Down the Bones. I was at a Poetry Reading last night, and it seemed only fair to purchase a book from the place who gave us space to read. And there she was, Natalie, in such vibrant colors, waving, calling to me from the shelves. How I adore a good bookstore.

      She speaks so much about the value of quiet. We tend to fill our every waking moment with talking, or background noise, or chatter. We are on Social Media, which bombards us with every new idea from around the world. Silence is golden, and we need to treasure it. She suggests in her first chapter spending an afternoon in silence.

      “At the dentist, nod; at the postman, wave; at the store clerk, smile. You meet an acquaintance in the street, shake hands. You’ll be surprised how little anyone will notice you are quiet. Everyone is too busy talking. And if you refine your quiet over time you will carry something much needed in our world. You will carry peace inside you.”

      Isn’t that radical and brilliant?


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