First there was a quiet that was deafening. My heart was washed of all the years of torment and bitterness, in an afternoon. Just gone. Daily anger, frustration, strife, vexation. Poof. And what remained echoed in its shiny cleanness.
For a couple of days, that roared in my head, or maybe hummed. My thoughts sticking up like little rabbits in a field, curious, investigating, and then back down again into wildflowers.
Then, as I drove toward the giant mountain near us, as it loomed at the end of a long, straight road, the vanishing point of that grandeur overwhelmed me.
“With an apple I want to astonish Paris.”
You thought it was just a pencil dot
art students made in the middle of the canvas
before they started painting the barns, cows, haystacks,
or just a point where all the railroad tracks fuse,
a spot engineers stare at from cabs of trains
as they clack through the heat of prairies
heading out of the dimensional.
But here I am at the vanishing point,
Looking back at everything as it zooms towards me,
barns, cows, haystacks, tracks, farmers, the works,
shrinking, then disappearing into this iota
as if pulled by a gravity that is horizontal.
I am a catcher behind the home plate of the world,
a scientist observing a little leak in reality.
I watch the history of architecture narrow down
to nothing, all straight lines rushing away from
themselves like men who have caught on fire.
Every monument since Phidias converges on this speck.
Imagine a period that could swallow all the sentences
in an encyclopedia.
I have reached the heaven of geometry,
where every line in every theorem aspires to go.
Even the vanishing points in the drawings vanish here.
And if you do not believe me, look at where
the tangents of your garage are aimed.
You have heard of the apple that astonished Paris?
This is the nostril of the ant that inhaled the universe.
Only there was the mountain, and here was I, in a car moving toward it, and is it possible to have two vanishing points? Because, rather than everything streaming toward the mountain, everything was coming toward me. Every white line in the road as it came at me was a word or streams of words, words pounding into me in a steady flow. So many words, but not coming at me to drown me, just one after another, plodding into me with each line in the pavement. It felt like a pulse, a steady rhythm, one I could get into, get behind, dance along to, put my pen to paper to, and do what I need to do – which is write. I don’t exactly know what yet, but that will come. I know that there are words in my head and my heart, that mirror those in other heads and hearts, and we will connect. We will find each other. I will find a way to put those words on the page, and readers will find my missives and hold them to their hearts and say, “Yes!”
In the quiet of the last few days, I have found peace, and restlessness. Doing my farm errands the other day, I had to borrow Scott’s truck, and I can’t work the radio in there – it’s connected to his phone or something. So, I drove in silence, which suited me. I drove over the hill from our valley into the valley that holds our little town. My errands were to get straw and grass hay for the animals at the Feed Store, and then drive to the Butte Creek Mill for fresh, local honey, and some baking supplies. Our town is so small, that the speed limit through town is 20 miles an hour. Driving from the Feed Store, where the couple lost their son in a military training exercise just a couple of years ago, to the Mill where the wife and mother of the family has just found out she has cancer and only months to live – the morsels of life to treasure stood out to me further.
The slowness of the road, and the savoring of days and hours – how hard it is to drive slow. It’s easy to plow through life roaring around corners with the wind in our hair. It takes much more restraint to purposely go slowly, and count the blessings in the minutiae of the moments we have left.
And I thought of quiet, and our desire to fill it with noise.
It takes effort for me to allow quiet to remain that way, and wash over me with a stillness that lets me breathe deeply and remember how tired I have been from all the rushing around.
Of time, and our desire to fill it with commitments.
It takes effort for me to allow time to stand free of allotments and calendar items, to simply be in a moment with nothing to do, and allow that nothingness to spark delight and joy.
Of space, and our desire to fill it with stuff.
It takes effort for me to see the space of a wall and not think it needs a bookshelf or some amount of decoration – something to fill it so it’s not lonely. Maybe the white wall never thought to see itself as lonely, but rather embraces the ability to be naked and unashamed.
Of gatherings, and our desire to fill them with entertainment.
It takes effort for me to see a gathering and not turn it into a three-ring circus of things to do with one another, food to serve, drink options to distribute, games to arrange. We visited the other day, unplanned, with a friend, and not one drink was given or requested, not a treat was put onto a plate to share. We just sat in one another’s presence and enjoyed the sunset and the sound of children playing in the garden and discovering a place other than their own.
In all my life, my time in San Francisco may have been the quietest. In the midst of all that hub-bub, I could be still. I could be in a crowd and be perfectly at ease, but I saw it as loneliness at the time. Or on my deck in San Anselmo, where the words of loss and healing finally started to pour onto the page in poetry, I looked out to Mt. Tamalpais perfectly framed in the limbs of trees growing up from the creek in my back yard. The world was just outside that bubble of quiet; an intersection of five towns, crossroads and freeways just in front of my house, but in my little back yard, all was still, and there I was lonely and desperate too.
I have rushed to fill my days with busyness, because the stillness that was on the inside was frightening. What to do with all that peace? I wanted to push and prod at it to make it speak or sing or do something, and all it wanted to do was be. In defiance, I thought, well, I’m just exhausted, I’ll sleep the quiet away. First let me start the dishwasher or a load of laundry for some white noise.
And I realized I have not wanted to embrace quiet. I have run from it in fear. What would happen to me and all my dance moves, my vibrant colors and ability to twirl and spin to a deliberate drum beat? Who would I be if the music stopped? Who am I now that the crashing around angry in my head has stopped, and I hear the buzz in the air of nothing?
I have gone to the internet to busy my mind, and all I found were more reasons to be still. It is delicious to me how things find us when we need them to – how even though I started to be afraid of all this quiet, quiet is what I need to learn, and there were resources aplenty for me to see that. (I’ll share links later.)
It dawned on me that summer is coming. I have only 17 school days left and then my children will be outrageous and noisy and I may not think of quiet again for months. Or, what if I talked to my kids about quiet? What if we discovered together the beauty of stillness? Could we have loud times, and appointed quiet times? Could we wrestle and play, and then sit still together breathing? I wonder what our lives will be like by learning to enjoy the whole spectrum of sound, from joyous loud to serene and tiptoeing.
And finally, I am ready to try meditation. It seemed too difficult before. I couldn’t imagine getting the voices in my head to sit and chill for 20 minutes, but that is what they are wanting to do anyway. They have all quit shouting at me, and are walking slowly, with hands folded peacefully behind their backs, wandering from room to room in my brain, looking at the plain white walls.
What I found when I tried to get distracted, and the world had other plans for me:
Love Troubles, Horse Races and Our Only Choice – About choosing love and a quiet mind over the horse race of our busy mind.
Wendell Berry on How to be a Poet and a Complete Human Being – Just Beautiful in every possible way.
In Touching Video, Artist Marina Abramovic & Former Lover Ulay Reunite After 22 Years Apart – This was hauntingly beautiful, and sits with me where I am right now in a place of incredibly loud stillness. To be able to be silent with another person and exchange all that there is between. Wow. Amazing!
And to show how stunning quiet can be – 17 Incredible Photos of Green Northern Lights
One of my favorite illustrator for children’s books has a new book coming out in September called I am Yoga, by Susan Verde, illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds.
Main photo from here
20 thoughts on “The Vanishing Point where Stillness Bellows”
Beautiful imagery, Liesl: ” My thoughts sticking up like little rabbits in a field, curious, investigating, and then back down again into wildflowers.” So wonderful and refreshing!
Thank you so much! I love it when those kinds of images pop onto the page as I’m writing. Good grief, what luck. I wish I could take credit, but they just sort of leap at the page, and I try to keep up and jot them down.
The beauty of the muse, in my experience, is that she rarely desires credit. I think you can take credit for listening. And for whatever experience/association that lead you to the exact place where that beautiful simile lived 🙂
My beautiful, beautiful friend,
I first saw this while I was away on vacation and made a mental note to come back and read when I had time to really take in your elegance. I am here (finally) and I just wanted to thank you for this, a most delicious piece.
What you say I completely resonate with – wanting to keep the high vibes, tap into the peace, and at the same time keep it REAL. Apply it in real time, in real life. There’s something magical (miraculous?) about finding that balance between calm and verve.
How blessed your children are to have your glow. I wish you every warm stream of light as you begin your practice. It is so moving to have met you, dear one. Your spirit is incredibly bright, Liesl. And your writing is an absolute joy.
I’m humbled to be part of your world! 🙂
And thank you for the link to my blog – it means so much to know we lift each other up.
Sending so much love and light your way,
Thank you so much, Allison, for your comment. I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to get back to you. This popped up on my phone, and I read it and was delighted to hear from you, and was in the middle of something and meant to come back shortly to respond. How busy life becomes. I’ve just reread this article, and allowed the stillness to wash over me again. There hasn’t been much stillness this summer so far. It’s been breakneck pace to keep up with amazing boys doing amazing things. And that’s the chapter I am in of my life right now. It’s all Go, and all On, and I love it. These boys will grow up someday, and I’ll miss all their noise.
Liesl, I love this paragraph… ” The slowness of the road, and the savoring of days and hours – how hard it is to drive slow. It’s easy to plow through life roaring around corners with the wind in our hair. It takes much more restraint to purposely go slowly, and count the blessings in the minutiae of the moments we have left.” Keep writing friend, you’re good.
Thank you. That means the world to me!
I drive in quiet all the time. I work from home every day without TV or radio most all of the day. I love quiet. We live in the country with no neighbors close by. It’s just me and the birds. I have come to love the stillness with no sound. I find it very healing and refreshing. I think you are on a good track to healing and finding your stillness. You will succeed. There is no doubt in my mind. 🙂 Congrats on letting go of the anger and frustration. It’s mind blowing isn’t it?
Truly mind-blowing! Maybe it took motherhood to be able to appreciate quiet. Before, I wanted to be right smack dab in the middle of everything. With boys, there is constant motion, commotion, convolution, confusion and noise. Did I mention noise? And it’s so great. Usually they are in the throes of discovery or excitement. They can’t wait to tell me all about it. They have so many words for such small humans, and I absolutely treasure that they want to share with me and they want me in their lives. How lucky I am to be their mom. Seriously. It just takes this much richness of volume and depth of sound to appreciate the silence between the shouts and squeaks if laughter.
I’ve been wanting to mediate regularly for years and I’ve finally managed to stick with it for a couple of months. But I started with 5 minutes. 20 minutes seemed completely overwhelming!
Oh what a good point. Start with small, manageable bites. Thank you. I would have overwhelmed myself right away.
Meditation is difficult for me….I have a very hard time quieting my mind. I find that painting is my ‘quiet time’…..lovely post, thanks for sharing….
So much richness here Liesl. And I want to be quiet to savor it. I suspect your meditation practice will unfold beautifully now. And I imagine you’ll have great fun with your kids figuring out the dance of loud joy and quiet joy. Wishing you a most wonderful summer!
Thank you, Deborah! We have all the best intentions, don’t you know.
Liesl, it took me long years to learn to meditate (or shmeditate, which is meditation with a cat on your lap). I spent most of those years running from stillness, scared of feeling my real feelings and opening up to the traumas I was holding in my body’s tissues. One of the resources that was most helpful to me was the book “Timeless Healing” by Herbert Benson. He describes a simple meditation technique, but most of the book is on the way that meditation, presence, and emotional healing can have a positive impact on the body’s overall health. I love that book and keep a copy in my shmeditation corner.
We don’t have many straight roads where I live in the backwoods of Oregon, so the idea of a vanishing point is almost foreign to me. You mean not all roads twist and turn, winding around fir trees and seacliffs? Huh. Who knew?
Oh, how I love the idea of Shmeditation! Let’s not take ourselves too seriously. What I really want, more than anything is something practical that will help ground me in love so my interactions with my kids are beautiful and not screechy. The last thing I need is something that makes me feel all woo-woo shmarmy when I’m alone on my little mountaintop, but doesn’t apply itself in shoe leather with my kids. Does that make sense?
It totally makes sense. Any good pay-attention-to-your-breath practice should help. The book I mentioned above is really practical and not steeped in ancientness, which is one of the things I love about it. I do love shmeditating now, though it was very difficult to get started. No kiddos running around here, though if there were, I think that my shmeditation practice would definitely lower my personal decibel level with them.
Mindfullness is illuminating what we do and making a choice to do that or something else. Then we practice the new and release the old.
Good points, thanks.
We all need some stillness and me-time. But so many sacrifice it to get all the ‘shoulds’ done.