Letter from the Director – June 2022

The Practice of Stillness

My mind has been disturbed and bothered lately. I’ve had trouble remembering things and my usual decisive nature has been sluggish. We’re in a heat wave. It’s hot and uncomfortable, yes, but it’s more than humidity that is making me feel unsettled. It’s deeper. 

Whenever I’m afflicted with tangled thoughts and a jumbled spirit, I walk down the hill and along the north fork of Flat Creek. The trees and shrubs are thick, crowded along the water source. Birds linger in the canopy and turtles sun on flat rocks. Occasionally I see deer enjoying a drink in the swirling pools, and once, a raccoon exploring the bank. What I come here for is not the scenery though, but the settled sense of peace. There is no rush, no urgency, no velocity of spirit that makes me feel like I should race the water flow, or achieve any specific thing. I am still.

Let me tell you, being still is not my usual state. I’m busy and active, and I get a lot done every day. But, I know myself well enough to admit that “busy” is not always sustainable. A balanced busyness can be ok, but busyness in the sense of barely keeping up with demands is definitely a strain on the brain. When I allow myself space for my brain to catch up, I’m much more productive when I start again. 

I placed a “Believe” bench at the bend in the creek. One side of the bank angles down steeply from a high hill, while the other, where the bench is located, casually curves up from the water and flattens into a field of grass and wildflowers. A breeze funnels from the heights and cools my skin. Under an Osage orange tree, whose dark limbs criss-cross above me, I engage in the art of stillness. I sit. I “take in” the sunlight reflecting on the water surface, the gentleness of leaves rustling. I take what is offered. Nothing else. Nothing more.

This is a practice, much like meditation or yoga is a practice. I like the dual meaning of the word. I practice: verb, meaning a repeated action to improve. I perform the practice: noun, meaning routine or usual procedure. Allowing oneself the gift and the discipline of stillness requires both the verb and the noun. 

Last week, as I walked quietly to my bench, I saw 4 otters playing in the dark pool at the creek bend. They swam to their den when they saw me. I sat down and quieted my body and mind. I was still. After about 30 minutes, they came back out and resumed their play while keeping a watchful eye on me. When they decided I was not a threat, they felt comfortable in my presence. I, in turn, was delighted by their presence. Who knows what we miss when we forget how to dwell in silence. It is a practice worth the discipline to master it. 

For me, writing poetry comes from observation and action, but also from a deep quietude inside me. I cannot force words to come, nor a poem to rise perfected from the ashes of my thoughts. Sometimes a poem is born out of surrender. Sometimes it takes its form because I’ve given it space to become what it needed to become. That means I take my busy mind by the hand a say, “be still.”

Try it. Be still.