This time that I have been granted
to listen to my heart
tells me all its secrets …
reveals its desires in shadowed curves
opens the doors of my imagination
germinates seeds of generosity
and heightens my senses to the surrounding beauty
And these gifts shall too be yours.
-Wanda St.Hilaire/Of Love, Life and Journeys
“Coventina” by the brilliant Francis A. Willey ©
When was the last time you allowed yourself space—serious space—for just being? For pure quietude?
Western society has very little use for being. Doing is the measure of one’s worth. I know I’m not the only one who struggles with “being time” in Calgary, the city of money and action.
When I’ve been told that I need to meditate, I think, cripes. Now I’ve got to sit in a lotus position (which my dry-twig like body hates) and do some convoluted breathing exercise while trying not to notice that my legs are going numb.
But fortunately I’ve discovered that my best meditating comes in the beauty and bounty of nature. Lately I’ve had a constant craving for time outdoors in nature and nothingness and the weather has been perfect for it. Last weekend I spent both afternoons in a slow stroll and then sat on a riverside park bench.
Watching fall leaves floating freely down the river and dancing in the wind.
Observing ducks bobbing under water for food and noisy magpies squawking.
Stretching out on the bench with the warm Indian summer sun on my face.
In 16 years I’d never seen a fish jump in the shallow Elbow River near my home and thought that it would be a treat to see one. I drifted off and when I awakened, the bugs were buzzing above the river. Lo and behold! A large fish leapt out of the water in front of me.
It was suggested to me as “homework” that I spend a few evenings under the stars to just sit and observe. I don’t have a backyard or even a balcony so the night before the full moon, I grabbed a pillow and found a bench facing the bright light of the moon in my neighborhood.
Firstly, it was impossible to see the stars with so much light in this downtown location. Secondly, I didn’t realize how much traffic actually whizzes past my corner at 11:30 p.m. And thirdly, passersby were very curious and wanted to know what I was doing. So much for quietly bonding with the galaxy!
I wasn’t prepared to give up on the idea. The next evening I decided to head out of Dodge. I went down the Bragg Creek highway and found a deserted side road. As I meandered, three beautiful deer gracefully made their way across the roadway in front of my car. I found a vacant little cul-de-sac, ideal for my foray, but I was too chickenshit to sit alone there.
I backtracked to a park in Discovery Ridge where the stars and now full moon were perfectly visible and set up the deluxe folding chair I carry around with me everywhere I go.
I was bundled up in my Lundstrom winter parka, cozy and warm, but antsy. I stared at the moon. I tried to figure out which constellation was what. I wiggled. I rearranged.
And then, there it was. A spectacular display of the mesmerizing aurora borealis. It spread and undulated across the heavens for at least 20 minutes. I was awestruck and deeply moved and felt it had shown up just for me.
My first long-term winter writing stint in Mexico 13 years ago, I lived in a rustic little house off the beaten path that I called Casa Rosita. The walls inside and out were a soft-washed pink and in the centre was a small courtyard with flowers and a chirping gecko where I hung a hammock and ate my meals al fresco.
I had no phone, no Internet, and no TV. At first, my chattering mind went into overdrive in the midst of the silence. But after a time, I embraced the quiet and my mind blissfully paused. I spent many evenings in the hammock watching the one palm tree above me sway while the moon made its journey across the night sky. The peace of being was a most precious period of rest from the crazy-assed world.
What’s interesting and oh-so wonderful is that as you relax, you attract. One’s face and body unclench and hard edges soften. The protective wall dissolves and vulnerability shines through, letting in smiles, compliments and goodness. Rigidity becomes more fluid; the harsh lines of how things must be or look blur.
I mentioned my nature craving to my acupuncturist, Obi. She said maybe the time has come to just be for a while. Needles sticking about everywhere, she exited and left me with time for contemplation.
I have been a doer my whole life. I have been on one mission or another for as long as I can remember. My brain wants to create, develop, fix and arrange. But in a whirlwind of doing, it is hard to assess where we are at without reflection. If we do life by rote or get caught in a habit of busyness how can we know if we’re on track or off the rails?
Knowing the tremendous benefits from my time at Casa Rosita, the idea of a period of being after a frenzy of doing is massively appealing, yet sounds all but impossible in the face of my current reality. Considering a space of being time brought out a nasty and relentless voice—chastising, warning, goading, threatening. I long ago named that voice Annabelle the Bitch (okay, you’re thinking Sybil, but admit it, you’ve heard that nasty voice too). It seems the minute I reach for a respite—a little breath of the divine—the voice of the diabolical seeks to destroy it.
In The Art of Doing Nothing, Véronique Vienne extols the virtues of the art of waiting. When we find ourselves at a lull in the pursuit of tomorrow, rather than grab the opportunity to take a breather, we feel impatient and frustrated. She says one of our worst fears is to be left behind as the world rushes toward its destiny.
I don’t necessarily want to pull an Eckhart Tolle sitting on a park bench for two years, but a gap of time to just allow sounds gloriously restorative.
In the midst of chaos, is being the answer? I can’t afford the time to just be, you may think. But then again, maybe you can’t afford not to invest the time to stop a while and discover a little magic in the power of stillness.
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© Wanda St.Hilaire
Flower images by my 11 year old nephew, Colby Sorensen.