The Art of Being Still


Percy Priest Lake, Nashville, Tennessee

I do not like to sit still.  I do not like to stare at walls.  I do not like having nothing to do.

Recently, I’ve been talking a lot about action: getting up and actually doing something, warding off wanderlust, going zorbing, skydiving, or just experiencing something new in the USA…  Today, though, I am reminded of balance–that third fuel, besides cash and caffeine, I need for travel.  Today, I will be still.

Rereading the Tao Te Ching (a sacred Taoist text handed down from Lao-Tzu in ancient China), persuaded me to try my hand at meditating, or yoga, or at least taking an hour or so to do absolutely nothing.  I mean nothing.  No television, no book, no computer–nothing.  Here are a few proverbs from the Tao that mulled around in my mind during the dreadful stillness:

“Who can make the muddy water clear? Let it be still, and it
will gradually become clear.”

I spent an hour alone.  Just me and a gazillion peevish thoughts zipping about from neuron to neuron competing for attention.  It takes time for thoughts to settle.  It takes a little stillness for the brainwaves to relax, take a seat, and become clear.  And, until we establish this clarity, our perceptions will remain obscured, obscuring in turn the significance behind every wondrous or disastrous little adventure our cloudy souls might happen upon.  Be still.  Then go.

“All things alike go through their processes of activity, and then we see them return to their original state. When things (in the vegetable world) have displayed their luxuriant growth, we see each of them return to its root. This returning to their root is what we call the state of stillness; and that stillness may be called a reporting that they have fulfilled their appointed end.”

Usually, my eagerness for a trip builds and builds and builds; I get on the airplane and then, about an hour before landing, my brain starts cursing itself like a Turrets patient chugging Red Bull.  Knowing  your own mental and emotional state before embarking on a solo adventure (or at least before landing) is important.  Taking time to reflect, evaluate, and meditate after the journey is even more important.

Even now, I am sometimes captured in sleeping or waking dreams by flashbacks to the first summer I spent abroad, almost three years ago.  I do not like to be still.  So, I tend to skip the stillness, and jump right into the next leg of life as soon as the landing gear reaches the runway.  Useful, but not smart.  Travel tends to increase rate of change; if you’re not careful, you will go right on evolving without knowing or consenting, until you wake up one morning faced with serious incongruities among your identity, behavior, and  beliefs.  As silly as it may sound, you have to keep tabs on yourself.  You are responsible for guiding your own evolution.  Celebrate each completed feat with an hour of stillness.  Return to your root before you reach up and out again.

“Gravity is the root of lightness; stillness, the ruler of

So, instead of blabbing about this third quote (my favorite)…I’d rather hear from you.  Do you agree with it?  What might it mean?

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