Dedicated to all the children who have made me notice how everything they see is a discovery to be wondered at.
Think about the word “still.” One can be still as in making as little noise as possible. Similarly, one can sit still as in not fidgeting. But still is also related to continuity and permanence, as in the old post office building is still standing after the earthquake. Or he has managed to still believe in himself despite all the doubters around him.
In all its applications, still carries a kind of strength, whether asking you to tamp down behaviors or to recognize how something manages to continue even following negative happenings.
This small word also carries a heap of nonchalance and the innocence of a toddler. As adults, we almost have to sneak up on stillness. However, unless they are hurt or hungry or uncomfortable, children between about six months and two years are constantly discovering. Their world is a brand new version of things we have been taking for granted for years. If we pay attention we can look at things as fresh and intriguing and share their joy and wonder.
There is possibly no other sound as pure as the uncontrolled laugh of a little child whose delight at something explodes in cascading giggles. If we could bottle that sound, it might become the best treatment for depression.
Maybe it’s because the ocean has always been a healing place for me that I find the sounds of seagulls a call to peace and stillness. The ocean is a noisy place with crashing waves, rushing winds, all the people sharing the beach, and the calls of sea birds. But for me each of these can be either a jumble of different instruments tuning up against each other or a symphony of high drama and calming intervals. In this music, the seagulls act as the conductor whose tap for attention guides the listeners to join with the practiced sounds and form a new unity. The ocean is my calm scene.
Try this. Shed the skin of what you just came from and sit still somewhere. Turn off thinking about what you’ve been doing and what you are going to do. Concentrate on senses and ask yourself:
– what do I see?
– what do I hear
– what do I smell?
– how do I feel?
Then close your eyes and ask the same questions. Chances are, you will hear and smell more. You might see things you’ve just noticed in your imagination. You might be surprised at the new sounds that have joined those before you closed your eyes.
Outcome: If you are lucky and able to turn off the rest of your day, prior and coming, you will find before you a richer environment than you thought possible. A walk in the woods becomes a mindful adventure. A pause in a field becomes an aviary. And chances are, you will really smell the sea air or the musty floor of a forest or even nearby flowers you don’t need to stick your nose into.
But there is another layer of paying attention. You begin to notice with your seeing and hearing and feeling the way things appear in these moments. Instead of “seeing” a few birds, you might notice their interactions and imagine their communication.
When you hear a group of children playing, you begin to pay attention to the changes in tone, volume, and expressions, especially if you close your eyes. You might have been annoyed at the “noise,” but now you notice play, friendship, happiness, or sadness and anger. It’s clear to you there is lots more going on around you…layers.
One layer I can get to if I’m really lucky is what I call the focus layer. Since I’ve been a little girl I’ve been able to intensify how I see.
I will never forget stopping to stare at a dragonfly. I began to focus down on it to blur everything around it. I saw the delicate cells in its wings and then noticed that the colorful body looked like an armored war vehicle. I saw how the different body parts were cleverly engineered to move independently. Then I looked at the creature’s eyes and was sure he was looking back at me. I swear I felt something. Whether or not I did connect, I recall thinking that was possible. And if you think about it, why not?
Have you ever seen your heart beat? I do almost any time I’m sitting quietly. It’s almost like my eyes are looking in that “focused down” way I think about, and I can see the beats as movement. I find it interesting that I can’t make myself do it. Gotta think about that. I still smile at his reaction when I said this to my doctor.
As the Northwest enters the rainy season, this little essay is my second commitment to spending a part of everyday outdoors, exercising my body as little as I can and really being wherever I land.
Come with me. Let me know what happens, because things will happen.