Be Still–But Don’t Freeze
By Mary Reddy
I live in the north. It is winter. I wake up hours before dawn and think about what it means to begin anew. The house is especially quiet on winter mornings. No open window means I hear no birds clamoring to announce the sunrise, no soft soughing of wind through the woods. Through my window, I cannot yet see the mountains on the horizon, but I know they are heavily wrapped in white, resting meditatively beneath a chilly cloud cover.
Stillness belongs to winter. I look to these quiet morning hours for insight, a time to reflect. How do I want to re-orient my life? Everything seems possible at this still point of winter and yet, in the habitual march of the minutes and hours of my days, I see everything old continuing. Each moment replicates a history of daily moments that stretches back for years. The way I move to brew my coffee, the way I choose to sit in the same spot to drink it, next to the reading lamp near the big window that opens in these pre-dawn hours onto darkness. The way I greet my husband when he rises, the handful of breakfast foods I choose to eat, the particular sweater that I am drawn to wear this morning out of a handful of sweaters whose colors comfort me. I am woven into a net composed of so many repeated moments, of actions and interactions. Sometimes I feel them like a weight on my shoulders. How much can I truly change?
But that heaviness is fleeting. I recognize it as part of a cultural story we tell ourselves every January about self-improvement through discipline and making resolutions for change. That story posits a never-ending tug-of-war between habits or routine and desires to improve and begin anew. Instead, I think in terms of course corrections.
What do we know about change? In our human experience, we may say change requires a certain kind of movement through time. Let’s say its opposite is inertia. Yet inertia is not necessarily a state of immobility. I learned to my delight in high school physics that it’s the tendency of matter to continue as is, whether resting or in motion, until or unless an external force intervenes to change. Everything old continuing is a kind of inertia.
Seems we cannot hold completely still, ever. My brothers and I used to play a game when we were young. Out on the grassy lawn on a long summer day, we’d start spinning like tops, spinning but also trying to move laterally as well. Zig-zagging around, trying to avoid a collision with a tree or each other, we’d laugh out loud with dizzy delight. The more frenzied the movement, the better. Then one of us would yell “Freeze!” and we’d stop abruptly, desperately trying to hold whatever contorted position our spinning body was in at the moment the command was issued. Of course, utter stillness was impossible. The winner was the one who only wobbled a little but stayed upright, the one who did not fall down.
The stillness of winter still contains movement. It’s only a veil covering the energies of change that continue to move and work their magic. Outside, the cold darkness knows it will give way to a wintry, filtered sunlight. The apparent silence of trees belies the low chanting of their roots, which will in time become a singing up into the boughs. The plants in my yard, invisible at the moment, will face daylight in faded amber and dun colors against an evergreen background. Their activity, though invisible to me, is no less vital than the above-ground growth in spring. And inside, the house waits for me, for the call-and-response of the coming day, when I’ll clatter about while my table calmly holds stacks of things to read and my rug continues to talk to me about medallions and pomegranates.
Movement, time, inertia, the external forces that shift course, disrupt inertia and thereby create the new—how does this play out in my life? Inertia cannot resist an external force. The force I apply to the habitual march of the minutes and hours of my days is one of presence and love. To be in relationship with the boiling water, roasted coffee beans and coffee cup, with my favorite sweater, with my sleepy husband, with the lovely imagery of the rug and the patient window awaiting dawn’s light—to be present to all opens me up to wonder. Wonder invites hope. Hope stirs longing. My exquisite longing for a loving and peaceful world stands in contrast to its current chaotic state.
Sometimes, course corrections are all that we need. But these days threaten an upheaval. Events are disrupting the possibility of “everything old continuing”; globally, the prospect of chaos looms, whether in uncertain international relationships or challenging shifts in weather patterns. Rudolf Steiner, in his agriculture lectures, said, “If ever we want to make the forces of the cosmos effective in our earthly realm, we must drive the earthly as far as possible into a state of chaos.” The apparent stillness of winter may itself be an incubator of chaos, of the dark formless precursor to the seed’s bursting forth into a new form of being. Apparently frozen in a polarized state of increasing hate and conflict, we teeter on the brink of something new. I recognize in that frozen state our so-human resistance to change. Going out to meet the change breaks the ice. Hope teaches us how to balance on the chaotically shifting floes. Balance, like hope, is internal.
David Spangler recently wrote, “Hope doesn’t arise from what’s happening around us. It arises from us, from who we are, from what we can do and how we can engage the world. We are the creators of possibilities and potentials; we make the opportunities for something new and better to emerge in our world.” In the face of this uncertain year, I find stillness in the eye of the hurricane. I connect with the power of my own hope for a better world. And it’s not a passive thing. I am charged with the power to meet change with love and a vision of a new world. Poised in the still center, I am ready for whatever it takes.
Views from the Lorian Community publishes essays from a team of volunteer writers expressing individual experiences of a long term, committed practice of Incarnational Spirituality (and the general principles shaping such a practice.) Views expressed do not necessarily reflect the sentiments or thoughts of any other person in Lorian or of Lorian as a whole. If you would like to subscribe, please visit our website and click on Follow Our Blog Via Email. Or email the editor:firstname.lastname@example.org.