The Art of Stillness

Last week, I bought and read a short book called The Art of Stillness by Pico Iyer. I loved it.

The beautifully written book shares how Iyer seemed to live the ideal life living in a Manhattan apartment, travelling the world writing for leading publications like Time magazines and the New York Times. And yet he felt compelled to step out of his busy lifestyle and live in a simple apartment in Japan for a year to begin with. This started his relationship with going Nowhere, as he calls it, not to escape the world, but to better able to meet the world replenished. More mindful that happiness is obviously an ‘inside job’ rather than about striving to keep shining the outside.

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For me, spending some time in solitude is a wake up call. It’s a bit like when you’re in a room and it has a smell...but you’ve been in that room for so long, you don’t even notice the smell. Then, you step out, and realise the room didn’t have a pleasant smell at all! Have you had that experience?

The same happens with sound. There’s a noise in the background but you don’t realise the effect it’s having on you. Once the noise stops, you feel an immense sense of relief and surprise. Relief that the noise has stopped, and surprise as how much that noise was irritating you.

Getting caught up in the world of doing is similar. We all end up doing so much, we don’t realise the effect it’s having on us. Doing something all the time becomes a compulsion. And then, if you’re fortunate to find yourself with no phone signal, in a place with very little to do, you experience a deep sense of relief. Perhaps panic at first, but eventually you let go. As if a noise in the background has gone off, you relax.

The noise of doing has stopped, and the sweet experience of going Nowhere and doing Nothing create a sense of peace you forgot about and yet now feels so familiar and natural.

I live in the city. I’m not that used to being in the countryside, out in nature. I sometimes worry I’d get bored if I spent too much time away from city life, out in nature. But following my recent experience, I don’t think so!

For the last 4 days I’ve been immersed in the countryside, in the middle of the South Downs, about 50 miles south of London. Walking with my friend amongst the fields of wheat, acres of blue flowers, blue sky and fluffy white clouds was truly joyful.

On most days I seemed to wake up in the middle of the night for some reason...on one occasion, it was around midnight.

I got out of bed and opened my back door which looked out into the sky. I gasped. The whole night sky was filled with stars. I stood outside in the cool midnight air and gazed and gazed. The constellations were so easy to see. And the stars all looks different. Some brighter than others. Some larger than others. And amongst them all, the faint hue of the Milky Way galaxy could be seen. A sight I’ve rarely seen from most light-polluted cities.

I also enjoyed walking on my own, not knowing where I’m going. I love that feeling...I think I love the feeling both in my walks and in my life. I walked down a small road and followed a sign saying ‘footpath’ into a field. Before long the field turned into an ancient forest….seemingly a forest no human had touched for thousands of years. Wondering around that forest, not knowing what I’d come upon next, was deeply pleasurable.

Nature is a great teacher, healer and friend. As more and more people leave the countryside to live in cities, we as a human species become less in touch with nature.

Living in the city, I sometimes forget the importance of making time to immerse myself amongst the trees, grass and rolling hills of the English countryside. But when I do, I’m often rewarded with a deeper rest, a sense of inner nourishment and a greater ability to see things from a bigger and more realistic perspective.

I hope I’ve inspired you to spend some time in nature, in stillness. For nature is none other than an extension of yourself. When you’re falling in love with nature, you’re falling in love with yourself. The air you breathe comes from the trees around you. The ground you walk on is the soil, nature’s nourishing carpet. The sights you see and the energy you have, comes from nature’s everlasting battery, the sun. Just a short reflection helps you realise - you are nature.

Not possible to take time out to visit the countryside? Just to give some time to look at a flower growing from a neighbouring front garden or a little weed pushing its way out from the pavement may act as reminders that nature is always trying to find a way to say hello to say hello back, and let’s make better friends with her.

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