Why Stillness Needn’t Be PROFOUND
When I began to think about the idea of stillness I found myself first of all drawn to profound examples of the revelatory experience of solitude. I thought of Kerouac finding a, however brief, respite from his slow descent into madness alone in a cabin at Big Sur. I thought of Proust, sat at the writing desk for three days without rest in a soundproofed, curtained room. I thought of Van Gogh painting every day for his last two years where ‘often whole days would pass without my speaking to anyone’. Then I thought of Jesus, Buddha and Muhammed, these foundational figures of human culture, all of which retreated into a period of solitude, only to come out the other side with profound revelations about the very nature and meaning of human life.
Suddenly this idea of stillness became a very daunting prospect, one which I found myself struggling to relate to. The closest I have to come to any such experience is a day without any flatmates or girlfriend, when I visited a gallery and forced myself to read instead of watching Netflix. Needless to say, whilst I certainly enjoyed my day and did a fair bit of good thinking, I wasn’t quite able to establish the foundations for one of the worlds three major religions.
It struck me though that what I engaged in is still a perfectly valid example of stillness. If we were to judge our engagements with any practise by it’s greatest examples we would spend the large majority of our life dissatisfied. There is a sense in which this idea of stillness is associated with the troubled artist, with the sensitive recluse or with those blessed with a seemingly transcendent wisdom. But surely the reality is that it is a process that each and everyone of us engages in everyday. Whether it be reading a book on the toilet, that morning commute listening to your favourite music, that walk to the corner shop, those minutes before sleep recounting the day; we all on some level take moments to pause from our daily concerns, hit that reset button, reorder our thoughts. It would be an eccentric soul who seeks distraction and interaction at every moment of every day, perhaps a soul more eccentric than those that seek solitude.
The difference then between the everyday person and those who experience solitude in a profound way is perhaps little more than attitude. By acknowledging and then maybe actively engaging in regular moments of stillness, whatever that experience may constitute for you, we can gain a certain perspective on our lives. There is little point living this life if we don’t, once in a while, stop and enjoy the view. For some a fleeting glance is enough, the odd short pit stop and they are happy to get back on with all the various aspects that make our lives. For others, those moments of reflection and stillness are what they most enjoy, what they find most inductive to their own happiness or pursuits.
No one way is more significant than the other, stillness is a part of our lives to some degree whoever we may be, not this profound experience of the wise. It is perhaps a regrettable aspect of modern life that more and more people miss out on experiencing as much stillness as perhaps they should, or rather would, find enjoyable, due not only to our busy lives but also the damage of the pseudo-profundity that seems to surround those who actively engage in stillness.
Sam Sutton is a philosophy student at Heythrop College, London