The Fine Art of Being Still

still

The sun has already dropped below the horizon and the moon is just a sliver in the night sky. Venus shines brightly directly below the waxing crescent, as if suspended by an invisible thread attached to the arc of its celestial neighbor.

With the help of some nocturnal insects, the gentle surf from the Gulf of Mexico provides the soundtrack for the evening. The reverie is interrupted only briefly by the sound of a distant power boat returning to the marina, its pursuit of fish done for the day. On plane, the drone of the outboard engine is joined by the slap of its hull as it pounds against the offshore chop.

I’m writing this from my version of paradise … the lanai of a condo rented on Sanibel Island. Sanibel has no high-rises, no traffic lights, no fast food restaurants, the only exceptions being a Subway and Dairy Queen, grandfathered in after the strict building ordinances passed in 1974. It is as peaceful as it gets in this crazy state of Florida.

Why then is it so hard for me to quiet my mind?

The fact that we are just days away from the most contentious Presidential election that I can remember, is certainly a factor, but I can’t blame it all on that.

Of course I’m writing this post on my laptop, my smartphone just inches from my right elbow. I’m just a click away from news, pseudo-news, sports scores and endless Facebook posts. It’s hard to remember when Mrs. Poppy and I first came down to this island in the late 70’s, we were armed only with a set of AAA Triptiks for navigation, a roll of quarters for tolls and pay phones, and enough books to keep us entertained. Somehow we survived!

But you don’t have to become a Luddite to meet a certain level of mental peace. I’m not a theologian, psychologist, psychiatrist or a scholar of any sort, but I can tell you what works for me.

  1. Take an inventory of your surroundings.

 Engage all of your God-given senses, sight, hearing, touch, smell and yes even taste plays into it sometime (if you’re doing this over a morning cup of coffee for example). This serves to anchor you to your current surroundings and if for just a moment helps you to set aside all the things that are beyond your sight and beyond your control.

I go through this exercise every time I walk down to the beach. Partly to clear my mind from the stress I’m trying to leave behind and partly so I can recall that experience in the dead of winter when I really need it.

Our first beach experience of any trip usually occurs in the afternoon. At that point of the day, if the sun is shining, the water will be punctuated with millions of brilliant highlights that briefly bloom as the waves of the gulf reach up toward the fiery sun. Mrs. Poppy refers to them as “diamonds on the water”, (and reminds me that every girl loves diamonds). Looking toward the sun, the sparkles coalesce on the horizon into a solid brilliant mass only outdone in their brilliance by the sun itself. On either side of that spectacle, the horizon turns into a razor-thin line of deep ultramarine that contrasts sharply with the soft blue of the sky beyond. The perfume of the beach, saltwater mist, with hints of seaweed and sunscreen lotion delight my olfactory nerves. The soundtrack provided by the breeze, the waves, the mewing of gulls and the distant laughter and squeals of delight from children rise and fall in a pleasant and endless loop. The sun reaches down to gently massages my shoulders with its warmth and my bare feet discern the difference between the soft sand and the sharp edges of the shells that form rows running parallel to the shore.

And at least for a moment, the outside world with all its chaos and tragedy melts away as I walk that magical line where the saltwater meets the sand.

You might be thinking, “Sure Poppy, that’s easy to do on the beach”. It is easy there, but the same principles apply to that early morning cup of coffee at the kitchen table in your own home.

Observe the quality of the early light that comes through your windows. Is it softened by curtains or do you have horizontal blinds that cause the morning sun to split into stripes that wrap around and embrace your kitchen? Is it a cloudy day where the light gently drifts into your room without casting shadows? As yours hands wrap around the warm coffee mug, what do your elbows feel as they rest on the table? Is it the coolness of glass or tile, the warmth of wood or the softness and texture of linen? Take a quick mental inventory of the objects around you. Focus on the ones received in love. A useless gadget given by an adoring child or grandchild is more precious than the skillet you use almost every day. Breath in deeply the aroma of the freshly brewed coffee, but don’t dismiss the faint aromas of last night’s dinner.

Even if you don’t have the luxury of a peaceful morning, embrace the loving chaos of your family. The laughs, the whining, the click of spoons against a bowl hastily filled with Cheerios, it’s all good.

  1. Channel your thoughts.

This is easier said than done. I find myself more and more returning to this scripture from Philippians 4:8, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

If you can apply this, it becomes a great filter for your brain. If you can focus on things that are true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and praiseworthy, it pretty much excludes anything political and about 95% of all Facebook posts. It also focuses you on people and excludes material things. I would love to own a BMW M5 or closer to me now, a condo on Sanibel Island. But neither of those things fit the definition of honorable or commendable, it can only be the deeds of good people or God himself.

For me it starts with my family, loved friends and coworkers, then radiates out from there.

  1. Reflect those thoughts.

If you are thinking about your family, friends, coworkers and beyond, offer up a simple prayer for them.

Select a favorite scripture, passage of a loved book, Psalm, uplifting song or prayer and let it run through your mind during the day.

Focus on others and not yourself. As much as is possible, view everyone you see during the day as a child of God.

Why is it important to periodically quiet our minds? The simple answer would be to say,  just to maintain our sanity during this political season and endless barrage from all things social media. But the foundational reason is to bring perspective to our day. To mentally separate the wheat from the chaff, the unimportant from the things that matter, to bring clarity to our day.

And then there is this in 1st Kings chapter 19 as the Lord attempts to show his presence to Elijah.

And, behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake: And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice. And it was so, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out …

Peace, Poppy

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