Art of stillness: The best way to develop more attentive and more appreciative eyes, is just by sitting still.
And of course sitting still is how many of us get what we most crave and need in our accelerated lives, a break. To sift through the slideshow of life experience and make sense of the future and the past, going nowhere is at least as exciting as going to Tibet or to Cuba. And by going nowhere, I mean nothing more intimidating than taking a few minutes out of every day or a few days out of every season, or even few years out of a life in order to sit still long enough to find out what moves you most, to recall where your truest happiness lies and to remember that sometimes making a living and making a life point in opposite directions.
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It’s not our experience that makes our lives, it’s what we do with it. Imagine a hurricane suddenly sweeps through your town and reduces every last thing to rubble. One man is traumatized for life. But another, his brother, almost feels liberated, and decides this is a great chance to start his life anew. It’s exactly the same event, but radically different responses. There is nothing either good or bad, as Shakespeare told us in “Hamlet,” but thinking makes it so. So much of our life takes place inside our heads, in memory or imagination or interpretation or speculation, that if we really want to change our life we might best begin by changing our mind. We all know that in our on-demand lives, one of the things that’s most on demand is ourselves. Wherever we are, any time of night or day, our bosses, junk-mailers, our parents can get to us. Sociologists have actually found that in recent years Americans are working fewer hours than 50 years ago, but we feel as if we’re working more. We have more and more time-saving devices, but sometimes, it seems, less and less time. We can more and more easily make contact with people on the furthest corners of the planet, but sometimes in that process we lose contact with ourselves. And one of biggest surprises is that often it’s exactly the people who have enabled us to get anywhere who are intent on going nowhere. In other words, precisely those beings who have created the technologies that override so many of the limits of old, are the ones wisest about the need for limits, even when it comes to technology.
Science has empirically shown that sitting still, or meditation, can lead not just to better health or to clearer thinking, but even to emotional intelligence. Many people in Silicon Valley, try really hard to observe what they call an Internet sabbath, whereby for 24 or 48 hours every week they go completely offline in order to gather the sense of direction and proportion they’ll need when they go online again. The one thing perhaps that technology hasn’t always given us is a sense of how to make the wisest use of technology. The empty space is one of our greatest luxuries. In many a piece of music, it’s the pause that gives the piece its beauty and its shape. Writers will often try to include a lot of empty space on the page so that the reader can complete thoughts and sentences and so that imagination has room to breathe.
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Something in us, is crying out for the sense of intimacy and depth that we get from people like that, who take the time and trouble to sit still. Many of us have the sensation, that we’re standing about two inches away from a huge screen, and it’s noisy and it’s crowded and it’s changing with every second, and that screen is our lives. And it’s only by stepping back, and then further back, and holding still, that we can begin to see what the canvas means and to catch the larger picture.
In an age of acceleration, nothing can be more exhilarating than going slow. And in an age of constant movement, nothing is so urgent as sitting still. If you want to come back home alive and full of fresh hope, in love with the world, you might want to try considering going nowhere.
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