Motion and stillness

The tension – and the dance – between stillness and motion is one of the central themes of my life, my writing, my self.  It’s a line I walk all the time: how much activity is too much, how much stillness do I need, how do I practice being still even in a life that doesn’t stop whirling.  The truth is, stillness is not instinctive for me.  I am a person who moves, a lot: I fidget, I speak quickly, I move quickly, my mind is the very embodiment of the always-in-motion monkey mind.  I spent my whole childhood moving around, back and forth across the Atlantic.  My sport in high school was cross-country.  Impatience is my default.

I am in motion.  All the time.

Last week I read Kristen’s thoughtful, beautiful words about her life’s constant motion.  I read the on the small screen of my iPhone as I waited for an early morning flight to New York.  And then I thought about them as I stared out the open window my taxi into the city, watching the puffy clouds skid across the cornflower blue sky.  I was in motion but it was the stillest I’d been in days.  Sometimes I think my truest emotional and mental stillness happens when I am literally in transit: something about airplane flights or car rides sends me into a quiet, introspective state.

On the surface my life is busier now than it has ever been.  I have a demanding job that I love, two children for whose care I’m primarily responsible, a book and essays I am trying to write as well as a stack of books I’m desperate to read (and those 30 magazines I subscribe to monthly).  I have friendships I hold dear that I try to nourish.  I run as many days of the week as I can.

I am in motion.  All the time.

And yet, I feel more still inside my head than I ever have.  Some of the time, that is.  I guess what I mean is I feel I have the capacity for stillness, spiritually, emotionally, intellectually, in a way that is new.  It is not always available to me, but there are times when I am able to focus and truly savor the moment I am living.  Often, unsurprisingly (to me), this happens in those most mundane, average experiences: the sky through the open taxi window, the feeling of Grace’s hand in mine as we walk down the street, the pattern of Whit’s pajama bottoms as I shake them out and fold them.

That this sensation can come over me even in the midst of such motion and busy-ness is immensely reassuring and somehow both confusing and inevitable.  For too many years I was running so fast I didn’t see anything around me.  And then, for a time, I felt anguish over my inability to be perfectly calm, and I held myself to a standard of stillness that I continually failed to meet.  Finally, I seem able to marry my instinctive way of being in the world with the capacity to pay close attention.  And what a blessing it is.  What happens to me in those moments of stillness is nothing short of a communion with the divine: I feel as though I can reach out and touch the hem of something holy.


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5 Comments

  1. Posted April 30, 2012 at 6:15 am | Permalink

    As I read your opening words I immediately thought of Kristen’s post; so glad you referenced it here. My default state is motion, too, although I will say that living in New Mexico has tempered me. As corny as stereotypical as it sounds, it really IS “The Land of Manana.” I think we have a tendency to calibrate ourselves to the level of motion/energy vibrating around us. I’m sure you’re annoyed/tired of hearing this, but I am amazed by all you do and accomplish! Truly.

  2. Margaret
    Posted April 30, 2012 at 7:24 am | Permalink

    Ditto Elizabeth! You are truly impressive Lindsey, and this is such a beautiful post. One that I’m sure many of us in our thirties and forties with jobs and kids and whirlwind lives can relate to on some level. We should all be so lucky to come to the place where we feel we can “reach out and touch the hem of something holy”. How divine that sounds! I know you embrace and cherish those moments, and I’m sure they will continue to weave into your life more and more often as you become more confident that your default-setting of motion can pair with your need for stillness in a truly cohesive and fulfilling way!

    I don’t know how you add the 30 magazine subscriptions to your plate! I had to weed those out through the years… But have you seen lonnymag.com?

    Thanks Lindsey!

  3. Posted April 30, 2012 at 9:26 am | Permalink

    This makes me smile for you – perhaps the dichotomy is not either/ or, maybe darkness and light always play together?

    Enjoy the stillness in the motion.

  4. Trish
    Posted April 30, 2012 at 10:12 am | Permalink

    The hem of something holy….love this.

  5. Posted April 30, 2012 at 11:59 am | Permalink

    30 magazines!!! Zoiks!!!

    This is beautiful, Lindsey, and I have to say that the stillness you find has been hard-earned. You work so hard to stay present and in doing so, you have taught us all how to do it. Thank you for sharing this balance and this stillness.