|Calm Before the Storm along the Merrimack: 11/15/22|
Suffering from writer’s block, I’ve taken refuge in photography. The part of my brain that spawns words has been blown out of the water like what happens when dynamite is used to catch fish, the result of the blast of doomsday news we face each day.
Facing such a barrage of pending peril can feel like being trapped on a sheer cliff, according to Elizabeth Mattis in a Tricycle Magazine article. She says we must not panic but have the wherewithal to relax to find our way down. That’s because “when we can’t find a foothold, the mind falls into an open stillness – the same brief pause we encounter in any situation where we lose our familiar reference points.1”
I can see now, in a like manner, how photography became my foothold. Looking through my latest images, stillness is the common denominator, salve for my wounded brain. You can see my recent healing images on my blog: http://jeanstimmell.blogspot.com/2022/11/the-stillness-of-things.html.
Over the years, I have copied down quotes I find enlightening. Searching back through them now, I see some address the nature of stillness. Here’s one from Natalie Goldberg.s book, “The True Secret of Writing.” Despite her writer’s block, it dawned on her she was happy, feeling confident that her energy would rekindle, allowing her to return to writing with full passion.
“But as I lay in bed,” she wrote, “I realized passion was different from happiness. You don’t do happiness. You receive it. It’s like a water table under the earth. Available to everyone but we can only tap it, have it run up through us, with our stillness.2”
For me, I see now I tapped into stillness by photographing it.
Joan Halifax, the Buddhist anthropologist, tells us that indigenous people live this truth every day of their lives; as such, they are a precious resource who could help us repair our rapidly disintegrating world. “This wisdom cannot be told, but it is to be found by each of us in the direct experience of silence, stillness, solitude, simplicity…and vision. [They understand] our interconnectedness with all of creation. They know as well as I do that these words are intellectual concepts until this self is directly experienced.3
Echoing indigenous wisdom, the Franciscan Priest Richard Rohr considers silence to be “the very foundation of all reality. It is that out of which all being comes and to which all things return.” Unless we learn to live there, “the rest of things—words, events, relationships, identities—all become rather superficial, without depth or context.4”
Rohr goes on to say,”if you can see silence as the ground of all words and the birth of all words, then you will find that when you speak, your words will be more well-chosen and calm.”5 That’s a truth I used to abide by when I practiced meditation regularly: Worthy words and fresh ideas flowed into me unbidden out of the void. Regrettably, not so much now after letting my meditation practice lapse.
According to all these sources, wisdom and creativity flow from that profound stillness that dwells below our thinking minds. Eckhard Tolle agrees, adding this analogy:“The equivalent of external noise is the inner noise of thinking. The equivalent of external silence is inner stillness.6”
Eckhart clarifies that stillness is more than simply the absence of noise and content: “No, it is intelligence itself – the underlying consciousness out of which every form is born.”7 He says the next step in human evolution is to transcend thought. That “doesn’t mean not to think anymore, but simply not to be completely identified with thought, possessed by thought.”8
From my personal experience, that’s the truth of it. Whenever my whole being merges with words and thinking, I become deadened and barren, divorced from the larger reality of who I am.
Thankfully, I’ve discovered I can release myself from the straightjacket of my thinking mind simply by releasing the shutter on my camera.
2 “The True Secret of Writing: Connecting Life with Language: by Natalie Goldberg
3 Joan Halifax. The Fruitful Darkness: A Journey Through Buddhist Practice and Tribal Wisdom (Kindle Locations 1417-1421). Kindle Edition.
4 Rohr, Richard. Silent Compassion: Finding God in Contemplation (pp. 1-2). Franciscan Media. Kindle Edition.
5 Ibid, p 8.
6 “Stillness Speaks” bu Eckhart Tolle. New World Library. Large Print Edition. 2003. P22
7 Ibid. p 26.
8 Ibid 41.