“Be still, my soul” (Katharina von Schlegel).
OF ALL THE QUALITIES CONDUCIVE TO DEEP CHARACTER, STILLNESS MAY BE THE HARDEST TO HOLD ON TO. Our modern environment is anything but still, and it takes discipline to maintain a quiet center in the midst of our lives.
Silence. Our work in the world requires a good deal of communication, obviously, but as time goes by, we suffer if we never engage in silence. This, perhaps, is the greatest form of stillness. Turning off all the noise (physically going to a secluded place, if necessary) and soaking in the silence is a truly transformational practice.
Meditation. One of the main reasons silence is so helpful is that it allows us to meditate — and by meditation I do not mean that which is devoid of any cognitive content. I refer to the contemplation of truthful thoughts, those which not only refresh us but instruct us and send us back to our active lives having been edified.
Trust. Many of the demands of life require faith and confidence. As Corrie ten Boom said, “When a train goes through a tunnel and it gets dark, you don’t throw away your ticket and jump off. You sit still and trust the engineer.” So when confronted with doubtful and worrisome challenges, there is a great value in knowing how to “sit still.”
Calmness. Faced with danger, or even distraction, most of us become frantic. In desperation, we lash out and flail at the problem. But stillness means we’ve learned to keep our heads and control our responses. The ability, as Tim Hansel puts it, “to be still, to be present, and not to panic or lose perspective” is a valuable skill.
Courage. Compared to other kinds of stillness, this one is a bit more active, but it’s no less important. It means that on the battlefield of life we “stand still” and refuse to retreat before the onslaught of evil. Merely standing our ground may not seem very heroic, but it is. There is a bravery to standing still that is nothing short of noble.
There is a familiar English proverb which says, “Still waters run deep.” Words and deeds are fine; indeed they are necessary. But let’s not become so wordy and so busy that we lose our balance. The good life consists not only of fruitful activity but also of nourishing stillness.
“The greatest events are not our noisiest, but our stillest hours” (Friedrich Nietzsche).