The Art of Stillness

“You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees 

for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.”

from ‘Wild Geese’ by Mary Oliver*

Girl on a blanket

There are children who come bursting out of the womb, full of sound and fury, arms and legs flailing, ready for the busy action and freedom of the world, outside the muted chamber of their mother’s womb. There are others, who would rather be quiet, thank you, and who spend all their time trying to get back to that strange watery cave they swam in, before they were born. I am one of those: a seeker of silence, of stillness and repose. Gregarious up to a point – teacher, theatre collaborator, singer and dancer – it is always the quiet of my room, the comfort of solitude, that fills me up, when I am empty and deflated.

When I was small – before I could walk – I could happily be left by my mother on a blanket in the back garden (See Ordinary People, Extraordinary Lives) with a book in my hands – not to read, just to hold and to gaze at – safe in the knowledge that I would be in the exact same place, when she returned to collect me, some time later. Peaceful. Content. The “soft animal of my body” absorbed in the tactile tranquillity of simply being still.

My daughter is cut from the same cloth. She has an inner eye, that shines, clear and calm, in vigilant introspection. Now 26, when she was nearly a year old, we took her with some friends of ours, to the paddling pool in the middle of Brockwell Park , in Brixton, South London, where we used to live. It was high summer – hot and noisy – and the pool was rammed with over excited children, roaring and splashing, and causing all kinds of chaos and mayhem. In the middle of it all sat my small daughter, gently passing trickles of water from hand to hand, fascinated with its flow and texture, soothed by its cool rhythms, and oblivious to the febrile atmosphere all around her. Utterly self contained. The adults were mesmerised. Molly was simply being herself.

Meditation in a garden

There is a place for noise and bustle in a life – parties and adventures and excess. Living on the wild side. Drinking and talking and getting giddy on life itself. And in my 20s and 30s there was plenty of all that. But age and experience – and my natural, underlying disposition – taught me a different path in the end. Watching people around me fall ill and die – including my own husband, after 10 years of cancer – took its toll, and taught me to surrender. To surrender to the wisdom of stillness, wherever it can be found.

After decades of living in tree-less streets and flats in London, I found both harmony and joy in the great outdoors, in Leeds, where I have lived since I turned 40. Nature can be noisy, for sure. But it’s a different kind of noise: with none of the clamour of human voices and demands. A rough old allotment – digging for spuds and scratching my hands on the blackberry brambles – and an overgrown, rambling garden, out the back of the house that I live in now, have given me solace, strength and a place for silence and healing. I am looking at the garden now: my Reiki in Leeds room overlooks the dogwood and the witch hazel; the tangled clematis and the thorny rose; and the aged stone Buddha (pictured above), who presides over proceedings from the far end of the grass, under the big old holly tree. Birds visit often and squabble over the fat-feeder; hop on the lawn to pull out juicy worms for lunch; peck at the apples and clean their feathers  in the birdbath. All of this gives me immeasurable satisfaction. Like the great poet Mary Oliver quoted above – who died just this month – I find deep solace in being alone, in nature, in quietness. All things and people connect, when we  return to the earth.

In my room

The room in which I now practise Reiki in Leeds, has a sense of deep calm in it, that comes from the years of meditation, of T’ai Chi, and of “just sitting”, that have passed within it. There is layer upon layer of invisible vibration: a clear intention, whatever the turbulence of my external life, that this modest space be a sanctuary. For me – and for those who step into it, for a Reiki session, or to practise Chi Kung. There is art on the walls, from friends, or people I have taught. There is colour – vibrant oranges and reds – to affirm vitality and aliveness. There are books, for study and contemplation, for writing. But most of all, there is stillness. A stillness I have long searched for, since I sat on that blanket as a child. And now that Reiki has come to the room, with its own sweet wisdom,  there is a chance to be still – alongside another. Most of the people who come for Reiki with me remark that one of the most refreshing things of all, is simply to take time to sit or lie down. Giving something back to themselves. Going back to the source. And by paying this act of quiet attention – we breathe new life into ourselves, and discover  a clearer sense of who we are really meant to be.

*’Wild Geese: Selected Poems’ by Mary Oliver is published by Bloodaxe Books

For details of my classes go to Classes with Barney

To read more about Reiki and to book a session with me, go to Reiki in Leeds

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I am a writer, dancer, T'ai Chi and Reiki practitioner in Leeds, West Yorkshire. I am dramaturg and performer at the Performance Ensemble and teach at Leeds Playhouse. Otherwise, I am either writing freelance books and articles, or digging in my garden, or learning fiendishly hard Hungarian grammar. Hungary is my favourite place, after Yorkshire!

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