Mindful Moment #1: Stillness

Isn’t it funny how landscapes can reflect how you are feeling?

Maybe our minds simply seek out similarities and images that represent how we feel. Or how we need to feel. At times nature puts a hand on your shoulder and gently ushers you towards the pastoral sanctity you require.

Often though, if I’m unsettled or my mind is disturbed by any manner of daily trials, I sense my disquiet and look for it in the world around me. A little masochistic maybe. A skein of geese overhead and I rail at their sharp, shattering gaggles where I might normally marvel.

I was recently down by the river, my hawk following on overhead, when the epiphany arrived. When feeling down I was almost will my own negativity onto the scene around me – looking to find where the landscape was porous enough to soak up my angers and hurt, reflect it back to me and prove to me I’m right.

Sometimes a simmering darkness from an earlier argument, difficulty at work, personal slight, revels in the mischief and anarchy I can create with a hawk in the calm fields near home. The cacophony of song as my bird bullies his way across the sky, warnings carrying down the river as the raptor’s wings soar. The natural world fleeing at his arrival, thrushes scattering, rabbits ushering themselves to the edge of the burrow. These moments, these reflections of anger do happen, but they are a rarity and now I have identified them for what they are I keep watch for them.

More often the opposite is true. My anguish, nerves, sadness is washed away by nature. The pace and sound of the natural world just seeps into me. The air is so fragrant in the countryside. Restorative. Cleansing.

This happens most often for me on days of stillness.

There are of course myriad types of stillness – she wears many cloaks – and whilst all are different they are simultaneously the same. Stillness is a perfection of conditions. It isn’t really about the obvious such as a lack of wind, but rather a quality that can always be found in the world around you. Sometimes it is more visible than others. Stillness can caress and keep you but it can buffet and break you too.

There is no particular time of year where stillness is most likely to appear. It is there year round and each and every season has its own distillation of still. My current favourites are spring and autumnal mists. Just enough mist that it encroaches on the boundaries of my reality, creating little mysteries on the edge of my horizon and imagination. A calming, settling mist can slow you to a stop, it is like an invitation down the rabbit hole – if you heed it there is a new world waiting for you. New and wondrous beings come alive in the stillness.

Down by the river the gentle vapours of the mist wisped past like cigar smoke just high enough above the river as to sharpen its colours and to frame the scene. Like a work of art made only for myself, the stillness unveils a dipper on the water. Atop a small, rounded, stained rock amongst many others jutting from the Avon water the blue black feathering of her wings are a perfect reflection of the waters depths and her white belly is like pristine snow. Embraced by the mist and the calm she sings out her song so clear I hear every note and undulation and can feel the very emotion behind it. There was nothing else for me to hear in the world at this moment. Helped maybe by the captivity of the shrouding mist the song was so sharp and crisp. This is stillness.

I have been here daily, for years, and never caught sight of her before.

She sits, like me, drinking in the calm and enjoying her own tones and its echoes off the water and stone. My hawk sits silently, unmoving on my fist throughout this lustrous interlude as though brought under the spell of stillness too. I’m sure we are only two of many creatures who watched that moment in stunned silence; the rabbit looking on from the edge of the burrows, the fox serenely gazing down from it den on the high hill. As we move off there is a strong sense of a shared experience between the hawk and I.

Maybe, though, I’m wrong to attribute stillness to the outside world, to nature, but it does seem a tranquil facet of her personality. Although one could argue that stillness is simply internal it is our sense of calmness and contentedness manifesting itself in the conditions that surround us.

Do you need to be calm to see stillness or does stillness bring calm?

If it is the former then surely it is falconry that prepares me, ripens me, slows me so beautifully that I become open enough to live wholly in the moment and it is then that I experience the stillness. If it is the latter though then this is surely evidence that nature is good for your whole being. Maybe it can be both. No matter- calmness, stillness, nature – they all encourage deeper breath. Mindful breath. An appreciation of where you are, right there in the present. You don’t need a hawk to experience that.

It’s possible to go even further here though. Living in the present moment, appreciating all the small, interconnected beings and the incredible world they make when all is added together, opens one more door. One where you can lose yourself entirely.

Sitting there by the river I stopped watching the dipper. I hadn’t stopped looking but I had lost the frame – I was part of this picture and it was part of me. It was all one and the same.

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