“I wish I could show you, when you are lonely or in darkness, the astonishing light of your own being.” ~Hafiz of of Shiraz
“What I wouldn’t give for a few moments of silence.”
“I really should start meditating.”
“I know it’s important to take breaks, but I just don’t have time.”
We’ve all heard (or made) comments like these at some point. Implicit in these statements is the idea that resting in stillness is beneficial…for the individual.
But what if such a practice of peace is more than that? What if it’s beneficial for others in your family, your community, in every life you touch?
When I worked as a live-in caregiver for adults with intellectual disabilities at L’Arche, I often rose early to help my housemates with their morning routines. (L’Arche is a non-profit that creates homes wherein people with and without intellectual disabilities share life together in community.)
I came to live there after college, and it was a wonderful challenge for an introvert like me to live and work with fourteen housemates for two years.
When I wasn’t assigned to help my housemates with their morning routines, however, I had a ritual of my own. I’d pad down the staircase in slippers, my journal in hand. I’d assemble some breakfast, and then sit down in a living room chair that faced the house’s front windows.
Morning light would warm my skin and my spirit too. I’d sip my coffee and stare silently, content to take it all in.
My housemates would move through their routines around me; my morning oasis was, after all, right in the midst of a fourteen-person household. I would greet them with a smile, then duck my head and keep silent.
My fellow direct-care assistants knew about my routine, and usually refrained from speech out of respect for it.
I wouldn’t sit in silence for long—maybe twenty or thirty minutes, tops. All too soon, I would get up and into the day of well-organized caregiving chaos that awaited me. My housemates and I would be busy with our role responsibilities until long after the sun had set.
But that morning quietude sustained me; it made me more equipped to deal with whatever wild situations were thrown my way. It gave me greater flexibility, resilience, and patience. Put bluntly, I was a better person to be around.
Even so, I couldn’t manage to shake the sense of guilt that my morning ritual stirred up in me. I’d look at other assistants moving through their scheduled routines and feel bad for not pitching in. Though we all took turns serving in the mornings, something about being in the same space made me feel as though I ought to contribute.
And so I’d struggle with the guilty feelings on a regular basis. I’d worry that I was “flaunting” my rest. That is, until a friend and fellow assistant, Mary, made a comment that changed everything for me.
She said, “You know, whenever I think of you, I picture you sitting downstairs by the windows in the morning. You look so peaceful there; I love it. It helps me to see that I can choose quiet time in the midst of all the busyness of our life here. It’s an encouragement to me.”
Seeing me sit in silence was an encouragement to her? It gave her permission to do likewise? I was flabbergasted in the best possible way.
But then I came upon a passage in one of Anne Lamott’s memoirs (Traveling Mercies) that affirmed the truth of Mary’s words. Lamott writes: “The thing about light is that it really isn’t yours; it’s what you gather and shine back. And it gets more power from reflectiveness; if you sit still and take it in, it fills your cup, and then you can give it off yourself.”
What you gather and shine back. Without even knowing it, that’s what I’d been doing by the windows each day.
From that moment on, I viewed my quiet-time habit differently. Instead of feeling false guilt about not “doing enough” for others, I started seeing those periods of silence as acts of service, both for myself and for the community.
Whenever we sit and reflect, whenever we surrender to stillness, we are engaging in a subversive, loving act of service.
In a world that honors productivity above peacefulness, we are choosing another way. We are appreciating the beauty that surrounds us always, and in doing so, becoming more beautiful ourselves.
It isn’t always an easy choice, but it is ours to make. We can be illumined. And in doing so, who knows what we might illuminate?
Photo by gbrunett