(continued from “The Nasty Voices in My Head“)
I challenged myself to spend 10 minutes a day doing exactly nothing. If you read the last post, you’ll know that I was plagued by demons of the mind so this was a terrifying prospect. The fact that I chose a beautiful place to do it—the Public Gardens of Halifax, in front of the Jubilee Fountain—was a slight consolation. As I said, this was not meditation!
In the beginning, I couldn’t believe how long 10 minutes felt. I dreaded the whole experience and was fixated on my watch. I would sit there immersed in the anxiety of “wasting time” and plan all the things I was going to DO, once I was done DOING this.
It took me four days to notice the fountain I was sitting in front of. (Okay, to be clear, and so you don’t think I was a total head case, I did notice I was sitting in front of a fountain, but it took four days to notice the details of this beautiful piece of art). In addition to the woman who stood on top of the fountain, gently and steadfastly pouring water from an urn, I discovered there were little cherubs sitting beneath her and they were atop thrashing fish. I also began to really tune in to how peaceful and happy the fountain woman looked. She was so serene and the water she poured fed the fountain. Round and round it went. A beautiful, infinite cycle.
I was astonished and ashamed that it had taken me four whole days to actually see what was in front of my eyes. Where was I, most of the time, if I wasn’t with the world around me?
Once I started really seeing, I noticed that most of the other people who sat on the benches around the fountain were women. I started to recognize a few of them. Many of these people were just sitting, as I was. Who were they? Why did they come? Did they see serenity in the stone woman’s face too? Were they like me – trying to find peace?
After about a week, I began to look forward to my 10 minutes a day. Nothing terrible had happened so far and in fact, I was generally feeling a little happier and more relaxed. As more time passed, I began to feel a ripple effect from my daily 10 minutes of stillness. I became what I can only describe as ‘looser’. It was a lovely feeling. I seemed to worry less and I laughed more. And I didn’t feel the need to be so urgently ‘in control’.
And then one day, with my morning cup of tea, I wrote a poem! Up to that point, there was no spaciousness in my life for this kind of creativity. A few days later, I watched myself go to an art store and buy a sketchbook, a case of drawing pencils, an eraser, and a pencil sharpener. I had no idea if I could even draw but I felt compelled to try. When I look back at these sketches now, I think “not bad!” because I captured some of the beauty. But more importantly, I captured the energy of first learning how to “just be.” At the time, I couldn’t believe that the dreaded 10 minutes had now become the best part of my day and was stretching easily into an hour. I was amazed at what I had discovered—that there was a calm beneath my mind’s storm.
And then Hurricane Juan struck Halifax and the Public Gardens were closed. Great trees lay prone across the still, green lawns. The water stopped flowing in the fountain. I stood outside the black iron gates of the gardens and peered in at the woman on top of the fountain, turned the other way.
The hurricane put an end to my 10 minutes a day. I don’t know why. I started to think about people’s lives turned upside down, their livelihoods dumped into oceans, their homes squashed like bugs. And my discoveries seemed somehow petty, a little bourgeois.
But the learning had already happened. And it was profound. The experience at the fountain was my first taste of a place beyond the terrible voices. I discovered that I didn’t have to fear quiet and stillness. In fact, I had access to a safe, calm place, and it was inside me! Like an imaginary world that appears through the back of a wardrobe, this place was like another whole country – raw and undiscovered and completely unexpected and magical.
Over a decade later, I have made more forays into this once-foreign place. Each trip there is more fulfilling than the last. The image that comes to mind is one of “dropping down” into a space that is always there, always waiting for me, with arms open wide.
Call it what you will. God. Source. The divine. The intelligence of the universe. I believe this peace and ease I first found at the fountain is the real flow of life. We can keep ourselves too busy and distracted to ever realize it, but it’s there, constantly at our disposal, ready to soothe us into who we really are.