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Still life


IT WAS DURING the now three years of the pandemic and the various stages of lockdown that our work routine and socializing got disrupted. Suddenly the full calendar of activities became blank, or almost so. We had to learn online shopping and banking and all sorts of virtual habits.

Stillness was forced on us, and we somehow struggled against it.

In his book, The Art of Stillness (Adventures in Going Nowhere) derived from a 2013 TED talk, Pico Iyer, a noted travel writer, extols the state of stillness or intentionally doing nothing. He talks to gurus of meditation who practice stillness and the complete elimination of activity — including chatting with your Viber group. Emptying the mind, he notes, makes us not just placid in the face of stress but also more creative.

Stillness is an art that needs to be mastered with great discipline.

Even when confined to the home in various levels of isolation, our mind wanders. We worried about how much value our stocks might have lost and whether we could get full refunds on reservations and flights for canceled trips, as well as all sorts of bills that needed to be paid online.

Our mind has always been focused on problem-solving, making judgments, and planning. The bottom line seems to be the constant stress of worrying about uncertainties which upset our routine.

Why then not go for stillness?

There is an ancient spiritual tradition of solitude, like John the Baptist stealing away for 40 days in the desert eating locusts and honey. Eastern religions like Zen Buddhism invite us to meditate by doing nothing — just sit and contemplate a “koan.” This is a riddle with no real answer like the traditional — What is the sound of one hand clapping? (Are you waving at someone?) You can make up your own koan — Does a pregnant pause need to have a father? Okay, that one needs work.

Stillness, or non-activity, is a state that requires discipline. It can mean any of three things: 1.) You don’t do anything because you want to empty your mind; 2.) Doing nothing is your natural state of being; or, 3.) You don’t really know what to do.

This third possibility can be misunderstood as a political commentary. What if you are confused and too stressed to act? Doing nothing and staying out of public view is a form of stillness. They aren’t even looking for you. (Is he on a trip again?)

Does stillness allow us to make plans in our head? The mind is supposed to be a blank. But how do you fight off stray thoughts? That’s where self-discipline comes in.

Planning is a mildly distracting mental exercise. Still, it used to be simpler. It involved evaluating capacity (financial, health, access) versus a desired goal. Let’s say you wanted to go on a trip with the family to Australia. Cost of the trip? Check. Visa needed? Check. Ability to walk long distances, including trekking up a goat trail? Next. Not too long ago, there were concerns on canceled flights, destination lockdowns, or some protocol requiring being quarantined at a hotel with no free breakfast for two weeks upon arrival. Various disruptions of this sort used to be part of making plans, or the inability to make them. Thankfully, all these restrictions have eased.

The cycle of planning needs to be shortened to a daily to-do list — What’s for dinner? (Is it milkfish in olive oil? Yummy.) As the new cases decline and flatten, there is a whole vista of making plans again without the restrictions we grew used to. Now, we can plan where to eat next week.

Stillness requires emptying the mind and unplugging it from planning as well as the pedestrian cares and worries like loan amortizations and changing car tires.

Let’s get into the still life. Are you sitting in the lotus position? Relax, loosen up. Close your eyes, put your hands on your sides, palms open and facing outward, thumbs and index fingers in closed circles. Back upright, shoulders squared.

You internalize Lao Tzu. Do you dream that you are a butterfly? You wake up. Are you now a butterfly dreaming you’re a man? When it’s time for lunch, you wonder… how much can a butterfly eat?

Tony Samson is chairman and CEO of TOUCH xda

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