Finding Stillness

I settle into my chair, straightening my back and letting my breathing slow to a natural rhythm. Closing my eyes, the coffee shop noises around me become more distinct and my mind races to separate and identify them. I breathe and try to let sounds blend together, focusing on the bass in the song overhead to ground me and remind me to return from distracting thoughts. Conversation winds around the scrape of a crayon sharpener, the whoosh of the espresso machine melds with song lyrics. Five minutes pass quickly, ending with the soft ring of a prayer bowl. I open my eyes, my mind slowly returning to a fuller awareness of my surroundings.

Northminster Presbyterian Church

Part of my placement with Northminster Presbyterian includes helping a new contemplative worship community become a reality in Silver Spring, a neighborhood on the border of D.C. and Maryland. Last night, in a new favorite coffee shop, I participated in sound meditation, where sounds in the surrounding environment serve as the grounding element for meditation. I love meditating, as much as it frustrates me because I’m often unable to stop my thoughts from wandering. I love finding deep stillness in my body, falling into a natural rhythm of breath, and trying to be as me as possible without being distracted by thoughts and worries. This morning I found myself reflecting on last night’s meditative experience and making connections to other ways that I’m finding stillness in my life as a YAV.

The atrium of the National Portrait Gallery, one of my favorite places.

One of the commitments that my fellow YAVs and I agreed to even before we arrived in D.C. was to remain in the city until Thanksgiving, limiting our time away from community. I have never been required to stay in one place in this way, for any period of time. Even the past four years in college, when I was busy and stressed, I always found time to travel. Whether that simply looked like going to the lakeshore for a sunset, taking a weekend camping trip, or driving home for dinner, it helped me mentally to leave the physical space of campus and the city of Kalamazoo for a bit, to recalibrate and then return. I realized today that despite this restriction on movement between places, once vital to my mental clarity, I haven’t felt trapped. Part of this is certainly because D.C. is a large city; I’m constantly exploring areas I’ve never seen before and discovering more places to add to my list to visit. I wonder if another part is that I’m learning better how to be still and appreciate the current moment.

Reflecting on this aspect of the program in connection with the idea of stillness, I value our commitment beyond the obvious benefits for community cohesion. All of us come into this year from lives full of school, with its constant stress and movement, or forty-hour work weeks just as stressful and full. We’re taking a year to slow down and live intentionally, focusing in on our house community and the city around us, and imbuing our daily lives with a kind of stillness and restfulness that we may never have known. This is juxtaposed, of course, with the fact that D.C. is a city infamous for its busy-ness. It’s not the city that never sleeps, but it may as well be. We’re living in a place where many people never slow down and pride themselves on constantly being on the go. As a dancer, I value movement as a part of my identity and crucial to my happiness, but I also know that moving just to move doesn’t get you anywhere. There has to be intention behind the movement, an understanding of why you move the way you do. Thomas Keating once said, “The ordinary circumstances of daily life bring back the same routines, and often the sense of going nowhere! But “nowhere” is where God is most active…” As I continue into this year, I want to remember to find stillness in my daily life, as well as ensure that I move with intention through the world. In my interactions with my housemates and others in my communities, in my work, and, of course, as I find moments to dance.

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