The Lost Art of Sitting … still.

November 2017

Many people replied to my last post, and I felt buoyant and edified hearing from dear friends. If I’ve not replied forgive me, I’m working through the list.  Everyone who wrote spoke to me in the same voice: a somewhat superior, not to say pompous, but decidedly english accent. This is Kate, heartless Kate, robot Kate, the computer voice who reads my mail.  Kate – uppity Kate – competes a little too much with the actual voices I know, in fact she overwhelmes, which is sad. One of the joys of long friendship is that when you read you sometimes hear the warm and welcome voice of the one who wrote.

There was a tendency in some of the correspondence that I wanted to resist: sympathy. I’m alarmed when I sense it’s presence, I want to run from it as one might run from a predator in the wild (what an odd sentence that is, passing myself off as intrepid!). I dislike sympathy because it smacks of defeat. The sympathy of another, though well meant, drags you downward into the pit. Fight or flight: I fend it off or I flee, but I will not admit to it’s verdict or give an inch. I also feel quite afraid, perhaps ashamed, if my writing about vision loss called out for sympathy; perish the thought. And there is this: most of those I heard from I know quite well, some very well indeed.  And I know that more often than not their lives are no easier than mine. In years of pastoral counselling I discovered that nobody I sat with was free from deeply challenging circumstances one way or another. No one.  I feel strongly about this, that my load in life is not exceptional. Unusual perhaps, but we are all unique. Going one step further it often seems to me that my own set of challenges are fortunate ones, they have so far proved to be of the manageable kind, outward irritations that do no damage to the soul. How immeasurably harder it must be to face a black dog within, or to live under injustice, or in poverty, or as a victim of awful crime; and so the list goes on, and on.

And there is something else too. Self Help books are full of aphorisms about turning “scars into stars”, and innumerable similar jollies. Personally, I find all that sort of thing quite irritating in the way it reduces the soul’s journey through trial into sometimes idiotic triviality. And for some reason it’s hard not to think of such cliches having an American accent, uttered by someone with implausible teeth. But there is the valid underlying truth that hardships truly can conceal a gift. Underneath the undeniable trauma of loosing (some) sight of the world, I am aware of a beckoning toward quietness. Quietude.

Many years ago a bore mechanic (windmills, water bores and such) stayed for a few nights in a home I shared on a community in the Gibson Desert. I remember him as a tall, tanned, mild-mannered man with a possibly Indian aspect to his face. He had a remarkable habit which has remained strongly in memory all these years: after dinner he would leave the table and take a seat in the living room, fold his hands, and … that was it.  There was no TV and little music out there, but he seemed completely content without anything at all, no books, games, not even conversation unless you tried particularly hard to draw him in. This man could happily sit. He didn’t twiddle his thumbs, his eyes didn’t wander around looking for distraction, he didn’t get up after ten minutes to keep himself busy. He could just sit, for a long time. I admired it then, and do still. This is sharply in contrast to my own vein of distraction, which is to do something constructive with my hands whenever possible. I fix, I mend, I clean, I do whatever I can find to do; I read, write, converse, play music, listen to music, listen to the radio, torment my children … but never, for goodness sake not, just sit. (Speaking of which, I have finally finished my picture).

Pyrography and watercolour, and image I copied from a vintage wildlife illustration.


The most powerful prayer, one well-nigh omnipotent, and the worthiest work of all is the outcome of a quiet mind.
              – medieval German mystic, Meister Eckhart, quoted on ABC radio this week.

Sometimes you have a sense in life that a lesson is being offered to you, an enlightenment, that small corrections might be made at your core if you would welcome the teacher. The teacher comes in countless guises, and it takes years and years to recognise her presence. Even longer, perhaps, to take instruction. But, now and then, we listen.




I will be back here on the first Sunday of next month; that’s my new plan.  In the meantime I’d love to hear your thoughts … so would uppity Kate.
PS: is the bigger font (for my benefit) good or bad for the reader?