Be still / Stillness reveals the secrets of eternity
― Lao Tzu
The birth of a child, the death of a friend, an epiphany transpiring in stillness. These are normally what we consider defining moments. But there are smaller moments, too, and they can slip by us or they can become portals opening up to let in more of life.
There will always be the larger moments of life and death, but in between are all the little moments of Being—moments we forget when asked what we did four days ago. The dramatic events are defining in part because of their content but also because in times of crisis, we live so purely in the present, free from mind-made trivia, and that, however paradoxical, can be a kind of quiet bliss. But to step into intense presence in the mundane moments, that is the task. To see the world anew each day, even if it’s the same trail you’ve walked five hundred times. If my dogs can do this on every single walk, so too can I at least try.
In the dark before dawn, before the inky sky morphs to shades of periwinkle blue, I feel something magical, existing in the silence, and just on the other side of thought. And I remember the night before as I stood outside in a different shade of dark, the bare branches and the one pure star. I remember, but the moment is gone. And I want to be present on this new morning so that when it also goes, it won’t go forever. It will be living somewhere inside me.
The stars of morning are different from stars at night. And the air in the morning is different from the air at night. Just as the air of the mountains is different from the air at the shore, and the air of the Arizona desert different from the thick tropical Caribbean air. In morning’s first breath, there is stillness but it’s a stillness full of life to come. And that moment, however subtle, is connected to my joy.
There is happiness bound to pleasure, and there is joy, an emotion existing at a different depth, but always there, just waiting for us to turn on the tap. In the evening after a long day of work, my mind may be telling me to eat a brownie, pop in a Netflix. These are pleasurable, and I often indulge them, but they’re pleasures of the senses, while the other moments are of the spirit or soul—of or existing on a deeper level. The pleasure of the brownie or the Netflix is gone when it’s gone, but the emotion of experiencing spring’s first air is a part of me. Eternal and connected, so that when I feel it anew, I only awaken something altogether me, already—and always— there.
The dogs’ defining moments are every moment of every day—some better than others (they wish the teeth brushing would hurry up, if not cease entirely) but each dog lives equally and intensely in presence, even when they sleep. How full their lives must be. Sparkle’s early-morning yawn, filled with an excitement that hisses out like a baby dragon, becomes a defining if familiar moment for me, the same as her oooh-rrooooo in joy and recognition when I return home. Or Isabelle’s slow and valiant three-legged hop to the door. Her one front leg often trembling as she navigates the ground; few gather life’s flowers with such tenacity or poignancy.
Odd snippets of life make up our lives, and if family and friends are the heartbeat, the snippets fill in the rest.
My defining moments are often pathways I’ve walked before, pathways where memory lives, sometimes spilling forth eagerly, other times hiding around corners until a certain song or scent coaxes it out. The prompts may be familiar but at the same time, I experience them all anew: Daffodils sunlit from behind, a clear glass of water, the smell of wood smoke or baking bread.
The scent of a rose can be the siren’s call down back roads of nostalgia where childhood memories awaken, and line-dried sheets complete the scene.
Then there is Handel’s Musette and Pachelbel’s Canon. Stevie Wonder and Aretha. The cardinal and titmouse pecking at seed, and the lemons as they droop the branches of the tree who doesn’t seem to mind. There is the late-afternoon light as it settles in through the windows. A single purple crocus. Bare feet on new grass after winter. Hot coffee. A deep breath. Twinkling stars blinking out their lives against the vast night.
A soft breeze that lifts new leaves, lightly brushing skin may be the most beautiful moment of all. Until the next one.
Defining moments occur when we break from desires or set routines to reach a hand to another. The moments when we touch each other, connecting deeply—even if it’s only to offer reassurance looking back into soft brown eyes.
When Olive delights in life, grabbing a toy and racing outside, running then flipping and rolling on the lawn, “trashing” herself with grass and dirt, how can I also not delight in life?
Is there anything more poignant than a white face with quiet eyes staring into your own? A being who has shared over a decade of your life, who knows you and who you know like the lines on your face? A being you love beyond measure. Sasha also loves the morning’s first air (that is, if she’s gotten out of bed) and I stand and watch her raise her old-dog head on her thickened old-dog body and sniff, discerning the day’s new scents.
Sometimes I stop and stand very still, aware of the simplest thing, aware of this moment which is all my life will ever be. And that’s just fine with me. A radiant moon curves to catch a single star. The dogs sleeping in dog beds or beside me on the sofa. Goodness, joy, compassion, peace, wisdom and love. All the things my dogs so easily and effortlessly embody… and never lord over me.
Sunlit peace. Sasha, Olive, Sparkle and Isabelle.