Out in the wilds I had learned to beware of abrupt movements. The creatures with which you are dealing there are shy and watchful, they have a talent for evading you when you least expect it. No domestic animal can be as still as a wild animal. The civilized people have lost the aptitude of stillness, and must take lessons in silence from the wild before they are accepted by it. The art of moving gently, without suddenness, is the first to be studied by the hunter, and more so by the hunter with the camera. Hunters cannot have their own way, they must fall in with the wind, and the colours and smells of the landscape, and they must make the tempo of the ensemble their own.
Out of Africa, Isak Dinesen
Hunters may love and understand nature more than anyone else. In order to be in position to see their prey, hunters must blend in with the wild, melting in to the bushes and brambles. Hunters take their position well before the sun rises and wait with eyes open wide and ears attuned to every mysterious snap, swish, and stomp. In their stillness hunters bear witness to the awakening of the forest as the sun rises. If you talk with them, hunters will tell you that many of their favorite days in the wild were ones in which they never took a shot.
It is when we are still that we become aware of our surroundings. Birds flitting about in the trees overhead or the sounds of a neighbor in need grab our attention when we take time to sit still, listen, and see.
Nowadays, it is easy to be distracted, for example, by the contents on a screen, causing us to miss out on the world around us. There is nothing wrong with being eager to see the next picture, watch the latest video, or listen to that new song as long as we don’t lose touch with the people, places, and things that surround us.
Learning to enjoy still moments allows us to grow in ways that a fast-paced life does not. It is tempting to try to rush through things. I know that there are times when I have a hard time sitting still. Yet, all of us benefit from being quiet, watchful, and contemplative. We learn more about who we are when our stillness forces us to explore our thoughts and feelings. If we let them, still moments can relax, restore, and refresh our body and mind.
We should strive to be wild in the way Dinesen described Africa. The world benefits from lives that are beautiful, attractive, gritty, and powerful. If we hold strong to our beliefs while loving those who don’t share them, our lives will even be, like the wild, dangerous at times; we will be hunted by those “civilized” people who do not tolerate opinions that aren’t their own. Our response to them should be unyielding and deeply rooted in a position of love, as strong as a tree standing against a fierce wind.
Being still may help us find our way again when we are lost. When I was a child, I spent a week at a camp in the mountains. On a hike with one of the counselors, he gave us tips on how to find our way through the forest. At one point on our trek he stopped and turned around slowly, silencing us by placing his finger across his lips. We listened. Immediately all of us heard the sound of running water. “If you ever get lost in this forest, listen for the river. It will lead you back to camp.” Our way back home was revealed in our stillness.
A truly happy life is one lived in service of others. In order to sustain a life of service, we must learn to be still and find out who we are, what we are called to do, and who we are in a position to help. We come to better understand ourselves when we spend time in peace and quiet.
Be purposeful with seeking stillness. Take the time to ponder life’s questions. Listen to the sounds of nature and the voices of those around you. Watch and learn what Dinesen described as the “tempo” of the wild. You will be wiser for it.