Wendy Moffat, in her biography of the novelist E.M. Forster, describes how, during the First World War, Forster served in the Red Cross in Alexandria as a volunteer, and spent hundreds of hours listening to the wounded and dying. I was struck by the following sentence: ‘His stillness allowed them to open to the horror slowly.’
This led me to ponder some words from the Old Testament: ‘Be still and know that I am God.’ In the Gospels we read how Martha is fussing over the pots and pans in preparation for a meal, while her sister Mary just sits listening to Jesus. Martha, understandably, begins to grumble, but Jesus comments that Mary has chosen the better part. And so one might expect the sentence from the Old Testament to read: ‘Be quiet and listen.’ But no, it specifically says – ‘Be still’!
As Karlfried Durkheim wrote: ‘A thousand secrets are hidden in simply sitting still. A person who has once learned to collect himself completely in his sitting will never again let a day pass without practising for at least half an hour, for it is this which gives complete inner renewal, especially when he has learned to concentrate exclusively on the sitting, emptied of all thoughts and images.’
To sit still and upright, even for five minutes, is not easy – especially at first. The effort to concentrate tenses the back and the neck muscles, so that we are continually distracted. But if we can resist such aches, itches, tickles, or distractions we find deep down that the physical stillness is affecting the inner stillness, and in turn the inner stillness affects the outer. By being still we come to intuit this inner wisdom deep within ourselves. A new knowledge enters.
Be still and know!