Appreciating stillness

Wisdom from my father.

Petrified Forrest National Park, USA

My father doesn’t talk much unless he is agonizingly recalling a joke we’ve all heard before. He is not one of those people who relishes an opportunity to discuss his emotional experience. I’m not trying to say that he is not in touch with his feelings. On the contrary, he is a deeply empathetic and sensitive person, but those emotions rarely make it out to the visible surface. It can be infuriating to get a bland one-word response from him to the question “How are you?” when I can clearly see that he is feeling something deeply.

This is why I cherish those rare opportunities when his guard is down and he is delivers a succinct nugget of pure wisdom.

I never liked her. She is an upgrader. — Dad

Just like that. A 45 minute conversation between my mother and I during a long car ride where we tried to dissect and understand a recent breakup of a loved one — punctuated, explained, and completely nailed by my father with a subtle touch of indignation. That’s just one example.

Back to the topic of stillness. My father is not a normal Israeli male. He’s not aggressive. He is not a go-getter. He does not like to cut lines. My dad is super chill. About a decade ago, as I was going through a period of self reflection, I asked him this familiar question:

If money was not an object and failure yada yada…. what would you do? — Me

His answer was disappointing and boring at first.

Not much. I’d love to just be able to sit somewhere in nature and do nothing. Maybe watch the deer go by. Maybe some birds. — Dad

We live in a world where over-achievement and uber-productivity are regarded as the cornerstones of having a successful life. Idle hands are the devil’s workshop. If you are not busy then you are not motivated.

It took me years to realize that his answer is not boring at all. This nothingness he talked about — that stillness — is everything to me now.

I’m not talking about meditation or Taoism or yoga. Obviously there is a connection to those practices, but maybe I’m referencing something too naive and pure to label.

My interpretation of my his desire to “do nothing” is that he wants to be free of the burdens of life and enjoy the endless beauty of the natural world. There is so much wealth to be gained from sitting still and letting the vision of a valley wash over every part of your being. There is so much entertainment, wonder, and even comedy in watching animals go about their daily routines.

I search for these moments now. I’m hungry for them. I seek them out. I try to capture them. I look for people who want this too. I’m repelled by the some people’s need to overstimulate and party. I desire friends who choose to go to the top of a mountain, sit quietly, and smile when they look into my eyes.

My dad will never articulate it this way. He’s not one to over-intellectualize things. However, I truly feel that in those moments when he is still and the colors of the world are filling his heart, like me, he feels connected and free.