asters cropI’ve just been dipping into Thoreau’s Sounds, and I’ve been stung. As Jon Kabat-Zinn points out in his fine meditation book, Wherever you Go There You Are, this passage is really about cultivating stillness.

“There were times when I could not afford to sacrifice the bloom of the present moment to any work, whether of the head or hands. I love a broad margin to my life.”

Was it possible that I could simply stop? Years ago, I had envied my nearly blind, fragile aged mother when she sat under the trees for whole afternoons, content with simply being. But she had an excuse to be still. She was old.

Could I do this? And could I do it now, long before I reached frailty? Was it possible that, at times, I could pause the racketty-clanking of my everyday life and simply stop? I, who am always thinking and doing? How could I come to a state where I would be so idle, so unproductive? Make every minute count. Have something to show for your time. This was what I’d been taught. And yet, here was Thoreau saying “I grew in those seasons like corn in the night, and they were far better than any work of the hands would have been.”

So this autumn, my time of new beginnings, stillness will be one of my challenges. I look forward, as always, to my chosen pursuits. Yet, can I occasionally explore Thoreau’s “forsaking of work”? Can I find room to cultivate the solitude with which I’m blessed in this way? What will happen if I do?

“Instead of singing like the birds, I silently smiled at my incessant good fortune.” Thoreau said.

About Peri McQuay

Peri Phillips McQuay is the author of Singing Meadow: The Adventure of Creating a Country Home, The View From Foley Mountain, a book of nature meditations on her experiences living for 30 years at the Foley Mountain Conservation Area and A Wing in the Door: Life With a Red-tailed Hawk is the story of her adventures with Merak, a human-imprinted hawk, who lived free but saw McQuay and her family as her special people. Also Peri has written numerous essays, articles, book reviews and a weekly column, published in the Kingston Whig-Standard Magazine. Her credits include Country Journal, Harrowsmith, Bird Watcher’s Digest, The Snowy Egret, Seasons, The Fiddlehead, Herizons and Brick.
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