I looked out the window one late afternoon and was stunned by the rainbow appearing eastwards over the sea after a huge and sudden downpour followed by a burst of sunlight. It was a remarkable sight. The gulls and terns seemed to be basking and playing in the ‘pot of gold’ at the end of the rainbow, where the copper and gilded peat water from the burn met the sea. I had come to the end of a week-long retreat and this spectacular vision on the weekend seemed to complete it in a way that nothing else could have done so beautifully.
The rainbow pointed to the overall sense of hope I had felt in my chosen times of stillness through the week.
Nature has a wonderful way of showing us things and bringing new peace and rhythm to our lives - if we take the time to pause, notice and listen. We have had more time to do that in the last while than ever before. It is like the world has stopped for a while and is showing off it’s expanse of colour and breadth of detail. Whether we notice it or not, it is there.
Henry Thoreau : ‘Staying inside the house breeds a sort of insanity always.’ I’d say that’s not far from the truth!
In the height of summer and in the stillness of days, I’ve noticed the outdoor physical stillness of sea and tarn.
Tarns are fascinating in that they seem to settle in unusual locations in the north of Scotland, usually in bogland and appearing higher than sea level. They are glacier lakes really - carved out areas in the land that collect and hold rainwater. When they are still, they become mirrors to the sky.
When I was a student with Au Sable Institute for Environment Studies in Washington state many years ago, we were required to choose a spot in the environment to visit on a regular basis, at different times in the day. This happened over the course of 6 weeks and we would sit in the spot we had chosen, whether wetland, or prairie, or woodland, and record the things we observed. It became a wide open window into a remarkable ecosystem, like being let into a secret treasure trove of natural wonders: a beetle walking across a leaf, a new shoot pushing up from the soil, a cedar waxwing suddenly appearing on a branch above where I was sitting, a rustling in the grass nearby, a chipmunk observing me curiously…. The life was continuous. I could only have experienced the depth of this by returning to the same place over many days and observing the changes to the environment I had chosen.
A stillness of body and mind became a gift to me and allowed my senses to remain alert.
There are times when we are unconsciously led beside still waters. At other times it is a deliberate decision to seek out silence and stillness. Either way, this is the supreme context for the restoration of the soul. In recent experience I’ve learned that the stilling of the soul is not just a passive or abstract activity. It’s a very real action which can transform our journey of life.