Over the next two weeks or so, the ideas of calm, quiet, silence will hopefully receive greater attention than they usually do.
We need calm. We need stillness. These would seem to be important aspects of well-being. And there would also seem to be degrees of stillness that we can experience and aspire to. This all seems intuitively simple and true and is especially so given the anxiety that often prevails in the world in which we live.
Yet, the will to embrace calm and peace is not always as easy as one might think. We get a sense of this battle within us, between the drive to be constantly busy and the knowledge of the importance of withdrawal, when we reflect upon the conflict in Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol. The battle lines were drawn clearly between the pause and merriment of Christmas on the one hand, and Scrooge’s insistence on not closing his shop for Christmas, on the other.
For some, it would seem Scrooge’s insistence on working through the holidays hits home.
For some, it would seem Scrooge’s insistence on working through the holidays hits home. It would seem that it is not always an easy task to put the busyness away, to put it in its place, as if into a box with a proper lid, ready for us to reopen when the holidays have come to a close. We sometimes almost rail against the quiet of the holidays. On Christmas Eve, when it appears that everything is closed, for example, it is as though we find ourselves knocking on a darkened store front door, peering inside at the solitary light at the back of the shop. We smudge our noses against the cold glass in the hope that there might be someone like us, still working when the majority of people have embraced the pause and gone home to friends and family. Ultimately, we have to embrace the reality that there is no one inside. Ultimately, we have to turn away. The shop is, indeed, closed. The storekeeper has gone home. The local convenience store then becomes our only surrogate beacon of light and activity. We fix our gaze on it in a way that otherwise we might not.
The idea of rest beyond the hours spent sleeping has a secure place in literature and history: God rested from creative works on the seventh day. St Augustine believed that God was to be found at the centre of the soul, suggesting, to my mind, a measure of stillness, like the unmoved centre of a turning wheel.
The very idea of the winter reminds us of the importance of the pause.
Yet the idea of pause and rest is also quite evident in the natural world around us. Winter itself is a period of quiet. A time of retreat and rest. The very idea of the winter reminds us of the importance of the pause. Trees, shrubs, crops all come to rest. Growth pauses. Still, there is a difference between pausing and stopping entirely. But in our eagerness to be busy, that difference is sometimes over looked. At times we seem to believe that pausing is the same as failure. In A Christmas Carol, Bob Cratchit pauses at Christmas to think about what he and his wife and children have. It is for him a time to be grateful for Tiny Tim.
Still, for many, the Holidays are the time when, whether in our imaginations, or in our reality, we have occasion to traverse country roads to take us to the places and people we love in the countryside. In our collective imagination, we leave the busyness and complexity of the city and return to the serenity and simplicity of the countryside, from where our families originated. We embrace the passing fields, and sights of horses huddled together, winter blankets on, breath visible from afar. There we find the quiet of softly falling snow.
We can in such a moment embrace the quiet, pause, and think of all that we have.
And, once at our pastoral destination, from the warmth of the inside, or at least from within the warmth of our imagination, we peer out through cold windows over snow covered fields lying under the grey silence of a partly clouded sky. Coffee or tea cup in hand, we watch the sun slipping through the break in the clouds to bring the promise of light to the darkest time of year. We can in such a moment embrace the quiet, pause, and think of all that we have.
That pause, that reflection, that stillness, might even become things we embrace more than once a year.
Maybe even in this very moment, reading this particular blog, you might find, Dear Reader, a moment, a place, of calm and serenity.
WHO IS DOUGLAS ALLEN?
Douglas Allen is a PhD Candidate in History at the University of Toronto. His historical studies are of late medieval and Renaissance Europe. He is interested in using the lens of identity to explore and understand history, human motivation and action. Douglas is also a writer who is currently writing a novel set in the City of Winnipeg in the 1980’s, which explores the nature of indigenous and non-indigenous relations.