Embracing the Stillness

Last week, after nine months of working at home, Mr. Petrol Head went back to the office. There, the door is locked; everyone is physically distanced and separated by plexiglass; there are masks, sanitizer, and he must fill out a daily form stating that he’s well and without Covid symptoms.

Other than Team Sheltie who like to herd me on the treadmill desk when I start writing, or bark at the courier when the bell rings, the house is quiet and still. It is empty. Or at least it’s emptier than it was a few weeks ago. And I think my muse has noticed.

Mr. Petrol Head isn’t especially loud. When he was home during the week, he would be at his desk and I would be at mine. We’d always connect at lunch, but the rest of the time we were both silently engrossed in our respective jobs. Yet I always knew he was there. I don’t know why. Maybe there’s a different quality to the air when you know someone is close by. Or maybe the nurturer in me is automatically attuned to another body in the house.  

After a few days of him being back at the office, my productivity seemed to increase. I also seemed to be thinking more deeply and in new ways about my work in progress. I thought perhaps I was imagining things. I also felt vaguely guilty. It’s not like I want him out of the house. I like his company.

Around the same time, I received my latest hold from the library, a book I’d requested many months ago. Simple Living:100 Daily Practices from a Japanese Zen Monk for a Lifetime of Calm and Joy by Shunmyo Masuno. It’s a short volume of single page entries designed to make you think. And think I did when I opened it to the first entry.

Make time for emptiness.

The words struck a chord because I’d been thinking about how empty the house is without Mr. Petrol Head in it.

Masuno goes on to ask if we have time to think about nothing in our everyday lives. It’s important, he believes, to make time for emptiness, even ten minutes of emptiness, every day. He writes: “when you are not distracted by other things, your pure and honest self can be revealed. And that’s the first step towards creating a simple life.”

I know he’s speaking about meditation, or something close to it. But the same concept applies to the creative life. In the same way that we need to empty a vase before we can fill it with water and add flowers, we sometimes need to empty ourselves before we can fill back up with our muse. We sometimes need stillness, complete stillness and an empty house, to create.

The house isn’t completely empty – I do have my ever-present canine pals – but there is a stillness in the air these days. And that makes it easier to hear my muse.

6 thoughts on “Embracing the Stillness

  1. Great post, Laura! It’s strange isn’t it how different the house feels when we are there by ourselves? Or without human companionship at any rate. Another topic for discussion when we finally get to do that walk! Love the picture of team Sheltie.

    1. Thanks, Debra. Yes, there’s a definite difference in the house when you’re the only human there. Looking forward to connecting on a walk one day soon!

  2. Interesting thoughts, Laura. I, too, notice a different vibe in the house and in myself when I’m home alone. Hasn’t happened much this past few months but with the weather improving there will be more outdoor time for dh. I”m afraid that one of the reasons another in the house disturbs my creativity is that I feel I have to “manage” him. What a terrible admission!

    1. Oh Alice, reframe that ‘manage’ word to ‘nurture.’ I think there’s a link. I tend to be listening/thinking/anticipating the needs of whoever is in the house. You could say it’s to ‘manage’ them (their needs, and my need to keep them occupied so I’m not distracted!) but it’s also to make sure they don’t need my help or have a question I can answer. I want to make sure they’re comfortably occupied so I can be comfortably occupied with my writing!

  3. Very true. When your partner is around you are still aware of their presence. The bushman has projects in the garage and outside. When he leaves the property for a number of hours, then the house is tranquil. And I’m in a different head space.
    Right now I’m drawn to going within as well. So much of regular life is out of our control, so what we are left with is our own thoughts.
    I’m re-reading old favorites. I’m especially drawn to ‘Instructions to the Cook’ A Zen Master’s Lessons in Living a Life That Matters. Bernard Glassman and Rick Fields

    1. You’re exactly right, Jodie, about getting into a different head space when you’re alone in a tranquil house. It is different! Thanks for mentioning one of your favorite books. That Glassman/Fields title sounds appealing. I’m going to look for it!

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