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Tom Matlack

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Stillness

Posted: 07/11/11 12:13 PM ET

What happens when we stop everything?

A couple of hours after I got to Paradise Valley, Montana I handed my laptop and iPhone over to Stacy, the ranch guest manager. I had already snuck upstairs in the lodge to login on the ranch's improved satellite Internet to put together a blog post.

I realize going to a ranch is an extravagance. I was fortunate to have such an opportunity. So in a snap instant I decided that I couldn't trust myself to unplug. I needed to take action.

When traveling, I have a hard time really seeing what I am looking at right away. On this trip we went to Yellowstone the first day in Montana. We saw brown bears, coyotes, bison with their young, elk, and antelope.

But it wasn't until the drive from Bozeman to Paradise Valley on Father's Day that I saw the vastness of the Montana countryside and the snow-capped mountains, too beautiful to be real.

The first night after turning in my electronic contraband I still felt jumpy. I had trouble getting to sleep and when I got up in the middle of the night to take a leak I was disturbed not to be able to check my twitter feed.

Monday I met up with Mags, a painted mare with whom I had bonded during previous visits. She guided me through rushing streams and up wildflower-filled fields to commanding views of the Yellowstone River and Mount Emigrant.

I laughed with friends along the trail and secretly wondered what might be happening in the blogosphere -- a story about an original Playboy bunny and the controversy over women looking for ugly husbands. But by the time I got back to my cabin and made a fire for my wife and kids a strange thing had begun to take root in me.

♦◊♦

Stillness is a foreign concept in the modern world, and particularly for a stimuli addict like me. Yet I know from a fair bit of meditation in years past that silence, and not moving, can lead not only to a sense of well-being but also to a deeper connection to the world.

In my everyday life, the closest thing I get to stillness is the odd craving for sleep. I can nap just about anywhere. But when I do, I generally wake up disoriented and on edge. It's as if the assault of the modern world grinds me down to a point of exhaustion. Even my catnaps don't get to the underlying issue. I wake up startled, with my defenses up.

Stillness is something completely different from sleep. It's not a drug or an antidote to hyper-activity. For me, it's the not-doing while fully awake that leads to relaxation and a different level of awareness of my environment.

When I move quickly I'm constantly reacting to the world on a superficial level, bouncing around like pinball. The thing about stillness is that I finally have the time to breathe deeply, look fully, and see below the surface of things.

The transition from movement to stillness is not without discomfort, at least for me. My body and mind keep looking for an easy out, imagining important emails I must be missing or things I forgot to do. Or that's just my brain playing tricks on me. There's nothing I have to do.

Except be still.

♦◊♦

My computer and iPhone were waiting for me. I made it from Sunday to Thursday on the electronic dark side of the moon before a modest emergency at home required me to send out an email. It was a quick downhill slide from there.

But I had those five full days of stillness, and even more long rides without interruption before leaving on Sunday. Mags would lope along, my body moving in rhythm to hers, giving me a sense of floating in this beautiful moment completely without a care in the world.

I'm on the plane now, heading home to the grind of civilization, but when I get there I'm going to hold onto the feeling of riding through a rushing stream, Mags' warm body below me as the freezing-cold spray hits my leg and, out of the corner of my eye, I catch a glimpse of mountains too beautiful to be real.

I know what I saw on my trip was real, the collected bits of beauty I miss by being so busy.

 

All images by author.

 

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