Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Chaos & Quiet

I thrive in the midst of chaos. Well, for short periods of time anyway. The excitement and energy that big cities, massive concerts or even a group of toddlers bring is invigorating, for awhile.

My defining experience of chaos was when Peter and I were travelling in Santiago, Chili a few years ago just before Christmas. It's a city of 5 million people and in the two days we were there, I felt like we met a lot of them. There were young boys standing in the middle of traffic at every light, selling cold drinks, Christmas trinkets, or juggling for coins. Whenever we stopped people were knocking on our car window asking for money - one woman cradled her baby in her arms as she went begging from car to car. Packs of dogs ran wild in the streets begging for food or attention. While we were on the road other drivers beside us would yell for directions or shout other things (all in Spanish and we only knew a few words of the language). One afternoon when I was resting Peter was "arrested" and taken away to be interrogated, (in Spanish of course). It took over a hour for him to figure out he was walking in an area where the signs (in Spanish) clearly indicated he shouldn't be trespassing. Thankfully everything was forgiven and laughed about without serious consequences. Santiago is a city I would love to visit again, but I never want to live there.

After an experience like that, I crave quiet. The place where I really come alive, where I envision my dreams, aspirations and goals, is in silence - moments of stillness. When I was a young girl, I would spend hours watching snow fall. The soft, white, silent blanket would cover everything - showing no favoritism towards the rich homes and cars over the poor. I love the fact that snow has no bias, prejudice or discrimination. This cloak of invisibility gives no heed to our need to "get somewhere," effectively shutting down roads, highways and businesses. There is a feeling of freedom for me when this happens. I love it when our busy world is effectively slowed to a halt.

When I was 16, my Mom and I were housebound for three days. The snow came up to our roof and we had to shovel a tunnel just to get out our front door. My Dad was able to walk to work but with most of the shops, schools and roads closed, my Mom spent hours telling me stories of her youth while we designed and creating masterpieces out of macrame (okay, so it was the 70s).

Moments like these made me realize that if I chose to live life in chaos, I would never know myself. The difficult circumstances that make up life and death happen to you in the midst of chaos. You choose how you will react to them when you are still.

Canadian author, Yann Martel, writes, "To read a book, one must be still...Religion, too, makes use of stillness, notably with prayer and meditation. Gazing upon a lake in autumn or a quiet winter scene - that too lulls us into contemplative stillness. Life, it seems, favours moments of stillness to appear on the edges of our perception and whisper to us, "Here I am. What do you think?" Then we become busy and the stillness vanishes, but we hardly notice because we fall so easily for the delusion of busyness, whereby what keeps us busy must be important and the busier we are with it, the more important it must be. And so we work, work, work, rush, rush, rush. On occasion we say to ourselves, "Gosh, life is racing by." But that's not it at all, it's the contrary: life is still. It is we who are racing by."

Do you thrive on chaos or do you need moments of silence? Where do you find stillness in your life?


  1. I'm like you, I think. I love moments of chaos when they're happening, but they make me appreciate the moments of stillness all the more. And we need stillness in our life - it's essential. Chaos can be fun, but everyone needs peace and time to think. That's why I don't like the trend of iPods on, all the time; people walk with their friends with one earphone in, even. And there's never any stillness or room to focus.

  2. I like the adrenaline rush of chaos - sometimes... but the older I get the more I love moments of quiet and stillness. I think some of that comes from being more comfortable with myself - when I was young I was striving... striving to achieve, striving to be accepted, striving because I thought that's how you survived ... now I love just being... and enjoying the 'being'... enjoying the peace and quiet... enjoying the moment.
    A few years ago I started a practice of stopping everytime I would think of it and saying 'Thank you God for THIS moment'. One night I had woken up and was stumbling to the bathroom half asleep and I mumbled that again to myself and something happened. In the dark stillness of night an incredible peace and sense of appreciation washed over me. It was so strong that it was immediately followed by a sense of shock so strong that I stopped doing that little exercise. (Funny how we react sometimes!!) I've started it up lately again though. Life is so short. Our time is so limited. We need to 'number our days' and appreciate each moment of life that we have. Sometimes it takes stillness for that appreciation to go deep.

  3. Thanks for your comment, Doris! Is print journalism struggling to find its way in Canada like it is here?

  4. Heidi - even though I love my iPod, I agree with you. It can be frustrating trying to talk with someone when they've got one ear tuned to something else. People are forgetting the art of listening. One of my friends likes to keep some background music or the TV on all the time. It's not loud but the constant white noise fills in all the stillness so there's no room to imagine.

    Joy - I enjoy just "being" too. And it's funny but I do the same thing you do - thank God for specific moments when I am in the midst of them. Life is short. I want to appreciate every moment I can.

    Heather - love your blog site. I've sent some comments about Canadian journalism your way. It's good to see you branching out into fiction! Keep it up!