While trying to decide where to go with my last effort for my One Little Word in 2021, I realized that it’s impossible to distill twelve months of Stillness into one post. I can’t really put something together that shows everything I’ve learned and then wrap it up with a pretty bow. I can only show you how ongoing this process has been for me and how much further I have to go.
So much of what I’ve learned this year has come from what I’ve read and my spark of inspiration this month was no different:
When I went to live with the old priest, he was quite ill, and his tiny temple was decrepit and run-down. I have to admit, I was terribly disappointed. I’d expected to live in an elegant Zen temple, with fresh tatami mats and gleaming wooden floors and beautiful scrolls and splendid statues and a tranquil garden. How could I fail to become enlightened in heavenly surroundings like that?
And how could I possibly become enlightened here? The temple had fallen into complete disrepair. The roof tiles were broken, and the walls were crumbling. In the tiny weed-choked garden, a jumble of laundry poles was strung with underwear from student boarders, whose rents provided the temple with a meager income.
Inside the rooms, the tatami was old and soggy and the wood was dull. The altars and statues were covered with cobwebs, and there was clutter everywhere! Was this why I’d given up all the comforts of my life? To live in a small, crummy room in a dilapidated temple and play nursemaid to a dying old man?
— The Book of Form and Emptiness by Ruth Ozeki, page 304
There was so much to love about The Book of Form and Emptiness and this passage stopped me in my tracks. I was listening on audio, sweeping the dining room floor, and I had to stop and brace myself. Sounds dramatic, I know. But I’m sure you know how it feels when a book touches on exactly what you’re experiencing and shares the perfect insight you need in that moment. Because here’s a small example of what I was trying to sweep up that evening:
I took this picture at the beginning of the day, so things only went up from here. Ripping paper is the safest thing that Colton likes to do — he doesn’t functionally play with toys as they are intended and will either ingest most things or try to put holes in the walls with anything else. If I hope to get anything done during the day – wash dishes, make meals, go to the bathroom, interact with my other children at all – then paper is the only thing I’ve found that will ensure his safety and the well-being of our home.
Friends, I do not want to spend my day swimming in confetti. And yet, here we are. If I try to redirect him from the paper, meltdowns follow. How many holes has he put in the walls with his head this year? I’ve lost count. He’s smashed two windows just this month.
Having a child with autism has been the biggest challenge of my life. Colton has been the best teacher I could have ever asked for. These are lessons that I’d like to skip, that I wouldn’t choose to learn, that I would wish on no family. And yet, here we are.
So I do my best throughout the day, to stay still and calm. Radiate hope and love. Smile despite cringing inside. And in the evening, after I do my best to tuck the two youngest into bed and I take out my broom, I start sweeping up the piles that accumulated throughout the day. I thank the floor for providing a strong foundation for us all. I thank the paper for keeping Colton safe throughout the day. And I thank my broom for showing up each evening and helping me tidy everything up just to do it all again and again, each and every day.
It’s not the temple I’d hoped to find enlightenment in, just like from The Book of Form and Emptiness, and yet: here we are. And it’s exactly what I need.
Stillness has been such a refuge for me this year. I’ve said it before, but I’m not ready to let it go. Without a doubt, it’s been the most meaningful word I’ve chosen since starting this practice in 2018. There’s a bright, shiny new word waiting for me in 2022 but I will be nurturing Stillness for a very long time.
Thanks so much to Carolyn for being such a great host for our one little words. She has put an amazing amount of time and effort into all of us participating this year – it’s been an incredible experience. And I cannot wait to catch up with everyone else this month and start learning about next year’s words!
(I’ve turned off the comments for this post. I hope you understand.)