keeping quiet : keeping still

Mark Rothko - s/T, 1969


Now we will count to twelve

and we will all keep still.


For once on the face of the earth,

let’s not speak in any language;

let’s stop for one second,

and not move our arms so much.


It would be an exotic moment

without rush, without engines;

we would all be together

in a sudden strangeness.


Fisherman in the cold sea

would not harm whales

and the man gathering salt

would look at his hurt hands.


Those who prepare green wars,

wars with gas, wars with fire,

victories with no survivors,

would put on clean clothes

and walk about with their brothers

in the shade, doing nothing.


What I want should not be confused

with total inactivity.

Life is what it is about;

I want no truck with death.


If we were not so single-minded

about keeping our lives moving,

and for once could do nothing,

perhaps a huge silence

might interrupt this sadness

of never understanding ourselves

and of threatening ourselves with death.

Perhaps the earth can teach us

as when everything seems dead

and later proves to be alive.


Now I’ll count up to twelve

and you keep quiet and I will go.


– Pablo Neruda


From Extravagaria, translated by Alastair Reid (pp. 27-29, 1974)

A steadying, thoughtful poem for today and everyday. I’m pairing it with Pico Iyer’s wonderful TED talk, The Art of Stillness. I feel that stillness, silence and solitude – attributes of whatever we take to be sanctity – are seriously endangered experiences. Will they become extinct in our lifetime?

I’m a committed activist in this area of concern. My experience has shown me that these ‘non-activities’ are the bedrock necessary for the unfolding of what matters to me – authenticity, right relationship, unfolding wisdom, and creative expression.



Painting by Mark Rothko – s/T, 1969

10 thoughts on “keeping quiet : keeping still

  1. ahhhhh… (I swear that’s the painting in my dreams these days) beautiful, beautiful… all one thing. 🙂 (a stillness activist! you sly cat, you! Love you!)

    • Ha! It’s a paradox – almost a contradiction in terms – to speak of being “a stillness activist”… one has to be very sly indeed!
      If this Rothko is showing up in your dreams we are on the same dreambeam… I’m so happy to know that. Thank you dear Bev.

  2. A beautifully conceived offering here, Miriam Louisa, for which many thanks. I felt in very good company, with yourself, Rothko, Neruda, and then Mr. Iyer who was previously unknown to me, and whose lecture was a delight to hear. Thankyou very much. All best wishes, Hariod.

    • Hariod – what a treat to hear from you and to know you enjoyed the offering. Thank you for your kind feedback.
      I’m pretty sure you would enjoy Pico Iyer’s books; ‘The Art of Stillness’ is a gem, and ‘The Open Road’, about the Dalai Lama’s global life is fascinating.

  3. I deeply resonate… Indeed Silence, Stillness and Solitude have become endangered. I feel it too – the need for deep stillness and a deeper wisdom from the Heart of Stillness allowing for the expression of a deeper authenticity (and intimacy with life) than what’s happening in the world around us. And in myself 🙂 Too much craziness in the world! ❤

    • Perhaps those of us who cherish silence, stillness and solitude are equally endangered – a dying breed. More and more it seems the world is teeming with adult 6-year-olds. (Which is not to insult genuine 6-year-olds!) What to do but find the well of peace and authenticity in our own hearts… and let a little spill as and where it will, without interfering.

      Keep up the gentle trickle of sanity at ‘mystic meandering’ dear Christine.

      Gratitude to you, and love.

    • Thank you for reading Mary – and leaving this comment, which had me revisit the post.

      Sometimes whatever-it-is-that’s-driving pulls just the right bits and pieces together to make a post that will be a “keeper”. I think this was one of those times.


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