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On Stillness, Stagnancy, and Coming Up For Air

By Jennie LaFortune


I sat in a long line of cars leaving Little Cottonwood Canyon and reality puffed in my face. The stagnant top layer of sludge suffocated the town nestled between mountains.  “Hearing about the crappy air from all the weather people  is one thing”, I practically shouted to my friend, “but this, this is ridiculous”.  While ranting about the toxic sludge in front of us I wondered why I was having such a visceral response. Escaping into the mountains leaves visual cues and monotony behind- it makes the grind dispel if even briefly. The computers, papers, and to do lists cannot ascend with me and I can will my mind to contemplate the trees and sky and my place therein instead of how the heck I’m going to manage certain barren wastelands or heavy pollution below.

Looking at the soul sucker inversion cloud unavoidably in front of us left me feeling anxious.  I was headed into the guck at a weak 30 mph. Not too fast, not too slow, seemingly on autopilot. Instinctively, I almost took gasping breaths of canyon air as if driving under water; saving up oxygen for later. Sitting amidst the red break lights and exhaust fumes I knew I wouldn’t be able to explain in words my connection to the sludge.  My words have been slow lately- unable to express my experiences and emotions – they’ve turned into inarticulate traitors because they haven’t been there for me when I need to make sense or explanation.  But I knew.  I knew I let the sludge slow me down.  I’d let the false thoughts of circumstance saturate my mind and body until I became a part of it. My reaction to the air was not unlike seeing that person you dodge at the grocery store because of how they made you feel in jr. high.  You knew better than to let them get the best of you, but it didn’t stop you from turning down the other aisle.  The sludge and smog was both friend and foe, and I knew I needed to clear out.

I felt a bit stuck.  Stagnant.  Just like the air -too heavy for the life I’m blessed with. Nothing big or decidedly ugly had happened in the last few months, just the particles of sameness I had been choosing to breathe instead of the vista behind me. And let me tell you, my vista is pretty dang good. It’s a choice and takes practice to reset perception and see the facets of our valleys.  All I had to do was look over my shoulder to see the blue sky and incredible view.  Descending home did not mean the clean air above me disappeared. It still exists. Later that night I remembered a passage I loved by Kristin Armstrong:

“ The Lord knows your inner landscape, no matter the painstaking efforts you make to beautify the outside. He knows …the expected yield of your personal harvest…He knows the scorched places of your unmet desire. Don’t be afraid or ashamed to invite Him into your wasteland. He wants to replant and irrigate, knowing the richness of land hidden under ruins. When He works your field, nothing is wasted…not time, not relationships, not pain, not any experience. He uses everything. The decomposition of one life can fertilize the next.”

While things may seem stagnant, maybe they’re just still – seeds growing underground, waiting for the right time to harvest.

How about you?  What is the benefit of stillness?  What can we learn from the more suspended times of action in our lives?  Is there a line of action and surrender? What do you do to shift out of autopilot and start living more fully?

About Jennie LaFortune

(Prose Board) is from Salt Lake. Figuring life out one book, beach, road trip, museum, and front porch conversation at a time. Perpetually on the search for the best dark chocolate, finest pen, and greenest field. When she's not teaching high school, she loves to spend time with friends and family, the shore of any ocean, holding her friends' babies, or taking long neighborhood walks.

7 thoughts on “On Stillness, Stagnancy, and Coming Up For Air”

  1. I have been pondering this lately. January seems like such a terrible time to make resolutions; I have no desire for change because I just want to hibernate. Conserve my energy. Maybe I'm more like a tulip bulb hiding underground waiting for the cold to go away. I love these thoughts about the fact that the bright, clear air is still there even during the times when we can't see it or breathe it. It's a perfect analogy, especially since it takes a storm to make the yuckiness go away.

  2. One of my favorite scriptures is "Be still and know that I am God." Same with the hymn "Be still my soul."

    Last week we watched the newest Karate Kid movie and Jackie Chan's character said something that really made me think about being still. He tells the kid there is a difference between being still and doing nothing.

    I think there are times when I think I am being still when in reality I am simply doing nothing and hoping for the best. Being still is a state of mind and heart. I want to find ways to be still while I am still accomplishing what needs to happen during the day.

  3. Jessie- I love the tulip bulb analogy! I definitely need to visualize that picture instead of the depressing gray right now!

    Giggles (love that name by the way) – Thanks for sharing the Karate Kid moment! Who know Karate could be so profound. I need to absolutely think and recognize that there is a difference between being still and doing nothing and hope I'm in the former group. Thanks.

  4. I HATE the inversion. HATE HATE HATE it and feel the same way you describe when I watch it seeping into the valley. Aargh.

    I have decided January is a terrible month for me to make resolutions and is instead a good month to just try to survive. Maybe April is a better month for resolutions. I'll see.

    Thanks for sharing that wonderful Kristin Armstrong quote. I really like her.

  5. That's a stunning quote. I've not heard of her before, shall have to do some online investigation.

    The last few years have been intense, with stillness, drowning, floating and gasping for air playing a large part in how I've felt and reacted.

    I think I'm getting better and being able to stop my reflexive panic and stress, but it's taking conscious effort to let myself breathe, and breathe properly.

    I'm also hoping what has gone before will make me appreciate what the future may hold even more gratefully and with open, welcoming arms.

  6. Keri- here's to clean air (let's hope it blows away today). While I wish no one felt this gloom, at least there's validation in numbers which can lift us all! Or here's hoping.

    Kellie-Love how you said, "with stillness, drowning, floating and gasping for air playing a large part in how I’ve felt and reacted." let's breathe breathe breathe!

  7. Thanks. I love that. Being still or doing nothing? Lots to ponder there. And what a lovely quote! I love Isaiah's analogies about letting the Lord into our wasteland so He can turn it into a blossoming bountiful garden. I'd love to know your reference so I can read more. 🙂 Thanks.


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