Stillness: First Steps

Still Life with Straw Hat, (1885) Vincent Van Gogh, oil on paper mounted on canvas,14.5 x 21 inches, Image Source

Every now and then, I come back to the genre of the Still Life Paintings. Since I am endeavoring to write about “Practicing Stillness”, it seemed a natural fit. In reading about this painting I learned that the Still Life was an exercise assigned to the beginning art student. These kinds of studies are among the many things they do as first steps in practicing their craft. A sort of building block so to speak. It is similar in music as we work on scales and etudes to become more nimble with our chosen instrument.

Gazing at this painting, I am charmed by what I know will become Van Gogh’s recurring theme of the straw hat. He saw himself as the peasant artist and so even in this early arrangement of items we can see the personality of our dear Vincent. I am inspired by his dedication to faithfully represent these items truthfully and in detail.

I begin to wonder about the benefits of practicing stillness and so I make a list:

  • To develop an inner calm and peace that doesn’t evaporate as soon as we start our day.
  • To begin each day in gratitude for God’s presence in our lives.
  • To pray for greater insight or openness of the inner eyes of wisdom.
  • Maybe there is an emotional wound that needs healing.
  • Seeking a greater intimacy with God/Jesus/the Divine
  • Allowing the Spirit to transform our hearts and minds one day at a time.

All of these things and many more can be aspired to in practicing stillness and cultivating our prayer life.

Pushing into this thought more deeply, I become more aware of how sitting in stillness really is an act of humility. As I silently position myself, I wait expectantly to hear from God. In this way, I am saying: “I don’t have all the answers” or “I am open to learn, to change, to answer your call.” “I can trust what you will show me.”

Practicing stillness before God says “I have time for you, Lord, and I want to make you a priority”

For those who are new to this, I highly recommend finding a time of day that you can regularly practice stillness. To form a new habit, it is best to do it regularly and at the same time each day. This might mean setting your alarm earlier each morning or finding a quiet place to have your lunch or journaling just before bed. Once you find the satisfaction in the practice of stillness you might decide to do all 3 times of day:))

The photo below, Portrait of a Peasant, was taken on a visit we made to the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena California pre-pandemic. I am charmed to see that Van Gogh spent a life time painting the straw hat and I can speak from personal experience that this straw hat shone with the light of his love. You could see the perfection of the brush strokes and visually feel the texture of that hat. I stood in stunned silence for quit some time as I wanted to memorize the visual experience of this masterpiece.

Portrait of a Peasant, 1888, Vincent Van Gogh, Norton Simon Museum

Thanks for joining me as we “Practice Stillness” together.

Do you have any tips about stillness you could share with my readers?

Have a great weekend!


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