Got Stillness?

Designed by Zawar Ahmed

You are invited to listen to this recording as or after you read.

Stillness is hard to come by on a college campus. Yale is designed for gathering, producing, and commuting. We tend to enjoy this; it’s what makes college college. But sometimes we need to slow down. I’ve only been here a month, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people recommend I block off an hour in my GCal for me-time. Leave it to Yalies to make stillness productive. 

Many of us are emerging from a period of too much stillness. If we were fortunate, the slackening of the daily bustle became the worst of our problems a year and a half ago. My last semester of high school coincided with the early days of the pandemic. As I lost contact with everyone except my closest friends, I scrambled to fill the pockets of peace I’d once craved. I listened to podcasts obsessively; I took daily laps around my neighborhood; I cooked and baked bread, if only to do something real with my hands. In retrospect, it’s hard to say when I savored that stillness and when I fought it.

Ms. ’Rona brought new stillness, too—the kind that arises in a Zoom call when you can’t tell if everyone else is frozen, comatose, or both. That’s what I’d call empty stillness, which is worlds away from the fertile stillness I learned to cherish that spring. In fact, I came to love this fertile stillness so much that I took a gap year and basically became a monk. I think the Swedish word ro captures this state of being: it’s the “quiet” in “peace and quiet,” but also calm, rest, and tranquility; it means “to amuse” when used as a verb. There’s a stoic smile to it.

Now, it’s incredible to be back among my fellow sweaty, horny, neurotic slice of humanity. But in fleeting moments of quiet, I remember how much I love the kind of stillness that can only come unplanned. There’s something about the college student’s terror of being alone—or of being seen alone—that can both limit our opportunities to experience stillness and heighten our awareness of it. The most acute example I can think of is my routine walk back to Silliman from the Sterling stacks, just shy of closing time. That stroll through the nave, out the doors, and across Cross Campus will never get old.

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