Vermont. Early August, 2017. Stillness.
It’s 1:04pm, and the August sun is hitting my laptop screen at just the right angle that I must squint to see what I write.
The bus rattles and sways on the two-lane Vermont highway. Pen and paper prove unusable.
I have music in my ears for a change, and it makes me think of caravan routes through the desert, the rolling gait of long-legged animals on sand, the scorching white heat of a cloudless sky at noon.
I look out the window to my left and witness another set of elements entirely—green mountains, gentle New England sky. Yet, the felt sense is the same. It is a tenuous impression I have tried and failed to describe so many times, I nearly believe it impossible.
It is the thing that calls me to move and whispers instructions to my intuition. It is the thing that taught me to dance, barefoot and alone. “Wanderlust” is an incomplete surrogate for the thing I mean.
I look outside again.
There is a story in the sky, like always; I could spend the whole ride watching the shapeshifting drama and chuckling to myself. Mountains undulate on the horizon, soft and green and melodic; I could spend the whole ride tapping out their rhythm against my thigh. Walls of trees enter and leave my sight, as varied yet indistinct as an ocean of faces in a crowded subway car. I could spend the whole ride absorbing their anonymous features.
I could spend the whole ride sitting here, doing nothing, too—and for someone who loves to do things that’s already remarkable.
Several weeks ago, I shared my favorite ways to pass a long train journey. Reading, writing, and snacking all featured on the list. So did “doing nothing.”
I wish I could remember the first time I experienced the peculiar, meditation-like (but not quite meditative) peace of being in motion, but I do remember the first time I wrote about it. Somewhere in Southeast Asia, frequently on endless bus rides through astonishing landscapes, I first tried to put words to an enigmatic sensation:
What are you looking for?
I am searching…
I am searching for—
I am searching because
it is only in movement
that I find stillness.
In running I am free;
In dancing I am liberated.
But if I could fly—
Ah if I could fly,
I would be truly
— “If I Could Fly,” 2013
I think it’s time to revisit this finding stillness in movement that has occupied my traveling thoughts for so long. I would like to try again to define the thing that calls me to move and calms me through action.
What is it about being in motion—in trains or on foot, by boat or in dance—that soothes my mind into a stillness I have never found in sitting meditation?
What is it about being in motion that, like an embodied lullaby, so entrances me—and, I suspect, many lovers of movement?
The answer is in the question.
Movement entrances. It occupies us—or at least it occupies me—so fully that there is absolutely no space for thoughts of elsewhere. Other times, other people, other places…these disappear in the all-pervading “this-ness” of moving. (Moving my body through space, or being moved through space, it hardly matters, so long as the coordinates change fast enough to pull my thoughts with them.)
Four years ago I started writing about the inner stillness that arises when all else is in flux. Years before that, I experienced the same outcome in yoga and ecstatic dance. Its hold on me hasn’t loosened. I think it’s safe to say that this magic stillness is my only addiction. A single taste has you seeking it again for the rest of your life.
A vagabond knows this. A dancer knows this. A meditator or a yogi knows this.
However you step outside the borders of your skin and embrace “this-ness,” you will never be satisfied to remain inside the lines again.
I hear two things more often than anything else:
“What are you looking for?”
“I hope you find what you’re looking for.”
But it’s not a “what.” It’s a who and a why and a how. It’s a voice that calls me to move and a sense of boundlessness that keeps me coming back. It is a way of moving through life and through space.
It is not a thing I can find and then be done with.
It is the searching that gives meaning and form to the sought.
And so we keep chasing shadows through the desert and melodies through the mountains. We keep seeking stillness in movement.