Hearing that ‘still small voice of calm’

These words come from one of my favourite hymns and were originally part of a poem by a Quaker poet called John Greenleaf Whittier. “Let sense be dumb, let flesh retire; Speak through the earthquake, wind and fire, O still small voice of calm!” As a Quaker, Whittier wasn’t too keen on singing in church, preferring the quiet, reflective and receptive stance of the Quaker faith. The irony that it became one of the most well-loved hymns is therefore exactly the kind of irony that Life uses to teach us that we control absolutely nothing. That is, nothing other than the way we choose to respond to the vagaries of Life itself.

I used the phrase in a recent podcast for Beth Rogerson’s Therapy Spot and decided that it would be a beautiful theme for a Healthy Neurotics come-back. Because in the past years I have been communing so much with my own inner ‘still small voice of calm’ that there was little reporting to be done from the front-lines of personal experience. Sometimes our lives take us inward and even upward, and at other times we are outward and expressive. Margot Russel, the founder of the Psychosynthesis Academy in Stockholm called this the dance between doing and being… do,be,do,be doo!

So as I sit down to write this, in a milieu that is the epitome of stillness and calm, swans floating by, moorhens diving up small mussels, I am interrupted by the renovation racket coming from my very own houseboat, and the thudding of a typical Dutch heipaal, used to ram huge poles into the ground upon which we build our houses. Lest they sink away in the mud and the squishy underground of a country sunk two to four metres below sea level. Drilling, thudding, geese calling, and yet, that still small voice of calm remains the needle on my newly calibrated compass. Steady, focussed, flexible, and trustworthy.

My own inner noise had to be reduced to squashed and shattered oblivion by events in which though instrumental, I still felt out of control, events that were certainly not part of Lysanne’s great life plan. And yet, and yet: We can come to God, Dressed for Dancing. Or Be carried on a stretcher, To God’s Ward (Hafiz). I’ve chosen to dance, and I choose to dance to the tune of that still small voice of calm. Although that may sound like a contradiction in terms. Yet stillness vibrates with the rich sounds of harmony, like the dance of the universe, the hum of the planets, the whoosh of the stars.

So what is it that so often drowns out this still small voice of calm? How come we lose touch with the very thing that tells us exactly who we are, that tells us what we came here to do? That guides us unerringly to who and what we came to serve, beyond our ego-limiting selves, though making full use of that very ego, to be a conduit of the beyond?

We human beings are so, so busy. I booked a room in one of my favourite Amsterdam hotels a few months ago, seeking a moment’s relief from the relentless buffering of the spring storms on the houseboat. The hotel overlooks ‘het IJ’, the old seafront before the vagaries of the North Sea were finally tempered by a long dike cutting our country’s heart off from its northern route to fishing and seafaring. But also keeping it safe. I crept onto the windowsill and watched as trains, trams, airplanes, boats, busses and people, endless streams of people, swarmed the streets below. So busy. So full of intent. So driven by, what?

The need to be someone, to be somewhere, to fix something, too build, to earn, to meet, to do. The energy of doing swirled around like the relentless storm that had been buffeting my otherwise gentle water existence. And as I watched, feeling quite detached from my conditioned need to join these doers, to fix, to make, to impress, I saw how everything around us conspires to take us away from this purest of compasses that can tell us, in no uncertain terms, what it is we are asked to do, to be, to fix, to heal, and to bring to the collective.

It’s not about the schooling you get, although it can be useful. It’s not the about the career ladder you ascend, although financially it can be fruitful. It’s not about fitting in, or about dropping out. Either way you’re trapped in messages that the mind feeds us, the collective demanding mind that seldom settles for letting us be who we are. Add to this mix our emotions, swirling around like the stream of light created by the headlights of the passing cars, making their way home in the twilight. As we allow ourselves to be kidnapped by our swirling emotions, our mind explains to us why we feel the way we feel, and invites us to find another job, another wife, another country, another life. And yet, and yet, those of us who went on that search inevitably ended up deluded by the solutions offered by the mind. Because home is right here, right now, deep inside the recesses of your psyche, of your heart, the locus of that still small voice of calm.

I remember once seeing a photograph of a yogi sitting in the middle of a busy roundabout in Copenhagen. At the time, I wondered what was wrong with him. Why choose to sit in the middle of a busy roundabout when you’ve got beautiful quiet beaches within easy reach. If truth be told, I found it a trifle masochistic, even show offish. I believed that you could only connect with the depth of self that lay beyond the ego, if all the external conditions were right. As many of us do. We postpone ‘finding our selves’ until we’ve found the right teacher, the right environment, the right technique, or the right teaching.

But you, me, each one of us, is already the right technique, is already the right environment. Right here, right now. On a bus, at work, or sitting on my beautiful riverside jetty with the sound of drilling and pole thumping in the background. You don’t need another of anything, be it a husband, a life, a job, an environment, or country. A change of scenery may help of course, but in the end, all you need is you. The deepest sense of you, and the roaring whispers of that still small voice of calm!


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