Valerie Brooke, MD
The Power of Stillness
Yesterday I was finally able to go outside and attend to my yard and garden, as the smoke from the CA wildfires has finally shifted. Not only can I now see the blue skies dotted with cottony clouds, but I can also take deep breaths without wheezing. The recent fires have made me realize how much I take for granted pure clean air, as the last six weeks has felt suffocating and oppressive, with the smell of a never-ending campfire as well as ash falling like a volcano had erupted.
There was a lot to do in the yard due to the previous weeks of neglect, and I was so delighted to have a visitor, a reminder of how joy can be found in everyday moments including household chores. I had just finished trimming the rose bushes and was dumping the clippings into the trash when I noticed a large leaf on my right arm. I went to brush it off, only to realize that it wasn’t a leaf at all, but a very large green praying mantis. I had never seen one before out in nature, though have seen up close images of them on National Geographic specials and photos on the internet.
I was astonished. I lifted up my arm and looked at him with curiosity. He turned his little head to the left and looked up at me with the same amount of wonder. We stared at each other for some time until I started feeling uncomfortable and thought, what do I do now? I went to find my husband, who took some photos with his camera, all the while the mantis is just hanging out on my arm, with no intention of going anywhere. Feeling an internal pressure to continue on with the loads of yard work yet to be completed, I headed out to the front yard, looking for a good spot to drop him off. I figured he’d like to be in the front entryway, near the climbing ivy and the water fountain. I put my arm up to the ivy, with a large leaf right in front of his front legs, and…nope. He wasn’t interested at all in hopping off; in fact, he climbed right up my arm and around to my back. He was committed to a long ride. I laughed, saw him on my mid-back in my reflection in the window, and headed back around the house to find my husband again. Should I just go back to work and leave him there? I was worried he would get hurt, plus not being able to see him gave me the shudders. What if he crawled up the back of my neck? So, I asked my husband to gently see if he could get the little bugger off. He clung to my back as if his life depended upon it. Eventually however, Ronando was able to get him to climb onto a glove and then onto a large leaf by the water fountain, though it took a lot of encouragement.
This was such a magical experience for me, and a great break from my workload of the afternoon. I wondered what the praying mantis symbolizes to Native Americans. To pray to God or a higher power? So, I grabbed my Animal Speak book and dove into the section on mantis, which is all about the power of stillness. The ability to still the mind, whether in contemplation, meditation, or sleeping and dreaming. To use the power of stillness to settle the mind so that when the time comes to make a decision, it is made with clarity, power, and surety. Wow, what a reminder. I have been trying to instill more stillness into my life, a life that has always been full of so much movement. Working in a hospital is movement non-stop, not just physically but also mentally. Then there has been the intensity of my exercise and training for triathlons, full of purposeful movement. Add to that the care of my husband, cats, home, and yard…and there’s not much time for stillness other than sleep.
Unless I make stillness a priority, which I have been doing for the last six months. I’ve started a mediation practice, 20 minutes in the morning and evening every day. I’ve stopped training for triathlons, am really listening to my body, and have transitioned to gentle yoga and walking. I’m making space and time for my inner voice to express herself as I finish writing about a book about my journey of becoming a physician. So, the praying mantis landing on my arm was not an accident yesterday. It was a reminder to continue doing what I’m doing, which is to do less, stop moving, sit still, and let the magic of the universe do its thing. Thank you praying mantis. Thank you.