In a very special moment, on my daughter Kate’s birthday, we stood in stillness together by the river bank on our small farm, silently asking, and not one, but two platypuses blessed us with their presence.
The platypus is an amazing creature. Its biological name shows it confused even the early biologists who tried to classify it. Ornithorhynchus anatinus – bird snout and duck like – a mammal that has a beak like a duck, a tail like a beaver and lays eggs! More to the point it lives in a creek on our property and if I am very honoured it will treat me to a few moments of magic, circling on the surface before diving away, leaving me with a feeling of being blessed.
To see a platypus, I have to go to the creek in the early dawn light and I have to stand very still. The magic is that whether I am honoured to see the platypus or not, I am given the gift of stillness.
In that stillness, mind concentrating on watching the water, mindful that movement or sound may make the platypus aware of my presence, I become truly and consciously present. My senses all become magnified – not in the way of fear, but in wonder and gratitude. I may hear the melodious song of the magpie in the trees by the riverbank, the sound of the water running across the pebbles, or see light playing across the reeds, or expanding concentric circles of bubbles from the fish beneath. I might catch a glimpse of a shy water-dragon as he slips into the river, a fresh-water turtle sunning on the bank, or the flash of silver as the light catches shoaling perch.
While I am alert, I also feel a surrendering to stillness in my body, as though every muscle and tendon is restored into its rightful position and my mind settles into clarity. This is the gift the platypus gives to me, the lesson that it teaches.
While I patiently wait, I reflect with great gratitude on all that I am given, of the love and of the beauty and wonder in my life. All this is there to be embraced.
I am aware too that embracing stillness is not always my way and that like Christopher Robin I say “Busy, back soon” to stillness, allowing the human-being to be over-ridden by the human-doing. This becomes very obvious when I become conscious of birdsong, knowing that the birds have been continually singing but I have not been listening, and I wonder at how many joyful messages I am simply missing.
Stillness offers spaciousness.
In that space, I become aware of the beauty in harmony. I know that harmony creates a true foundation from which to live and breathe and any disharmony may affect this. In our busy-ness we can lose that sense of harmony. Spaciousness, indeed, allows us to return to our true selves, a place unencumbered by the expectations of our many roles, a place we feel a strong sense of connection to all that is true, to our inner wisdom, our “all-knowing”, a place to release our worries for a moment, a place of healing. In that place, we learn to be lovingly tender towards ourselves and to treasure how that feels in our own bodies. Finding moments of stillness in our lives is just that – treating ourselves with tender loving care.
Our choice of Medicine as a profession holds great responsibilities, not only in updating our knowledge, in up-skilling our practical techniques, but also in caring for ourselves so that we are fully present with ourselves and therefore fully present with our patients and can, as far as we are able to, appreciate who they are, where they are at, and care for them. Claiming moments of stillness, in whatever way is best for us, allows us to understand what we need to do for ourselves, in order to be there as fully as possible for others.
I met with a man from Manhattan on my walk around the lighthouse once, he told me that in the busy-ness of New York, he has a place in a rose garden in Central Park where he finds stillness. I am sorry there are no platypuses for him there!
Maybe you too do not have a platypus in your life that teaches you the value of stillness, but you can find stillness wherever you are, if you so choose.
Today I stood in stillness waiting for my platypus friend – but I was late, and she was elusive. Instead, nature offered me a kingfisher hidden on the high mud bank and I caught the glorious iridescent blue of its wings as it flew away.
I have a platypus in my life that teaches me the value of stillness, but we can each find stillness, in our own way, wherever we are, if we choose to connect to the place of stillness that lies within each and every one of us.