I Said to My Soul, “Be Still”

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I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.
~ T.S. Eliot ~

I commissioned an artist to calligraphy that passage from T.S. Eliot’s The Four Quartets in college for my theology professor and thesis director, Keith Egan, because it was his favorite quote. I memorized the quote. I would repeat it on my long walks around the picturesque campus, in line at the dining hall, as I studied in the library. It took on a life within me.

But I never understood it.

Until now.

I think it has something to do with stopping during the day, with consistent prayer and meditation, and with trusting in a God that you can’t see and often cannot feel. Perhaps it means to allow your soul to catch up with your body and mind, like the tale author Macrina Wiederkehr tells in her book “Seven Sacred Pauses”:

[There was a] story about some westerners who hired a few bushmen guides to help them travel through the Kalahari Desert. Not being used to moving at the pace their employers were expecting, the bushmen suddenly sat down to rest, and no amount of persuasion could induce them to continue the journey until they were ready. The reason for this much needed rest, the bushmen explained, was that they had to wait for their souls to catch up….The bushman of the Kalahari called this ancient knowing “the tapping of the heart.”

I’m sure that T.S. Eliot didn’t consider a psychiatric treatment plan when he wrote the words “wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought,” but that is exactly what many doctors and therapists said to me the first two and half years of my recovery from my nervous breakdown. For months, I wanted nothing more than to survive one day at a time: to dress and feed the kids, get them to school and soccer practice, and to use whatever energy and concentration I had left on writing a decent blog post. My primary goal was to keep myself from relapsing and returning to the occupational-therapy room of Laurel Hospital to paint birdhouses with a few new friends. My therapist and doctor were wise to advise me not to dig any deeper into my psyche than I needed to because I was still too fragile.

But as I erect important boundaries in my life and devote the needed time to meditation and prayer, I’ve reached a firmer ground where I can explore those thoughts that Eliot is talking about: the fears that keep me trapped in dysfunctional behavior, the messages from my childhood that are simply incorrect and harmful to my intimate relationships, and the thinking patterns that need some major adjustments.

Eliot is absolutely right. The stillness needed to come first: the stopping, and breathing, and listening. The undoing. Then hope: the hard job of replacing the old tapes with newer, optimistic ones and aspiring for a life that is more manageable, less distracted and scattered. And then faith. Believing in a God that can deliver me to solid earth where I can begin to think, consider, cry, and heal. And ultimately, to dance.

Originally published on Beyond Blue at Beliefnet.com

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9 thoughts on “I Said to My Soul, “Be Still”

  1. I am so there right now. All I have is the stillness. I am waiting for hope love and faith.In the meantime I pray for strength and to have what I have missing return to me. I do have trust in God and His mercy; though sometimes it is so far away.”Be still and know that I am your God” has helped me..which is why your words have touched me. Thank you for sharing..May God grant us all peace..

  2. Interesting how we all interpret poems in a completely different manner and how none of the interpretations is ever right or wrong, it is just ours (which reminds me of my highschool literature teacher who always seemed to think that her versions/interpretations of poems were the correct ones :))

    This Eliot´s poem elicits Change and Hope in me. He talks about life as a fluid, ever flowing, ever changing string of events where nothing is fixed or permanent, where the darkness becomes light and the once perceived stillness becomes dancing, where the heartbreak of a once lost lover becomes a shade and a new immense world of love always opens up to us again in the end.
    A world where everything and everyone has its place and its time, where we can relax because fate cannot be rushed and things always happen exactly in a way they are supposed to. We might feel lost and confused in the present moment only to find the real meaning once the right time comes and only when we are completely ready for it.
    This poem brings peace into my sould, thank you a lot for sharing it, Therese.

  3. THERESE,

    I HAVE A QUESTION TO EMAIL YOU ABOUT WANTING TO DO SOME ADVOCACY AND POLICY WORK IN MENTAL HEALTH. COULD YOU PLEASE CONTACT ME.

    THANK YOU,
    JANE

  4. THIS…
    “But as I erect important boundaries in my life and devote the needed time to meditation and prayer, I’ve reached a firmer ground where I can explore those thoughts that Eliot is talking about: the fears that keep me trapped in dysfunctional behavior, the messages from my childhood that are simply incorrect and harmful to my intimate relationships, and the thinking patterns that need some major adjustments.”
    This reached my heart…messages from my childhood that are simply incorrect…but still break my heart.
    Thank you Therese.

  5. this Poem, from one of my favourite female writers T S Elliot, is Divine, Therese thanks for sharing – our life is needing so much “To Be Still ..”
    Blessed Be

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