Hold still

The theme of scanday has been “hold still.” Hold still while I put this IV in. Hold still while I put this contrast in. Hold still while we run this scan. Hold still while the radioactive tracer settles into your organs. Hold still. Hold still. Hold still.

I have been holding still.

As I was lying in the MRI today, the loud noises sometimes vibrating my body on the table, my job was to be so still that even my breathing—short, shallow breaths, I was directed—wouldn’t make my body move. I teach people to take long slow deep breaths because I know that the shallow ones activate the sympathetic nervous system and release stress hormones into the body. And I figured I had enough of those.

It turned out I couldn’t follow my breath as I would in meditation, because I got so confused about trying to do a sort of breath I’ve never tried to do before that I would start to almost pant (not holding still) and then to fix it, I would slip into the long deep meditative breaths that would fill my belly and shift my posture. So I started to think about Holding still.

Both my father and my friend Janet posted one of my favourite poems on the last blog post: “Lost” by David Wagoner. And it’s funny that I wrote a whole post on being lost without thinking of that poem. But today I was thinking very much of the poem, which begins: “Stand still.”

I could hear the poem in my ears as I thought about stillness. This waiting period is a stillness. “Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes besides you/ Are not lost.” I am lost; I am standing still; I am paying attention to the trees ahead and bushes beside me. I am paying attention to the letters and texts from people I love, to the sunshiny smile on a passing baby’s face, to the shafts of sun that break through the grey clouds and illuminate a single patch of sea.

And today, I was as still as I could possibly be. I was not impatient. I was not squirmy. I watched the thoughts that arose in the stillness of the machines—anemones and clown fish deep under water, the billowing of a French lavender field, the face of one of the participants in my leadership program this week, open and seeking and beautiful. How many micro moments of joy do we pass each day and not notice as we hurry from place to place?

Wouldn’t it be so much better if I were holding still in delight rather than in distress? Hold still, let the sweet butteriness of the shortbread cookie dissolve on your tongue. Hold still, watch your son’s bright blue eyes sparkle. Hold still, listen to the music of your daughter’s laughter as she tells about her life across the world. Hold still, hear the rising crescendo of a group after you’ve given them a good question to talk about in pairs. Hold still and look out at the life you love so much, the life you fear losing too quickly.

And now I will hold still (well, as still as I can on this bumpy flight back to Wellington) and wait for the call from the doctor. Last time it was “ Oh Jennifer, I’m so sorry.” This time I’m looking for Stan to say, “I’m calling with good news, Jennifer!”

“Stand still. The forest knows/ Where you are. You must let it find you.”


(Today’s poem is for me and for Naomi. Lucille Clifton was a poet at St Mary’s College, where I went to college, where I started a crew team. Here she is blessing the boats on Naomi’s second day on the water on the crew team at her new college.

Lucille Clifton: “Blessing the Boats”
(at St. Mary’s)

may the tide
that is entering even now
the lip of our understanding
carry you out
beyond the face of fear
may you kiss
the wind then turn from it
certain that it will
love your back

may you
open your eyes to water
water waving forever
and may you in your innocence
sail through this to that


Not a dawn picture today (didn’t seem to fit) but a spectacular stillness in California about a year ago

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