A Lesson in Stillness from a Platypus

In a very special moment, on my daughter Mary Kate's birthday several months ago, we stood in stillness together by the riverbank 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.

STILLING THE MIND

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.

WHAT ARE YOU MISSING?

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 overridden 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 wonder at how many joyful messages I am simply missing.

THE SPACE TO BE

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 busyness 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.

FIND IT WHEREVER YOU ARE

I met with a man from Manhattan on my walk around the lighthouse, he told me that in the busyness 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!

Today I stood in stillness waiting for my 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.

Maybe you too do not have a platypus in your life that teaches you the value of stillness, but you can find it wherever you are, if you so choose.

By Dr Jane Barker