I’m going to share a skill that a child can learn in just a few minutes. But even though it’s a very simple to learn, it takes a lifetime to master.
First, a story.
I’m usually a light sleeper. But a few months ago, in the middle of the night, my wife had to shake me awake. “David, I’m scared,” she said.
“What’s happened now?” I asked.
For the past three nights we’d been kept awake by our neighbour, Kendrick*. He’d been banging the walls with what sounded like a hammer. He’d been having a midnight bonfire in his garden, burning furniture that he threw out of the window. He’d been playing booming music. And he’d been wandering the streets outside our house with a large knife in his hand.
Kendrick was a drug addict, and we’d been having a merry time of it.
That’s why when my wife shook me awake I’d been sleeping so deeply, because I’d had so little sleep recently. It’s also why I asked, wearily, “What’s happened now?”
“Kendrick’s been smashing plates,” she said.
Well, compared to his knife, smashing plates didn’t sound all that scary to me, but I was awake, and so as a dutiful husband, I climbed out of bed to investigate what was going on. I went to the front bedroom of our house and looked out over the street. There Kendrick was, knife in his hand. I opened the window. “What’s going on?” I said.
“They’re coming to get me!” Kendrick said. “There’s three of them, on the roof.” He pointed to the roof above me with his knife.
I looked up behind me. There was no one on the roof.
“I’ll go to call the police,” I said.
Minutes later, the police arrived, and I went back upstairs to see what was happening. I took a better look outside the window.
Kendrick had not been smashing plates, as my wife had feared. It was worse than that. He had thrown his weightlifting equipment through his window, smashing the glass. He had now climbed through the broken window and was perched on the edge of his roof.
Kendrick was off his head on drugs, on the edge of the roof.
The police climbed out of their car and looked up at us.
“Stay there, and don’t move!” the police officer said to Kendrick. Then the officer looked at me. “Do you have a ladder?” he asked.
I shook my head. No, I didn’t have a ladder.
I don’t know if you know what it feels like to have a crazy, drug addicted neighbour who keeps you awake at all hours of the night.
But perhaps you do.
I think most of us has been there, because we are human. A new baby, a new house. A lost job, a lost loved one. A divorce. All things that can knock the stuffing out of you, and put you at the end of you tether. Everything you do takes extra effort and concentration. It’s scary to do everyday, normal things. Your whole life feels precarious.
Over 800 years ago, a Persian poet called Rumi knew this feeling too.
“Sit down and be quiet,” he wrote. “You are drunk and this is the edge of the roof.”
I don’t know about you, but I often feel like that. Drunk and on the edge of the roof. Not that I consume a lot of alcohol. But I consume a lot of life, and it consumes a lot of me.
I’ve found Rumi’s solution to be a good one. Sit down and be quiet. For me being quiet doesn’t only mean not talking, though that’s part of it. It also means being quiet and finding stillness inside. When you know how to find that inner stillness and peace, you can tune into it anytime.
Anyone can do it. Anyone can learn it. Sit down and be quiet. It’s something even children can learn.
But just because its simple, it’s not easy. Not with the busyness and noisy-ness of life. Not with my fear of listening to the silence inside me. I have a monkey mind who prefers chaos and noise to stillness.
It’s not everyday my neighbour smashes his window and climbs up onto his roof in the middle of the night.
But there are a lot of times in life when I feel like I’ve climbed onto the roof. And now, when I feel like that, I remember the story of Kendrick, off his head, and I remember Rumi’s words.
“Sit down and be quiet. You are drunk and this is the edge of the roof.”
* Name Changed