There really is no such place as Nowhere. You can trust me on this; I live in one of those locales routinely termed The Middle of Nowhere. It’s a remote little corner of a vast but thinly-populated state, where the next closest town larger than my own, of a little over 3, 000 living people, is nearly an hour away.
One could think that it doesn’t get much more Nowhere than here, that city folks might yearn for such an idyllic sounding locale, complete with a historic Main Street, cows on the road, and every destination a reasonably walkable one for an able-bodied person with such an inclination.
But we find ourselves here, just as anywhere else more congested, still connected to the rest of the world by fast moving interstate highways, FedEx and UPS trucks that barrel down our boulevards, the Internet which ties us instantly to anyone, at any time, in any part of the world. Much as we might wish to, we don’t meander down to the local barbershop every day and wait for Normal Rockwell to paint our portrait. We have to get up and go to work in the morning (or overnight), and our kids have to get to soccer practice after school, just like they do in places you might call Somewhere.
Several years ago, I began searching for somewhere to suspend time and space. I found it when a friend reminded me of a Benedictine monastery near my town. Every Tuesday for six months I drove a little deeper into Nowhere, about 15 miles west where the Abbey sat nestled in the hills. The bell would clang, briefly shattering the silence behind me as I scurried inside for the noon office with a dozen or so of the brothers. For one nearly-identical hour each week, I would do the most simple and yet most difficult thing the silence asked of me: be still.
No more, no less.
In The Art of Stillness, in the chapter titled “Passage to Nowhere, ” Pico Iyer describes his first experience in a retreat house in on the California coast:
When I got out of my worn and dust-streaked Plymouth Horizon, it was to step into a thrumming, crystal silence. And when I walked into the little room where I was to spend three nights, I couldn’t begin to remember any of the arguments I’d been thrashing out in my head on the way up, the phone calls that had seemed so urgent when I left home. Instead, I was nowhere but in this room, with long windows looking out upon the sea.
A fox alighted on the splintered fence outside, and I couldn’t stop watching, transfixed. A deer began grazing just outside my window, and it felt like a small miracle stepping into my life.
* * *
It was a little like being called back to somewhere I knew, though I’d never seen the place before. As the monks would have told me—though I never asked them—finding what feels like real life, that changeless and inarguable something behind all our shifting thoughts, is less a discovery than a recollection.
Those six months I drove back and forth once a week to the Abbey turned out to be the opening for some of the most important thinking and discovery and growth I may have ever experienced. As each week wore on, I found myself looking forward to the next Tuesday, sometimes even more than I would look forward to a weekend.
It was as Pico Iyer describes after his experiences in Nowhere, “When I drove back into my day-to-day existence, I felt the liberation of not needing to take my thoughts, my ambitions—my self—so seriously.”
We’re reading The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere together this month. Are you reading along? Perhaps you would share in the comments about your experience with (or need for) purposefully seeking out stillness, taking a trip to Nowhere, so to speak. How have you been able to do that for either short or extended times? (Perhaps you’ve even done it without leaving your house.) What have you experienced as a result?
Our Reading Schedule
December 7 • Introduction to Chapter 2
December 14 • Chapters 3 & 4
December 21 • Chapters 5 & 6
Photo by 白士 李, Creative Commons license via Flickr. Post by LW Lindquist.