This picture is painted by my friend Mary. The photograph doesn't do it justice but it does serve to show a remarkable fact. There is a huge Suffolk sky, a great expanse of shingle and then you see how tiny the trees and the little building are. Then on the left hand side there are two tiny people trudging along the beach, maybe going for a swim in the brown North Sea (definitely going for a swim if it is Mary or myself!) or just walking. The contrast between the hugeness of space and the smallness of people and things is reassuring, not just reassuring but it is incredibly attractive, so attractive that the painter must keep painting it to try to capture whatever it is telling her. Touched by the picture we all want to take it and have it for ourselves. There is the trap! We sense the infinity, we move towards the stillness, the picture is almost a meditation, could be a meditation if we allowed ourselves to stand in front of it and be informed, we begin to see more and more in it. Can you see the tiny white sails just to the right of the middle, in a small patch of sea which is showing between the land and the sky? Can you see the little bit of movement in the sky, just a sense of the mist between the sky and the observer?
When I met my friend, 50 years ago, I was drawn to this quality of stillness in her and visiting her this week and watching her moving around her house, making toast for Ray, going up and down the stairs, quietly setting things in order in a way which is untroubling and attractive, I see the same stillness. Over the years I have found that the stillness which she makes available is not just hers, rather as the reality of the painting isn't hers. It shows itself without any particular force. I could say that this is a lesson, but that is a mistake, it would make finding stillness a mission, make meditation an action with too much force. The stillness which she has within her and the stillness in the picture is just asking us to notice it and then to join it. It isn't as difficult as we think. It helps to meet someone who just easily shows it. It might even entice the most active and agitated person, the one you have despaired of, the sad and the lonely, the unfriended and the unfriendly to put down their noise and their desperation and just be still. It was because of Mary and Ray that I put down some of my activity and began to meditate. Now in the midst of the busyness of life, I crave the stillness. To stand in front of that picture this week reminded me of its never absent presence and that was most restful.