In the Stillness of Nothing

by Rick Raker on Thu, 2014-04-10 14:22

I received a lovely email from a good friend. It sparked this short essay, which I thought I would share with you.

My friend wrote:

In the stillness of nothing happening, I have thought of you. It seems to me that communication with you is just the thing I would like to have at the moment — even if it means waiting a while to year from you.

Rick Raker

I responded:

Dear friend, I really like this phrase "in the stillness of nothing." Thanks for reaching out to me. I'm sorry this has to be asynchronous communication. It's definitely not as satisfying as face-to-face conversation, but it does have its advantages across the miles. Technology definitely does have its pros and cons so goes the 21st century.

The stillness of nothing brings forth positive and negative connotations. I hope that you are grounded in the positive concepts the phrase conjures. This is where I try to travel each day, but I often find myself slipping to the darker, negative side.

On good days, I understand that "stillness" and "nothing" or "no thing" are desired states of mind and lifestyle choices that are often found in meditation practiced by Buddhism, Hinduism and other religions. Disciples are taught that if you can still the mind and embrace nothing, the spirit is then not cluttered with every day issues and stuff that get in the way of finding deeper spirituality. Through meditation, there's the promise of a peaceful, calm and balanced mind a way to get closer to God.

This sounds good to me. I would like to be able to push aside my daily struggle with ALS. I look for that deeper spirituality when I can.

Recently, I learned about a former NFL player with ALS, I forget his name, but he is quite popular these days for the good that he is trying to do, his spirituality and his inspirational outlook on life and living with a terminal illness. He has been on national news, and CBS "60 Minutes" did a special on him. His thoughts are that ALS has brought a "silver lining" to his life I'm paraphrasing quite loosely. He believes that although the disease has brought struggles and suffering, it has allowed him and others like him, to view the world differently to embrace the stillness of his body, to be more spiritual.

I don't particularly like the phrase silver lining, but I do see his point of view. I addressed this issue in the blog post that I shared with you several weeks ago, regarding yin and yang. If I could find his email address, I would send the essay to him. I do believe that by accepting the devastation and immobilization of this disease, I have found sensitivity, abilities and a spirituality that I would not have noticed before. This is not a new concept. The idea of finding grace through suffering has been around a long time.

I hesitate to share my negative feelings, but the stillness of nothing makes me think of the middle of the night when I wake up, and I realize I'm frozen inside my body. It's dark, it seems like nothing is there. The only light comes from a digital alarm clock on the table next to my bed and the ambient light from outside my window. Shadows play tricks on the ceiling. As my eyes adjust to the darkness, out of the corner of my eye, I imagine large cockroaches crawling across the wall. A mosquito buzzes by my ear. Fear begins to grip me.

I'm still — stillness surrounds me. I cannot move. I can't scratch that itch on my elbow, or rollover to relieve my lower back pain. My neck hurts. I can't move the pillow to the left or the right. I can't wipe the sticky drool flowing from the corner of my mouth. Blood moves slowly through my body. My feet feel swollen and numb. My breathing is labored and my heart races. I begin to feel the onset of an anxiety attack. I want to scream for my wife. To wake her up, but I don't ... I know she needs the uninterrupted sleep. I tell myself it's just a dream, it will be morning soon. This works for a while, but then I realize it's not a dream or a nightmare. It's reality, my reality. Then, my mind goes to very dark and depressed places. It's quite scary. I try to not stay there very long.

"Darlin', sweetheart, darling... " I wake her up.

"Scratch, flip, water, drool," I request in the after-midnight cryptic language that we have developed.

"Yes, OK ... " She answers quietly, and she brings me back from the darkness.

Happily, this dip into depression doesn't occur during the day when there are things going on around me. When I have my computer, my writing, my family, my caregivers, the television and various distractions and activity to fill the time — when things are not still, dark and laced with nothing, then I am quite all right. My spirit remains strong in the daylight. However, in the middle of the night, when there's nothing to fill the dark stillness except my own thoughts, that's when depression, doubt and negativity creep forward. That's when I think, "There's no silver lining in the stillness of nothing."

The blog was posted originally on April 3, 2014.

About the Author

My name is Richard K. Raker, and I am 54 years old. I have lived in Honolulu, Hawaii, with my wife and son for 26 years. I have ALS, a terminal illness diagnosed in 2006. Prior to 2006, I worked as an English as a Second Language teacher, and then as a computer trainer for a major health care organization. Very soon after my diagnosis and a quick disease progression, I was totally bedridden, relying on a ventilator to breathe. I no longer could work, so I spent most of my time reading and watching TV and movies. And then one day, I discovered the joy of writing.

First, I struggled through a memoir about the first 25 years of my life, telling the story of the events leading up to my decision to move to Japan. It felt good to write. Writing takes me away from my everyday troubles and gives me a creative voice that I never knew I had. The memoir, A Remarkable Life, Lived by an Ordinary Person, has been self-published using and is available on After that, I realized that I had a few more stories that I needed to write. I enjoy writing. The two or three hours a day that I spend working on my stories is very therapeutic. I write selfishly. It is fun and gives me a much-needed purpose in life, but I do hope that you will enjoy reading what I have written. Thank you all for your love and support. Be sure to visit my blog called A View from Rick's WindowWeb page, DVD reviews and Facebook page.

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