One day this summer when the temperature pushed a hundred, I looked outside and saw a squirrel lying face-down, spread eagle under an umbrella on our patio table. I opened the kitchen door to see if the little guy was okay. He didn’t move but blinked his eyes slowly as if to say, “It’s hot, lady. Leave me alone.” A few days later, I read that squirrels all over the country were reacting to the heat wave with an innate behavior called splooting.
Splooting is a type of stretch four-legged animals do to rest and cool down. You’ve probably seen a dog or cat do it, but it is surprising to see a squirrel, usually scurrying about like crazy, be so still. I’ve since seen several of the squirrels I feed each morning lie oddly motionless with their bellies flat on a cool, shady surface to help lower their body temperature.
Leave it to nature to come up with something so wise and elegant as splooting. We could all take notes from the squirrels who instinctively know when it’s time to be still for their own self-preservation.
In our fired up, sped up world, it seems like most of us could use some splooting to simmer down, rest, and recharge. I suppose that’s why many people turn to meditation, silent retreats, and yoga. Splooting does sound a little like an ancient yoga pose. A few minutes in a sploot, could be as restorative as the child’s pose, corpse pose, or pigeon pose I’ve learned in yoga classes.
In his book, The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere, Pico Iyer writes, “In an age of speed, I began to think, nothing could be more invigorating than going slow. In an age of distraction, nothing can feel more luxurious than paying attention. And in an age of constant movement, nothing is more urgent than sitting still.”
Another book seemingly inspired by the squirrel’s sploot, is called Stillness is the Key: An Ancient Strategy for Modern Life by Ryan Holiday. He writes, “Stillness is the key to the self-mastery, discipline, and focus necessary to succeed in this competitive, noisy world.”
The art of stillness can have many names. For squirrels, it’s splooting. Stoics called it atarexia. You might call it prayer, meditation, conscious relaxation, or a nap. Throughout history, some of the world’s greatest thinkers were big believers in the art of stillness. Confucius, Seneca, Jesus, Winston Churchill, Emily Dickinson, and Mr. Rogers were all known to embrace the wisdom and elegance of stillness.
Thanks to the squirrels’ reminder, I’m paying more attention to the art of stillness. I came home from a long walk on a morning when the temperature soared by eight am. Red-faced and tired, I sprawled out on the living room floor. My husband asked if I was okay. “Yes,” I whispered motionlessly, “I’m just splooting.” §
“Never does nature say one thing and wisdom another.”
~ Edmund Burke