If your days are like mine, you’re inundated by non-stop emails, text messages, phone calls. You’re bombarded by the noise of the world – news, Facebook, friends, family. Then there’s your inner world keeping up a non-stop multi-layered stream of thoughts, plans, dreams, memories, problem solving, new ideas. Pretty soon your attention can become so fragmented until you no longer have energy to focus much less take action.
What’s the solution? Practice stillness.
At first glance this is an absolutely insane idea. We’ve got so much going on and so much to do. Rather than buckle down and get stuff done, we’re supposed be still? Or in other words, do nothing?
It makes sense that we’d think being still is crazy. We’re taught that doing nothing means you’re lazy. It goes against our work ethic. Being still means you’re not being productive.
But spending time in stillness creates an oasis. It allows us to hear our thoughts, catch our breath, and gain perspective. It is the antidote to the stress and rush.
Meditation is one way to cultivate stillness. I meditate almost every morning and evening. I light a candle and settle into my posture. I tap the timer in the meditation app, hear the gong, take a deep breathe.
It goes well at first. “I am breathing in, I am breathing out, I am breathing in, I am breathing out.” But then my mind veers off. “I’m hungry. Should I have eggs or granola for breakfast? Did I buy eggs? Oops, I’m supposed to be meditating. Breathing in, breathing out.” And so it goes until the gong chimes and my practice ends.
Finding stillness is not so easy. So I created ways to help myself.
Years ago, I learned to scuba dive. On a trip to the Bahamas, the seas were really rough. Rough enough that our dives were canceled for two days in a row. The third day, the sea frothed with four foot waves but since we were only on the island a couple more days, we decided to dive.
As the boat rode the waves out to the dive site, I questioned my sanity. We anchored over the reef. I rolled off the boat into waves that felt ginormous and kicked my way to a bouncing buoy. A rope dropped from the buoy to ocean floor.
I let go and sunk under the surface, following the guide rope. During first five feet I felt like a piece of driftwood caught in a storm, the waters tossed me up and down. At ten feet below, I thought I must be getting used to the motion. By twenty feet I hardly noticed the movement and was excited to see the reef.
When I reached the sandy bottom sixty feet below the surface, I noticed the water around me was still. Colorful tropical fish swam lazily along the coral reef. Above me, I saw the boat careening in the waves but deep below the sea was calm and untouched by the turmoil above.
I had found stillness.
The chaotic frenzy of the boat still existed while I swam deep below. Just as the stillness of the depths existed while I was on the churning surface.
So it is within us.
Stillness exists within our depths and is accessible in every moment. We simply need to sink beneath the turmoil of our daily lives and wild minds to find it. It’s there whenever we need it.
Meditation is one practice that can help us become aware of the churning waves of our minds and find the stillness. But we can find stillness even when we are in action.
Look at dogs. They don’t get caught up in the zaniness that we do. Can you imagine a dog meditating? “Here I am lying in the sun. I am breathing in, breathing out, I wonder if any squirrels will come close today, oops, I’m supposed to be meditating.”
Sounds ridiculous. That’s because animals tap into stillness in every moment. Watch a dog chase a squirrel or a cat stalk a bird and you’ll see stillness in action.
I often visualize sinking below the surface of that rough ocean into the deep stillness sixty feet below during meditation. It helps me calm my mind and find that still point within.
Here are three ways you can get started:
- Meditate by noticing your breath. As you breathe in, say to yourself, “I am breathing in.” As you breathe out, say to yourself, “I am breathing out.”
- In the middle of a stressful day, see the demands as waves. Spend a few minutes visualizing yourself dropping beneath the waves into the still depths within.
- Notice nature and animals. Pay attention to something like a leaf and see what is unique about it. Watch a dog or cat closely for a a few minutes.
Become familiar with stillness so you can access it even in the midst of your busy day.