Stillness is not something we are necessarily accustomed to in our usually fast-paced lifestyles. In challenging times, we are often encouraged to plan, strategize and organize in order to cope; to keep to schedules and deadlines and remain on-the-go.
However, taking some time for stillness and pause has enormous physical and mental benefits. It is a great way to calm anxiety responses like fight or flight within the body; to listen attentively to what’s going on within you; to relate more firmly to the present moment; and to help provide some space for clarity and reflection. Tapping into regular moments of stillness can boost energy levels and promote relaxation.
This exercise may not be an easy one, unless you are naturally prone to calm and/or you already have a regular meditative practice in your life. Finding stillness can take practice, concentration and work. If you’re used to being on-the-go, sitting still can feel uncomfortable, unnatural or self-indulgent. Because of this, it’s really useful to treat this exercise as an experiment, rather than as something that will bring unlimited peace immediately. Part of practicing stillness is about paying close attention to the noise and critical talk that takes place in your mind during your moment of stillness.
You’ll need somewhere quiet to do this, so commandeer an empty room or find somewhere quiet outside. Put up a ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign, if you need to. Your stillness practice only need take five to ten minutes at first, but make sure you’re clear beforehand how much time you are setting aside. Start small (with five or ten minutes) and see if, over time, you can increase that to twenty or thirty minutes.
Don’t worry if there is background noise; the space doesn’t need to be silent, but you want to avoid too much distraction. You can do the exercise sitting in a comfortable chair or lying on the floor. The key is to be comfortable, so go with what works best for you. Why not try doing the exercise with a cup of tea to help you mentally acknowledge the time as a break from the daily routine?
Once you’ve found a comfortable position, take some long, deep breaths. Try to slow your breathing down so that your inhale and exhale each last for the count of five. Don’t try to empty your mind; this never happens and will only lead to frustration. Instead, try to take a mental ‘step back’ from your thoughts, so that you can ‘watch’ or ‘listen’ to them as they unfold. Don’t judge them; try to be curious about the thoughts that take place. Notice if your mind is saying things like ‘this is silly,’ or ‘I need to be doing the laundry,’ or ‘I wish I could check my phone.’ If you notice that your mind has wandered—and it will—just make a note of it, and return your thoughts to your inhale and exhale. As you continue to practice stillness, you will get better and better at noticing when your mind is wandering.
Some people can find stillness very hard indeed. If this feels like you, try listening to calming music while you’re practicing stillness, or play a guided meditation. Listening to someone else’s voice can sometimes help to anchor your thoughts.
Remember, there is no wrong way to be still. Even if your mind simply wanders for half an hour, you are still taking that time out of your busy day to relax.
When your set stillness time is up, grab a notebook or writing device and make some reflective notes about your stillness practice.
Some useful questions to consider might be:
How did you find it?
What was difficult?
What did you find interesting?
Were there any recurring patterns to which your thoughts kept returning?
What did you find useful?
What feelings arose, and where in the body did you experience them?
Did slowing down and being still allow you to notice anything in your environment?
If you’d like to share your reflective writing on your experiments with stillness, feel free to share your work by emailing it to firstname.lastname@example.org.