Just be still
I’d like you to try something for me today. It will only take a few minutes, I promise.
Take a few moments, turn off the tv/close the computer/put away your phone. We’re going to spend a little time in stillness just to see how you respond. Sit somewhere that feels comfortable and is without distractions. It can be indoors or outdoors, depending on your preference. If you’re someone who really likes nature, consider sitting outside for a few moments so you can enjoy the fresh air. Once you’re settled in somewhere, close your eyes, and take a few slow deep belly breaths. And remember that with belly breaths, we want to be sure your abdomen moves when you’re breathing instead of your chest. It can help to keep one hand over your belly button while breathing to practice this at first. After those breaths, go ahead and roll your shoulders back and forth, just to loosen up any tension. Feel free to do the same with your neck, ankles, wrists, and generally just try to briefly relax any areas that feel tense. Disclaimer: if you have any injuries or notice pain, don’t do this part.
Now, practice sitting in stillness. It may surprise you how uncomfortable this is, unless you already practice meditation or a similar activity. Try to be still for just 5 minutes – longer if you can. Notice what thoughts and feelings arise in you during this time, but don’t “do” anything with them. Just observe. When I practice this, I like to imagine that I’m watching an ocean and the thoughts are drifting by on a boat. That way, I am able to recognize them but don’t feel particularly attached to them or compelled to let them move me.
Notice what feelings arise. You may feel frustrated if you are a person who doesn’t sit still very often, and that’s okay. Just acknowledge to yourself “I am feeling frustrated” and see if the feeling starts to diminish or your attention starts to shift elsewhere. You may notice that your mind starts to wander to tasks you need to accomplish or something else that gives you the urge to go do something. Again, just notice, identify, and acknowledge this. Remind yourself that you don’t have to do anything right now except to be still. You may find that you feel sad or angry, tired or relaxed, heavy or light…all of these things are okay. Just focus on the stillness.
What thoughts come into your mind? Are you thinking of a particular person or something that needs to be done, or something you wish you could be doing? Let your mind wander wherever it chooses to go, and you – the observer – can just observe it happening. With the intensity of everything happening lately and the stress of the pandemic and the worry over social unrest, some may find that the body responds with tearfulness, and that’s okay. Conversely, some may respond with laughter, and that's okay too. That can be a natural response especially when you’ve been “holding it together” for a while and you are suddenly relaxed. Just let it be.
Pay attention to your senses as well. When you close your eyes and sit in stillness for a bit, you may notice that sounds become a little more intense than usual. Sometimes, you may pick up on smells all of a sudden which you hadn’t detected previously. Or, you may find that you feel the ground or couch cushions or whatever you are sitting on more sharply as well. What about physical sensations? Are there any areas of discomfort, tightness, pain? What is your body trying to tell you? It’s natural for your senses to shift a bit during this time and for you to become aware of things you might not have noticed before. Just be aware of the change that you feel.
And just breathe slowly. Sit in stillness.
When your ready, open your eyes without moving just yet. Take a moment to scan your body and see how you are feeling physically. Then pay attention to your emotions and see if anything has changed about the way you feel. And assess your thoughts to see if the content has changed or your mind has quieted down at all. Often, being still will cause subtle shifts within you and you may feel more relaxed as well. Take a few more slow, deep breaths before moving. Recognize that there is no rush to return to busy-ness just yet. Allow yourself space to process anything that came up to you while being still then go about your day when you feel ready.
For some, this may have taken no more than 5 minutes while for others, this may have taken 20-30 minutes. Whatever time you needed for yourself if just fine.
Inaction is in itself action, but so often we are caught up with the busy-ness of life that we forget how important it is to be still. This is actually necessary for the well-being of our body, mind, and spirit. It allows the body to relax but also gives the nervous system a chance to regulate as well. It's a few moments to slow down, to go from being tuned outwards to being tuned inwards, and to let go of distractions. When being still, sometimes we are able to gain more insight into our inner selves (thoughts, feelings, desires, frustrations, etc.) as well as situations we may be facing with others. Sometimes, stillness is enough to change perspective or raise awareness to something that was not fully in your consciousness previously. Sometimes, we suddenly view things differently altogether.
This is such a simple activity for self-care, but it can be powerfully transformative if practiced regularly. As mentioned earlier, it can be difficult just to be still at first because we are often not used to it, but with time this will likely change and you will be able to practice stillness for longer and longer periods. Note: if you have experienced trauma, you may find it particularly difficult to be still or do anything that feels like mindfulness or meditation, and if that is the case for you then you might consider seeking counseling to address this. But know that this is a common experience should you find that you struggle with internal discomfort with this activity and have a history of trauma.
Societal expectations tell us that we have to be frequently in motion, always working on something, always attending to the next task or anticipating the next task, striving to accomplish more, and always seeking more. In some ways we are taught that quietude is not necessary, or that taking a moment to pause means we are being lazy. But this isn’t true! There is still so much activity within us and many times, taking a few moments to rejuvenate yourself actually allows you to be more focused and productive afterwards.
What did you think about this activity? Is it something you can incorporate into your regular routine? I would love to hear about any insights you gained by practicing stillness, or how you felt afterwards.
Remember, when life gets busy….
Just. Be. Still.