Guidepost 8 is cultivating calm and stillness. I know that for some of us stillness is a trigger word, probably conjuring memories of being scolded for fidgeting or feelings of failure when we can’t sit still and pray for hours on end…or even for five minutes! Brene says she used to think these two – calm and stillness – were pretty synonymous, but her research showed that they are two different things.
Pause for reflection
What’s the difference in your mind between calm and stillness? When you think about calm people, what is it that they bring into situations where others are maybe freaking out a bit more?
Cultivating a quiet mind
I’m pretty sure we’ve touched on this before, but I am also pretty sure that it takes a while to sink in – Brene confesses to her own resistance to the idea that meditation, contemplative prayer, quiet reflection and solitude are all aspects of the essential need to quiet the body and mind – a quieting which (over time) significantly reduces anxiety and feeling overwhelmed.
I hope that you are comforted to know that stillness is not necessarily about stilling the body, although that can help – and for many of us, we spend so much of our time racing through this thing so we can get to the next thing…staying still can be deeply challenging. Equally, stillness is not about stilling the mind, because the mind is made for mental activity, so stilling it is like trying to stop the waves on the ocean.
I think stillness is more about the inner space than what we’re doing with our body – but what you do with your body can make the inner stillness easier to sink into or much, much harder.
In the beginning of this practice, there is the work of cultivating an inner clearing – a space where you bring your whole attention to the present moment. With your attention focussed in this now, this breath, this sensation of ribs expanding of belly rising, of cool air flowing in through the nose and the fullness which flows effortlessly into this sensation of ribs softly releasing, belly falling, warm air flowing out….this focus on now and now and now begins to create the clearing where you can witness the thoughts that come and go. You can observe how the mind brings little gifts, little tempting treats for your attention to pounce upon and follow. The heart can also get in on the action and bring you memories of emotional moments, feelings to feel. The body, too, offers a stream of sensations to focus on…And of course, your attention will follow these…. Many breaths may pass before your awareness that you are no longer attending to the now arises. Somehow, though, the clearing was left behind and your quiet witness alerts you to the fact that you have allowed some juicy thought/feeling/sensation to pull your energy and attention into yesterday or tomorrow or the to dos for today. And so you gently return your awareness to the clearing where it is now, to the still space within, and watch the breath, watch the thoughts, watch the sensations rise and fall….
Some have likened this cultivating the clearing process to training a puppy, but I think it’s more like training a cat. An old cat. One who isn’t particularly interested in your rewards. Still, eventually, with practice and persistence, the inner kitty can be tamed.
I have found steadiness to be a very helpful term here – perhaps more helpful than stillness. My yoga teacher talks about having a steady practice and maintaining a steady posture – one that allows for relaxation in action so you can be alert but not rigid or uncomfortable. She also talks about holding a steady gaze, a soft focus if eyes are open or turned up and in to the 3rd eye if eyes are closed. I find that my eyes are a great clue for my inner witness to realise that my attention has wandered (again). She also talks about being steady inside no matter what may be happening ‘outside’. Life flows and unfolds and has its ups and downs and the steadiness of the compassionate witness greets each moment, each offering with open heart, open mind.
Pause for reflection
What does stillness mean to you? What’s your experience with attempting to practice stillness? What are your challenges? Can you spot the most tempting offerings your mind, heart and body bring to draw you back into your patterns of reaction?
A relaxation exercise.
I’ve recorded a full body guided meditation for relaxation for you. This is great for falling asleep to….I often guide myself like this in the middle of the night and I don’t get much past my knees…
Lectio with Thich Nhat Hanh
Look deeply at your anger as you would at your own child.
Do not reject it or hate it.
Meditation is not to turn yourself into a battlefield, one side opposing the other.
conscious breathing soothes and calms the anger, and mindfulness penetrates it…
You don’t need to discard or repress anything, not even your anger.
Anger is just an energy, and all energies can be transformed.
Meditation is the art of using one kind of energy to transform another.Thich Nhat Hanh
Spend some time with this piece of wisdom and see where you can bring this practice into your life…if you don’t think you are angry at all, then perhaps observing the patterns of suppressing and rejecting your anger is the place to start. If you think you are not often angry, then perhaps observing if there are signs of more low-level anger that sits below your radar…irritation, annoyance, frustration, exasperation, niggly thinking. Tune in to the energy of anger and see if the practice of conscious breathing and your calm witnessing presence of inner stillness can bring a transformation.
This is Theresa (my beautiful yoga teacher), and she led a forty day series of guided yoga breathing practices at the start of the year – on instagram and facebook live…she is in central Pennsylvania, so not a great option to join in for us in NZ, but since the sessions were also recorded, I got to join in later – and here is day 20 (I’m not posting day 1, because initially there were some technical issues with sound, and so the later ones are easier to follow). I’m still returning to enjoy the guided practice and her helpful instructions, and this is one more doorway into stillness – try it, you might like it!