Practices: stillness

Practices: stillness April 12, 2013

Lone bare tree in a field
Photo by Cordelia Kopp

In the world we share, stillness is an exception much more than a rule.  We are busy, hurried, overcommitted, overextended.  For the simple reason of catching a break, a practice of stillness and silence would be worth cultivating.  But too often, we also use the sound and fury of our lives as a screen to hide behind.  Without really intending it, we cultivate disconnection from things that we find uncomfortable: emotions, fears, and doubts.  Sometimes I also use it to escape things that are uncomfortable on a deeper level: my own mistakes or failures, or places where my integrity or deepest desires call me away from what seems normal or expected or safe.

None of these, of course, are things that it helps us to avoid, but doing so is easy and choosing otherwise usually isn’t — at least, up until the point where we have no other choice.  So cultivating regular space in which you are not trying to do anything is a tremendously valuable practice.

I’ve personally found value in both the practice of focusing on a single thing — a mantra, counting breaths, chanting — and in letting my mind soften into presence and connection without trying to guide my thoughts.  Some forms of practice work better for one than the other, while others work equally well for both.  Similarly, some kinds of magic and ritual rely more on focus while others rely more on openness, so your other practices can be a useful guide in deciding how to pursue this one.

Sitting meditation is one of the best known ways to cultivate stillness.  You can learn to sit in a traditional Buddhist style of meditation (I’m fond of Susan Piver’s Open Heart Project, which teaches Shambala Buddhist meditation), through a secular approach like mindfulness meditation, or with a specifically Pagan focus.  I’ve only introduced sitting seriously into my own practice in the last few months, so I can’t report conclusively on how it works, but I know of no one who has done it for years and then declared it worthless, and I’m willing to commend it to your consideration on that basis alone.

If sitting isn’t your style, or if that kind of practice doesn’t fit well into your life, I think other things can offer some of the same benefits.  A boss of mine once told me that the secret to happiness was to take long walks daily and let your mind wander, and I have indeed found this to be a useful way to invite clarity and spaciousness into my life.  Friends who love to run or cycle tell me that these forms of exercise can be a medtiation, and I find simple, repetitive actions like swimming or knitting can also work.

For me, the experience of doing something repetitive is valuable because I get a break from my thinking, story-telling, life-explaining brain; the experience of literally doing nothing and listening is valuable because it nurtures my deepest connections.

Chime in: what’s your experience with stillness and silence?  How are they helpful?  When do you resist them the most?

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