Struggling Toward Stillness
I have heard people describe contemplative practices of listening to sacred stillness as restful or peaceful.
It can look restful, from the outside, as we sit still and listen to the stillness within us and around us. For many of us, though, our listening practice feels like a contest, a struggle.
We may experience our own practice from the inside as a long road of struggling toward stillness. Even the few minutes we spend listening each day can feel like an extended struggle.
For some of us our struggling toward stillness is about the challenge of taking time each day to listen. Others of us struggle with our own internal conversation as we spend time listening.
I know people who begin a listening practice with the expectation it will be peaceful. They hope to experience the rest and restoration other people have described. The struggles they encounter surprise them and often raise serious questions.
If spiritual life is eager for us to listen and invites us into contemplation, why is it such a struggle?
As we practice contemplative listening, some of us become more familiar with how it feels. Others of us, though, continue to feel we are struggling toward stillness.
Is struggling toward stillness a necessary part of a contemplative listening practice? If our practice is just another source of struggle for us, why do we continue it?
Does our practice being a struggle mean we are not doing it right, or it is not a good thing for us to do?
What is spiritual life trying to tell us when we feel we are struggling up the sheer face of a rock wall?
When will we be able to stop struggling toward stillness and rest in its welcoming embrace?
Is Struggling Toward Stillness Necessary?
People have told me struggling builds character. They tell us struggling is good for us and makes us better people.
Some people tell us struggling has lessons for us, lessons we cannot learn any other way. They say struggle reveals valuable truths about perseverance and how much we value what we value.
People tell us struggling helps make us stronger. If struggling for stillness helps us become stronger, does a lack of struggling make us weaker?
Many of us do not see potential struggles as positive opportunities. We may say we appreciate a good competition, but what we really enjoy is winning. For most of us, a “good” struggle is one from which we emerge victorious. We look forward, not to more struggling, but to when we put struggling behind us.
Much of our sense of struggling toward stillness comes from our unfamiliarity with contemplative listening. It is a challenge for us to pay attention in each present moment because we are used to being distracted.
Few of us have significant experience with listening and stillness. We have grown unaccustomed to listening well or sitting still. Our thoughts, words, and feelings are our constant companions along with the other background noise we hear each day.
We approach sacred stillness across territory we have not traveled before. It feels like we are struggling toward stillness, climbing a mountain, or crossing a rapidly flowing stream.
Our contemplative listening practice will teach us how to recognize our path toward stillness. Each step can be a challenge filled with potential distractions. We are learning how to be still and calm and listen well.
Struggling toward stillness has lessons to teach us and will build our strength and character. Even if we never embrace struggling as a pleasant experience we are learning and growing.
Struggling Toward Stillness Each Day
We practice listening to sacred stillness each day. For many of us, each time we sit still to listen can be an experience of struggling toward stillness. Few of us get to a point on our path where we are beyond struggling.
Our journey, our climb is not one on which we will reach a destination and stop.
Some of us experience more struggling on certain days than on others.
There will be times when we practice listening to stillness when the stillness is close to us. We can feel its breath on our skin and are aware of its presence. At other times sacred stillness wil feel far from us. Many distractions will rush around our minds and our hearts.
We may be struggling toward stillness through a time thick with distractions. Some of us will struggle to pay attention when we feel most comfortable and most relaxed.
Our contemplative practice of listening to sacred stillness is a fresh set of struggles each day. We face new challenges and absorb new lessons each time we practice.
Listening to sacred stillness is a relationship. We sit still, close our eyes, and listening in a new way each day.
Rest Comes As We Are Struggling Toward Stillness
We learn how to listen well and how to rest as we are struggling toward stillness.
Sitting still to practice listening to stillness teaches us how to listen. We are not standing at attention or sitting with our backs straight. Gradually we learn how to relax into stillness, release our distractions, and hear what it has to teach us.
I am a much better listener than I was before I began to practice contemplative listening. My practice has given me opportunities to learn how to listen to sacred stillness, to myself, and to other people.
Contemplative listening is also a good way to learn to rest. There is nothing we can do to speed up the time we spend in our practice. We cannot force stillness to speak to us and cannot force ourselves to understand.
Each step takes us further up the mountain. Rest comes to us as we listen to sacred stillness.
For a certain period of time each day we sit listening to sacred stillness. Each time we practice we are struggling toward stillness.
How are we struggling toward stillness today?
When will we take time to continue struggling toward stillness this week?
[Image by Laurel Fan]
Greg Richardson is a spiritual life mentor and coach in Southern California. He is a recovering attorney and a lay Oblate with New Camaldoli Hermitage near Big Sur, California. Greg’s website is StrategicMonk.com and his email address is StrategicMonk@gmail.com.