Awake & Restless & Looking for Stillness
Some of us try to go to bed and find ourselves awake and restless and looking for stillness.
We might be full of regret about things we did, or did not do, during the day. Some of us find ourselves fixated on decisions we need to make or work we would like to complete. Anxiety or fantasies about what the future holds for us could be running through our minds.
Our strategy might be staying as still as we can, counting sheep, or tossing and turning to get comfortable. Whatever approach we try, we often find ourselves still awake and restless and looking for stillness.
Others of us are able to fall asleep quickly and easily, but then wake up in the middle of the night. It is almost as if our minds wait for us to relax and fall asleep, then present us with lists of things for us to remember. Why could we not remember these questions during the day when we could have thought about them?
It can feel like our brains are telling us if we just spent a little more time thinking, we could get everything sorted. We can start to assume we could understand everything if we just put a little more effort into it.
I do not believe we are restless because we do not try hard enough. If anything, I think it is just the opposite.
Most of us work hard than we realize each day to get all the aspects of our lives to fit together. We believe part of being a responsible adult, of being a grownup, is figuring things out. Our minds are thinking all the time, and they have no off switch.
At the end of the day, when we are trying to sleep, they keep running.
Are We Looking for Stillness?
Many of us like to think we are looking for stillness, but we want everyone else to know how hard we are working.
Our culture teaches us we need to feel guilty when we are not busy. We find it embarrassing to take time off, like during a pandemic or for a vacation. Some of us do not want to take time to spend with our own families.
We feel a need to push ourselves, to constantly be productive, to always be busy.
My experiences have taught me we are doing ourselves a disservice. We do not need to be constantly engaged, always analyzing.
Our brains are trying to convince us to make a mistake.
Life is not a puzzle to be solved or completed. It is not a contest to determine who is the most productive or the most effective earner.
I believe the rewarding experiences of life are embedded in the time we spend in stillness. When we rush from one task to the next, from one accomplishment to another, we are missing the good parts.
Spiritual life draws us to something deeper than being productive or accomplishing our goals.
The challenge for us is setting aside time to listen to sacred stillness. We need to recognize the significance, the value of looking for stillness.
So often we are awake and restless and looking for stillness, but we do not give ourselves time to appreciate it. The people who inspire me are looking for stillness. They build time into their schedule to sit still, take deep breaths, and listen.
When they arrive at the end of their days they have not chased themselves from task to task. They have practiced teaching their brains how to relax and find rest.
Where Are We Looking for Stillness?
I know people who seem to believe we need to go to particular places to look for stillness.
It is true, some places have more stillness than others. Some of us take our own pilgrimages to the ocean or to the desert, to a forest or to the mountains. It can be helpful to spend some time by ourselves.
There is also stillness, though, with other people. We can be with people who know how to listen.
When I am looking for stillness I find it helpful to pay attention to my own listening. We tend to immerse ourselves in things which hide stillness and make it more difficult for us to listen.
The more we pay attention, the more we appreciate how we are looking for stillness within ourselves. When we spend time in nature, for example, we begin to realize the power of our own stillness.
When we go to a specific place with a particular purpose of looking for stillness, it is our own inner stillness we are seeking. We begin to live into our stillness when we practice listening to sacred stillness all around us.
How Are We Looking for Stillness?
When my brain keeps me awake and restless and looking for stillness, I try to spend some time with my stillness. It can still be a challenge, even with a practice of listening to sacred stillness.
My experience has shown me stillness is powerful. I spend time listening, open to the sacredness in the stillness. It is not only about giving myself an opportunity to let all the pieces fall into place. My practice is about getting out of the way for spiritual life to be alive and active with me.
The sacred stillness all around me flows into the stillness within me.
I do not need to remember the details and fit everything together. The sacred stillness within me is the same stillness as in the world around me.
We are not struggling to find stillness,. It is not something else we are trying to accomplish in our lives. The stillness within us and the stillness in the world around us flow into each other.
We are open to sacred stillness and the stillness is alive and active within us.
When will we spend time looking for stillness today?
Where will we go looking for stillness this week?
[Image by Sarah&Boston]
Greg Richardson is a spiritual director in Southern California. He is a recovering assistant district attorney and associate university professor, and is 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.