Just Be Still!

Full confession, I’ve failed at meditation. I know it can be life-changing, but I can’t seem to get it right. (Is there even a “thing” to get right?) 

For most of my life, I thought that successful people were always planning, thinking, and strategizing. I imagined their success was due to constantly being on message, never letting a single idle moment consume their valuable time.

Even when I was out walking my dog, I would run through exactly what I would do once we were home. Fold laundry, plan the week’s meals, make appointments etc., etc. The list unspooled in my head in perfect order; nothing was overlooked. The sidewalk could have turned into toffee, and I wouldn’t have noticed.

Standing in line at the supermarket, dry-cleaner, or bank, I would play mental scrabble with the signs around me. “Cleaner,” could be, near, leaner, care, careen, and so on. Or I would scoop up a magazine and read articles like “100 things you can do with left-over chicken,” making mental notes as I went.

Every second had to be filled. My mind had to be kept occupied, active. I had images of cobwebs stringing themselves from brain cell to brain cell if I didn’t keep my mind humming along like a well-oiled machine.

I’d heard about meditation, but in those days, it was the exclusive practice of yogis and Buddhists, people who could sit around all day gazing at a lotus flower.

Little did I know how sensible this was!

Then, as life progressed and became complicated by jobs, parenthood, relocations, terrible events, the usual stressors that adulthood brings to our doorstep, I found that this constant hectic mental energy was exhausting.

I had enough to get my head around without introducing all these mental aerobics.

Hunting around for a better approach, I found mindfulness offered a better way. It took practice, but quite quickly, I found my mind less cluttered when I took time to be “in the moment.” It was a real reversal for me not to be thinking of the next step and the next step and the next step. 

I started grabbing at small moments of mindfulness and noticed my overall thinking became clearer. Something as simple as drinking my morning coffee became a tranquil routine. I studied the French Press, watching the coffee surge as I pressed down the plunger. I closed my eyes to smell the aroma and took each sip savoring the flavor.

I soon found this mindfulness practice helped my creativity; my mind felt freed-up to look at things from a different angle.

But, when Covid hit, and our world stopped, I found I needed more quiet in my life. Despite rarely leaving the house, my days were a seemingly chaotic blend of working, endless Zooming, texting friends, doom-scrolling, devouring great gobs of news from any source, and generally running around in ever decreasing circles.

I found it became impossible to sit still and just be. Even if I were reading my newspaper, I’d have my phone open, checking other news sites, making sure no one reached out to me on Watts App, scrolling through my various email inboxes—you get the picture.

When dinner was cooking, I’d run to do a bit more of my jigsaw puzzle or start sweeping the floor. Activity allowed me not to think too much about how much of the world was suffering.

I still embraced my mindful moments, but my greatest opportunity to be mindful, being outside in nature, came to an abrupt halt when the snow and ice arrived. As we wait out the stalled Polar Vortex, I stumbled across an article about stillness.

The writer, a high-level CEO, explained how practicing stillness changed his mindset. He mentioned a quote by  Hermann Hesse: “Within you there is a stillness and a sanctuary to which you can retreat any time and be yourself.”

The executive went on to explain that he set aside 15 minutes each day just to be still. He started doing it at his desk, turning the chair toward the window at the end of his workday. He lightly embraced the empty your mind technique used in meditation, but he struggled with it.

So, he tried out various other approaches: repeating a calming mantra or picturing a tranquil scene or soothing image. 

This seemed easy enough! So, each day, after lunch, when I come back to sit—yet again—at my desk, I set my timer for 15 minutes and sit still. Somedays, even the act of sitting still is tough, but I keep at it.

I found picturing a soothing scene works best for me, especially in these home-bound, snow-bound days. I picture my “happy place” and then work through the senses: what can I see, smell, hear, feel, maybe even taste. It is like taking a vacation without leaving my office.

Even just a few weeks in, I experienced the benefits of this practice. I would still like to get better at meditation, but during these stressful times, it seems a bridge too far.

It’s taken my entire adult life to figure out that being still is not a cop-out; it is actually a sanity saver.

Give it a try, and let me know if it helps.

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2 comments on “Just Be Still!
  1. Lindsay Viljoen says:

    I have gone back to knitting and crocheting. I am knitting squares to be made into blankets for baby rhinos and anti-poaching rangers. It is repetitive and soothing. I am also crocheting a blanket. Also repetitive and soothing, but requires some attention, so my mind can’t be skittering away sorting out the world. It has made such a difference.
    And I have friends who are now doing the same.

    • Jane Paterson says:

      The measured pace of crocheting and knitting seems like the perfect antidote to pandemic panic! I am hopeful that many of us will still hang on to these calming practices long after these days are behind us.

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