Christian Reifsteck, Standing Stones Healing Co.
We hear frequently that we need to “find stillness,” but stillness is not something that we need to search for like a hidden treasure. Rather, stillness is all around us, and rather than “find” it, we only need to slow down to allow it to catch up to us.
Stillness doesn’t need to take the form of formal meditation in which you sit cross-legged on the floor. Though this kind of stillness can be very effective in creating a deepening spirituality, it can also be very intimidating to those who have never done it. Stillness can take many forms, though: sitting quietly in a chair, watching trees swaying in the wind, lying in bed listening to the rain strike the window pane.
I often practice meditation in the traditional sense, meaning that I sit cross-legged on the floor, close my eyes, and slow my thoughts. But I also experience stillness in other ways and consider many of my activities, from dishwashing to weightlifting to rocking in my rocking chair, to be meditative. While these are not “meditation,” many activities can be meditative or mindful activity if you approach them as a purposeful pausing with awareness. The mindset that we bring to the moment is what’s most important.
For an experience of being still, I recommend sitting and do nothing. Don’t listen to music or watch TV or read a book or talk to your children. Go off by yourself, find a quiet place (for those with a busy household, this may be the bathroom). Though I recommend closing your eyes to help minimize distractions, you can keep them open at first if that makes you more comfortable. You can stare at the wall, watch the clock, or look at an object, if necessary. But spend that time in quiet contemplation. You can daydream, you can think about the things you need to do, you can think about the things you should be doing, but resist the urge to get up and do them. Just sit and be. Creating a purposeful space of reduced stimulation and activity is how we begin to cultivate stillness.
Because of our culture’s focus on a flurry of activity, it usually doesn’t take more than a few minutes for us to feel like we should be doing something more productive. There is always so much to do, and “busy” has not only become a status symbol in our culture, but it’s even now a rote answer to the “How are you?” question. Resist this cultural conditioning and these urges to get up and be productive, if only for a few more minutes. It is important to be able to set aside time for yourself, even a small amount of time, to just exist, to just be. If you push past the desire to get up and determine to stick with your stillness for a bit, then you’ve done well.
Watching the clock isn’t the point of stillness, but a good amount of time for stillness or a meditative practice is the magical twenty minutes. I am a proponent of twenty minute practices because, in my experience, it’s long enough to have to force yourself to be still and for you to feel uncomfortable with doing nothing for that long, but not long enough that you feel anxious or upset that you’ve done nothing the whole day. Like with other spiritual activities, such as walking or writing, it’s also a good amount of time to get settled, shake off your most recent thoughts, become absorbed in the experience, and end it with a different mindset from when you began.
I also personally find this amount of time to be my natural meditation “sweet spot” and, even though I’m not timing myself and am not focused on how long my meditation is, it frequently hovers around 20 minutes. As you expand your spiritual practice and feel more comfortable with stillness, as you feel less guilty about taking time wholly and completely for yourself to “accomplish” nothing, you may personally want to increase that length of time.
Or you may not, because creating stillness is adaptable to your needs, and even a few moments of focused stillness is a success, and success breeds success. Suze Yaloff Schwartz writes in Unplug: A Simple Guide to Meditation for Busy Skeptics and Modern Soul Seekers, “You’re not practicing to achieve anything; getting yourself to sit quietly and breathe at least once a day is the achievement.” As you continue to practice stillness, you will find this time to be less and less of an annoyance or a waste of time and more and more something that you look forward to, a refuge from the busyness of life, a special time completely for you, and even a necessity.