Of all the vitamins I have swallowed or exercises I have done, nothing has brought me real change like the act of doing nothing.
Perhaps like you, the default setting in my brain sits at “chatter” mode; thinking, narrating my every move, remembering what happened ten minutes ago and ten years ago, predicting how conversations will go and events will play out…and on it goes.
I never even imagined another mental mode existed until I reached my thirties and I started to sample little bites of mindfulness meditation. My work as a therapist lead me to books about being “mindful”. I circled the baited hook, looking, taking it all in, just nibbling at the edges without committing to a big bite. The research buzzed and hummed with promises of reduced anxiety and stress, improved mood and affect regulation, better concentration, among other positives such as dealing with the struggles of chronic pain and addictions.
“Okay,” I thought to myself, “if it’s good for you then you should be doing it.” My motivation was somewhat external at that point…I was busy trying to do the right thing. I started with guided meditations such as those by Tara Brach, Pema Chodron, Ronald Seigel, and many others.
Looking back now, I realize l had no idea how this one choice would transform my life.
Meditation brought me tiny pockets of quiet, little moments of release. These minutes were pleasant enough, but not enough to pull me back to the cushion everyday. It felt like one more thing to do on an already long list. Day after day I created the same story: I’ll sit after breakfast…There’s not time now… Maybe on my break at work (I rarely took one back then)…Before I fall asleep…and, night after night, my head would hit the pillow…goodnight, lights out, done. Another full day would pass by me without stopping to meditate.
I did manage to squeak out time for mindfulness here and there but fell far short of what I “thought” it “should” be.
Thankfully, the phone kept ringing. I was being called to shift my awareness with meditation and the murmur wasn’t going away. I answered the noise by filling my head with information. I read books, attended workshops, listened to podcasts and audio programs.
During all of this head filling, I bumped into a statement by Eckhart Tolle that reversed my process. He was talking to someone about attending a workshop on meditation, when the other person asked Eckhart which session he recommended. Eckhart, in his frank Eckhart way, simply said, “It would do you more good to practice for one hour that it would be to attend every session at the workshop.”
Oh. You mean I can’t learn how to ride a bike by reading about it? Thank you Ekhart.
I shifted instantly to a new frame of mind. I immediately gave myself permission to practice in a way that fit my life. I made time everyday for short periods, several times throughout the day. I tied these to things I was already doing such as drinking coffee, eating, showering. I also set up other routines to support the habit. For example, I placed a special rock on my pillow every morning after getting out of bed. At night, I would not move the rock until I had meditated for at least 10 minutes.
The focus became doing and I quickly felt a difference in how I was being.
The formal practice of sitting meditation allowed me greater calm and clarity during the daily trek from am to pm. Practice felt good and I made sure to savor the warmth in my chest and heaviness in my arms. These were mini-escapes full of peace and contentment. I actually craved the pureness of silence.
During the day, my primary question became how am I paying attention RIGHT NOW? And this question carried my awareness back to a place of centered stillness. It was like the TV channel switched. The scene from the moment still played out in front of me but now I could watch it, rather than be immersed in it.
Eventually, stillness became a portal to something deeper and more satisfying. I was spending time paying attention to me. The thoughts I was thinking, the feelings I was having, the way my chest pulsed as my heart beat. I was quiet and listening to me. I noticed what I needed and I happily responded.
It is ironic, the idea of “doing nothing” producing the biggest growth of all. The notion is counter to our cultural push to GO,GO,GO and DO, DO, DO for sure. But rest is required for growth in nature. For example, babies sleep more than any other age group and aren’t their brains growing extraordinarily fast? Also, don’t most perennial flowers require a period of cold before they will germinate?
Stillness has delivered unexpected rewards in my life and I hope it does for you too.
Many blessings to you, xo.