The Practice of STILLNESS
I LOVE stillness. It’s as important to the health of my soul as breath is to my body.
So why do I find it so hard?! Why do I resist the very thing my soul craves?
There are a whole bunch of reasons I could reel off at this point, and they would include things like; living in a society that values activity and productivity over resting and being; being genuinely busy with two part-time jobs, family in different parts of the country, lots of lovely friends and an active church-life. And that’s all true. But, what about my own internal resistance? Why do I sometimes avoid the practice of stillness? Why is it so difficult to surrender to the moment and give myself permission to be still?
I’ve been thinking a lot about surrender recently. It’s not a popular concept. We want to be self-sufficient and in control. Surrendering is about letting go. Taking time out of our busy schedules to ‘do nothing’ is hard too. It feels counter-intuitive. This is where permission comes in. We need to give ourselves permission just to be.
And yet it’s not as painful as it may first appear. Once I surrender to the moment, I can breath out. I can let go. I can relax and just be. And actually, that feels pretty good. I have to trust that it’s not time wasted, for I know that when I allow myself some stillness, life works better. I feel more whole and more able to cope with whatever the day may bring.
This poem by Anne Morrow Lindberg describes it perfectly:
It is a difficult
lesson to learn today,
to leave one’s friends
and family and deliberately
practise the art of solitude
for an hour or a day
or a week.
For me, the break
is most difficult…
And yet, once it is done,
I find there is a quality
to being alone that is
Life rushes back into the void,
fuller than before!
I really want stillness to be a regular part of my life and daily practice. I’m certainly no guru in this – I’m still learning as much as the next person, but here are a few things that I’ve tried and found helpful. I offer them to you in the hope that you might find something helpful too.
Take a few minutes to greet the morning. Outside if possible. Look at the sky and the clouds, listen to the birds singing, the wind in the trees.
Light a candle. I love how the Northumbria Community describe how a normal living room can become a sacred space when a candle is lit with the intention of creating space for stillness and prayer.
Burn incense. I’ve not been brought up in a high-church tradition, so incense is new for me and I’ve only recently discovered its unique beauty. It immediately calms me and watching the beautiful wisps of incense rise and dance and hang in the air reminds of the closeness of the Holy Spirit, as well as representing our prayers rising up to God.
Develop a reflective practice. I keep a Happy Book, loosely based on the Prayer of Examen developed by Ignatius of Loyola. I look back over the day or several days since I made my last entry and jot down the things that have brought me pleasure (NB: only real pleasure is allowed, not fake gratitude or the things we feel we ought to feel grateful for!). This practice has been transformative for me and is one I miss if I don’t do it for too long.
Use an established framework – I’m currently finding Macrina Wiederkehr’s book ‘Seven Sacred Pauses’ a helpful guide.
So these are my regular practices. How about you? What things do you do that help you incorporate stillness in your life?
Lindsay Grant is a Tap-dancing, Christian, Photographer, Administrator, Listener & Stillness-Lover