September 12 th
Invitation to StillnessBy
Recently I have been immersed in creative flow. I have been engaged in rich conversations. And I have been consuming a vast amount of information relevant to my work as a coach, consultant, Enneagram teacher, writer, entrepreneur and small business owner.
Ideas are coming fast. My mind is abuzz. And my body seems poised for action every waking minute. So much is gestating that I wake up and feel like I have been working even while I dream.
I have a morning pages practice where I write stream-of-consciousness for three pages every morning. This is typically a time to empty and clear. Usually it’s full of feelings seeking expression and random nonsense. It’s about clearing, not about performing. That’s what I love about this practice. But somewhere along the way my pages have turned into design sessions. It seems that even the parts of my life designed for quiet time have become infused with activity.
Can you relate?
What I know about the creative process is that stillness is essential. Stillness means quieting the mind. It means refraining from “doing” for awhile in favor of “being.” It might look like inactivity. And if your strengths are achievement-oriented like mine (see 3-part series on strengths and take assessments here), it can be hard to slow down.
How do you invite stillness into your life? Sleep and morning pages are two ways to create some stillness. When these are not working, it may mean other areas of life need attention. Here are 5 ideas.
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I take a slow breath in through my nose and let the air out slowly through my mouth. I notice my body. Stiff areas like my neck and shoulders soften. When I am busy or stressed, my breathing is shallow and stops at my throat. When I am relaxed and conscious, I breathe all the way into my belly. A few belly breaths allow my whole body to relax. My brain shuts off and I feel a few moments of stillness. Practice it now.
2. STRETCH. I notice the areas of my body that seem tight or constricted and move them. I roll my shoulders back and forth. I roll my neck clockwise and counterclockwise. I wiggle my toes. I point and flex my feet. I roll my ankles. I stretch my hands and wrists. If my environment allows, I can also do more full body stretching on my exercise ball or on the floor. But even a few of these practices done throughout the day will allow oxygen to circulate and create pockets of stillness. What can you stretch right now as you read this?
3. WALK. I have what sometimes seems like a superhuman ability to sit and focus for long periods. Thich Nhat Hanh introduced me to walking meditation. Walking while noticing the breath, the body, and nature is another way to be alive in the body and be present to what is. Walking without my iPod, I focus on my breath. I feel the wind against my body. I watch the leaves falling from the trees. I notice my thoughts and let them go. Mindful walking moves the body and stills the mind. When will you take your next mindful walk?
4. EAT. Mindfully. I have a tendency to over-schedule myself and to become so engrossed in what I am doing that I can forget to eat. Others may be challenged by overeating or not eating foods that support a healthy and vibrant life.
Whatever your particular challenge, mindful eating is another way to still the mind. Jon Kabat-Zinn popularized this practice with his raisin exercise. The idea is to s-l-o-w w-a-y d-o-w-n. Anticipate eating before doing so. Notice what happens in your mouth as you imagine this. Then put a morsel of food on your tongue and let it sit there. Notice it. Then begin chewing slowly. Notice. And then swallow. All the while noticing the sensations in your mouth and body.
Remembering to eat, consciously choosing what to eat, and eating mindfully are all ways to invite stillness.
5. SMILE. A lot. Smile genuinely. In the west, a smile is typically something we do to acknowledge the presence of another human being. In the east, meditators smile while meditating alone. A smile is a form of stretching that opens the heart almost automatically. Try it. Can you smile without relaxing?
Smile at yourself in the mirror. Feel it in your heart. Smile when you’re in meetings. Smile on the phone. Smile as you type. Smile while driving. If you’re active in social media, every time you click “Like” or “+1” smile as you click. Notice your smile. Feel it in your heart. In those brief moments, there is stillness.
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We live in a fast-paced and crazy busy world. We are inundated with information. If you are ambitious and passionate about service, chances are good that you also need to make space for stillness.
These are just a few quick practices that we can easily integrate into a busy day.
I would love to know what YOU do to create stillness? What quick practices (30 seconds – 10 minutes) would you add to this list? What more extensive activities (e.g., yoga, sitting meditation, singing, chanting, dance, drumming, retreats . . . ) would you suggest?
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