From the beginning of my career as a mental health professional, stillness has always fascinated me. The notion of stillness as a time to reflect, the power of a still moment in the therapy room, or the stillness within a client when they’ve realized an important truth about their life; it all has great value.
Until very recently, however, I have thought about stillness as something that is good for everyone else, but definitely not for me. After all, I have way too much to do! (And yes, I recognize the hypocrisy.) I would often encourage my clients to take time for themselves, to sit in their feelings to better understand what was going on for them. This is sound therapeutic advice, and in many cases, heeding the counsel would have actually been beneficial for my clients. The problem, however, was that I wasn’t willing to do that for myself, when I really needed to.
Recently, I have intentionally transitioned to a part time counseling position, with the intention of giving myself time for “stillness”. Instead, I have started a new exercise regimen, read multiple books, developed a new gardening hobby, tried new activities with my husband, etcetera, etcetera. The stillness has continued to elude me.
The benefits of stillness have actually escaped me for most of my life. My attitude has often been, “Do, do, do.” Productivity and achievement have been my mantras, and my self-worth was directly tied to how productive I was. My supervisor poignantly challenged me: “You are kind of acting like a human doing when you are actually a human being.” I chuckled, slightly offended, and went on with my evening. But I couldn’t get that statement out of my mind. Over the course of the next week, I realized that it was much truer than I wanted to admit.
Why do we spend so much time running from just being? I think that answer varies for everyone, but I want to share some common truths I’ve discovered within myself, my clients, and some of my people with whom I’ve had this discussion. First, and most, is fear. Again, I don’t pretend to be able to speak for everyone, but I think we are afraid of what we might find. Afraid that our true thoughts and feelings might betray us, or that some new self-discovery will leave us with no choice but to take action and make a change in our lives. Most of us would agree that change is scary and is filled mostly with fear. But I would assert that change that comes out of stillness is change that is lasting, and change that is beneficial.
Another reason we might shy away from stillness is the lack of tangible results that come out of it. My hypothesis is that experienced stillness-practitioners would be better able to cite the results they have earned that have come out of stillness, but for those of us who are new at it, there is little tangible. Our society values what we can experience with our senses, but for most of us, shifts as a result of stillness are mostly internal at first, with little to write home about. When making new connections, one of the first questions we ask is, “What do you do for a living?” An answer of “I practice being” is certainly not what the inquirer is looking for. Resigning ourselves to challenging society’s values is a bold choice, and one that I have not had the strength to do until lately.
We might also avoid stillness because we don’t actually know how to do it. Like I said, society doesn’t really teach us how. To practice it, one has to have the knowledge that it is even an option that is available to us! Some people find stillness in prayer, others in mindfulness, and still others in a stroll through a park. I encourage you to allow yourself to experience stillness in a variety of modes before abandoning the noble effort altogether. There is no “right” or “wrong” way to practice stillness, which is admittedly frustrating for the achievement side of my personality. The challenge is to enjoy the experience rather than the outcome—and yes, it takes time, which I have found to be part of the journey.
I have made a new commitment to myself to redefine my value based on my spiritual and religious convictions, which I find in stillness, rather than on what I achieve or produce. This will be no small feat for someone who enjoys “doing” as much as I do. My hope for all of us isthat we take some time this summer to just be still. To leave the dishes in the sink, sweep the floors later, answer that email tomorrow, and remember that within the stillness, growth, peace and comfort exist.
By: Kaylee Criswell