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Find Stillness to Cure the Illness

Written by Leo Babauta   
Thursday, 01 September 2011 00:00

It’s a busy day, and you’re inundated by non-stop e-mails, text messages, phone calls, instant message requests, notifications— interruptions of all kinds.

The noise of the world is a dull roar that pervades every second of your life. It’s a rush of activity, a drain on your energy, a pull on your attention—until you no longer have the energy to pay attention or take action.

It’s an illness, this noise, this rush. It can literally make us sick. We become stressed, depressed, fat, burnt out, slain by the slings and arrows of technology. The cure is simple: Stillness.

Pause.

Take a minute out of your busy day to do this little exercise: Pause in the middle of all you have to do, all that’s going on around you. Close your eyes, and sit still. Breathe in, and breathe out, and pay attention to your breath as it comes in and goes out. Just sit still, for about a minute.

“Silence is a source of great strength.” –Lao Tzu


This stillness might seem like inaction, which we’re taught is a bad thing. It’s lazy, it’s passive, it’s against our Puritan work ethic. And yet, this simple inaction can change our world.

Stillness calms us. It gives us a small oasis of quiet that allows us to hear our thoughts, that allows us to catch our breath, that gives us room to breathe at all. It is the antibody to the stress and rush we feel daily.

Stillness has a calming effect on the world around us as well. By becoming still, we cause others to pause, to pay attention. Our quiet also quiets others. We set the mood for those who work or otherwise interact with us.

When we rush and set a frenetic pace, it stresses others and inspires them to rush frenetically too. Stillness has the opposite effect. It slows the world down, allows us to focus, and gives us time to contemplate what matters most.

It takes strength to be still when others rush. It takes courage to be different, to go against the stream. But while others might think us weird at first, that’s OK. Sometimes it’s the weird ones who make the most difference. And soon, as our stillness inspires others to find stillness of their own, we won’t be the weird ones— we’ll be the ones with wisdom.

It takes strength to find stillness when the world around us is a chaos of activity, but it’s a strength that’s in us, and we need only to find it. Paradoxically, it’s stillness that will allow us to find that strength. Be still, look within, and it will be there.


Find Stillness
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It’s pretty simple, really, and you don’t need me to tell you to do this: To find stillness, you just need to take the time to sit still, every day that you can.

Find a time in the morning, when the world is still fairly quiet. Don’t do anything. Don’t plan your day, don’t check e-mail, don’t eat. Just sit, and learn to be comfortable being still.

In practice, we’ll gradually find that comfort, and we’ll become good at it. If mornings are no good, find time during your lunch break, or after work, or just before you go to bed.

Find a place to be still. It can be a chair in your house, or a front porch, or the roof. It can be a park bench, or the beach, or a path in the woods. Let this be a ritual that you come to look forward to.


“Activity conquers cold, but stillness conquers heat.” –Lao Tzu


From this small place of stillness, calm will carry to the rest of your day, radiating like a soothing force. You’ll be calmer throughout the day, and learn to find little pockets of stillness everywhere: when you first start your work day, when you’re ready to sit down and create, when you’re about to eat, when you’re ready to exercise. During a meeting, even.


“Let us be silent, that we may hear the whispers of the gods.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson


Practice, regularly. Practice, and learn. Practice stillness, and the stillness becomes a canvas upon which you can paint the masterpiece of your life.


Pathways Issue 31 CoverThis article appeared in Pathways to Family Wellness magazine, Issue #31.

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