How to Find Stillness When You Don’t Have Time to Sit Still

Stillness is the spaciousness we experience when we quiet our minds, drop into our centers, and inhabit the present moment.  It’s the opposite of a racing, multi-tasking brain working hard to accomplish tasks, hack solutions to challenges, or negotiate circumstances.

In living a spiritual life, stillness primes the pump for awareness, contemplation, and insight.  Those of us who identify as seekers know that stillness beckons us, even if it doesn’t specifically point to a destination.  It’s the medium for communication among the mind-body-spirit continuum.

And it’s available free of charge at any time of day or night, without making a big fuss.  It’s available whether or not you have designated time or space for it.  It is experienced by non-spiritual types as well as advanced yoga practitioners. 

The ethos of meditation
Meditation evokes images of incense wafting, soft bells chiming, and crossed-legged devotees sitting on cushions in ornate shrines.  It can seem foreign and inaccessible to those who haven’t studied with a meditation teacher.

The whole point of meditation is simple : to quiet the mind and to access what is available in the absence of engaging in our thoughts.  We focus instead on our breath, and in addition to significant relaxation, we drop into stillness. 

Meditation is a practice, and those who are serious about it make time for it every single day.  The benefits are what keep them committed to the practice.  What’s not true is that meditation can only yield results if it is done in a specific and regulated way. 

Non-meditators (of the cross-legged, silent sitting type) have equal access to the delicious reward of mediation; stillness.  It’s all in the ask.

Finding time for stillness
What if you’re not willing to commit to a daily practice of sitting still?  How can you find your way to the spaciousness you crave, especially given the high-speed reality of your life?

Here are ten ways to cultivate stillness within a busy day.  Try one or several, and see what you find:

1. Create a morning routine

The way you start your morning can have a powerful impact on your day.  Rather than jumping out of bed once your alarm goes off, give yourself 10 minutes to bring yourself from sleep to wakefulness.  With your eyes closed, breathe deeply and consciously as you stretch your body.  Harvest any information you want to remember from your dreams.  Sit up in bed, and notice each inhale and exhale for 10 breaths.  Open your eyes when you are ready to start the day.

2. Generate a daily gratitude list
Find time each day to write down 5 things for which you are truly grateful.  They can be tiny or monumental.  Try to be sure you’re not repeating the same things each day.  As you complete the list, read it to yourself and then spend a few moments absorbing your gratitude.

3. Take three breaths

At any point – and hopefully several times – in your day, take a time-out to breathe.  Inhale and exhale to a count of 10, three times.  Notice the tangible physical result of this practice, as well as the quality of mind it invites.  Great opportunities for three breaths: while on hold, in an elevator, driving car pool, after a stressful encounter.

4. Feel your feet
Tap into the wisdom of your body, which is a direct channel to stillness.  Stand up and give yourself over to the experience of feeling your feet on the floor.  Notice the weight of your body on them.  Notice the sensation of contact with the earth, with the floor, with your shoes.  Rock back and forth and notice how well they support you. 

5. Turn off one of your senses
Close your eyes and give yourself over to listening.  What is immediately obvious to you, and what do you hear in the background?  What do you notice, the longer you listen?  Be absorbed completely in the sounds you experience. 

6. Practice mindfulness
As Thich Nhat Han, the Vietnamese Buddhist teacher advises, “only do the dishes”.  Play with ONLY drinking tea, ONLY eating a sandwich, ONLY taking a shower.  When thoughts arise, notice them but don’t follow them, and come back to what you’re doing.  Stay with that one thing.  Notice the details of that one thing that are available when you turn off all other distractions.

7. Allow for inspiration

Read a passage from a spiritual book or poetry collection.  Read slowly, ingesting each word.  Copy it down if it moves you.  After you read, close your eyes and allow the words to settle on you.  Appreciate the space it clears.

8. Create a mantra
Mantras are simple phrases that jar us out of habitual thinking and center us on one particular wish or desire.  Create a short phrase that resonates for you, and say it silently or out loud several times a day.  Close your eyes and allow it to be absorbed.

9. Set an intention
Call in stillness with a clear and directive intention.  What do you want to feel as a result of being still?  Name it and claim it.  Write your intention out, say it out loud, and have reminders of it around you so you can actively invite it to your busy life.

10. Be still for 2 minutes
Even if you don’t sit in silence for 20 minutes, you can still find the solace you seek in dropping everything for a few minutes.  Set a timer, find a comfortable position in a chair or on couch, and simply sit.  Follow your breath, not your thoughts.  When the timer goes off, thank yourself for taking the time and gently transition back to your day.

Do you have suggestions for finding stillness when you don’t have time for a retreat or even a daily home practice?

Please share your ideas below!

Posted on April 22, 2014 .

The Staying Power of Self-Care

It’s been a long day.  You’re overtired, undernourished and running late.  You walk into the house and you’re confronted with an unsavory scene: the dishwasher has overflowed, the kids’ clothes and snacks are all over the floor and your neighbor left you a nasty note about the dog.  Again. 

Depending on how full your tank is, you respond in two different ways.

In scenario #1 you started your day with a quiet slice of solitude, did some breathing and yoga, then embarked on the morning calmly and clearly.  You have a practice of taking breaks while you work.  Your daily routine includes regular self-care activities and your calendar is marked with days designated “me”. 

So when you come home tonight, you take a deep breath, register your annoyance and deal with the chaos in your house.

In scenario #2 you were tapped out before you arrived at the door.  Your morning was just like all the mornings before it – a mad dash of packing lunches, feeding animals and managing tasks.  You can’t remember the last time you took a yoga class or sat quietly or read a novel. You were given a gift certificate to the Korean spa, and hope to get there before it expires.  Your weekends are as fully scheduled with family activities as your weeknights are. 

When you see the mess in your home, you explode.  You can’t imagine how you will find the strength to deal with the aftermath.  You want to run away.

Which scenario feels most familiar to you, #1 or #2?

The staying power of self-care.

Self-care is the fuel in your tank that enables you to move from surviving your life, to thriving within it.  Your resilience and your creativity are directly impacted by how well you are cared for in the unique ways only you know.  As you’ve most likely experienced, a well-nourished woman is capable of so much more than one who is depleted.

You know that in order to function you must have adequate sleep, water, food and shelter.  Yet you also have additional self-care needs that nourish and sustain you. You may require solitude or you might crave connection with others.  You might need creativity or you may need learning.  Perhaps you need to tend to your body or maybe tending to your spirit feels more important.

Self-care is at least as important as tending to your family, your work, and your home.  Yet you put yourself last, hoping to “find the time” to turn to yourself when all the rest of it has been done.

The time isn’t out there to be found; it’s your job to claim it.  And if you don’t, no one will give it to you.

Taking care of yourself – mind, body and soul – has both an immediate effect and a longer term impact. 
In the doing of it – whatever “it” is for you --, you feel relaxed, energized, restored, rejuvenated.  If only our brains would remind us of this when we’re tempted to put off the me-time yet again!

When self-care is a non-negotiable part of your day/week/month, you are able to face the inevitable challenges and uncertainties of life with greater ease and resourcefulness.  You’re able to be present with what is, rather than overwhelmed by it.

Let’s hear from you.  How much do you prioritize self-care in your life?  What does self-care look like for you?  How do you know when your fuel tank is running low?

Posted on April 8, 2014 .