Stillness (n.) 1.) silence; quiet; hush, 2.) the absence of motion. Courageous stillness? The courage it requires to get…into the silence, the quiet, the hush amid our busy-busy-go-go world.

Sometimes, I’ve had just about enough of the exhortations for me to “be remarkable” or “connect” or “test my limits” or “expand.” I used to think that I was weak when I hit these places; if I could see where I was limited, where through my own carelessness I might cause someone else pain by not practicing patience or kind speech or the intricate work of resolving a conflict, didn’t I need to work harder? To be remarkable, connect, test the limits, expand? Isn’t that what life is all about?

But now I get the critical component: our lives are comprised of a series of inputs and outputs. In the same way that it’s impossible to breathe without both the inhale and the exhale, we need input and output.

Input/Output Theory

So here’s my theory: In any given day, we do things that are input (rejuvenating, fulfilling, uplifting, restful), or output (giving, being of service, doing work that is about input for someone or something else). The challenge arises when there isn’t enough input, or when things that are normally input become “output, disguised.”

Most of us are familiar with and talk about the times when there isn’t enough input. “I need to meditate,” we say. “I need to do more yoga…take a vacation…get more present…study Italian…spend more time with my partner…take time for coffee…”

And all of that might be true.

What might be truer is that someone does all of that, and doesn’t feel any real, lasting relief. When that surfaces, it’s usually because input has become output.

  • The meditation practice becomes more about identifying as “A good person who meditates” than it is about presence in daily life.
  • The yoga becomes about being able to say “I went to yoga, today!”
  • The vacation becomes a series of micromanaging each day, or outputting in the form of fretting–because you “can’t relax” or “should be more relaxed.”
  • Getting more present becomes needing to read a book on getting present (which is a task, a to-do list item).

In essence, it’s all about how we carry it. We can do things in our lives with the Story that we are resting, inputting, rejuvenating, or we can do things with the Story that “this needs to be done”–which automatically puts it into the land of “output,” even if it’s traditionally an “input” type of activity.


When input becomes output, I feel the pull of “Ugh, one more thing to do.” At those times, studying Italian is not fun, it’s work. Meditating is not what I do for peace, it’s what I do to be “good enough.” The shoulds rise up. I should be more, I should feel, I should be, or I shouldn’t feel so, I shouldn’t be so…

Keep an ear tuned for the “shoulds”–first big clue.

Want more? Read Courageous Stillness part two.

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