This is part 2 of a 2-part post on courageous stillness. To see part 1, click here.
It’s possible to get so ensnared in the inertia of output that it feels impossible to stop. Everything in life is snowballing. There’s “no time” for meditation. Letting go of one ball feels like dropping them all. Not moving at 100 mph feels like completely giving up on being remarkable (“If I don’t keep going, I won’t be testing my limits.”)
Stop, Drop, and Roll
You know how they teach you, in grade school, that when there’s a fire, you need to Stop. Drop. and Roll ? And how you practice that again and again so that it’ll be instinctive in the event of a fire?
When I’ve wound myself up into such a flurry of activity that I’m just outputting my ass off, I need to stop and drop (rolling optional).
I advocate in these cases that you literally just stop and stare into space. I call this “courageous stillness.”
This is scary to do. That’s why it’s courageous to do it.
When one just stops in the midst of all of that flurry, you’re likely to experience an actual physical sensation of fear. Ego knows something’s up. It’s the fear mechanism kicking in, going, “Whoa–you are handling this differently. You’re not yelling at your partner or disconnecting and numbing out. What’s going on?”
So…you stare into space. That’s it. I used to do it by turning off all the lights and watching a lone candle flicker against the wall while listening to music. You could also just sit in your car in a parking lot and watch people. Or you could go to a church and sit in an empty pew. Or you could sit on your porch. Or you could lay on your floor and stare at the ceiling.
You stop. You drop. You just get still.
The next thing that’s likely to happen is some voice will say, “Hey, did you remember to…?” and it’ll be something you’ve forgotten to do five times already, so you tell yourself, “I’ll get up now, because if I don’t I won’t remember that later.”
Don’t get up. Just lay there.
The next thing that’ll happen is some voice will come through and say, “Hey, this would be so much nicer if you put on some music” or “Why don’t you get up and read a book?”
Stop. Lay there.
Just keep laying there. Fall asleep, even. But just lay there.
The next thing that might happen is you start rehashing an argument in your head. Then you’re likely to feel sad. Lay there. Cry. Get up only if the snot situation gets out of hand. Then blow your nose and lay back down.
Often what can happen is that some question you’ve felt really stuck on will arise and the answer will be right there, completely obvious and completely okay. Or you’ll have an insight about your life that feels really true and resonant.
When you do get up–and you’ll know when the time is right, because you’ll actually start to feel like a happy human being again–you’ll have officially done something to input–to give back to yourself.
The Tricky Part is convincing oneself to do it–to sit, get still, and wait, and not get tossed off by the next idea or plan that comes to you. I was always amazed by how many ideas would come to me when I was sitting zazen regularly with a community. I don’t mean that those ideas came to me, later–I mean that I was sitting there, trying to concentrate on my breath and instead wanting to grab a notebook and make notes. It was just distraction; the ideas worth savoring would occur to me off the cushion, as well.
Sometimes when I’m really busy, or one of my coaching clients is really busy, I’ll offer the practice of asking: What would appear in my life if I got still? In essence: What is all of the busy stuff covering up or hiding?
I’ll offer that question to you, now, because there is such enormous benefit in getting still with ourselves and seeing where we’re putting energy into covering up or hiding, especially because sometimes what we’re hiding is our best and brightest selves, the selves who have more patience, compassion, joy, pleasure, passion for living.
Sometimes “doing” isn’t the thing that needs to happen next for us to live big, bold, bright lives. Sometimes–oftentimes–what is needed is getting quiet and still, in whatever way you can.