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

Most of us have had 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; didn’t I need to work harder? To be remarkable, connect, test the limits, expand? Isn’t that what life is all about?

But in truth, 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 both input and output. Even when it comes to personal development, we need time to push ourselves beyond our resistance and past the point of everything we ever thought we were capable of…and we need time to be utterly, decadently, “lazy” and still, without trying to change a damned thing.

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 the things that would normally be rejuvenating, input kind of activities, end up becoming output, just disguised. So, for instance, meditation (normally an “input” kind of activity) becomes this thing you “have to” do (output). It becomes part of striving to be better. “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…”

All of that might be true–maybe you do need those things–but when they stop providing any rejuvenating, lasting relief, you can be sure that input has turned into output, something striving and exhausting that you have to do-do-do.

Other signs:

  • 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).

Shifting into Courageous Stillness

Shifting into courageous stillness is, in essence, all about how we carry it. The Story that “this needs to be done” often automatically puts things into the land of “output,” even if it’s traditionally an “input” type of activity. For example, telling yourself “I’ve got to meditate or I’ll feel like a bad person!” is a great way to make meditation into a chore rather than something that makes you feel better during periods of stress (!).

Also, when we’re overloaded with long to-do lists, in general, we’re going to feel sucked into that going-going-going energy and it’s hard not to inadvertently apply it to the things designed to help us relax and recover from periods of activity.

And last, shifting into courageous stillness means reckoning with this fact: the more we deplete ourselves, the more it will take to come back to some kind of equilibrium. If you go deeply into financial debt due to over-spending and your accounts are overdrawn, it takes a lot more work to pay off debts and get your accounts back in order, than it would to stop over-spending.

Many of us are “over-spending” so badly with the energy reserves that we have, that it’s no wonder that the things we try to do to fill our well again just don’t “seem to work, anymore.”

Returning to courageous stillness starts with recognizing how we input/output, and where our internal reserves have become overdrawn. Access the body to see where it is that you’ve noticed yourself feeling depleted, and addressing those areas, first. Stop over-committing and be willing to take a look at the bigger picture of your life and your choices.