When you look back to the great wisdom of the ancients, you will find one common theme. They all promote stillness or their version of quiet time as a route to peace, tranquillity and elite performance.
The title of Ryan Holidays latest book says it all: “Stillness is the key”
In his book, Holiday sums it up perfectly, “When basically all the wisdom of the ancient world agrees on something, only a fool would decline to listen.”
Unfortunately, I fear that mindfulness has dominated stillness to the point that most people know about mindfulness but barely anyone has a regular practice. So they leave disappointed that they can’t do it. But throw the baby out with the bathwater.
It’s not mindfulness that this magical thing we need to master. Its just stillness that we need to find, and we can all without exception bring stillness in our lives.
For years I struggled with ‘mindfulness and mediation’ because I was preoccupied with whether I was doing it right or wrong. When I could not feel any difference to my mind, I assumed I was doing it wrong and gave up. But I had totally missed the point.
Mindfulness is just a label and technique for creating pockets of stillness. Mindfulness is really a way to bring your focus to the present moment that’s it.
If we forget the label mindfulness for a minute and I were to ask you have you ever found yourself totally absorbed in the moment as you watched the world go by?
Or perhaps you have been in the garden or park and transfixed by nature for a fleeting moment?
It could be that like many others you have sensed a total absorption in the present moment while playing a sport or taking part in a hobby?
All of these activities can lock you into the present moment and create stillness, flow, or mindfulness. It does not matter what it’s called, what matters is that you cultivate these moments in your life and don’t get distracted by labels and like me, whether you are doing it wrong or right.
It’s just being present in the moment that’s it. And you can get there many different ways.
So you don’t need a label, fancy cushions or a cloud to find stillness - its everywhere even in the chaos.
The moment you bring your focus into the present moment you are in stillness. This could be while running, walking the dog, painting, watching your children play, drinking a cup of tea, gardening, brushing your teeth…. The list goes on forever.
Mindfulness or stillness can also be incredibly active and is really a way of describing the sensation of being locked into the present moment, which often happens when we find flow.
Flow is what athletes describe as being in the zone. Those moments when time seems to disappear, emotion fades and you are totally engrossed in the game.
A great friend of mine Emma Prideaux is an elite runner and she once said to me, there is no way I can do mindfulness, I can’t sit still. So I asked her, how did she feel during her long training runs? Instantly she smiled and described long periods where she felt at peace, not really thinking, just moving, feeling totally alive. This, I explained, is stillness or mindfulness. So Emma did not need to sit still, she was finding hours of stillness every day while running!
You can even cultivate great stillness in the most pressurised moments, in fact, I would argue the greats have the ability to do exactly this. Whether they are making a business decision that could save jobs, taking a penalty, or dealing with a family crisis. In moments of stillness or present moment focus, we remove the noise of the future and the past. There is an opportunity to be fully present with whatever is there for us in the moment. This is stillness. And this is why throughout history and back in deep time, and the wisdom of the great religions, thinkers embrace stillness, pray, quiet time, inner peace, mindfulness of whatever you want to call it as a vital nutrient of a vibrant life.
So you don’t need the perfect conditions or absolute silence - you just need some time and an activity that helps you focus on the present moment.
And there are no rights or wrongs, it’s just stillness with a present moment focus - that’s it.
During these uncertain times it’s more important than ever to build stillness into your day. This might be active stillness such as gardening or finding the zone while running or it might be while sitting with a cup of tea in the garden. Or you might perform a meditation. All routes lead to the same place - an oasis of calm amongst the chaos of life. As Holiday suggests we should also venerate stillness, “as the key to elite performance and a happy life”
Here’s a suggestion for today:
If you don’t plan it - you will forget. Life will get in the way. Schedule some time for stillness today.
It might be a cup of tea at 11 am in the garden or a 10-minute Headspace app meditation at 7 am in the morning.
Let me know how you created stillness in your life today?
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