Tolerating Stillness

It’s like clockwork.  Nearly every time I tell people I teach mindfulness and meditation, they respond looking inspired while at the same time saying… “I could never sit still that long” or “I’ve tried it but I just can’t get my mind to stop.”  And every time, I say to them… “that’s what I thought too! and… that’s really not what it’s about at all”.  It is a common misconception that in order to be mindful or practice meditation that we need to already have the qualities that (over time) meditation can bring us.  I had a serious case of monkey mind when I found meditation.  My mind felt like it was driving on 10 different freeways at once - all colliding in an anxious jumbled mess.  My body felt like a kettle boiling over when I sat still.  

Mindfulness is about observing, in the present moment, with as little judgment as possible, what is happening.  With that said, it doesn’t mean… sitting still and beating ourselves up because we think we should be able to just sit there calmly without a thought or care in the world.  A mindful moment in that situation might be like this: observing the experience, naming silently to ourselves: “sitting.  restless.  uncomfortable.  pressure.  breathing in.  expanding ribs.  breathing out.  thoughts:  this is boring, did I forget to turn my stove off?  oh, I can’t forget to drop those things off at the neighbor’s house later.  oh!  thinking, I’m thinking.  back to the breath and body.  in. out.  pressure on soles of feet.  seat sinking into chair”.   Now, you get the idea.  

Our thoughts don’t stop.  We have a human mind that is very smart and it thinks… that’s its function.  The task of mindfulness isn’t to stop it.  It’s to get some distance from it so that our thoughts just think on their own and we don’t have to be held captive by them.  We have enough distance from them as an objective observer that we can notice the thoughts and make a choice as to whether or not we would like to believe the thought or take action on the thought. 

As for sitting still, we can be mindful doing every activity.  So, it isn’t necessary to sit perfectly still in order to become mindful.  If it is really difficult to sit still, the important thing is to notice the impulse and desire to move without judging it or telling ourselves some story about how we “should be” doing something else.  Then, we can make a choice if we are moving because we’re looking for a distraction and we’re uncomfortable hanging out with a little discomfort.  Or, we might really need to move.  In that case, we move mindfully, feeling every part of the movement.  It is not uncommon to have someone who struggles with restlessness and focus sit on a yoga ball during a period of meditation.  That way they can simply study those subtle movements and also be soothed by them.  You might try that at home.

We spend our lives seeking comfort and avoiding or pushing away discomfort.  Making it a practice to sit more still and experience a little of the mental and physical discomfort that arises with the intention of sitting through it with kindness and curiosity can open up a whole world of being able to be with uncomfortable situations and emotional experiences in the rest of life.  If we simply label it as unpleasant or uncomfortable, we don’t have to also attach to it that it’s bad or scary.  Our minds love to create stories around everything, with mindfulness and meditation, it helps to start questioning those stories and simply see what is actually, truly there.  Just some body tension, a feeling of pulling in, rigid breath and thoughts that pop up in response to that (or vice versa).  

Over time, when practiced consistently, we naturally begin to grow our tolerance of stillness and silence.  And, if nothing else, we grow our acceptance of experiences as they are instead of beating ourselves up trying to push ourselves into having an experience we think we’re supposed to be having instead of allowing ourselves to simply “be” where we’re at in any given moment.  It is a beautiful antidote to the non-stop striving and efforting so many of us put on ourselves day in and day out.  When we allow ourselves to be as we are, there are infinite possibilities for joy, connection and authenticity.  Give it a try.  Start with just 5 minutes a day.  Listen to my guided Mindfulness 101 audio tracks or find a local class to give you some direction and notice what begins to unfold in your life.  Or if you’re feeling extra inspired, come check out my Metta: Fierce Heart Retreat for women in April (sorry guys… they’ll be one for male identified folks soon too!).  Most of all… find some time in a way that works for you to let that monkey mind settle and come home to your body and heart with ease and as much acceptance as possible in every moment.