"If you’re too busy to sit still for 10 minutes, you need to sit still for an hour." - Zen proverb
Does the idea of sitting still for an entire hour immediately freak you out? Hold on then! We won’t go that fast.
But please stay open and let’s explore the meaning and purpose of this radical idea.
Remember, you don’t have be a meditator to sit quietly. Anyone can give it a try and directly experience the benefits for themselves, for example:
- Quiet nourishes your nervous system.
- Quiet helps you let go of unnecessary activity.
- Quiet enhances creativity.
- Quiet turns down the static so you can tap into your intuition and connect with your innermost wisdom.
- Quiet creates space in which you can tune into your body’s messages, averting future problems.
- Quiet allows new solutions to arise so you’ll be able to handle situations differently.
- Quiet promotes spaciousness and humor, so you’ll be less perturbed by all the craziness of modern life. And people, too.
Maybe an hour of quiet wouldn't be so terrible after all!
Why Would You Need An Hour of Quiet?
This is one of those times when I wish I could get into the mind of the original thinker and understand exactly what he or she meant by our starting quote.
Why do you need an hour, if you can’t sit quietly for 10 minutes? Here are five possibilities that come to my mind:
- You’re running on adrenalin. So it will take an hour for your body to calm down.
- You’re plagued by restlessness. You don’t know how to overcome the habit of busyness. You may even be addicted to it. But, beware! You could burn out.
- Your self-esteem depends upon being busy and the external validation you receive as a result.
- You’re afraid to look into yourself. Busyness saves you from this terror.
- Your priorities are messed up. You take the impermanent to be permanent and invest all your time in it with nothing left to spare.
Do any of these touch a chord within you?
Everyone has a different disposition. Some need more stillness than others. Introverts need more quiet than extroverts, for example. But, I’ll go out on a limb and say everyone can benefit from some degree of quiet and stillness in their life, even the madly active extrovert.
Simple Ways to Be Quiet
Don’t worry, you don’t have to steal away for a long retreat. Here are some simple ways you could start learning to be still in your daily life:
- You could sit quietly after a meal to allow for proper digestion.
- You could sit quietly and give your full attention to someone else.
- You could sit quietly in awe and wonder under the night sky.
- You could sit quietly and listen to the sound of rain, surf, or wind.
- You could sit quietly and feel the sensation of warmth on your body or the solidity beneath your feet.
- You could sit quietly in your car while driving. Yes (gasp), that means turning off the radio.
- You could sit quietly and be aware of the rising and falling of your belly as you breath in and out.
If you feel ready to go further, you could try a 5-minute quiet session in the morning and one at night. Once these feel comfortable, you could even try several 5-minute quiet sessions spread throughout your day.
Find a time, pace, and rhythm that works for you.
Quiet Can Be Scary At First
You may be putting your health, peace of mind, and life at risk if you can’t enjoy the pleasure of stillness. But I know, as much as you may want it, quiet and stillness can be scary at first. Even though I’ve done a few quiet retreats, I've always felt resistance and restlessness when I started myself.
That's why it's easier to try a few moments of quiet at a time.
Tendencies like resistance, restlessness, sleepiness, fear, and perfectionism may come up. Respond with a sense of humor instead fixating on them as a problem. In time, these fears and emotions will dissolve so don't take them as solid and real.
The Key to Working with Thoughts
What else can you do with arising thoughts and emotions when you’re trying to sit quietly?
When you attempt to sit quietly, initially it may suddenly seem like you have a million more thoughts than ever before. That’s only because you're probably looking at the activity of your mind for the first time. The temptation to follow them might be very strong at this point and the notion of quiet as impossible as climbing Mt. Everest.
Don’t lose heart!
The key is not to grab a thought and follow it up with more thoughts. Instead, just be aware of thoughts as they move by like a train moving through a train station. You don’t have to catch the train, do you?
Most people believe they are their thoughts and emotions, and that's the main focus of their life. Realize instead there's a pure awareness - ever present - behind all the transitory chatter and clutter of your mind. Rest in this awareness instead of getting caught by the thoughts, emotions, and sensations that occur.
Remember, don't make thoughts the enemy, whether you aim to simply sit quietly or to actually meditate. As Mingyur Rinpoche says:
"Thinking is the natural activity of the mind. Meditation is not about stopping your thoughts. Meditation is simply a process of resting the mind in its natural state, which is open to and naturally aware of thoughts, emotions, and sensations as they occur. The mind is like a river, and, as with a river, there's no point in trying to stop its flow. ...But that doesn't mean you have to be a slave to whatever your mind produces."
Is this easy? No, not at first unless you have beginner’s luck. Your thoughts and emotions will try to pull you every which way.
So another secret is to blend your mindfulness with a relaxed spaciousness and not to take it all too seriously. Choose to be amazed by the random nature and incredible number of thoughts that arise in your mind instead of feeling distress. Key into playful curiosity instead of becoming embroiled in thoughts or chastising yourself when you become distracted. You will lose your awareness time and again. And that's okay because you’re new at this.
When you find yourself distracted - thinking of the future or the past, a problem or a desire - bring the mind back to the present moment. It’s as simple as that! You’ll have to do this hundreds of times to retrain your mind - that’s the heart of mindfulness. Please never reprimand yourself when you become distracted. It’s all part of the ebb and flow of learning to live with greater awareness.
With time, you'll discover the thoughts and emotions get tired of being ignored. So if you stay steadfast in awareness, they will start to dissolve on their own. And that’s when you begin to taste peace and feel an amazing sense of freedom.
When you're able to be still in the present moment and simple be aware of thoughts, emotions, and sensation that is sitting quietly. That is mindfulness. That is meditation.
Dare to be still. Dare to be quiet. See if it makes a difference for you.
Does it make you nervous to sit still? How long can you sit quietly by yourself? I would love to hear.
Thank you for the gift of your time and attention. If you liked this post, please share it with others. And, if you’re new, please consider subscribing for free updates by email and joining me on Facebook. With love, Sandra