When I look around it seems clear to me that we live in a very noisy world, one where our senses are assailed constantly on a physical level. From the traffic on the roads to the thumping music and loud voices in many of our malls, streets, shops and sometimes our homes, there are very few places left where there is any sense of stillness. But right now, it seems to me that the world is ‘noisier’ than ever, but in a slightly different way!
Noise is probably a strange way to describe the chaos that is being stirred up by the pandemic named Covid-19, but this is what it feels like to me. As a result of many of us having been brought to a halt, with our lives and many of our freedoms temporarily being placed on hold, the noise in our towns, on our roads and in our skies might be a lot quieter than usual but the ‘noise’ spewing forth from the internet, and other media outlets, is making up for it, with the myriad of messages often confusing and scaring people, especially those of us who are older and considered to be in the vulnerable bracket. So, what happens to our bodies and our minds when we are assaulted by this noise, in fact, any noise? And what can we do to not begin to breathe in the chaos that is swirling around us, at any time and at any age? For me, there is one proven and amazingly simple answer – stop and connect to the stillness within. So how do we do that I hear you ask?
Over the last 10 years, I have finally come to access a deeper understanding of the true meaning of stillness, and it is quite different from what I had always considered it to be. Previously stillness had simply meant a lack of movement – coming to a stop – and a lack of sound and I feel that most would have the same description of this word.
But, from the commitment I have made to get to know my body and me more deeply than I have ever done, to understand how I move through my life and how I interact with others I have also come to understand stillness, and in doing so my life has changed in so many wonderful ways, changes which are now supporting me as I age. I have come to understand without a shadow of a doubt that stillness is not, in the first instance, something that is outside of me, it is actually something that comes from within; a natural part of me. And no matter where I am or what I am doing, I can make the choice to stop, breathe my own breath and connect to my body and the stillness within.
For most of my life, my connection to my body and therefore to this inner stillness was absent. And I can also see that often I would look for it outside of me, mostly in nature. I realise now, that when I would sit in the early morning sun, or stop to gaze in wonder at the stars at night, I may have been surrounded by the stillness that nature endlessly offers us, but within me, there was often a constant turmoil. Maybe there were no obvious sounds from this inner turmoil affecting the stillness around me, but I can see so clearly that my body, my life, and the lives of those around me, were being affected by it in every moment.
Then there were the endless times when I would stop and lie down to rest, but while I was physically stopped, as in not moving my body, my mind would still be chattering away to me, replaying my day, my most recent disaster and even worrying about what may come next to rock my world. So, I may have stopped what I was doing and instead be sitting or lying down but inside of me was a world of buzzing activity which seeped into every cell in my body, and when I finally got up I began to move with this ‘buzz’. There was definitely no stillness in any version of the word.
But all that started to change when I began to get to know my body. Only then did I finally acknowledge the tension that I had lived with for so long; the tight jaw, the hunched shoulders, the anxious knot in my stomach, the stiff neck; the list goes on. I remember that it was not much fun living like this but at that stage of my life, I really did not know how to start to make a change, how to live any other way, so, I continued to make the same life choices and not surprisingly, nothing changed.
Then one day in my 50’s I was introduced to a very simple and very gentle meditation, not like the numerous ones I had done in the past where I wandered off along a winding path, past a shimmering lake or up a mountain track, past chippering birds and delicate butterflies, but one that with each breath connected me to my body. It was so simple, but at the same time, it was so profound, and it made so much sense!
Even though it was 15 years ago, I can still remember taking that first gentle breath in through the tip of my nose, and then a few seconds later becoming aware of the delicate warmth as I breathed out through my nose. With each breath, I could feel myself sink a little further into my body and as I did, I became aware of so many points of tension, and in some parts, actual pain. But this time I did not want to run away from these feelings as I may have done in the past, instead, I chose to sit with them and continued to focus on my breathing. And with the honest acknowledgement of how I was feeling, I was able to surrender to what was unfolding, slowly building a beautiful rhythm of the in-breath and the out-breath, and as I did my body began to relax, letting go of whatever I had been holding onto, without any need to know what it was.
I know now that that was probably the first time in my life that I was breathing for me – my breath – and not in reaction to the tension, the dramas of my life and the chaos of the world around me. And it had taken 55 years to do so!
I may have only been doing this meditation for 5 – 6 minutes but when I finally opened my eyes, I felt like I had been resting for hours. I also had a sense of something around me and within me, a feeling that felt so familiar but at the same time something I could not remember experiencing in this life. This, I finally came to know as true stillness.
To me, this stillness feels like being held in the warmest, loving hug and with it comes a deep and revealing sense of clarity. It is like everything inside me stops and waits for me to catch up. There is no racing into the future and no wallowing in the past with all the accompanying ‘what if‘s’. There is just the simplicity of being consciously present with myself and my body, a body that for a long time I was usually trying to ignore or run away from, but now want to stay with so I can get to know it a whole lot more intimately, and that makes so much sense, as after all it is my ‘vehicle’ for the rest of this life.
And as I stop writing for a moment, close my eyes very delicately and take a gentle breath in and out through the tip of my nose, there is that stillness once more, in fact, it is never gone. It is only me making the choice to let the disruptions – the noise of life – intrude, and in doing so, I disconnect from who I/we naturally are. So, why would we choose to disconnect from something that is simply a natural part of us and an exceptionally beautiful part at that? It does not make sense in any shape or form, but it is still something that many of us do for so much of the time.
I have come to know that no matter where I am, no matter what I am doing and no matter how noisy it is around me in any given moment, I can still pause, reconnect to my breath and focus on the quality of my in-breath and out-breath for a few moments, checking in with my body, and re-connecting to the stillness within. And I don’t have to remove myself from the noisy world to find a quiet space, as that quiet space I may be seeking is always within me, a constant in my life.
My commitment to building this foundation of stillness, one which supports me to be deeply present with myself in life, continues. It is an endless work in progress -without perfection – and the opportunity is forever being offered to go even deeper. And as I choose to make this self-loving choice and in the process get to know my inner stillness, even more, I am observing that my awareness of everything within me, everything I am doing and my awareness of everyone and everything around me, is growing as well. I have come to understand that the healing ripples of stillness flow far and wide, out into a world that is, more often than not, very noisy.