Author: Shoshana Belisle, MSW, MA, RYT, Namaste Wellness Advisor and Director of Wellness Research
When was the last time you gave yourself permission to sit in quiet solitude with an agenda to do nothing? Many people consider this to be an absolute indulgence. For some, it is a radical act. Is this true for you?
Our modern lives inundate us with sounds, sights, and stimulation, and leave little room for silence and stillness. We are over-extended and under-rested, and the result is that we often exist blindly in a state of chronic stress, unable to integrate the vast input of daily life. We become so accustomed to this experience of stress that it resides below the surface of awareness, insidiously undermining our capacity to live in peace and feel truly well. The gift of simple joy and ease often eludes us due to the frenetic nature of what is now considered “normal” life. Unfortunately, our human bodies were not designed to withstand this type of ongoing stress, hence the long list of stress-related illnesses common in our developed world.
Certain times of the year are notoriously more stressful than others. While the holidays offer so much to be celebrated, including valuable time with friends with family, research has found that more people feel more stressed rather than less stressed during the holiday season. This may be due to the weight of either explicit or implicit expectations. Family obligations, financial pressures, and mounting commercialism often detract from what is meant to be a joyful time of year. The challenge is so pressing that the American Psychological Association extends support to help us strategize ways to make the most of the holiday season. They propose, for example, that self-care could include quiet reflection, a long walk, reading, being mindful, listening to music, or perhaps taking time out for a massage.
However, amidst the busy-ness and commercialism that surrounds us, an inner voice may remind you to return to the true intent of the season: to cultivate light during the year’s darkest nights.
This weekend we acknowledge the power of the Winter Solstice - the pivotal moment when the darkening days reach their apex and pivot again toward a slow and steady brightening. How appropriate that our holidays are embedded in this season that has us lean in toward reflection and contemplation. The holidays occur during the cold winter season, which has historically necessitated a reliance upon one another for nourishment, sustenance, warmth, and comfort. Quite literally, we are drawn to gather around warm food, glowing firelight, and the comfort of friends and family in order to survive and thrive. Our instinct to hibernate creates a gravitational pull toward togetherness, conservation, and stillness. Yet modern demands of the holiday season distract us from this very basic aspect of the sacred time.
Namaste’s foundational wellness model is built upon the Four Pillars: Movement, Stillness, Nourishment, and Touch. Our ambitious clients often excel in many domains but find the pillar of Stillness most challenging to integrate. However, during the Winter Solstice and holiday season, it may be our most pressing need. Creating space for pause and reflection may be the single ingredient most needed for full actualization. When was the last time you allowed yourself a moment to breathe without any particular goal or objective occupying your mind? When did you last allow yourself to simply BE with no need to do anything?
The Pillar of Stillness includes overt contemplative practices such as prayer, meditation, and mindfulness. It also includes subtler forms of quiet such as journaling, listening to music, gazing at the stars, daydreaming, or quietly appreciating a mindful meal.
Stillness is an essential state of being. It is fundamental to a balanced and healthy life. As Ryan Holliday describes in Stillness is the Key, stillness means “to be steady while the world spins around you. To act without frenzy. To hear only what needs to be heard. To possess quietude—exterior and interior—on command. “
As we head deeper into the holiday season, take a pause during the Winter Solstice, and ask yourself what you can do to honor the importance of stillness and silence. Practices such as meditation are essential for our mental, physical and emotional health. They give our minds an opportunity to digest and integrate the extensive input of modern life. In Silence, renowned Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh asserts that we must “digest” all of our sensory food (everything we see, smell, touch, taste, and hear) even beyond the time it takes us to “consume” it. It takes energy and time to digest all of this information. Quiet provides an opportunity for integration, growth, expansion, and transformation. Just like muscles need sleep to recover from exercise in order to get stronger, our minds and spirits need rest to mature, learn, heal, and wisen.
Here are tools to consider as part of a Solstice Stillness Practice:
Put aside your work and sit for 10 minutes of mindful breathing - simply observing your inhalations and exhalations without judgment. Retreat mentally from the world around you and draw your attention inward toward the simple yet powerful act of breathing.
Choose a relaxing piece of music. Sit and listen without multitasking. Notice the nuances and let yourself become absorbed.
Savor a cup of fragrant tea or soup and notice all of its flavors and aromas.
Take a walk alone with no goal of arriving anywhere but in the here and now.
Surrender into a warm bath with a few drops of pure aromatherapy oils such as lavender, ylang-ylang or clary sage. Or diffuse soothing aromatherapy oils before bed and give yourself time to rest, unwind, and practice deep breathing.
Journal long-hand for 20 minutes, reflecting on things for which you are grateful. Ryan Holiday considers journaling to be “spiritual windshield wipers.”
Consider a mantra meditation practice using a word or phrase that inspires peace. Repeat it silently in your mind to help anchor your thoughts and prevent wandering or rumination. When the mind wanders simply return to the mantra.
Try a guided restorative yoga practice with a Namaste teacher or use an app or streaming source such as Gaia.com.
Consider individualized in-home meditation instruction with a Namaste meditation instructor.
Take a moment to sink into the stunning documentary In Pursuit of Silence for a bit of inspiration regarding our need for silence and stillness.
If you can find time for nothing else, simply pause and take a deep breath.
Stillness is not a luxury. It is a basic human need, and one for which most of us are starved.
Your Namaste wellness advisor is happy to partner with you in creating a customized stillness practice that fits your life and meets your individual needs. A stillness practice provides relief when life becomes too demanding. Nourish yourself - especially now - with the gift of quiet.
You may find that doing nothing is the best thing you can do.