zenhabits : breathe

find stillness to cure the illness

“Silence is a source of great strength.” ~Lao Tzu

Post written by Leo Babauta. Follow me on twitter .

It’s a busy day, and you’re inundated by non-stop emails, text messages, phone calls, instant message requests, notifications, interruptions of all kinds.

The noise of the world is a dull roar that pervades every second of your life. It’s a rush of activity, a drain on your energy, a pull on your attention, until you no longer have the energy to pay attention or take action.

It’s an illness, this noise, this rush. It can literally make us sick. We become stressed, depressed, fat, burnt out, slain by the slings and arrows of technology.

The cure is simple: it’s stillness.

Pause

Take a minute out of your busy day to do this little exercise: pause in the middle of all you have to do, all that’s going on around you. Close your eyes, and sit still. Breathe in, and breathe out, and pay attention to your breath as it comes in and goes out. Just sit still, for about a minute.

This stillness might seem like inaction, which we’re taught is a bad thing. It’s lazy, it’s passive, it’s against our Puritan work ethic. And yet, this simple inaction can change our world.

Stillness calms us. It gives us a small oasis of quiet that allows us to hear our thoughts, that allows us to catch our breath, that gives us room to breathe at all. It is the antibody to the stress and rush we feel daily.

“Activity conquers cold, but stillness conquers heat.” ~Lao Tzu

The Strength of Stillness

Stillness has a calming effect on the world around us as well. By becoming still, we cause others to pause, to pay attention. Our quiet also quiets others. We set the mood for those who work and otherwise interact with us.

When we rush and set a frenetic pace, it stresses others and inspires them to rush frenetically too. Stillness has the opposite effect. It slows the world down, allows us to focus, gives us time for contemplation, for what matters most.

It takes strength to be still when others rush. It takes courage to be different, to go against the stream. But while others might think us weird at first, that’s OK. Sometimes it’s the weird ones that make the most difference. And soon, as our stillness inspires others to find stillness of their own, we won’t be the weird ones — we’ll be the ones with wisdom.

It takes strength to find stillness when the world around us is a chaos of activity, but it’s a strength that’s in us, and we need only to find it. Paradoxically, it’s stillness that will allow us to find that strength. Be still, look within, and it’ll be there.

Finding Stillness

It’s pretty simple, really, and you don’t need me to tell you to do this: to find stillness, you just need to take the time to sit still, every day that you can.

Find a time in the morning, when the world is still fairly quiet, to sit still. Don’t do anything, don’t plan your day, don’t check email, don’t eat. Just sit, and learn to be comfortable being still.

In practice, we’ll gradually find that comfort, and we’ll become good at it. If mornings are no good, find time during your lunch break, or after work, or just before you go to bed.

Find a place to be still. It can be a chair in your house, or a front porch, or the roof. It can be a park bench, or the beach, or a path in the woods. Let this be a ritual that you come to look forward to.

From this small place of stillness, calm will carry to the rest of your day, radiating like a soothing force. You’ll be calmer throughout the day, and learn to find little pockets of stillness everywhere: when you first start your workday, when you are ready to sit down and create, when you’re about to eat, when you are ready to exercise, during a meeting, even.

Practice, regularly. Practice, and learn. Practice stillness, and the stillness becomes a canvas upon which you can paint the masterpiece of your life.

“Let us be silent, that we may hear the whispers of the gods.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson


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