Cultivating Stillness

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This is a part of The Cultivate Project. A once a month project where I explore mindsets and practices we can cultivate and nurture to bring more care to ourselves and others.

For a short time the Stillness collection is available as an art print or notebooks or sketchbooks. But they are only available until December, 14th 2021. After that I’ll move on to the next month’s cultivation project.

Cultivating Stillness

"Without silence and solitude with God, said Norwen, we remain unconvinced of our worth. Instead we live each day striving for affirmation, praise, and success. Rather than being set free to love others, we will be endlessly seeking to prove our own value."

With - Skye Jethani

I am really excited about the cultivation project this month as we focus on Stillness. It’s probably my favorite way to cultivate self care and one that in the past couple of months I haven’t been great at. So, I want and need to get back into the regular, daily habit of stillness and I hope you take the month of January to do the same. January is also a time where everyone has decided to set new goals and start achieving more in every area of their lives. But I want to challenge you for the month of January to set aside all the new practices you are piling on yourself. Instead begin cultivating stillness. Be quiet and listen within before embarking on new things.

When I first tried to sit still in silence without distraction, I sat down on a chair, pulled my legs up under men, got a soft pillow and sat there. I blinked a few times, then in a huff I stood up and distractedly starting pilfering at my desk and straightening up the room. Then I realized what I was doing so I moved to the dining table and tried there. I had a little more luck but still I felt like I couldn’t sit still. It was difficult and boring and horrible because all I could do was think of all the other things I should be doing in that moment. 

Worst of all, as I kept trying it if I only sat in silence for 10 minutes it began to dredge up thoughts I didn’t want. Thoughts where I beat myself up or second guessed things, or just berated myself for sitting there while many things were left undone (my to do list was needlessly but extraordinarily long). And all I could think was how do people do this? This definitely isn’t for me. I’m type A (at least I believed I was) and type As don’t do this. I was so wrong. Type As need stillness more than anyone.

So I tried it and stopped for several years, knowing there might be something there but unsure of how to do it and how to make it work for me. Then in a major transition in my life, a time where I knew I needed to look inward I was gifted a book, With by Skye Jethani, and recommended another book, The Untethered Soul by Michael Singer, and both became important in helping me learn how to do this and be ok in the stillness. I don’t take it lightly that they came at the same time, and during such a moment when I needed them.

Benefits

Before I get into the practice, I wanted to talk a little bit about the benefits, why we need stillness in our lives. These are things I’ve personally seen as a result of cultivating a daily stillness practice. Even though it was super hard at first, I made it a habit and found reasons to keep it up.

First, there is a discovery of who you are. And I mean really who you are without the ego. And you begin to love that person because there is only room for love when the ego is no longer present. There is no judgement, there is no regret, no second guessing. It is in the stillness where I was able to get past my ego and discover my purpose. It is where I go still to remind myself of my purpose.

Second, you discover what you actually want, what makes you truly happy. When you learn to weed out the ego during the quiet time, you learn what is also making you unhappy through expectations and things you should do according to the rest of the world or what your ego has dictated to you. Then when you sit in stillness without the ego, you feel what brings you joy. Your ego wants control and sitting in stillness without the ego requires releasing control and here things often can look different.  Michael Singer says in the Untethered Soul “Your definition of desirable and undesirable as well as good and bad all come about because you have defined how things need to be in order for you to be ok.” But relinquishing control in that moment allows other possibilities to surface. Life’s purpose is not associated with external concerns and we cannot get to the purpose of our lives without going to the internal.

You also begin to recognize the difference between working in your purpose and working for validation. You don’t matter because of what you are accomplishing, how you live, or the goals that drive you. You are not able to control all of these things all of the time. And when they fail we feel chaos. And in that chaos we feel like failures.  However, when we live in our purpose we live with God and with that comes understanding that we do not have control. So we let go and no longer strive for complete control, knowing as long as we are in our purpose we are fulfilled. This is what living without fear looks like.

Third, practicing stillness creates a sense of peace you can carry throughout the day. It is the main reason I like practicing this every single day. You may find you only need to practice it once a week. But the peace I feel after sitting through stillness is worth a daily practice for me. Even when things in my life go wrong or I feel like I dropped the ball somewhere, I still have peace walking through it if I keep cultivating this practice in my life.

Fourth, you learn to daydream again. Did you daydream as a kid? I’m sure you did, but do you still do it? I mean really do it, using your imagination and not just a this would be nice if.

When you cultivate stillness you begin to know yourself and what truly makes you happy which leads to dreaming up what ifs, things that would make you spectacularly happy. You begin to think, in 10 years I’d love to be doing this, or in 20 years I want to be here. And yes, some of them may fall to the wayside but others may stick and then you find yourself working towards a goal.

"You see that you are too self-conscious to freely express yourself."

Michael Singer - The Untethered Soul

How

Ok, you say – I’m convinced but I’ve tried even just sitting still for 5 minutes and it is hard. And I have to agree, at first it’s challenging but that’s why we have to cultivate it. Be kind to it, starting out small but being consistent, and discovering what works for you. This is why I call it cultivating rather than practicing. I used to coach athletes in practice – they had to do the workout I gave them everyday. This is not practice, it is cultivation  – more like growing a plant that needs gentle attention.

Why is it so challenging though?

Right now, as of writing this, we are in a time of a lot of noise, more than the usual noise we get daily. And it’s often difficult to shut this noise out, and worse, we often feel we need to listen and often act on the noise. These outside distractions make it difficult, especially if you fear missing out on something. If so, put it aside, most likely it can wait.

Worse for me was not the noise from the outside world but the noise in my own mind. It is just as or more problematic. It can often cause more anxiety, more agitated, and allows more negative thinking. Learning to control this thinking was key for me to recognize it and let it go. I’ll be going into practices that help with our own negative thinking in later months, but the morning pages that Julia Cameron suggests in her book The Artist’s Way is a beginning step.

Sitting in stillness is also made difficult because we may feel it’s useless and there are so many more things we need to get done. So it seems to be a waste of time.

We may get a feeling of restlessness while sitting there. And it may feel uncomfortable and definitely boring. You may sit there and wonder, what now, I must look silly, or I feel silly. You think this isn’t going to work so you hop up and end it.

Finally, we become distracted by something, anything that takes us away. You may even be looking for a distraction to get you out of it. Actually it’s your ego looking for the distraction and making you feel bad for doing nothing but sitting there. Name your ego and tell him to get out of here. And anytime he likes to pipe up (and he usually does) tell him to let you be. We must be able to sit beyond the ego and it takes practice and cultivating the practice to do it.

My practice

Here is what mine typically looks like – and yours can be different, so find a way to make it work for you. Below is how I do it now but it took awhile for me to cultivate how to work it for me. When I started, I actually would read either the Bible or a book that was thought provoking. Then I would sit in silence reflecting on what I read. Many times this relaxed me enough to sit still to go deeper.

Now though, I first sit down and begin by appreciating the moment. I relish the beauty of a new day (because I do this in the morning, night might be better for you). I am grateful for the quiet and I find those things that I am most thankful for in that moment.

Then I begin to clear my mind, to allow everything to exhale. Sometimes, I have to write down things to let them go or I just push thoughts to the side. If there is a thought that keeps needling itself forward, I ask myself why and then begin with that. It is in the whys and the searching for the why that I often find my true self and find clarity.

Once I have an answer or can let go of all the thoughts, I welcome the Holy Spirit by asking prayerfully that my mind and heart be opened to the Holy Spirit today. Then I just sit, knowing I am at my center of being. At times, thoughts occur and I let them go or hold on. It’s simple but it takes practice.

A year or two ago, I created a piece of art that said Be Still. I was thoroughly inspired by a bible verse that was speaking to me at the time. Psalm 46:11 “Be Still, and know that I am God!” It was at a time that I really felt the power of sitting in stillness and I became aware that I had previously taken this verse in a different way. Not necessarily wrong, but not how I viewed it at this point. In the past, I always thought this meant to not move, don’t fight the fights because God will. Don’t move forward until you have a green light  when in fact, it’s the opposite. It’s moving forward but being still enough to listen and hear the directions to take. As I learned to sit in stillness and had built up the ability to sit for an hour joyfully, I discovered that when we are still as he commands us to be we will come into communion with him and know him. We no longer fear the things that can go wrong, we not longer have anxiety over what we can’t control because we know him and we can only know him, truly know him, when we sit in stillness.

With all of this I’ll leave you with the resources I recommend for cultivating stillness and with the new Collection. I hope you make the time to practice stillness

Stillness is the second collection in the Cultivate Project Series. I am offering an art print, calendar and notebooks that say Stillness.

The release of this collection will only be for a 2 week window starting this Friday December 3rd, and I don’t want you to miss it.