Our lovely teacher Rachel Woolhouse talks about being still and taking time out. Rachel is running a Yoga, Pranayama and Meditation mini-retreat on Sunday 30th April.

When I make time for stillness, it’s as if I press a reset button on my mind. There’s a feeling of lightness, literally a physical feeling. It’s as if I’ve offloaded some of my accumulated mental debris, as though the residue of negative thinking were a layer of dead skin that I have started to shed. Bit of a gross example, I know, but that’s what springs to mind. The result is a kind of mental freshness and a renewed sense of emotional resilience.

So How Come We Don’t Make Much Time for Stillness?

In my experience, I find three main reasons why I don’t make time for stillness, but fortunately for each obstacle there is a workaround:

  1. Feeling like there is something else we should be doing

For me this is the main one. I know the benefit I get even from a short period of sitting still. And yet there always seems to be something so pressing that I feel I can’t spend that time being still and allowing myself to do nothing.

The List is Endless

To allow ourselves time for stillness, we have to accept the simple fact that in life there will always be that list of to dos and if we waited until they were all done, we might never do any of things that bring us joy in life. If we are honest with ourselves, we know many of the things on our list can wait until tomorrow, and of the 1440 minutes each day we can always spare a few minutes for a time-out.

The Gains Are High

The other side of the coin is to remind ourselves how much we will benefit from a brief encounter with stillness. If you have ever been on a retreat, or spent a period of time settling into stillness in meditation, you will know that this has the potential to have a profoundly positive effect on your being.

I remember with deep gratitude the first time I did a silent meditation retreat, (or pretty silent, it was in India, where silent spots are hard to come by). A few days in, as I began to experience periods of inner peace, there was this feeling of coming home, it was sort of as though I recognised this was my natural effortless state underlying the mental chatter.

  1. ‘Compulsive doing’

Another reason for not being still – ‘compulsive doing’ is quite a common experience for me and so I’m sure I’m not the only one. Maybe you’re saying to yourself, ‘that’s just the same as last point,’ but that doesn’t feel like the case to me. Sometimes I’m doing things which are not necessarily important, but actually it strangely feels like I have to keep doing ‘stuff’, as if my world would somehow stop functioning if I let myself just stop.

5 Minutes of Stillness

The most effective way I’ve found to get out of the habit of ‘compulsive doing’ is to make a deal with myself that I will stop once an hour, set a timer for five minutes to sit still, close my eyes and do nothing. This is my tactic when I’m at home on my day off, (you might get into trouble if you did it at your desk in an office).

I think the reason it’s effective is that just by stopping whatever I’m doing, be it cleaning the bathroom, admin work or flicking through a magazine, I acknowledge that anything I’m doing can easily be put on hold for five minutes.

  1. Not Wanting to Be With the Contents of Our Minds

Perhaps for many people, this is the main obstacle. In our busy lives, we’re so used to being kept occupied, checking messages every time we have a spare minute, that we often spend long periods not really allowing ourselves to tune into the various currents of thought and dramas being played out in our heads.

It’s perhaps a fear of acknowledging the significance and potential consequences of our thoughts. Perhaps if we listened to those underlying thoughts they would want to stir up change in our lives and for most of us, change feels scary. Hence we keep ourselves busy, so we don’t have to fully listen to our inner voice.

Ignoring a Problem Won’t Resolve It

If you look in the fridge and happen to glimpse something that looks like it’s past it, do you pretend you didn’t see it and leave it in the fridge to fester? Hopefully, no. You see it, you chuck it out. But to me it seems like in the fridge of our mind we see those things festering and instead of doing something about it, we just choose to pretend they’re not there.

Meditation, the most obvious stillness practice, to me is a way of looking at our ‘stuff’. The longer we sit the more we notice those ‘mouldy’ contents and by acknowledging their presence and trying to keep a balanced quality to the mind as these things arise in our experience, they start to lose some of their power.

Retreat to Stillness

A retreat, however short, is a great entry point into stillness, as we are removed for a short period from the responsibilities of our daily lives and we commit to spending time looking after ourselves, looking after our body, our mind, our whole being. And although we have to sacrifice some time, the after-effect of a retreat is noticeable as we return to daily life with a quality of ease.