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October 15, 2021

The (Not so Pretty) Truth behind Stilling the Mind.

 

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“I get so lost in where I want to go, I forget that the place I’m in is already quite magical!” ~ Rupi Kaur

 

Recently, I asked readers about how we can heal psychological and emotional pain and address our “busyness” as a possible trauma response.

There were a few statements in common. One being that for some, slowing down is not helpful and routine is a must. Secondly, slowing down can lead to boredom, overthinking, and suffering.

I used to avoid slowing down myself because I feared an array of things—am I going too slow? Is this laziness? What if I become used to “stillness” and I lose my motivation and speed? As a trainer, I worked with women with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and anxiety, as well as full-time mums and carers—and in the beginning stages, slowing down (breathing during training sessions) bought on anxiety, guilt, panic, and discomfort. 

I am thankful for the comments and through learning from clients, as it allows us to go deeper into the conversation of: How can we define busyness and slowing down? Furthermore, why is boredom, overthinking, and suffering a healthy outcome of slowing down (even though it feels uncomfortable)? 

And why did I encourage my clients to take their time and practice stillness as part of their daily routine?

Personally, my list of fears and the guilt I experienced when I started to invite space into my life was vast. Oh, lord, was it ever. So, I hope these insights bring encouragement to ride out the discomfort and persevere—gently, of course. 

At first, in cultivating stillness into my life, I also experienced boredom, overthinking, and suffering. It was uncomfortable, and I felt more anxiety by slowing down. But it was momentary. I started losing my motivation and drive, which I later came to find was a good thing. I was driven by expectations and beliefs I had adopted from a young age and had not yet addressed. 

I was faced with some areas of my life that needed deep care and attention. But, it also brought things to the surface that I was unaware of—pain from my past and belief systems I was living by—that explained my obsessive drive toward the future. I was able to heal these areas in time, and my motivation started to come from within myself—my true self.

Perhaps this is why we find it difficult to “slow down”—to be still. Maybe we have preconceived expectations about what stillness is. Maybe we expect calm and relief immediately, but instead, it evokes more pain and suffering. Perhaps it requires us to make a change.

It kind of pokes a sleeping bear within us. 

It may reveal how much mess or hurt we have beneath the surface and what we need to address. Perhaps it highlights belief systems that are not our own, and we realise, we’re living our lives according to others’ influence or expectations. And it’s overwhelming.

Inviting quietness into our regular routine may call us on a quest into unknown territory—and for each of us, this will be wildly different. But, it’s where our soul comes alive, and we can hear the essence of who we truly are. That can be strange and unfamiliar; we’re not always good with uncertainty

Slowing down is about allowing space to enter our lives to acquire a balance between doing and being. And routine, to me, is vital to well-being. But, as many may relate, I used to have a full routine all the time, and with it came illness, burnout, and a hard-core drive toward goals that were not innately my own (due to expectations from youth and belief systems undressed).

Busyness is a jam-packed lifestyle full of ongoing activity, noise, information, and commitments. It is a “routine” that allows little (to no) space for introspection, the soul, and quietness. During downtime, our mind may be filled with technology use, social media, thinking, fretting, and worrying about what to do next. It may also be filled with fear. 

Slowing down is not just about the physical act of doing less. It’s about our mind—decreasing overstimulation to make room for our soul and our inner being to come forth.

The depth of who we are brings healing to our minds.

How can we heal, change, and evolve with the same mind burning us out and keeping us from listening to ourselves?

You may have heard of the sayings: 

“You cannot heal in the same environment where you got sick.” ~ Atlanta Author Reese Anderson.

“You cannot change your problem with the same mind that created it.” ~ Albert Einstein (an avid walker).

The environment being—our mind. 

When our brain is overactive for long periods, it becomes detrimental to our health, productivity, relationships, and overall joy in life. Our thinking becomes murky, tired, and we may experience less clarity about things. It’s challenging to make clear-cut decisions with a tired, overdrawn mind. It’s like hitting a brick wall—over and over.

In my journey of healing, I never set out to heal emotional or psychological pain. Yet, it’s in hindsight that I see the overall impact stillness has made in my life.

I didn’t understand how stillness and space was paramount to growth either. I thought it meant going backward. I honestly wouldn’t have been able to grasp its depth by merely reading about it. Through trial and error and persistently practising stillness, I’ve learned to want to understand myself and the path of quietness.

It is also through hindsight that I have unraveled and delighted in the power of its intelligence. 

Allowing space into our busy, jam-packed lives is like shining light into a dark, dusty room and noticing an accumulation of dust. We can close the curtains and go about our life, ignoring the dust, leaving it for another day. We may feel too exhausted to vacuum and to make time to cleanse. Maybe it’s not prioritized as much as other things.

We can go on living with the dust—and surviving—however, we may feel less than ordinary as we breathe in dusty particles daily. 

When we choose to allow stillness into our lives, we’re, in a sense, opening the curtains and vacuuming. It may be boring, even overwhelming, and it may make us feel sick breathing in the accumulation of particles as they fly around. But it’s a process, and it’s a necessary practice to cleanse the room. The satisfaction that follows is generally a sense of calm, self-confidence, and maybe even, “Why didn’t I do this sooner” if we have left it for too long. 

And here’s the clincher:

Once the room is clean, it will not stay that way forever—we must maintain it. But also, wouldn’t it be better if we made it a priority just like everything else in our lives?

When we vacuum consistently, it becomes part of our routine—a clean space, better air, a sense of fulfillment and that, “I’ll do it another day” stressor disappears. It may even become an enjoyable part of our lifestyle (vacuuming is delightful these days!).

Wouldn’t that allow us to enjoy the space we live in (including our mind)?

Routine is a must, but a routine devoid of stillness is like leaving the curtains closed or putting off vacuuming. 

We may be busy and successful on the outside, but within, we suffer over time.

Space lets the light in to expose what needs attention beneath the surface. This is important for brain health—a well-functioning brain needs space. It’s not a fancy practice, and it’s not about instant calmness—it’s about cleansing our mind consistently so we can show up in our lives with more clarity, energy, and love (toward ourselves and others).

We need to practice stillness regularly for the rest of our lives to yield its benefits, wisdom, and to surpass temporary anxiety and fear. 

By ignoring our body and mind’s desire to slow down, we continue to live in an overactive state. And while we can operate in this way for years (just like living in a dusty room), we forfeit so many beautiful aspects that life has to offer—if only we would choose to pause a little more.

How I learned (and practice today) to cultivate stillness and self-control toward busyness:

>> During a time when life was busy with assignments, work, and projects, I had no time to relax. However, from a doctor’s guidance, I started sitting outside for 20 minutes a day doing absolutely nothing. I sat on the grass and gazed at the sky, stared at the trees, and fumbled with the grass. I wore no shoes, and I left my phone inside. It was incredibly uncomfortable at first, and I wanted to leap up, and get going. The guilt, anxiety, and fear permeated my mind, but I continued to sit and repeat, over and over again daily. Today, I sit outside with no fear—and enjoy the bliss of nothingness. 

>> Walk daily. I wrote an entire piece about this here. Albert Einstein confirms its value.

>> Journal. I wrote about this here. Juliana, my co-worker, soul sister, wrote one here.

>> What has also helped has been therapy on occasion, my doctor, different hiking communities I have been part of, and talking with others who can relate. Realizing others also experience similar fears and guilt is refreshing, and talking about how we are working through these areas also brings about new insights. 

~

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