As humans in the 21st century, the drive towards doing is a powerful force in our lives. Busyness, productivity, action; so much of the value we ascribed to ourselves and others is tied to being constantly on the move.
When we think of stillness from this perspective, it is easy to conjure images of stagnation, of boredom. The pace of communications and media dictates that for us to keep up with the world around, to not be burned up in the white heat of continual change, we need to maintain this frantic pace in our own lives. Even when we aren’t out at work we are sitting on our phone and scrolling, absorbing as much news as we can, as much relevant up-to-date content to ensure we aren’t left out of the conversation. To be still is to be lost.
Yet how true is this really? Is it necessary to always be running in the endless race? And, when we are caught up in it, how much of what we are doing is merely a conditioned response to our surroundings – what we feel we ‘should’ do?
Perpetual activity gives us the sense that we are more in control than we really are. It is easy to kid ourselves into thinking our actions are entirely self-determined, rather than assembled from a complex web of received wisdom and social expectations. Only by putting down this activity for a moment and choosing to be still can we begin to disentangle these underlying influences.
In practicing stillness, we allow space to reorient ourselves. In our moments of freedom from work and family obligations it is up to us to choose how to spend our time and energy. Instead of picking something else up, why not put everything down for a change? The space we create allows us to think deeply about just how our energy and attention is directed back into the world.
To help us switch off, we can try creating a ‘still space’ free from electronic interference or unwanted distractions. Entering the still space doesn’t involve meditation or trying to achieve perfect silence, but simply being in a place where movement and activity are left at the door. Maybe thoughts will come to the surface. We might feel an urge to send an email, to get our phone out and read or do something productive. Thoughts like these represent a desire to impose control on unstructured time.
Instead of giving in, follow the thoughts. Why do we need to be doing? Why do we need to be in control? The truth is that as human beings we actually control very little about our lives, our bodies, and the world around us. It is only natural that we create work for ourselves in order to avoid this reality, a world where we are the masters of our destiny.
Ultimately, if we can let go of this desire, we achieve a profound and lasting freedom from the illusion of control. Stillness, in its connection to the present moment, allows us to experience the self as it truly is.