Today, stillness can be hard to come by. There’s just so much going on. So much noise both inside and outside our brains. So many tasks on our to-do lists. At least several screens within reach.
But stillness is still possible. It, too, is within our reach whenever we need it.
You can cultivate stillness while walking on a busy street, while chaos swirls all around you. “[S]ome of the coolest experiences are to be in the busiest of places and to foster an internal and external stillness for yourself,” said Karin Lawson, PsyD, a psychologist and clinical director of Embrace, the binge eating recovery program at Oliver-Pyatt Centers.
Some of her favorite spots include the airport and mall.
The key is to create an intention of stillness — to have some intentionality about how we’re carrying ourselves in a given moment — and to focus on what is within our control, she said.
For instance, you might physically slow down by sitting, slowly walking or even lying down, she said. You might reduce external stimuli in your environment by lowering the lights and turning down the music.
Stillness is powerful. “Being still is like replenishing the stores. It allows us time and space.” It gives us time and space to self-reflect and actually hear our thoughts, Lawson said.
It also soothes our nervous system. “[S]tillness produces the anti-stress fix by allowing us some chill time without totally checking out and being numb to our experience.”
Stillness looks different at different moments and in different situations, Lawson said. Her ultimate “best” still moments are when she turns off the stimuli around her, such as the television and radio. She might shut her eyes to calm her thoughts and focus her attention on one thing. She tries to make the moment “as basic and simple as possible.”
Here are several insights and suggestions from Lawson on practicing stillness:
- Breathe. Taking slow, deep breaths induces the parasympathetic system and slows your heart rate, Lawson said.
- Practice when you need it. Lawson practices stillness anywhere, “when the moment hits me regardless of where I am.” Sometimes, she’ll practice in her office in the middle of the day. She locks the door, and puts up a “Do Not Disturb” sign, taking a few minutes for herself. “This allows my work space to not only represent the hustle and bustle of work, but now when I enter my office I also have calming, relaxing experiences to draw from and remember.”
- Schedule stillness. If you aren’t creating stillness spontaneously, schedule it, keeping this time sacred, she said. Or set an alarm on your phone. “Make it a priority and let others know in your life, so that they can honor this time you are setting aside for yourself.”
- Find a favorite spot. Again, you can experience stillness anywhere. But it can help to start at a favorite place. This might be outdoors, such as a park or bench, or at home, in complete silence, she said.
- Listen to soft music. Sometimes, people are afraid of being alone with their thoughts, Lawson said. This is when creating more structure is helpful. One way is by listening to soft, slow music. Music also is great when silence becomes deafening.
- Repeat calming phrases. This also gives your stillness structure. Lawson shared these examples: “I am calm and still,” or “I can create stillness.”
“Stillness has a lot of looks and in my book there are no right or wrong ways to do it,” Lawson said. “Because once we start talking about the ‘right way,’ then there we go right back to the productivity and achievement mindset.”
She shared these additional examples of stillness: directing thoughts to peaceful statements; focusing on a soothing image that evokes a sense of stillness, such as a natural landscape; taking a slow walk without talking or listening to music; sitting down and taking deep breaths until you feel stillness in your body; closing your eyes for several moments; journaling; or reading.
Remember that “just because the world around us is in full-blown chaos, doesn’t mean we always need to join [in],” Lawson said. She shared this quote from Hermann Hesse: “Within you there is a stillness and a sanctuary to which you can retreat any time.”