“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” ~ Blaise Pascal, French mathematician
I was recently speaking at a conference for educational leaders (some of you reading this may have been there!). During my talk I guided the audience through a mindfulness practice. We did a simple breath practice with guided visualization of letting IT go.
The “it” you may be wondering?
The IT can be anything that is taking you away from being present or being in a state of receptive awareness of things occurring in your environment, both internally and externally.
Internal receptive awareness may sense places in the body where you feel tension and heat, indicators of stress or overwhelm.
External receptive awareness may sense things on the outside like the temperature of the room, noises, voices, etc.
As I usually do when guiding these practices for participants I ask them to engage in a style of internal reflection called noticing.
It’s a nonjudgmental state where we invite the breath into the body and reflect on sensations (as noted above) we become aware of in the body. It’s also a way we train the mind to become more focused and cultivate sustained concentration.
The scariest part of this whole practice is that we must become still and silent.
As one participant shared during this session, “The more I try to become still and silent, the more stress and anxiety I feel.” She continued, “I actually feel less stress and anxious when I’m in constant motion.”
First, I want to make clear that sitting still and quietly is hard work. It’s a skill. And, it can be quite uncomfortable and kind of scary to turn our attention inward instead of how we normally operate – turning our attention outward.
We might be so conditioned to seek and find comfort in managing our stress by numbing it out of our body and mind with the busyness of our lives.
However, this way of externally managing and relating to our stress will eventually collide so much with our internal state that we become volcanic in our responses to the people and things around us, many times, to those we love, lead, and serve most.
We might think we are having a breakdown or begin to wonder, “Is something wrong with me?”
There’s an ancient remedy to these states – sitting in silence with a mindful breath practice.
While sitting in silence has many health and wellness benefits for our mind, body, and heart it’s important to acknowledge that it can be uncomfortable, awkward, and possibly bring up a lot of fear and resistance.
That’s completely ok and normal. Once we are able to acknowledge an emotion and name it, we can then work to mold it into something else.
With practice you will ultimately begin to crave silence and solitude as a daily practice.
Here are a few of my favorite ways to silence the noise – externally and eventually, internally. I hope you find them as valuable as I, and others I teach and train, do!
Get outside and enjoy nature. Don’t take your phone. Nature in this instance doesn’t require you to fly to the Amazon Forest. Simply get outside.
Whether you are at school, in an office, or at home, put 5-10 minute blocks of reserved time every hour or two in your phone to remind you to go outside. Once there, be intentional with your breath during this time. Simply notice what’s going on internally.
Sit with your favorite beverage in a quiet room
Again, don’t bring work, technology, or your phone. You can however set a timer so you don’t get lost in time here. The idea is to simply sit with the intention of quiet reflection.
Focus on the sound of your breath and the way it enters your body. Sip your fave beverage (tea, coffee, or fruit infused water are great options) slowly noticing the temperature, tastes, and textures.
Notice any sounds in the room or sensations in your internal environment. Perhaps even take a moment to say a statement of gratitude for this alone time to yourself.
Know a few yoga poses? Instead of going to a group yoga class, take what you know and practice on the mat by yourself. No music. No instruction. Just you.
Or, perhaps take a walk outside. Running and cycling are great options, too. Whatever movement you choose, make sure to do this one alone. Walks are great because you can do them anywhere without any special equipment.
A few minutes of mindful movement in solitude helps strengthen your awareness muscle in your mind.
Add these silent reflective sessions to your day, even for a few minutes, and you will have more mental clarity, stability, focus, and an overall positive sense of well-being in mind, body, and heart.
The internal work you do will have a positive effect on those you lead, teach, and serve, and as a byproduct that work will have massive and positively sustainable benefits for humanity as a whole.