If you would have asked me five years ago what I feared most in the world, I would have said a free day to myself without anything to do. If I had a day off from work, I had to fill every minute of it with activity to keep myself from being alone with my racing thoughts. Too much time on my hands meant time to think and my thoughts were filled with fear and anxiety, which seemed to team up and have their way with me. I was very skilled at making myself crazy with worry and could find reason to worry about anything, be it the weather, not having enough laundry soap in the house, or having free time. At the root of this fear of stillness was the deep desire to keep myself from feeling all of the emotions I’d been stuffing down for my entire life. Being still meant that that pain could bubble up at any moment and I was very afraid of having to feel my pain and acknowledge my emotions.
Once I learned to face my pain, I became open to learning mindfulness practices which enabled me to have a life in which I could express and honor my emotions, while not being overrun by them. I began to notice that it became easier to be still and not have every minute of my day planned as a distraction for what I was feeling. I learned how to welcome calm into my brain and body and it spilled into my life. I realized I could have a free day and not dread it. I began to welcome the possibilities it could bring.
This time of chaos and quarantine is making me once again face my relationship with stillness. We are all being called upon to be still, to stay at home. Effectively, the Universe is giving us one big long time out, as if we humans need to sit in the corner and think about what we’ve done, except I would add, we also need to allow ourselves to have feelings as we ‘sit in the corner.’ This isn’t a punishment, it’s an opportunity to sit in stillness and let ourselves reflect and feel all of the emotions that this time evokes inside of us.
This week as I tried to work from home while also being a human being with strong emotions about the state of the world and the collective suffering taking place, I found myself not wanting to work. I became restless and uncomfortable quite often. I realized that what my body was craving was stillness; stillness of mind and body. I was trying to work while having big emotions and I’ve worked hard to be able to sit with my emotions, but I clearly wasn’t sitting with my emotions, I was distracting myself from them through work. In direct contrast to how I used to live, I now craved free time, time away from work to be still and sit with my emotions. I don’t want distractions anymore, they only lead me to deaden my emotions and feel less human, less myself.
Our culture tells us that we need to be busy, that we need to look for things outside of ourselves to numb our painful emotions. Work is one way we distract ourselves from our pain, and my body wasn’t having any of that this week. It told me I needed to step away from work and be still. I tried to honor that feeling as much as I could and gave myself permission to stop working and sit in stillness with my emotions. I feel honoring my emotions and my body’s craving for stillness is vital for me to be a compassionate human being during this time and it’s a lesson that I believe holds true no matter what’s going on in the world.
It’s remarkable to me that I’ve been able to shift my relationship with stillness so much. Now I can feel stillness beckoning me and I no longer fear it. I've become more alive because of it.