Stillness

man practicing stillness by taking deep breaths.

Our world is filled with so much noise and so many distractions that we have become uncomfortable with stillness. If things get quiet, we look at our phones. Or if we’re driving down the street, we turn on the radio. We arrive home and turn on the television or keep ourselves continually busy.

This is a huge problem with our children and teens. Childhood anxiety, depression, and suicide are at an all-time high. And it’s scary to think that the trend is still moving upward. Technology (smart phones, social media, online gaming) is a big part of this because these mediums are such an easy escape from the inevitable boredom and emotional ups and downs of life.

Don’t like what’s going on? Get on your phone, watch a video, listen to some music, text a friend, play a game, scroll social media. A consequence is that our kids are failing to develop the emotional depth, skills and resilience needed to deal with life.

The Power of Stillness

An alternative for all of us is to learn the practice of stillness, to find stillness in the storm. The Vietnamese philosopher, Thic Nhat Hanh, says in his book Silence: The Power of Quiet in a World Full of Noise: “There is beauty calling to us every day but we rarely…listen. The basic condition for us to hear the call of beauty is silence. If we don’t have silence in ourselves—if our mind, our body, are full of noise—then we can’t hear beauty’s call.”

I love this quote. I’ve read Hanh’s book about four times. It brings me peace and a deep connection to my inner self. There is beauty all around us in most moments of our lives. And yet, we have to open our eyes to see this beauty (love, goodness) and we do so by quieting our minds and bodies in order to find our strength in stillness.

Focus on the Breath

One way to quiet ourselves is with the simple practice of breathing. Breathing is a natural process. We breathe over 23,000 times each day. It is something we take it for granted and yet we depend on it for life. We can go about 30 days without food, about three days without water, and yet only about 3 minutes without breathing.

Something powerful occurs as we become conscious of our breathing. It is a way to pause and disconnect from what’s going on around us so we can make a deeper connection with our body, mind, and spirit.

Our breath helps us interrupt negative patterns of thought and feeling. It gives us something to focus on when we feel stressed, overwhelmed, upset, harried or distracted.

Take a moment, right now, and pay attention to your breath. I’m not asking you to alter it or make it slower or deeper than usual. I am only asking you to notice it—your in-breath… and your out-breath… your in-breath… and out -breath…. I often say those words in my head. “Now I’m breathing in.” “Now I’m breathing out.”

Your breath is gentle. It fills you and then softly leaves. The key is to pay attention to its ebb and flow.

Notice what happens to your body—your abdomen…chest…shoulders…and back as you breathe in and out. The more you notice, the more you’re able to calm yourself, even let go of something that may be troubling you.

Of course, thoughts will arise and your mind will wander. That is normal. Just notice the thoughts and then let your attention go back to your breath. Breathing, in this way, is like coming home. It calms your mind and centers you in your body.

The Box

One popular technique is to breathe in to a count of four, hold for a count of four, breathe out for a count of four and hold at the bottom of the out breath for a count of four. Think of it as a box with four sides—in, hold, out and hold. You can do this for just a couple of minutes to enjoy it’s calming benefits. And, as you become experienced, you can extend the count to five or six or seven. Although some people teach variations of this technique, this is a common form of breathing to calm and center yourself in the present moment.

Slow and Low

I also want to recommend that you become aware of breathing slow and low. This is something you can do most anytime. You don’t have to take a break from what you’re doing. Simply become aware of your breathing and make it slower and deeper.

We normally take between 12 and 20 breaths per minute. Can you slow your breathing to around six or eight breaths per minute? Maybe even four?

The way to do this is to take deeper breaths which means breathing from the abdomen rather than chest. You can tell that you’re breathing from the abdomen as you see your belly rather than your chest expand and contract with each breath.

Count Your Breaths

You may want to pause for a few minutes right now. Measure your usual number of breaths in a minute and notice whether your breathing is from your chest or belly. Then deliberately slow your breathing by taking a long in breath and long out breath and being aware of expanding from the belly as you do this.

Slow and low brings more oxygen and thus nourishment into the body. It also has a calming effect on the body and so I recommend it at various times throughout the day.

But I Don’t Have Time

I sometimes hear people say they don’t have time to practice stillness. I have two responses. First, know that stillness is more about shifting your focus than carving out extra time. Second, as you do take time, you’ll become less scattered, less reactive, and more focused, efficient, and productive.

I take a five-minute break every 25 minutes and focus on some simple practices to quiet myself which has resulted in being more productive than when I work straight through. You may not be able to do this because of the nature of your work or daily schedule. But remember, the principle is more important than how you apply it. What can you do to quiet yourself and bring stillness and awareness to your daily and weekly routine?

I want to let you know that I’m creating a new online video program entitled “Claiming Your Power to Live a Happy and Abundant Life.” In this program I teach lots of skills and practices in personal transformation and self-empowerment. Watch for its launch in the next few weeks.


About Roger K. Allen
Roger K. Allen, Ph.D. is an expert in personal transformation and family development. His tools and methods have helped tens of thousands of people live happier and more effective lives. To learn more, visit www.rogerkallen.com>.

5 responses to “Stillness”

  1. Carroll Morris says:

    Dear Roger,
    Thanks for posting this. I agree completely–but I have my own device addiction to deal with. Abstinence is best for me!

    I’ve also read the book you mentioned. Love it, too. My meditation practice is centered on finding the inner silence and resting in it. I have that experience often but not always.

    I’ll be finishing my Mastery of Self course this summer, and will be meditating many hours a day, which I love. I know it will stabilize my experience of being in the Inner Silence.

    Thanks again for the work you’re doing to help all of us. Carroll

    • Roger Allen says:

      Thanks, Carroll. I think so many people have device addiction today. Yet,, like you, I find so much enjoyment in the “inner silence.”

  2. Great post and reminder. A friend of Thic Nhat Hanh, and fellow monk, Br. David Stendl Rast, has had a huge impact on my life. He was our house guest in Boulder in the mid-1970s. He helped me do our house dishes 5 nights in a row. I joke that he taught me to be the dish, though his focus came not from Buddhist practice but from the Rule of St. Benedict. For me, doing the dishes has been a form of quiet focused meditation ever since. Brother David is still active, in his 90’s. Check out gratefuless.org for his video “A Good Day.”

    • Roger Allen says:

      Thanks, Russ. What an opportunity to have a monk in your home helping you have a new perspective of the most simple life tasks. It sounds like it was many years ago and yet you have not forgotten.

  3. Annette says:

    Thank you. I’ve been using breathing techniques since I learned to consciously, purposefully relax a muscle when I was 14, but I never remember to do it often enough. Reminders are always good!

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