In primary school, we conducted an experiment in the Agriculture class. It involved collecting muddy water from the banks of the river in the school. Yes, our school had a river running right through the middle of it. We placed the muddy water in transparent containers that were later lined up along the window sill in direct sunlight. These containers remained undisturbed for one week. At the end of the week, we were asked to write down our observations of the content of the containers, comparing it to when we initially began the experiment.
A lot of the observations were similar. The mud had all settled to the bottom. The water was clearer, especially at the top. The floaties were no longer visible to the naked eye. I am sure if we delved a bit deeper scientifically, we would have discovered more changes that had occurred in the muddy water over the past week.
The holidays have come to an end and most of us are pretty much re-adjusting to regular life; work, school, or whatever that may be for you. For the first time in a very long time I got to actually rest during this last holiday period. The kind of rest where I slept enough, ate just what was enough and spent my time in the ways that I wanted to spend my time.I have previously underestimated the importance of rest. I am aware of why we need to rest, but I never truly appreciated it as a necessity. I didn’t appreciate how rest in itself is what the body needs to be okay. And how with rest comes a lot of stillness, not only of the body but of the mind.
As someone who has had the tendency to measure my self worth by the number of things I have been able to cross off my to-do list, not having anything to do was no walk in the park. The first couple of rest days had me thoroughly cleaning the house, which, in itself is not a bad thing, till I found myself re-cleaning already clean items. That was my first aha! moment. I took a literal pause. It was then that I made the decision to not do any more cleaning unless necessary, and slowly eased into a daily routine where I physically moved only when necessary. Most of my days were spent in front of the telly, remote in hand and it was oh so glorious!
Staying still also meant that I had time to be alone with my thoughts. With no deadlines to beat, no parenting to be done and almost zero errands to run, I discovered just how loud my thoughts were. At first it felt daunting. Daunting because in my mind, the things running through my head were not the thoughts to have during a resting period. So for a while I really resisted entertaining them. The easiest way to quieten my thoughts, or so I thought, would be with alcohol. I took my cocktail mixing skills to a new level, experimenting pretty much with anything that could be paired with gin. The irony of it all is that day drinking only amplified my thoughts. Who knew! Maybe if I only drank at night, I would have experienced a different outcome?
Staying still gave me the opportunity to reflect on the year that was. Reflection translated into meditation, a practice that I actively picked up in the last quarter of 2022. I take at least the first hour in the day to myself. A bit of my practice involves listening to a guided meditation, journaling and setting an intention for the day. Interestingly, during the rest period, the loudest message the universe kept sending me was to be still. It was almost laughable. How much more still can I get? I’m on leave and spending a lot of my time in a vegetative state on the couch. How much more stillness can a person have? Until it landed. Stillness of the mind.
Stillness of the mind does not necessarily mean you have no thoughts. I discovered that stillness opened me up to actually being cognisant of my thoughts and acknowledging that they exist. And acknowledgement did not necessarily mean that every thought needed action.
Remember the muddy water on the window sill? For a week we all, as students, were aware that the containers were there. But we did not touch them or move them around or shake them. We just noticed them and went on with our day. This was it for me. Recognising the thoughts that popped up and not necessarily feeling the need to do anything about it. My therapist calls them intrusive thoughts. These are often negative thoughts that my brain brings to the surface. And my brain does this to protect me! Intrusive thoughts are an attempt by the brain to keep me safe. How now? I’m not sure I can explain it well but I will attempt. From my understanding, intrusive thoughts are not always necessarily true. Things like negative self-talk and thoughts that fuel imposter syndrome apparently are ways in which your brain protects you from self-inflicted disappointment. Make it make sense please.
Stillness of the mind allowed for me to then filter through the thoughts that would come to the surface. It allowed for moments of clarity. Just like the muddy water, the heavy sediments settled at the bottom of the container. Leaving the water at the top a bit clearer. It gave me the opportunity to analyse each thought and give it a ranking in terms of how much space should this specific thought occupy in my brain? It was in the same vein I discovered that the physical body also holds onto thoughts! Our physical bodies are not immune to holding on to trauma. And until you give it release, this trauma manifests in the physical reality. The nagging headaches that never quite goes away. Your squeaky right hip could be trying to tell you something. You just gotta listen.
I remember a very particular day. My meditation practice that morning was to do a body scan and find the physical pain points and this was followed by a practice to release the pain. In doing the practice, I felt very silly, especially since the physical pain still existed and truth be told I was very skeptical of it all. Fast forward to mid-morning and I got my release. I think I spent the entire day crying. It was one of the most healing experiences I have had in a long time. And the next day, no physical pain. Poof! Gone!
Being still also put me in a place of discomfort. Cue in intrusive thoughts. I know I said earlier that intrusive thoughts are not necessarily true but they also are not all lies. Please don’t rely on me to explain it fully. Google is your friend. Intrusive thoughts do get you into a space of introspection, something you must experience if you are to decipher the validity of the thought. This puts you in a prime position to face the parts of you that you are not proud of. It brings light to the shadowy parts of yourself. Remember how our teacher asked us to make sure that our containers were in direct sunlight? That’s what it felt like. The light shines so bright on the parts of you that you want to keep hidden away from the world. The parts you hope people never get to see or know. Lies! Others do see it. Only that they may not always tell you.
In the Johari Window exercise, these come out as your blind spots. My therapist calls it shadow work. Stillness for me meant having to come face to face with those parts of myself that I was scared to show, scared to admit to myself that they exist. The wonderful thing to come out of it was me getting to realise my toxic traits, where they stem from but also how to recognise when they pop up and how to manage myself better. Plus my therapist says that the shadow parts of you are the ones that need the most love, most compassion and most reassurance. Facing them is easier than running from them. Be warned though, the initial bits of doing this are emotionally taxing. You will be put through the wringer. Keep going. It gets better. I promise.
Stillness also meant lots of alone time. Spending time alone is one of the things I enjoy about life. This alone time though felt different. I chose to hibernate and isolate purely because I felt that it would have taken away the time that was required for me to do the inner work. It is easy to stay distracted from the course. A coffee date here, a night out there, banter with people who make you feel good about yourself. All well and good but not necessarily your cup of tea when in a season of stillness. I came to appreciate prioritising the time to stay still, and not having to leave the house and take up any commitments. It was cheaper too 😉
This time of the year, people make resolutions, set goals yada yada yada. You know the drill. Why not consider gifting yourself some stillness?