The Importance of Stillness: Don’t build a life you are unable to enjoy.

I will endlessly work on myself. For better or for worse, I feel as though I will always be looking for the next repair, the next project. And the better I am, I believe, the better my life will be. I have always been in a hurry to be great, and that’s been a heavy burden. That, and, I seem to push that definition of greatness up so quickly and so often, I have often failed to realize what I truly have accomplished. 

Of all the know better vs., do better tensions I have experienced in recent years researching self help and healing, stillness seems to be the one practice that challenges me most. 

I constantly measure my progress and productivity. Even in the midst of self care, my mind has been busy with future thinking and self analysis. I have always been highly reflective, and I fully believe there are many parts of myself I still have yet to meet. But, I want to meet them now. I try to call them out, draw them out, write them out. I go searching for them in every empty moment- “show yourself, so I can fix you!” I poke and prod myself, sunup to sun down. I constantly remind myself of the distance between here and my newest definition of greatness, and I do this all under the guise of ambition and self improvement. And I love my ambition. I love my curiosity and determination to become that best self. It keeps me sharp. It keeps me moving. It keeps me occupied. But stillness has been so very unnatural to me, despite my knowing of how soothing, clarifying and nurturing it is for the spirit. 

I tend to look at myself like a patient. I observe, I test, I record symptoms, I rule things out, I try to pinpoint an issue, and I make my prescription. I am always giving myself a prescription. Here’s a new routine— this should fix it. Here’s a new project, this should fix it. Here’s this, here’s that. You know what, those things aren’t working fast enough, let’s cut you open and see what’s inside! You just aren’t great yet, so there must be a reason that we need to source and destroy. Don’t worry, this won’t hurt a bit!

Again, I love that nothing gets passed me, with me. I love that I care deeply about being the most optimal human being and achieving my goals. But when I never allow myself time to exist without analysis or expectation, time to simply be a human, fine the way I am and fine the way things are, truly, deeply grateful and stillthen I am being cruel to be myself. Then I am stealing away the life I am working for as quickly as I am living it. 

There will always be problems. There will always be petty wants and tensions with the future. And as quickly as I resolve one issue, I can find another, I know this. But when will I allow myself to know peace? Why am I still holding out on myself— to be proud, to be full, to be marveled with life as I live it now? To just be.

When will I tell this patient of mine, (me,) “you know what, you are healthy, you are doing wonderful, and I don’t think you need a prescription or a surgery or a note. I see nothing that needs fixing today. I think you ought to simply be grateful and proud of the strides you’ve made thus far.” ? When will I stop the poking and prodding for just a moment, to be still?

I am learning that even when the work is well intentioned, it is still work, and it, too, must be set down sometimes. More specifically, the mind must be set down sometimes. I will tell myself I am taking a self care break and then spend all of it in my head somewhere. This overthinking keeps me in a state of unrest, even when I am deliberately trying to rest. I will crave the very end of my day so much—that moment where I get to lie my head down on my pillow, surrounded by quiet and darkness, and slip softly into my sleep. But instead, I will close my eyes and listen to the endless static of future oriented thoughts. What will I do tomorrow, and the next day, and the next? And what will be the result of those tasks? And what will I do for the rest of my life? I will lie there for hours, utterly exhausted, but still unable to slow down. 

The other night it began again. I lied down to sleep, but my mind was racing. I felt so worn down and helpless to my impulsive, constant thoughts. Then, something hit me. My inner monologue questioned once again, “what will I do for the rest of my life?” And a voice came through clearly: “THIS IS the rest of your life.”

This moment IS my life, it is the “rest of my life” as far as I’ll ever be able to organically experience, and this moment that I am in, will ALWAYS be my life. I will never time-skip into the future to spend a day in my future selve’s life and get work done to soothe today’s worries, or escape my reality. I will never be able to go backwards either, to correct a past mistake or avoid some embarrassment or setback. Whether I like it or not, I will always be here. I realized suddenly and clearly: My connection with the present moment will always define the connection I have with myself and my life. 

By constantly seeking to escape the present moment, by discrediting it, by dissecting it rather than inhabiting it fully, by treating it as a means to an end— I create an anxious, hurried, and avoidant life experience. Even when success comes, by this habit, I could never truly enjoy it. I completely defeat the purpose of all my efforts to build and nurture a beautiful life when I refuse to show up and be present within it. Life does not happen in the back of your mind. It is lived through the body, through the senses, and through the present moment. 

Stillness is a subject I had learned about a few years ago, but have proven extremely stubborn to practice well or consistently. I became acquainted through a book called “The Power of Now” by Eckart Tolle— an amazing book on the power of presence and how its simple practice can dissolve most of the anxiety, worry, and unhappiness we are used to carrying. (Things rooted in the chatter of the mind.) During my time reading the book, (or I should say, during my time listening to the book on audible,) naturally I was much more diligent in practicing presence, and I remember having little to no anxiety during that time. I was not easily emotionally triggered by other people or inconvenience. I had a clear perception of what would be a true threat and what is not, (most things, despite what our mind exaggerates, are not.) I felt calm, alert, clear, and extremely grateful to be alive— I enjoyed even the mundane tasks. The weekends went by slower. I had significantly fewer wants, fewer worries, and seemingly, much more time. My senses were activated, and life felt much more colorful and peaceful in this mode of a quieter mind. I would highly recommend this read if you want to know more about how amazing stillness can be.

So, presence. Stillness. This is what I am working on, again, because that’s how it goes. Growth is anything but a straight line. Falling into old patterns is usually entirely accidental and effortless. Like me, you might fall into an old pattern, (i.e., overthinking, steering with an anxious mind,) with the best of intentions. If you are feeling self-help overloaded, or self improvement overloaded, or overall tired of picking, prodding and questioning yourself and your direction, purpose, or timeline to accomplish worldly successes—  I say unto you as well as myself: give yourself permission to step back from it for a day or two. Yes, fellow workaholics, worriers, planners,  you can afford to stop, at least for a day or two. Return to your body. Return to your breath. Hold your hands out in front of you and wiggle your fingers. Your simple existence is a miracle, productivity and potential aside. Observe your thoughts, but do not tangle and attach to them. Practice dulling them, giving them less commitment, less attention. Allow them to come and go without judgment. Allow yourself to simply be. 

Take a moment of silence to be wholeheartedly awed by your resilience, perseverance and determination for all that you have lived and done already, and for a time, let that be enough. Take a moment to reaffirm the trust you have with yourself, regardless of the place in life you are at or will go. Take time to stop judging, planning, analyzing. Let yourself truly live and experience life in real time, through your body, and through this very moment. Let your rest be truly restful. 

You will only ever be here. So be here. Don’t withhold happiness and contentment from yourself until a box is checked. Do not wait to be proud and enthused and full of joy for the life you have been blessed with. Don’t wait to fully enjoy the company of your loved ones, look into their eyes and hold their hands tight. Do things with care and attention. Rest without judgement. Enjoy the ride, right now— the duration and destination is never guaranteed. If and when you do arrive, you’ll have learned to taste every drop.

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