Tag Archive | rest

THE PRACTICE OF STILLNESS

 

Person Sitting Quietly on the Edge of a Dock - Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/epicurean, Image #7706240

The Practice of Stillness by Michael Hyatt was first published here (michaelhyatt.com)
A
ccording to the popular StrengthsFinder assessment, my top strength is “Achiever.” The report that summarized my test results says,

People who are especially talented in the Achiever theme have a great deal of stamina and work hard. They take great satisfaction from being busy and productive.”

This strength has served me well, but it also has a dark side.

It means I have a difficult time turning off my mind and just being still. I seem to be more of a human doing than a human being.

Recently, my wife Gail recommended that I read The Joy Diet by Martha Beck. She said, “You won’t agree with everything in this book, but I think it will really challenge you—especially the first chapter.”

Intrigued, I decided to read the book on my recent vacation.

The first chapter is entitled, “Nothing.” In summarizing the chapter, Beck says, “to begin the Joy Diet, you must do nothing for at least fifteen minutes a day.”

I was so challenged by this chapter, that I haven’t gotten beyond it. I have now read it four times. I have also practiced this discipline for twenty-two days in a row.

Honestly, this has been one of the most transformational things I have ever done.

What Is Stillness?

Beck’s premise is that “doing nothing is the most productive activity you will ever undertake.” By doing nothing, she means literally doing nothing.

  • This is not prayer (at least not in the sense of talking to God)
  • It is not problem-solving.
  • It is not planning.

Doing nothing is being still, quieting your mind (and the cacophony of voices), and simply being.

All the ancient wisdom literature points to the importance of this practice. Psalm 46:10 is representative: “Be still and know that I am God.”

This is tremendously difficult in our media rich, always-on, over-communicated society. Noise crowds into every empty space, leaving us spiritually, mentally, and emotionally exhausted.

Mother Teresa expressed it this way,

We need to find God, and He cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature—trees, flowers, grass—grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence… .We need silence to be able to touch souls.”

Abba Poeman, one of the ancient desert fathers, taught his disciples, “If you are silent, you will have peace wherever you live.”

Why You Need Stillness

I doubt you need convinced that you need some measure of what I am describing in your life. As I have shared about this topic with others, they inevitably say, “Oh, I so need that in my life! How do I start?”

Nevertheless, here are three of my own reasons for practicing the discipline of stillness:

  1. I want to maintain perspective. If I don’t make time to be still, then I find myself in reactive mode—influenced by hundreds of little voices with big demands.
  2. I want to stay connected to my true self. I don’t want to get confused, thinking that I am the image I present to the world. They are related, of course, but I want to live from the inside out.
  3. I want more internal margin in my life. While I have been pursing external margin in my calendar and finances, I also want internal margin—more room to notice what matters most and be thankful for it.

How to Practice Stillness

This is not something I have enough experience with to write. In fact, I feel pretentious for even attempting it.

But perhaps that is the value I can add to the conversation. I am not so experienced that I have forgotten what it is like to be a beginner.

So in that spirit, let me offer a few suggestions for how you can practice stillness in your own journey and reclaim some interior margin.

  1. Schedule a time. For me, I schedule stillness first thing in the morning. It has become so precious to me, that I won’t want to start the day without it. I practice this first—before prayer, before Bible reading, before journaling, and before exercise.
  2. Find a place. When I was on vacation, I sat on the dock by the lake. This was ideal. But it is not my real world. Now I simply go into my study and shut the door. The main thing is to find a place where you won’t be interrupted.
  3. Set a timer. I am following Beck’s admonition to set aside fifteen minutes a day. In my limited experience this seems about right. It is amazing how my perception of this time changes from day to day. Sometimes it seems like forever. Other times, it goes by very quickly. I use the timer on my iPhone.
  4. Relax your body. I simply sit in a soft chair with my eyes closed. I then systematically relax my body and get quiet. Beck says that if you can’t sit still, then engage in any mindless physical activity, like rocking in a chair or watching some natural motion like fire or running water. I also play a recording I have of the ocean.
  5. Quiet your mind. This is the biggest challenge for me. Just when I get still, I have some random thought or a whole flurry of thoughts. But I am getting better. Beck offers several techniques for practicing “nonjudgmental observation,” a discipline that keeps your allotted time from being hijacked by an overly-active mind.
  6. Be present. Don’t be regretting or celebrating the past. Don’t be worrying or dreaming about the future. Instead, collect your thoughts and be present—in this moment. It is the most important time you have. In fact, it is the only time you have.
  7. Learn to return. This has been the most helpful component. In involves recalling a “place of peace,” where you had a particularly vivid experience of peace and stillness. For me, I go back to a time I stood on the balcony of a monastery in Greece, looking out on the Aegean Sea. I wrote about it here.

Perhaps the most important thing is just to start. It’s easy to blow the discipline of stillness off as something you don’t have time for. Don’t. The busier you are the more important it is.

You need this in your life more than you know. Even if you can only set aside five minutes a day, do it. And if you miss a day or two, don’t beat yourself up. Just start again.

Questions: Have you ever practiced stillness? If so, what was your experience like? If not, what is keeping you from starting? You can leave a comment below.
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HOW TAKING A DAY OFF CHANGED OUR LIVES

How Taking a Day Off Changed Our Lives (3DM Stories)Today’s story is from Tim and Sara Harvey, whose life was transformed when they decided to take a day off once a week. They recently moved from Indiana to California, and this is Tim’s reflection on the journey.

Originally Posted by – August 25, 2014

 

It all started with taking a day off

A few years ago we found ourselves struggling along with the needs of a busy family and the relentless pace of life. Weeks sped by and despite feeling like many of the things we gave our time to were meaningful, it didn’t feel like the net result was terribly valuable and we were often very, very tired.

Granted, three kids under the age of 5 will do that to you on its own ;) But it was more than that. Our life wasn’t sustainable and I wouldn’t wish our life’s pace on anyone else.

Despite their own busy schedules, we noticed that our dear friends the Sternkes and the folks they spent time with didn’t have the harried look in their eyes that we did. Rather than try to figure out our own way of doing life, they encouraged us to try imitating their lives (just as they had imitated others) and see what would happen. “Why not?” we thought.

So we started by trying to establish some rhythm to our life, first making time during the week to work, and taking time off. As we looked at our schedule, it was clear that the weekend was our only hope and we had enough commitments on Sunday that it was out.

So Saturday was going to be our day off. We’d do everything we could to relax and leave chores and responsibilities for another day.

Why is it so hard to rest?

Taking a day off seems like it would be an easy thing to do. But let me tell you, for a recovering workaholic like me, it… was… hard.

Some weeks were great, and some (maybe even most) were a struggle. We’d get to the end of the day and feel more worked up and anxious about all there was to do. I couldn’t even begin to figure out what would be restful.

I’d sometimes walk around the house (wander, really) and see all that needed to be done. Our friends were so patient and encouraged us to come along with them as they lived life. There are people you hang out with, but this was different. They really invited us to experience what life was like for them at a much deeper level.

It’s a pretty powerful and scary thing (on both sides) to have someone invite you into their life. Not just the “I just vacuumed and picked up and put my happy face on and told the kids they better not mess up” life. The nitty-gritty, real, messy, dirty, sometimes angry, joyful, legit life.

So we started hanging out with these guys on their day off just to see how it worked, because we couldn’t figure even that much out on our own. ;) We found that they did adventures together, spent time alone, and did whatever seemed to strike their fancy.

Dad would play video games with the kids and sometimes the kids’ crazy requests were met with, “Sure! Let’s try that!” Sara and I slowly began to get the picture and found our footing. Our days off began to really ready us for the week and left us much-needed time to ponder life and consider what was most valuable to invest in.

Predictable patterns for life

Our season of life living down the road from these guys (we actually moved to be closer to them) led to numerous patterns in our life that we’ll probably never give up. The rhythm of work and rest now permeates our week, our year, our seasons, and more recently we’ve even found a solid way to see that in each day (hint…we generally stop doing anything productive after the kids go to bed).

As we did life with our friends, it wasn’t just our two families. We grew extraordinarily close with what became an extended family. We still had plenty of biological family in the area that we deeply loved and spent lots of time with. But in addition there were other families that helped us when we were down and were a crucial part of our kids’ lives.

When we started exploring the idea of moving to California, we just knew that our mission was to bring all that we learned and experienced to an area rife with overwork and isolated families. It was extraordinarily hard to leave and we knew it would be costly (on a variety of levels), but it was what we felt was right. Even more so, our community was with us every step of the way as we pondered whether this was the right direction. As all the doors opened up, we felt that it was meant to be.

All that time and investment paid off big time as we’ve settled into California this year.

When the going gets tough, stick to your rhythms

When we found ourselves in California, the thing that held us steady was our rhythms. When the going gets rough, fall back on what you know and stick with it. While there were times that felt pretty lonely and we wondered if we paid too high a price, our pattern of life kept us steady.

As the months went by, our first order of business was to begin seeking out and building our new extended family here. To really make an impact, especially in the area of lonely overworked families, we needed support and friends! (Our extended families in Indiana didn’t go away, but the orbit–which used to be measured in days–widened considerably to be once or twice a year.)

Our first apartment building in California proved a great place to start searching for an extended family. Because many of the families who lived there were transplants like us, they there were hungry for friends. We found people tremendously receptive and warm. We met some great folks who have been treasured friends this year.

One of our favorite activities has been Open Dinner, an accidentally great experiment from our days in Indiana. Every Wednesday over the summer, we’d set out a table with lunch meat and bread and invite anyone and everyone to stop by for dinner. People generally brought something to share and it was always a great time. We kept it lightweight and low-maintenance so that we never felt like it was a burden, even if no one came.

But most weeks, there were 2-3 other couples and plenty of kids. Eventually, some friends started to host and we moved around and everyone had the joy of sharing a meal and feeling included. When we met someone, rather than the usual “we should get together”, we had a concrete “Come join us for Open Dinner on Wednesday!” So fun.

Another rhythm is that we regularly have several families over for our Friday night Pizza and Movie Night, and have started sending out several couples (leaving a few behind with a bottle of wine and the kids) for date night. The off-weeks, we’ve been visiting a local nursing home to do game night. It’s been a blast and the kids are falling in love with the residents.

In fact, now the neighbors tend to stop by so much that we’ve instituted the “10-minute rule” we used to have in Indiana with our friends. The rule says that neighbors are welcome to drop by someone else’s house anytime (even if we’re in the middle of dishes, laundry, etc) and stay for up to 10 minutes without feeling like a bother. If you don’t get the invite to stay longer, you enjoy a few minutes of chit-chat and then carry on your way. It’s been a perfect way to open life up to others without feeling drained when you just need some time to yourself.

We’ve really learned a lot about what it means to cultivate an extended family on mission with Jesus, and the going hasn’t always been easy. But it doesn’t have to happen all at once.

For us it all started with one thing: taking a day off!