Stillness, and its place in our hectic world
It has been nearly a year since miss Rona started her commotion in our collection ocean and what a time it has been! March 2020 to March 2021 has simultaneously been one of the most eventful and uneventful years of our lifes. Everything has shifted and the world is pretty unrecognisable to 2019. And yet, now we have settled into our new ‘normal’, each day melds into the last. The stillness is palpable. It feels like the year that time forgot.
The big calendar events that previously split up the year passed by uneventfully. There were no big Halloween parties, birthdays were spent inside without parties, and the summer barbeques with good beers and even better friends never appeared. If it weren’t for the changing seasons, I would be hard pressed to tell you what month it was.
I’m sure we have all had our own victories in quarantine. Maybe we’ve become fitter, or we have finally taken the time to finish that project, or maybe we’ve just had more time to spend with the people around us. However, in our outward focused world, these small internal victories can feel unimportant. There is no qualification for finally achieving that yoga pose and we can’t add anything about our enriched personal relationships to our CV. But does that matter? Do we need every action to be qualified by those around us for them to be worthwhile?
The Constant Pursuit of More
Our society puts a big pressure on constant outward achievement. We are always in motion, striving, and gaining. And it makes sense, everything around us tells us we are currently lacking. We see advertisements about getting a nicer car or a new handbag, we deserve it. We are bombarded by ideas that we should have a six pack, or massive biceps. And why not get a bigger house whilst you’re at it?
But where does this stop?
When do we decide that the house is big enough, that we already have enough shoes, or that our biceps already look great at the ‘guns show’.
Progress is of course a fantastic thing, but I think sometimes we get carried away. We want to have the next best thing without really questioning why. Do we actually want the new iphone for any reason beyond the fact that we can get it? When do we decide to be accept the present? When are we still?
Stillness in society
Being still is not something our society values very much. Everything in our modern lives has become ‘go-go-go’. We have become ‘master’ multi-taskers, and we can buy a gadget to save us time on nearly everything.
We have coffee machines that make our coffee before we’ve even woken up. Our phones can tell us the weather, without us ever looking out of the window. Hell, you can even roast a chicken in the microwave nowadays.
The ironic thing is, even with all these ‘time-savers’*, we are living in a ‘time-poor society’. How can we have less time than ever, when theoretically, everything is quicker than before? Have we become so poor at utilising our time properly? (check your phone usage before you say you have no time in the day)
*I should preface this by saying I am truly thankful for certain inventions, and having a dishwasher improves my mood by about 1000%
Or is it, that the way we live nowadays, makes us feel like 24 hours just isn’t enough?
With a clock that constantly feels like it is running out, why on earth would we value stillness in our life. It simply isn’t efficient. Time is money, and you make no money by relaxing.
But I think this is where we have become unstuck slightly.
Humans need stillness. Having time to do nothing is essential for us to wind down. Many of us turn on the TV or Netflix to relax, but in doing this we are still being bombarded by all these different images, sounds and ideas. The whole idea of TV is to entertain us by taking us on an emotional journey, and sometimes, I finish the programme more stressed than when I began. And then I am left thinking ‘Wow RuPaul’s judging choices on RPDR UK are wack, if Bimini Bom Boulash is eliminated I will riot!’.
And as we consume, we stuff more and more into our already crammed brains. More adverts, more opinions, more noise.
Many of us have become unable to simply not do anything. I mean half of us Brits take our phones to the toilet in case having a wee was devoid of entertainment.
Think about our cave dwelling predecessors. Whilst we may imagine them hunting wild buffalo all day, I imagine much of their day was taken up by looking at the campfire.
Our current lifestyles create no moments where we are able to be alone with ourselves and our thoughts. And this is so unnatural for us. I can’t help but to wonder if this is one of the reasons why stress and anxiety is on the rise? Maybe we are just functioning in a way that is wrong for us.
What is stillness?
Now I am not sure if stillness is quite the correct word here, but it is what makes sense in my brain. For me, stillness is when we stop everything around us and we just think. We turn off the TV, we put down our phone, and we just let our mind wander. And in this peace and quiet we just think.
When was the last time you just sat down to do nothing and daydream? And I mean really sat down and did nothing. You weren’t commuting, you weren’t doing chores, there was no music on. Where you sat and pondered life for a little while.
Now I am not saying we should have a life filled with stillness. Firstly, we would get nothing done. Secondly, it would be mad boring. And thirdly, I think we would all slowly go insane. However, allowing a small period of stillness each day is really beneficial.
Why is stillness beneficial?
1) It is relaxing
We may not think of our favourite entertainment as stress inducing, however when combined with everything around it, it can quickly become overstimulating. For example, look at Youtube. There are more videos to watch than could ever be possible in our life-span.
When we feel over-stimulated it is easy to begin to feel stress creeping in, and this stress activates the flight or fight response within our parasympathetic system. When we are able to turn off this constant stimulation, it acts as a break for our brain. Our body can stop panicking at all the choice and bombardment. We can breathe a sigh of relief.
2) Self Reflection
When we are still and alone with our thoughts our mind enter into something recently coined as “self-generated cognition”. In other words, when we are still our brain naturally wanders into thinking about our emotions and dreams. We begin to make connections that are brains were previously too busy to make, we become cognisant. There is a reason people say they do their best thinking in the shower or bath when we can finally unwind. And that’s an epiphany Tiffany!
3) Stillness helps us sleep better
Rather unsurprisingly stillness aids in better sleep. When we are able to turn off distractions and we are not constantly searching for the next new thing, it gives us the time to relax. Sleep.org found that “sleeping with electronic devices results in nearly an hour’s worth of difference in sleep among kids between the ages of six and 17 when compared to children who do not sleep with electronic devices”.
Much of our technology emits blue light that may unwittingly be affecting our sleep. Our bodies run according to our ‘circadian rhythm’, which is basically an internal body clock that helps give our bodies signals to help us fall asleep, wake up and even feel hungry. It is like our own little mini assistant. Our circadian rhythm bases our sleep patterns on whether it is night or day. It releases hormones that make us feel awake when the sun rises, and the hormone melatonin is released to help us sleep when it dark. But much of our technology like phones, laptops and tablets emit blue light, and this blue light tricks our circadian rhythm.
The issue is, if we bring technology into the bedroom, it is light for nearly all of our waking hours, and our rhythm struggles to tell the different between the light from the sun and the blue light of our electronics. The Sleep Health Foundation have found that even 1 and a half hours of technology use in the evening our sleep hormone, melatonin, is blocked meaning a worse quality and quantity of sleep.
4) Stillness is creativity boosting.
When we have time to sit with our own mind we think of new ideas. In essence, when we stop consuming, we create. We give our brains a space to breathe, and ideas come flooding in. For example, the neuroscientist Andrew Tate suggests going for a walk as a quick creativity boost!
So how can I find stillness in everyday life?
Whilst stillness could just be sitting down with a cup of tea and thinking about life there are lots of other ways to find more stillness and contemplation in your life like-
Adult colouring books or any kind of repetitive actions e.g knitting, playing tetris. By doing something active that requires little brain power it allows our mind to wander and for us to think.
Running. If you can find a place to run with little or no distractions, the act of running itself can act as vehicle for stillness in our mind. Once we have settled into the repetitive action of the running, our brain can begin to settle down.
Watching nature, fishing or bird watching.
Journaling with no particular purpose. Just grab a notepad and just start writing whatever comes to mind. Don’t be self-conscious about what comes out, or feel like it needs to be really deep or meaningful. Sometimes you may just be thinking about cheese toasties. It is just time to write your stream of consciousness and let those thoughts flow.
Or my personal favourite a bath! I personally like to really set the mood for my baths so I feel like a glamorous lady from the 20’s. I run the bath, add salt (which is not only great for muscles but also acts as a natural healer for any cuts or scrapes we may have), light some candles and I add some flower petals if I am feeling really bougie. If I feel a kind of way and just need to ruminate about something I run and bath and put the worlds to rights… in my own brain at least. By the time I leave things just make more sense (even if I have accidentally spent 4 hours in the bath again).
Stillness and the Pandemic-
This quarantine has been an enforced stillness. We have literally been stopped in our tracks. And for many of us this this may be the first time in a while where we have had the time to just stop and think. We have no longer had weekend plans, or spent the day commuting, or wasted time mindlessly shopping. These mind filling distractions were literally no longer an option. And this left a lot of free time to think. Some would say too much time!
I don’t think it is surprising that in this time many people I know have changed large areas of their life whether it be within their careers, relationships, or entire lifestyle. Whatever the changes are, I can’t help but think it is related to the abundance of new stillness we have. When we have time to think, and I mean properly sitting down with yourself, we have the ability to assess our lives. To assess what we love, what is working, and what needs to change. This stillness have given us the luxury to evaluate our life choices.
In the book ‘The 7 habits of Effective People’ (not the most catchy title I know) the author explores the idea of climbing a ladder. We prop our ladder up against the tree (our goal) and we climb to the top as we work on improving. This tree could be the idea of a strengthened relationship, a promotion or even just getting really good at crossfit.
It is natural that we get preoccupied with the ladder. We want to be the best, we want to reach the top. But sometimes this single-minded climb to the top has distracted us. We were focused on the ladder that we lost sight of what we were climbing. This tree was never our goal.
To end this ramblings…
If we give ourselves the time to take a step back and just stay in stillness, we can revaluate our life choices. We can evaluate what trees we want to climb.
I know many people have called this whole year a waste of time. But I think we are missing something there. This stillness gives us the ability to reflect, to observe and to see what we would like change. This stillness is not a waste of time at all. In fact, evaluating if you are climbing the right tree is maybe the best use of your time.
So, now that we have reached our conclusion, in the spirit of this article, maybe its time to make a cup of tea, turn everything off and just sit and think for a while…
Song of the day
The Song of the Day is Pearl by The Mamas and The Papas. I am a bit obsessed with their entire discography but this one is just perfect for the beginning of Spring!
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