credit: Derek Key

The Unexpected Power of Stillness

We’re Deathly Afraid of it, But it May Be the Secret to a Good Life

There is an old saying that even a broken clock is right twice a day. Consider how that compares to a clock that is still ticking, but set to the wrong time.

While the former clock may not be moving, just by staying put, it still gets it right twice per day. It does so consistently — predictably. The latter clock — still moving and expending energy — never manages to be right, despite all of its movement.

Almost sounds like a Zen koan, doesn’t it?

I guess it kind of is a koan, but the moral is simple. When all else fails, pursue consistency.

Whatever your endeavor, there will be times when you’re uncertain about the approach you’re taking. The doubting then creeps in: Will it work? Was I crazy to start doing this? I can still back out…

When that happens, think about the clocks.

If you second-guess yourself and change your plan quickly, you’re the second clock. You are still ticking, expending energy, but you’re off the mark. The target you’re aiming for either isn’t moving, or is moving in a different direction than you are. It should be pretty clear then that until you get your bearings, continuing to move will do way more harm than good.

And yet, we do this constantly. We tend to feel that doing, moving, acting is somehow better than not acting, waiting, being still. But why is this? It’s wasteful.

I think it’s because we tend to feel uneasy when we’re not moving, doing, or talking. Just think back to the last time you were having a conversation with multiple people, and there was a silence.

How tense did you feel? How tense did everyone else look? They were so uneasy with not doing — not talking, that you could feel it, right? They weren’t just uneasy that they weren’t talking, but that someone wasn’t talking. How odd. Why should we feel that way? And yet, we do.

It’s because we can’t handle stillness. When things are still, we are not being distracted by actions. Our energy has nowhere to go. We’re used to being tired, stressed, and being either pushed or pulled. When we’re allowed to just be, and not subjected to pushes, pulls, and distractions, we end up having to create our own from within.

How absurd. But that’s our human absurdity. And you have to laugh a little at it before you can work on changing it.

So, this is me laughing at it. What will follow for me — and I hope for you readers — is the next step of getting more comfortable with stillness. Not just stillness, but its companion, silence.

What I am trying to do these days is to break down that feeling of unease that comes with not acting, not speaking. At that point, I can realize that stillness is powerful. It can rejuvenate. It can clarify. It is powerful, truly. But I can no longer be afraid of that power, because I can wield it. When I do that, I can get a lot more done— interestingly enough — by doing a lot less.

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