Is stillness the new movement that will help us find happiness?
As I put the finished touches to my Seasonal Happiness Programme – Winter Series, I am enjoying putting together the section on using meditation and mindfulness as part of my Happiness Prescription. It has inspired me to share with your how to master the art of doing nothing so that we can find our inner happy.
Master the art of doing nothing, are you crazy? I can hear the screams of incredulity from here. There’s the kids, the job, the dog, the shopping, the housework, the gym, dinner, the family outing to organise and mum’s birthday next week and you want me to do nothing!!
Yes, I know it sounds mad, because we have been conditioned to be busy. We have come from an age where ‘doing’ seems to the expectation. If you want to be successful you have to ‘take action’. Yet the new school of thought is the exact opposition of this – Doing is so last year. Today’s blog, sets out to show you how to transition to finding stillness in our crazy worlds.
For decades the message has been for us to actively engage in order to achieve results. All the self-help books during 1980 and 1990’s all gave the same message. ‘Put the effort in and you will reap the rewards.’ And so we dutifully complied and got busy.
We threw ourselves into our careers, started families, studied and juggled the many balls that constantly seemed to be in the air at any one time, waiting for our desired outcome to arrive. That might have been the promotion, the new career, the happiness, the weight-loss, saving for the holiday. It was all about doing, action, movement and sometimes, let’s face it, sheer hard work, determination and effort. We were conditioned to think that without ‘blood, sweat and tears’, we’d get nothing, be nothing and have nothing.
And now, thirty years on – blimey is it really that long ago, the new wave of thought is that being still is the art for us to now master. When we find stillness, we have a different way of looking at things, a calmer space to deal with life’s ups and downs. So instead of facing our challenges with an action plan, we take time to reflect on what it might be showing us, learning from it, asking questions of it and then making conscious choices about what we need to do, or not do to move forward.
We have become so entrenched in being active that we believe it is the only way to get things done. Now our challenge is to break that train of thought and consider behaving in a completely different way. Here’s my perspective on how to master the art of doing nothing.
1. Stillness in the morning.
This is such an important time of day that pretty much sets the scene for how we experience the day ahead. We’ve all had it – woken up with a start, had a bad dream, slept lightly or over-slept. It leaves us feeling less than refreshed. That feeling then seems to stay with us and we never quite manage to get into fourth gear.
Rather than hearing the alarm and jumping immediately out of bed, take a couple of minutes to allow yourself to come round. Notice the room around you and smile. Acknowledge a couple of things that you are grateful for and this might be as simple as ‘I’m grateful for waking up’ or ‘It’s a beautiful day’. Gratitude puts you in a much healthier place. Stillness first thing in the morning is a great way to start your day.
2. Stillness at night
Whilst the morning is a great place to do nothing, so is last thing at night. However crazy our world may have been during the day, as we think about going to bed, make time for five minutes to lay there quietly, reflecting. Get into the habit of giving your mental muscle a little workout by looking at some of the things that have been great in your day.
Focus on things that you have appreciated, valued or enjoyed. All too often we focus on the negative events, people or situations and this puts us in the wrong space for really good quality sleep. This, together with our waking moments, are times when our subconscious is particularly receptive and enables us to programme in positive thoughts and appreciations. Whilst we sleep these go to work effortlessly, giving our mental muscle are really good workout – and we’ve not even broken a sweat.
Meditation has certainly hit our screens in the last couple of years and is less WOOWOO than it used to be. Scientists are showing how being still for even just 10 minutes a day can be beneficial to managing our stress and happiness. Learning to still the mind and slow down the chatter takes our brain activity into a much more passive and relaxed mode and that stillness brings us all sorts of clarity, peace and relaxation.
If the word meditation is uncomfortable for you, then use a word that works for you. It can be as simple as sitting quietly with no other distractions around you or relaxation. There are no rules about how you should meditate. Sat, lying, at work, at home, in the bath – all places where you can focus on doing nothing and thinking nothing. The only place not advisable to meditate is whilst driving or operating machinery as it can sometimes induce sleep or drowsiness.
The art is actually not to DO anything. Just sit and focus on your breath. Allow the 50,000 thoughts we have chatter away and come back to the breath. Listen to calming music if that helps. There’s some great studies now about binaural beats sound meditation, which induces a great quality of sleep.
4. Ask better questions
Our days are busy, full of activities and overflowing with thoughts, tasks and judgements. Until we can find a way of breaking some of those old ‘busy’ conditions, we could simply check in with ourselves and find out how we’re feeling. I came across this from a very wise man and it is a great tool for helping you deal with stress or anxiety. Start by asking, ‘How am I feeling, right now?’ Acknowledge whatever emotion comes up and then ask, ‘What do I need to do about that emotion?’ Remembering of course that it might be that you need to do absolutely nothing at all. This is a much better approach than just getting caught up in the activity that we engage with unconsciously.
5. Learn to breathe
Breathing is a unconscious activity that our body carries out 24-7, so this might be a really strange suggestion to make. What I’m suggesting is that you become more conscious of your breathing, especially when you feel anxious, angry or upset. When we refocus our mind and practise deep breathing, it immediately calms the mind and body. When we breathe from the lower part of our lungs, it signals a different set of chemicals to course through our body and this takes us out of the instinctive fight or flight response that stress induces. In that moment of focusing on the breath, we find a stillness that helps us cope.
6. Investing in you – setting some boundaries
The final way to practise doing nothing, is to build in ‘you time’. Recognising that you have needs and that your batteries need recharging whilst heroically managing the day’s events, is vital. We typically invest more time into others than we do ourselves and we are paying the price for this. So we need to alter this pattern and start setting some boundaries with our friends and family that allow us to honour our private time. Whatever you choose to do with that time is up to you, although it is the act of asking for it and honouring it that counts. This place of recharge, allows you to be still amongst the madness of the environment around you and, in that place be and do nothing. Five minutes can be enough sometimes.
Strange isn’t it? I’m talking about the art of doing nothing and have given you a six-pointed action plan to help you achieve it! Although my theory on the matter is that when we’ve been conditioned to be so busy and active for so long, changing radically can be challenging. We have resistant minds that interfer with our good intentions. So my idea is to make a transition and experiment with different ways that fit into your world, however that looks. There’s no sterotyping going on with stillness – it’s making it work for you in a time and place that feels right.
So if you’re one of the ‘got to keep busy’ gang that I grew up amongst, then you might find some benefit in doing nothing. The stillness can be deafening and will have you experiencing life in a more rational, calm, relaxed and centred place. Surely has to be worth a try?
With happiness blessings
As I sat on the rocks aside of the lake this morning, reflecting and meditating, I felt a lovely sense of peace as the water lapped the shore and the distant cry of seagulls contributed to the orchestra of early morning tunes.
And then in the space between my thoughts, I noticed the sun as it rose from the east warming the left side of my face – it’s warmth penetrated my pores, creating a beautiful comfort and I breathed its radiance. Then, as if in gentle contrast of the duality of life, a cool wind caressed the other side of my face sending a shudder through my body.
It didn’t take long to return to the sun’s comfort and as soon as I did, the wind reminded me of its presence. This insane bouncing from one oppositional experience to another served as a lovely reminder about how life is. There are ups and downs, there is love and hate, peace and war, easeful flow and challenge, birth and death. And we swing emotionally, like a pendulum in-between these states, being worn out in the process as we try to cope with the ever-changing pace of life’s transition.
Although what this morning’s events offered me, is that this is reality, this is how life flows – it’s not personal – it simply ebbs and flows like the ocean’s tides, like the turning of the seasons. What sets happiness apart from suffering is our ability to navigate these twists and turns without the highs and lows that so often exhaust us.
When we can learn the art of simply sitting with whatever the present moment has given to us, whether that is a happy event or a sad one, then our acceptance, allows us to even out the rollercoaster ride that we allow life to take us on. The sun will sun and the wind will blow – that is simply how it is. And in the space in-between both dualities, when we accept their presence, then we will find peace. It is in the acceptance that we find our peace and therefore our ability to cope with whatever life throws at us.
Allow yourself to be mindful of what the present moment gives you and embrace it for all it is. Even the pain will pass. Acknowledge how you feel, give space to all that you think and feel and allow yourself to breathe in the reality. Gain strength from this grounding and then move forward from this place to tackle whatever needs tackling.
The beauty of this approach is that you deal with reality as it is and as you are, rather than with the emotional baggage that creates inner turmoil and anxiety, which of course then makes the reality feel even worse. When we can embrace the duality of life and allow each situation to arise as it is, we can navigate life’s path with greater ease and peace.
With happiness blessings
If you liked this blog and want to be part of a community of happiness heroes determined to make their happiness a priority, then come join our dedicated happiness space over at Wake up to Happiness. Look forward to seeing you there. Kx
I came across this word Eudaimonia, in a travel book, of all things and it intrigued me – as I’d not heard of it before. It stems from the Greeks, where philosophers held the space for our human flourishing under this rather beautiful phrase:-
Eudaimonia – to flourish
Which got me thinking… Do we ever stop to examine what it means for us to flourish and, more importantly, do we engage in that flourishing or are we simply too busy wilting? After 25 years in the Personal Development and Coaching industry, my conclusions is that sadly, we rarely take time to think about how to truly flourish and reach our full potential. So is this a time to stop and consider what this means to us?
If we are to fill Eudaimonia’s shoes, in the way that the philosophers intended, then we must really give some colour to, not just to the phrase, per se, more the opportunity that it presents to us.
Today’s modern world really does not really encourage Eudaimonia. We are caught up in a matrix of seemingly endless clock watching activities that have us rushing from one appointment or commitment to another, with little heed to our well-being, let alone our flourishing. Our entrapment in the materialistic world that our existence has morphed around, keeps us hostage to the relentless hamster-wheel of work, striving for success and earning money to pay for our insatiable demands. Little is really talked about how we might flourish and how we invest in our potential and happiness.
So whilst we’re at it, what does Eudaimonia infer with its rather elegant composition so alien to our vocabulary? What does it mean to flourish?
A seed has huge potential and expectation in its fledgling state. It instinctively has a programme that genetically kicks into action at the appropriate time and under the most perfect of conditions. And so its route to flourishing has begun. Underneath the surface at first, the seed begins to root itself downwards – paradoxically so that it can route itself upwards with strength and vitality. This is where its flourishing is conceived – not, strangely, in its final blossoming brilliance, which we see in all its regalia. Without strong roots the plant can not reach its potential.
As the sapling begins to branch out beyond the dark world, a whole new set of factors begin to set it on its path to Eudaimonia. Nutrients, hydration, sunlight, avoidance of pests; to name just a few. As it forges its way forward, the young plant begins to grow in strength and resilience as it battles with the elements. And inspite of it all, the youngster branches out with a core of character and a stem of determination that begins to shape its identity. Leaves unfurl, flower buds emerge and new shoots begin to give the plant’s shape essence and possibility.
As it stretches out towards its ultimate goal of fruitfulness, we start to see the plant’s purpose playing out right in front of us. Bees pollinate, winds carry the seeds of future generations and birds feast on its abundance to carry its genes far and wide. Whilst its flower, fruit or foliage may be a visual indicator of its magnificence, its blossom is only one small element of the natural world’s Eudaimonia.
Beneath the superficial glow of petals, stature or autumnal fruit, a plant’s flourishing, stems right back to its seed and having the right conditions from which it can start out on its journey. Only when all those conditions are met, can it reach its potential and flourish, not only as a unique and individual plant, also as a member of the community to which it belongs, contributing to the longevity and survival of its species.
This biological anecdote is all well and good, although how does it relate to us? What links can we draw from this to help us flourish in all our human-ness?
- Firstly, just like the seed, we need to make sure we have strong roots that give us a sense of grounding, so necessary in this crazy, superficial world. These roots mean understanding our values – the things that we hold as important in our lives and that shape the choices and decisions we make on a day to day basis. If we are taking action that doesn’t feel good to us deep within and that causes us anxiety or a general discomfort, then we are not honouring our roots and life really begins to suck and feel forced. When our inner most values are compromised, then how can we possibly flourish?
- Next our flourishing depends upon the conditions that we have around us that either feed and fuel us or strip us of our goodness. So the essential ingredients of nourishing food, oils, vitamins and water are core to our well-being. Without them we develop deficiencies and dis-ease that result in us under-performing and becoming ill. If not in the short-term perhaps, certainly in the long-run these deficiencies creep up on us. So creating a balance and ‘good soil’ in which we can thrive, much like the sprouting sapling, becomes essential to our growth, survival and potential. ‘What we put in, we will get out‘, as the old saying goes.
- As we grow and are inevitably challenged by life’s ups and downs, like the plant, we must not be defined by the weather, drought or be distracted from our purpose – to be happy and fulfilled. The minute our focus moves or we procrastinate, then our essence begins to whither and flourish we most certainly do not. Holding onto the bigger picture of being well and happiness – is what we must set our sights on.
- As we take on a positive and determined mindset, we begin to attract to us the people and events that help us to feel enriched and nourished. Whilst not all in the garden can ever be rosy each and every minute, if we hold the vision of positivity, believe in ourselves, hold our self-respect in the highest regard and are mindful of our behaviours, mindsets and needs, then we can truly flourish with the essence of well-being.
Do we not, after all, have the right to fulfil our destiny, our life purpose and allow our potential to flourish? Is not Eudaemonia our right? We have the opportunity to assert this right and not allow external conditions to adversely affect our lives, which seems to increasingly be the case. Governments try to control us, organisations drive us, society influences us, the media manipulates us. If we realise that beyond these constraints of The Matrix, there exists a space that allows us to flourish as human beings. When we harness our inner energy and desire for happiness, then our lives can begin to change and our ability to thrive emerges like the rising of the sun.
To this end, the energy and philosophy of Eudaimonia is available to each of us, we just need to tap into the resources that enable us to access happiness and thrive. So the bottom line to our flourishing is:
- Believe in our right to flourish and reach our full potential – this is not selfish – our future generations depend upon it.
- Acknowledge and honour our values and make choices based on those values so that we are in alignment.
- Adopt a positive mental attitude that allows us to filter out negativity.
- Fuel ourselves with the right nutrients that create a healthy soil in which we can be well and full of vitality.
- Hold a vision of our well-being and keep this as a high priority as we make our choices and decisions.