(Note: This post will include faith portions.)

In the middle of a random week in February, my husband and I had a two night getaway in the hills of Tennessee. It was an early anniversary celebration and nothing short of magical. We chose a place that would give us space to connect deeply and be still. And, we did just that. We talked, laughed, cried some, did puzzles, drank tea, hiked, and sat consistently next to a warm fireplace. Cherry on the top of all of that was that it snowed while we were there, which is one of my very favorite things. The picture above is from that time. It is, to me, what the practice of Stillness looks like, metaphorically speaking.

At this moment in history, we are all experiencing a global slowdown. Stillness if you will. In many places, we are being asked to shelter in place. No more time with friends, practices for our children, meetings, etc. Busyness is on hold. The challenges of this time are different for all of us. Some are single with abundant stillness in their homes. Some have children and there is much less stillness. Some are in the middle of financial hardship and stillness can fell evasive. Others may have been in marital difficulty long before now and find the stillness to breed more difficulty. Wherever your circumstances may be, I hope you will read along and see if there is a way that the practice of Stillness might be a beautiful place of deepening and grounding for you in this time.

The practice of Stillness was a difficult one for me to develop. When I first started, around 16 years ago, I only started because I fell off the end of my rope (which was a regular occurrence for me) and it was either learn to sit in Stillness or develop a signifiant drug habit. I’m sort of kidding. I don’t know many people who naturally develop a practice of Stillness. Most of us get there because we need to, not because we want to. That is probably where most of us are right now. We need the practice of Stillness more than we want it.

About 10 years ago, I remember sitting in my home office watching the birds out of the window. I was in the middle of huge job change and a glitch happened with the new job that meant I might end up unemployed. (Did I mention I had just bought my first house as a single woman?) While I was waiting to see how things would sort out, I had time on my hands. To cope, I spent quite a bit of time outside and walked miles. I also attempted to sit in Stillness for an hour or so a day. I remember that particular day, because as I watched the birds fly to and fro, my insides would not quiet no matter what I did. I picked up my journal and wrote, “My soul feels like a child who refuses to be comforted.” And, if I’m honest, that feeling lasted for a while. Though it required much of me, I didn’t stop practicing the Stillness. So, if you are thinking this is going to require too much of you or that it is too hard, do take heart. It gets better and it is worth the struggle.

The practice of Stillness, from my perspective, is where we attempt to rest in the life we have and be present in it. It means seeking peace in your spirit so that you are more present and grounded in the day that you are in. There are different ways to do it. The goal is that your inner world will settle and you are able to listen to that still, small voice. Below are a couple of ways you could try:

  • You can practice while walking if you need to. You don’t have to be completely “still” in your body to practice Stillness. In fact, nature can be a great help.

  • You can sit in one place with a beloved book and journal. Read a bit and journal a bit and then sit with yourself.

  • You can run yourself a bath and allow the heat to help you to relax and center.

There is no wrong way to practice Stillness. Find your own way in it.

From my perspective, there are two parts that make up the practice of Stillness…

Grief and Gratitude

As our souls quiet and we start to sort through the anxieties and thoughts that arise, we can address those with two different offerings: Grief and Gratitude. Start noticing what comes up for you. What in your soul is needing to be heard and validated? Is it fear? Is it sadness? Is it joy? Remember that joy and pain live in the same house, which is why we greet them with grief and gratitude. I am a woman of faith and so my time of Stillness is also time in which I commune with God. I talk, often out loud, about what I am grieving and what I am grateful for. I try to be present well in both as I can get lost in the grieving if I am not careful. So, I challenge myself to continue to offer gratitude. Though it may feel difficult, there is room, and necessity, for gratitude in the middle of suffering.

From what I understand, we are at the front of our surge here in the US. Things are going to get worse for a while. Many of us may have to process through death of people in our circles. All of us are going to have to continue to process through how our lives and the world around us have changed. I don’t know of a better way to meet these challenges than with the practice of Stillness that daily offers grief and gratitude. There may be days where that gratitude feels almost impossible. If you need inspiration on those days, might I suggest Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. Frankl found grief and gratitude in the middle of life in a WWII Nazi concentration camp. It is one of the most inspiring books I have ever read and may be one of the best models that we have for this time in history.

I kept trying to find a way to intertwine the Jewish idea of Sabbath into these thoughts. What we might gain from the slowing of things and the Stillness within. Yet, it felt like there was too much here already. Then, Al Andrews of Porters Call brought to our attention a poem from a local Nashville poet. She wound it all together so beautifully. I leave you with her words.

Pandemic by Lynn Ungar

What if you thought of it
as the Jews consider the Sabbath—
the most sacred of times?
Cease from travel.
Cease from buying and selling.
Give up, just for now,
on trying to make the world
different than it is.
Sing. Pray. Touch only those
to whom you commit your life.
Center down.

And when your body has become still,
reach out with your heart.
Know that we are connected
in ways that are terrifying and beautiful.
(You could hardly deny it now.)
Know that our lives
are in one another’s hands.
(Surely, that has come clear.)
Do not reach out your hands.
Reach out your heart.
Reach out your words.
Reach out all the tendrils
of compassion that move, invisibly,
where we cannot touch.

Promise this world your love—
for better or for worse,
in sickness and in health,
so long as we all shall live.

May your souls find Stillness through grief and gratitude. Onward…Berrylin