Perhaps the strangest paradox of modern life is that it can feel harder to stand still and do nothing than it is to remain in motion doing something.
Shouldn’t “doing nothing” be the easiest thing to “do”?
I have often experienced this sensation while taking a walk and stopping to look at a flowering tree or noticing a particular swirl of light in the late afternoon sky. There’s often something else to do or an inner drive to be productive–to keep moving.
I’ve watched several documentaries where monks are staring contentedly at fields where the sun rustles the corn, where monks settle in at a desk to read scripture for long stretches of time, or where a monk calmly works on a task such as cutting fire wood or making soap. These people may as well be from a different planet compared to me.
How are they so unhurried and calm?
What super power enables them to sit or stand so still and so erect for so long?
Do they drink less coffee???
My suspicion is that I have immersed myself in motion, productivity, and meeting certain goals that appear quite important. I find it difficult to stop each day for meditation, prayer, or silence before God because I’m immersed in illusions about my own importance or the urgency of everything before me.
Training myself to value silence or to thrive in stillness has challenged me to rethink my addiction to motion and activity.
Perhaps I won’t get what I crave if I’m always thinking about doing the next thing?
What exactly do I crave in the first place?
That’s where some uncomfortable reflections come up!
It may be easier to reflect on what I could gain if I made stillness and silence a more regular part of my daily life.
For instance, I have managed to train myself to recognize when I’m not getting enough stillness and silence. I know the feeling of rush, despair, and disordered thoughts that comes with an addiction to hurry and doing.
I can feel my soul lurching forward with the shock of a stop, as if silence is slamming on the brakes in my life.
Yet, when I am grounded in a measure of silence and stillness, I can become more aware of God and more aware of how I’m spending my time.
I can ask if I’m using my phone or social media to check out from reality. I can ask if I need to add more life-giving activities to my day, such as a walk, some art, or a bit of reading.
Perhaps the thing that makes standing still so difficult is that I haven’t realized just how beneficial it could be for me to stop doing things. It would be a tragedy to get everything I’ve been striving to achieve with my activity only to realize I could find most of what I need if I set aside more time for silence.