If there was one lesson I wish I could tell my younger mom self it is this – be still.
As a younger mom I often felt harried and hurried through each day. I was busy and boy did I want everyone to know it. I didn’t have time to answer that phone call from my mom, I didn’t have time to simply sit with a friend just to catch up (there needed to be wine involved), I didn’t have time to exercise, reading (ha) – no way did I have time for that or any other soul enriching activities that are actually vital to the mind and body, and I certainly did not have time to be still. Being a mom to my daughter felt just as harried and hurried. Especially holidays and birthdays most of which are a blur of hurrying from place to place, social engagement to social engagement. And at the end of it all I would feel like a deflated balloon, instead of feeling fulfilled.
If only someone would have told me to – be still. Stillness is something I treasure now more than ever.
In modern American culture being busy is celebrated. Free time is considered leisure and any stillness is considered boredom. But the reality is that boredom is when the magic happens – it is when you feel hyper focused, it is when you feel peace, it is when you really see, it is when you have that ah-ha moment, it is when you feel God’s closeness, it is when you are able to simply ‘be’ in the present moment.
How easy we forget that being still, resting, listening, watching, waiting, observing, breathing, sitting – these are in fact verbs, these are actions. And just like a kid trying to keep their eyes closed during a prayer, these actions take effort and make some of us very fidgety. It is no easy task for someone to sit still, but doing it just 15 minutes a day is vital to our mental and physical health.
Being still is as important to me as checking off the top priority on my to do list. Even on family vacations when there is so much to see and do, I make it a point to have alone time. Maybe that means waking up earlier than everybody else or just asking for 15 minutes to go on a walk, but I make it an important part off the day because it helps be a better wife, better mom, and better human. On a recent trip to Charleston, we stayed at the beautiful Inn at Middleton Place, each morning and afternoon I took an hour walk by myself. I found a secret garden nook where I would sit, meditate, and pray. It felt so good to have that time to be still, it created such a deep gratitude within me for that time with my family, and it made the vacation all the more memorable.
Be Present – Spiritual leaders from all walks of life advise people to live in the present moment. The greatest minds of our time urge that the only real moment to be alive is the present moment. To have your mind drenched with lament over an event that happened yesterday or worrying about something that will happen in the next few hours, that brings suffering and unhappiness. To have your body here in the now yet your mind stuck at 10am yesterday or worrying about 9pm tonight that causes much angst and agitation. God over and over again tells us to not worry.
To simply ‘be’ present, find a quiet place where you know will not be disturbed and sit still. Notice how the sun hits your face, open your eyes to leaves greening on the trees, listen to the birds singing, feel the breeze run along your skin. In the Bible Jesus often speaks of the ‘kairos’ or the supreme moment. We must live in the kairos not the ‘chronos’ which is the personification of time that so often we let rule our lives.
Breathe – Breathing is a verb. Being mindful about our breathing is essential to being still and feeling inner peace. Deep breaths and methodical breathing are important to feeling good both mentally and physically. Breathing well takes practice. My child’s yoga teacher always starts off each session by asking the children to take 3 deep breaths. The purpose is to calm and help focus. I started doing this myself whenever I felt things getting a little too hectic and it works. By just taking 3 deep breaths we can be still, be present, and feel more focused and revived.
Rest – Resting is itself an action, but so often our American culture associates rest with being lazy. How often do we go through a medical operation, death of a loved one, or something dramatic and instead of taking the time to be by ourselves and rest, we start focusing on when we will feel better? Even when we rest, our bodies are working very hard to restore us. Resting is very essential time of hard work for our physical body and mind. If we take the time to rest our aching bodies and souls by simply letting ourselves heal, we will begin to feel more balanced and peaceful.
Meditate – Meditation is the number one way to be still. It takes no money or special equipment, all you have to do is find a quiet place and dedicate 15 minutes or longer to freeing your mind of thoughts, deliberately letting each thought go until you achieve a state of pure mindfulness. It might take some practice to get used to the process, but once you do, you will notice yourself more hyper-focused each day. Meditation increases focus and concentration while also improving immune system function, improving interpersonal relationships, and reducing stress and anxiety.
Listen – Talk less, listen more. How often do we talk so much that at the end of a conversation we realize we didn’t really retain any information about what is going on in the other person’s life? In a world that says the loudest person wins, being a good listener seems to be a lost art. We can practice listening by being still and tuning our ears to notice the sounds around us. If we really start to listen, this will begin to translate to other areas of life and we will soon find that we have more vivid, memorable, enriching conversations with our family, with friends, with coworkers, even with strangers. I look forward to having conversations with many people and there are several friends that I could literally talk all day to. In these conversations I feel present, I am listening, I am genuinely interested, and very rarely is there alcohol involved. These type conversations enrich my mind, calm my soul, and leave me feeling inspired – and it all begins with remembering that listening is more vital than talking.
Watch – I have a friend who has made it part of her schedule to sit on the floor with her son and watch him play for an hour each morning. I remember how my grandmother used to watch me play and then how she would watch my daughter. It amazed me that she could sit still for that long??? Didn’t she know there was so much she could be doing while my daughter played? But that kind of patience, watching, and being still is so very important to each child’s upbringing as well as to the person watching. My 80 year old neighbor and former teacher who is full of anecdotes says, “ADD stands for Adult Deficiency Syndrome.” Meaning that what our children are lacking in today’s world is quality time with their parents and grandparents. Current society is too busy doing something else or scrolling on their phones instead of taking the time to be still and watch. These days I take time to just watch my daughter – watch her swing, watch her play ponies, watch her draw, watch her ride her bike, and what I wouldn’t give for just one more hour of simply watching her play building blocks as a toddler.
Observe – Both good and bad things are going to happen – you can react or you can be still and observe. Instead of listening to that little voice in your head tell you when to be mad, be sad, get irritated, get defensive, name call, judge – realize who you are is not those thoughts or how that little voice is making you feel. You are you, you are a spiritual being experiencing life – the good, the bad, the ugly and instead of being that little voice who judges and labels situations, you can be still even in the most harried situations and become an observer of life. Right now there are billions of things happening to everybody all over this world. Life is going to happen – are you going to let it happen inside your head or are you going to be aware of how your spirit exists in this world separate from that little voice.
Put Down The Screen – The screen gives the illusion of being still but we are not still when we are distracted. Screens of any kind are distractions and interfere immensely with us being able to concentrate whether it is on work, family, or simply just being still. Our smart phones are the ultimate mindlessness, always there, always connected, always distracting. Your mouth may be quiet, the room you are in may be quiet, but if there is a screen on your mind is not quiet. As much as our screens may improve our lives, they also can be unhealthy distractions that have to be kept in check. If you feel like you ‘can’t turn it off’, it is time to turn it off. The gift of stillness should be more important than checking Facebook. To be in the present, to feel and show genuine love, to be aware of the natural world around us, and to feel oneness with God we have to put down the screens.
Watch The Sunset – There’s not many things more inspiring than a beautiful sunset. Next time you see the sun setting on the horizon and its beauty takes your breath away. Stop and watch it in silence. No need to speak, no need to think, no need to take a picture, just observe nature’s masterpiece.
I wear a necklace by Alex Soldier around my neck often, it is one received when I visited his studio in New York. It was a very hectic day and I thought the tour of his design studio and jewelry pieces would be quick, it was not. And by the end of the tour I felt so much peace and gratitude I didn’t want it to end. The necklace is a snail with a diamond on it, a reminder to go slow. So young moms if you are listening, take time to be still and enjoy each phase of this beautiful gift called motherhood. It isn’t easy, in fact its downright treacherous some days, but it is gift that you don’t want to be a blur.