Week 3: be still, be silent, just be
How are we doing, gang? We are moving into week three already. Can you believe it? How is your 2021 so far? It definitely seems like it’s going to give 2020 a run for its money, so now more than ever we need to recommit to our revolution-not-resolution journey of inner transformation. We can’t control what’s going on out there, but we can control at least some of what’s going on in here (pointing to my heart right now).
If you go back to the original post that launched this journey, you’ll note that the third thing on our list — after gratitude journaling and creating a sacred space — is making time for silence every day, even if it’s just a few minutes. So let’s talk about that and what it might look like in your busy life. I know making time for silence is usually not easy, even when we have the time and the space, even when we’ve got nothing on our plate but doomscrolling on our phones. Why is it so difficult to sit in silence? Because silence is challenging, especially when we first start — and it’s anything but silent. We might not be saying anything or listening to anything but our mind is screaming with thoughts and memories that demand to be heard.
So, first things first. If you created a sacred space, this is where you should go for your time in silence. If not, find a place where you won’t be disturbed. (If necessary, put a sign on the door or alert family members so they give you some space and peace.) Find a time that works for you — first thing in the morning or just before bed (or both) are the obvious choices, but if you have other times that work better, go for whatever will make you more likely to stick with the practice.
Commit. The hardest part is showing up. Isn’t it funny how we do that to ourselves? We can waste countless hours on TV, social media, shopping, talking or texting, and yet, when it comes to even five minutes of silence on a cushion or in a chair, we suddenly don’t have the time. So commit to showing up, even if it’s only five minutes, even if you say you’ll show up five days each week rather than every day. It gives you a cushion. Although making this a daily practice or twice daily practice — like brushing your teeth or showering — will weave it into the fabric of your life and make it less likely that you’ll shrug it off day after day.
So what do you do once you get to your sacred space and sit in silence. Well, here are the practical/physical tips: You want to sit with a nice straight back, so either sit up on a cushion on the floor (if that’s your style) or sit a chair where you won’t sink back and slouch. If you’re in a chair, you want both feet on the ground. Spine long, crown of the head lifting toward the sky, chin even with the floor of even slightly down so the back of your neck is long. Let your palms rest on your legs. If you’re clenching your jaw or furrowing your brow, relax your face. Soften your heart and belly. Deepen your breath, but don’t force or manipulate it, just gently invite your breath down into your belly rather than breathing shallow from your chest. Close your eyes or lower your gaze so you’re looking at the floor. Now you’re ready. You can set a timer for however long you want to pray, meditate, sit so that you’re not constantly checking your clock (and you will want to constantly check your clock if you’re new to this).
Now what? Now you listen. For the still, small voice, for the Spirit speaking to your heart, for your own inner voice crying out to be heard over the din of the world. Depending on your faith tradition, you might want to begin with a prayer asking the Spirit to guide to you. If you have trouble staying silent and still, find a word or phrase that speaks to you and come back to that, like a mantra. It can be a verse from Scripture or a word that makes you come back to God’s presence, or it can just be your breath. Keep coming back to your breath when you mind wanders, but don’t fight the thoughts that come up. “Monkey mind” is the term Buddhists use for the inability of the mind to quiet its own chatter when we sit in silence or meditate. A spiritual director on my very first silent retreat told me to imagine those thoughts like a leaf or twig floating on a river. Just watch them come and go and let them float away without grasping or attaching in any way. That’s easier said than done, but it will get easier the more you practice. When your timer goes off or you’re done for the day, don’t jump up and grab your phone immediately. Come out of it slowly, maybe with hands in prayer position at your heart. Say a little prayer of thanksgiving if you like or some other prayer, bow your head, and return to life with more gentleness toward yourself and others.
Saying all of this to you inspires me to recommit to my own practice of daily silent prayer and meditation. I often meditate as part of my yoga practice, but I’ve let my early morning silent prayer practice fall by the wayside these days, and I can feel the difference in my life and in my inner peace. Today I will join you in making a plan to sit on my cushion at least five days a week first thing in the morning. Let’s check back next week and see how we do. If you have questions or suggestions or observations, please share in the comment section.
Peace, love, blessings,