by Michael Plank
In our gym, we use the Level Method Map of Athletic Progression – it’s a tremendous tool to help our members chart a path to lifelong general fitness. It shows us our strengths, it shows us where we could use some more work, and it gives us a path to follow so that we can get where we want to go. We spent all of 2020 also developing a Map of Spiritual Progression. The aim is the same: a tool to show us our strengths, where we can use some more work, and that lays out a path to follow so that we can get where we want to go. Our vision is to improve the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health of our area, and this is one way we’re working on tackling that last piece of the puzzle. (More on this to come this year)
One of the first categories we look at developing is stillness. Cultivating stillness is a skill, and it’s way underrated.
Cultures, religions, and traditions around the world, for all of history, have had different strategies for cultivating stillness: Sabbath, meditation, walkabouts, silent retreats, and many others are all different roads leading to the same place. What stillness is has every bit as much to do with intention as with logistics. (So, for example, sitting still and quiet, by yourself, scrolling on your phone, probably is not cultivating stillness).
We live in a world in which attention is arguably the most valuable resource, which means things are clamoring for our attention 100% of the time. Cultivating stillness means making space away from all that noise. And what happens in that space can be literally life-changing.
I started my own journey of cultivating stillness when I was asked the last time when I took a full 60 seconds with no phone, no distractions, no self-development exercises, no trying to sleep, but just sitting and letting my mind wander in stillness. 60 seconds. I had no answer.
And so I started cultivating stillness in my life. My strategy came from a mindset coach and business mentor named Colm O’Reilly.
I started with 2 minutes. I went into a room by myself, closed the door, set a 2 minute timer, put my phone out of sight, and just looked out the window.
At first, that 2 minutes was almost completely consumed with remembering all the things I had forgotten to do that day. But that’s good. I would have forgotten them otherwise. After awhile (weeks), sometimes in the space of that 2 minutes, I’d get some minor insight (if I switch my Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons, I can get an extra family dinner in each week). After a little longer, I started to notice it would help me detach when I let problems spin me up so that I got bogged down in the weeds. And after longer still, I began to notice more of a sense of lightness in my life.
And just to be clear, all I’m talking about here is stillness. For me, it’s not prayer, it’s not reading, it’s not even meditation (though it might be one of those things for you). It’s just sitting and looking out the window. It’s a practice, and like any practice, I wasn’t good at it when I started (I’m still very much a novice). And like any practice, I have good days and bad days as I slowly improve my skills.
Step 1: Make time to stop and take 5 deep breaths (no screens or music)
Step 2: On another day, take time to stop and take 10 deep breaths (no screens or music)
Step 3: While sitting or walking, take 10 deep breaths once each week for a month
Step 4: While sitting or walking, take 20 deep breaths once each week for a month
Step 5: Sit still with no distractions for 3 minutes once each week for a month
Step 6: Build in duration and frequency from there.
A lot of the good things we want in life – things like meaning, gratitude, peace, clarity, calm – get drowned out easily by all the noise around us when they’re first taking root. Stillness is a powerful way for us to water that garden and let them grow to become a part of our lives the way we want them to be.