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Do You Have The Strength To Be Still? Guest Post by Amy Harrison

Update from Josh: The response to 8400 Seconds was overwhelming and wonderful, thank you.  This post is my favorite response so far.

Amy at Women Unlimited

By Amy Harrison

I always thought doing nothing was easy.

It’s a luxury most of us can’t afford. We’re go-getters, we set goals, work hard and go for it. We organize, plan, check things off and get things done.  I’m not talking about mindless busy either, we’re working hard and fast to improve ourselves, better ourselves and it’s rewarding because it’s hard.

And doing nothing is easy, right?

Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t

Josh’s post the other day–8400 seconds–shows how the strength it takes to do nothing but be still, without distractions.

I’d be willing to bet that many people reading that article admired Josh’s achievement and felt appreciative of an ability many of us probably take for granted.

I began to wonder just how many people, exercise that ability? It probably seems peculiar working towards something you can already do.

But can you really sit still?

Can you sit quietly without thinking about tasks on your to do list or what you’re going to have for dinner that evening? Do you have the TV or radio on even if you haven’t actively picked a programme to watch or listen to?

Do you find the idea of meditating devoid of practical application and only for the spiritually enlightened and yoga lovers?

For the most part, I have been in the above. I am the sort of person who goes to the beach or the park with: a book, a notebook, my diary, my phone, mp3 player, several pens, a camera and a camcorder on the off chance that I have an idea, or need to do something, or need to capture something or need to just be doggone busy.

I am confident that for most people, sitting still is a difficult thing to do.

On and off

I’ve only just started it myself, I’ve been doing it on and off for the last few months with surprising results.

  • I’m calmer
  • I’m more appreciative or the moment
  • I’m more focused
  • I’m more content
  • I’m more forgiving
  • I’m more excited

What do I do?

On a regular basis I’ve taken time to “float”. If I think about it as meditating I’m going to try too hard to do it properly. I like the idea of floating. It makes me think of being on holiday and being on an inflatable in the swimming pool; unable to read, or listen to music because of the water soaking the pages or wrecking my electronics.

I take that time to just check in with myself. I use it as free time without a conscious purpose, without pressure to fix something, solves something, set new goals or scope out the competition. As a result my actions seem to be gradually aligning with what it is that moves and inspires me.

It’s free, doesn’t have to take up a lot of time, and doesn’t require any equipment, gadgets or gizmos.

But don’t think that this means it’s easy.

To get the most out of sitting still, you’ll need the following things:

Quiet

The quiet amplifies our thoughts and it can take a lot of discipline to get used to. It’s essential for focus however so find somewhere that will have no interruptions, turn off your phone, lock the door, turn off the TV and radio and just listen to the inside of your head.

Space

No one else is travelling your journey. It’s your life, so whilst you don’t need five football fields to do this, you do need space away from other people. You are the driver in the vehicle of your life, though it’s easy to feel that our work, commitments and responsibilities all have their hands on the steering wheel. Find space away from these things so you can focus on yourself.

Comfort

You have to be comfortable otherwise you’re going to be thinking about your aches and shifting like a sinner on a church pew. Lie down, or find a comfy chair.

Word of warning: It’s best if you’re not so comfortable that you fall asleep easily. This isn’t supposed to be about insomnia relief.

Regularity

Whether it’s once a day, once a week or a couple of times a month, make time to sit still on a regular basis. Like anything which truly makes you a stronger person, it doesn’t come from doing something once, or provide results overnight.

No expectations

I like a purpose. I like objectives and achieving goals. Sitting still without any of these can be very hard, but it’s important if you want to get the most from this time. Don’t go into it looking for an answer, or enlightenment.

A little faith

I don’t want to write too much about how I spend my time doing this, as I don’t want people to feel that there is a formula, a “method” or a right or wrong way. It’s your journey remember, it’s going to be different for different people. You’re going to think about different things and feel differently after your time sitting still.

Don’t worry too much about what is or isn’t supposed to be happening, just have a little faith that what you’re doing isn’t wasting time.

Really? Just faith and no direction?

Well, okay, I’ll hint at some of the benefits I’ve found from this practice.

My mind tends to drift when I’m sitting still and it’s interesting to see where it goes. Rather than consciously thinking about certain things and mentally paddle against the current, I’ve enjoyed just letting thoughts enter my mind. Sometimes it’s things that bug me and I use the space to ask myself why, or it’s things that excite me and I ask myself how I can find more of that in my life.

Sometimes it’s the chance to not look forward at what I want to achieve, but to just look around, see what I have in my life at that moment and appreciate it as if it is the only thing I’ll ever know.

At best I find I am become a little more conscious about what my heart really wants. At the very least, I feel refreshed and calm.

I found Josh’s post on the 8,400 second achievement to be incredibly inspiring and in addition to the exciting ideas behind The Movement, I think it shows us to never underestimate the strength it takes to sit still.

About The Author:

Amy Harrison is a freelance copywriter offering creative contemplation, writing tips and inspiration at Harrisonamy.com She likes to encourage people to follow their dreams and laugh along the way. She sings in a Bluegrass band, likes naps and Jaffa Cakes. She does not like the word spatula. You can follow her on Twitter here.

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  • floreta March 24, 2010, 1:03 am

    great post! i find when i meditate to just ‘observe’ my thoughts. let it happen, but don’t attach to them so that you can let them go as soon as they came.

  • Dave Doolin March 24, 2010, 1:03 am

    Amy, this is really good, practical advice.

    I’ve found from experience I can do 15 minutes fairly well. I set an alarm. When I watch the clock, it turns out that the early minutes go by very slowly, but the later minutes go by very quickly. Very odd.

    You’re inspiring me to do more, and longer.

    • Josh Hanagarne March 24, 2010, 10:40 am

      Double D,

      Have you tried to go longer than 15 minutes? Just curious.

  • Amy,

    This a great post, meditation has changed my own life in so many ways.

    So many people hear the word meditation and think it’s only for the spiritually enlightened, or lovers of yoga…. Thanks for exemplifying that benefits of being still, for everyone.

    • Amy Harrison March 24, 2010, 5:59 am

      The word “meditation” used to put me off, it seemed so intangible and I was never sure what I was “supposed” to be doing.

      Sitting still though…those are instructions I can understand. Simple but not necessarily easy!

  • Abhishek March 24, 2010, 5:35 am

    leaving a mind blank is a difficult task. I have found it easier to project my attention to something instantaneous. This occupies my mind and keeps it in the present instead of the future.

    I light a candle in a dark room, place the candle at eye level. Then I concentrate on the flame. The flame changes color and shape continuously and it is a fun activity. It keeps the mind focused and occupied but relaxed.

    • Amy Harrison March 24, 2010, 10:30 am

      There is something magnetic and relaxing about watching a flame. Put me in front of an open fire and I’ll soon go very very quiet.

  • Amy Harrison March 24, 2010, 5:53 am

    @floreta “observe” is a great way of putting it. It’s a way of staying in tune with what’s going on inside without trying to meddle or fix anything.

    @Dave It’s surprising how something like 15 minutes when you’re busy seems like no time at all, but being alone with your thoughts certainly stretches it out. Makes you much more conscious of taking the passing of time for granted.

  • Nicki March 24, 2010, 6:35 am

    I recently posed for a sketching group. When I reviewed my experience on my blog, I was very truthful. The hardest part of the posing was not being naked – even at 48 and having had 6 kids. The hardest part was being still. I tried meditating to keep my muscles from moving. I finally started making up stories in my head to go with an artist’s shoes or pants or the hanging on the wall in the room – whatever was in my line of sight. I kept thinking I should, as they taught ages ago in Lamaze classes, have a focal point. It would help me be still.

    I walked out of that group much more aware of me than of what was around me. It was very moving and freeing at the same time.

    • Amy Harrison March 24, 2010, 10:32 am

      Wow, that takes some doing. Being still in the privacy of your own space is hard enough, but to do it in front of watchful eyes (who all need you to be still!) is even more pressure. Sounds like you had a good way to deal with it. Does make you realise the little details around us that we don’t always notice.

    • Josh Hanagarne March 24, 2010, 10:41 am

      Nicki, that’s freaking awesome. Good for you.

  • Joy Tanksley March 24, 2010, 6:45 am

    Great post, Amy! I love your gentle approach to this subject. It always cracks me up when people try to give rigid rules for medition. Rules and mindfulness are pretty much oxymorons.

    In terms of dealing with all those lovely thoughts that pop up when sitting in stillness, I’ve found that images really help me. One of my favorites is to imagine each thought as a little bubble. Somtimes I imagine a label on the bubble like “worry” or “fear.” I just let the bubbles form and watch them float by. If a thought is particulary pesky, I imagine myself popping the bubble! 🙂

    • Amy Harrison March 24, 2010, 10:35 am

      I love the idea of bubbles, visualisation is a very powerful way to channel our thoughts and feelings. 🙂

  • Heather March 24, 2010, 7:15 am

    Awesome post, Amy! I don’t think I’m “disciplined” enough to do this, though. . . I always have to be moving. I take walks. Walks are what help me a lot. I take walks with no music and no particular “goal” other than to put one foot in front of the other and–uh–not trip over stuff. “Floating” is a good way to describe it! Thanks Amy! This was great! 🙂

    • Amy Harrison March 24, 2010, 10:39 am

      Walks are fantastic. Walks without tripping over stuff even more so.

      For me, it’s the absence of a specific goal is the hardest and most rewarding part of the process.

      • Josh Hanagarne March 24, 2010, 10:42 am

        When I began working with my literary agent, some of the first advice I got was: go for a walk, kick some pebbles, think, and come back and write.

    • Josh Hanagarne March 24, 2010, 10:41 am

      Heather, I think this is the first comment you’ve ever left without a word in all caps:)

      • Heather March 24, 2010, 4:40 pm

        Yes, indeed, ’tis. Good advice about the walking and kicking pebbles! When I was still living in Tyler County, I used to take walks when I couldn’t sleep. You see a lot of interesting things that you would never guess out of people you’d never expect to see things from at, say, 2-3-ish in the morning. Dogs don’t like it when they bark at you and you bark back. I think it messes with them. Just an ob. 🙂

        • Josh Hanagarne March 24, 2010, 4:42 pm

          Once at the zoo a worker yelled at me. “Quit barking at that kangaroo!” she said.

  • Michelle McGee March 24, 2010, 7:29 am

    Incredible post. Being still is something I struggle with. My mind is in constant chatter mode and it’s exhausting. I love the idea of forgoing the term meditation and using the idea of floating. How calming is that and without all the rules and regulations of right and wrong that I tend to associate with meditation. I’m not so good at meditating, but I grew up on the coast, so I’m damn good at floating. I can do that! Thank you Amy for redirecting my idea of quiet time. I will begin today to carve out my time for mental flotation (no devices needed!). And, as a writer, I’m looking forward to checking out your website. Thanks Josh for introducing us to Amy. And congrats on your phenomenal accomplishment!

    • Amy Harrison March 24, 2010, 10:54 am

      I’m a coast girl too, but a little to cold to float on these shores. 🙂

      Meditating made me think I had to get it right, whereas for me, the idea of floating lets me relinquish control and succumb to the meanderings of my mind.

      Good luck with your own quiet time!

  • Srinivas Rao March 24, 2010, 8:45 am

    Amy,

    I’m not great at all about sitting still. But,I think it’s an important practice to make us more grounded. Fortunately, I have surfing which helps me achieve the same state. Usually when I’m sitting on my board waiting between waves, I find myself getting impatient that it’s taking so long and then I have to remind myself that I’m there to enjoy the moment of just being in the ocean and living in the present.

    • Amy Harrison March 24, 2010, 10:55 am

      I know that impatient feeling. You can miss so much if you’re always thinking about the next move.

  • Bamboo Forest - PunIntended March 24, 2010, 9:39 am

    Sitting still and taking it all in is a good skill to have. Especially in this fast paced lifestyle we’re all in. I enjoy doing it myself, especially in nature.

    I also meditate every morning. And while meditation usually does have a specific focus, e.g. whether focusing on your breath or something else, one of the most important aspects of meditation is having no expectations and just simply using the method and accepting whatever happens without judgement.

    • Amy Harrison March 24, 2010, 11:06 am

      Nature is a big inspiration for appreciating the moment. Watching everything work to do exactly what it needs to survive is calming. You never see a deer stressed about losing its iphone or an owl freaking out because the Internet is down…though that would be interesting.

  • Boris Bachmann March 24, 2010, 10:55 am

    Well done. Very nice post. I really like that you don’t feel the need to ‘label’ it meditation.

    • Amy Harrison March 24, 2010, 11:07 am

      Whatever works best for people is okay by me. Sometimes you just need a new name to look at things a little differently. Glad you enjoyed it 🙂

  • Adam March 24, 2010, 11:08 am

    Amy

    I disagree with the above article. Josh is an extreme example and his situation is different then most.

    i can think of no reason for the average american to invest more time sitting still or on their ass thinking. Most Americans sit at work, then come home and sit on a coach or computer chair. When they are not at one of these three they are sitting in their car or laying down in their bed.

    People need to move more, unconditionally. What you guys are not yet understanding is Josh is curing himself by MOVING MORE, in order to move less.

    I say do not sit still, go move around. Stop sitting and thinking and get MOVING AND ACTING.

    One life to live, then you go rot in a box. Not a lot of time for me to plan on sitting still. In fact, i am going to move right now. See you later

    • Boris Bachmann March 24, 2010, 11:34 am

      Adam,

      Sitting in front of the tube or computer is not the same is “sitting still”. The point (to me) is to get away from the silly “mind chatter” or brainless web/channel/habit/babble/food/negative-thinking surfing ruts we find ourselves in.

      As far as what Josh is doing, I hope he will give more details.

      • adam March 24, 2010, 2:20 pm

        Sensation occurs to guide action. Movement came nearly a billion years before sensation. Purposefully avoiding movement with the goal of having no sensation is biologically disfunctional,

        Work within your means Instead of fighting yourself. If sitting still is hard you’re exceeding your reach.make it hard now and will always be hard. Make it easy and it will be easy.

        Or heck, make everything hard, ignore your biology, listen to everyone but your own body and be the toughest martyr on the block. The beauty is the choice

        • Joy Tanksley March 24, 2010, 4:37 pm

          Hey Adam. I just reread your above reply after posting below. I don’t know enough about you to know if we are anywhere close to the being on the same page, but I totally agree that WE CHOOSE HARD. We create our struggles and can just as easily dissolve them. I practice Nia, which, on the surface would seem to be lightyears away from what you do, but I think there might be some interesting similarities. Nia is all about dynamic ease, finding pleasure in movement, and listening to the body’s way. After years of punishing myself in the gym, I can’t get enough of movement and I have increased my fitness and well-being tremendously through EASE.

          Do you know Do Chuang Tsu’s Parable of the Ox Carving? I think you would like it very much.

          • Josh Hanagarne March 24, 2010, 4:41 pm

            Joy, I happen to know that Adam is out in the middle of a jolly mud field in North Dakota right now yelling at soldiers, so he won’t be back in these parts for a while. I can say that the core of our work in The Movement is that effort is overrated and the key to health is making hard things look easy. Anyone can make hard things look hard:)

        • Boris Bachmann March 24, 2010, 5:34 pm

          Adam,
          Meditation is not about avoiding anything – actually it’s quite the opposite.

      • Josh Hanagarne March 24, 2010, 5:38 pm

        Boris, I’m really trying to put things into words right now. I’m not doing a very good job. If you ever want to talk on the phone let me know and I’ll tell you what I can. I know you have a particular interest in this.

        • Boris Bachmann March 24, 2010, 5:47 pm

          Send me a phone number and a time that’ll work for you!

    • Amy Harrison March 25, 2010, 5:21 am

      Hi Adam,

      This is why I like posting on sites like WSL because you get passionate people involved in the debate.

      I thought a lot about your post, and I don’t think we’re poles apart.

      Action is a great thing. Someone who sits and thinks about running for a year is not going to be as fit or strong as someone who laces up their trainers, gets out there and pounds the pavement.

      But I disagree that there are no benefits in taking a few moments on a regular basis to sit and check in with yourself.

      To me, that is the difference between the runner who keeps running the same route for years and years, without direction or questioning it, and someone who finds that the quiet clarifies their purpose a little. Perhaps makes them think about whether they want to build on their progress, compete, improve their PB, maintain their routine or try another exercise that they might prefer.

      I know from your site, that you are driven. You are focused on the action that you take and comitted to making yourself happy.You seem in tune with what your body and mind wants and responds to.

      At some point in your life though, you have stripped away the distractions in the world and found out what matters to you.

      You may have found that whilst exercising and training, others may find it through quiet reflection.

      I think where we agree is that this is often clouded by the 9-5 routine, the commute, the Internet etc.

      But ultimately, it’s finding a focus on what makes you happy that counts.

      Thanks for sparking the debate.

  • Joshua Black-The Underdog Millionaire March 24, 2010, 12:39 pm

    Amy, this is such a critical step for personal growth. Thank you for bringing it up and thank you for bringing up Josh’s 84oo seconds post.

    I am new to this site and I think that is a huge achievement. I too suffer from not being able to site still or do NOTHING for extended periods of time. Even if I’m on the beach I bring a stack of stuff to do.

    After reading those posts I vow to make this one of my goals this year, just to sit and do nothing for 8400 seconds. Our minds actually need that time to sort through and discard the thoughts that we no longer need. I just needed that small pussh over the cliff.

    I don’t really think that Adam quite understands what this is all about, as I am a person that loves WORK as well. It’s all about sorting through your mind so that you can focus more, instead of keeping busy with things that are not important.

    Great post!

    -Joshua Black
    The Underdog Millionaire

    • Josh Hanagarne March 24, 2010, 12:50 pm

      Adam shares as much responsibility for the shift in my situation as I do. This is really, really close to the nerve for us both. I’m just not that blunt and Adam has spent the last 10 years as a military leader and expects to be obeyed:) He’s always got the right to speak up here, and you all always have the right to tell him to settle down and sleep it off!

      Thanks for being you, Josh.

  • Joy Tanksley March 24, 2010, 4:21 pm

    OOOH! This is getting FUN! Adam – I love what you are bringing to this discussion. It’s fabulous to shake us up and get us thinking.

    I have to say, there is a huge amount of research about the importance of mindfulness meditation to heal the body. Monks that mediate actually have bigger brains than the rest of us! Medition isn’t about thinking. It’s about AWARENESS. Mindfulness is about bringing attention to the present moment and without the present moment, forgive my language, but we ain’t got jack shit except stress, anxiety, and depression. And meditation teaches mindfulness.

    In learning to listen to my body (and laugh at my crazy thoughts – and then CHANGE THEM) I have taken amazing ownership of my life and created so much joy. And my body LOVES to move. It begs me for bikes rides and dance and stretching and strengthening. Before, I thought exercise was a chore. Now, thanks in large part to stillness, I move my body all the time.

    Peace to you all!

  • Jack March 24, 2010, 8:12 pm

    Sometimes the easiest way for me to stay still is to play basketball or lift weights. I have been doing it for so long I don’t have to concentrate on it. Consequently I often find myself finding answers to my questions during those moments.

  • Asatar Bair March 25, 2010, 11:21 am

    What a fascinating debate about action vs reflection, played out as a dialogue between movement and stillness. What I love about your essay, Amy, is how real it is. You stick to your own experience, rather than getting into some kind of theory. I grew up in a family of spiritual teachers; meditation is in my blood, and I grew up with it. I also like your list, Amy, and the responses people have made. One thing I want to add is to pay attention to your breath. Watching your breath focuses you on the source and essence of your life, and it makes being still much easier.