Movement and Stillness
Being and experiencing quiet is essential to our well being.
Silence is necessary for our brains and hearts to function optimally. It’s in the silence between words and thoughts that connections are made and where insights and integration are possible. In his book In Pursuit of Silence: Listening for Meaning in a World of Noise, George Prochnik notes that the peak of brain activity occurs in the pauses between sound. Research also shows that excessive noise adversely effects cardiovascular health.
In an urban setting, stimuli is constant. Noise, sights and smells abound. Living in constant noise adversely effects our nervous system as well as our ability to think clearly. For a city dweller, it’s imperative to find and savor silence and stillness.
Learning to quiet
Ancient practices point us in the right direction. Meditation can offer a path to peace.
The process often evolves slowly over time. What's notable when beginning a meditation practice is that the mind is busy and can seem as much a cacophony as heard on our city streets. Trying desperately to find quiet with a chattering mind can often provoke anxiety.
An effective way to begin is first to move the body. Conscious movement helps alleviate common aches and discomforts. Lower back pain, stiff neck, shoulder tension are a few common modern day chronic conditions. “Movement with intelligence” is what Mr. Iyengar calls “action”(p. 28). Action is therefore conscious, responsible and mindful movement. Moving with deliberation can help still a cluttered, chattering mind. For health’s sake, adopt a mindful physical practice such as yoga. Mr. Iyengar says, “When you cannot hold the body still, you cannot hold the brain still. If you do not know the silence of the body, you cannot understand the silence of the mind. Action and silence go together.” (BKSI, p.32) Once your body has been well exercised, relaxation and stillness may be tenable.
The practice of sitting is the next step, and requires patience. To sit well - comfortably and quietly - requires stamina. It takes time to build stamina. First, sit regularly and consistently. This is necessary in order to ultimately enjoy the benefits of meditation. Use the observation of your breath to steady your mind. Over time, begin to recognize the various thoughts and the patterns of your thoughts. Over time, learn to refrain from attaching to the thoughts and getting lost in them. Begin to cultivate equanimity which in turn, brings calm, peace, space and stillness.
By cultivating quiet, we become better listeners, and can honor and tune into the space or silence between words that are spoken. We can begin to recognize what is said and not said, and garner a deeper understanding what a speaker means and feels. Learning to listen well is one benefit of practicing mindfulness.
Finding the balance between action and silence is key.
For anyone with a full schedule, it could seem challenging or impossible to find time to explore these practices. By examining your day, you may find some small pockets of space, time when you can move mindfully, explore breath awareness and/or sit for meditation. At first, the practice of sitting may be as short as a minute or two. Continue on in this way, and you will build stamina. For example, while nursing, a mamma can explore a breath practice. Both mother and child thus receive the benefits of relaxation and healing. Playing with toddlers can become an exercise in mindful movement. At first, the practice of sitting may be as short as a minute or two. Continue on in this way, and you will build stamina.
Do these practices. Discover the balance between action and stillness. Savor silence as a way to think clearly, breathe easily and act kindly.
G. Prochnik, In Pursuit of Silence: Listening for Meaning in a World of Noise (Doubleday, 2010).
BKS Iyengar, Light on Life (Rodale, Inc. 2005).
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