Stillness should not be scary. Boredom is not the bogeyman.
Pac-Gal was a game very similar to Pac-Man (the main differences being that Pac-Gal wore a bow on her digital yellow dome and in a sign of the pay gap, was significantly less expensive). When it appeared on a computer in our house, sometime in the 80’s, it provided countless hours of entertainment. The game involved navigating through a maze whilst trying to either gobble up things or run away from things. You could never stay still for very long or it was literally game over.
At the time, I didn’t realise that I was playing a great big metaphor for grown-up modern life. I also didn’t realise that one day I would be feeling just like Pac-Gal, tired from endlessly navigating a maze whilst never taking a moment to be still (yes, I’m anthropomorphising Pac-Gal and projecting my feelings to a bunch of pixels).
Stillness is much maligned. Most of us simply aren’t okay with being still. We are restless, impatient and anxious about getting everything done. Somehow we have received the message that our self-worth can be measured by our level of busyness.
For many of us stillness feels horribly foreign. It clashes with that desperate desire to be productive. We’d rather multi-task the hell out of any free moment than “waste” it being still.
But what if stillness was valuable?
Being still does in fact serve many purposes. Most importantly, it gives our minds and bodies the chance to rest, restore and recover. Through millions of years of evolution, unwell animals have learned to go somewhere safe and remain still while they recuperate. Over a much shorter period unwell humans have learned to carry on, ignoring pain and fatigue, pushing past it or popping pills to disguise it. Such is our modern disdain for stillness that we glorify sportspeople who play on with broken bones and scoff at doctors who prescribe bed rest.
Stillness also heightens our awareness and appreciation, yet routinely we rob ourselves of some of life’s most joyous moments. When we arrive at a place of great natural beauty, our instinct is no longer to stop, take it all in and be filled with a sense of wonder and awe. More commonly, we are occupied by getting the right selfie angle, choosing the best filter and coming up with a pithy caption for a social media post. Now, few of us even stop for the simple act of enjoying a meal. Instead we eat on the run, at our desks or while watching a TV. The multi-tasking leaves us less able to savour the flavour of food or even register when we are full.
The rushed, restless nature of our modern lives denies our brains the chance to do their most important work. It is only once freed from the burdens of constant doing, that our brains can properly take perspective, ponder important questions, connect with emotions and unleash their creative potential. Boredom is not some bogeyman we should be scared of. Rather, it is the price of admission to the mind’s marvellous playground.
Spending just a few minutes a day meditating can provide a highly restorative dose of stillness. For many of us who are addicted to doing, meditation may at first feel foreign, boring and far less productive than unpacking the dishwasher. The effects can however be profound, with studies revealing a multitude of cognitive, emotional and physical benefits. Put very simply, it pays to stop.
While most of us feel hopelessly time poor and eternally busy, it turns out there are many other ridiculously easy ways to get more stillness in your life. Sure, you may have to battle a little boredom and overcome that nagging need for action, but with just a small, mindful moment here and there, you can rescue stillness from the jaws of doing!
Below are just a few of the strategies I have employed in the quest for greater stillness. You may wish to give them a go, but please don’t feel like you have to do anything…