When I think about my comfort zone, what immediately comes to mind is “couch, lounge pants, cup of tea, with a movie or book.” I enjoy spending time alone in my own world and as an introvert, this time alone is essential for recharging. Usually an hour of being in my comfort zone is all it takes to feel refreshed.
Lately, however, I’m finding it increasingly difficult to fully recharge.
I was standing in the kitchen waiting for the water to boil to make a cup of tea and I found myself looking out the dining room window into the backyard. I noticed how still everything looked in the absence of wind, like I was looking at a photograph rather than a window. It was oddly tranquil. The only sound breaking through the silence was the water starting to heat up in the electric kettle.
This got me thinking about how little time I spend just… there. I do spend quite a lot of time sitting on the couch, but I’m usually reading a book, watching a YouTube video or a movie, or checking social media sites on my smartphone. In a sense, even though what I think I’m doing is nothing, I’m actually always doing something.
I came across a TED Talk by Pico Iyer on The Art of Stillness like a serendipitous event and it made me realise that I’ve been duped into believing I’m practicing stillness because I spend chunks of time alone on a daily basis. Most notably:
And we all know that it’s really one of our greatest luxuries, the empty space. In many a piece of music, it’s the pause or the rest that gives the piece its beauty and its shape.
The empty space. Do I have empty space in my life? I admit, as introverted as I am, I find myself feeling fidgety if I’m not actually doing something. I feel uncomfortable just sitting, as if this act of just being there with no particular agenda means that I must be putting off doing a thing… anything, really. And that makes me feel like I’m missing out. On what, exactly? Is it because in our 24/7, instant information society, if we’re not constantly “on” and keeping busy, we’re being lazy?
But there is an agenda to sitting still. It’s a conscious choice to remove myself from the daily motions and just let myself be. Could I actually do it though?
I once got on a plane in Frankfurt, Germany, and a young German woman came down and sat next to me and engaged me in a very friendly conversation for about 30 minutes, and then she just turned around and sat still for 12 hours. She didn’t once turn on her video monitor, she never pulled out a book, she didn’t even go to sleep, she just sat still, and something of her clarity and calm really imparted itself to me.
To be honest, if I had sat next to this woman on a flight, I would find her act of sitting still to be very odd because I’m the type of traveler to immediately turn on the monitor and search for something to watch. Or start reading a book. Or take a couple of Gravol and knock myself out.
And this makes me realize something about myself – I have no idea what it feels like to have that empty space. I have no idea what it means to practice what I will call mindful stillness, which is not just about sitting there staring into space but using that time to filter out the noise that’s constantly bombarding me.
And I think many of us have the sensation, I certainly do, that we’re standing about two inches away from a huge screen, and it’s noisy and it’s crowded and it’s changing with every second, and that screen is our lives.
It’s about having a mind shift and recognizing the thought patterns embedded in my brain. There’s a reason why I came across the TED Talk and a reason why it spoke to me. Because there’s a longing deep inside to know what this empty space and the quiet stillness really feels like. Much like the photographic stillness of my earlier backyard scene, I want to have more moments like those. I want my mind to stop long enough to notice all the things I’m missing because I’m being a busybody.
I realize more than ever how important is to unplug from the rapid motion of daily life. I’m pretty good at taking care of my physical health – eating healthy, getting regular exercise – but when it comes to the mental side of things, I’ve been neglecting the health of my mind. True wellness is a package deal and if I’m not mentally healthy, then it doesn’t matter how much healthy food I eat or how much I can squat.
For me, the art of stillness is about resetting the boundaries of my comfort zone and accepting the idea that incorporating true stillness is important for my mental health. It’s about forming a new habit so that when an opportunity to be still comes my way, I naturally stop and let myself ponder.
So, in an age of acceleration, nothing can be more exhilarating than going slow. And in an age of distraction, nothing is so luxurious as paying attention. And in an age of constant movement, nothing is so urgent as sitting still.
My mind may always have what seems like a thousand thoughts running through it at any given time, but practicing mindful stillness is like hitting pause on the rapid thought reel and focusing on the ones that truly matter. It’s giving myself permission to stop and smell the proverbial roses.
The art of stillness may very well become my new comfort zone.