I am struck by the tendency to move faster at this time of year. The busy shopping excursions to the grocery store to secure the right side dishes for the main course, the mad dashes to stores to get final gifting of course- the competition for the parking spots!
We seem to be wildly out of synch with the calling of the natural world. Bring to mind a morning that you woke to a blanket of snow. That is the quietness, the stillness that winter offers us.
So different from the dry heat of the summer, or the energy of spring, winter is a time of stillness- short days and long nights. The hills in my town are cloaked in low lying fog, the animals are quietly moving through the still land. This time of year, nature invites us to a time of quiet and stillness.
Stillness offers so many gifts to us but it can be so easy to overlook. It can help provide clarity. Imagine a rushing river. The sediment and particles from rock are swirling around, moving through the water so that it is difficult to separate the two.
Now, imagine a calm pond or lake that receives the river and brings it to stillness with depth. The heavier sediment can settle down to the bottom and the water can become clear.
So often in adult life, it is difficult to offer ourselves the gift of stillness or quiet. We move quickly through our world- and we often have to! There is laundry, bills, taxes, medical appointments, meals to be made, workouts to be done.
Without this quality of quiet stillness, it is easy to move around, swirling like a rushing river- and it can be challenging to gain insight or clarity. What is your response to stillness or quiet? Is it something you avoid?
Since our focus is on movement, let’s use the example of movement in our clarity practice- but really, you can use this technique to develop insight or clarity around anything you like (eating habits, thinking habits, communication styles are other examples of great places to develop clarity).
The first part of this practice is developed from Buddhist monk and mindfulness meditation teacher Thich Nhat Hanh. Allow yourself 10 minutes of quiet for this practice:
1) Make sure you find a spot that is quiet where you can be undisturbed for the next 10 minutes (you can set a timer if you like so you know when your time is up)
2) Find a comfortable resting position- this can be seated or lying down- whatever works best for you
3) Commit to your stillness for the next 10 minutes. Rest in a position that is the most comfortable for your body. Get a pad of paper and pen or pencil and have it close by.
4) Begin by breathing in- noticing when you are breathing in, and breathing out, noticing when you are breathing out. Notice the different sensations as you breath.
5) Count your breaths (breathing in and out is one) going up to 10, then beginning at one again. Do this for several rounds of 10 breaths.
6) You will notice when you first do this it may be very difficult to keep your attention on your breath. If your mind wanders, just gently bring it back to your breath and count. If you lose count- just gently start over again at 1.
7) When you begin to settle into this practice (after 3 or 4 rounds) you may notice a couple of things:
a. Your breathing naturally becomes a bit deeper and or slower
b. It is easier to focus on your breath
c. Your body may feel more relaxed with less tension
When you begin to notice this change (it will be different for everyone and different day to day) bring into your mind a very still lake. It can be a lake you have seen in your life or a lake that only exists in your imagination. There is no wind and the surrounding scenery is perfectly reflected on the lake surface.
8) With the image of the lake strongly in your mind as you breathe in think “water” as you breathe out think “reflecting”. Repeat as many times as you’d like- stay with your image and the stillness and reflecting nature of the water.
9) Now open your eyes and retrieve your writing implement and paper.
10) Write down a couple of activities that are the most meaningful for you (this can be functional such as getting in and out of your favorite chair or a performance goal like hiking the Appalachian trail). The sky is the limit-these can be movements you already do or movements you would like to do someday. The most important quality is that the movement is meaningful. You can write one activity or several.
11) Next, as you continue to breathe reflect back on the past 7 days of physical activity. You can label each day and note the intensity and number of minutes you spent in that physical practice.
12) Now, take a look at both of the lists you just made. Notice if the activities from the past 7 days support your meaningful activities (if your goal is to get in and out of your favorite chair; how many times did you practice that over the last 7 days). It may be that there is a mismatch (you would like to be better at ascending stairs but have not practiced steps).
13) If your meaningful movements are a far cry from your current practices (for example, you would like to hike the Appalachian Trail but you fatigue after 5 minutes of walking on the sidewalk) you may want to have a conversation with a trusted friend or Physical Therapist about how realistic your large goal is and start making smaller meaningful movements to bridge the gap between the lists. Similarly, if you are unsure of safety involved in your movement, please check in with your Physical Therapist.
What insights did you come to? Are you developing a movement practice that supports you in achieving your movement goals? Did you notice any changes in your breath or physical sensations after doing this meditation? There are no right or wrong answers here. Whatever is meaningful to you is the important part.
You can repeat this process as often as you would like around any area of your daily life that you would like to develop more clarity in.
If your movement practice is very well covered and you are working to shore up other aspects of your health (your eating habits, your communication styles), you can attempt this same activity with whichever focus feels the most important to you.
Practicing in this way allows you to get to a clear about where you are right now and also, where you would like to go. It is like planning a hike on a trail map. Once we establish clarity, we can begin to take actions in the direction we would like to go. Without clarity, our efforts are often doubled and poorly directed- we may end up expelling a lot of energy and not take steps in the direction we would like to go.
If you are interested in exploring further into how to bring stillness into your daily experience and you or your loved one has Parkinson's Disease, please join Selma Lewis and I for our mindfulness course beginning January 2020.
If you try this practice, please let us know how it goes. We would love to hear feedback. If you have other tips or tools for developing clarity that have worked for you, please let us know.
Happy Moving (and settling into stillness)!