In these uncertain times we are being asked to come back home and be still. We are seeing many different responses to stillness. Some people are spending their time engaging with the drama filling their minds with questions of “why”, catastrophizing, ruminating on all the loss, and focusing on the fear and sadness. Others are using the time to go inward and listen to what the world needs finding ways to serve our planet and others better. Many spiritual and healing practices ask us to spend time in stillness not so that we can spend more time pondering what’s going wrong with ourselves and the world but so that we can engage with a mental space or greater power that can help us transform it.
In Psalms 37:7 we read “Be still in the presence of the LORD, and wait patiently for him to act. Don’t worry about evil people who prosper or fret about their wicked schemes.” Here we see stillness as a means to leave behind the idea that we are served by worrying about evil and fretting about wicked schemes. We are asked to quiet all of this negative pondering and find stillness so that we can trust in God to transform us and the world.
The Quran asks us to be still and contemplate God in 3:191 saying “Who remember Allah while standing or sitting or [lying] on their sides and give thought to the creation of the heavens and the earth, [saying], “Our Lord, You did not create this aimlessly; exalted are You [above such a thing]; then protect us from the punishment of the Fire.” Here we are asked to focus on God as the creator of the heavens and the earth and to remember that He will protect us. Spending our time focusing on the negative prohibits us from transforming through God.
In Buddhism we are taught to find stillness in meditation so that we can understand the causes of suffering and the way out of it. We do not sit and feed thoughts of negativity, we quiet our mind, observe our thoughts and actions, gain insight and understanding of their nature, and then work towards transforming them into a state of well-being.
Neuroscience has also proven that spending time in quiet contemplation placing our attention on what we would like to manifest in the world will actually lead to those changes occuring. This is because “imagining and acting are actually lighting up the same areas of the brain.” (Doidge, 2007) When we spend time engaged in harmful thought patterns they manifest as illness in our body and negative interactions within the world. By using quiet moments and stillness to engage with positive thought patterns we train our brain and body to interact positively with the world.
So what are we being asked to place our attention on during these contemplative practices? In being asked to be present with God this might mean being present with the traits of God; love, peace, kindness, forgiveness, and compassion. In being guided to focus on the way out of suffering in Buddhism we might focus on the characteristics of happiness, non-duality, non-craving, non-discrimination, and inter-connectedness. When performing positive visualisation we are generally visualizing things that would bring about peace and well-being like healing, gratitude, and generosity. Spending time in these mind states brings them to life within and around us leading to positive transformation.
Silence and stillness are only scary if we are not aware of how to engage with them in transformative ways. There are many ways to engage with silence in a positive manner. Contemplative or centering prayer is a great way to engage with God in silence. Meditation and mindfulness can be done alone, with an app, or in a group. Yoga involves the body into quiet contemplation using movement to help settle the mind. You can also engage in visualisation exercises where you focus on positive perceptions and outcomes. Once we develop healthy contemplative practices, silence and stillness become a welcome pleasure.