In light of the COVID-19 Society Shutdown, our world is being asked to stay still.
Across the United States bars, schools, and restaurants are closed for two weeks. Sports tournaments, festivals, and community gatherings over 100+ are canceled. We are asked (told, ordered?) by our government to stay home, to avoid people, and only leave the house for necessities. They are calling it social distancing.
Four months ago, I spent Thanksgiving day swinging in a hammock in Mexico with international climbers, soaking in the 80 degree day.
A new friend named Hannah flew in from Virginia the night before. When she climbed into the hammock with me, the first thing I asked her was:
“What do you think the world needs more of?”
(Rarely do I start conversations with “how are you?” “good”…nowadays I prefer to skip over all that shit.)
Hannah looked into my eyes with absolute certainty and peace. She said simply:
My shoulders shuttered at the thought of sitting still, reminded of the painful school years where little Beth was forced into a desk for 8 hours a day. I diagnosed myself to be movement obsessive: addicted to action and activity.
“What exactly does stillness look like?” I asked. “Sitting still? Meditating?”
“I think any activity that you can do mindfully,” Hannah suggested. “Like washing the dishes. Or driving- that can be done meditatively.”
“Mindfulness practice means that we commit fully in each moment to be present; inviting ourselves to interface with this moment in full awareness, with the intention to embody as best we can an orientation of calmness, mindfulness, and equanimity right here and right now.”
Jon Kabat-Zinn, Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life
“Huh, okay. So when you say stillness, do you mean the mind is still or the body is still?” I asked.
“Both I think,” she smiled. “Either or.”
“Hmm, well, the opposite invites the other for me,” I said.
“What do you mean?”
“When my body is still, my brain is running at turbo speed. The only thing that stills my mind is movement.”
I experience this most when I am climbing. My body is moving, so my mind is peaceful and calm. The mental static of unnecessity goes away. I am aware of each movement directly in front of me, but nothing else.
“It’s like I physically leave thoughts on the ground when I start climbing,” I said.
Hannah nodded while beaming. “I find the most mental clarity when I am focused. I experience this most in yoga.”
I wonder…does stillness exist?
Is it possible to be still?
Even when our body is at “rest,” our heart is pumping, our brain is sending signals through our nervous system to our muscles, our blood is flowing throughout our body.
Nothing inside of us is still, unless we are dead.
Everything in our universe is in perpetual motion- the planets are rotating and revolving, the universe itself is moving and expanding. We look to nature to find comfort in change.
Winter brings snow, which sits and waits until spring to melt and fill the rivers. Fall brings the falling of leaves; the branches sit and wait for spring to sprout again.
Nature teaches us that change is constant.
To practice stilling our bodies and minds is an act of rebellion against the way of the evolving world.
Perhaps the feeling of stillness is foreign to us. Our daily lives of expectation bring us away from ourselves. Our time is demanded to be spent in service to others- our families, friends, neighbors, co-workers, patients, customers, and so on. We are constantly distracted from ourselves by our Google calendar scheduled lives. And when there is free time, we chain ourselves up to the television, music, social media, news, and other bright flashing lights.
Yet, we crave stillness. We are rebellious by nature.
We carry within us a desire to experience fully what is going on.
Stillness is not something we have to go in search of nor is it a journey into escapism or numbness.
True stillness is found when we are aware of the present moment, attentive to our body, conscious of our thoughts and welcoming to our feelings.
The government is asking us to forgo our vacation plans, cancel concerts, sports, gatherings, and avoid all social interaction. They are asking us to do nothing. Go nowhere. People are pissed off, annoyed, aggravated, and scared.
Yet, I find it troublesome watching the reactions of many Americans.
In quarantine, what most people seem to fear is boredom more than the illness itself.
What lengths will we go to in order to resist stillness?
To what degree are we afraid of stillness?
COVID-19 quarantine is an opportunity.
An opportunity to experience our internal world more deeply.
An opportunity to reflect on what in our society is crucial to our wellbeing.