The Unexpected Gifts of Global Stillness
Updated: Apr 13, 2020
“Silence is eloquence. Stop the weaving and watch the pattern improve.” - Rumi
Photo by Mario Dobelmann on Unsplash
In a time of stillness, we are invited to listen. To slow down, tune in and witness our internal experience. And, as Rumi encourages us, to watch the pattern improve.
Currently, as “shelter in place” is a common mandate across the globe, we are finding ourselves in an unprecedented moment of global stillness.
Suddenly, we’ve been halted in mid-motion. Asked to practice social distancing, work from home and reduce all external activity, unless it involves exercise, food, medicine or essential business. Many of us have been asked to take a minute, to stay inside and wait.
That’s good right? Just what we need? An opportunity to slow down, finally, in a culture that worships at the altar of productivity?
Well, we might all need a nice healthy dose of slowing down and tuning in, but it is not what we are used to. In fact, slowing down, for many, creates a heightened state of anxiety.
In a culture that values productivity, our bodies and minds have been conditioned to keep weaving. To be able to produce, to be in a constant state of movement, output and performance. The act of slowing down and tuning in can feel downright painful, a nagging discomfort that we can’t really put our finger on. When brought to a complete halt, it seems that many of us will do anything to keep moving.
Yet, according to novelist and non-fiction author, Pico Iyer, “In a world of constant movement, there’s nothing more urgent than stillness.”
So, I invite you to consider a new possibility that lies in this current global pause. What if there are some unexpected gifts in stillness? What if this moment in human history is inviting us to make a collective pivot, to embrace a new way of being within ourselves and in the world?
It is possible, I believe, that in this place of global stillness, lie the following 5 unexpected gifts.
1. Interrupt Our Patterns
When we are suddenly stopped in our tracks by an illness, an injury, or a traumatic event, it can feel disorienting, destabilizing and insurmountable. Yet, the gift of a sudden interruption, is the ability to shift or change. In fact, one can view change as a mixture of uncertainty and opportunity. Behavioral psychologists call this a pattern interrupt. When a pattern is interrupted by an unexpected behavior or external event, there is momentary confusion and uncertainty. This pause in reaction is just long enough to disrupt a habitual response and elicit an opportunity to create a new pattern or behavior. Therefore, a global disruption such as the one being experienced around the world in response to a global pandemic is the ultimate pattern interrupt.
How might you allow this disruption of your routines, habits and patterns to act as an opportunity to create change in your own life?
2. Increase our Capacity for Discomfort
The crucial question, when in the midst of a crisis, is not how we avoid the fear and uncertainty but how we relate to discomfort. Being still allows us to feel and relate to our emotions more fully. This, quite frankly, is why we often avoid being still. According to American Tibetan Buddhist and ordained nun, Pema Chodron, there is great wisdom in knowing how to stay with our painful emotions instead of running from them. In her book, “Comfortable with Uncertainty,” she writes, “Staying is how we get the hang of gently catching ourselves.” As she so eloquently explains, the gift of uncertainty is the opportunity we are given to “catch ourselves” time and time again so that we may learn to trust in our capacity to care for ourselves, even in the presence of great pain and fear.
How might you be running from or avoiding your discomfort? Each day, can you receive the gift of stillness, to stay in your discomfort and practice getting “the hang of gently catching” yourself?
3. Cultivate Presence for Deeper Connection
Solitude is not the same as being lonely. At a time, in which we are being asked to self-isolate, many fear the increase of loneliness. However, it is important to recognize that our ability to be in solitude, to be alone with ourselves, can actually be a catalyst for developing more connected relationships with others. The art of stillness lies in mindful presence. When we rush, we disengage. We are in a disembodied state. When we become still, we reengage. We are in an embodied state. Therefore, the invitation of stillness is presence. It allows us to come into a more embodied, connected state of being within ourselves. From this place of connection, we are able to expand our ability to connect more deeply with others.
How might you begin a practice of cultivating mindful presence? Are you noticing a desire to connect more deeply with others when giving yourself the time to reconnect with yourself?
4. Become More Unified
In response to a global threat, we are presented with the opportunity to come together, to experience higher states of empathy, connectivity and collaboration. In the field of trauma recovery, we refer to this as an increased tendency to “tend and befriend” under threat.
According to a study by Bernadette von Dawans at the University of Freiburg, Germany, acute stress may actually lead to greater cooperative, social, and friendly behavior. The research demonstrated that acute stress can actually trigger social approach behavior (tend and befriend”, which acts as “a potent stressbuffering strategy in humans.” This is especially true during natural disasters, such as a global pandemic, because there is a lack of “outside threat”. Therefore, the unexpected gift of a collective natural disaster lies in our instinctual response to seek one another out (befriending) and to provide care (tending) for the sake of mutual defense.
How might you take this time to “tend and befriend”? Do you notice a greater tendency to extend kindness, compassion and support to those around you?
5. Lighten Our Ecological Footprint
And, finally, this stillness has decreased human activity on the planet, therefore decreasing the toxic byproducts of our productivity, resulting in, what many consider, a positive impact on the earth. Some scientists assert that this shouldn’t be seen as a silver lining, since a global pandemic isn’t a sustainable long-game plan for decreasing environmental impact. However, I will say that if the earth is healing, even if only during this pause, you can rest assured that human beings are being gifted with the same opportunity.
How might you use this time to rest, renew and repair? How can you move into deeper alignment with the natural world, as a reminder of your own innate ability to heal?
These unexpected gifts of stillness are not intended to bypass the collective grief and heartache that will touch all of us at this time. It is merely a reminder, that it is often the challenging times that reveal our capacity for growth and resilience. In fact, a growing body of research is supporting a concept known as Post Traumatic Growth (PTG), coined in 1995 by Richard Tedeschi, PhD and Lawrence Calhoun, PhD. Post Traumatic Growth refers to the capacity we have to grow from trauma, making positive, meaningful change in our lives.
So, my friends, I leave you with a favorite quote of mine from social psychology professor and researcher, Dr. Brené Brown, illuminating this power we all have to courageously shift our perception, stumble in the darkness, create new ways of being, and embrace the unexpected gifts of global stillness.
“Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our own light.” — Brené Brown