How busy are you? If you’re a typical adult, chances are the answer is “very.”
Here’s another question: How frequently do you spend time in repose? Listening to water lapping on the shore? Birds singing in a tree? If you’re like most people, the answer is probably “rarely.”
Perhaps you’re occupied with working long hours, or tied up with work and then busy with family. Perhaps you’ve got an active social life, filled with friends, acquaintances and engagements. Or maybe you’re glued to a screen all day: browsing the web, checking social media, and watching the latest must-see television. Whatever it is, the odds are against you spending any significant portion of your time just “being.” And it’s not your fault. Chronic Busyness is a widespread phenomenon and one that’s increasingly hard to avoid. Since the explosion of digital technologies, we are expected to be available to everyone all the time and, though that means you can get in touch with anyone at a moment’s notice, it also means they can get in touch with you.
While staying busy can feed our desires to feel important, and staying connected can assuage our fears of missing out, we actually are missing out when we cease to make time for being still. But what are we missing out on? And what are the long-term consequences of losing our connection to ourselves in favor of staying connected to everything else? I’m not speaking of the the roles we play in the world and the sense we have of being “me” – which 19th century philosopher and psychologist William James called our “empirical selves” – but our inner selves: the parts that require silence to be experienced, and demand stillness in which to speak.
There are a seemingly infinite number of terms for these inner selves, as it is a universal observation that human beings experience life as two distinctly divided entities: the “empirical” self we share with the world and the private mystery within. Without access to stillness, this private mystery – which may lack discernible qualities but which shares its essence with the whole of the universe – is doomed to remain just that: closed off and unknown. But that needn’t be the case.
Merriam-Webster defines stillness as a “state of freedom from storm or disturbance” as well as “the near or complete absence of sound.” Reading this, you may already recognize how rarely stillness occurs in your own life: how occupied you are with being busy that you rarely step outside the winds of the hurricane to stand in its eye. You may also recognize that your life, while filled with the sounds and furies of everyday crises, is nonetheless empty. And yet, you can cultivate stillness. You can temporarily release the disturbances from your mind and, rather than aggravate your own personal tempest, be the unmoved center around which all else rages. And, in doing so, you can discover a power within that is unlike any your mind – or empirical self – can muster.