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Jesica Hanley Vega

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stillness

2 Paths For Finding Stillness Through Movement, Part 2 of 2

spiritual guide and surfer, Jesica Davis
Wiping out is an underappreciated skill – Laird Hamilton, surfer

Last week I wrote about the many possibilities for cultivating stillness, even for those averse to traditional sitting practices. So, if you’re one of those people who’d love to meditate but just can’t, this is a reminder that there’s more than one way to skin a cat, and more than one road to Rome.

In my experience, contemplative movement practices fall into two distinct categories: the disciplined and the ecstatic.

As a practitioner of yoga and a former ballet student, disciplined movement has long been one of my favorite ways to calm the mind. Practices such as these and martial arts, turn attention inward and reveal aspects of physical experience that otherwise go ignored. These are skills which build on themselves and deliver timeless teachings about balance, poise and persistence to those who study them. And while they present the risk of getting caught in the same traps of comparison, goal-setting and perfectionism that plague ordinary life, they can also be enormously transformative by training the mind to focus on processes other than thought.

On the other end of the continuum lie practices such as cycling, surfing and ecstatic dance. Though these activities certainly require a degree of discipline, they also offer experiences of risk, ecstasy and surrender that transcend what’s possible at home or in a studio. As much as I love my (almost) daily yoga practice, there are many times when nothing will free my mind except speeding down a curvy road. It’s only when the stakes are so high – and so real – that I can completely lose myself: surrendering to forces beyond my control and putting my faith in an outcome which is not guaranteed. As any surfer can tell you, the ocean provides a similar experience, as does the music in a masterfully deejayed ecstatic dance jam.

Whether you’re inclined to reckless abandon, thoughtful discipline or, like me, desire a combination of both, you can embrace movement as your vehicle for transcendence. Awakening is possible through almost any physical practice when executed with the appropriate intention. In fact, there’s an entire genre of literature dedicated to exploring the spiritual potential of almost any physical activity you can think of. Aside from the previously mentioned activities, some others you might want to explore are: mindful walking, aimless wandering, labyrinth walking, jogging, and tai chi. And for a wider view of the topic, you can check out Thinking Body, Dancing Mind  a classic book dedicated to the potential of using your body to unleash your spirit.

10 Simple Ways For Slowing Down A Life That Moves Way Too Fast, Part 2 of 2

IMG_2470Last week, I wrote about the lack of stillness so many of us experience in our busy modern lives. This week, I’ll offer 10 simple practices for cultivating stillness that can be achieved at any time.

Before that, however, I want you to consider how much you probably HATE being still. Sure, you may complain about being “busy and stressed,” but often the real suffering doesn’t start until you stop moving. After all, you don’t do anything unless you get something out of it and, more often than not, what you get from being busy is an escape from how you feel.

We don’t only live in a high speed world, we also live in a world in which it’s often not okay to feel strung out, sad, disappointed or bored. It’s not okay and, even worse, we may not know how to handle those feelings in a healthy way. Frequently, the first thing we feel when we slow down is antsy impatience. And if we sit with that long enough, we may feel hopeless, sad or in pain. It’s enough to make a person check their phone.

So, it takes something to cultivate stillness. Yes it requires discipline, but it also demands courage: the courage to face yourself head on, be who you really are, and feel how you really feel. Right now.

That said, here are 10 suggestions for chilling out and taking a breather. But first, turn off your phone.

  1. Take a bath and, if you like, add epsom salts, essential oil or bubbles.
  2. Enter a sacred space or chapel and just sit.
  3. Sit on a park bench.
  4. Sit on your sofa.
  5. Eat lunch alone with no media on.
  6. Sit by a fountain or body of water.
  7. Take in a view.
  8. If there’s a float center nearby, discover the wonders of floating.
  9. Turn off the car radio while driving.
  10. Look at the stars. Or close your eyes and just imagine them.*

*Thanks to Asya Tabdili-Azar at Hive.org for #10

Is Your Life Moving Way Too Fast? Part 1

IMG_9063THIS IS THE FIRST IN A 2-PART SERIES ON CULTIVATING STILLNESS IN EVERY DAY LIFE

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.

IN PART 2, WE’LL LOOK AT SIMPLE PRACTICES FOR DISCOVERING THE STILLNESS AND POWER WITHIN.

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