Monday, March 23, 2020

Why I'm Committing to 30 Days of Stillness

How are you faring through this global health crisis? If you're anything like me, you might be finding it challenging to stay consistent in your self-care practices right now, including quiet time and meditation. 

My inbox has been full of advice about how to work with the fear, anxiety, and more, as we navigate COVID-19. And intellectually, my understanding of my practices gives me all the tools I need. But as the anxiety hanging in the air has gotten thicker and thicker, I started noticing myself gravitating to older patterns and coping mechanisms that, ahem... we'll just call, not-so-skillful.

It's at times like these, when life (or the world) is chaotic, that I most need my practice. And it isn't even that I completely neglected it. The reality is that when times get tough, we need to lean in on the practice, rather than expecting whatever we're doing for maintenance, to do the trick. Why?
First, a few words about stress and anxiety.
Are you feeling any of these physical symptoms of stress?
When we perceive danger, our bodies do what they have evolved to do: meet that threat with an active fight or flight response to protect us from harm. Today, that's what we call the stress response, and it is activated by external threats. Anxiety, on the other hand, is actually the response we have to the stress, and its source is internal. That's our fear and worry, which usually leads to physiological responses in the body that can get tangled up with the stress response. It can be difficult to distinguish one from the other in actual experience.
So, when we're constantly bombarded by environmental stimuli reminding us of impending danger, our bodies are constantly processing threats and their associated stress responses. The mind's response to the stress is often what feeds the anxiety. And the more we experience this without taking time to care for ourselves, the harder it is to allow the system to down-regulate again. 
Then there's the difficulty of sitting with that discomfort. Being present with however the stress and anxiety is manifesting in our experience is definitely not easy. We have a tendency to run away from the dis-ease. That could be by reaching for something that we think will make us feel better in the short term, or it might be by avoiding spending time in meditation because it would require we really acknowledge the painful feelings or sensations. Either movement (away from pain or towards pleasure without addressing the pain) really equates to resistance to what is, and as the saying goes, "What you resist, will persist." The mindful path is to turn towards the discomfort, to be with it, acknowledge it, and offer ourselves a little compassion in the process. That might sound like too much right now, which is why I want to frame the practice as an opportunity to embrace Stillness.

That's always where we start, by moving towards Stillness and allowing our minds to quiet down and our bodies to relax and soften. It might take a little extra time when things are rough. When we have more to sit with, we need to take more time to sit with it. :)
Because I felt a need to dig deeper into my own meditation practice, I decided to challenge myself to practice publicly, twice a day for 30 days. I'm also creating a virtual space for you to join me in your own challenge to embrace stillness, whatever that might be (more on that in a bit). 
I have to admit, I'm a little nervous! Although it isn't the first time I've made a strong commitment to my practice, this is definitely the biggest, most public one I've ever made. I've got all the fears. Maybe the biggest one is about keeping to such a strict schedule, and whether I can manage that for the full 30 days. But, I'm on a mission to bring more authenticity and openness to how I live my practices on a daily basis. That's part of what was arising for me in my last post about getting real. I want to share the reality of what it means to live mindfully as a human. Yes, being human is an important component of living mindfully. For me, that's a reminder to let go of perfectionism, and embrace compassion. Mindfulness practice teaches us how to begin again, with gentle kindness, over and over and over again. We become more resilient in the face of the things we don't have control over. And by the way, we also learn we don't really have control over anything! But that doesn't mean we need to fear. We can take control of our reality by learning we have the power to choose how we respond. 
So whatever happens over these 30 days, my intention is to strengthen my mindfulness muscle, deepen my practice of presence and self-healing, and allow whatever develops out of that to flow back out into the world for the greatest benefit of all beings. There will be highs and there will be lows, but in the end all experience is workable, and we always do better with our goals when we are supported by community. That's why I'm inviting you to join me.
I will be in a virtual meeting room (which I'm calling the Sacred Stillness Space) at 8am and 8pm PDT every day starting on Tuesday, March 24th, but you can start when you want and practice at other times too. My vision is that this can be a bit like walking into a silent meditation hall between formal teachings. Come and go as you like, practice however you like, and make a commitment to sitting in stillness, however that looks for you. Stillness is a lot of things and has a unique meaning to each of us. This is an opportunity for you to explore your own meaning of what it means to be still, which I believe is at the heart of any journey to health, happiness, and inner peace. This is a new way for us to practice whatever we practice, on a daily basis on our own, while staying connected through the power of presence.
We're in this strange time where we know we are all connected because we can feel each other's stress and anxiety, and yet we feel disconnected because we aren't spending time together in person. I want to embrace that dichotomy by providing a space for us to practice together, separately. :)
Want to join me?

Learn more about the Sacred Stillness Self-Challenge here.

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