When it’s dark enough you can see the stars.
– Ancient Persian Proverb
We live in a culture that values doing, that encourages us to define our self-worth by our productivity. Getting things done is important, it allows us to build the world we live in and create forward progress toward our goals, but it is not everything.
There is so much power in non-doing, in stillness. The other night, I spent an entire hour sitting still. Everything in my logical mind told me to get up and go do something: get caught up on work, exercise, dance, call someone, clean, read…But deep down I felt that I had to experience what I was feeling without distraction.
Especially in times of emotional discomfort, pain, or anxiety, our conditioned mind tells us to act or distract. But if instead we block out time to allow our experiences and feelings to process, an unraveling takes place that lets us move forward feeling lighter and with greater ease.
The Law of Essential and Contradictory Opposites
The laws that govern the universe apply within each one of us. One of these laws is duality: the law of essential but contradictory opposites. Examples include: yin and yang, expansion and contraction, being and doing, relaxation and tension, intuition and rationality, feeling and knowing, dark and light, receiving and giving, internal and external, body and mind.
These seemingly opposing or dueling qualities represent two sides of the same coin; they cannot exist as separates. They’re synergistic, both necessary to form a whole, and we can seamlessly flow between them. To truly come into our wholeness, we must recognize that they are at play within each of us and learn to honor and value both. When we overvalue either one we run into trouble.
Think of a beautiful, flowing river. Now imagine the water without the river banks to hold it in place; it would go from effortlessly flowing to flat and stagnant. Now imagine the river without the water; empty, dry and hard. In this analogy, the river banks represent the tension created by action, while the water represents what happens when we surrender to stillness. If we spend too much time in surrender, we become stagnant, if we spend too much time in action, we feel empty.
Here’s another (generalizing) example of what happens when we do not honor our intrinsic, synergistic duality: The Western world tends to value doing, while the Eastern world values being. As a result, in the West, many of us feel empty inside, unconsciously seeking external gains for satisfaction, thinking that if we only do and have more we will be happy. While in many parts of the East, the outer world is overrun with trash and the infrastructure crumbing, but the people tend to have a stronger sense of spirituality and contentment, with less seeking outside of themselves for fulfillment.
Do You Resist Non-Doing?
There are many ways we resist and mask the non-doing, receiving, intuitive part of our nature, and our culture confirms these tendencies. Television, going out with friends, working, social media, texting, phone calls, eating, drinking, even reading or exercising can all serve as distractions, taking us further from our present experience and silencing our intuition, creating built up tension or armor in the body/mind, and distancing us further from ourselves. I’m not saying these things are bad; there is a time and a place for everything. What I am saying is that there is immense power in blocking out time to be still, quiet and tune in. To watch the tendency to distract ourselves, to crave and cling, to feel anxious, sad, angry, fearful; to observe and get to know our darkness. And eventually, come to love our darkness.
We all want to feel happy and light, but no amount of money, self-help, yoga, partnership will keep us feeling this way always and forever. The reason is not that there is something wrong with us, it is that we are complex, dynamic beings that have both a light and a dark side. If we do not learn to love and honor all iterations of ourselves—yes, even the part of ourselves that forms judgements, has preferences, wants to scream into and punch the pillow, wants to cry—we will forever bounce between extremes; the extreme place where we love and accept ourselves, or where we loathe and berate ourselves.
“Darkness is the place for seeking and finding answers, for accepting healings, and for accessing the hidden light of truth.”
-Black Panther Medicine, Medicine Cards, by Jamie Sams & David Carson
Being with the discomfort of stillness and non-doing is a powerful way to embrace our darkness, heal, and illuminate our truth. When we do, the knots that form inside throughout our lives begin to unwind and we get to know and love ourselves more fully. Just as a tiny seed grows into a beautiful, full grown tree with effortless ease, stillness and surrender can allow a blossoming of your potential and help bring to light your purpose here on earth.
It’s so simple, it literally requires that you do nothing. Because we live in a world with countless distractions and constant messaging around happiness, productivity and efficiency, this practice may feel challenging and unsettling at first. Be gentle with yourself.
- Set aside 30-minutes to 1-hour. If this feels overwhelming for you, start with just 15-minutes.
- Ask for space from your partner, children, or roommate.
- Close the door.
- Light some candles, dim the lights, turn on your salt lamp or diffusor. Do what you need to do to create a relaxing space.
- Turn off all technology – no TV or distracting music. There is one exception, you can play soft meditative music if you would like. I find the Devi Prayer to be a beautiful addition to this practice. It is both healing and can draw out unresolved emotions. If you are using your phone or computer to play gentle music, make sure you turn your phone on airplane mode and all notifications on your computer are turned off.
- Sit comfortably on your bed, or in a comfy chair. You don’t have to be in a meditative posture, this is not a meditation practice. (I do not recommend lying down, as you may tend to fall asleep and you want to avoid sleeping through this, although if you choose to be still for 20-30 minutes and then feel called to lie down for sleep, please honor yourself and do just that.)
- Have your journal or pen and paper handy just in case anything pertinent comes up that you feel called to write down. Writing is a powerful way to process thoughts and emotions, and it may serve you to spend some of this time writing, but not all of it.
- Notice the urges that come up to go do something, but DO NOT give in. Reside in any aversion to stillness, cravings or urges you experience and observe and detach from any judgements that come up about your experience and/or emotions and feelings that arise.
- Notice the feelings and thoughts that arise, be with them, accept, honor and love them.
- If tears come, let them flow. Be grateful for them. Maybe you can name the reason for your tears, maybe you cannot; crying is one way that our bodies release and process emotions and unwind past trauma that may have been stored for some time—especially if you tend to move through the world quickly and resist stillness, like I do.
- Most importantly, expend NO EFFORT. There is no trying or expecting, there is only being, honoring, listening and feeling. You do not need to analyze what surfaces, you simply need to notice, receive and allow it.
- Eventually you may work up to doing this practice once a month, once a week, or even once each day.
You might be wondering; how does this apply to workplace wellbeing? Corporate America is a classic example of what happens when we over-value doing. We get stuff done, but the planet and our individual wellbeing suffers. This is at the root of why I founded OmBody Health. We are not only healthier, happier and more aligned with our core values when we honor our slow side, peer inward, listen to ourselves, and allow ourselves to feel, but we are also more effective at building and working in productive and collaborative organizations that have the collective wellbeing of our communities, future generations, and planet in mind.
About the Author
Allie Andrews, MED, Certified Coach
Allie is the Founder and Program Director at OmBody Health. In addition to coaching thought-leaders, executives and professionals to maximize their impact and quality of life, she and her team empower organizations to develop work cultures that foster employee health, happiness and full potential living.