Embracing the Idea of Stillness
How often do you escape being surrounded by human-made noise? And, by this I mean how often do you spend time immersed in nature with no artificial sounds encroaching on you?
I’ve been reading a fair bit about the idea of stillness lately. Stillness and quiet and peacefulness and calm. And how all this constant noise affects us human beans.
Because it surely does. It adds to our sense of dissonance and disconnection in the world. Especially in this very challenging year we are experiencing.
Finding some stillness in amongst all the needing to be ‘on’ has become a goal for me. 2020 has me realising that my brain needs a break.
So, that’s the topic for this week. I’m asking you to think about how much stillness you bring to your life.
We live in aN INCREASINGLY noisy worlD
- a sound, especially one that is loud or unpleasant or that causes disturbance.
- a series or combination of loud, confused sounds, especially when causing disturbance.
- talk about or make known publicly.
It is becoming more and more well established that all this unwanted noise we encounter in our day to day life is bad for our health – mentally and physically. High decibel sounds of electronics and traffic and construction and all the rest all contribute to this epidemic we’re experiencing of growing ill-health.
And, consider also the notion that we are constantly bombarded with the ‘noise’ of current events in the world via television and social media and podcasts and websites and radio, too.
Exposure to prolonged noise causes a range of health problems – things like stress, reduced concentration, and fatigue. But there’s more – excessive noise contributes to more serious issues like cardiovascular disease, cognitive impairment, tinnitus and hearing loss.
Did you know that Aboriginal Australians are the world’s oldest living culture? Pretty amazing.
The Aborigines have a strong need for “country”.
For Aboriginal people, “country” does not just mean the land. Rather, “country” includes all living things. It incorporates people and plants and animals. It embraces the seasons, stories and creation spirits. As a non-Australian who feels a strong connection to the country of my birth, I find this a particularly beautiful idea.
“Country” is both a place of belonging and a way of believing.
We have long been told by Aboriginal people to listen to country.
And just as this ancient culture recognises a deep need for “country”, I think a big part of this AIP way of life is about (re)learning to occasionally hit the pause button to listen to country, whatever that means for you; to seek stillness. Especially in this year of being particularly addicted to our screens to watch the news, when we are so filled with mental health challenges and chronic illness.
Make time to find stillness – in the Ngangikurungkurr language, to find dadirri or inner, deep listening and quiet, still awareness.
If you wanted to go somewhere to find stillness, where would you go?
When I think about where I’d go, most of the places that come to mind are in New Zealand. I was lucky enough to grow up in a place where escaping noise and getting it on with nature was not such a challenging ask.
Most of my childhood memories are of being outside. Running as fast as I can through the hot, hot, hot black sand of the beach to reach the water. Freediving for scallops with my sister and then barbecuing them on an open fire on the beach. Exploring the beaches of the Hauraki Gulf. More often than not I am barefoot and near the water in my memories.
Now, one of the places I’d like to go to is the very middle of the Hoh Rainforest in Olympic National Park in Washington state. There I would look for a small red stone that marks 1 square inch of silence. This stone is the focal point of a project to create a place that is totally free of human-made noise. Apparently, the park has some of the largest temperate and ecologically diverse rainforest in the western hemisphere and is the quietest place in America.
How cool does that sound?
In Japan, there is a practice called forest bathing, or shinrin-yoku, to embrace the idea of stillness.
- Shinrin in Japanese means “forest,” and
- yoku means “bath.”
So shinrin-yoku means bathing in the forest atmosphere or taking in the forest through your senses.
This idea of forest bathing is not exercise, or hiking, or jogging. It is simply being in nature, connecting with it through your senses of sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch. Shinrin-yoku is like a bridge. By opening your senses, it bridges the gap between you and the natural world.
Doesn’t this sound great?
What about the idea of finding stillness from mental noise and The constancy of being ‘on’?
It feels as though we are fast becoming over-dependent or maybe even addicted, to our phones and electronic devices.
Think about how you feel when you realise you have forgotten your phone at home or left it behind somewhere. It can be a weirdly uncomfortable sense of loss, can’t it? Recent research suggests that some of us experience significant stress and anxiety when separated from our phones and can even experience withdrawal-like symptoms. Don’t believe e me? – Try taking an iPad away from a 5-year old. As scientists dig further into this relatively new phenomenon, it looks as though our high levels of engagement with smartphones and multimedia technology may be physically changing our brain structure and function.
As someone who runs a largely online business from home, I am becoming progressively more aware of the impact my time online may be having on my health.
There seem to be several ways in which we are negatively impacted by being digitally connected:
- Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO) – There is a cruel irony that the more connected you are, the more likely you may be to experience this idea of FOMO and social comparison – a double whammy of anxiety-causing emotions. Posts you see on Facebook and Instagram can lead you to compare your life to others and to imagine that they are living a far more fabulous life than you. This can cause a sense of social anxiety that can undo much of the stress management progress we work at so hard at on this health caper.
- No electronic downtime – Consider how often your devices interrupt you during the day. How does that affect your ability to concentrate? Research is beginning to show a correlation between significant smartphone use and poor cognitive skills (things like attention, memory and learning.) This affects your work-life balance, too – In the past, there was often a clear cut-off between where work-life ended, and home life began. With advances in technology and work practices, this is no longer the case. Having your emails available 24/7 on your smartphones makes you constantly available and contactable – even after hours and on the weekend. The idea of a 9 – 5 workday is no longer the reality for many of us.
- Sleep Dysregulation and Circadian Rhythms – If you’re a long-term AIPer, you already understand the importance of consistent quality and quantity sleep. And if you’re one of the many people who go to bed thinking, ‘”‘ll just check my phone one last time before lights out,” and then an hour later, are still scrolling – well, you might want to work at changing that habit because I’m here to tell you it’s not serving you. Here in AIP land we know all about the research telling us that blue screen exposure can reduce melatonin production, which interrupts our circadian rhythm (i.e. sleep-waking cycles), making it harder for us to fall, and stay, asleep. Unfortunately, poor sleep tends to mean poorer resilience and higher levels of anxiety and stress. And being bombarded with images and information creates a sense of over-stimulation which makes winding down challenging.
Do you think the idea of stillness may be something for you to consider a little more deeply?
In Part II of this little foray into stillness, I share what happened when I took a week offline. (Spoiler alert – it gave me a lot more space to invest in things that I wanted to do)