Stay with the waves (on practicing stillness)
In the movie, Sound of Metal, Ruben, a drummer in a heavy metal band, begins to lose his hearing. Fearing that he might slip back into addiction because of it, his girlfriend helps him check in to a facility for deaf recovering addicts. Joe, the man who runs the facility, encourages Ruben to find his way to stillness and acceptance, but Ruben is resistant, and much of the movie is about his determination to find his way back to his old life. In one scene, when he’s meant to be sitting alone, writing his thoughts in a journal, he smashes a donut as a distraction. Near the end of the movie, there’s a powerful moment in which Ruben finally surrenders to stillness and acceptance.
I am neither a rockstar nor in recovery, but I do have some things in common with Ruben and can understand some of his resistance. Here, for example, is a recent conversation that went on in my brain on a recent morning when I was sitting on the dock with my journal:
Voice 1: Oooo… look at the waves in the water! The way they reflect the light and sparkle! And the way they break up into pieces when they hit the dock and then bounce back to meet the oncoming waves!
Voice 2: It’s lovely! And… I can think of a blog post I could write, using the waves as a metaphor…
Voice 1: Can’t we just stay with the waves right now? A blog post can wait. Just look! And enjoy!
Voice 2: But if I don’t write something down, I might miss a valuable insight and… (grabs journal)
Voice 1: Stay with the waves. Put your journal down and just be present.
Voice 2: I should probably take a picture of it for social media, to go along with the blog post… (grabs camera)
Voice 1: STAY WITH THE WAVES!
Voice 2: Look! There’s a duck. Maybe the metaphor could expand to include what it’s like to be floating on the waves.
Voice 1: Take a deep breath. Maybe we can stay with the breath AND the waves? Please? At least try?
Voice 3: Oooo… I should write a blog post about how my brain works when I’m trying to stay with the waves! (grabs journal again.)
Voice 1: Seriously? Like we needed ANOTHER distraction? Can’t we just stay with the waves?
Voice 4: What a big waste of time THIS was!
Yup – that’s how hard it is for me to settle into stillness, even though I’ve been trying to be intentional about it for years and I try at least once a day to be in a place (like the dock) where stillness is hard to resist. If there is a spectrum for ADHD, then my busy distractible brain is definitely on it. I may not be an addict, but like an addict, my brain craves the dopamine hits it gets from creative ideas and shiny things and it’s hard to resist giving in to the cravings.
A few days later, I arrived back at the dock to find the water perfectly still. It was so still that you couldn’t tell the river was flowing at all except for those spots where there was something floating on the surface of the water. When I stepped onto the floating dock, the dock’s movement was the only thing that made ripples. After I’d settled down on the dock with my journal, the following conversation happened in my brain.
Voice 1: It’s so peaceful. Let’s just soak this in for a moment and be present.
Voice 2: But… I should take a picture of the water. And the clouds reflecting on the water. I could post it on Instagram. (grabs camera)
Voice 1: Look… every time you move on this floating dock, you’re causing ripples on the surface of the water. What if we try to sit so quietly that we cause no ripples?
Voice 2: But… I need a picture. And I should write in my journal about how peaceful it is. And…
Voice 1: Maybe you should first EXPERIENCE the stillness before you decide to write about it? Take long slow breaths and don’t move any muscles – let’s see if the ripples disappear.
Voice 2: Ooo… the metaphor! When there’s no movement on the water, you get a clearer reflection of the clouds! It’s like a mirror! You can see yourself more clearly when you’re still!
Voice 1: Not that you would know, since you apparently don’t know how to BE still!
Voice 2: Okay, have it your way. I won’t write or take pictures until we’ve stopped moving enough to let the water settle into stillness.
Voice 1: (closes her eyes and takes slow breaths)
Voice 2: (opens her eyes) Oooo…. Look! We did it! The water is like glass again!
Voice 1: Maybe don’t be TOO proud of yourself. That kinda ruins the point of the whole exercise.
Voice 3: Hmmmm… you’re both giving me great material for my blog post about how my brain works!
Voice 2: I just thought of another metaphor!! The water in a river is only calm like this when the pressure on the higher end of the river decreases. When there’s been too much rain or melting snow, the river needs to move faster to try to get to equilibrium. So if you want stillness, you need to decrease input and wait for the water to settle!
Voice 1: I give up.
Voice 4: I knew it all along. You suck at stillness.
Does this internal dialogue sound familiar to anyone else or is it just me? This is why I have to WORK at stillness – it doesn’t happen naturally! It’s also why I sometimes disappear from social media for a week and hide out in a cabin in the woods when I really need to focus on an important project. I love my distractible, creative brain, but I need to give it some guardrails and point it in the direction of the right things.
This year has been especially taxing for my overly active brain. While building a business, launching a book, and creating several new programs has been fun for the part of my brain that craves dopamine, it’s also been exhausting to do it all in the unfamiliar landscape of a pandemic. My brain needs a break! And so does my body. And my heart.
So I’m taking a couple of months off, and I’m going to do my best to listen to Voice 1 and STAY WITH THE WAVES! I’m going to see if my body and mind can stay still long enough to smooth the surface of the water. And I’m going to reduce input and output so that equilibrium feels more like a possibility and the waves can settle for awhile before the next big rainstorm comes.
Before I go, though, I wanted to let you know that I will not be leaving you without content for the next two months! (In fact, it seems something about the upcoming sabbatical prompted my creative brain to go into a frenzy and I’ve created more content than ever!) Here’s what you can expect in the next 8 weeks:
1. I’ve written a series of short posts that will go out to my list (and appear on my blog) every Monday for eight weeks.
2. I’m sharing a daily poem on my author page on Facebook. (I have an extensive collection of poems I like to read as openers when I host conversations and retreats – these are some of my favourites.)
3. There will also be new content posted periodically on the Centre’s Facebook and Instagram pages.
4. Though I’ll be mostly away from social media, I might occasionally post a photo or video of my summer wanderings on my own Instagram, likely with the hashtag #pauseandbenourished.
5. My business partner, Krista, has been creating fun daily Tiktok videos that are worth checking out. One of the things she’s doing is pulling a daily card from our Holding Space Card Deck. (@centre_for_holding_space)
6. And, of course, you can always sign up for one of the self-study programs I’ve created, Spiral Path, 52 Weeks of Holding Space, Write for Love and Liberation or Holding Space in Times of Disruption and Overwhelm.
7. And… don’t forget about the Holding Space Foundation Program that starts in October!