How to revive the lost art of sitting still

During this academic year, I noticed that more and more I felt like I had to be doing something productive at every waking moment, otherwise I would be ‘wasting time’. I became impatient, and gained bad habits like looking at flashcards whilst walking and murmuring lists to myself whilst cycling (kinda like a crazy person, huh?).

As people, we have been trained to believe that doing something is always better than doing nothing, like mindlessly flipping through a hundred channels is better than doing nothing…better than sitting still.

When did it become a bad thing to sit down and do nothing every now and again? When it became ‘lazy’ to do so? But the thing is, sitting down only looks lazy, because you’re not physically moving. But if you stop moving on the outside, you will be able to see that inside your mind there’s a storm going on.

how to reclaim your mind

After a few weeks out of practice, I forgot just how fascinating the process can be. This is usually how I go about it.

Find a quiet place, sit down in a comfortable position for you and close your eyes. Notice how your mind instantly turns on and flips through thought after thought in an attempt to occupy itself. Memories, regrets, expectations, stories, worries… the mind will make anything up in order to not be still.

Why is that? Why is the mind afraid of being empty?

Just observe it without doing anything, no judging, no telling yourself off. After a while, your mind will calm down a little. If you’re finding it difficult, Eckhart Tolle (author of The Power of Now) recommends watching your mind for the next thought to pop up like a cat watching a mouse hole. Or, take a few deep breaths and concentrate on inhaling and exhaling slowly. This will help you focus on being present in the moment.

A lot of people that try meditation for the first time get very frustrated at not being able to clear their mind. They get angry at themselves or say things like ‘mediation doesn’t work’. I think a lot of the time this is because they realise just how little control they have over their own minds, which scares them. But that’s ok, because it scared me too, I mean, if you can’t control your own thoughts, what else can’t you control? But the point of meditation is not necessarily to devoid your mind of any thought, but to simply be aware of the thoughts that do come. When you see yourself drifting off, just breathe deeply and gently steer your mind back to centre.

If you actually try it, you’ll see why I like to call sitting still and art. It looks easy, (it’s just sitting down after all, right?) but it requires learning, skill and practice. It can be a bit difficult if you’ve never done it before, but it can also be a very enlightening experience. You’ll learn a lot about the way your mind works and about yourself – the kind of things you think about all the time, the things make you worried and anxious, and the things that make you smile.

It’s the most minimal of activities, you don’t need any money or equipment, just a little time, patience and a place to sit.

Go on, try it today.

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