Have you tried these stillness tricks?

Call me slow, but I've only just cottoned on to the fact that living 'sustainably' is about more than just recycling your milk bottles and taking shorter showers. I've only recently come to realise that what you do with your internal environment is as important as what you do with your external surrounds.

via the 2012 scenario

I'm talking about ensuring your inner being (or your soul, heart, core... whatever you wish to call it) - that place inside you that is you - is where it needs to be on the scale of balance and harmony to sustain your personal health and happiness.

 Me? I’m not even good at accessing that place inside me that is me, so I can’t ask it if it’s balanced and harmonious. And this, paradoxically, infuriates me. I know meditation is one way to access this place, but dog darn it, the intricacies of meditation have always eluded me. I just can’t do it. I’ve tried, oh how I’ve tried, but each time I have failed because I can’t still my mind. 

As I sit cross-legged in a quiet space, trying to “concentrate on my breath” and “imagine some place beautiful”, my thoughts race through what I need to get done that day and the next. I find myself thinking “when is this going to end, so I can get on with my day”. I find myself wanting to rush, yes
rush, through the meditation... “Isn’t there a quick way to do this?”. I’ve always berated myself for this. It seems I’m too much of a rusher to slow down.

As a result of living this way, of being overly rushy, I can't stop to access me. It also means I’m rarely present in the moment, even the good ones. 

Not being present in the moment means I’m always chasing the next event, which, in turn, means I’m always devoid of fulfilment. This, of course, is the path to chronic unhappiness.

I know a lot of people in this boat. I think this internal state of persistent rush-ness is one many of us experience because of our frenetic, in-your-face and horizonless lifestyles. Our lives are jam-packed full of ‘things to get done’, of external busyness. And we often do things to keep it that way – we take on more responsibility at work, we say yes to three parties over one weekend, etc. We feel that by being busy, we are useful, important and valuable.

Actually, being busy is good for us - to an extent. We're designed to be busy. If we don't use it, we lose it. We become depressed when we can't engage in the workforce. We feel useless when we can't participate. Because making a meaningful contribution to society is important for our self-esteem, our sense of value. Being busy, per se, isn’t the problem.

Being busy becomes a problem when we internalise the pace – when we take our external busyness and swallow it so that we are filled with a sense of internal chaos. You know this has happened to you when you can’t sit down to have a quiet cup of tea without feeling guilty (because you have so much to do), or when you rest your head on your pillow at night only to have a million thoughts rush around like a tumble dryer.

Or, like me, you rush through each activity, no matter how enjoyable, because you feel a rising anxiety that you must complete activity 1 so you can get to activity 2 quick smart (so you can get to activity 3 to get to 4, etc).

This isn't the way to live. It's not sustainable. Nor is it conducive to a happy life.

So last week, I decided it was time I did something about my chronic rushiness and went in search of ways to help myself slow down... internally.

An old Zen story reads like this:

Two monks run into each other outside their temple. One of them is sweeping the temple steps. The other monk scolds the first for sweeping instead of meditating, saying, "You're too busy!" The sweeping monk answers, "You should know that there is one inside me who is not busy!"

That's what I need to find... the one inside me who is not busy.

And so it was that I came upon the works of Sally Kempton, an internationally acclaimed meditation teacher (she’s been teaching for 40 years), who is well known in meditators’ circles for her teachings of devotional contemplative tantra”. I’m not quite sure what that is just yet, but I did come across an article she had written on this exact theme – how busy people can break free from internal busyness.

Sally developed three simple techniques for finding that place of stillness that exists within each of us. These are her anti-rushing techniques, all designed to reduced that heavy, breathless tightening you feel when you’re in a hurry. The one that keeps you from really truly experiencing, and enjoying, each moment.

Here they are:

Sally Kempton's Stillness Tricks

1.      Stop what you’re doing. Stand or sit still for one minute. Say to yourself “I have all the time in the world”, and then bring to mind the image of a buddha sitting in meditation. Hold that image in your mind while you breathe deeply and slowly for five full breaths.

2.      Close your eyes. Ask yourself, “when I’m not doing something, who am I”. Ask “who”, not “what”. Don’t try to find a verbal answer, just tune in to the space that opens up right after the question.

3.      Close your eyes and begin to sway slowly and very subtly from side to side, inhaling to one side and exhaling to the other. At the end of each movement, notice the natural pause. Tune into the pause on your right side, then your left. Focus on the pause for a few seconds before letting your body flow in the other direction. Do this for two minutes.

I’ve been practising these stillness tricks all week, whenever I’ve felt myself compelled to rush through something, and they work. That bubbling anxiety that begins to rise and compels me to rush, fizzles out. It’s as if someone turns the gas off. I guess that someone’s me.

I'm starting to feel more present in each moment. I'm starting to really experience what I'm experiencing, if that makes sense. And I feel I'm getting a little closer to that place inside me that's me.

Do you experience the bubbling anxiety that compels you to rush through your activities? Do you know what I mean when I say that so long as we rush through our experiences, we’ll never really be happy?

Have you tried these tricks? Do you have any others you use in your daily life to slow down?


  1. Hi Maria, Funnily enough your blog always makes me 'stop', take stock and be still and content.
    A few things I've taken on over the past couple of years.
    1. Imagine your a child seeing the situation for the first time - nothing like that dreamy child wonderment. Or, pretend you're taking a mental photograph of a scene and then just sit with that 'photo' for a few moments and enjoy.
    2. I love the 'Mountain Meditation' by Jon Kabat Zinn - he talks about how we are 'the mountain' and no matter what 'season' in your life or the 'weather conditions', the mountain is still and grounded.
    3. Breathing from the stomach - in anxious times I find even though I'll say to myself 'take a deep breath' it is still a deep breath in the chest. So now I tell myself to breath til my stomach rises and falls.
    4. Acceptance - nothing like good ol' acceptance to stop the push and pull and internal bickering.

    1. Thank you Anom. I love those suggestions, particularly the Mountain Meditation... that really resonates with me.

  2. My manager taught me a trick that I love: when feeling stressed or rushed, choose a color, and take 1 a few minutes to slowly look around the room, finding that color. Look at the object with that color for a few seconds and then look for the next thing (slowly). Works like a charm!

  3. I pray, and thank God for all the blessings in my life. It is the only thing that I have found to lift me out of the physical symptoms of anxiety, and refocuses me onto the 'big picture' of my life. I have a close relationship with God, and find his love to be something I can rest in.



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