Does stillness feel like a straight jacket to you, too?
When people find out I’ve published a faith-based title, they often ask, Do you meditate? “I pray,” I tell them. This is usually met with an uncomfortable silence or, “Oh.” Then crickets.
People, it seems, aren’t quite sure what to do with prayer. Meditation is the in thing. It’s so much more … accepted, inoffensive, non-denominational. It’s something people do who are giving responsible attention to their “inner quieting” when the world feels so loud.
I get that. So much shouts at us to hurry up! keep up! get ahead! don’t fall behind! Be better! Be faster! Do more! All while the backlog from our to-do lists piles up and our best intentions get shoved aside. Who in her right mind would turn down the opportunity to embrace stillness and quietly channel her inner self in calm moments of meditation?
I would, actually. Do, in fact. Oh, it’s not the calm or quiet I object to, it’s the “stillness” that gives me trouble. Whenever I am required to be completely immobile, no matter where I rest my hands, how I cross my legs or where I direct my gaze, I feel like I am confined by a straight jacket. Almost instantly, I want to fight to free myself, open my eyes and give in to a good belly laugh at the silliness of the whole situation.
Now, some who would meld prayer and meditation have suggested that meditation is simply the listening part of prayer. For instance, begin with “be still and know that I am God” and then meditate on the response you hear, sense or receive.
While this feels like a powerful practice and can be for me on my good days, on most days that “be still” part catches me up. The key is getting to the listening part in a condition that actually inclines me to listen; I have to loose the straight jacket without losing my focus.
I’ve found (and described in my book, Made to Move) that the best way for me to do this is via natural movement like rocking, swaying, nodding or through rhythmic activity like walking, running, riding, rowing or swimming. Movement that “happens” without intentional ignition is best, especially when it can continue without drawing attention to itself. It’s as if I have engaged my body to attend to my soul.
Best of all, I can tap into this any time! By piping down the panicked voices that shout “faster, better, more” — and for me this requires I call on that Higher Power who can silence what doesn’t belong — I can actively and healthfully engage my work in the world. Whether it’s writing a novel, working difficult mathematical calculations, tending to a distraught co-worker or family member, creating strategic market analysis or any other work worth doing, I can engage it fully, contemplatively.
While meditation teaches me to subtract myself from my doings, to take a break in order to re-engage the fight, real-time bodily prayer actually adds to my effectiveness in the “fight.” By it, I gain confidence, courage and insight to do what’s before me, again and again.
Yes, I pray. And actually I am okay with the silence that may follow. Because in it, I am on the move, taking the awkward and tossing it back and forth with my prayer partner as if we are having a catch in the back yard. Throw/catch. Throw/catch. Listening to it snap into the pocket of my mitt, and then into His.
Words are easy there. So is silence.