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[be] still

August 26, 2019

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This is one of the blog posts pulled from Valerie’s personal blog.

“I love when my calendar looks like a unicorn vomited all over it. A.K.A it’s overwhelmingly colorful because, color coding and also there’s a lot of busyness going on. By senior year of college, I unhealthily started believing if I did not have enough going on every day, if my day didn’t have a cloud of anxiety and the pressure to accomplish perfection hanging over, then it was a sign I needed to do more, fill my day with more and I was not being productive “enough.” Whatever the word “enough” meant in my accomplishment-oriented and perfection-driven mind.  

This I carried into graduate school and I was more or less a hot mess the first academic year, through the summer of engagement and up to my wedding. I filled the time and year with full time graduate school, a part time job (with probably poor self-determined boundaries), planning and completing my global health practicum, directing a college leadership summer program, and wedding planning. Needless to say, my calendar and planner looked like several unicorns had lost their cotton candy lunches all over them.

My prideful self wants you to know, I got it all done. But I struggled in friendships, family relationships, and with my fiancé. I had shut down my emotions and operated like a machine to check off my boxes and achieve “perfection.” Certainly there were moments of beautiful and messy emotions, of genuine joy and real sadness, but most often I felt like a robot. I had stretched and reached accomplishment, but at what cost?

Second year of graduate school, I was crawling. Second year of my part time job, I struggled (you can ask my husben) to get out of my bed. I was burnt out. I had worked to exhaustion and beyond it. The year post graduation, I slept all the time, had zero motivation to do anything. I felt lost and directionless.

It was maybe in this year following graduate school, I began practicing stillness. I was without a full-time job, in a new marriage, living further from friends and the city and stillness is kind of what I was left with. If I’m being honest with myself, I was bitter about it most of the time. For my achievement-driven brain, stillness didn’t make sense. It felt unproductive. But the idea sounded idyllic. 

The first time, I gathered the essentials, a cup of tea, a fuzzy blanket, my notebook, and pretty pens. I turned my phone onto airplane mode, put soft music on, plopped onto the couch (the seat right up against the window) and breathed deeply. For the first couple minutes, it felt freeing to sit and breathe and drink tea and to watch the quiet street. But then my mind would wander. What should I do next? Should I journal next? How long should I journal for? Maybe I should read a book? What book should I read? Do I need to order it? Is there a budget line for this? Maybe I should get a snack? What’s for lunch, or rather what is for dinner? Did I meal prep? Back to stillness… I didn’t meal prep. I should text husben. I should text my sister. Maybe I should stop thinking… At the end of it, it felt like the first few minutes were good, but the rest felt hard.

For the next few months, stillness was hard, my brain kept wandering in all the places and in all the directions. I hated sitting for too long. I hated being with my thoughts for too long. They were a scary place, filled with fear, insecurity, lies of unworthiness and uncertainty (anyone else?).

But I needed it. I can’t say stillness saved me in the post-grad school year, but it helps me now in my sanity. Moments of stillness are a must in my schedule. I have to build them in, whenever I can manage. I need stillness in order to function at my best. I need it in order to practice awareness of others, self, and to allow myself to be most present. I need the stillness so I can breathe, battle my internal fears and lies, be reminded of who I am, and that I am not meant to do it all, but be all I am.

Do you struggle with stillness? What makes it hard, beyond your schedule, because that’s going to be true for everyone at one point or another. What fears or uncertainties lie behind refusing stillness?

I challenge you to slow down and be still this week. Before you move from your bed, breathe deeply for a few minutes, breathe through your day ahead. Sit in your favorite chair, maybe with a warm cup of tea or coffee, close your eyes and be still.During your morning or evening commute, close your eyes or settle your eyes on a single blank point and let your mind rest. Try to not let your mind wander. When you feel it wandering, bring it back to stillness. Remind yourself that you are being still, in all sense of the word, and it is okay. Try to be still for three minutes every day this week. See what happens. If it’s at the beginning of your day, set your intention to be, not do. If it’s at the end of the day, reflect on how being and doing went. If it’s in the middle, see how your day is going so far and adjust.

I am not perfect at this. I fail often. Some days I’m better and some days (or weeks) I’m hardly still. It’s something that’ll take time to build, but worth building.”

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