Three Reasons It’s Hard to Be Still

Three Reasons It's Hard to Be Still - text on background of green swirls

We have been conditioned to feel guilty whenever we are not “productive.”

Stillness, even for the purpose of rest or prayer, can feel like wasted time to someone who lives in a world that values wealth, competition, high productivity, full schedules, and general self-importance. If we stare off into space for half an hour—and fail even to take notes on the thoughts that come to mind—that’s half an hour lost. The writer must always be recording and reflecting; the executive must always be strategizing. There’s no such thing as being “off” in such a culture. When we are stranded in traffic, we panic if there’s no device by which we can check the news, return calls, answer e-mail, or download a song or television show while we wait.

And if we do schedule a day away for retreat, we are tempted to load up the day with books to read, spiritual exercises to try, and journals to fill. Even in a retreat context we struggle to get still and do absolutely nothing.

We sometimes prefer distraction to concentration when it comes to soul work.

I have said to writers at various conferences: “We procrastinate when it’s time to write because, deep down, we know what true writing will cost us.” When the soul is allowed the space, time, and uncluttered mind to tell us our truths, we discover that those truths can be unsettling. If I’m quiet and inactive for an afternoon, what might rise to the surface is not some new insight into a Gospel passage but worries about the state of my marriage or my resentment toward a friend. My soul—under the influence of the Holy Spirit—will direct me to the real issues that I must see and tend today. Subconsciously, we understand that to invite silence and stillness is to open the door for soul work that is sometimes painful. It’s much easier to be busy—even “spiritually” busy—and to distract ourselves in various ways.

We have grown uncomfortable with any conditions that make us feel alone.

We now have a wealth of electronic devices that help us stay in touch, share information, and communicate with lots of people in lots of places. These same devices make it possible for us never to have to spend a moment truly alone because we are just a Facebook post away from hundreds of friends. Even if no one responds to the text I just sent by smartphone, I still feel connected to the universe, simply because I have composed and posted something on the world’s bulletin board. Our devices have become our constant companions. Recently I read a lengthy article suggesting that our children are not learning how to be alone or how to be bored because they are constantly on electronic devices. It is not uncommon now to see children who do not know how to be alone or how to create entertainment from nothing but time and a little bit of space.

Adults, especially those of us past age 40, may not be quite so addicted to cyberspace, but some of us don’t know how to exist with our phones turned off—or with the television, radio, and computer turned off. I need sound in the room. I want company, even if it’s a TV rerun I’m barely listening to. I am used to some kind of chatter. Silence unnerves me. Silence signals that I am alone for the moment—and what must I face if the only company I have is myself?

Before we can develop spiritual practices that require stillness and solitude, we must grapple with the various forms of resistance we have developed to fight the very stillness we need.

  • What do you do to become still?
  • When do you most need stillness and solitude?
  • How do you deal with the ways you resist stillness?
About Vinita Hampton Wright 181 Articles
Vinita Hampton Wright has served as senior editor at Loyola Press for 16 years and recently became managing editor of the trade books department. She has written various fiction and non-fiction books, including the novel Dwelling Places with HarperOne, Days of Deepening Friendship and The Art of Spiritual Writing for Loyola Press, and most recently, The St. Teresa of Avila Prayer Book for Paraclete Press. Vinita is a student and practitioner of Ignatian spirituality, and from 2009 to 2015 she blogged at Days of Deepening Friendship. For the past few years, she has co-led small groups through the 19th Annotation of the Spiritual Exercises. She lives in Chicago with her husband, three cats, and a dog. In her “spare” time these days, she is working on her next novel.

9 Comments on Three Reasons It’s Hard to Be Still

  1. Thank you Vinita for bringing me back to basics: stillness and the examen.
    Daily. I’m an entrepreneur from Manila, Philippines. Reading your post encouraged me to stop and open mysef to Him by doing the examan at the start of the day. Soon as I get up as early as early as 1am. I ask after I pray to the Holy Spirit to Come… “What was I most grateful for yesterday? And I review the day past. What was I least grateful for? Be quiet and listen. It is a long, loving look at the real. As found in the scripture of the day’s mass reading in Bo’s Companion. That’s how the day starts. Doing the Examen. Then I remember today, I’m bring my two grown kids to the bus station. After I go to Do A.G. Yoga . For 30 minutes. Doing different poses alone for 30 minutes. No one in the room that’s normally filled with as much as 12 people. Upside down on the hammock. Breathing. In and Out. I breath in His love. I breath out His love. To individual persons and situations I will meet furing the day ahead. Note: From doing my daily early morning examen. I may go back to bed. Sleep an hour then rise to bring my son and daughter to work. My son to the bus station. My daughter to breakfast. We enjoy being together at UCC Westgate. She leaves to catch her bus to work. I pay the bill. Then head for A.G. Yoga. No one is there. No teacher or student. I do 20 minutes covering 5 A.G. (Anti Gravity) inversions It is quiet. Except for my breathing. In and Out. In and Out. 30 minutes pass. I’m curled up in the cocoon of my hammock. I thank Him quietly. Slip out. Bow and end thanking Him for being with me as I quietly let go of all distractions. Take and receive Lord. My liberty. My memory. My understanding. My entire will. All that I have and possess ;you gave it all to me. I return it all back to you. All is yours. Dispose of it only according to your will. Give me only your LOVE and your grace. And that will be enough for me. I leave the room. Step into my sandals outside and head out to office 15 minutes away by car. My daily practiee of connecting the Examen and Entreprneurship. Vinita, Do pray that I listen. And act. Each day as I rise from my sleep. Just like the sleeping Joseph. Who listened. And acted.

  2. I love silence and stillness. I sit often with nothing more than the sound of my space heater. I do agree with you though, others in my life make me feel guilty for loving solitude and being willing to take the time to sit and think or pray. Thank you for sharing that maybe it is ok to love the quiet

  3. What an article! It goes straight to the point firmly but with no accusations , showing our very battles so wisely! I love it! That’s exactly what I needed, it was God’s word for me!
    Thank you a lot, Vinita!!!!

  4. There are people close to me who have reminded me of the importance of being still, to get quiet and just be. I pay it lip service and jump back on the merry go round. Your article today has caused me to reflect on what it is I may be attempting to avoid by staying so “busy”. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and lending some guidance. Michael

  5. Silence of eternity.
    Silence of suffering when words exhaust only a silent loving presence comforts.
    The still small voice heard only in deep inner silence.

  6. One morning last year, I woke up with the sunlight streaming into my room . This was the first time in almost 30 years . All this years I woke up between 4-430am in lovely darkness. I just stayed and basked with that moment , doing nothing . Your article brought this consolation back . Thank you Vinita

  7. VINITA, TODAY,S WRITING RESONATES WITH ME SO CLEARLY.SO MUCH NOISE IN MY LIFE. PAST FEW MONTHS I TRY YO SPEND TIME BEFORE THE EUCHCARIST IN AN ADORARTION CHAPEL, THE QUIETNESS THERE IS SO FULFILLING AND PEACEFUL. HOPEFULLY I AM DEVELOPING A BETTER RELATIONSHIP WITH JESUS/GOD. MARY “J” JUST USE ONLY MARY AS NAME. THANK YOU

  8. Vinita, once again you write a required word in due season. We are reminded so many times to be still. I will take this reflection to heart. Blessings to you and yours.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


*