How to Grow the Practice of Stillness for your Mental Health

Thoughts and feelings can whirl you away from being centered. The practice of stillness can calm the mind and bring back clarity. The Bible has verses to help us on the way.

Sometimes I feel like I am on a long bungee cord.

I run off to do this and that.

Ambitions, dreams, goals, demands, self-centered desires, temptations.

I concern myself with all sorts of worries and fears, and as I keep moving away from stillness, the bungee cord gets ever so slightly tighter and tighter.

Eventually, I am pulled back, with a twang.

I look around and wonder what happened, and I realize that I have moved out of that place of stillness.

I believe that the spiritual practice of stillness is one of the most difficult to learn.

When you want to be still, you will soon have thoughts that lead to trails that need exploring and thinking.

Suddenly you are meandering faraway from being centered and still.

If you struggle with depression or anxiety, then the magnetic pull of those old, well-worn threads in your brain tug at you even more. They’re familiar, comfortable, normal, and oh so easy to go down.

It all began from stillness.

In the beautiful poem of Genesis 1, these words commence our story.

At the beginning of God’s creating the heavens and the earth, when the earth was an empty void, with darkness over the face of the deep, and God’s breath sweeping over the face of the water, God said, ‘Light!’ and light came into being. Genesis 1:1-3 The Bible for Everyone

I believe that everything emerged out stillness.

The words from Genesis only capture a small snapshot of the dynamic power and beauty unleashed.

Stillness is the place of divine presence. It’s the place where God calls us back to time and time again.

‘Be still and Know that I am God’ the Psalmist tells us in Psalm 46.

Four Bible verses

Here are four verses where we see stillness as being part of Gods plan for us

 1. The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still. Exodus 14:14  
Such an assurance it must have given the people of Israel as they left Eygpt to go home. They didn’t need to panic or worry because God was right there with them. The invite was to be still.

2. Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him Psalm 37:7
Are you ever anxious, worrying, fretting? The Psalmist calls us to wait patiently. To adopt that stillness of quiet patience.

3. Be still, and know that I am God Psalm 46:10
A favorite verse for many for when we want some deep connection with God, who knows all.

4. He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. Mark 4:39
A beautiful story of Jesus in how he calms the storm story. This is a story to meditate on and use in your stillness practice.

How to practice stillness

 1. Give yourself permission
For many of us, the hardest part is to permit ourselves to stop all the activity. We so easily define ourselves by our performance.

Doing more and more. We think that productivity is the supposed measurement of success.

There is a still small voice whispering an invitation to be quiet, rest, and listen. To sit at the feet of Jesus like Mary.

2. Set a time and a place

Make it a regular feature of your day, your week. You are in the process of training your brain, so giving it a regular place and time creates a habit, a thinking path that, with repeated excursions down, normalizes the experience.

I have a seat on the deck of my home. The sun streams in, and my dogs often sit with me. Whenever I sit there, my brain recognizes this place and time as a sacred place for stillness.

I have marshaled my brain into the zone of quiet stillness.

3. Use a timer

I want to be able to relax totally into this moment of stillness. I don’t want to be checking my watch, so I have a timer set on my phone to assist me quietly. You might like to start with five minutes and then move up to fifteen.

4. Relax.

Find a comfortable place to sit, and allow your body to relax. Let the tension go and breathe slowly and deeply.

Notice your breath moving in and out and slowly give your body permission to be quiet. That breath that was blown into you by God. Feel it down deep and then let float out. Repeat slowly and gently. 

A helpful exercise would be to slowly move up through your body, noticing each part and inviting it to be quiet and relax.

5. Quiet your mind.

A thought slips into your mind; then, it leads in a microsecond to another. Off you go, and the stillness has a ripple. Its time to practice “nonjudgmental observation.”

Notice the thought, accept its presence without self-condemnation (the brain is only doing what it has always done – presenting options), and quietly come back to being still.

I often use a word that I quietly speak to myself. It might be ‘Peace’ or ‘Jesus’ or ‘Love.’

Invite Spirit (Holy) to be your teacher sitting alongside you at this moment.

6. Focus on this moment.

Be present to this very moment. It’s easy to swing like a pendulum to a past moment and then to a future moment.

Being still is practicing the presence of this moment. The mind will want to drift, but with practice, you will be able to move it back into alignment with this present moment.

7. Visualize

Take your mind to a place of quiet stillness, of beauty, of presence. Envelope yourself in that place. A sunrise, a stream, a moonlight sky, a ‘tree planted by streams of water’ Psalm 1:3

8. Return with thankfulness

Please, don’t critique your stillness. This is not a performance; this is an invitation to presence. Quietly give thanks for this time and notice any changes within yourself.

Some surprising benefits of stillness

As you make this part of your daily life, you will begin to notice that you have more control over your thought life than what you thought you had.

That you don’t have to be a slave to every thought that comes into your consciousness.

You will learn that you are indeed the author of your thoughts. That there is greater ease in becoming centered and in control of your responses. You will notice you’re slowing down and being in alignment with your purpose.

Quotes to consider

  • Stillness is not about focusing on nothingness; it’s about creating a clearing. It’s opening up an emotionally clutter-free space and allowing ourselves to feel and think and dream and question.  Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection
  • We can never hope to know the presence of God or other people until we can be with ourselves in stillness, openness, and attentiveness. David G. Benner and Richard Rohr  Presence and Encounter
  • One of the reasons most of us are limited in our ability to be present to others and ourselves is that we possess so little inner stillness. David G. Benner
  • Our busyness—which we often blame for our lack of inner stillness—is not the cause of the problem but a way of avoiding it. While we may be attracted to solitude and silence, we also fear them because with each comes an inevitable confrontation with everything we are trying to avoid. External silence confronts us with the realities of our inner world. David G. Benner
  • Inner stillness is letting go. Rather than trying to drive away the distractions, the posture of inner stillness is simply to release them. Being still is, therefore, being free from the distraction of my attachments. David G. Benner
  • In the inner stillness where meditation leads, the Spirit secretly anoints the soul and heals our deepest wounds. John of the Cross
  • I used to think anxiety and insomnia drove me to success, but it was the stillness that let me be good at anything. When you extend the seconds of stillness, that’s when you’re able to think and learn.  Russell Simmons
  • All speech that moves men was minted when some man’s mind was poised and still R.E.C Browne

Questions to answer

  1. How easy is it for you to give yourself permission to stop and be still?
  2. What is the hardest part of being still?
  3. What helps you in developing stillness as a key feature of your daily rhythm?

Further reading

The Power in Being Still & How to Practice Stillness

Questions and Answers about Mindfulness

Give your Mind the Spiritual Gift of Stillness

Barry Pearman

Photo by Raychan on Unsplash