Estimated reading time: 3 mins.
What is inner stillness?
Both feet schlep across the wet floor tiles as I pad my way towards the swimming pool’s edge. The familiar smell of chlorine rises up to my nostrils—a sharp frisson of anticipation for the joy to come. Calm waters, barely a ripple disturbing their pristine surface, invite me to join them and my skin displays goose bumps in response.
A sudden liquid cold rushes from feet to chest at the first surrender of the body to the water, then automation takes over, as stroke after stroke I carve a blissful path, counting the lengths, maintaining a relaxed, even speed all the while. It’s like a homecoming: body and mind engrossed in the task; and my soul sighs with joy. At one with the water, nothing else matters in this time and motion bliss.
This is my time of inner stillness, when I allow my soul to dance with joy.
Mind over matter:
It’s been 9 years since I have swum. Yet nowadays, hampered by ill-health and unable to swim with the physical body, I can still reconnect to those feelings; recreate the experience; be in its every moment in my mind’s eye. I swear I can even smell the faint scent of chlorine, so immersed am I in the ‘virtual’ act of swimming!
This is not as unusual as you may think. Many sports people use ‘mental rehearsal’ visualization before competing, and scientific research has shown the effective power which visualization has on the brain. They have found that the brain does not distinguish between actually doing something and imagining doing it. A 2004 scientific study in Cleveland reported on the increase in muscle power (by as much as 35%) gained after 12 weeks of mentally visualizing muscle contractions!
Inner Stillness—the soul connection:
For many people, their time of inner stillness is also when they connect with the Creator. I’m reminded of a lovely quote from Saint Teresa of Avila:
“You need not go to heaven to see God; nor need you speak loud, as if God were far away; nor need you cry for wings like a dove to fly to Him; Only be in silence, and you will come upon God within yourself.” Saint Teresa of Avila.
Personally, I find my inner stillness by reliving this happy memory of being in the swimming pool. This is an example of mindfulness meditation, a time when we allow ourselves to be in the present moment. You don’t have to be a spiritual person to do mindfulness meditation; you don’t have to want to connect with God. Even if you practice this simple (or similar) meditation exercise solely to reduce stress during a busy, rushed day, then your body-mind will thank you.
The power of mindfulness meditation:
Research has shown that regular mindfulness meditation changes the way the mind reacts to previous and future stressors. I’m referencing here an article in Psychology today (May 2013):
This is your brain on meditation by Dr Rebecca Gladding gives as an example of her findings: “your ability to ignore sensations of anxiety is enhanced as you begin to break that connection between the unhelpful parts of the Me Center of the brain and the bodily sensation/fear centers.” The findings go on to say (paraphrased) that regular meditation also helps to form stronger connections between other parts of the brain, meaning that when you experience bodily sensations—such as pain—you can view them more rationally, from a less anxious, more detached viewpoint, and just let them drift away. This is a very interesting article which I urge you to read as I have heavily redacted it! Suffice to say, mindfulness is not some mumbo-jumbo, new-age, alternative hippy-culture thing (does anyone still think like that?). It is a scientifically-proven technique which is so important to our overall well-being (mental, physical, emotional and spiritual)!
Over to you:
The key is to do your joyful soul dance often; imprint it as a new, positive habit in your mind. Remember you can choose any calming, repetitive activity—painting, running, walking your favourite forest trail, making pancakes and so on—that you can easily recreate in your mind’s eye, using the senses to recall all the details. This will help to bring you to a state of inner peace.
I wrote this poem to sum up how good it feels to be in the moment of inner stillness:
Kicking off against the side
I glide; arms outstretched
No need to breathe
Just glide, in liquid silk
Sweet harmony of body and mind.
Where do I end and it begin,
This miracle skin?
This mingling of atoms:
A reaching within.
Ripples become waves
Then dissipate again.
I am present in the water
Yet I leave no lasting stain.
And so I glide, unhurried,
Through life, as in the water.
Untroubled by waves
I simply watch them subside
And I glide….