I read something the other day that said middle age is not 50 as we commonly say. Rather, it’s more between 38-45 because the life expectancy of the average person is 75-90 and not 100. Most people don’t live to be 100. Talk about a gut punch of reality! Before I go any further down this dark road, I will share a little secret about me. I’m going to live to be 111 and have a slamming one-hundred eleventh birthday party (like Bilbo Baggins) and then go quietly – and happily I might add – in my sleep.
But back to this business of being middle aged. Yes, at 44 hot young years, I am already middle aged. Naturally, I am asking myself if I’m doing life right. Have I accomplished what I wanted to accomplish to date? Does my life matter in the ways that matter to me? Do I feel a sense of purpose and fulfillment in my daily life? You get the picture. It’s all of the existential questions one asks at the start of a new year, in the midst of a major life event or change, or when one discovers that they are already knee-deep in middle-agedness.
The thing about this kind of deep thinking is that it requires space and opportunity to breathe. You don’t just ponder the meaning of life in the middle of the chaos of your day to day work meetings, kid pickups and dropoffs, family activities and social events. To really reflect, you need stillness and quiet. Now that’s something most of us don’t have enough of, am I right?
Moment of truth. We have time for what we make time for and that list is closely aligned to our values. When this is not true in our lives, it’s because we are living out of integrity with ourselves and out of alignment with our values. We have all been guilty of this at some point or another. The way we break the cycle is to be still.
What does it mean to be still? The dictionary defines it as the absence of movement or sound. The Silence Magazine says stillness is where the movement of life arises from. Wow, that was poetic. It is also full of truth. When we learn to be still, we gain clarity and can move with intention and purpose. So, let’s talk about how we can cultivate a practice of being still despite the distractions of life happening around us.
Create intentional down time in your schedule. Like everything else in your life that requires your attention, you have to plan for it. Maybe it means waking up 10 mins earlier every day, or blocking out meeting time and a conference room for a 1:1 with yourself, or pulling into a parking lot on your evening commute. Whatever makes sense for your schedule. The key is that you create the time and protect it. Protect it like you protect your leftover Cheesecake from Cheesecake factory, or whatever floats your pleasure boat. You deserve a moment of stillness, even if it’s just once a week. My guess is that once you get in the habit of being still, you’ll create even more time for it. Trust me, it’s just that good!
Get familiar with your breath. Did you know that most of us go through life breathing wrong? We tend to take short, shallow breaths rather than deep, elongated breaths. This means that our organs are often oxygen starved and we exists with a heightened sense of unnatural stress. There are all kinds of apps and websites about breathing exercises that can help you get the most out of your time of stillness with intentional breathing. Breathing helps you regulate your nervous system so it’s not always in a fight or flight response. We make irrational decisions from that space. We move quicker than we should and we often fail to see the full scope of possibility and opportunity around us when we are stuck in fight or flight mode. With a more relaxed state of being, we can ask clarifying questions. We can interrogate our feelings and emotions. We can see truths more clearly and recognize lies. We can dream up possibilities. We can live into our more authentic selves. The cool thing is that once you learn breathing techniques, you can use them whenever you need to, no matter where you are or what’s happening around you. Just breath.
Learn to hear in silence. We live in a very noisy world. Everything in our lives makes sound. Our appliances, our environments, our bodies, and us. We are just loud! That is also why most of us are not comfortable with silence. We aren’t used to it and we rarely give ourselves a chance to sit with it. We find all kinds of ways to fill the space of silence. We talk when nothing really needs to be said. We listen to music or podcasts or books during our commutes. We pop on our headphones when we take a walk or run outside (nature was right there!!!!). We will go through everyone on our favorites list on the phone until we get someone to pick up to avoid just being in silence. But I challenge you to lean into the silence. Practice sitting in silence a few minutes at a time until you get past the weirdness of it. The more you do it the less uncomfortable it feels. Because once you get past all that awkwardness, the good stuff happens. God speaks. The Universe speaks. Purpose speaks. We begin to hear the quiet voice that has been trying to get our attention to tell us to do this and not that. Maybe it’s a business decision or idea, maybe it’s a personal venture utilizing your giftings and talents, or maybe it’s courage to leave something behind like a job or bad relationship. When the noise stops, truth speaks. You will never regret hearing in the silence, even when it’s hard truths.
Remember that you are worth slowing down for. It is amazing how guilty we feel when we make a decision to prioritize ourselves. I’m not talking about being selfish. I’m talking about knowing you are worthy of intentional care and concern and stillness. One of the main reasons we struggle, and women are particularly challenged in this area, is because we have been made to believe everyone and everything is more important than us. In the to-do list of our lives, we pencil ourselves in at the bottom. And if we are always at the bottom, we are the first to be crossed out or left undone when things come up. Let me be clear. No one is going to celebrate your self-imposed martyrdom. If you don’t care for yourself – mind, body and spirit – no one is going to prioritize it. Aunty Oprah once said we teach people how to treat us. Teach yourself to treat yourself well. Be the model that others follow. Not only is it ok for you to carve out time to get quiet and still, it is necessary to your survival and thriving. This is important to settle in your heart because there will always be someone or something that wants to rob you of your time of stillness. And every time you allow it to happen, you are robbing yourself of the gift of knowing yourself and living out your purpose. That is a really high price to pay.
If you are feeling attacked or dragged by this post, don’t! We have the gift of a new day to make different decisions. Let this be the last day you neglect the power of stillness in your life. Make a decision to carve out 5 minutes tomorrow to just sit and be still. No matter how strange it feels in the beginning, I promise it will be fruitful in the long run.
Come back and let me know how it’s going for you in the comments. Share your stories of struggle as you press in. We can laugh together as we grow together!