The idea of stillness makes me picture psychological experiments, like the ones where the psychologist puts a marshmallow on the table in front of the kid. The psychologist says “don’t touch this marshmallow until I come back,” leaves the room, and then waits to see how many seconds it takes for the kid to eat it.
I am that kid. My future, my calendar, my job, my side-hustle, my dreams, my social life – these are my marshmallows. Since we’re being honest here, it would probably take me all of 30 seconds to try to eat them all before getting caught. I’m not very good at being still.
The first definition of stillness from Merriam-Webster is, “a state of freedom from storm or disturbance.” How often are you totally free from any disturbances? I can answer that question – almost never. Some are self-imposed and others are just symptoms of this super-connected world, but disturbances are a part of life.
I want to offer up another idea for stillness – selah, a word which is scattered about the Old Testament, mostly in the Psalms, and most often means “to pause and reflect” or “quiet contemplation.” Even in the middle of some pretty tumultuous times, this word called the writer and the reader to pause and reflect on the importance of what had just been said.
A lot of my getaways are spent with my brother and sister-in-law and their three kids. Their middle child is named Selah. She is bubbly, compassionate and creative. She is definitely not quiet or contemplative for the most part, but perhaps she will grow into her name. One of the first things I always hear from her when I walk in the door is “Aunt Katie, will you please play with me?” In this way, Selah embodies her name quite well. She reminds me to drop my bags and my week at the door, and to enter into a world where adult worries do not exist as we create a dress out of playdough or share giggles as she climbs a little higher on the backyard tree. In this way, without even knowing it, she asks me to pause and reflect; to be still with her and to enjoy the beauty of this time and this relationship.
In Jewish practice, Sabbath is the practice that most exemplifies the concept of pause and reflection. Lauren F. Winner shares from Nan Fink’s memoir in her book, The Mudhouse Sabbath:
“Shabbat (Sabbath) is like nothing else. Time as we know it does not exist for these twenty-four hours, and the worries of the week soon fall away. A feeling of joy appears. The smallest object, a leaf or a spoon, shimmers in a soft light, and the heart opens. Shabbat is a meditation of unbelievable beauty.”
When you start looking for life-giving rhythms, some stillness is required. You don’t have to run away to a mountain sabbatical (although that might sound nice for some) or spend time in a monastery. You may just need to make time to play with your child, take your dog on a walk, or stop by your favorite coffee shop for a few moments to sip and relax. In your everyday, take intentional, small pauses. In these pauses, pay attention to what is happening in your mind, heart and body to see what might be lacking or what is causing you to thrive in that moment. Reflect on the conversations you had that morning or the great sleep you (hopefully) got the night before. Make this a foundational part of your weekly and daily rhythms – pause and reflect, pause and reflect, pause and reflect – until this becomes a natural part of your busy day. In your going, find stillness. In your stillness, find change.