3 Steps to Achieving Inner Stillness
Adapted from the HeartMath Institute
Don’t just be quiet. Be still.
When you blend into the moment with tender stillness,
you have the opportunity to align with, shift, and
transform the thinking of the person you are with.
When your whole body and mind is silent, you are comfortably sitting still. From here, you can fully focus on others. You are better able to understand the meaning of their words, their expressions, and the energy they radiate. This is how you cultivate non-reactive empathy. You not only understand their experience, you are then better able to clearly reflect what you hear and notice to help others assess their thinking without getting hooked by their story or emotions.
Stillness is an alive and connected silence. This is the silence most useful to effective coaching and leadership conversations, and parenting as well.
Many spiritual cultures agree that inner stillness is the best tool for advancing our consciousness together.
The exercise below was adapted from HeartMath to facilitate easier access to stillness and its connection to the inner wisdom and guidance of your heart.
The exercise is intended to quiet the inner noise generated by the normal stream of unregulated mental and emotional activity so you can hear and distinguish the inner messages from your heart and gut. When you’re in a state of inner stillness, your nervous system is more aligned, your hormonal and immune systems can re-balance, and you are able to access and trust the wisdom of your intuition.
How to Achieve Inner Stillness
Achieving inner stillness requires disciplined practice because your mind instinctively wants to occupy the spaces in your thinking and when others are quietly processing what they are learning. You have to get comfortable with the beautiful emptiness of not knowing what will come next in the conversation.
Schedule weekly or daily times to consistently practice inner stillness where you allow yourself to experience a relaxed time‑out. The stillness might feel awkward at first, but soon you will create a more natural habit of being at peace in your mind and body
Exercise: Being Still with Yourself
Step 1. Sit up comfortably in a chair where there are few if no distractions. Imagine and then feel your breath slowing down, calming the vibration of your mental and emotional energy.
Step 2. As you feel your energy subside, softly radiate love and peace into your heart.
Step 3. If thoughts come up, don’t push against them. Notice if the message is important to access after your exercise is complete, and then let the thoughts go for now. When you are complete with your exercise, recall what thoughts emerged while being still; you may have accessed your heart’s intelligence. The guidance may give you solutions or a deeper understanding regarding life decisions you are facing.
Be with the stillness as long as you can on your own for a few weeks. Then you can take your practice into your conversations, being still with others as you receive what they offer. In the pause, summarize the words and expressions you picked up, and ask questions to clarify the content and significance of what you received. Ask the questions that emerge from within you, not from your brain’s analysis. They will come to feel safe with you, willing to reveal what is on their minds knowing they won’t be judged for what they say and who they are.
Also, to realize ongoing benefits from your practice, you don’t have to totally stop everything you are doing – you can consciously reduce your thoughts and calm yourself while you are talking or working anytime. This will make your brain work more efficiently. You’ll feel less stress, too, with even a little practice.
Exercise: Being Still with Others
Poet and philosopher, David Whyte said in a conversation with neuroscientist, Sam Harris, that silence is a portal to presence. Whyte said, “In silence, essence speaks to us of essence itself … As the busy edge dissolves we begin to join the conversation through the portal of a present unknowing… with a different ear, a more perceptive eye, an imagination refusing to come too early to a conclusion and belonging to a different person than the one who first entered the quiet.”1
Before you go to a meeting or make a call, practice these three steps:
Step 1. Release tension in your body and breathe easily. With eyes closed or shifted downward, bring your awareness into your brain. Picture an elevator sitting in the center of your mind. The door is open. Allow your thoughts, judgments, and opinions to float into the empty elevator. When they are safely inside, see the door close, leaving your mind free of thoughts. Say the word “curious” to yourself. Breathe in and feel the curiosity open your mind.
Step 2. Return to the elevator in your mind. The door is still closed. Watch the elevator float slowly down your body, through your neck, into your chest, and see it settle in the spot next to your heart. Recall someone or a pet you deeply care about, or a favorite location that opens your heart. As the elevator door opens, see the person, pet, or place that fills you with gratitude, happiness, or love. Take a deep breath in while you say the word you feel, such as “love,” “happy,” or “grateful.” Feel your heart expand.
Step 3. Return to the elevator next to your heart. Say goodbye to the person, pet, or place as the door closes. The elevator floats slowly down your body, down your center, and comes to rest at the spot just below your navel. There is a warm glow coming from the elevator door. When the door opens, there is nothing inside but the warm glow. Feel the warmth of this glow from the front of your body and into your spine. Recall a time you courageously spoke up or did something in spite of your fear. As you inhale, say the word “courage” to yourself. Let the word settle into the center of your body before you exhale. Keep breathing and sensing the power from the center of your body.
Even when you do this exercise as preparation before a conversation, you can quickly repeat the steps when engaged with someone if you feel stuck or emotionally triggered. Quickly visualize your head, heart and gut opening with curiosity, care, and courage. Your presence will impact others positively more than your words.
Francis Compone said, “What the mind seizes upon should be held with gentle suspicion and examined with bold curiosity.”2 Your thoughts are not as important as you think they are. Being still with others is more profound than being the smartest person in the conversation.
1 David Whyte, Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words. Canongate Books, October 27, 2020
2 Francis Compone, Coaching in Wonderland in Innovations in Leadership Coaching: Research and Practice, Fielding University Press, April 27, 2020.