The start of a new year is often a time for reflection, resolutions and new beginnings, a time of renewal and review. It’s also a time for letting go, cutting ties that bind and hold us to things, people and behaviours. As the year started, I was reminded of the chaos and noise in which we live and how this takes us away from moments of quiet reflection and contemplation, centredness.
Every newspaper you opened, every news bulletin you listened to, every podcast was filled with doom and gloom – Eskom load shedding, the stalled economy, the threat of a downgrade, the continuous violence against women and children and the threat of war in the Middle East. All of these and more dominated the conversations we were having, often leaving you feeling quite overwhelmed and anxious. Yet in the midst of all of this and the hustle of daily life I was invited into a space of stillness, quiet reflection and thought and more recently a further reminder by an old friend of our business to celebrate what’s right with our world.
At the end of last year I was gifted a book, “Stillness is the Key” by Ryan Holiday, and whilst relaxing over the December break, I took time out to read the book, cover to cover in just a few days. It was gripping, filled with lessons from stoics such as Marcus Aurelius to stories from the lives of Tiger Woods and John F Kennedy. The key as Holiday puts it is to open up to the gift that is stillness. It has always been there and always will, it is our choice as to whether we open ourselves to the opportunity to be quiet in the midst of the busyness we find ourselves in. This is not some new-age concept, something only relevant to monks and sages, but rather something for each one of us to learn to practice and in doing so sharpen our minds and positively shape ourselves and then impact those around us. You probably think this is something new that you have never experienced, but I am sure you have, the moment when you find the answer to the question you have been pondering for days; the quiet time with your family over a dinner; the long walk you took this morning; the time you sat waiting at your child’s school are all moments of stillness when we “are alone with our thoughts, and seizing for the first time the ability to think about them as we were thinking them.”
Holiday goes on to describe how many successful and famous people have used this practice to find answers to questions vexing them. Yes, I can hear you saying, we can’t all be like Bill Gates who takes a week out every year to visit his home in the bush, disconnected from everyone around him, to read, study and reflect on his life and business. But it is during these times of quiet reflection and study that he re-charges his batteries and finds answers to matters that have been pressing him. The opportunities for stillness don’t always require solitude and withdrawal – you can learn to be quiet with those around and near to you. Sharing your moments of stillness with those closest to you can be rewarding, we just need to appreciate and practice the skill of quiet reflection. Studies have shown that many successful executives find time to recharge in their downtime; whether it be cycling, running, listening to classical music, fly-fishing (my personal favourite), these are all examples of the practice and “have one thing in common: the absence of voices.” The opportunity to be quiet without the noise of chatter of others around affords us the opportunity to think, recharge and be still and in the quiet find an opportunity to listen. As we listen, we will be opened to “what the world is trying to tell us. Or what we have been trying to tell ourselves.” These moments of quiet are rare and we must seize them and make the most of them. Put down that phone, you really do not need to surf Facebook or Instagram before you go to bed at night, rather spend that time quietly reflecting on the day and preparing yourself for the all important sleep that you need to recharge and prepare you for the next day.
One of the other practices Holiday encourages is journaling – the daily practice of writing your thoughts down on paper allows you to distance yourself from your problems and see them from a distance. It provides objectivity when we are overwhelmed with fear and anxiety. John F Kennedy kept a journal in his time before he was in office and was known to take extensive notes to help clarify his thinking.
There is no right or wrong way (you might even prefer to type your journal) and you are not doing it for the reader but rather for yourself as a means of opening up, of clearing your thoughts and separating issues. It doesn’t have to be a chore – find time during the day, anytime of day to pen your thoughts, a few minutes of stillness. Holiday says it might be one of the most important things you will do all day!
Earlier I mentioned fly-fishing as a means of finding quiet: a hobby too, is something Holiday strongly advocates as a means of finding quiet and stillness. It’s crazy to be thinking of leisure time at the start of the year when many of us have probably just returned from the December holidays but importantly, time out, away from the hustle and bustle is exactly what we need to keep our energies up and our minds clear. I was intrigued to discover that the word “leisure” in Greek is rendered as Schole – that is school. Leisure historically meant the freedom from the daily chores of what we needed to survive, rather it was learning and studying, the pursuit of higher things, new skills and knowledge. Take on the challenge and learn a new skill, learn how to paint, start a veggie garden (vertical, urban and roof-top gardens are space savers), do something that requires of you to be removed from your daily grind and focus on something that you do not do for pay or to impress people, but purely for pleasure – do it for you!
The opportunity to quietly reflect is there for us each day, we simply need to seize it and take advantage of the opportunity to be alone with our thoughts and emotions. Hiding from them and wishing that someone else will find the solutions to our challenges is exactly that “wishful thinking.” What is needed is deliberate practice, a few minutes each day can assist in developing a new set of neural pathways and open up possibilities we never thought possible. Open yourself to the moments of silence, reflection, listening and thought and you will be amazed how the universe responds.
At the start I mentioned celebrating what’s right with the world and I encourage you to listen to Dewitt Jones’ Ted Talk on the topic:
His video introduces us to the concept of celebrating what’s right around us, recognising the special people we work with each day and acknowledging them publicly for the positive impact they make on our lives. Yes, there is much around us that is wrong and that we desperately need to address but so too there is much that is right, beautiful and inspiring. Find these things, in your moments of silence and reflection and celebrate them, share them with others and hold them up as beacons of hope and inspiration.
Be the change you want to see around you this year, don’t wait for someone else to create your reality. Carpe diem.