What is inner stillness? 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, of being in the present moment, when my soul can dance with joy.
It’s been nine years since I have swum. Yet, I can still: reconnect to those feelings; recreate the experience; be in its every moment in my mind’s eye.
Many athletes use this type of “mental rehearsal” visualization before competing, and scientific research has shown the effective power that 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 percent) gained after 12 weeks of mentally visualizing muscle contractions!
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.”
Personally, I find my inner stillness by reliving this happy memory of being in the swimming pool. This is an example of mindfulness meditation, when we are fully 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.
Research has shown that regular mindfulness meditation changes the way the mind reacts to previous and future stressors. “This is Your Brain on Meditation,” by Dr Rebecca Gladding (Psychology Today, May 2013) gives an example of her findings (paraphrased): “Regular mindfulness meditation 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.” Mindfulness is now a scientifically proven technique that has been shown to be so important to our overall well-being (mental, physical, emotional and spiritual)!
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 favorite 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 and return you to the present moment, both of which are essential in this fast-paced, often chaotic world in which we live.
I’ve written a poem that sums up beautifully 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….