Taking back control
Words by Elisha Goldstein

Sometimes I think that someone out there is playing a cruel joke on humanity, it’s as if we’re living in The Truman Show and one of the producers is saying, “Let’s see how fast we can turn up the pace of life before they collapse.”

The reality is, our brains have been conditioned to believe that slowing down or being still is a waste of time and it’s best to fill that time with something… anything. Whether we’re in line at a the grocery story, waiting at a doctor’s office, or sitting at a stoplight, the brain seems to be cued to fill that space. Nowadays, many of us pull out our phones and begin sifting through various messages, reading over documents, or surfing the web.

However, the belief that being still has no value is a mistake. In fact, the secret to a sense of personal control, general satisfaction with life and even success lies in learning how to find peace with finding stillness even in the face of waiting.

I don’t often make sweeping statements, but here is one: Creating space away from busy-ness and toward stillness and reflection is absolutely necessary to create a meaningful life. Easier said than done, why? Because underneath the subtle yet intolerable experience of being still is a little anxious gremlin that fears being alone. This gremlin is operating on old software that says if you’re alone that means you’re not being protected by your clan and it’s a threat to your safety. In those small moments of stillness, it takes the controls of your brain and reaches for something to ‘be with’ so you’re not alone anymore.

In other words, the anxious gremlin is in control and you’re not. Studies are clear that lacking a sense of control is associated with negative stress, anxiety and depression. Also, the more we let the gremlin run the brain, the stronger it gets – or as the Canadian psychologist Donald Hebb says “neurons that fire together, wire together.”

A good place to practice dropping into stillness is in moments of waiting. In those moments, instead of grabbing something to fill the space, you recognise it as an opportunity to settle into stillness, being okay with just waiting. You can soften the muscles in your body that have just tensed due to a mini fight/flight/freeze response and just recognize you’re safe.

What we practice and repeat in life becomes more automatic. If you practice and repeat this, you’re going to start taking back control of your mind and being more at ease. There are so many opportunities to practice. You can drop into stillness while waiting for your bread to toast, waiting for someone to get out of the shower, waiting for a certain report at work, waiting for the screen to load, waiting on hold on the phone, and even waiting for your newborn to settle down as you’re doing your best to soothe her.

In doing this, you strengthen self-control, trust in yourself, and with less tension in needing to fill the spaces, you feel more relaxed in life. You’ve freed yourself from this delusion of immediacy, grasping and need and opened up to a sense of ease, contentment and confidence.

Try this very simple exercise today and in the days ahead. Consider where you might find stillness in waiting. As you notice the waiting, relax your body, recognize you’re safe and just be curious about the experience of stillness. As they say, “the proof is in the eating of the pudding.” In my experience, this is where the gold is. 

Elisha is a psychologist, author, speaker and the co-founder of The Center for Mindful Living in Los Angeles. elishagoldstein.com

This feature was first published in Issue One of SATORI. To explore issue one further click here.

Created by Duncan Woods & Seb Camilleri