I use the stillness diet whenever life is overwhelming me. When the walls are too high, and I feel surrounded at all times by a haze of misery.
Not to be dramatic, but I’ve found when life throws you into the valley there are things you can do to feel better. BUT they aren’t the things you THINK they are. Distractions are all well and good, but they won’t sustain you in the valleys. In fact, I feel like they delay the inevitable: more depth–more misery.
Why? Because when we seek the “solution” to our troubles we take the wheel and pump the brakes furiously. But it will make things worse. You’ll continue maneuvering, building up more and more resistance to what’s actually happening. The key to inner peace through the stillness diet beings here, in letting it GO and letting yourself be. Here’s how.
During the stillness diet, you will only do one thing at a time. That means when you chop onions you will . . . chop onions. No listening to music at the same time, or a podcast, etc. When you eat, you will eat. You can eat with someone, but there will be no reading or watching TV while you eat. When you drive the car you will . . . Ok, I think you get it.
The idea here is to bring your full awareness to every moment. Don’t divide yourself in attention. One thing at a time. This applies to your thoughts. Try to hold back on predicting. Anticipate nothing, just enjoy what you are doing now. Moms have the hardest time with this, and I identify with that. You will get less done, of course. But you will also gain peace. Decide which is more important.
Focus on the Now
You can monotask and be a million miles away, in your mind. So the second step of the diet is to use every moment as an opportunity to be fully awake, fully alive. Notice that little squirrel trying to jump onto a huge birdfeeder, see that sweeping sunrise over the snarled traffic. You might find yourself frozen in bliss when in nature, or pausing to stare at your kid’s eyelashes during dinner (why are they so long and luxurious?!). It’s amazing, what you notice when you stop and enjoy what you have right under your nose.
Plan periodic moments throughout your day to pray or meditate. This is a unique practice that you should individualize. There is no ONE way to do this. One person’s walking meditation is another’s cushion-sitting or yoga practice. The idea is you are opening yourself up to the energy around you. This is a way for you to get in touch with the Spirit, and for you to give/receive energy into the world. It’s a superpower you have that you might not be using. USE IT. It’s our greatest gift.
I set my watch to go off every hour as a reminder. Or use mealtimes as your moment, or when you wake/go to bed. Couple your habits with prayer/meditation moments. Find pockets of bliss.
Re-Write the Narrative
You are sick, you lost your job, your husband left you, etc. etc. Instead of focusing in on the “BAD THINGS” you need to rewrite your story. Begin each day with this.
There once was a girl named Elsie. She lived with her family in suburban Washington, D.C. She worked a fulfilling job downtown, and on the weekends she took long walks and wrote books.
See? I just feel better writing that. Now start each day writing your own story in your head. Before your eyes open start with that story.
Eliminate (or Limit) Media and News
Yes, you are going to have a full battery on your phone by the end of this diet. By restricting or outright eliminating news, you will have more time on your hands to do the above things. It also has a welcome side effect of calming the mind.
Be careful what you put into your brain during the stillness diet. All that time to reflect is only good if you are reflecting on the goodness of God–and not how many COVID-19 cases there are in your state.
Limit Screen Time
Walk back from using the screen for the majority of your day. If this is difficult, at least designate certain hours or times a day you will check for new messages, etc. The idea is to balance your screen time with “analog time”, moments in which you are actively creating and doing. When we sit in passive receipt of information on screens we can lose our sense of connection to the here and now. Screens should be used in moderation, like a prescription.
Engage in Creative Pursuits
Break out those watercolors with your kids, or devote yourself to a garden project. Need a new hobby? Go to a bookstore and read up on some ideas, or go to an art gallery to see what inspires you. Take a photograph, start writing letters, the ideas are endless.
For me, I find it helpful to go wayyy back to the things I loved doing as a child. Writing, reading, picnics, long walks in nature… still the things I love to do. I read a good quote once that said a person should have two hobbies, one that keeps them in the house, and the other that takes them out of it. Find your pursuits and engage in them. We are made in God’s image, he wants you creating, connecting, making the world whole with just being YOU.
Manage Your Thoughts
During this diet, you will be FLOODED with thoughts/images and they may be distressing. The reason for this is you’ve removed all the distractions. The good news is, instead of having these thoughts flood you at night, when you’re FINALLY silent and trying to sleep, you can manage them throughout the day.
There are a few techniques you can use to work through a troubling moment. Take three deep breaths. Focus on something you are grateful for. Ask yourself, “Self, is line of thought helpful?” Ask yourself if it’s going to be important a year from now. Etc. etc.
The idea is not to IGNORE these negative thoughts, because the most insidious ones will revisit you at 2am, trust me. You will acknowledge them and let them fall aside. Like a screaming toddler (or mine anyway), ignoring her won’t make her stop. Recognize it, and then drop it like a hot coal.
These rules aren’t hard and fast, you should feel comfortable modifying the diet to suit your needs. I find I adopt a strict “diet” initially, and then as I begin to feel better, I make modifications to bring back in things I’ve truly missed.
I do guarantee one thing, you can’t NOT feel better on this diet. If anything, you may want to take it further, and make it your new way of living.
Do you have any stillness diet recommendations? Please share in the comments!