Garden of the Gods. Colorado, 2018
“To move into that contemplative realm is the greatest adventure. It is to be open to the infinite and hence to infinite possibilities. Our private, self-made worlds come to an end; a new world appears within and around us and the impossible becomes an everyday experience.”
Thomas Keating, Open Heart, Open Mind
Some form of STILLNESS is vital to this program. Ideally, this STILLNESS eventually takes the form of a relatively formal meditation or contemplative practice. If you've had trouble with meditation in the past, however, don't despair - this space is primarily for "beginners," and you can take steps to quiet your mind long before you adopt a regular practice. Because let's face it - quieting one's mind is no easy task, and it can take a minute to find that which helps you relinquish your obsessive thoughts, decompress, and connect to your idea of the Divine (if you think in such terms. If you don't, fine!). Getting outside and walking in the woods is a wonderful way to start, for instance. One way or another, commit to some form of quietude once a day or as often as possible.
To dive right into a STILL practice, go HERE.
In the meantime?
(OTHER) WAYS OF LEANING INTO YOUR STILLNESS
Practice putting down your phone as often as you think of it. Unplug. Look around. Sit quietly. Notice whether you feel discomfort, relief, or both—more on unplugging HERE.
Get outside - into the wilderness.
Get your hands in the dirt. Plant things! Outside or in.
Set a beautiful table and make or serve a delicious meal - for yourself or your tribe. Light candles, use your favorite pottery, serve mulled wine.
Take a candle-lit bath. Put a few drops of essential oil in your bath water, light candles, listen to sacred music. Start with Saint Hildegard of Bingen.
Build your own personal alter with special items that help you feel connected to the Divine.
Christian Stegall, STILL/WILD Woman
Great Sands National Park
WAYS OF LEANING INTO YOUR WILDNESS
Dance, sing, move. The wild nature is fully expressive. It's important (and profoundly liberating) to release your body and voice. Begin now.
Slowly but surely, begin to reconnect to the natural world, to the wild places around you. This is a vital piece of the STILL/WILD movement. More HERE.
Create! Paint, sew, write, take photos. Also, create wild, mystical living spaces. More on STILL/WILD @ Home HERE.
Practice, at home and elsewhere, speaking Truth to Power. You can begin by having whatever Fierce Conversations you need to have. (See Susan Scott's book, FIERCE CONVERSATIONS.)
Read about women, including those in the STILL/WILD Tribe, who embody the S/W ethos; Women who have a dedicated STILL practice, and who are bringing about much-needed cultural change. Learn from them, as I do, and follow their example. We look to the women, now.
Pray, if you happen to be a person who prays (either that or "set an intention," as they say) to find your own unique, change-making contribution. Trust that Way Will Open. Consider volunteering at various orgs in your community to see if the work they're doing lights you up. You'll know it - the work you're called to do - when you've found it. Important note: If you're a caretaker, currently - if you have young children, for instance - you are already engaged in WILD work. Then again, you and your children might find some change-making work to do together!
Reach out to Sara if you feel so led!
We begin with stillness. Then we live out loud.
Clearly, WILD manifests differently for all of us. We can touch the WILD dimension of our lives not only in the change-making realm, but also in physical and intellectual ones, for example. That said, in my experience, one can only have a dedicated STILL practice for so long before feeling inexorably called to some sort of change-making work - at home, at work, or on the world stage. (Think coaching, healing, social and political activism.) You'll find your way, and I'm happy to help. Begin by cultivating your own WILD nature, and then turn that fierce and compassionate energy outward. For more on entering into both the STILL and WILD dimensions of your life, see below.
Please note: Meditation is not risk-free.
I'm convinced that nothing in the world changes your lived experience, or the lives of those around you, as dramatically as a regular and rugged contemplative practice. That said, it’s important to acknowledge that roughly 25% of the 36 million or so Americans who meditate will, at some point, experience UEs, or “unwanted effects,” as a result. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5584749/) These unwanted effects can include increased anxiety, depersonalization, and depression, for example. While these UEs are generally short-lived and don’t result in cessation of practice, for some number of people – especially those who have experienced trauma – meditation can result in episodes that are long-term and terrifying.
Despite this fact, meditation (generally in the form of “mindfulness”) is now found in nearly every corner of modern society. Mindfulness is taught in schools, at work, in hospitals and is generally presented as a one-size-fits-all-cure-all. Stressed out? Meditate. Sick? Meditate. Anxious? Definitely: meditate.
The reality, however, is that for anyone who has experienced trauma, meditation can exacerbate that trauma, and it can bring harm. Those of us who teach and/or evangelize about its benefits have an ethical obligation to understand the risks; to inform and equip ourselves. We must also understand that when it comes to mindfulness practice, all things are not equal. As David A Treleaven points out in his book Trauma-Sensitive Mindfulness, “…an ongoing sense of threat is very real for people who are targeted by systems of oppression.” (116) Asking someone who experiences an ongoing sense of threat to pay close, sustained attention to their inner world, Treleaven reminds us, can be exceedingly risky.
All that to say: Meditation is not to be trifled with. If you are someone who teaches meditation on any level, I recommend reading Trauma-Sensitive Mindfulness by David A. Treleaven, and familiarizing yourself with the Work of Willoughby Britton Ph.D and Cheetah House.
My own contemplative, or “still” practice, turned me upside down, inside out, and changed my life for the better in ways that are hard to describe. I will spend a lifetime telling this story, on the one hand. But I hope to do so in an informed way, while recognizing that there are very real risks, as well as benefits, when it comes to meditation.
If you have had a bad experience resulting from meditation or mindfulness practice, you are not alone, and help is available at cheetahhouse.org.