A CEO hired me to help her work teams function more harmoniously. I have come to her company each week to listen to ten of her employees. They have dubbed our time together, “the Thursday group.” So far I have heard their lists of what works well here–in their minds at least– and what doesn’t. “So and so talks too much.” “This one is too bossy.” “That one is too passive.”
Today they expect a harsh “intervention.” I have another word for what we will do today. Stillness. I laugh to myself, as stillness will worry them as much as harshness. Maybe more, I imagine. After all, through silence Gandhi formed his movement known as “soul force,” or “truth force.” Soul force can be scary.
They are used to hearing, “she did…can you believe he did?….who’s to blame for?….where was that person when?…” I want my clients to listen another way to themselves and others. I begin as we have the past few weeks. “Let’s start by stopping, arrive here, drop into this room, this moment. Let’s see if we can leave in the past all those things it took to get here today. Let’s take some quiet time.”
I pause as they readjust themselves and close their eyes. Then I continue:”Feel your body seated here. Feel your breath coming in and going out. Ahhhhh. Deep exhales.”
I see shoulders relaxing away from ears, jaws loosen a bit. Yet the one in the corner scrunches her face. Her cheeks tighten around her nose. I want to say, “Let go, let go, let go.” I want to quote for them part of David Whyte’s poem ENOUGH:
Enough. These few words are enough.
If not these words, this breath.
If not this breath, this sitting here.
I want to say that, at least for now, our being together in silence is enough. To sit. To breathe. But, even though I know how stillness can create dynamic change, how silence can invite new conversations, I feel a pressure in my gut, that racing in my heart. For a brief second I forget how turning inside provides moments of opening, of insight, otherwise shut out by noise. I tell myself I must perform. I must entertain. Habits of jumping out into the world do not break easily. But I don’t say any of this. Not yet.
I had brought Tibetan bells to guide us into a new way of speaking to each other. I ring them now. Their tone reminds me that I want my fellow human beings to notice the still small voice within, to hear a different tone in themselves. In a while they will leave this room, check their e-mails, answer calls. They will act like human doings.
I read them a quote from David Whyte: “In silence….(we come to) a present unknowing, robust vulnerability, revealing— in the way we listen,— a different ear, a more perceptive eye, an imagination refusing to come too early to a conclusion, and belonging to a different person than the one who first entered the silence.”
When they open their eyes, I ask, “So now, what about the bossy one, the passive one, the one who talks too much?”
One says, “I too love to chatter and gossip. It’s not always good. I can use this stopping before mouth off. This space will give me more choice. I can be more conscious.”
Another says, “I am a boss, but I don’t need to be bossy. It never occurred to me that there ‘s a place for silence in a work day.”
Each reported feeling more settled, with wider vision. “More space inside” one said. This small, simple so-called intervention became the ground from which we entered future work.
Buddhist teacher Christina Feldman writes; “Silence is the first casualty of an addiction to busyness.” So we learn to stop.
And in Chinese calligraphy, the word for “busy” is composed of two characters translated as “heart” and “killing.” So we learn to stop.
If the transformation of heart in the Thursday group is any indication, could it be true, at least in part what Blaise Pascal wrote? “That all of our unhappiness derives from one single source—not being able to sit quietly in a room.”
So I wonder, in 2015, how might things be different if we could start and end our days with a few minutes of simple stillness?