Wisdom stolen from a reverend
Stillness is a virtue
On Saturday morning I went to church. It’s unusual to see me outside of the house in the mornings, nevermind at church. I was baptised Catholic (Irish mother), but I stopped going to church just before I should have had my confirmation and I’m not sure what that means with regards to my odds of getting into heaven. Now, I only go to church for the occasional wedding or funeral.
The service on Saturday was a reflection for people affected by suicide which was organised by The Alliance of Suicide Prevention Charities. I spent the early hours of Saturday morning hesitating about whether or not to go. Like most people during winter, I find it difficult to leave the house without external accountability. But, I forced myself to go, because it’s been over a decade since my boyfriend died, and I’ve not benefitted from trying to pretend it never happened.
It was naive of me to not bring tissues to church. My bereavement was a long time ago, but it often frightens me when it catches me off guard with how fresh it can feel. The emotion hit me in the face from almost the moment I sat down at the end of a pew and I heard the stories of others bereaved by suicide. I was getting snot all over the sleeves of my jumper that I’d wanted to wear out that night.
I went alone and I talked to no-one, but I found it comforting to be in the same room as so many people who’d felt the same isolation I have. The reverend said that when it comes to suicide: we’re all responsible, but no one is to blame. His words share the sentiment of the newsletter I wrote after Caroline Flack’s death.
The impact of being in the church itself surprised me: something happens to time in a space like that. The music moved me and I forgot about the outside world. There was one word the reverend said that has stuck with me —stillness. He talked about stillness in the context of when we’re with someone who needs our help. Be gentle he said, be still. He said that to be still is to not have anywhere else to be in that moment. It’s to be present and to not to be in a rush to fix the person or their problem.
The advice to stay still in such moments seems easy to follow on the surface, however, our society is so obsessed with doing and reacting all the time, that stillness in the moment feels uncomfortable to us. That rush to fix someone or to try and solve their problems by suggesting practical solutions is a mistake we all make when we should be just listening to someone who needs us.
Take the psychology of panic-buying. It’s driven by our desire to take control over a situation we have no control over. That desperate need for control sees people clearing out supermarket shelves of toilet roll.
When people panic-buy it’s a “gesture”, – they’re doing something to help themselves in an otherwise helpless situation. When we have no control over the bigger picture, we crave control in our “micro world” – our home and daily routines. And in this case, people are doing it by buying up supplies.
Similarly, so much of the awkwardness we feel around a grieving person comes out of us trying to take control over the situation. We spend our time with them concerned about what we’re going to say next. We must accept that there is no right thing to say and we can’t control how they feel. All we can do is be there and be still.
Stillness may be about to be thrust upon us as a global virus spreads. Business schedules will be cleared of travel, events cancelled and many will be told to work from home. Our skies, too, will perhaps be still —it’s predicted that commercial air traffic is on track to drop by an estimated 8.9 percent this year, the biggest decline since 1978. I don’t take lightly how concerning this impact will have on our world and vulnerable people’s lives. But I also wonder if this enforced stillness will be an opportunity for us to slow down.
Since I started working from home over two years ago, I’ve enjoyed moving through life at a much calmer pace. If you’re going to be working from home to help stop the spread of the virus, you’ll find you have more time and I suggest you use it wisely. I recommend moving to your own rhythm and playing with different ways of working. I wrote about how I reframed my relationship with time to be more productive a while back and time was the subject of our first ever episode of the podcast, too. If we become masters of time, we can make space for stillness.
An average of 16 people a day die by suicide in the UK, so you’ll likely know someone who needs you to be still. And sometimes, that someone who needs your stillness is yourself. I created a Spotify playlist from the church service, which you can listen to here if you’d like to experience some of the stillness I found for reflection at church on Saturday.
Three things I’m into
The Difference Between Worry, Stress and Anxiety by Emma Pattee: Worry, stress and anxiety are three words I’m often using, but I realised after reading this piece that I didn’t actually know what they each meant. Well, now I do. And there’s a handy list of how to deal with each one of them in this piece too: “Worry happens in your mind, stress happens in your body, and anxiety happens in your mind and your body.” Very helpful for these uncertain times.
The Inconvenient Truth about Your “Authentic” Self By Jennifer Beer: It’s a truth universally acknowledged that to be true to yourself is key for happiness, but this article complicates things by presenting us with a paradox: “In order to reap the many of the benefits of feeling authentic, you may have to betray your true nature… A passion fruit tiramisu may be unique, but the authenticity of tiramisu is judged by its conformity to a conventional recipe. Similarly, it appears that the more we conform to social conventions about how a person should act, the more authentic we feel.” Food for thought. We also did a pod episode on whether you should be authentic at work, which is worth a listen.
Amanda Duarte found freedom in divorce in Cruel Summer Bookclub by Jillian Anthony: “When your husband of 20 years abandons you for a much younger woman, you wake every day with the feeling that you just found out that someone you love has died, and that person is you.” Gosh, this is a breathtaking interview which is packed full of warmth and wisdom. “I have to continue to be open and vulnerable to other people because that’s humanity.” This has left me with a lot to think about. Thanks, ladies.