top of page
  • Writer's pictureBethany Lynn Alvey

Contemplative Practice I: Stillness

Updated: Nov 23, 2022

This is Part I of a series on Contemplative Practices.

I love the poem breathe by Becky Hemsley. The first time I heard it, I immediately recognized this feeling of "either too little, or far far too much." It might not have happened as often as I imagine, but I have this sense of being told often in my childhood, "calm down," "take a breath," or "chill." A wave of embarrassment and rejection would wash over me, and it was like I'd pull my cord out of the wall and power down. I'd nurse my hurt for a while, and recover while reading a book or playing outside. Even in later years as I was studying singing and conducting - my performance was too frenetic, too active. I was better when I was less.

What were they getting at? Why was my normal "too much"? Was that even true?

Couldn't they see I was trying? I was trying to keep up. I was trying to show, to demonstrate. I was trying to play along. I was trying to belong. I can easily feel the heat behind this frustration of being misunderstood and reduced to "too much."

I'm fairly certain that if you asked any of these people from my life, they'd tell you they never wanted me to not be myself. They'd say I mattered to them as I was, without having to change. They'd say they loved my spirit and energy and positivity. My sunniness. (Oh man I grew to hate that compliment - I've made peace with it now, but it took a while). They'd tell you they never had any expectations of me to perform for acceptance.

So what happened? And why would feedback coming in throughout my life be so consistent? It was either "chill," or "you're too nice." No happy medium? Hemsley gets it.

Truth is, I love being chill. I love the stillness and solitude. I love the quiet. The way things naturally settle after being shaken up. The sensitivity in my hearing and body rises as my activity lowers. My imagination blooms into color, images and ideas advancing and receding like the tide, like breathing.

I have had a couple seasons of greater stillness, solitude, and silence, and I've noticed one thing consistent in them. Whoever is 'Me' bubbles up to the surface and I can finally get a sense of Them. I feel less driven to achieve and perform. The integration of different parts of myself is effortless. I'm more creative, less in a rush. I stop anticipating or assuming what others are expecting of me. My natural curiosity flourishes, my inquisitive nature spreads out like a vine. The busyness I was stuffing into every corner of my days blows freely away. I don't feel the pressure of having to make something happen or risk losing the chance forever, instead I feel connected to the present moment and at ease that what will be, will be. Less of my energy is directed towards shaming myself or trying to control others - instead both them and me receive easy compassion. And I leave that season of stillness with more courage to move as myself through the world.

Three examples:

  1. My first real experience of this occurred when the usual voices of influence were removed. I was thousands of miles away from most referential points - either people or environment. Without the "correction" coming in, the real could float up without hindrance. It was really hard when I had to come home, though. All those referential points were waiting for me right where I left them.

  2. I found it in a different way while studying conducting. Yes, my gesture was frenetic. But my master teacher didn't focus on that part. He saw what I was trying to communicate, and gave me a path forward. Instead of saying, "chill," when my tempo was out of control in a fast song, he said, "ice in your veins," and I connected to that sense of calm, with the fire of the music happening around me. The cold has never bothered me, anyway.

  3. Borrowing moments of stillness have a practical benefit in my day-to-day life, too. Instead of reacting, I can let things pass through me, and then make a choice about how I want to engage with them. I'll read that email a second time. It's usually not as bad the second time around.

The folks who said "calm down," "take a breath," or "chill," weren't necessarily wrong, but they weren't right either. Oddly, they were reinforcing a frenetic shortcut. Pull the plug on the power, rather than help regulate tempo and release the real intention. They could have taken the time to understand me and loved my immature self to a healthy, full expression of the fire I carry around with me all the time.

But I don't blame these voices! How many of us were loved that perfectly, that patiently, that full of wisdom and insight, with that kind of intensive, undivided attention from all the caregivers in our lives? It would be a unique experience, I think. I don't know of anyone who's experienced it.

But how many of us can unlearn and relearn? To have compassion on the voices from our life and become malleable again? That is, I believe, what God has made possible for every person.

Calm - Confident - Creativity - Curiousity - Clarity - Connectedness - Compassion - Courage. In the language of Internal Family Systems, I have more Self in stillness. In the language of my personal spiritual life, I am led by Spirit in stillness. In Hemsley's language, "the forest said nothing, it just let her breathe."

3 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


Commenting has been turned off.
bottom of page