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find stillness to cure the illness
"Silence is a source of great strength." ~Lao Tzu
It's a busy day, and you're inundated by non-stop emails, text messages, phone calls, instant message requests, notifications, interruptions of all kinds.
The noise of the world is a dull roar that pervades every second of your life. It's a rush of activity, a drain on your energy, a pull on your attention, until you no longer have the energy to pay attention or take action.
It's an illness, this noise, this rush. It can literally make us sick. We become stressed, depressed, fat, burnt out, slain by the slings and arrows of technology.
The cure is simple: it's stillness.
Take a minute out of your busy day to do this little exercise: pause in the middle of all you have to do, all that's going on around you. Close your eyes, and sit still. Breathe in, and breathe out, and pay attention to your breath as it comes in and goes out. Just sit still, for about a minute.
This stillness might seem like inaction, which we're taught is a bad thing. It's lazy, it's passive, it's against our Puritan work ethic. And yet, this simple inaction can change our world.
Stillness calms us. It gives us a small oasis of quiet that allows us to hear our thoughts, that allows us to catch our breath, that gives us room to breathe at all. It is the antibody to the stress and rush we feel daily.
"Activity conquers cold, but stillness conquers heat." ~Lao Tzu
The Strength of Stillne
Stillness has a calming effect on the world around us as well. By becoming still, we cause others to pause, to pay attention. Our quiet also quiets others. We set the mood for those who work and otherwise interact with us.
When we rush and set a frenetic pace, it stresses others and inspires them to rush frenetically too. Stillness has the opposite effect. It slows the world down, allows us to focus, gives us time for contemplation, for what matters most.
It takes strength to be still when others rush. It takes courage to be different, to go against the stream. But while others might think us weird at first, that's OK. Sometimes it's the weird ones that make the most difference. And soon, as our stillness inspires others to find stillness of their own, we won't be the weird ones — we'll be the ones with wisdom.
It takes strength to find stillness when the world around us is a chaos of activity, but it's a strength that's in us, and we need only to find it. Paradoxically, it's stillness that will allow us to find that strength. Be still, look within, and it'll be there.
It's pretty simple, really, and you don't need me to tell you to do this: to find stillness, you just need to take the time to sit still, every day that you can.
Find a time in the morning, when the world is still fairly quiet, to sit still. Don't do anything, don't plan your day, don't check email, don't eat. Just sit, and learn to be comfortable being still.
In practice, we'll gradually find that comfort, and we'll become good at it. If mornings are no good, find time during your lunch break, or after work, or just before you go to bed.
Find a place to be still. It can be a chair in your house, or a front porch, or the roof. It can be a park bench, or the beach, or a path in the woods. Let this be a ritual that you come to look forward to.
From this small place of stillness, calm will carry to the rest of your day, radiating like a soothing force. You'll be calmer throughout the day, and learn to find little pockets of stillness everywhere: when you first start your workday, when you are ready to sit down and create, when you're about to eat, when you are ready to exercise, during a meeting, even.
Practice, regularly. Practice, and learn. Practice stillness, and the stillness becomes a canvas upon which you can paint the masterpiece of your life.
"Let us be silent, that we may hear the whispers of the gods." ~Ralph Waldo Emerson
Things you can do from here:
By Mary Jaksch
Yes, I’m declaring open season on adverbs. What is an adverb exactly? Erm… it’s the word I just used: exactly. So I’ll cull it and write instead ‘What is an adverb?’
An adverb modifies a verb, an adjective or a phrase. It answers questions such as ‘how’, ‘when’, ‘where’, or ‘how much’. Such details may be important, but we need to understand the dynamics of information versus pace.
Information versus pace
‘Pace’ identifies the speed at which readers can devour your text. Long sentences and detailed descriptions slow down the pace. Lean sentences and short paragraphs speed it up.
The more detailed information you give, the slower the pace. If you use words that are redundant, the reader may start to skip and even leave.
What does redundancy mean in terms of writing? Test the two definitions I found on the Internet. Which one slows your reading down?
- Redundancy means words that are superfluous.
- Redundancy means the superfluity of a linguistic feature due to its predictability within the overall structure.
Just imagine reading a whole article in the style of the second example. I bet you couldn’t click away fast enough!
Now that we’ve got that redundancy thing cleared up, let’s take a look at the implications.
The redundancy test
How do you know when a word is superfluous? It’s simple. If the meaning stays the same without the word, then you’re faced with a ‘superfluity of a linguistic feature’.
He hurriedly scribbled the number down on a pad
In this case the adverb ‘hurriedly’ is superfluous because the word scribbling already implies writing fast. The sentence ‘He scribbled the number down on a pad’ is leaner and stronger.
John got up and walked restlessly to the window.
Here, the word ‘restlessly’ is redundant because the restlessness is already shown in the action.
Some writers like to use not only one, but two adverbs. For example: She really, truly cared for him. In this case, consider culling one of the adverbs, or even both. Here, you would end up with: She cared for him.
In a recent guest post pitch I found this sentence: As writers it’s normal to jump both mentally and actually from one project to another.
That’s a very athletic sentence … which would benefit from some brutal editing.
Should we let some adverbs live?
According to Master Editor Sol Stein in his book Stein on Writing there are two rules for letting adverbs live:
- Keep an adverb that supplies necessary information. Example: He tried running faster and fell. If he’s already running, you must keep ‘faster’. If you remove the adverb the sentence means that he fell as soon as he started running.
- Keep and adverb that helps the reader visualize the precise image you want to project. Example: She drove crazily, frightening the oncoming traffic.
Pace is better than pretty
Many writers try to improve their writing by making it ‘pretty’. They try to stuff their text full of colorful adverbs and adjectives. Wrong! Lean sentences that heighten the pace keep readers from falling off the page.
Improve your writing now
A simple way to improve your writing is to take a piece you’ve written and highlight all adverbs. Then try to delete as many as possible. Your readers will thank you.
Have YOU got examples of how killing an adverb strengthens writing? Please share them with us in the comments.
Mary Jaksch is the Chief Editor of Write to Done. Enjoy more of her stuff on Goodlife Zen. And check out the A-List Blogger Club that Leo Babauta and Mary run jointly.