Urban Stillness

Urban Stillness

Last week I found myself in an uber minimalist West End art gallery, sipping on green tea with a group of like-minded people as we waited for the main event of the evening: to sit in silence. Although daily meditation is something I’ve managed to build into my routine in the past few years – being at a ‘gig’ to do this did feel a bit ‘emperor’s new clothes’. By the time we headed down into the surprisingly cosy basement draped with black velvet curtain, matching plush carpet dotted with round Zafu meditation cushions (the only nod to yogic/hippy/New Age practices), I was positively excited. With the buzz of Christmas building, I was craving stillness as much as partying and shopping. A sign of the times perhaps – we’re all so on the go these days, that the idea of going to an empty space to just be is catching on – there wasn’t a spare cushion in the house.

The evening’s MC was meditation teacher, Belfast born Chris Connors modernconscious.com/chris-connors/ who jets around the world from his base in Ibiza, spreading the merits of being rather than doing. Of course this is not a new thing – yogis, swamis, saints and sages have been doing this for thousands of years. Having grown up in a city gripped by conflict, Chris began his own search for a place of peace at a young age – and this Gandhi ethos to ‘be the change you want to see in the world’ is so relevant now. Yet in our 24/7 lives, traditional methods of meditation and concentration can feel like a waste of time – we haven’t got a moment to spare, never mind sit cross legged for two and a half hours on a school night.

But that’s exactly what we did, and it felt like time stood still – that I’d accessed a void of timelessness, a deep sense of feeling like ‘going home’. I came away elevated, energised and slept soundly and profoundly that night. For the rest of the week, I had more space to get things done, as if my mind had expanded – even though in reality my work load didn’t disappear, it’s just my attitude to it had shifted and I felt more able to cope. That’s the magic of meditation. And the good news is we can experience it in many different ways which don’t involve donning yogic robes or being super serious, spiritual, mystical or religious.

In his new project Bebox, Chris introduced us to various ways of getting into stillness – simple and free of any cult-ish trappings so it felt modern and relevant. Yes, we had to concentrate and breathe, but he also used a dynamic approach where we all stood up, eyes closed and shook our bodies, in whatever way we wanted to move. Sounds excruciatingly embarrassing now, yet in the moment it felt completely natural to go with the flow, to not worry about what anyone else was thinking, so the movement became amazingly freeing.

This type of ‘Dynamic Meditation’ is something the outlandish Indian spiritual mystic Osho recommended for Western minds to shake off day to day inhibitions and peripheral thoughts before getting into a deeper silence. And I can see why. As we sat back down on our cushions, my whole body felt freer and my mind emptier. It made me realise ‘shaking ourselves up’ is something we could easily do in the privacy of our own homes – why not? Call it the equivalent of dancing round our bedrooms as teenagers. It’s certainly easier to get rid of the day first this way before attempting to sit and listen to our own breath (one of the simplest forms of meditation but devastatingly hard to do when you’ve been pinging emails, scouring the internet, and bombarded by information overload).

Of course, that evening was guided and involved a process of different techniques to get us into stillness, and certainly the group experience heightens the effect, making it joyous and fun. However, it also hints that we don’t need to be doing anything complicated in order to enjoy ourselves or get away from it all (simple pleasures!). Nor do we need to engage in complicated rituals or follow gurus to find peace. We just need to remember that inner calm is something we can access fairly easily if we allow – it is there within us all the time.

There will always be the outward distractions of everyday life (well, we have to work, eat, put a roof over our heads), and our minds will always be churning over thoughts. It’s only when we let go of the need to be busy, we can truly relax. Above all, it’s good to know that this is possible no matter how crazy and speeded up our lives seem. Put your pre-conceptions and inhibitions aside and try it. You’ll be amazed at how good just a few minutes spent in not doing makes you feel physically, mentally and emotionally.