We all lead lives that move 1,000 miles per minute. In his TED Book, The Art of Stillness, Pico Iyer posits a bold idea: that in our chaotic time, the greatest luxury is actually the ability to go nowhere and do nothing. To Iyer, it’s this time for quiet, inward, still reflection that snaps all of our experiences into focus.
This got us curious: how do members of the TED community find time for stillness and reflection? Turns out that people had very different answers.
“I hike,” said our curator Chris Anderson. “Water, pine trees, cliffs, meadows… doesn’t matter. All nature will do. Walk a little, dream a little.”
Brené Brown (watch her TED Talk on the power of vulnerability) has a similar approach. “One of the most important practices in my life is swimming. It’s exercise, meditation, and therapy in one. It’s quiet and I’m completely unavailable,” she said. “I also love photography. I know that I’m moving so fast that I blow past extraordinary beauty everyday. When I have my camera in my hand I slow way down and pay attention to small things.”
For Dilip Ratha (watch his TED Talk which stole our hearts at TEDGlobal), it’s listening to music. “Mostly Hindi and Odia songs from the days I was growing up in India,” he says. “These songs take me back to the days of hopes and dreams and poetry. I also listen to boleros from Latin America and Western songs with good lyrics. ‘Poetry and friendship are the two greatest sources of sweetness,’ says an ancient Sanskrit proverb.”
And for Kelly McGonigal (watch her TED Talk on making stress your friend), yoga and meditation help, but she has another strategy too. “People-watching,” she explains. “I like to go out to the park or walk down the street when people are opening up shops, and watch people engaging in rituals of caring for people or places or objects. The morning street cleaners with their brooms; people walking dogs; parents attending to their children’s busy hands in line at the coffee shop. I find it incredibly calming and inspiring. It’s a meditation I do everyday.”
And then there’s another camp of TED community members who simply aren’t that fond of stillness at all. Hans Rosling (who has given 10 TED Talks) says, “I don´t bring stillness to my life, because there will be plenty of time for stillness after death, when there is nothing else to do.”
Ben Goldacre (watch his TED Talk about bad science) agrees. “I fight stillness every step of the way,” he says. “I wash up wearing a bluetooth headset for podcasts. I read my phone in the bathroom. Before proper technology, I read books while walking down the street. I want more data, more facts, more fun, and more life.”
This got us curious: what do YOU think? So we asked you to take a poll to let us know how stillness fits into your life.
The majority of you say that finding time for stillness is a priority—53.87% of the 878 people who answered the question called it “very important” and 37.7% said that it was “important.”
“For me, stillness is the key to health,” one respondent wrote. “I have fibromyalgia, and I’ve found that meditation is the best thing for managing my daily pain and chronic symptoms.”
Others of you painted a direct correlation between finding time for stillness and accomplishment. “I’ve realised that greater productivity comes from moments of stillness,” one of you shared. And another: “The busier and more stressed I am, the more important even short moments of stillness become. For me stillness is the space from which everything starts to flow again.”
But a slim minority are with Rosling and Goldacre. 5.58% of you say that finding time for stillness is “not too important,” and 2.25% say that it is “not important at all.” One of you sums it up beautifully: “There is too much I want to experience.”
More than half of you take time for reflection on the regular—51.81% of 608 respondents said they take it daily and 33.88% says that they take it weekly. For you, nature is the ultimate relaxer: 19.02% of you prefer to find stillness while sitting outdoors or watching a sunset, and an additional 16.25% say that stillness is most easily found while hiking, canoeing or otherwise being active outdoors. 16.16% say meditation is your favored way to find stillness, and reading also got high marks for 14.06% of you.
Some of you noted truly tranquil things as helping you find stillness: “Staring at the sky on a starry night, reminded of how small I am.” “Walking and stopping to observe the colors of nature.” “Being by water, be it a lake, a sound or ocean.” “I always fit in a nice hot bath with a favorite beverage and good music, even if it’s just for fifteen minutes.”
But several of you shared that you say that you find stillness in moments that don’t sound relaxing at all. “I’ve found peace sitting in traffic. The experience might not be the same, but you still get some insight about yourself and the things that matter,” wrote one of you. Another of you shared, “Crossword puzzles. My mind meditates as I sink into nothingness.” And yet another: “Deep brooding techno music whilst walking through countryside or sitting down with eyes closed on public transport. There’s something hypnotic about the beat which helps my mind become still, if that doesn’t sound like a complete contradiction.”
As for technology, many of you are at least trying to find ways to disconnect. 49.71% of the 505 people who voted say that they take a “technology sabbath” on a regular basis. Another 24.95% try to, but say that it simply doesn’t work. And for 14% of you, the idea just holds little appeal.
So, what do you find to be the biggest obstacle when it comes to finding time to be still and reflect? 20.33% says it’s the nonstop nature of their work while 17.84% says it’s the fact that they have familial obligations when they have downtime. But 47.72% say that the biggest obstacle is actually within yourself—the fact that you just push yourself too hard.
“I realize it is something important I need to give myself,” one of you summed it up. “But it’s hard to stop moving.”
In the end, you say that it’s not so much about what you do to find stillness—but how you approach the search. “Sometimes you just have to breathe and look around you with vulnerable eyes,” wrote one of you. “It doesn’t matter where you are, the only thing that matters is if you have the right mindset.”