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The Benefits of Leaning into the Stillness Caused by COVID-19

Susan Carson | Founder & Director of Roots&Branches Network | Thursday, April 2, 2020
The Benefits of Leaning into the Stillness Caused by COVID-19

The Benefits of Leaning into the Stillness Caused by COVID-19

Busyness (and the stress that comes with it) defines many of our lives. Ask someone how they are, and you’ll likely hear about how busy they’ve been. However, with new stay-at-home orders and extended social distancing caused by COVID-19, many of us busy bees are being forced to be still, settle down and get quiet. And in this practice, we are beginning to feel just how tired we are. Although this new simple at-home lifestyle is largely counter-cultural, it aligns with a fascinating Dutch discipline that has numerous proven benefits from which I believe we can grow during this pandemic if we allow ourselves to get comfortable in the uncomfortable.

The referred Dutch discipline is niksen—the practice of doing absolutely nothing.

In the July 2019 TIME Magazine article titled What is Niksen?, Sophia Gottfried unpacks the concept: “Whereas mindfulness is about being present in the moment, niksen is more about carving out time just to be, even letting your mind wander rather than focusing on the details of an action.”

I am terrible at practicing niksen. As a leader, choosing not to take needed time to tune into myself spiritually, emotionally and mentally has been devastating at times. I believe there is biblical wisdom in the concept of niksen, but I had to learn this the hard way.

It’s taken significant stops in my life—stops like breast cancer—twice—for me to learn the value of the slowing. Of paying attention to my body and my soul. Because I can’t lead well, or at all really, without them.

And it’s terrifying, honestly. The stopping and the slowing. Because in this place, I’m not producing. And I’m forced to listen.

Stillness makes most of us uncomfortable because we fear the quiet. If we are still, we won’t be seen, heard, pursued, valued. If we are still, we will listen to the voice of self-doubt lurking just beneath the surface.

But these are the very fears the psalmist David invited us to face: be still and know” (Psalm 46:10).

Know God. Know yourself. Know what to do next.

As leaders, we must craft a way of life for ourselves that is responsive to body and soul.

Jesus observed this rhythm, often withdrawing to lonely places after productive ministry seasons (Mark 6:31). Sustainability was more important than their stories of success.

What does practicing moments of stillness look like in your organization?

Perhaps you could take time in meetings, at the beginning, and at crucial junctures, for prayer. Or you could establish a norm for you and your staff to take a day of solitude each month. Consider scheduling regular periods for personal silence during your workweek. Or perhaps you could make it normative to take all vacation time and completely unplug for a few days.

But new rhythms require new practices. If you’re a beginner, a few minutes a day is a great place to start.

If sitting still is hard for you, take a walk in silence. If finding time is hard for you, write this rhythm into your calendar. As you build your muscles for rest, solitude and silence, try more extended periods. Experiment with new practices alone and in community.

Try it now for a minute or two.

- Shut off all social media.

- Sit comfortably in your chair with both feet on the floor.

- Take a few slow, deep breaths.

- Settle into the silence.

- Do nothing.

If thoughts of all the things you need to do start flooding your mind, take a moment to jot them down and release them, knowing you can come back to them later.

- Breath. Release.

Slowly, a new rhythm is formed.

By releasing yourself from “doing,” you will feel sustained and renewed. And—ironically—your leadership clarity, vision and even productivity will grow by doing absolutely nothing.

Photo courtesy: Dmitriy Frantsev/Unsplash

Susan Carson is the founder and director of the Roots&Branches Network. She is a contributor to the Global Leadership Network, a community committed to learning from each other and using influence to accomplish God’s purposes on earth, from which this piece is adapted with permission. It hosts the annual Global Leadership Summit each August.

The Benefits of Leaning into the Stillness Caused by COVID-19