running from the quietness

Posted on January 31st, 2013

I think many of modern life’s ills stem from running away from quietness and lurching for something more. Constantly lurching, reaching out, not settling inwards. I think about this today as I bounce and lurch from task to phone call to the fridge and back again.

by Lizzy Stewart via “advice to sink in slowly”

We are so afraid of stopping and being quiet. I practice being in a quiet space each day by meditating. To sit and do nothing is noble. It takes smarts. Reflection. I don’t kid myself it’s easy. It is my life’s toughest journey: down and in.

As Oscar Wilde once wrote:

“To do nothing at all is the most difficult thing in the world, the most difficult and the most intellectual.”

To sit with the silence, the nothingness, it’s a tug of brutal war. Every part of me wants to run from the quietness that my meditation mantra attempts to take me to. So much so, my right hip actually aches as I meditate. It’s my right leg that lurches out towards life. In many traditions, the right side of the body is seen as the “masculine” side. As in, the side that tends to be about lurching out, conquering, forcing, making things happen, doing. And so my right hip aches to move away, to do.

As an aside, it’s my right leg that attracts all my injuries – I’ve broken my right ankle twice, split open my right knee twice, broken my toe and torn a tendon… all on my right leg. And always when I’ve been forcing life too hard. When I’ve been doing and not sitting in enough quietness.

You might want to read about one of my favourite techniques for sitting quietly with myself here.

Why do we run from the quietness? Pscyhiatrist Neel Burton writes about the manic defence in The Art of Failure, The Anti Self-Help Guide:

The manic defence is the tendency, when presented with uncomfortable thoughts or feelings, to distract the conscious mind either with a flurry of activity or with the opposite thoughts or feelings. A general example of the manic defence is the person who spends all of his time rushing around from one task to the next, and who is unable to tolerate even short periods of inactivity….

The manic defence may also take on more subtle forms, such as creating a commotion over something trivial; filling every ‘spare moment’ with reading, study, or chatting on the phone with a friend; spending several months preparing for Christmas or some civic or sporting event; seeking out status or celebrity so as to be a ‘somebody’ rather than a ‘nobody’; entering into baseless friendships and relationships; even, sometimes, getting married and having children.

I’d add: taking drugs, writing lists, checking Instagram, eating between meals and looking at someone when you crack a mild joke wanting their laugh.

For me, when I go to the quiet space in meditation, it’s like it’s too strong. I touch it and immediately ricochet off to thinking about what I need to do next, what I’ll make for breakfast etc. It’s like it burns, this quietness. It’s like I’m fearful of what will happen if I operated from it – like it would be way too powerful, this nothingness.

But something tells me it’s worth seeing what I can be when there’s no more something more. When it’s just (noble) me. Know what I mean?

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  • hi sarah,

    your article resonated with me completely.

    i often wonder how my children will live. a life without ever needing to feel bored, so connected yet so detached. i wonder what the implications for our society will be, without wonder and time to reflect i think so much creativity is being stifled and lost.

    i can’t help but think that mental illness and social isolation is going to become more prevalent the more we are connected with machines and less in person.

    i want my children to feel the boredom that i did. i lived in a rural location for my childhood and there was no shops, no nearby neighbours to play with, no dedicated childrens tv channel. no ipads.

    i am doing my best to raise children that dont think the norm is to communicate via a device. my phone is out of sight most of the day and i dont play on it when we are out together. i cant help but think that we are missing out on so much when we sit there with our children and look at our phones instead of their gorgeous little faces. i’m scared that one day when i want their attention that they will be too busy playing with their phones to look away from the screen. so that forces me to keep the screens away whilst i can.

    one of my favourite things to do is to lie on my bed with my children, cuddling, laughing and reflecting on just how lucky i am. because this life really is truly amazing and no smart phone application is going to help me to experience that.


    Mia Bluegirl Reply:

    Isn’t it funny how boredom from nothing to do has been overtaken by the kind of boredom that happens when we are so overstimulated by so many things that nothing holds our attention?


  • Samala

    This is perfect. Thank you x


  • Patricia

    Sarah, I have been reading between your lines for some time now, and my perception is basically you are an introvert, but through your chosen profession you are in an extraverted and often superficial world. This may bring inner conflict with you, as your true inner self struggles to be recognised and nurtured, while your extraverted professional self may dominate and get the attention.

    If you stay in the moment in the quietness of your own solitude, ignore your extravert self wanting your attention by doing something distracting, go, where your inner self wants to take you. Soothe your inner self, becomes friends, listen and embrace whatever it presents to you in these moments of quietness. It will not be anything you cannot handle, because handle it you will in your own way. Give your real deep introvert self some love and soothing. It may be reaching out for you. You are strong. 🙂


  • Patricia

    and adding…..

    From personal experience, believe me, when you embrace and listen and talk with your true inner self. It will be the ‘best friend’ you will ever, ever, have. Because it will always be there for you.


    Bridget Reply:

    I have to agree with you, Patricia! Our inner self is our best friend. Some people actually subscribe to the belief that everything in the outer world is merely a projection of our inner world. Ergo, if we focused on fixing our inner, the outer, which is but a manifestation of our hidden, innermost desires, will take care of itself. And we can start by listening to what”s going on in there. Meditation and being in a meditative state is such a restorative, rejuvenating way to live, I can also testify to that. To me hell is not being in a meditative state. I also urge you Sarah, to persist with your efforts, difficult as it may be at first. When we achieve emptiness inside of us, empty of all our own thoughts, voices, chattering, noise, distraction – then we create space for whatever the Universe wants to give to us, which you never know, could be just the thing that we need to feel well and whole. Perhaps we need to experience what it’s like to truly surrender to the unknown; maybe then we’ll know what it’s like to be truly free.


  • Selena

    Thanks Sarah, You just reminded me how long it has been since I have meditated…I am off to my form of meditation (yoga) tonight!


  • Craig

    A beautiful post. Thank you. Right through the Sunday Life columns, book and here I think, on reflection, that your writing reflects a meditation, a sharing of a pause and observation, and we are lucky for it. I think regular meditation also helps develop some resilience, to find/feel the ground, even a little, and not be tossed away so much when the challenges are flying in the face.


  • Sarah k

    It’s good to hear about someone else’s attempt to meditate that has the same trouble as I do. This is my year to be mindful so I have been practicing meditation as well. Funny you mention the right side issues, I’m exactly the same!! I have been trying to eat mindfully, didn’t realise I almost always read as I ate, even the packet the food came in!


  • Angelique

    Um, what’s wrong with wanting to make someone (and watch them) laugh if it’s in the right spirit??? Sharing a laugh is one of lifes simple pleasures.

    Also sometimes people are keeping busy to avoid the pain of loneliness and pain from past events. Perhaps this is unhealthy, but maybe the life of service is still worthy and has its place. Just sayin.


  • Cheryl

    Hey Sarah,
    Check Brene Brown’s lastest post, great photo and story about the courage to ‘stay’. Not quite what you are talking about, but interesting all the same. So appreciate your writing, the candid, honest approach. Love the way you show up on the page.


  • Kate

    Julia, that’s beautiful and encapsulates the struggle I find myself in on a daily basis. You’ve given me Food for thought and I will ponder this as I force myself (one day) to just sit. It’s not until I read your comment did something in me trigger and I replayed my 5 year old asking me to just sit with him quietly on the deck after I’d put his 2 younger siblings to bed tonight. I heard him but wasn’t truly listening: if I was I’d’ve just sat with him. Tommorow I will try to really listen to my kids and just sit with and next to them. So I thank you.


  • Ozlem

    Dear Sarah- I saw your website and I was very excited and went ahead and purchased 2 of your ebooks and only to find out that the link does not work. Can you please look into this? This is very very unfair. I paid for items and did not receive anything and paypal will not help because this is for an e book purchase. Please help ASAP!. Thanks.


  • “it’s like it’s too strong. I touch it and immediately ricochet off to thinking about what I need to do next, what I’ll make for breakfast etc. It’s like it burns, this quietness. It’s like I’m fearful of what will happen if I operated from it – like it would be way too powerful, this nothingness.”

    Yes! Forget the depth of meditative peace, this is just how I feel about the idea of being *functional* – you know, turning down excess drinks and invites and distractions to go home and do the things I keep telling myself and others that I want. It’s like I can *see* the sensible, healthy choices and then shy away from them because, as you articulate so well, they’d make me too powerful and I wouldn’t know what to do with that power. There’s also a strange sense of loss that comes with this feeling and realisation – a recognition of all the time I’ve lost by not making those choices, of how easy it could have been all along if I’d just done what now seems both so simple and so impossible to do.


  • This is beautiful. And for me, it’s my shoulder. It twinged this week and I hauled everything back. I even wrote about listening to it (here: Synchronicity.


  • Thank you for sharing!

    I find nothingness a struggle, because 1) life is so interesting and 2) avoidance is often far easier than the alternative.

    I’ve found my middle ground. I don’t meditate, but I create visual experiences with my energy mind (using Silvia Hartmann’s Project Sanctuary method). This way it is relaxing (healing, informative, creative, sexy, whatever I set it up to be) as well as doing something.

    I think there is a little of the manic defense in all of us. I felt it when I was engrossed in Candy Crush Saga for hours on end recently. I knew it was avoidance and maybe even self-protection. Sometimes awareness is really difficult and an escape is okay. So I energy therapised myself WHILE playing Candy Crush LOL. More middle ground. 😉


  • It must be in the air and the wind is literally picking up as I write this as though it is increasing its whisper to a roar.

    “There are times when we stop. We sit still…We listen and breezes from a whole other world begin to whisper.”
    — James Carroll

    I found this quote in the past few days and it sang to me like your post today.

    We live in such a ‘connected’ world and yet we are so disconnected from ourselves, from each other and the earth in the most real sense of that word. And yet I have come to believe it is all we crave. It is what we drives all our actions: to feel this deep connection with our source. When we are there we feel joyful, peaceful, engaged, alive and love. So why does it scare us so? Is it because as you say it’s so strong which brings us to the Marianne Williamson quote about us being more sacred about being powerful than inadequate.
    I have committed to myself to write a book this year and the idea of it fills me with terror because it is all about going into this space you speak of.

    Great post Sarah thank you x


  • Trevor Otto

    We need to be empty to be filled again,this is the flow,


  • Sally

    So comforting to hear of someone in a similar position to me. I have a boss I can only describe as “toxic”, and am going through the difficult process of facing the ramifications of resigning with no job in the pipeline.
    I too crave my time out where I can gather my thoughts and escape the numerous accountabilities of life. I enjoy the quiet stillness. Although it may not be meditation in its truest form, it’s what makes me happy and that I guess is what’s important.


    Jess Reply:

    I can absolutely empathise with your situation, Sally. Well done for recognising what is best for you and being proactive about it. Although daunting, I found the process to be a huge relief and I was very glad that I made the decision to put my own wellbeing first. And it has made me more aware of what my next role needs to be to ensure my wellbeing is still #1 priority.
    All the best, enjoy your time out.


  • Annie

    I love this idea!


  • JD

    In yoga we say – The brain screams, the heart whispers. We must learn to quiet the brain so that we can listen to the heart 🙂




  • G’day Sarah

    I don’t meditate a lot but when I do I’m just floating around in nothingness meaning I don’t have form & neither does anything else, this is achieved through acceptance in accepting everything for what it is during meditation & in daily life. When you gate rid of all your conflicts, which is quite easy to do, you are no longer in conflict as it’s the conflicts that stress us out of course.

    With acceptance I can still be doing whatever I’m doing but feel totally at peace & rested, you do stop what you are doing but it’s very brief & that’s all you need as it’s very much like sleeping as five minutes of good sleep is better than 8 hours of fair sleep. I don’t have to actually meditate to have a WOW moment as I can have them anytime I please.

    The problem is conflicts, if you can rid or even cut down on conflicts within your life one’s life becomes a lot more harmonious & peaceful. A lot of spiritually aware people will be in conflict with the ego, judgment & even negative words which are what? Conflictive. It’s a lot easier accepting yourself & your environment for what it is & when you do these so called negatives change &/or you see them in a more passive & positive way instead of conflicting with them.

    I can just be walking along anywhere & I will just smile for no reason but at nothingness & feel a huge WOWO & this is the point, letting go & smile at nothing. The less conflictive you become the more you will smile for no apparent reason & it feels so good, in actual fact this state becomes more & more automatic as you practice acceptance.



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  • lulu

    I LOVE this article. I want to start meditating every morning, but somthing keeps holding me back.

    When I go to my Hatha Yoga class i always feel so much better afterwards. The instructor runs the classes as a very meditative practice, and the benefits are obvious, so i think it would be good to incorporate more of this in my life.

    I feel like i have been flying from one task to another, so used to either running on adreniline and kkeping busy, or falling into a funk.

    Quitting sugar has helped me calm down a little bit. but i do feel like i am always chasing the holy grail of clamness. as I am the opposite emotional expressive and very un-calm!


  • Melanie

    Hi Sarah/Jo,

    Apologies if you’ve already covered the question I’m about to ask in another section of the site:

    I’m after a health/wellness retreat in Victoria – are you able to recommend a provider?

    Ideally, somewhere I could stay for around two weeks; eating healthy, doing yoga/meditation/bushwalking, getting away from it all.

    Thanks in advance!


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  • Kate Fenwick

    I live on a property in the country so there are lots of places to go and enjoy the peace and quiet! I am a Christian and love to meditate on the word God every day. Your I Quit Sugar book has given me so much inspiration to create healthy food as I love to bake and enjoy food without the sugar but with all the flavour! Your raspberry ripple recipe is a winner when you want a sweet treat. Do you have a custard recipe that is sugar free?