Sunday, March 20, 2016


The late, great American preacher and author Dr Norman Vincent Peale [pictured right], whose writings and addresses have helped me greatly over many decades, once said, ‘Americans are so tense and keyed up that not even a sermon can put them to sleep.’

Peale wrote and spoke much on how to relax, and so have many others. The self-help books are full of advice on how to relax. Most of the advice is well-intentioned. Some of the advice is even helpful, but most of it is too complex and difficult for the average person to put into practice.

Here’s what I consider to be the best advice I ever heard on the subject—and, yes, it comes from Dr Peale:

Sit still, be silent, let composure creep over you.

That's all you have to do. It’s that simple.

First, sit still. Now, some people can’t sit still for more than a few seconds. I have lectured to some 12,000 law students in my time, and I have spoken to many others as well in the mental health field (psychiatrists, psychologists and psychiatric nurses). So many of these people, including the health care professionals, couldn’t sit still if their lives depended upon it. I can understand the law students being restless. After all, the law can be a pretty dull subject, but the psychiatrists? ‘Physician, heal thyself.’ Anyway, I digress. I guess for some people it takes practice. Sit still. Let the body remain as motionless as possible. Be conscious of your breathing, and perhaps the beating of your heart. Be aware—just be aware, no more than that—of any bodily sensations, external noises, and thoughts and feelings you may experience. Whatever happens … SIT STILL. That is the only 'doing' thing in the whole procedure. That means not moving or making a sound. I’ll get to the latter—not making a sound—in a minute. It gets easier with practice. The poet T S Eliot wrote of the 'still centre' or 'still point' where the true reality is to be found. Yes, stillness is indeed the name of the game.

Secondly, be silent. Note that word ‘be’. It is not something you do—it is the total absence of doing—but something you are. What are you? I will tell you. You are be-ing-ness itself. An inlet and an outlet of life’s self-expression, that's what you are. Just be … and be silent. Say nothing—and that includes nothing interiorly to yourself. Silence is more than saying nothing. It means remaining as motionless and quiet as possible.

Now, don’t try not to think, for that will only result in your thinking. I love what the Zen master said to his then not so-enlightened student (who had asked the master what he had to do in order to become enlightened), 'Whatever you do, don't think of the white monkey.' Of course, you know what happened then. All the poor student could think of was---yes, the white monkey. You see, thinking about not thinking about the white monkey is the same as thinking about the white monkey. Trying not to think about the white monkey results in your thinking about the white monkey. So, don’t try not to think of anything. The secret is---simply forget to think. Got the idea? It is something passive. The power of non-action, that is, of not doing something. Don’t try. Again, it is all about the total absence of doing anything—except to sit still. The rest is all about not-doing … and letting. Well, it does get easier with practice.

Thirdly, let composure creep over you. The most important word in this third instruction—indeed, in the whole advice—is ‘let’. It is something entirely passive. Again, it is not something that you do. It is something that happens of its own accord—as soon as you remove the barriers to its happening. Once you sit still, and are silent, composure will creep over you. It’s not miraculous, but it is something very wonderful and precious. Now, this word ‘composure’, what does it mean? You know, even the word itself has a nice, relaxing sound and feel about it. Merriam-Webster defines ‘composure’ as ‘a calmness or repose especially of mind, bearing, or appearance’. Here are three other words that mean more-or-less the same thing: equanimity, serenity and imperturbability.

In short, get the body still first, then the mind will follow, and when the mind is still composure will creep over you. I love that word ‘creep’. The word ‘creep’, in the sense used here, refers to a process or movement that happens slowly, steadily and almost imperceptibly.

Sit still. Be silent. Let composure creep over you. Let this happen to and in you many times a day if necessary.

Remember—sit ... be ... let.

It's as simple as that.


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