The Gift of Stillness

Stillness Leadership

It is good to be home.

The past several months have been filled with travel, work, and moving into a new house – movement over stillness.

This morning, as I sat quietly on the new couch, reading and listening to classical music, a goldfinch landed on the branch of an American Red Cedar tree we recently planted. Its mate quickly joined. This moment of sublime observation is made possible by sitting or standing still. Stillness is physical, mental, and emotional. Cultivating stillness is a lifelong practice.

The other day, at the end of a client’s daylong leadership conference, I facilitated a short exercise in which I asked an audience of 150 senior leaders to reflect on what they had learned through the day, particularly about themselves as leaders. I gave them two to three minutes to think and then called for volunteers to speak. There were four women who quickly took the opportunity. 

After these four volunteered, there was a long pause, perhaps three minutes, which can feel like a long time in a room full of important people. I stood still and silent on the stage, waiting to see who would be the next brave person to volunteer. At last, a man raised his hand, stood, took the microphone, and spoke from his heart. He was followed by three others before I closed the exercise and turned the stage over to the CEO to close out the event.

After each person spoke, I thanked them and appreciated their statements. I cannot recall any of the content of what was said. I only recall the feeling of admiration for the courage required to stand before your peers and your executive leaders and speak your truth.

Standing still and silent is sometimes the best gift we can offer to a person who is working to make sense of the frenetic experience of life and work. We cannot hope to explain their experience to them, nor should we. But we can offer a space of silent appreciation where they might make a temporary home, a perch to rest, before moving again through the risks of being alive.