Always Well Within

Calm Your Mind, Ease Your Heart, Embrace Your Inner Wisdom

How Long Can You Sit Quietly By Yourself?

Quiet Sitting in Flower Garden

“If you’re too busy to sit still for 10 minutes, you need to sit still for an hour.” – Zen proverb

Does the idea of sitting still for an entire hour immediately freak you out?  Hold on then!  We won’t go that fast.

But please stay open and let’s explore the meaning and purpose of this radical idea.

Remember, you don’t have be a meditator to sit quietly.  Anyone can give it a try and directly experience the benefits for themselves, for example:

  • Quiet nourishes your nervous system.
  • Quiet helps you let go of unnecessary activity.
  • Quiet enhances creativity.
  • Quiet turns down the static so you can tap into your intuition and connect with your innermost wisdom.
  • Quiet creates space in which you can tune into your body’s messages, averting future problems.
  • Quiet allows new solutions to arise so you’ll be able to handle situations differently.
  • Quiet promotes spaciousness and humor, so you’ll be less perturbed by all the craziness of modern life.  And people, too.

Maybe an hour of quiet wouldn’t be so terrible after all!

Why Would You Need An Hour of Quiet?

This is one of those times when I wish I could get into the mind of the original thinker and understand exactly what he or she meant by our starting quote.

Why do you need an hour, if you can’t sit quietly for 10 minutes?  Here are five possibilities that come to my mind:

  1. You’re running on adrenalin.  So it will take an hour for your body to calm down.
  2. You’re plagued by restlessness.  You don’t know how to overcome the habit of busyness.  You may even be addicted to it.  But, beware!  You could burn out.
  3. Your self-esteem depends upon being busy and the external validation you receive as a result.
  4. You’re afraid to look into yourself.  Busyness saves you from this terror.
  5. Your priorities are messed up.  You take the impermanent to be permanent and invest all your time in it with nothing left to spare.

Do any of these touch a chord within you?

Everyone has a different disposition.  Some need more stillness than others.  Introverts need more quiet than extroverts, for example.  But, I’ll go out on a limb and say everyone can benefit from some degree of quiet and stillness in their life, even the madly active extrovert.

Simple Ways to Be Quiet

Don’t worry, you don’t have to steal away for a long retreat. Here are some simple ways you could start learning to be still in your daily life:

  • You could sit quietly after a meal to allow for proper digestion.
  • You could sit quietly and give your full attention to someone else.
  • You could sit quietly in awe and wonder under the night sky.
  • You could sit quietly and listen to the sound of rain, surf, or wind.
  • You could sit quietly and feel the sensation of warmth on your body or the solidity beneath your feet.
  • You could sit quietly in your car while driving.  Yes (gasp), that means turning off the radio.
  • You could sit quietly and be aware of the rising and falling of your belly as you breath in and out.

If you feel ready to go further, you could try a 5-minute quiet session in the morning and one at night.  Once these feel comfortable, you could even try several 5-minute quiet sessions spread throughout your day.

Find a time, pace, and rhythm that works for you.

Quiet Can Be Scary At First

You may be putting your health, peace of mind, and life at risk if you can’t enjoy the pleasure of stillness.  But I know, as much as you may want it, quiet and stillness can be scary at first.  Even though I’ve done a few quiet retreats, I’ve always felt resistance and restlessness when I started myself.

That’s why it’s easier to try a few moments of quiet at a time.

Tendencies like resistance, restlessness, sleepiness, fear, and perfectionism may come up.  Respond with a sense of humor instead fixating on them as a problem. In time, these fears and emotions will dissolve so don’t take them as solid and real.

The Key to Working with Thoughts

What else can you do with arising thoughts and emotions when you’re trying to sit quietly?

When you attempt to sit quietly, initially it may suddenly seem like you have a million more thoughts than ever before.  That’s only because you’re probably looking at the activity of your mind for the first time.  The temptation to follow them might be very strong at this point and the notion of quiet as impossible as climbing Mt. Everest.

Don’t lose heart!

The key is not to grab a thought and follow it up with more thoughts.  Instead, just be aware of thoughts as they move by like a train moving through a train station.  You don’t have to catch the train, do you?

Most people believe they are their thoughts and emotions, and that’s the main focus of their life.  Realize instead there’s a pure awareness – ever present – behind all the transitory chatter and clutter of your mind.  Rest in this awareness instead of getting caught by the thoughts, emotions, and sensations that occur.

Remember, don’t make thoughts the enemy, whether you aim to simply sit quietly or to actually meditate. As Mingyur Rinpoche says:

“Thinking is the natural activity of the mind.  Meditation is not about stopping your thoughts.  Meditation is simply a process of resting the mind in its natural state, which is open to and naturally aware of thoughts, emotions, and sensations as they occur.  The mind is like a river, and, as with a river, there’s no point in trying to stop its flow.  …But that doesn’t mean you have to be a slave to whatever your mind produces.”

Is this easy?  No, not at first unless you have beginner’s luck.  Your thoughts and emotions will try to pull you every which way.

So another secret is to blend your mindfulness with a relaxed spaciousness and not to take it all too seriously.  Choose to be amazed by the random nature and incredible number of thoughts that arise in your mind instead of feeling distress.  Key into playful curiosity instead of becoming embroiled in thoughts or chastising yourself when you become distracted.  You will lose your awareness time and again.  And that’s okay because you’re new at this.

When you find yourself distracted – thinking of the future or the past, a problem or a desire – bring the mind back to the present moment.  It’s as simple as that!  You’ll have to do this hundreds of times to retrain your mind – that’s the heart of mindfulness.  Please never reprimand yourself when you become distracted.  It’s all part of the ebb and flow of learning to live with greater awareness.

With time, you’ll discover the thoughts and emotions get tired of being ignored.  So if you stay steadfast in awareness, they will start to dissolve on their own.  And that’s when you begin to taste peace and feel an amazing sense of freedom.

When you’re able to be still in the present moment and simple be aware of thoughts, emotions, and sensation that is sitting quietly.  That is mindfulness.  That is meditation.

Dare to be still.  Dare to be quiet.  See if it makes a difference for you.

Does it make you nervous to sit still?  How long can you sit quietly by yourself?  I would love to hear.


Thank you for the gift of your time and attention.  If you liked this post, please share it with others.  And, if you’re new, please consider subscribing for free updates by email and joining me on FacebookWith love, Sandra

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22 Comments

  1. Great Post Sandra, packed with a lot of powerful information.

    My version of the proverb would be “If you’re too busy to sit still for 10 minutes, start with a minute.”

    In my opinion and experience it is the finding of stillness within, which is more important than the amount of time we spend being still.

    My takeaway from your post is : “When you find yourself distracted – thinking of the future or the past, a problem or a desire – bring the mind back to the present moment. It’s as simple as that! You’ll have to do this hundreds of times to retrain your mind”

    Thank you.

  2. Thank you, Neil. I’m glad you found the post so rich and I appreciate your thoughts on this topic.

    Don’t you think finding the stillness within is interconnected with being still at least in the beginning? It seems to me it’s quite challenging to find stillness within when you are busy, busy, busy with externals. I find being still supports finding stillness within but eventually we’ll develop the capacity to be aware whether there is stillness or movement.

    Thanks for sharing your perspective!

    • Oh yes Sandra you are absolutely correct, that is where the practice of meditation / sitting still & quiet comes in.

      Its all about making our mind still (being aware of the now) in movement or otherwise. I personally love practicing still awareness, there’s nothing like it.

      Thank you.

  3. I find sitting quietly simple. I do it every day. Some days for only a few minutes…but those days are rare. If I didn’t have a quiet time I think I would not be a very nice person.

    • Wonderful! And, I think this is so true for many of us: A little quiet time could keep us from getting irritated or even nasty!

  4. I’m up to 15 minutes on the meditation front! I’d love more tips on how to focus when trying to be with and listen to other people. My mind wanders so, even when when I’m really trying to pay attention to my kids and hear them. Any tips very welcome 🙂

    • That’s fantastic that you’re up to 15 minutes, Annabel.

      About being present with other people, if you feel constantly distracted you could look at the deeper level. What’s pulling you away? Do you feel overwhelmed, resentful, or another emotion that’s making you not want to be present?

      If it’s simply distraction and not something deeper, you could use the sound of their voice or their face as the object of your attention. Whenever your mind wanders, bringing it back. Yes, we have to do that a million times!!!! It gets easier with practice.

      You could be sure to sit down with them and lean forward a bit (not exaggerated though!), to be really present with yourself and with them.

      Or maybe it’s not a good time for you to listen and it would be better to set up another time.

      Hope something here helps a bit!

  5. I read somewhere that you should meditate 15 minutes each day and if you’re really, really busy you should make that an hour! This amused me Sandra…and I totally get it.

    I remember hubby and I once decided to meditate for two hours. The first hour went by pretty quickly, the second hour…I hardly remember at all! It’s cool stuff.

    Thanks for putting this out there. 🙂

    • Hi Elle,

      Sounds like the same idea! I’m glad you had a positive experience when you tried it out with your husband.

      One of the challenges of meditating for a longer period is that it’s easier to lose our mindfulness. So sometimes many short sessions throughout the day can help if we find that to be the case.

      Thanks for sharing your experience.

  6. Lei Lani Lucero

    Perfect timing, once again! I am forwarding this article to a few people…
    I recently reconnected with an old friend, and have been hanging out with him a lot. On some of these occasions, I spend a lot of my time with him while he is resting, and he keeps apologizing for “being such great company” (sarcasm). I told him last week that I appreciate all of the time that I have with him, because I take the opportunity when he is resting to remind myself of what is important to me:
    Being able to live in my own skin, with my own thoughts
    Being with him, even when he is not feeling well
    Reminding myself that I don’t have to ‘do’ anything, but that I can take time to just sit, and watch the birds, listen to the fountain, and just ‘be’.
    It is so nice to let the rest of the world rush around me, and enjoy the quiet, and let my thoughts wander, and not try to fill every waking moment with plans, or ideas, or regrets.
    Thanks again Sandra

    • Dear Lei,

      What a perfect experience. I’m sorry your friend needs to rest so much, but it’s certainly provide the perfect opportunity for you to bask in quiet. Thanks for sharing this inspiring story.

  7. Hi Sandra,

    Just last night, I practiced quietness, only instead of sitting I was laying down trying to sleep. I often have trouble sleeping on Sunday nights because my mind is racing ahead to the week. But last night, when I woke around 3 a.m., I decided to lie still and quiet. My mind didn’t beat me up, nor did I feel a sense of urgency because the minutes were ticking by with no sleep. It was actually relaxing and I would say that after about 40 minutes or so, I fell back to sleep. What a nice alternative to tossing and turning!

    • Hi Beth,

      That’s another beautiful way we can apply quiet. I’ve heard the resting that when when you can’t sleep provides almost as much rest as sleeping. I’m glad you found that perfect place and felt able to relax. Bravo!

  8. Truly wonderful post, Sandra – as usual. I have always enjoyed my solitude, the stillness and the quiet. Raising children (as a single parent), working full time, caring for my Mom, helping to raise my grandchildren and fostering dogs and cats were my ‘life”. I am much older now and am not as healthy as I once was. The last almost 3 years have not been easy. My younger daughter passed suddenly from heart problems and, soon after, my grandchildren lost their home in a Superstorm Sandy. Grief is an ongoing journey – part of the changes and loss that we all experience in life. For the last year or so I have tried to make it a point, every day, to read something inspiring (like your posts or FB quotes). I also do a bit of metta meditation every day. By sitting and quieting the mind, I have begun to become more aware of the thought process – as well as the emotion that may arise (within me) due to a specific thought. I realize that “Sandy” is the one doing the thinking and the feeling and reacting – and my awareness of this helps bring me back to the present moment and my breathing. I find I am beginning to be more aware of this – even when I am not sitting quietly. Quiet and stillness are beneficial to my existence in this lifetime. This world/life is chock full of heartache, pain and chaos — but I do not have to let my awareness be bothered by all that. I can sit quietly and look out my window at the falling leaves – and be aware of nature’s beauty. Thank you, Sandra. PS: I enjoyed your post about your new little cat. I also have a cat and I’m about to adopt a tiny dog in a day or so. An older dog who is used to cats. My cat (Maya) has never been around another animal so I hope this all works out. I’m going to give it a go. Rescue group says if it doesn’t work out, they’ll take Bitsie back — and then maybe I’ll try adopting another cat from them. I would like Maya to have a companion. Keep your fingers crossed, Sandra. :-). Meanwhile I contine to feed the 3 feral cats that roam the neighborhood, too, but cannot get near them. Animals are my weakness. Quietly sitting — and loving/caring for family and animals. It’s all good. ;-). Thank you again, dear Sandra.

    • Dear Sandy,
      I know the last three years haven’t been easy for you and I’m so sorry for that. It feels like you’ve really gained perspective and have shifted in good ways. It’s so powerful when we can be aware of our thoughts and emotions in the way that you describe, take them less seriously, and come back to the present moment. Plus, not get overly bothered by all the chaos in the world. I’m deeply impressed and happy that you feel more at ease and spacious.

      I do wish you the very best of luck with your new dog. I hope Bitsie and Maya hit it off well! Fingers crossed. 🙂 I understand how it is with feral cats, they can be fierce. Our little panther wouldn’t let us get too close, but my husband figured out how to win him over.

      Take care, Sandy! I always love hearing from you. Thanks for your appreciative words too.

  9. Sandra,

    As one who is learning more and more about the path of yoga nidra (seeing that I’m a tour guide on Sunday mornings at 11AM!) I am discovering more and more about the purpose of meditation and yogic “sleep” (which is nothing more than being in deep relaxation, totally aware, and at one with one’s True Being) When I started meditation, I found it very difficult. I thought I always had to be DOing something. My mind was grand central station (to carry on with your train metaphor!) I love focusing on my breath and bringing my breath to body awareness as I go through a mental check in with my body and to feel the energy in each part. I realizing that I’m teaching my mind to be focused without distraction. Some days are better than others…this morning I got through my whole body without going, “ohhhhh….look! Squirrel!”

    I appreciate you and what you wrote <3

    • Dear Peggy,

      It’s so inspiring to hear about your process. Yoga is such an amazing path that’s so much more than taking care of our body alone. It’s also medicine for the mind and the soul. What you’ve said here is so on target: “I am discovering more and more about the purpose of meditation and yogic “sleep” (which is nothing more than being in deep relaxation, totally aware, and at one with one’s True Being).” Meditation is really the combination of relaxation and awareness, not just a relaxation technique alone.

      Naturally, we all get distracted quite easily but I have not doubts that you are moving into a state of non-distraction more and more! How wonderful. I’m so happy for you. And I so appreciate your kind words and you too!

  10. This post makes me realize, I’ve gotten bad about being quiet. I’ve been filling every minute with noise, blasting podcasts while doing dishes, folding clothes, washing my face. Those used to be quiet, meditative times for me, but as I’ve been striving to grow my writing business, I’ve felt compelled to make the most of every single moment of the day. As a result, the last few days my mind has been hazy, I’ve been physically and mentally tired, and I’ve had to stretch to find my creativity so I can put down new words. I’m going to try for more quiet and see what that does for my energy levels. I need to let go of the worry that I will miss something. Thanks, Sandra!

    • These are important insights, Kayla! I empathize because it’s so easy to get pulled into the merry-go-round and often difficult to get off. I do this at times myself so it’s an ongoing learning and letting go process for me too. I really enjoy the quiet that can be had doing simple physical activities like the ones you describe. I hope your experiment with adding more quiet back in helps!

  11. Hi, this is really great. very calming and peaceful. Being quiet for a moment allows us to find our inner most selves, it gives us the power to neutralize our thoughts. we need to let go of things that hinders us starting from our mind. This is very timely for me, i need to work on this, thanks for sharing. Loved your post.

    • You’re very welcome, Sherill. I wish everyone could know the peace that quiet can bring and learn how to transform their thoughts for the better. Take care!

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