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How Taking Quiet Time for Yourself Helps People Around You

sitting

“I wish I could show you, when you are lonely or in darkness, the astonishing light of your own being.” ~Hafiz of of Shiraz

“What I wouldn’t give for a few moments of silence.”

“I really should start meditating.”

“I know it’s important to take breaks, but I just don’t have time.”

We’ve all heard (or made) comments like these at some point. Implicit in these statements is the idea that resting in stillness is beneficial…for the individual.

But what if such a practice of peace is more than that? What if it’s beneficial for others in your family, your community, in every life you touch?

When I worked as a live-in caregiver for adults with intellectual disabilities at L’Arche, I often rose early to help my housemates with their morning routines. (L’Arche is a non-profit that creates homes wherein people with and without intellectual disabilities share life together in community.)

I came to live there after college, and it was a wonderful challenge for an introvert like me to live and work with fourteen housemates for two years.

When I wasn’t assigned to help my housemates with their morning routines, however, I had a ritual of my own. I’d pad down the staircase in slippers, my journal in hand. I’d assemble some breakfast, and then sit down in a living room chair that faced the house’s front windows.

Morning light would warm my skin and my spirit too. I’d sip my coffee and stare silently, content to take it all in.

My housemates would move through their routines around me; my morning oasis was, after all, right in the midst of a fourteen-person household. I would greet them with a smile, then duck my head and keep silent.

My fellow direct-care assistants knew about my routine, and usually refrained from speech out of respect for it.

I wouldn’t sit in silence for long—maybe twenty or thirty minutes, tops. All too soon, I would get up and into the day of well-organized caregiving chaos that awaited me. My housemates and I would be busy with our role responsibilities until long after the sun had set.

But that morning quietude sustained me; it made me more equipped to deal with whatever wild situations were thrown my way. It gave me greater flexibility, resilience, and patience. Put bluntly, I was a better person to be around.

Even so, I couldn’t manage to shake the sense of guilt that my morning ritual stirred up in me. I’d look at other assistants moving through their scheduled routines and feel bad for not pitching in. Though we all took turns serving in the mornings, something about being in the same space made me feel as though I ought to contribute.

And so I’d struggle with the guilty feelings on a regular basis. I’d worry that I was “flaunting” my rest. That is, until a friend and fellow assistant, Mary, made a comment that changed everything for me.

She said, “You know, whenever I think of you, I picture you sitting downstairs by the windows in the morning. You look so peaceful there; I love it. It helps me to see that I can choose quiet time in the midst of all the busyness of our life here. It’s an encouragement to me.”

Seeing me sit in silence was an encouragement to her? It gave her permission to do likewise? I was flabbergasted in the best possible way.

But then I came upon a passage in one of Anne Lamott’s memoirs (Traveling Mercies) that affirmed the truth of Mary’s words. Lamott writes: “The thing about light is that it really isn’t yours; it’s what you gather and shine back. And it gets more power from reflectiveness; if you sit still and take it in, it fills your cup, and then you can give it off yourself.”

What you gather and shine back. Without even knowing it, that’s what I’d been doing by the windows each day.

From that moment on, I viewed my quiet-time habit differently. Instead of feeling false guilt about not “doing enough” for others, I started seeing those periods of silence as acts of service, both for myself and for the community.

Whenever we sit and reflect, whenever we surrender to stillness, we are engaging in a subversive, loving act of service.

In a world that honors productivity above peacefulness, we are choosing another way. We are appreciating the beauty that surrounds us always, and in doing so, becoming more beautiful ourselves.

It isn’t always an easy choice, but it is ours to make. We can be illumined. And in doing so, who knows what we might illuminate?

Photo by gbrunett

Avatar of Caroline McGraw

About Caroline McGraw

Caroline McGraw blogs at A Wish Come Clear, where readers are invited to receive a complimentary copy of Your Creed of Care: How to Dig for Treasure in People (Without Getting Buried Alive). Caroline’s new book,I Was a Stranger to Beauty (ThinkPiece, 2013), is available as a Kindle Single.

Announcement: Wish you could change your past? Learn to let go and create a life you love with the Tiny Buddha course!
  • Kathy www.yinyangmother.com

    Caroline – I can see you sitting there, like your friend Mary did, becoming a better person, lighting up the lives of those around you, by giving yourself the gift of stillness – you were channelling universal energy and light to give to others. I love that you see your meditation as a gift to yourself and others. Never time wasted!…cheers…..kathy

  • Joan Harrison

    Caroline, this post helped me as I feel guilty ofttimes. I grew up believing that you had to work hard to succeed in life and consequently I find it hard to just relax and be still. I am learning tho’ and the thought of me stopping and it helping others is a nice thought to hold on to. Breaking conditioning of childhood can be quite liberating!

  • Caroline McGraw

    Kathy, thank you so much! You said it well; it’s never time wasted. Thank you for your encouragement! :)

  • Caroline McGraw

    Joan, I’m so glad the post was helpful … and I can totally relate to that feeling! And I agree, it’s challenging to break patterns, but oh-so-liberating when you do. :)

  • Melinda Gonzalez

    Yes, yes, yes, this is so true! Thank you for this Caroline.

    I have experienced this time and time again, and it is so true. When we heal ourselves, we heal the world.

    Whenever I started working on myself I realized everything around me changed: my dog acted calmer and more friendly (seriously), my family acted different towards me, and everything around me just seemed more peaceful.

    The world really is a mirror for us. If humanity could just realize this, the world could finally accept peace. We spend way too much time trying to change others, and even help others, yet most of us can’t stand to sit still with ourselves and our pain for very long. Therefore our pain is reflected back to us.

    One of the things that helps me be disciplined in spending time in silence is to state to myself “this is for me, I am doing this because I love myself”. When we do things for ourselves it is so much easier to stick with it. We spend our whole lives doing things for others, even when it appears it is for ourselves. If we can do this one thing for ourselves, we will be helping the world more than our unaware hurt selves ever could help.

    Thank you again.

  • http://halinagoldstein.com/blog Halina Goldstein

    Besides the fact that I just loved reading your story… imagining that piece of your life… getting such sense of authentic beauty… it also made me smile. Because:

    There are so many women – especially women 50+ – that grew up with the idea that whatever they do “just for themselves” is selfish. They may not think it but they certainly feel it. So, unless life pushes them into it, they’d rather not create such a space for themselves.

    This is especially challenging if there’s no one else that you can do something for anymore. Like for example when your husband has passed away (there are hundreds of thousands women that become widows every year, just in the USA!), and when your children have their own life and don’t need you anymore.

    At that time, creating a meditative practice and journaling is tremendously helpful – and yet it feels meaningless: “What’s the point of doing it if it’s just for me?”. Well, this article provides that extra motivation and meaning. Even if “just for ourselves” would be meaningful too, it’s never “just for ourselves”. Whether we live in a household with 14 others or alone, we are connected and our peace affects others.

    Thank you!

  • Talia

    I often come on the TinyBuddha website as part of my morning quiet time. Your post caught my eye, and it was an absolutely lovely read that has set the tone for my day. Thank you for sharing your message, Caroline.
    All the best!
    Talia

  • Caroline McGraw

    You are most welcome, Melissa! And thank you for sharing from your own experience of ‘gathering and shining back’. :)

  • Caroline McGraw

    How perfect! I’m so glad, Talia. :)

  • Caroline McGraw

    That’s such a good point, Halina. It’s so true that it’s never ‘just for ourselves’! You said it well. :)

  • Lisa

    I am one of those people who love solitude. I make sure that I take time out for myself, to recharge & refocus. In the office, I am able to practice “silence” by putting my earphones on, tuning out all the ambient noise & just listening to my choice of music for the day. I find that this helps me stay calm & maintain balance in a busy, buzzing environment. But lately, I have been feeling uneasy about these “moments” that I give to myself. Maybe because some people with whom I share my space with at work have been commenting on my being “too quiet”, implying that I was deliberately shutting them out.I have told them a few times before that it is just how I stay focused on dealing with the demands of the day (and it’s not like I am quiet all day long). But somehow I feel that that explanation is lost on some of them.
    Your article gives me a better perspective at how I should look at my “quiet time”. As you have pointed out, I will now see it as a service not just to myself but also to the people around me. I will not feel guilty about my “moments” anymore. Thank you for your insights. =>

  • Tanya

    One of my favorite posts you’ve ever written! Thank you for affirmation…I know this to be true in my own life…when I take that time for silence and retreat, I am much more pleasant and reflect the Light that has restored, refreshed, and re-filled me. It made me think of the story of Mary and Martha in Finn’s God-book…those around us MAY be frustrated with our being still to listen and reflect…but Jesus confirms that it is the BETTER decision…:)