Meditation vs Stillness Practice – Jeff Wright

There are two very important paths to inner satisfaction that often appear the same, but are actually quite different. One is meditation, a very well-known term, and the other is Stillness Practice, a term I use in order to identify a distinctly different path.  In the most common understanding of meditation, it is something we do (or intentionally don’t do) with our thinking.  It is the cultivation of specific mental qualities such as concentration (‘single mindedness’ or ‘mindfulness’), or autonomic relaxation, or impulse control, or emotional distancing, or morality, or emptiness of mental activity, or positivity, or compassion, or simply ‘open awareness’.  What I have chosen to call stillness practice is something very specific that we do with our bodies, and has no instruction regarding mental activity.  (Think of “stillness” here, not as a peaceful state of mind, but as a physical state – the kind of stillness your 3rd grade teacher would occasionally demand when she said, “Be still.”  She simply wanted you to stop talking and stay in your seat.)  While meditation is usually practiced in a sitting position, it can also be practiced while doing just about anything – walking, washing the dishes, or playing golf.   Stillness practice, however, is specifically sitting erect with the back of the neck and torso quite engaged and the front of the body (face, throat, and torso) relaxed — sit tall and softly — for at least twenty minutes every day.  It has a defining time dimension which may or may not be recommended in meditation.  (We give daily wakeful Stillness Practice the same sort of value that we give our nightly sleep.)   Also, there is no external guidance by voice or music as there might be in meditation.  Unlike meditation what you think or feel during your sitting time does not represent the practice in any way.  Our brains do what they want – worry, fantasize, or even meditate without judgement or restraint.  The posture (always seated) of stillness practice can be easily mastered, particularly given the aid of chairs and cushions.  The truly difficult part of the practice is mastering its time dimension.  Sitting a long time with oneself every day is often unpleasant, and so we use whatever advantages we can to solidify our habit.  These may be based on common inclinations and values such as comfort, sociability, predictability, or acquisitiveness.  Thankfully we do not have to try to control the activity of our brains as we might in meditation.  In some meditation traditions the normal, natural activity of the brain is called “monkey mind” and an effort is made to control and transform that activity.  With stillness practice there is no agenda beyond experiencing ourselves.  We trust and even revere our “monkey minds”.  And, yes, mental elements of dignity, concentration, sanity, appreciativeness, compassion, and deep satisfaction often arise, but these are not part of a mental practice.  They are the results of the ever-so -simple physical practice.  


At the risk of sounding overly theoretical and even outlandish about something very basic, we could consider that by allowing all brain function, stillness practice ensures a healthy, more balanced ecology of the very complex human psyche.  The process requires a lot of trust in the players in our inner world – not just the voices of our cognitive, legalistic, and executive process that we cultivate in meditation, but also the more emotional voices of playful, self-centered child, concerned mother, combative warrior, and kind saint; all part of the menagerie of “monkey mind”.  With patience we can eventually trust that what we do in life moment by moment can be wisely directed by the total ecological congress of these myriad voices.  We need only sit still regularly; back strong, front soft.  That’s it. 


Regarding which approach is better, I make no judgement.  I personally have a lot of trust in the capacity of brains to integrate input and response in the best sort of way if given regular wakeful down time.  The stillness practice simply maintains a physical stage for spontaneously productive brain activity.  That said, it takes a lot of patience and courage to let the often annoying, even painful, and certainly tedious discourse of brain function play out, unguided and unrestrained, on a daily basis.  A great many people find that meditation, which purposely exerts more executive brain function in that process, also works wonderfully well.  My concern is the frustration that often arises when the two approaches are not seen as quite different.  Stillness practice seems to be the more natural path, with much similarity to the habit of all beings with a nervous system to spend a lot of time wakeful and motionless.  It has no more hierarchy of achievement than, say, the skill of being able to sleep.  It is such an ancient process, predating Yogis and Buddhists, ordinary human beings, monkeys, other mammals, and the other vertebrates. Meditation, however, seems distinctly human; a practice only possible in brains with very sophisticated language/cognitive capacities. It is a unique gift for a very specialized being.  It appears in highly respected traditions with well-defined levels of mastery.  One approach is not a minor variation of the other.  Their origins, rationales, and protocols are very different.  


Interestingly, meditation practices like concentration or emotional distancing may arise spontaneously and temporarily during stillness practice, in response to internal needs of the moment.  By definition, the converse would not be true.  And that is why a Stillness Group can happily include people of every practice persuasion.  A Stillness Group invites every sort of person – all cultures, ages, gender orientations, races, and spiritual backgrounds, all levels of income and education, those of either Red or Blue political persuasions.  We may sit together in our respective practices quite happily because those differences are absolutely private and need never be debated.  And in that simple, quiet company we keep, there is a deep bond and mutual support beyond any discussion.


If you are interested in being part of a Stillness Group please discover more about this opportunity at, or the Face Book page “Stillness Groups”, or email Jeff Wright at  We are currently meeting every Tuesday evening (6:15-7:15) at Body and Soul Wellness Center in Dubuque and every Thursday evening (5:30-6:30) at the Rountree Gallery in Platteville.  Groups are small, masked, and socially distanced in large, well ventilated rooms.  No fees are charged, and participants are urged to stay only as long as they are comfortable.  There are no levels of attainment or hierarchies of authority.  You may sit in a chair or on the floor with no judgement either way.  People of all backgrounds, political or religious persuasions, are welcome, and are only asked to avoid hot button topics of discussion during our informal conversations before and after sitting.  Come sit with us.