The Art of Stillness, Welcoming Emotions, and Constantly Learning with Kelly Boys

Kelly Boys is a corporate mindfulness trainer and a former program director at the Search Inside Yourself Leadership institute, where she focused on training teachers and helping Fortune 500 Companies create happier workplaces. Kelly is a founding member of Simple Habit and started meditating 10 years ago during a time of struggle with anxiety and panic attacks. Since then, she’s spent years helping others practice and find inner peace.

We had the pleasure of interviewing Kelly on her work as a mindfulness trainer and her meditation practice.

Was there a moment when you realized that meditation was bound to transform the way you lived?

There was a moment that I realized that I had been basically controlled by my mind and my thoughts and I had been believing my thoughts as if they were the truest thing. When I made that realization and had the insight that these thoughts I had taken to be true aren’t reality and aren’t necessarily the truest thing, that was a major turning point for me.

I grew up in a Christian home and when I was growing up, I heard the phrase that “God gives us the peace that passes understanding.” In true meditation, I actually experience that. A peace that is beyond anything that the mind can create for itself.

How did you start meditating? 

I started in a class and then started to listen to guided meditations. And every single night, I would listen to 30 minutes of guided meditation because it would make me feel so much better. It gave me a sense of calm and ease when before I had been running on a lot of anxiety.


Eventually, those guided meditations began to be a voice in my head throughout the day. I started to realize “This is more than just a 30-minute time period I’m spending.” The ease and the sense of well-being I received from just resting my mind, body, and heart allowed me to get back in touch to what is natural to all of us. Soon, I started having more access to that throughout my days and that started being transformative for me.

I had more space around what was happening instead of being fused and identified with each moment of the day, feeling that background of well-being and ease that’s natural to us when we rest.

I looked at your website and was drawn to your theme of the art of stillness. Can you talk a little bit about what that means?

The Art of Stillness to me is almost like a posture. Not a meditation posture, where you’re sitting upright, but a posture of receptivity, of openness, of simplicity. When we want to be still, sometimes we’re using the same mode of operation that we do when we want to do things in life.

To me, the Art of Stillness is more an orientation and a posture towards what is right in front of us. It is a way of seeing what’s right in front of us without the typical lenses and veils we have through all of our thoughts and emotions that just jerk us around.

To develop the Art of Stillness, it takes a lot of practice and willingness to be with what is actually here, which is not always easy – we’re used to running from what’s here. To me, developing the art of stillness is developing your capacity to experience everything just as it is and finding the appropriate response for each situation. It’s not being a doormat to life, it’s actually being very spontaneous and responsive.

Interestingly for me, the art of stillness is letting go of ideas of how we should be and being open to what’s actually here.

It is cultivated by allowing the body, mind, heart, soul to rest and to be still. Because in that stillness, we start to listen and hear things. Just like when you’re sitting on a front porch and suddenly, you hear a bird that you weren’t hearing before. You start to pick up on and listen to and have an orientation to possibility. When we do that, we start to see and hear things that we don’t usually hear when we’re just driven by our beliefs in our minds and the ideas about how we think we should be.

Interestingly for me, the art of stillness is letting go of ideas of how we should be and being open to what’s actually here.


On your website, you write, “Our essential questions to me point to what is unique about the human quest, our capacity to locate ourselves on our own journey and to articulate what is just on the edge of what we know and yet to discover.” Can you tell me more about essential questions in the human quest?

We are all driven by something. We all have this unique “heart’s desire” to express into the world, to share who we are, to share our unique nature, to understand life, to belong.

It’s been said that the four basic needs are 1) to be heard, 2) to be seen, 3) to feel connected, and 4) to feel belonging. In some ways, these drive us and we’re on a search to come home to ourselves.

What I find meditation helps us with is clarifying that quest for each of us. What is it that you most deeply long for in life? And if you had that, would you feel absolutely 100% fulfilled and complete. When we orient to what these questions are, we get clear about what our quest actually is and we also ironically start to discover that it’s already here. This is part of our essential human existence.

When I’ve asked this question in the prisons, for instance, I’ll say “What is it that you most deeply long for? What quality?” and people will say “to feel whole, to feel connected with family, to feel love, to know I belong.” These are shared experiences as humans.


What meditation helps us do is clarify what we’re searching for and then it lets us see what we’re searching for is already here. We just doing this process of uncovering.

I used to do a lot of yoga as well and when you’d be in pigeon pose for a very long time, it’s all about detaching your mind from the pain. I found that very applicable to emotions. So the physical can be a signal.

Absolutely. And there’s two ways to work. So the first step is to see the pain so that you have a little bit of distance from it. Another step in meditation, which you can use, is to meet the pain on its own terms because you are now free from it and you’re willing to dialogue with it – “Is there something I need to see right now?” “Is there an action I need to take?”


In that sense, our pain, emotions, thoughts are all then just messengers letting us know something. They are not all just to be noted and passed by like “anger is arising, anger is leaving.” Instead for me, meditation is “Anger is arising. Hi, Anger. What do you need? What’s going on here? Let’s have a dialogue.”

It’s often a message that our body is giving us to take an action into the world. Anger will keep knocking and we keep shutting the door on it for 20 years. And when you finally inviting Anger in, it’ll say “You’re not paying attention to me. I need help. I have a question.” And then I get to engage with it and soon, Anger will go on its way and doesn’t come back. The next messenger comes instead.

I start to trust that the different things meditation lets us see such as thoughts, beliefs, emotions are actually just all information and data. We’re just learning machines. If we can take all of this as part of the data in the environment, it helps us to interact with it in a more skillful way.

What do you think it means to be a good meditation teacher?

To be a good meditation teacher means that you are willing to be uncomfortable, comfortable, loved, hated. You have an attitude of welcoming towards your life and what arises. I say this because if you do, this doesn’t mean you have to be perfect.

What it means is you have developed skills to work with and meet and be present to your own experience. Why is this important? It’s important because then you can meet another person and their experience without trying to change and fix them. And if you do that and the person really feels met and are getting the fundamental needs, they’re able to learn and be with and welcome their own experience.

Let yourself be surprised.


What makes a good meditation teacher is when you don’t look at yourself as a teacher. You look at yourself as someone who is sharing skills and tools that you’ve learned overtime and you know that you’re not perfect and you’re not expecting anyone else to be perfect. You know that we’re all on a human journey together.

If you do feel a quality of welcoming towards your own experience, you will naturally share that with those that you’re teaching. Some of the people on Simple Habit that can speak to this, such as Larry Ward, John Prendergast, Richard Miller, who have been teachers of mine – you can hear the quality of welcoming in their voice.

What are you currently reading?

I’ve just read “Blink” by Malcolm Gladwell and “The Power of Paradox” by Dr. Keltner, who is from the Great Good Science Center in UC Berkley. It’s a new release that’s quite good. I’ve also just finished “Originals” by Adam Grant and I’m starting to read “Everything is Workable” by Diane Musho Hamilton. I’m going to be interviewing her soon so I wanted to read her book. I’m also writing a book!

That’s so exciting! Please keep us updated with your podcasts and books. Last question is: what advice do you have for someone who is just starting off with meditation?  

If you stay a beginner, you know you’ll be successful. As a new meditator, you think there are things that you sometimes need to learn how to do this. In a way, that is true.

In another way, all meditation is just like science. You are curious about your experience. Science is based on curiosity and so is meditation. It’s great if you can stay curious, stay open, and let yourself not be an expert because that’s not what it’s about.

Let it change you. Let meditation in all the way. It doesn’t have to look any certain way for you, but let yourself be impacted by the process. Let yourself be surprised.

Photo credits for the prison photos to Robert Sturman. Photo credits for head shots to Peter McEwen.


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