The weeks leading up to my birthday this year were a little bit anxiety-producing. It was a "year with a 9 in it," and thus time for me to challenge myself to dedicating the next decade to learning something new. I had a lot of ideas (all of which would require extensive stocking up on new gear), but nothing was clicking. Then a wise woman suggested something revolutionary. (Yes, you are just a bundle of wisdom, Carrie.) What if I tried to do....nothing. What if I tried just sitting still. After two years of near constant motion, what if I just stopped?
Well, that sat me back on my heels. Okay, technically I can't sit back on my heels because of these shitty old knees of mine, but I can get set back into a comfortable cross-legged position on a nice cushion. What if, to quote somebody or other (this is the trouble with scribbling scraps of insight onto random post it notes stuck to one's desk), I just took my seat, closed my eyes, listened to my own breath, and "patiently waited for nothing"?
Oooo. That gives me a bit of a stomach ache. It's not that I haven't tried to do this before. I do jammies yoga every morning to get to the point where I can do more than shuffle on these poor old gams of mine, and on a very rare occasion I turn off the music and the chatter and the droning in my head of all the things I "should" be getting done and sit in a sort of meditation. But home practice is not without its own challenges: pop up to vacuum up the dead stink bug under the table, clean those filthy baseboards, just answer this one little email first--maybe two, okay maybe ten. I'm like a crow, darting through the air pursuing every shiny thing I see until I am so tired that I pull my wing over my face and glare out with one dark suspicious eye. Convince yourself "oh i ate-too-big-a-breakfast-took-too-long-a-run-have-to-walk-the-dog-should-just-finish-the-laundry-hey-look-a-text-message-I-don't-have-ten-minutes" and there goes your one day meditation streak. Retire the jersey. Send the crowds home.
When Mike told me his cancer diagnosis, it was like a starter's gun went off. I was down in the crouch, I pushed my cleats up against the block, coiled my muscles tight, and exploded into action. I skimmed article after article in all the medical journals, I transported him to doctors all over the state, I cleaned the house and I made the food and I walked the dog and I did the laundry and I paced the floors and I did anything and everything I could think of to live up to my promise to help save him. It didn't work. He died. Yet I'm still moving. I haven't read an entire book in over a year. I can't watch a television show start to finish. I cover mile after mile wandering about the house during conference calls. I wander the streets and I run the trails. I am a tornado. I am a cyclone. I am ceaseless, if pointless, motion.
So what if, instead, I said, "Sit your ass down, Petal, and pay attention to this very second while it's actually happening"? What if I gave all those bitchy voices in my head a mandatory time-out: no more "you're not good enough, you failed, you're a fraud, and what on earth are you wearing?" and instead just listened to whoosh of air entering and leaving my own lungs? What if I lit the incense stick and just watched the smoke coil into the air like a snake charmed out of a basket? What if I let those sweet, musky, spicy smells get all tangled up in my hair? What if I noticed that the pause between the exhalation and the inhalation can last an instant or a million years?
What if the thing I do for this decade, the Big One that marks half a damn century, was to not do anything? Wouldn't that be the greatest lesson of all? At the very least, it wouldn't require yet another trip to REI.