I keep telling myself this story about how I am a person that appreciates quiet, stillness, introspection. I love the feeling of awe that comes over me when I really see something that has been there all along (my neighbor’s wind chimes, the tree growing next to my house, the wrinkles on my friend’s nose when she is concentrating) that has only risen in my awareness because I took the time to stop, to look with greater focus, attentive. It leaves me this feeling of filling my lungs more fully than I ordinarily do, that I can let out all the air with a satisfying sigh. I am attuned, connected deeply with others, my loved ones but also strangers.
That is my experience, so it is all true, of course. But…
I am also lying to myself. Because when I look at my day-to-day life, it is churning with movement, busyness, activity. Always for purportedly good reasons, I find myself cramming my time with work, activities, chauffeuring my kids. I am always busy!
There is no room for slowness in that life. No time for spontaneous revelry, for losing myself in smelling roses or reading poetry: I have somewhere to go, something to do, someone waiting for me.
It is true that all that activity is pragmatically useful; I am “getting things done,” after all. I might even call it normal, it’s not so different from what the people around me are doing with their lives. Never mind that life is all a blur and I can’t remember what, of import, I did yesterday!
Why I Stay Busy
But it is also true that “getting things done” is not the only reason I do it. There is the dread of emptiness in the stillness. What if nothing shows up to (ful)fill me? What is even worse: what if that which arises is painful, or shameful, reminding me of all the parts of me that I would rather forget?
I don’t stop to ask those What-ifs, but rather, I put something on my calendar, find myself some busy-work that no one could fault me for doing. If I am in an especially generous mood, I’ll read a book or plug in a podcast while I go for a walk. But stopping to become fully still? Letting myself revel in rose-smelling? Allowing a poem to take the lid off Pandora’s box? Not me!
More True Stories
When I think back to my adolescence, I think of myself draped on the couch daydreaming about some beautiful boy or wandering in the cloud forest, pondering big questions about what really matters, how luck shapes our lives, what natural talent looks like, how ‘others’ live in their hearts. I remember sitting on mountainsides and on low-hanging branches, gazing out at the green world lazily, without urgency, with nowhere to be or anything pressing to do.
Yep. That was my adolescence.
Except that, simultaneously, I was stretched thin with schoolwork and extra curricular activities that I took as seriously as academics, if not more. I was navigating friendships that demanded opposing loyalties and experiencing a loneliness that can only be felt in a crowd. I was so taxed that my blood sugar started doing gymnastics and migraine headaches regularly made a visit.
Recapping those stories I tell myself, and the ones that I don’t, I am reminded that, for all the busyness in my current life, I am, at this very moment, sitting at my desk, writing this. Which can only mean that I have found a still breath amidst the whirlwind, that I let my body rest and my mind wander gently into quietude.
That’s another true story I can tell myself.
What about you? What is your relationship to stillness and motion? What stories do you tell yourself? How does all of it serve you? How does it do you disservice?