I remember sitting in class one day, the FIRST time I was in graduate school. We were talking about stillness, probably in the context of how we were sitting and breathing. Our professor coached us through, engaging questions, asking us to be aware of our bodies in that moment. I have a vivid recollection of discomfort throughout my body; it was so very restless and the practice of stillness felt…almost painful. I could not get comfortable in the chair, so I couldn’t sit still. At the time, I thought the physical pain had a clinical origin. Perhaps I was so very out of alignment, or out of shape, or maybe even there was just something wrong with me. Or, all of the above, more likely. I was a walking, talking, breathing living history of my experiences and that wasn’t good or bad…just simply was the way it was. Me.
Going back even further, again back into my acting training, I recall my movement classes. Aside from the fact that—while I firmly believe in the techniques and theories taught—they are sort of caricatures of themselves, there is an irony about them. I know I went into movement class as an 18 year old thinking I would learn how to move, so OF COURSE there should be a lot of moving involved because, you know, movement. But so much of movement class involved what appeared and felt to be decidely not moving. We were instructed at the beginning of every class that it was “the ten minutes in which you do nothing.” When we first began this ritual, our instructor verbally led us through the experience in a sort of guided meditation. But the anxiety crept in when we were supposed to clear our minds and think about nothing. No. Thing. It was at that point when I became silently desperate, trying to push thoughts out of my mind, and in fighting those impulses, created even more thoughts. I panicked. On the inside, of course. “HOW DO I DO NOTHING?” came the silent scream. “I am not DOING nothing right because I have all the thoughts! I’m thinking about not thinking!” I felt a little like Ray Stanz in Ghostbusters:
Still, the idea of just taking a minute to be fully present in a space took practice. What I found was in opening myself up to allowing thoughts to pass through, I had more autonomy about engaging with thoughts, than if I tried to shut them out.
I settled into stillness. Well, more precisely, I came to a place where I could coexist with it. I welcomed it. Sometimes, the restless discomfort was there, but I had to acknowledge it in order to move on.
Flash forward to now. I’m trying to tune the noise out. It’s a noise addiction. Even now, as I’m writing, as I’m enjoying the quiet hum of the fan above me (and a little indignant at the sound of an airplane flying overhead, intruding on the night quiet)–with no television, social media, radio, internet—I’m longing for it. I yearn for this time, this place, this space to hear my thoughts, and my first impulse is to drown them out. Like some messed up sugar addiction, I try to cut out the sweets, and savor the lightness in my body and the energy it begins to feel, only to hear my inner voice thinking, “As a reward for feeling so good, you should get a treat. Sugar!” And while social media can get me amped, it quickly exhausts me, leaving me deflated, numb, and reflexively reaching for more of… less.
Maybe I think the noise will give me my thoughts, will set me on the right path toward self-enlightenment and what I hope to do in this world. But these inputs merely obfuscate the whole situation. They crowd out—and sometimes even work to replace—my own thoughts. I’ve been moving and filling the space with so much that I no longer recognize my own thoughts through the din.
So I’ve made pledge to myself, imperfect as it is. Among the million and one self-improvement promises, I am starting with some silence each evening. Some pause. Some breath. Because just as I learned those many years ago, many times over, that singular breath will both birth and ignite my impulse. My truth.