on being idle

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Shutterstock Images LLC

“No, Katie, no! Fight it with all you’ve got!!!” was my reaction to your last post. I’ve never told you this before, and now I fear it’s too late, but here goes: one of the (many) things I loved about being in your company when we were together was that you’ve always seemed so surprisingly, refreshingly…lazy?

No, of course I don’t mean lazy. I mean…Calm? Relaxed? At Peace? It was a novelty to me. The mishaps you describe that signal your frantic state are typical, everyday occurrences for me and have been since I can remember. As much as I try to fight it, I slip into your “franticosity” as default. To make matters worse, I seem to attract and be attracted to women who are the same way. (I haven’t noticed it in the men in my life so much. Maybe a topic for future contemplation?) We do what I think of as behavioral tap-dancing. Most of my nearest, dearest friends throughout the years cannot seem to sit still in one spot and have a simple, connective conversation unless they are on drugs that 1) have been prescribed by a mental-health physician or 2) are currently legal in a only a few, select states.

I’ve never been with them when they’re alone (duh) but in the company of others, I see them (and myself) hippity-hopping around, trying to make tea, hold the baby, clean up, look presentable, all while smiling and chatting and telling jokes to make the people present feel comfortable. I always wonder if those people I’m hoping are “at ease” can see right through it and are dying to run the other way or, at least, inject me with valium.

When we first met, I was so caught off-guard by your tempo that I had to consciously ruminate over what was different about you. She just wants to sit around and chat about fall boot options? I thought, back when we shared an office and were ALWAYS supposed to be grading papers or, at least, contemplating pedagogical theory. Remember how I moaned about those single, hipster grad students with their suede flats up on the desk, wasting so much time debating the merits of post-modernism: “No one knows how precious time is until they have kids,” I said. I calculated how much I was getting paid vs. how much I paid in childcare and was concious of every minute in those terms. I only felt OK about stopping for lunch if I could plan tomorrow’s lesson while I was eating.

But then, Katie, you helped me shut the office door to counter-judgment and together we googled things like “George Clooney’s girlfriend,” talked about The Great Gatsby, and listened to new songs on Pandora. We “wasted” so much lovely, lovely time together and those moments still make my heart soften even though our students’ papers were put through the shredder a long time ago.

I work hard now to be more like you in that way. (Or, the old you. I haven’t been acquainted with this new “frantic” Katie of which you speak.) To find fulfillment in “being” and not “doing”; to stop my kids from having to say, “Mom, were you even listening?”; to know when Kate Middleton has stepped out in her fantastic, beige L.K.Bennett heels and not be embarrassed of that knowledge.

I work on my environment: no loud television, soft light, little clutter. I work on my relationships: nurturing, accepting, no-drama friendships, less time with people who stress me out. I work on myself: “down time” daily, yoga weekly, trips to the hermitage quarterly (that is a whole other blog post), and meditation.

I refer to my meditation practice often on here, but have never gone into much detail because I assume people either know what I’m talking about or think they know what I’m talking about and assume meditation would conflict with their own beliefs. (Remember Elizabeth Gilbert’s attempt to thwart Christian skeptics by saying prayer was “talking to God” and meditation was “listening”?)

But I want to say, now, that for me meditation has nothing to do with religion, faith, or spirituality. It’s more of a psychological thing. I often think of it as, for frantics like me, a practice in impulse-control. Like the article you referred to last time and her reference as well, I’m after mindfulness. Paying attention to what’s in front of me and not letting my mind, with it’s constant cry for attention and distraction, stop me in mid-task and turn me to another. Anytime I hear someone say, “Meditation isn’t for me. I can’t sit still like that,” I think, That’s precisely why meditation is for you. 

Here’s what I do: I sit down (before the kids wake, obviously), in a comfortable position so I don’t have to move, focus my eyes on one spot,  and try to see, hear, smell, feel, and experience only what’s around me. Since it’s quiet and still—what some people might describe as “boring”–my mind goes wild. It comes up with to-do lists, regrets from yesterday, conversations on which to ruminate, food to make, people to call. But I don’t give in. I don’t jump up and get started on any of it. And I tell myself, that’s all very well, but let’s remember you’re just sitting and breathing right now. I spend the majority of my time talking my mind down from it’s mental ledge, but when it’s over, I can at least begin the day less frantic.

Of course, I’m not always so great about this. That’s why I call it “practice.” It’s easier when the set-up is there and the schedule, routine. But, for example, during the holiday season, when we have 17 people staying at our house for three days? That’s game-time, and this year, I lost. And the mental play-offs are those time when I’m really suffering: because of grief or depression or jealousy or rage.

So, Katie. I’m not necessarily telling you to try it. I don’t want to push anyone to try it, because it’s one of those things people won’t do until they want to.  But I am hoping you find your own way to settle your franticosity, because I want to call you soon, hear your voice, and remember that I can just sink down with the phone to my ear and listen to my good friend, and do nothing else at the same time.

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2 thoughts on “on being idle

  1. Some things make me homesick. This blog was one. It’s not a bad feeling, but it’s certainly a feeling. I will always love my Maria.

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