My grandmother taught me the secret of sleeping. When I was about seven, I got sick at her house and was put on the living room couch to sleep. I was extremely restless, and from her chair, she told me to close my eyes and lie still and I would fall asleep. And it worked. It still works. Now, whenever I can’t fall asleep, I just lie completely still and soon sleep finds me. This simple trick has helped me to fall asleep in the strangest places—on school buses, on the floor of a university’s business school, sitting completely upright in a kayak. But the most important lesson my grandmother taught me that day was not how to sleep. Rather, she taught me that being still is important. If you are still, whatever you are waiting for will come.
Even at the age of seven, I was restless. I couldn’t stop moving. Now, as I type this, my foot is jiggling. It’s nigh on impossible for me to sit completely still. Funnily enough, the more I sleep, the less I move. In class, I can always gauge how tired I am by how many time I switch position in five minutes. It annoys me just as much as it annoys the people sitting next to me. I wish I could find more stillness in my life, but as with many things, there never seems to be enough time.
Of course, there’s always the adage, “Don’t just sit back and watch your life go by.” But what are you missing if you are always chasing after life? What is the important things follow after you, but you’re too busy rushing onwards for them to catch up? Shouldn’t we use some of our life to see what happens, like Forrest Gump on his bend, and just wait, live, experience? What do we have to lose by stopping to smell the roses or living the moments now? Yesterday is a memory, tomorrow a vision, today is the only thing holding the two together. Being still allows life to take its time. True, there are only 24 hours in a day, but spending them in a rush creates a constant feeling of having only 23 or 22. Stillness, to some extent, allows for the full enjoyment and expression of all 24 hours.
But why stillness? Why is it so important? D.H. Lawrence wrote, “One’s action ought to come out of an achieved stillness: not to be mere rushing on.” Stillness brings inspiration; it allows one to be able to think more clearly and be more conscious of one’s ideas and actions. As a person with a cluttered mind, it would be nice to be able to sort through my thoughts in order to make sense of them, like Mrs. Darling in Peter Pan. Because I foresee that it will be difficult to achieve, I want it even more. We always want what we do not have, and I wish to gain stillness all the more because of its absence in my life.
I’ve been a student of yoga for about a year and a half now, goaded into it by my mother but continuing because of myself. When meditating, the practice is to not simply ignore the thoughts that come, but rather to acknowledge them and then return attention to the breath. I’ve tried this and depending on the day of the week, it works. Not always, but sometimes. It’s important to recognize that there are distractions in life, but to take time to be away from them and just be. However, my main trouble is always coming back to the breath. Throughout the day, my mind is always running, but in fits and starts. I think one task at a time, but one task leads to another and by the end of the day I have fifteen different things written on my hand. It’s kind of like that commercial with Ellen DeGeneres. When I try to clear my mind, suddenly all the things I have to do are laid out in front of me and I can see from one task to the next, rather than a jumble of things that will later be smeared across my palm. This is the exact opposite of the stillness I am trying to achieve, and simply leaves me feeling frustrated. Why can’t I quiet my mind? Why isn’t stillness of the mind as simple as the stillness of sleep?
The only thing I can think of is that it’s going to take time. Just as I have to wait for sleep to come after I’ve decided to be still, I’m going to have to practice quieting my mind in order for true stillness and peace to come. For now, I’m going to be thankful for the peace of mind I do have, and appreciate all the little things that make my life so full, loving the chaotic soul that I am. With time, the mind-quiet will come. As with anything, it’s just going to take some time.
P.S. Great song.
“Not only is another world possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.” –Arundhati Roy