So here’s a change I wasn’t expecting: I’m no longer annoyed by down time. I’m actually welcoming it and appreciating it. At least sometimes.
As regular readers know, I’ve recently begun a secular meditation/ mindfulness practice, based on the evidence-based Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction techniques. There are about eleventy billion ways that this is affecting my life, many of which I didn’t expect going into this and which have taken me very much by surprise… and there’s one in particular that’s both small and profound.
It’s this: I’m no longer being distressed and annoyed by down time.
Not nearly as much, anyway.
I tend to be a very active, goal-oriented person: always in motion, always seeking stimulation, always wanting to be doing something, trying to be super-efficient and fill every waking second with productivity. You know those people who are constantly looking at their phone during any break in the action, when they’re waiting for the bus or waiting in line for coffee or waiting for their email search to quit spinning its wheels and finally freaking open, come on, it’s been ten seconds already for crying out loud, I don’t have all day? That’s me. I’m one of those people. Like I wrote when I wrote about learning to love our play-aggressive cat, and how she had picked me as her favorite: “How is it fair that I got Comet: the high-energy, high-maintenance, perpetually-in-motion sensation junkie with a near-constant need for attention and … oh. Right. Never mind. I totally got the cat I deserve.”
But ever since I started the mindfulness/ meditation practice, I am doing this stuff way, way less. I am seeing the breaks in my life, the minutes and seconds when I don’t have anything particular to do, not as a waste, but as an opportunity.
I’m working on bringing mindfulness into my daily life. I don’t just want to meditate once a day and then run through the rest of my life like a bat out of hell. And I’ve been finding that, if I’m waiting for a bus, or I’m stuck in a line at the coffee place, or whatever, I’m not feeling a pressing need to fill the time. I can fill the time with just… being. Just noticing my surroundings, noticing my thoughts and feelings, noticing my body and my breath. Just being present with my self, and my life, and the people and the world around me.
When I do small pieces of the mindfulness practice throughout the day, I get more out of the practice. So these small moments of down time aren’t irritating me nearly as much as they used to. I’m actively enjoying them, and looking forward to them. I’m seeing them as an opportunity.
I suppose that, to some extent, I’m still being goal-oriented and filling the time with activity here. After all, there is a sense in which paying quiet conscious attention to my self and my surroundings is an activity. And the mindfulness/ meditation practice is a means to an end, as well as an end in itself. I am still me here, I’ll probably always be a hyper-productive, future-oriented go-getter, and I’m actually finding it funny the way I’m working this “be here now” practice into my go-getting. (That’s a topic for another post: the ways in which my life with meditation both is and is not the same, the ways in which this practice is both radically transformative and almost blandly mundane.)
But when I started this practice, I said that I was doing it because, quote, “it offers, or seems to offer, some things I’m in great need of: peace, calm, the ability to be present in the here and now, the ability to sit still, the ability to not constantly be either in motion or feeding my brain with stimulation, the ability to stay centered and focused and keep my mind from racing in a million directions at once like a hummingbird on meth.” And for now at least, that seems to be working.
This practice is helping with a lot of things: depression, anxiety, work productivity, motivation and focus. But I wonder if one of the most valuable things I’m going to get out of it is simply the ability to sit still, or stand still, and not feel like I have to be rushing to do something or get somewhere. I wonder if one of the most valuable things I’m going to get out of it is simply the ability to sit still, or stand still, and not feel anxious or guilty about the waste of my time. I wonder if one of the most valuable things I’m going to get out of it is simply the ability to sit still, or stand still, and be at peace.
Other piece in this series:
On Starting a Secular Meditation Practice
Meditation and Breakfast
Meditation, and the Difference Between Theory and Practice
Some Thoughts on Secular Meditation and Depression/Anxiety
Secular Meditation, and Doing One Thing at a Time
Secular Meditation: “Energy,” and Attention/ Awareness