The Perils of Busyness and The Power of Sitting Still
* Featured every Tuesday, “Stillnesse Tuesday” aims at sharing stories that inspire and aid the practice of mindful living and slowing down for a more meaningful life.
After one hour practice, my Indian yoga teacher instructed us to do sitting meditation for ten minutes. We sat half-lotus on our mats, with our eyes closed, our back straight, hands rested on knees, palms up. There was no guide from our teacher, no sound breath, no music, no burning incense, no prop. Just complete nothingness. I recalled yoga master Rodney Yee’s whisper: “Let your brain sink in your heart.” I think this is a wonderful thing to do.
However, many of my classmates disliked this part. After the first minute, they bended their backs, moved their shoulders, scratched their heads, opened their eyes to peek at people walking pass the glass door of our studio. Those women were in agony! They must be thinking about work, kids, grocery, laundry, and two hundreds fifty other things they could have done instead. My yoga teacher noticed this but insisted that we continue.
After the ten minutes, he told us that yoga served the body, the mind and the soul, and that there was no use in doing a perfect sun salutation and yet feeling tormented by ten minutes of meditation. He told us to stop being like a monkey.
I also found the term “monkey mind” repeatedly mentioned in the essential book for any writer – and any human, in my opinion – Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg. Being an influential writing teacher, who is admired for adopting spiritual teachings in writing practices, Goldberg explains:
Monkey mind is actually a Buddhist term… Something that creates busyness to keep us away from our true heart. Our whole culture is built on busyness. And that’s why we are so unhappy. But we love busyness. We have to understand it. There’s busyness, there’s monkey mind, and there’s our true heart. What does our true heart want? We have to give it at least 50 percent. Otherwise we fill our whole life with busyness. I have to do this, I’m going here, I’m making that. Daily life is very seductive. Weeks go by and we forget who we are.
Goldberg’s passage made me pause for a moment. It is a wake up call in our modern society which worships productivity and speed. Productivity is a blessing if it helps us to reach our dreams. Productivity is a curse if it distracts us from enjoying the present and being in touch with ourselves.
So if you find yourself whining about your busy life but cannot sit still for a minute, there is something wrong.
I was there, I know.
Two years ago, I used to complain about my “hectic schedule” and my “crazy day” with a hint of pride. I inserted squeezed meetings in my Google Calendar with secret satisfaction, as if the busier I was, the more important, needed, and useful I became. The truth is: I was afraid of being alone with myself. I dashed through my to-dos during the day. And cried myself to sleep during the night. It was a very sad way to live life.
The renowned Zen Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh gives us an antidote for this predicament in his powerful little book Peace Is Every Step:
Often, we tell ourselves, “Don’t just sit there, do something!” But when we practice awareness, we discover something unusual. We discover that the opposite may be more helpful: “Don’t just do something, sit there!” We must learn to stop from time to time in order to see clearly. At first, “stopping” may look like a kind of resistance to modern life, but it is not. It is not just a reaction; it is a way of life. Humankind’s survival depends on our ability to stop rushing. We have more than 50,000 nuclear bombs, and yet we cannot stop making more. “Stopping” is not only to stop the negative, but to allow the positive healing to take place.
This is so true. It is transformational to realize the true relationship between our level of busyness – our drunken monkey – with our worth and helpfulness to the world: there is no relationship at all.
As I stood at the corner of the street to my house and watched the old baker joyously arranging her bakery, filling the air with wonderful smell of fresh baguettes, I thought her existence means so much more to the world than a productive executive of a tobacco company, who has no time to read bedtime story for his son.
I’m not saying that we should all bake cakes, or sit all day on our couch smiling beatifically. I’m saying that mindless productivity hurts ourselves and the world. And that we can choose to walk, run, or even fly to our dreams, with flowers in our hair.
What about you?
Do you find your life busy?
If so, try sitting still for ten minutes, doing absolutely nothing. It might be harder than you think.
More on mindfulness, read on There are Two Ways to Wash Dishes, and to Achieve our Goals in Life or Want to Change the World? Mediate and Wash the Dishes
- - -
It takes many hours of “heart work” to bring you Life. Let me know that I’m doing something right by: