Photo by Jon Jacobsen
“It is the stillness that will save and transform the world.”
Several years ago I lived with a good friend who spoke English as her third language. While she spoke fluently after years of experience, there was one phrase I used that she had trouble grasping at first: Just be.
As in, “After we finish grocery shopping, let’s go to the beach and just be.” She’d always want to finish the sentence. “Just be … relaxing. Just be … writing.”
When I explained what I meant, that I would really just like to sit, observe and exist, without any expectations, she was delighted.
This, she declared, was a very un-American, very un-Western thing to do, which would make sense that why after fifteen years of learning English she’d never heard the phrase.
I read once that we’re called human beings, not human doings, and so I’ve tried in the last several years to just be on a daily basis.
It isn’t easy in a world where we’re constantly plugged in, where calendars beg to be filled and obligations loom around every corner. But it’s not impossible either, and it’s totally worth it.
1. Just being doesn’t mean doing nothing
This was a concept that took me a while to wrap my head around.
For a long time I thought that in order to be, to just be me and nothing else, I must sit and do nothing. That I must be like Henry David Thoreau in Walden, staring out the doorway from sunrise to sunset.
While that sounds nice, it certainly isn’t practical, and for me seems a bit extreme. While I do enjoy sitting on the porch with my tea in the early morning listening to the birds, I also love typing away at my computer after a good workout.
The trick is to be in that moment. As I write away on my latest masterpiece, my vision might go soft for a few seconds as I just sit there, breathing calmly and enjoying it for what it is.
2. Do one thing at a time
I remember when multitasking was something I valued dearly. I was proud of my ability to do several things at once, juggling deadlines and phone calls while walking on the treadmill.
I’m not 100 percent sure here, but I think multitasking is addictive in a way. I found myself pushing to get more done at once, and I started making mistakes. And while I was getting more done, time went so quickly.
When you focus on one task and do it well, you finish more quickly and with fewer mistakes. But you also feel more whole. The phrase “I’m all over the place today,” was common in my vernacular before I adopted this attitude.
Now I feel more calm. More me.
3. Move with purpose
Whether it’s a workout or walking to the bathroom, make deliberate movements. Each one is a choice we make with our body, our vessel while we’re on this planet.
Sometimes when I’d work out, I’d just let my mind wander somewhere else, most of the time to the mental calendar in my head.
I started noticing I was doing this when I was shopping, cooking and even while I was biking on a busy street. I was putting myself in danger by allowing my body to move without my mind. I’d “come to” later and be astonished at how foolish I had been.
When you actively involve your mind in your movements, in your literal actions, you become more responsible for them. You become more integrated and tend to act in harmony.
This allows for greater peace as you’re a more whole being. The side effect of this is that you get better results, without “doing” anything more.
4. Schedule yourself into your day
After my monster to-do list was done, that was when I could spend time just being, I used to tell myself. But as most people can attest, to-do lists never quite disappear.
There was always something else to do. Something more that could be done before it was time to cash in my chips for the day and turn in, wondering again why I couldn’t sleep.
Now, my to-do list includes things like “Be awesome. Knit. Dance like an idiot.” You know, important stuff.
I find the best way to do this is to alternate tasks throughout the day. So if your list includes finishing up a big project, start there. Then do something nice for yourself.
Obviously if you work in an office you’re probably not going to be able to take a five mile hike. But you can go grab a coffee or take a quick walk outside.
Afterward, make that quick phone call about your cable bill that you’ve been putting off. Head back to work on some research for a project.
Then maybe lock yourself in an empty office, turn out the lights and breathe for five minutes. That was one of my favorite things to do when I worked the nine-to-five.
You’ll find that even though you’ve taken a few minutes several times out of your day for yourself, your productivity will soar at work (so your boss will have nothing to complain about) and in life (so that to-do list will still get crossed off) while you’re actually doing less.
And the bonus? Time slows down and you feel so much more alive.
5. Take it easy
Something that has been hard for me to swallow is that just being is a life-long pursuit. I have trouble with the fact that this isn’t something you do for a while, cross of your list and move on. It’s the “doer” in me.
Whenever I get a little worked up about something, my husband will quote one of our favorite comedies: “Take it easy, man.” No matter how crabby I am or how serious the situation seems, I stop and smile. And it’s great advice.
I can’t crack the whip when it comes to just being. I’m not going to get better at it by being more disciplined. It’s a giant paradox, and sometimes, so is life. The only thing you can do is sit back, do what you can, take it easy and enjoy what’s happening right now.
When I look back at the first twenty-odd years of my life, they’re like a reel in fast-forward. I really don’t remember doing any of those things. Not vividly anyway.
But if I consider my last five years when I’ve been working more on just being, I’m amazed and grateful for the richness, vibrancy and color of so many memories, big and small. And things still get done.
About the Author
Rebecca is a fierce optimist who believes in the power of making life happen. After realizing optimism doesn’t jive with journalism, she left newspaper to create her own brand of marketing through education and humor. Balance and mindfulness are her latest pursuits, along with learning to knit. Read her blog and follow her on Twitter for her latest enthusiastic (and sometimes witty) remarks.
>> Click here to see all articles written by Rebecca.
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