Be Still

Enneagram 5s have the vice of avarice. When I first read that, I equated it to greed and dismissed the accuracy of the personality type. But then my friend explained that it isn’t greed as in getting stuff, but a frustration to share what you treasure with people who don’t respect it. Avarice is an urge to hold close the thing you most desire.

I treasure time.

William Sleator’s “Singularity” tells the story about two twins who find a shed where time moves more slowly. The rest of the plot is a bit hazy to me: one of the twins decides to stay in the shed a whole day so that one of them can become a year older than his brother and there’s some sort of monster thing that comes out of the sink. None of that stuck. I can’t even remember how the time shed works: if it moves more slowly in the shed so that you can do a lot of stuff and then come out and very little time has happened on earth, or if it moves slowly so that when you go in, what feels like a few moments is a long time on earth.

Either way, I remember the shed. And I want one of the former ilk: I can go into the shed and do a bunch of stuff and very little time would have passed on earth. Of course there are problems to this scenario. The temptation to use the shed often would end up with my mysteriously aging so much faster than other women of my “age.” But I promise myself that I would be judicious with my shed time. Maybe take naps, give my skin a break from the sun, only use it just a little bit to take the stress off of how little time I have in a day. Just short visits so that I can finish my to do list that can never be finished. How much of your life does a pack of cigarettes take away? It would be like that except my skin would be dewy.

Pico Iyer says he wrote The Art of Stillness as a small book so that it could be finished in one sitting. And I did that: finished it in one sitting late Saturday night when my body was weeping for sleep and my mind was still screaming chaos from the rush rush rush of the day. My first reaction to the book was not quite anger but something close. I could think of a million reasons why completely stopping their lives for periods of sustained stillness work for two men (Iyer and Leonard Cohen) but wouldn’t actually work for me. I believe I actually said out loud, “They have the privilege and luxury of stillness.”

But then I caught myself. Because what is interesting about my reaction is not that there’s any unfairness in Iyer’s privilege, but that his book touches on something I struggle with and haven’t figure out yet how to resolve. I’m jealous. I envy Iyer because he’s “over there” and I am still stuck “here.”

I am drawn to books that address the aspects of my life that are out of balance. And my balance of busy with stillness is terribly askew.

I know this. So I started my journey into stillness this summer. I wanted to fix that something inside me that was unaligned making my outside life no longer match what I felt on the inside. For ten weeks, I made myself meditate silently for at least 20 minutes each day.

I had to make myself do it because seeking stillness sucked. I couldn’t turn off my mind. Which is like a room where every morning as soon as I am conscious, someone throws a handful of bouncy balls into it, and they ping around until I fall unconscious again. Surely, I thought that at some point, I’d reach a moment where I’d have at least one meditation session where I the bouncy balls would still, but if those moments happened, I didn’t know because I had fallen asleep.

I had a similar almost-anger reaction to Eat, Pray, Love when I read it for the first time. Then, I too was a woman who cried late at night on her bathroom floor, But ten years ago, I didn’t feel empowered to change my state. So I resented Gilbert and told myself the same lie I told myself about Iyer: “she has privilege I lack. I’m stuck here.”

A decade has passed since my first read of Gilbert’s book, and I reread it during this summer of stillness-seeking. This time, I got it. I didn’t feel like Liz Gilbert was trying to put her life on mine, she was just trying to tell her story and get at what made sense for her. She even said in the new preface (and my poor paraphrase because I think she was quoting Cheryl Strayed–another author I admire) that her truth didn’t invalidate another’s. My path to the thing I most desired looked different from Gilbert’s, and will look different from Iyer’s.

Sure the essence of the desire is there–being able to say yes to eating, praying, and loving or stillness. But the way which I will get there is different. My vilifying a person because their path isn’t mine and I am jealous of where it got them, doesn’t put me on my path. It lets me avoid it.

I still have to say yes to being still. My angst towards these types of books isn’t that the outcome I desire is out of reach for me, but that I haven’t found out how to tell my story yet.

So where is stillness in my story? I’m not 100% sure, but I think that part of it is in stealing stillness throughout the day and recognizing practices I have that actually do this. I get up usually at 5am. It’s cold and dark and I hate it, but I also crave that hour where everyone else is sleeping and I can read, journal, and yes even meditate.

I walk almost every day. The same route over and over again (It’s a perfect 5K). In that walk I pass the same things but I notice more. There’s one house that no matter how many times I pass it, my heart leaps in delight. There’s spiders I visit. There’s my friend who gets up ass early with me and walks in the cold. In our walks, we catch up on the inanities of the last 24 hours since we saw each other last (and sometimes even fewer hours than that). We work through big problems. We delight in a particularly blowsy rose. Sometimes we are silent; the movement of our bodies for a moment putting the bouncy balls to rest.

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