Toward the end of my grandmother’s life, you could not visit her unless you were prepared to overeat or spend the entire time fending her off. Friedrich Nietzsche must have endured a long afternoon of being serially offered coffee and nutrolls by my grandmother when he wrote, “ Is not giving a need? Is not receiving a mercy?”
It was tiring to watch and to be with her. She would try to talk with me and ask about Brooklyn, but her intention to sit with me and my mom was like a glass she kept placing on a sloped surface — in a moment it was gone and replaced by the only mode she knew: busy. She’d rise without warning from her perch on the edge of the couch to start flipping through the mail or half-heartedly wipe a countertop. Her restlessness, clothed in chores, reminded me of , the famously neurotic polar bear of the Central Park Zoo, who endlessly swam a figure-eight between rocks and the glass of his habitat.
I’ve been thinking of my grandmother in the last few weeks as I, and so many other industrious New Yorkers, who have long endeavored to cram so much in each day — like hikers trying to reach a mountain pass before nightfall — now find ourselves in an official State of “Pause.” It was so hard for my grandmother to slow down, even when there was little occasion for it, and I imagine that some of us feel the same compulsion to be busy because, strangely, that passes for comfortable.
The hardest part about meditation, for me, has always been starting it. That transition from bustling around my house (doing things) to sitting still or lying down (doing nothing) can be painful and easy to avoid. Painful because it means giving up on the vague dream that I might finish everything and then bask on the couch in the glow of completion. Especially in recent weeks, I’ve felt a jittery, persistent engine driving me from one project or idea to the next, perhaps not unlike how my grandmother felt. I’m a man darting from one room to the next, with the purposefulness of a character from The West Wing, yet just trying to remember where he left his pen.
Plus, I have been snacking as if she never left!
It’s so hard to come down from these elevated states and, counterintuitively, part of us doesn’t want to. The stress response, with its biochemical activations, is important to our survival and we are wired not to discard it prematurely. It’s easier to continue being busy than it is to slow down, even a little.
I just want to acknowledge that this is a hard time and many of us (myself included) struggle to take care of ourselves and process what’s going on — inside and out. That’s why my recommendation especially during this unique crisis is to create a regular external commitment.
Some of my strongest resources recently have been weekly classes or get-togethers. I’ve been doing yoga through my computer (but with my real body!), meditating with friends and strangers, and having Friday coffee with two dear Alexander Technique colleagues. An external commitment that isn’t just a challenge or promise you make to yourself has a way of cutting through our own mental cobwebs and dizzying resistance. We tend not to de-prioritize a commitment we make to someone else. We sign up, pay (that can be important since paying increases accountability), and then, even if much of our day is a wash, we show up with intention and bring some focused effort to at least one thing. That showing up radiates through the other hours and days.
Here are some options from my tiny world:
- Focus & Relax — My weekly meditation and embodiment get together on Zoom, tonight at 8 PM.
- Unconditional Healing Virtual Circles — Each Saturday, Jeff Rubin convenes a free weekly meeting to present relevant teachings on hope and fear, uncertainty, pain and illness, and many other challenging states of human experience. Jeff will also offer specific practices suitable to these times.
- Narrative Healing Labs — 45 minute personal writing sessions guided by the skilled and encouraging Lisa Weinert (done as a group over Zoom).
- Yoga on Glo — A deep library of yoga classes from many experienced teachers. All the way from short ten-minute guided stretch breaks to intensive full-length classes with a range from athletic to contemplative.
If you have a great resource, leave a comment and I’ll add it to this blog post and share on social media.
Originally published at https://www.dancayer.co on April 13, 2020.