March 16, 2016

The “Do Nothing” Antidote for our Hot, Messy Selves.

hot mess crying girl sad anxious

I had all the labels of success: married with a child, a house in the suburbs and an impressive title as vice president at a major advertising firm.

I could write presentations while watching my son’s Little League games, go grocery shopping during my “lunch break” and even clean the toilet (in my suit, no less) if there was just an extra minute before heading to the office. I distinctly remember my husband asking why I never sit down. “If I rest, I’ll get tired. I have to keep going,” was my reply.

Going, going, going. Doing, doing, doing. The thought of “non-doing” was incomprehensible. Meditation was definitely not on my radar. Who has time for meditation? What a waste of time, right? Sit still with my eyes closed? I have things to do.

The migraines started and grew in frequency. My back went into spasms, driving me to the hospital. I had insomnia. The doctors prescribed pills and physical therapy. My husband prescribed a glass of wine and had it poured and waiting for me every night.

Stress is a funny thing. It can build up slowly and go unnoticed. My teacher, Sarah McLean, uses the metaphor of stress building like dust.  You don’t see the dust build on the table…until you can write your name with your finger through it. Stress was slowly building in my life, but I had my hands in my pockets.

I was back at the doctor’s office again. After waiting for over an hour on my “lunch break,” I was anxious. My heart was racing, my toes were tapping and my jaw was clinched hard. I was working on an important presentation and had to get back to my computer. Deadlines were looming. When I finally saw my doctor, I suppose I was a tad bit curt. The doctor didn’t say much, just slowly turned her back to me and started to write. This made me even more anxious. I could feel the blood rise up into my head.

“What are you writing?” I demanded to know.

“I am writing you a note of disability. You have six months to find a new job,” she calmly said.

We didn’t discuss much—I just took the note and left for the parking lot. Then I sat in my car and cried. But just for a moment. After all, I didn’t have much time to waste. I had things to do. I composed myself, tore up the note and headed back to the office to work…and find a new doctor.

We are all busy “doing.”

Our culture thrives on it. Multi-tasking is glorified. Our self worth is often linked to this sense of productivity. Getting things done makes us feel good. And even when we do have “down time,” we usually pack it with social engagements and activities. Being still, non-doing, can be terrifying. And we often don’t even recognize the fear in it.

The stress continued to build in my job. The agency was bought out and slowly the office dissolved. People quit, people got laid off. Of course I stuck it out—and was eventually given my pink slip. There was an odd sense of relief and my husband urged me to “take a break” for my health, for our marriage, for the benefit of all humanity. I reluctantly agreed.

The silence was scary. It was hard to adjust from multiple conference calls, meetings and deadlines to an empty email box. How was the world surviving without me? Where were all the people who needed me? And then the dreaded thought…my gosh, how much self worth have I attached to my job?

And so I started to ask “Who am I?” Behind all the labels of vice president, mother, wife, daughter, sister…who was I anyway?

I continued to freelance at several marketing firms, picking up projects when they came my way. During this time I was also able to write. And it was with my writing that I bumped into meditation again. I was writing a travel article about Sedona that featured the McLean Meditation Institute. I was instantly hooked. As I see it, meditation found me…again. I had meditated when I was younger, but my practice was all but forgotten. Meditation nudged itself back into my life. I believe the universe gives you exactly what you need when you need it. And I certainly needed meditation.

I sit with my eyes closed, attention focused on my breath. I feel the subtle sensations of my inhale and exhale. I feel my belly expand and stretch as I breathe in; I feel the rise of my chest, I hear the sound of my breath. I even notice the natural pause in the breath—the pause between the exhale and the inhale. My mind wonders but I gently bring the focus from the thoughts back to the breath. My focus is on the breath, but eventually I slip into a state of non-doing. And it is beautiful. And I’m no longer a hot mess.

And I no longer work in marketing. Instead I serve as a course advisor for the McLean Meditation Institute, helping students who are studying to be meditation teachers. I also guide weekly meditations, teach private sessions and hold occasional workshops. I particularly relate to the students who see me for anxiety. And there are many.

There is no doing in meditation. It just is. I am just being.

And while this can sound unproductive, instead I have found it to be the most productive activity of my life. Doing nothing saved me. So I guess there is some doing in the non-doing…that is, once you open your eyes.


Author: Christine Rolfe

Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photo: Lookcatalog/Flickr

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