Are you busy?
Because this article has got out of hand. Just counted—it’s 5,000 words. Isn’t that like a book or something?
And it includes stories about my enchanted homeland of New Zealand (kidding about the enchanted part).
And I talk about how my parents tried to give me away because I was so embarrassing (wild exaggeration dipped in creative license with a garnish of hardly true at all).
And it has 63 drawings.
And you know how some bloggers are master artists who craft their drawings to look simple and childlike?
I’m actually trying as hard as I can.
What I’m trying to say is, this article is a bit out there. So I understand if you want to take off and use this time to find another blog on this topic that doesn’t have pictures or oddball asides.
We’ll still be cool.
95% cool, at least.
But it does include some rare stuff. Such as why you should never feel guilty about your meditation practice, or about not having a meditation practice at all.
I’ll also walk you through a kind of lazy person’s guide to meditation where you don’t even have to meditate. Sounds confusing but it’ll make sense later.
Plus, there’s the surprising meaning-of-life type lesson I learned during my peculiar year of silence.
These insights changed my life. They might change yours. And, even if the change is small, it all helps, right?
So it might be worth it—even with all the pictures. (Especially if you’re prone to worry, confusion, insecurity, or if you’re not feeling grounded. This stuff seems to be particularly useful for folks like us).
My take on traditional meditation
As you probably know, meditation is a simple exercise where you try to focus your mind. We often think of it as a Buddhist practice, though it’s common in many religions, and the discipline itself isn’t religious.
Meditation goes like this. You focus on something like, say, your breathing.
Around and around you go, thinking about everything from the laundry to your kid’s homework, from the state of your fake tan to what you should wear to work tomorrow.
Then, you remember!
About 20 years ago, I learned about mindfulness and meditation in a class taught by an ex-Buddhist monk. He was kind and gentle (of course). None of the class had a clue what we were in for. We just wanted to feel less stressed.
For the first time I began to see my thoughts as separate from me. It became easier not to get caught up in them.
And it felt good to take time out.
For the next few years, I was amazing, as in, amazing at practicing meditation somewhat regularly.
I wasn’t good at it. Is anyone? We all have racing, chatty minds.
The point is, I did it.
Meditation is officially trendy
It’s the new gadget. It’s coconut ice cream. It’s teen-star-rebrands-as-bad-boy.
Proof that Meditation/Mindfulness Has Celebrity Status:
- Mindfulness was the cover story on the February issue of Time magazine.
- Movies are being made about it: Escape Fire, The Mindfulness Movie, Focus the Mind
- U.S. Senator Tim Ryan wrote a book called The Mindful Nation and is advocating mindfulness across the board.
- Oprah and Arianna are always talking about it.
- Schools are teaching it.
- Doctors are recommending it.
- The United States Army is even doing it.
It’s the perfect antidote to our busy “always-on” world. Perfect if you’re stressed out from work (especially when “work” is killing people).
In short, it’s awfully good for you. And for people who rock at meditating, hats off.
The problem for some of us
Meditation is hard.
Ok. So, it’s not so hard. All you’re doing is watching your breath or whatever. But, it can be difficult to stop what you’re doing and think, right, I’m going to do my chants now.
You know how one day you can be really disciplined, and then something happens and you’re not anymore?
When I got M.E./Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, everything changed.
Instead of hanging out with friends, I hung out with my parents’ cat. Instead of going to beer-drinking parties, I went to colon-cleansing parties. (Strictly speaking, it was less a “party” and more just a trip to the clinic.)
Instead of looking deep into the eyes of my boyfriend (who eventually broke up with me because I never left the house, fair call), I had an iridologist look deep into the eyes of me.
Plus a lot more things. It’s too boring to tell you all of them.
I filled my days reading and watching television. I knew the public radio schedule like I knew the pattern on my duvet.
I cross-stitched. I Sudoku’d.
I even learned about the game of cricket. For you Americans, this game can last up to five days. Bowl overarm. Hard red ball. Run between “wickets.”
But I never meditated. Not once.
I had the time. I had the tapes. I thought about doing it. But I never did.
We could say, “Lazy Lisa. Why was Lisa so lazy about meditation?” Or we could say, “Maybe there was a another way that would have suited Lisa better. She just wasn’t aware of it yet.”
(Choose option 2 or we can’t be friends.)
How I learned an easier type of meditation
I can’t recall how I came upon Granity, but when I did, I moved there.
The west coast of New Zealand is a “wild, scenic wonderland” with rainforests and glaciers. And peculiar rock formations, most famously ones that look like pancake stacks. (Punakaiki).
Granity is a small, coal mining village in the middle of all that.
One road. Temperate climate. Cheap housing. Population 105, including neighboring villages.
It was the perfect place to finish recuperating and grow vegetables.
MY LIFE IN GRANITY:
- Boyfriend: one
- Dogs: two
- Vegetable patches: three (until the oxalis weed got one. Damn you oxalis!)
- Animals grazing in back paddock: three (horse, goat, sheep)
- Neighbors with chickens: four
- Large freshly-skinned animal pelts left on my front lawn: one (I still have no idea why)
- Number of times I stood on my front porch, naked, and looked up to see miners waiting for early morning bus: one (In my defense, when you live somewhere with so few people, you forget there are people.)
- Job: none — it was time to get one.
JOB OPTIONS IN GRANITY:
- Cafe worker at either The Blue Zephyr Chip shop or Drifters Cafe
- Coal miner
- Snail hunter for the rare Powelliphanta augusta snail, often in fog and rain (best snail-finding conditions). Employed by Stockton mine as a way to appease conservationists before bulldozing down forests. Snails live in ice cream containers in the ‘fridge. Some are re-introduced, but it’s difficult when their unique habitat has been destroyed. You can read about it here and here. Not now. After you’ve read this article.)
Snail-hunting and driving mega–ton diggers for 12 hours a day aren’t “ease into work slowly” kind of jobs. And while I love cafe work, I worried about committing; my health still fluctuated and a common cold could lay me out for months.
Solution: Start Own Business—That Will Be Easier
(If you have your own business, you’ll know how funny that is.)
So I started New Zealand’s first online sexuality bookstore. Yes, that’s what I said. It was 2005 and internet retail was just starting. I wanted to help people feel more relaxed about their sexuality. Besides, people were uncomfortable shopping at their local bookstores … small towns and all. And the variety was limited, too.
It was to my parents.
Over the next few years I learned about online retail and running a business. I used a bank loan I’d taken out to renovate my house and instead imported books from around the world.
I had stalls at various sexpos around the country. Yes, I said “sexpos.” My little bookshop and I gained national media attention in popular women’s magazines and in daily newspapers around the country.
I thought the favorable response would help my parents.
THINGS I’M GOOD AT:
- Preparing meals quickly.
- Packing a picnic
- Making a meal “out of nothing.” (The next time there’s “nothing to eat” at your place, invite me over. I’ll make dinner … fast!)
You could say I’m highly skilled in everyday food preparation. Not surprisingly, running a bookstore requires none of these skills.
I was a first-time business owner, working hard, with no clue about what I was doing. And I was alone in an isolated, little town.
To make things worse, as the months and years went by, I started to feel sick again.
This is how scared I was about being sick for the rest of my life.
Ever had a moment that changed everything?
I told a friend how terrible I felt and that I needed to go on a retreat. He said if I wanted a real retreat, I shouldn’t do what everyone else does and distract myself with things like books and nature.
He said that if I wanted a real retreat, I needed to, “… close the curtains and, with as few distractions as possible, just sit.”
Kind of like a do-nothing retreat.
He said, “The less you do, the better. This is very difficult. Just see how you go—even if you just do it for one day.”
TIPS FOR DOING NOTHING:
- Don’t try and change your thoughts, just let them run. Uh huh.
- Don’t spend all your time cleaning. No worries. Excellent. Consider it done.
- Don’t cook complicated meals. Marginally more likely, but okey doke.
- Can induce madness. WTF??
- If you do go mad, don’t worry. You should revert to being non-mad when you’re done. Reassuring.
He said that, in silence, our dysfunctional habits and beliefs bubble to the surface and then fix themselves:
The “doing-nothing-in-my-own-home” retreat was more in my budget than one of those “fake-but-wonderful-sounding” retreats. The “it- might-cause-madness” aspect was disconcerting, but I didn’t feel that great anyway.
Plus, there was this whole extremely-terrified-about-my-life-staying-like-this-forever thing.
So I did it, right?
Well, I really wasn’t sure if I could do it.
So, to give myself the best chance, I implemented a TEMPTATION REMOVAL STRATEGY:
- Take modem, radio and telephone to friend’s house.
- Move magazines and books from bedside table into uninhabitable, messy bedroom.
- Put television in garage.
The first day …
I’d like to say it was all amazing. But often it wasn’t. And it sometimes was.
First it went like this.
Then, like this.
Then I started thinking about noises I could hear outside, like kids going to school, cars going past.
I thought about how sad I still was that some old friends hadn’t want to be friends; even though I understood and wasn’t annoyed anymore.
I thought about times like when my friend Rachel and I went door to door “collecting for charity” with an empty spaghetti tin. How ashamed Mum was. How she said she couldn’t tell my dad or my brother or sister because I was just too deceitful and bad. And how, for the next ten years, no matter what awards or accolades I got at school, I knew that Mum and I knew the “truth” about me.
Then the yucky thoughts became not so yucky. And the voice telling me to get up and do something—anything—got quieter again.
And then, I got this “Hello Xanadu! Isn’t life wonderful?” feeling.
I felt connected to everything.
And then I’d start to worry again.
Like when the lawn guy came round but I couldn’t bring myself to answer the door and spent the next few hours curled in a ball worrying about not paying him.
Around in circles like that.
Other strange things happened
Regular, everyday foods started to taste like they’d been prepared in the finest kitchen by the finest chef.
And one time … okay, two times … I was so anxious, I wanted to—for the first time in my life—
I mean, why would I want to do that? I’m a real baby when it comes to cuts and scrapes.
It just seemed, for a while, that it might distract me from my thoughts.
Eventually my thoughts shifted to something else. And the kitchen knife returned to being just a good option for slicing potatoes.
Was I mad?
I decided I wasn’t. Actually, I was starting to feel better. Just a little bit.
After about five days, I called my friend. And, with his guidance, I began to understand what was happening.
He said that what I was doing was meditation. He said that the “follow your breath meditation” was one way, but so was this.
I told him my mind was systematically going back over, well, it seemed like everything. And he said, “Yes, this is what happens.”
He said letting my thoughts run, without trying to change them, was very healing. He said my mind was looking for “sticky bits” and would sometimes go over things multiple times.
After a few weeks, drunk on the idea that this might actually “fix” me, I decided to dedicate the whole year to it.
This seems strange now. In my defense, I was pretty messed up.
NOTE: If you’re feeling in need of some “fixing,” stick around. You don’t have to do anything as extreme as I did; in fact, it’s better not to.
The practical and glamorous day-to-day practicalities
I lied. It wasn’t glamorous, but let’s pretend it was.
The basic routine: Get up. Eat breakfast.
Sit again. Eat again. Sit again. And so on.
I didn’t use a clock or time myself or anything. I knew, roughly, the time of day by how hungry I felt and by noises, like the school bus going past.
Exercise: My two dogs, Maltese terriers Max and Rocky, and I went for walks along the beach most days.
The Bookstore: I processed orders and paid bills for a few hours each week.
Fresh vegetables: I grew most of my own.
Groceries: I shopped as little as possible, always buying in bulk.
I later discovered that locals speculated about what I did with all the milk I bought. Was I bathing in the milk? Making milk soap? Correct answer: I was making protein drinks.
Isn’t it boring sitting around, doing nothing?
Yeah, about that: No.
Aside from hurtling between feeling so wretched you want to stab yourself and a sense of blissful enchantment, you get ideas.
Which you want to write down… because they’re so profound.
I ignored most of then. But then one day …
I was curled up, wracked with some insecurity or another, when a thought arrived in a reassuring bunch of words. The words were like an antidote to how I was feeling. And they had rhythm, which was nice.
So I made a poster out of them. Nothing fancy. Yet, they were surprisingly calming.
I made over 50 in the end. They span the gamut of common, but faulty, beliefs that lie at the heart of our insecurities, unhappiness, fears and worries.
For instance, this one called “Perfect” helped me not worry about things I could have done differently.
This one, “Possessions,” reminded me that, while we hitch our sense of self worth to any number of external things, we’re none of them.
And this one, “It Doesn’t Matter,” reminded me that things aren’t nearly as critical as I think.
I’d stare at them for hours which, when compared to staring into space, felt like watching TV:
I call them Big Calm Cards. (Originally called “Life Cards.”) You can read more about them here.
It’s good to find out how to do things more easily
It’s not that I’m lazy. Well, sometimes I am lazy. It’s just that finding a way to do something that takes less effort, less time, etc., makes sense.
Take something like keeping your paperwork straight, an annoying job for most of us. It’s just better when you find a way that makes it easier for you.
THE LISA PAPERWORK HANDLING METHOD™:
1. Open all mail. Do not try to file anything. You’ll only fail. Put all invoices, account statements and other critical material, like that insane gluten-free chocolate cake recipe, in box under desk for “when you’re ready.”
2. When you’re ready (box is overflowing or you need to find something), empty box onto floor.
3. Now’s your time to shine. Collate. Highlight. Staple. Hole punch. Put into a binder. Make dividers by turning a page on its side and stapling a tuck. Nothing fancy, just get it done.
If I were a file-things-immediately kind of girl, I’d do that instead. But I’m not.
And so, just as my paperwork handling method is true to me, doing nothing is my way to feel grounded and “meditated.”
And, the great part is, no matter how unmotivated or cranky or tired I am, I can do it.
Why Doing Nothing is so effective and easy
There are no hurdles. You don’t have to do anything other than stop.
Anyone can do this!
You can put your book down and just sit there.
You can turn off the TV and just sit there.
You don’t need to be anywhere special. You could be sitting on a plane or waiting for a bus.
When I think back to all those years I spent feeling bad about not meditating, I’m sure as heck certain I could have turned the radio off and just sat there for half an hour … especially if I’d known how good it would be for me.
The thing is — and this MAJOR IMPORTANT — you absolutely, completely don’t have to do it for a long stretch to get the benefits!
Just do nothing for a little bit and then a little bit more when you can. It adds up. Or, as your math teacher would say, it’s cumulative.
We’re brought up to believe if we want to feel good, we need to DO something to make it happen, like:
- Want to relax? Practice this relaxation technique.
- Want to feel more spiritual? Read these books.
- Want to be a happy adult? Get good grades at school and take extra AP classes.
- Want a good job? Go to college. Although, this is rapidly becoming: Want a good job, a real education and avoid a lifetime of debt? Get a job.
But sometimes doing nothing is more powerful than doing something.
Every time you pay less attention to your mind, you can hear your heart more. Your belief in yourself gets stronger. You start to feel more secure. You feel less dependent on things to feel good. And you begin to know you’ll be okay, no matter what happens.
You might not notice any difference … at first, anyway. But every time you do nothing, things shift.
This morning I read that Jon Morrow, one of my favorite bloggers, spends 30 minutes each day doing nothing. Of course he does! In fact, most highly productive, creative people do.
How does the story end?
Did I fix myself?
Am I, like, calm all the time?
What happened to that pretty pink dress?
Well, things are different all right.
I live in Los Angeles, for starters. I got married. I started this blog and I’m learning to sing, play guitar and roller-blade.
I haven’t fixed all those faulty beliefs because it doesn’t work like that. However, being aware of them makes it easier to own my own crappola and not dump it all over my husband.
I still don’t practice meditation, the formal kind. And I never, EVER worry about it.
And the pink dress wasn’t real. It was pretty, though, wasn’t it?
What about doing nothing? Do you still do it?
For a couple of years I craved it and did it often. But, as time passed, I found myself doing it less. Which is cool. It’s nice not to be in a place where the best thing to do is to stare at your bedroom wall for months on end.
But, every now and again, I’m reminded about how freaking priceless it is. I had a moment like this recently, sparked by returning home exhausted from a holiday down under.
Last year we won a trip to Australia (raffle at Santa Monica Music Festival)!
Thank you, Tourism Australia. And Qantas who really is a wonderful airline. They didn’t even ask me to say that.
Our holiday looked like this.
- 7 time zones
- 8 flights
- 6 boat rides
- 20 different beds
- 1 speeding ticket
- 1 killer bird fiasco (next article)
- 412 meals of Corn Thins™ and hummus
Normally, I can easily adjust to the local time. I do that thing where you set your watch to the new time as soon as you get on the plane.
But we were doing it every two or three days.
I was so tired, putting my head on my tray table felt like lying on a bed of silky cushions. I couldn’t even catch a 30–minute recharge nap in the hotel without falling asleep for half a day.
The point is, as lovely as it all was—and it really was wonderful—by the time we arrived home, I felt disconnected and depressed.
For the next few days, we stayed inside. I puttered about saying, “Look, we’re still in one place.” We watched the last three episodes of House of Cards. Sort of. I slept through two.
On Sunday night, my husband Franco said
Except the sheets were clean. The floor under the bed was clean, as in washed, as in on my hands and knees washed. I am amazing. Or I would be if I didn’t feel the urge to tell you, thus proving how rare this was.
(Re-sampling is when you reduce the size of an image in bytes without reducing the dimensions. Blogging geeks: I use ImageOptim 2)
I looked at my laptop and thought
But this feels so good already.
Then I look at my book.
And the same thing. Sure reading feels good. But as good as this?
Nothing was more pleasurable than just lying there.
I barely moved, like, for a couple of hours. Or an hour. I can’t remember.
The trick our mind plays on us
It’s easy to think that, to relax, we have to watch TV or read … to do something, in other words. But this is just our mind wanting us to keep busy.
May I suggest that you experiment with simply doing nothing?
Let your thoughts do as they please, which they tend to do anyway. Watch them if you want to. Or just lie there and not consider them.
Either way, you can bet they’ll want you to get busy.
Experiment with what happens when you don’t do what they say.
It might not feel like you’re meditating, but you are!
The unexpected and humongous life lesson that bowled me over
Meditation (whichever way you do it: traditional or my lazier version) is just a tool. It’s a tool that can teach us we aren’t our thoughts. It’s a tool to help us connect with that bit of us beneath our mind. And, it’s a tool to teach us we don’t have to do every dopey thing our mind tells us.
But you know what? It doesn’t matter whether you do it or not.
It is a great way to help you feel more calm, grounded, and a bunch of other good things.
But it doesn’t actually matter.
This is confusing. Especially since I’ve just gone on about how killer it is. Bear with me.
The mistake people make when trying to heal is to become blind to the bigger picture.
You want to feel good, right?
So what do we do? We try and learn how to do this.
But, in the process of trying to heal and be more peaceful, we can judge ourselves mercilessly.
We think there is something wrong with us for not being 100% completely self-assured. We see our insecurities as signs that we’re doing something wrong. And if we try a certain technique then fail at it in little or big ways, we feel bad for not succeeding.
(You wouldn’t believe the mess I got myself into worrying about whether I was being successful at “doing nothing.”)
This is looking at it topsy-turvy.
Inner peace isn’t a destination in front of us. It’s already within us, waiting to be uncovered. And what it all boils down to, is simple. Self love.
Our screw-ups and insecurities are not barriers, they’re the way through.
This is why you should never feel bad about NOT meditating
Since our aim is to uncover our sense of inner love, it’s counter-productive to ever feel inadequate about not meditating. Being cool with whatever you do, is more important.
You’re practicing self-acceptance.
Now, when I learn a new idea or technique, and I fail to some degree, I use it as an opportunity to practice.
I started my year of silence to try to get somewhere. But, as time went by, I realized that everything that caused me pain was on the surface of me, in my mind, in the faulty beliefs I’d picked up along the way.
I’m still eager for my insecurities to pass. But now, I don’t worry about them. I know they’ll leave in time.
The more I accept who I am—in all my foul and wanton glory—the closer I get to feeling genuinely and unconditionally okay.
You are the owner of a wise, creative and powerful self-correcting system
If you feel like your life is on a lean (in the toilet), know that if you make a bit of space for yourself, things often jiggle themselves back into place all on their own.
Get help when you need it. Talk to people. Watch movies during the day. Be lazier than you think you should.
And when you feel like you’re standing in a pool of inadequacy, know that this is just a trick your mind is playing on you. You’re doing fine.
Be kind and gentle with your wonderful self!
Thanks so much for your time. 🙂
If you’d like to say hi, share any thoughts and/or insights you’ve picked up along the way, or say which is your favorite picture (I think mine is the Rolodex one), I’d love to hear from you, and I’m sure others would, too. Just write a note in the comments section below. I’m not always able to respond to emails so this is the best way to connect!
More about the author
The Weird Story of my Year of Silence (Plus a Lazy Person's Guide to Meditation)