“Just Being” Practice

•December 21, 2009 • Leave a Comment

In case you haven’t noticed, it’s holiday time. You really don’t have to work too hard to find frustrating situations where you can practice “Just Being” (see last post). But in case you need some inspiration, here it is. 

Yesterday I was at the grocery store. All I needed was half-n-half and I was running late for a meeting.  So I thought What the hell. I’ll go through the self-serve express checkout. There was only one woman in front of me so I was prepared to wait all of maybe 45 seconds. Nope. The woman couldn’t figure out how to scan her items.

She had to press a special button which made the light on the checkout blink and we had to wait for a clerk to come and help her use the self-checkout machine. Then she had a stack (no, I’m not exaggerating) of coupons that she pulled out of her purse which would have been fine except she wasn’t sure which coupons she could use for this particular shopping trip. So then a coupon organization party ensued. Finally, she got all of her coupons organized. She then had to ask for special assistance on how to scan them (by this time the self-checkout attendant was visibly irritated as was I.)

There were my thoughts: This is ridiculous. I chose the self-checkout lane to get out of here FASTER. I’m going to be late. I don’t want to be here all day. I have a million things to do. What’s with this lady? Why didn’t she take a look at all of those coupons before she got in line? Why did she even choose this line anyway if she can’t figure out to use this machine?

Then I remembered to take my own advice and to just be.( I DID just write a blog post on just being, didn’t I?)  I decided to stand there in line and JUST BE. There really wasn’t much else to do. If I attached to my thoughts, they brought me stress. If I believed that this lady in front of me should be moving ANY faster than she really was, I would be arguing with reality (and we all know how far THAT gets us). So I just stood there and decided to be: woman in line behind a very slow woman in line, just being.  I decided to see how my feet felt in my shoes. I checked in with my toes. I focused on my breathing.

By the time the woman was done, I felt calm and peaceful. I was going into a meeting late, but happy and not worried. It’s amazing what happens when you learn to just be.


Practice: This week, find a situation where you are forced to wait longer than you intended (in line at the store, on a phone hold, waiting for a parking spot at the mall). Watch the thoughts that go through your head. Just observe them without placing judgment on them. Remind yourself (if you can catch yourself in these thoughts) to JUST BE. Focus on your breathing, or your feet or your hands. See if you can locate that center of peace where you just in the moment.


To Just Be

•December 18, 2009 • Leave a Comment

Twelve years ago, on Christmas Day, I was in a hospital in Chicago. It was late, very late because a nurse hadn’t come around in quite some time and it was quiet. Although the curtains were pulled shut, I was pretty sure it was snowing. There was that peaceful softness in the air that comes when it snows.

I was alone, with my thoughts, and I was thinking about two things. One was my health which seemed uncomfortably uncertain at the moment. I was also thinking about all of the shiny, gold-wrapped presents that I had put under the tree the day before. This year, I would not get to see anyone open their gifts. It was such a huge disappointment, on top of everything else. This year I couldn’t drink egg nog because of the chemo; this year I couldn’t go sledding because I was bald and would get too cold; this year I couldn’t even hang out with my friends who were home from college because my white blood cell count was low.

Then the bad reaction to a new chemo drug, then the news that my tumor was not budging no matter what poison they stuck in my veins, then the excruciating stomach pain, the hurried and frantic trip to the ER, and now, here on Christmas day, trapped in the hospital while the rest of the world celebrated with the people they loved.

This just sucks, I remember thinking. Then this brief journey into self-pity stopped abruptly because a cold and dangerous thought appeared. This may be it.

As in: you may never get better and you may die soon. This may be all that’s left: a hospital bed with thin white sheets, a thick IV taped to your wrists, and your thin, sick, aching body.

It suddenly all felt too short, too quick, this life. This can’t be it, a part of me reasoned. There’s just so much more I have left to do! There’s just so much more I have left to become!

My mind raced forward and started thinking about what I would do if I got well. Looking back, I think this moment was the first time I had ever truly faced my mortality and I wanted a distraction. A pleasant counterargument to the cold, snakelike thought that had just slipped into my awareness.

So I thought of all of the things that I would do when chemo was a thing of the past, when I had hair again. I thought of skiing in the mountains, drinking hot cocoa by a fireplace, lighting a Christmas tree, burning evergreen-scented candles. I thought of laughing with friends at a good restaurant and wearing wool hats and mittens. I thought of searching for gifts at the crowded mall, watching the kids waiting to see Santa,  juggling all of the parties and eating too many cookies. I thought of picking out holiday cards and waiting in a long line at the post office with boxes of presents to send. I thought of the office gift exchange and the overplayed Christmas songs on the radio and the snow and the ice patches and the bitter wind.

I wanted it back. I wanted all of it, the wonderful and the terrible. I wanted it all to be mine again.

It occurred to me then that my primary purpose for regaining health had to do with all of the stuff I wanted to do. And that vision-of me healthy and strong again-was going to take quite a bit of time. Time that I may not have left.

In that moment I realized that lying in a hospital bed on Christmas, not being to do anything, brought with it a kind of soft surrender. Even though the thought of not living was terrifying, even though I found a great deal of inspiration in thinking about the journey back to health, I realized that it was okay to just lie there. To just be. That just being may be all I had left.

If I get better, I thought, I’ll just enjoy the whole human experience. The good with the bad. The struggles with the triumphs. I’ll learn to be grateful for just breathing.  

Well, I got it. I’m still here. I waited in the post office yesterday for 30 minutes. I’ve had more than my fair share of time at the mall with crying kids and impatient crowds. Yep. We’ve got a Christmas tree and it’s full of lights and the evergreen candles are burning as we speak.

I know that this time of year is usually the time when people begin to make their New Year’s resolutions, when they think about what they want to change and what they’d like to improve. A new year brings with it a whole new set of goals and aspirations.

But for me, it’s this time of year when I remind myself to practice how to just be. Like most,  I get caught up in the hustle and bustle of life. But when December rolls around, I remember the experience of being. I’ll remember lying in that hospital bed and surrendering to the human condition. I’ll remember that right now I’m having the experience of a human, being.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’ve got my goals, my five-year plan, my strategic action steps,and a very long list of accomplishments for 2010. I’ve got the resolutions, too. Life wouldn’t be as fun if we weren’t challenged to become better people.

But it’s just as important to take a step back from the busyness of life and to just be. Even if it’s just for five minutes while you wait in line. Just be. Remember that we are all here having a human experience. Despite the struggles, despite the frustrations (and I know there are so many at this time of year) this is IT. This is what it’s like to be a human being.

This is what it’s like to stand in a long line at a store because you want to get a person you love the perfect present. This is what it’s like to attend that awkward office party. This is what it’s like to watch the snow fall outside from your cozy living room. This is what it’s like to feel cold wind on your cheeks. This is what it’s like to hold a warm mug with both of your hands. This is it-this is all of it. The human experience. The experience of being in a life.

This holiday season, may you take it all in. May you find joy, may you find peace. But most of all, may you remember to just be.