I was just about to make my list of things to do, when I remembered that “I am” is a complete sentence.
Years ago, in the midst of a move, a divorce, and what felt like a general unraveling of life as I had known it, I often found myself sitting alone on the sofa doing nothing. Thoughts would come into my head like, “Maybe there’s something on TV” or “I could pick up the book that’s on the table in front of me and read” or “I could go work on that thing I’ve been wanting time to work on.” But instead of doing any of those things, I sat in silence by myself.
The sofa felt like a magnet, the silence a calling. I feared that I was on the verge of a major depressive episode, something I'd experienced before in my life. This feeling had a different quality though. I didn’t feel the intense fog and weight I'd experienced with depression, nor the numbness or loss of the sense of self and meaning. I felt still. Perhaps for the first time in a really long time, I didn't feel a sense of urgency or vigilance. The stillness began to feel like a longing or a craving for something I didn’t know I needed. And, in a way, stillness felt like a radical act of defiance in a life that had become so full of action and, at times, drama.
I spoke to my therapist, both about how I was feeling and my concerns that if I allowed the stillness to reign, I would slip into a depression that I wouldn’t be able to crawl out of. She gently asked if she could share her opinion. “I don’t think you're depressed,” she said. “I think you're in a period of contraction.” She told me that it’s natural to have cycles of expansion and contraction. “You’ve been through a lot in the past year,” she added.
Looking back across time, I can see the rhythms of expansion and contraction, stillness and action throughout my life. I also realize how much of my sense of worth and value has been tied up with the idea of being productive, doing something. Sometimes doing something is exactly what's called for. But equally important, for me at least, are the moments of not doing.
I’ve been feeling the call toward stillness again lately.The other day, I was sitting on the sofa when my ten-year-old daughter walked into the room.
“Whatcha doin’?” she asked.
“Nothing,” I replied.
“Are you breathing?” she probed.
"Yes," I smiled, “I am breathing. That’s what I’m doing.”
There’s a lot to soak in right now. Perhaps that goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway. I'll say it because I need the reminder myself. Sometimes being is enough.