For the next minute, basically as soon as you’re finished reading this, I want you to stop what you’re doing, stop reading, stop writing, stop everything, and just look around.
Look not out the window, but at the window itself. Fixate on the details, the cracked paint, the exposed brick with the areas that need to be filled in with grout.
Look at your screen, not at what’s on it, but at the screen itself. The plastic molded to metal and glass. The buttons, the part where the casing has come slightly apart.
Look at your hands. Look at the veins, the small horizontal ridges on the backs of your fingers, the shape of your fingernails. Look at your ring and index fingers, noting which one is longer. Turn your hands over, and note the creases in your palms.
Perhaps try to take in as much as possible at once. Instead of zeroing in on one thing and looking at it in detail, focus on the long view. Look at everything in your field of vision at once. Notice the colors, notice the pattern of light. Notice how the parallax of objects changes as you move your head around.
Look at whatever your eyes move to. One minute.
If you’re like me, you’ll find this incredibly difficult to accomplish. There’s nothing like a lack of busyness that causes all of the buzzing of one’s head to come to the fore.
So listen to that buzzing.
What happens when you stop? What do you feel? Do you start to feel anxious? About what? Do you feel the need to get up, to move around? Can you describe the impulse? What is the feeling?
You might not even be able to last an entire minute of non-action. Not at first. But that’s okay, really. If you learn even a little bit about how you operate, how you think and feel, then the whole exercise will be worth it.
On the other hand, don’t spend any longer than a minute or two doing this. The point isn’t a long period of suspended animation; we are not monks. Perhaps think of it less than a stop, than a pause. Everything will resume shortly.
Not just for the holidays
One could say that “during the holidays” the advice to stop and think is most useful. But I don’t think there is a time when ceasing to be busy and instead listening to yourself is not beneficial. It’s not always salutary, of course, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worthwhile. It’s easy to keep in touch with everything around you. It’s much harder, strangely, to keep in touch with yourself.
Stop and think
While visiting Portland years ago, I saw a sign printed out and stapled to a telephone pole. It was a red sheet of paper with large black print, obviously typed out and printed out by someone on a word processor, not by any professional means. It said something like, “for the next sixty seconds, stand still and look up at the sky and think about beautiful the world is.”
While I was touched by the sincerity of the sign (seriously, where else in the world would this sign exist, much less not defaced?), but I never actually followed its advice. I kept walking. The truth is that stopping and thinking is incredibly difficult.
I’ve got tons to do right now. More posts to write, people to contact. But in honor of that sign, the intention behind it, I’m going to sit here and stop…starting…now.
But enough about me: What keeps you from stopping? What did you find when you did? Leave your answer below, after you’ve stopped for a minute, of course.
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