Fear of Being Still
I am really bad at being still. Which is not to say that I’m a fidgeter, but more that I can’t sit down for long. The sheer pressure of all the things that Have Not Been Done press down on me and I start to feel claustrophobic (which, otherwise, only affects me in elevators–I got trapped in one my freshman year of college with 24 other people–it was Rush week and I lived on the top floor of the dorm. We were stuck for 2 hours. :SHUDDER:). And then I have to get up and start Doing Things. Putting things away. Finishing the dishes. Wiping down counters. Clearing clutter. Taking out the garbage. [Insert 100 Other Things Here]. It is VERY very rare that I will just sit for long stretches of time. When I do, I’m usually still DOING–writing or reading or watching TV. I am, basically, distracted from my stillness.
And I’ve come to realize lately that I often mistake motion, doing, with progress. This is not a surprise, as I am a hyper-productive kind of person. I mean, when you’re dealing with chores that need to be done, yes there’s visible progress when that pile of laundry shrinks or the counters are suddenly clear. But that does not necessarily apply to EVERYTHING. LOTS of people make poor decisions because they can’t be still, they can’t wait to get more data. Think about it. How many times have you said to yourself, “Oh I’ll just do BLAH because I just can’t THINK about it any more?” [Note: We should all probably take this as a red flag that we aren’t ready to make that actual decision yet.]
This is one of the reasons that the idea of meditation has always been rather anxiety provoking for me. It’s not PRODUCTIVE. I’m sitting there trying to empty my mind, and there’s a ticker tape of Stuff That Needs Doing scrolling through my head, and I’m just sitting. Are you kidding me?
The only time I’m really, truly, willingly still is when I sleep. And actually, if you ask my husband, I’m not still then either. I’m told I flop a lot. And by flop, he means that I launch myself off the bed and roll over in the air, and crash back down. Sorry, sweetie.
The thing that sparked this line of thought was a passage from Brene Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection:
Stillness is not about focusing on nothingness; it’s about creating a clearing. It’s opening up an emotionally clutter-free space and allowing ourselves to feel and think and dream and question.
This really struck me, in particular, in relation to writing.
I am a plotter. This evolution has been a product of long, hard, work to transition myself from native pantser tendencies. A battle of intellect and instinct. And while I’ve made great strides in terms of doing the work, planning my books before I sit down and write, there is often still stuff to do that I will ignore because I want to get on with it.
It’s no mistake that that stuff I want to ignore is the hard stuff. The things I haven’t figured out yet. And it’s easy to tell myself that I’ll figure it out as I go, it’ll emerge as I write (a classic pantser mentality). And sometimes it does. But sometimes it doesn’t. Or it doesn’t until way late in the game, which necessitates going back and cutting stuff and rewriting things to make everything fit properly. The efficiency expert in me cringes at this.
But it’s so freaking HARD. Like, massively anxiety provoking for me to WAIT. To be still and THINK.
Part of it is that I feel like I’m doing NOTHING. I have nothing to SHOW for the waiting. There’s not often a tangible result of THINKING.
Part of it is massive phobia of page fright. The idea that if I stop writing, lose momentum on whatever it is, that I’ll have some kind of writer’s amnesia and forget what the hell I’m doing and how to do it.
Part if it is a true addiction to seeing those word count numbers on my spreadsheet go up and up. Spreadsheets are the crack of progress addicts. Look! See! I made PROGRESS ! See here! 3,000 words! There’s a time and a place for such things, but often that progress can be illusory. What good are those 3,000 words if you wind up cutting 6,000 (as I did yesterday) because you didn’t think something through properly, because you had to just WRITE SOMETHING because you simply couldn’t take the cognitive dissonance of waiting, because waiting feels like failure?
But it’s not failure. I’m trying to work on really believing that. It’s making room, emptying out the clutter so that the right answer can present itself. Because one of the cool things about the brain is that it keeps working on things behind the scenes. While we’re thinking about other stuff. While we’re sleeping. While we’re working out.
I’ve got to learn to trust my deeper instincts.
And that’s why the continued attempts at meditation. To try to train myself to tolerate being still. Graduated immersion therapy.
What about you? Are you afraid of being still?