Sit still. No, I’m serious. Right where you are, right now, sit down, put both your feet flat on the floor and sit still. You’re not doing it. I can see you fidgeting with this newspaper, and you, over there, bouncing your knee, cut it out! And don’t even get me started with all the people who are incessantly clicking their pens at this very moment. I just want you to sit still and breathe. I challenge you to put this newspaper down right now and try to be completely still for 30 seconds. Ready? Go.
It’s not easy, is it? I bet half of the people who started reading this didn’t even return after 30 seconds because they got up to go make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or check their Facebook or tweet something. If you did sit still, that’s awesome, and I’m jealous of your inner peace.
In my media ethics course, we begin each class with a short reading and a one-minute silent meditation. But it is never actually silent. Apart from the abnormally loud drinking fountain on the fourth floor of Johnston Hall (seriously, I think a family of birds lives inside that thing), noises fill the room during our meditation. Papers shuffle, there is the occasional buzz of a phone or click of a pen. People shift in their seats, crossing and uncrossing their legs. I don’t know why it is, but we are uncomfortable with stillness.
Over Labor Day weekend, as I was driving around and listening to NPR, a piece came on with a writer talking about what it would take to found a “reading colony” where people could come for a few weeks at a time and just read. The first thing any visitor would need to do, he said, is take a class in how to sit still.
If you’ve ever taken a yoga class, you are probably familiar with the concept of stillness. We all suffer from a lack of or aversion to stillness in our lives. I notice this especially when I sit down and attempt to read for class or do homework or write this column.
At first, I dive right in, plugging away at the keyboard or book. After three or four minutes, I glance up from the page or the screen, my eyes exhausted, my mind wandering. I look back at my work, make it a few more sentences, thumb to the end of the chapter to see how much more I have to read, glance at my word count to see how much more I should write. I maybe make it another paragraph before thoughts start creeping into my head: “I’m really hungry … did I remember to DVR my shows for tonight? … I need to reply to that email … hey, look, a text message …” Since I sat down to write this very column, I’ve gotten up to get a bowl of cereal, realized I should probably take care of the dishes sitting in the sink, fixed a pot of coffee, made my bed, brushed my hair and had a conversation on Facebook chat about my friend’s new puppy.
Being still takes practice. To sit and literally do nothing for a full 60 seconds is a challenge if you aren’t used to it. But sitting still can help with your focus and calm you down. This is my call for inaction to all you readers. Take one minute every day to turn off the music or TV, find a quiet space (maybe your room or at a cubicle somewhere in the depths of Memorial Library) and sit absolutely still. I think we can train ourselves to be happier, calmer and more focused individuals this way. Good luck.