How to Enjoy the Quiet
A guide for the busy mind in the bustling city.
Take your headphones out of your ears. Listen to the world around you. Hear your breath go in and out as you take each step forward. Take in the whish of each car driving by and feel the slight breeze across your face as you wait on the corner of the sidewalk. Find the nearest bench and sit down. Seriously. Just for 1 minute.
Sitting now? Good. Set the timer on your phone for one minute and then put it away. Not in your hand with the screen up. Completely out of sight. While it's away, look up. Admire the sky. Count the clouds. People watch. Think about how long ago the building in front of you was built and create a story around one of the construction workers who was on the site.
One minute. Now.
Reflect. Did that go by quickly? Did you get bored? Did you stop observing and start thinking about what's next? About what groceries you need to pick up for tonight or the never ending to do list that's sitting on your desk at work?
This isn't a time of judgment. Don't beat yourself up for letting your mind wander. Only reflect. Now, try again. But only for 30 seconds.
Did you notice anything different? Did your mind start to wander in a different direction? Do you feel more relaxed or did anxiety creep up and turn your heart rate up a couple notches? Again, you don't need to judge yourself. Simply observe what your body did when you tried to rest and take a beat away from the world.
I recently took a vacation to the Bahamas. More precisely, I went to a remote island in the Bahamas called "Staniel Cay". At one mile by a half mile it is the most secluded I have ever been and I thought I would find peace. Restfulness. Instead, I noticed a slew of anxieties that were simply put on pause when I was focused on the busy day to day life that NYC expects and requires of you.
I live for the hustle. As a freelancer, not knowing where my next paycheck is coming from brings up all the worries. Yet, I had saved for this vacation. I knew I had enough money to cover what I needed and knew I was coming back to two commission checks. I was fine (financially). But, as I found myself on an empty sandbar with no one but my two best friends, the tour guide and two other young women I looked up and thought, "Okay, what's next?".
Sitting still on a sandbar, looking at the sky was relaxing, moving and beautiful... until I found myself jittery and bored.
I thought of this as completely normal. I'll get back to the cottage, do some work to calm my nerves, edit some photos, maybe write an article and then do some sketching. But, that's the problem. I can't sit still and just BE. I have always defined myself by what I do, rather than who I am.
I call this affliction: Restless Hustle Syndrome. When you've been on the grind so long you don't even know who you are if not defined by what you do.
Now, I know I'm writing a guide here on how to quiet your mind... but truly, this is a list of advice I wish I had taken. I hope this can serve as a reminder that you are more than what you do, and your worth is not determined by your list of accomplishments.
1. Wake up 15 minutes earlier to lay in bed and let your mind wander.
Notice where your attention goes. Are you thinking about what others expect of you first thing in the morning? Are you at once reaching for your phone and opening up apps that require a response to other people's desires and needs? Notice and try to shift your mind to what you need out of your day. What is one thing you can carry out today that will allow you to feel full and authentic.
2. Block out 5-10 minutes in the middle of your day to sit in silence.
Excuse yourself to grab a cup of coffee or tea and leave your phone at the office (or at home if you work from home). If you can't take time alone where you would get a refreshment, go to the bathroom for a couple minutes. It may sound ridiculous, but taking 10 deep breaths with your eyes closed in a restroom may be the only alone time you get... and it can make ALL the difference in that next request or interruption in the rest of your day that send you into a full downward spiral.
Think of a crazy scene from a movie you love where you sat back and thought "Man, that's the life" and then put yourself in that scene. Imagine what it would be like to experience that scene in your daily life. As a hopeless romantic, I've spent many a subway ride daydreaming about meeting my future lover on the busy streets of New York... It's a fun exercise, and it actually gives you some insight into the kind of people you want around you. Keep up that daydream scenario for the whole week and then on Friday, ask yourself what your favorite parts of the daydream were... and even further, how could you make those little bits of joy become reality in your actual life.
What do all these points have in common? Quiet, peaceful reflection.
When you take out the tasks, the goals, the outside judgment or pressure of individuals in your life all you're left with are your thoughts. As a recovering workaholic, I am still working on the acceptance of letting my mind wander. It takes practice, patience, and forgiveness to come to state of silence. It's not like one day you'll wake up and say, "That's it! I'm cured! I'm peaceful and happy and content forever!!!"
We are only human. We will make mistakes. We will work ourselves to the ground, and we may put our health aside to reach that next goal, or to please others around us... but the most important thing we can do is to be ourselves. To listen to our inner compass and let it guide us to wherever we are meant to be. That may be on the busy streets of NYC, or on the calm sandy beaches of the Bahamas. Wherever you are remember: you are worthy, loved, and above all:
you are more than what you do.