23 Feb 2015

can we all just be still for a moment?

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With machines coming to seem part of our nervous systems, while increasing their speed every season, we’ve lost our Sundays, our weekends, our nights off–our holy days, as some would have it; our bosses, junk mailers, our parents can find us wherever we are, at any time of day or night. More and more of us feel like emergency-room physicians, permanently on call, required to heal ourselves but unable to find the prescription for all the clutter on our desk. –Pico Iyer’s The Art of Stillness

At some point, we stop breathing; we forget to recognize the sound of our own breath. It’s rhythm and pantomime become lost upon us, and the heart that was once a steady metronome, a slow-beating tick of a clock, now beats so fast, so furious, that all we want to do is flee ourselves. Our desire to crawl out of our skin, which is merely paint on a wall covering a house that is crumbling, is real. We live our days tethered to a color-coded calendar while our ankles are chained to a desk. While we talk about how the desk might be in ensconced in an office or in a workspace cum playground for which we pay vast sums of money to occupy–in the end, it’s all the same, really. We’re all chained to something. We have become masters of routine; we live to a repetition that carries its own symphony. We endure noise and stress simply becomes we’ve become accustomed to it, it’s common.

Notice how the days become photocopies of themselves with minor variations? Notice how we rush so fast through this waking life? And to what or whom are we running? Death? Because that’s the last stop. No chargebacks, no refunds, no going back.

For most of my twenties and early thirties, I was consumed by my own personal velocity. I had to get there, regardless of whether I knew the destination of my location, and I had to get there now. Or preferably yesterday. I overscheduled, I thrived on efficiency, became obsessed with technology, and I lived my life, as my friend Amber would say, in ten-minute increments. There was no time. There was never enough of it. And that’s when I found myself, at 37, worn out, depleted, sick, cynical, angry, and dark.

It’s taken me two years to get myself right again. I think about Humpty Dumpty, the nursery rhyme we knew as children, and I wondered what happens when you fall and you try so desperately to put yourself back together again. What if you’re left with cuts from the shells? You’re broken and you wonder how it is you got here, and how you can stop the breaking. How do you stop what you’ve already started? I took a trip to Europe where I convulsed for the first half of the trip, and it was only when I arrived in Biarritz, a sleepy seaside city in France (during off-season), did I come together again. I spent days by the water, doing nothing. I fixated on the barnacles that covered the undersides of fishing boats and giant rocks. Come evening I read up on the crustaceans and their unhealthy attachments. When the storms came out from the sea painting the waves black, I watched surfers tread further out and I photographed a beach so naked and cold that it awakened something in me. Later, I sat in a hotel room and began what would be my second book, a novel about three generations of a family bent on ruin.

Since, I’ve never read as deeply or as completely. I’ve never enjoyed so fully the space of my own company and the silence surrounding it. I traveled to India, Ireland, Fiji, Australia, Korea, Thailand, Spain, most of France and Italy and felt everything. I spent days in New York completely alone and loved it. It was as if I’d been sleeping through my waking life and I just felt the sting, the jolt, of waking up. This is what life is when you live through it rather than ahead of it. This is the depth of sorrow, pain, joy, love, heartache, and pride.

Going nowhere, as Leonard Cohen would later emphasize for me, isn’t about turning your back on the world; it’s about stepping away now and then so you can see the world more clearly and see it more completely –Pico Iyer

I’ve finished Pico Iyer’s The Art of Stillness, and I’m still in awe over how a tiny book could have so much impact. From war veterans suffering from PTSD to Leonard Cohen and Buddhist monks, Iyer’s book is a meditation, a sermon that preaches mindfulness and quiet. We are our own cathedral and rarely, if ever, do we pay reverence to ourselves. We don’t allow for slumber or rest–we consider it weak or wasteful to squander time when really we’re just living it, loving it, savoring it.

Over the past few months I’ve started to walk slower; I’ve noticed the shape and space of my own solitude. I’ve slowed down in every way I possibly can. My pauses are pregnant and I’ve turned off my phone to listen to the sounds of my commute.

On my way down to Nicaragua, I boarded two flights. On both, I remained completely still. I didn’t fiddle with a magazine or obsessively check email–I just sat still and stared out at the clouds. You can’t even imagine how difficult this was for me. I like to move, fidget, and read as much as possible. And after five hours of self-imposed stillness, I not only became acutely aware of my own exhaustion from the past few weeks, but I started to have ideas. I had ideas for short stories, projects for this space and places I want to go. I ignored all the pragmatic constraints that plague me constantly (money, money, money) and just listened to the sound of my breath and how much my heart ache to create.

And then I found myself at the ecological reserve–a place quite literally in the middle of nowhere, facing a volcano. There’s no WIFI or television in my room. Very few people are on the property and all I can hear are birds. While much of my week in Central America will be about visiting villages, volcanos and natural beauty, my evenings will be spent in solitude. Reading, thinking, being still.

In an age of speed, I began to think, nothing could be more invigorating than going slow. In an age of distraction, nothing can feel more luxurious than paying attention. And in an age of constant movement, nothing is more urgent than standing still –Pico Iyer

Imagine if you sat still in your bedroom for 15 or 30 minutes. Imagine if you slowed down your walk. Picture an evening spent with someone you love and exchanging fewer words than you normally would. Think about what it would be like to shut off everything, just for one hour, a night. Imagine looking up at the sky without feeling a need to photograph it. Imagine hearing someone speak without a need to quote them in a tweet. Imagine asking yourself, how do I feel right now, right this very moment? Imagine what it would be like to feel joy.

I’m really thrilled for where all of this will take me.

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55 Comments

  1. As a 23 year old recent grad I definitely relate to that need to get THERE attitude without really knowing where there is, always feeling like I need to be utilizing every moment of the day toward productivity to get…wherever. It’s hard not to feel guilty when we aren’t doing productive things toward our future, but you’re right, sometimes the most productive we can be is to let ourselves appreciate where we are right now.

    Posted on 2.23.15 · Reply to comment
    • I think that’s totally normal to feel that at 23. You’re out of college and want to start your life! I felt the same way and unfortunately that desire subsumed me when it should have been a simple motivator. There’s nothing wrong with drive and ambition. What I think is important is balance. How we manage to take the mindful rests we need (or at least listen to our bodies!). There have been so many studies that espouse the need for rest–that we’re actually smarter, more creative, more motivated when we’ve allowed ourselves to recharge our proverbial batteries.

      Warmly, Felicia

      Posted on 2.24.15 · Reply to comment
  2. Lisa wrote:

    so beautiful and so true… when i read your posts, i force myself to stop and take a moment to really read them, not skim, not browse, but take them all in. this was so enjoyable.

    Posted on 2.23.15 · Reply to comment
    • Lisa,

      Thank you! I really thought about your comment last night and that’s one of the reasons why I write on this space–the need to share what’s going on in my life with others, in hopes that some of it will resonate and linger.

      Warmly, Felicia

      Posted on 2.24.15 · Reply to comment
  3. GA wrote:

    this, SO MUCH. I can’t even begin to tell you how much this resonates with me. I too, love to fidget, to do, to move, to read, etc. with my new work situation I’ve been spending a lot more time being still. slowing down my walk, sitting around with a mug of tea just thinking… and it’s been really, really nice. loved this – one of my favorite posts of yours.

    Posted on 2.23.15 · Reply to comment
    • Thanks, Grace! I actually did the same thing when I first went freelance. I think it’s because we’re so used to a routine, so used to MOVING, that it’s weird to have to adopt a whole new way of living, much less a new way of being. What I’ve found is that taking pockets of time for me (I used to schedule them in my calendar so I committed to them. Now, I just do it) has allowed me to see what it is I want from my life. The projects I want to take on, the people with whom I want to work. If I didn’t stop, I can’t imagine having the advantage of clarity and perspective.

      Posted on 2.24.15 · Reply to comment
  4. So beautiful!! I’ve been having this same conversation with so many people lately. The need to stop. To take life in and stop chasing whatever it is we’re chasing. Very inspiring post. Thank you!

    Posted on 2.23.15 · Reply to comment
  5. blondeusk wrote:

    Yes I need to slow down..

    Posted on 2.23.15 · Reply to comment
  6. Just ordered The Art of Stillness… I’m a little older than you are and I have come to believe so many of us run from the stillness… Afraid? Perhaps. The quiet forces us to hear ourselves… Not sure why such a rush to death or old age or worse, sickness from self-imposed stress. Thank you for sharing on this all important and timely subject matter.

    Posted on 2.23.15 · Reply to comment
  7. I love this so much!

    Posted on 2.23.15 · Reply to comment
  8. I could be still in that setting!!!! Seriously, I have been trying to do the same. Everyday even for a few minutes I stop and just breathe. It’s a really good feeling

    Posted on 2.23.15 · Reply to comment
  9. Jeannine wrote:

    Oh Felicia (can I call you that, even though I don’t know you personally?) these words – “This is what life is when you live through it rather than ahead of it.” Living ahead of life! Yes. Yes you are right.

    Our world is so stimulating, so sparkly, the busyness so seductive, the future so filled with potential (wonders or disaster), that we are distracted from actually living in the moment. And so right to say that in a post about travel, because that is what travel does for me, it pulls me into the moment. (One of the reasons I love to travel alone, as it doesn’t seem to work if I am with a friend)

    Posted on 2.23.15 · Reply to comment
  10. I love this so much! 🙂 thank you for sharing!

    Posted on 2.23.15 · Reply to comment
  11. Cathryn wrote:

    We recently moved from dc to Colorado. Life is slower here and people are more mindful. I still travel for work, and I noticed the first time I went to New York City after having moved here. It was like I was in slow motion and the people on the street were spilling around me. Thank you for your perspective.

    Posted on 2.23.15 · Reply to comment
    • I’ve heard so many wonderful things about Colorado. It’s been years since I’ve visited. This is precisely one of the reasons why I’m moving out west. I want to slow down so I can live life full measure. Thanks for commenting, Cathryn. 🙂

      Posted on 2.24.15 · Reply to comment
    • Cathryn wrote:

      I’ve been thinking about your post and just ordered the book. Rush delivery. Haha. Just kidding.

      Posted on 2.25.15 · Reply to comment
      • Good. It’s slim but powerful. One of the best purchases I made this year, and I think it was $9 on Amazon.

        On Wed, Feb 25, 2015 at 7:33 AM, love.life.eat wrote:

        >

        Posted on 2.25.15 · Reply to comment
  12. B’fully written!! Reflecting a perspective everyone could easily relate in the today’s running world.

    Posted on 2.23.15 · Reply to comment
  13. rebelursf wrote:

    I was completely engaged in your writing!!! Why we cannot realize these things earlier.Why we are always late.Just wondering!!

    Posted on 2.24.15 · Reply to comment
    • I think it’s because we’re so rewarded to MOVE, rather than to slow down. Thanks for the kind words 🙂

      Posted on 2.24.15 · Reply to comment
  14. laraxlivia wrote:

    WOW your pictures are phenomenal, where were these taken? Thanks for sharing your experience discovering peace of mind and living in the moment. It’s amazing what truth comes from within when you have stepped back and simply felt the world as it is happening right now. Creativity seems to blossom and come to fruition when you strip away all distraction.

    Posted on 2.24.15 · Reply to comment
  15. amylel9 wrote:

    the photos of the reserve are so beautiful, and I love the sentiment to take time to be still. It’s so hard! Also the title got me thinking – wouldn’t it be amazing if we were all still for a ‘moment’ all at the same time 🙂

    Posted on 2.24.15 · Reply to comment
  16. misenplacememoir wrote:

    Nice. Good for you. Took me to 40 to get to that quiet space and to develop the attitude that it was an important part of my day and not let life run it over.

    Posted on 2.24.15 · Reply to comment
  17. beautifully written

    Posted on 2.24.15 · Reply to comment
  18. ssebadduka wrote:

    it gets nicer at every sentence

    Posted on 2.24.15 · Reply to comment
  19. rosyshrimp wrote:

    Such a beautiful post!

    Posted on 2.24.15 · Reply to comment
  20. Anna Marie wrote:

    This post brought tears to my eyes because of the connection it made in my life. I am currently a college student and I couldn’t resonate more with “I had to get there now… or yesterday…” I feel as if the past few years of my life have been more about preparing myself for my future than actually living in the present. It’s horrifying to look back and realize I didn’t take a moment to slow down and let the experiences surround me and sink in. I also love how you wrote about looking at the night sky without wanting to take a picture of it. Technology is so demanding and everyone is on an instant gratification kick with the internet and phones at our fingertips. It’s draining to have to keep up with that and I completely agree with shutting everything down for a while. How can our sanity survive in this type of fast-paced, always chasing, never appreciating world?

    Thank you so much for this post, Anna
    http://inspiredshelives.com/

    Posted on 2.24.15 · Reply to comment
    • My goodness, Anna. My biggest regret is not enjoying college MORE. Not realizing that this small space in time is the BEST time. However, know that you have everything, the world, your LIFE, unfurling in front of you, and that is extraordinary. Bask in that.

      Posted on 2.24.15 · Reply to comment
      • Anna Marie wrote:

        Thank you, Felicia. I will definitely remember your words in my final years as a student. I really appreciate your response!

        Posted on 2.24.15 · Reply to comment
  21. glenda1203 wrote:

    Thank you for this msg. Slow down. Born and raised in NY and then moving out west at 21 I learned to slow down some…but my walking pace is always a lot faster than others, so when walking with others I slow it down. I love, love to read so that’s my quiet space. Have you tried taking a shower in the dark… that will slow you down and give you that zen feeling we all need. Are you in Nicaragua on vacation alone, or on a project? (just wondering, sorry if too personal) Enjoy your week! Love all the pictures.

    Posted on 2.24.15 · Reply to comment
    • I’m here on holiday. And yes! I’ve showered in the dark. It’s incredibly powerful, revelatory and oddly liberating.

      Posted on 2.24.15 · Reply to comment
  22. Alastair J wrote:

    Felicia,
    I only stumbled upon your blog (quite by accident) a few weeks ago and have enjoyed the process of reading your long-form thoughtful articles.
    This post really resonated on so many levels. I’ve felt the need to slow down and actually live, rather than exist and document ‘life’ to others on social media, grow and grow over the last few years, particularly since becoming a Dad at an older age.
    Now when I go on holiday, I consciously take my second phone with me, an old brick with no wifi, apps or anything except the ability to make a call. Only two people have it’s number, my mother and my wife. The solitude is so refreshing, turning off the iPhone is one of the highlights of vacation time for me.
    Thank you for your blog, you have another long-term reader!
    Regards
    Alastair

    Posted on 2.24.15 · Reply to comment
    • This is so wonderful, Alastair! Thank you for sharing this and I think it’s incredible that you are so present for your family.

      Posted on 2.24.15 · Reply to comment
  23. Just discovered your site this morning. Two words: Exceptional writing! This post reminds me of a Thai proverb: “Life is short — we must move very slowly.” Really, we must!

    Posted on 2.24.15 · Reply to comment
  24. What a great Reminder!! I seriously struggle with still and quiet. I’m horrible at it! Adding that book to my list to read. And man, adding Nicaragua to my places to visit- what beautiful photos 🙂

    -Ashleigh

    Posted on 2.24.15 · Reply to comment
  25. Felicia, it’s been a long time since I’ve read your blog again, and today, logging into my wordpress dashboard I see your posts. Your writing today struck me in exactly the same way that it did when I first clicked the button “follow” for your posts – and you’re a great reminder that words are not empty when you can tell stories and transport readers someplace else, even for just a moment.

    Thanks for sharing the importance of being still, and the need for us to slow down in this waking life.

    felicia

    Posted on 2.25.15 · Reply to comment
  26. Amazing post! Thank you!! I need to slow down and be more still…
    Ps:Pico Iyer will be on Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday show next Sunday here in the US, but I’m sure the interview is available online too..
    Cheers from NYC !
    Lia

    Posted on 3.1.15 · Reply to comment
  27. Wonderful. Perfect. I’ve been working to slow down my own life lately, and the rewards are immense.

    Posted on 3.5.15 · Reply to comment
  28. I spent so much time with your words rattling around my head, I finally wrote out what it was that this post produced in me (and linked to it!). Thank you.

    https://torriejayw.wordpress.com/2015/03/07/222/

    Posted on 3.16.15 · Reply to comment
  29. > We are our own cathedral and rarely, if ever, do we pay reverence to ourselves. We don’t allow for slumber or rest–we consider it weak or wasteful to squander time when really we’re just living it, loving it, savoring it.[can we all just be still for a moment? | love.life.eat](http://lovelifeeat.com/2015/02/23/can-we-all-just-be-still-for-a-moment/)

    I cried reading that. I simply cried. What does that mean?

    Posted on 7.9.15 · Reply to comment

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It’s bizarre that I’ve always been a city girl and all I want now is small. Quiet. Remote. I feel like my dad.
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I cracked my tooth on Friday (it’s all good—I got Percocet and a $3K bill), and it made me think that there’s so much I want to do, work-wise and artistically, but I’m always thinking about money. Years ago, I heard Paul Jarvis talk about reducing your expenses to feel richer. I know, captain  obvious, but it resonated with me on Friday while on Percocet.
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Characters are delicious. When I was small, I didn’t have many friends, so I surrounded myself with books and my imagination. It’s a strange, magical thing to live your life inside your head, but this is what I did. Long, sultry summers formed a backdrop for one of the many worlds I’d created, complete with a cast of characters who felt so real you could touch them. This was more than inventing an imaginary friend or anthropomorphizing a stuffed bear; my characters were fully-formed people who had their own personalities, a particular way of talk, and facial features I’d cobbled together from television shows and magazines. They clasped pearls around their thin necks and wore sweaters and shoes made of silk and dyed blue. They were carriers of credit cards, plastic rectangular shapes I’d only seen on TV — a far cry from the crumpled bills and pennies we hoarded. My characters were breathing Frankensteins, only far less frightening. What made them real was they refused to follow a script — they rarely behaved the way I wanted them to.
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Denis Johnson once said that dialogue isn’t about what characters are saying, but what’s left unsaid. The leaner the dialogue, the bigger the bite. Darkness fell. The summer in 2005 was unseasonably chilly, and we wrapped ourselves in light jackets and thin cotton sweaters, watching the author of Jesus’ Sonchain-smoke and dole out advice with humor and humility. We were at a writer’s conference where we workshopped our stories during the day and mingled with boldfaced names in the evening. This would be the summer before I sold my first book and I was floored that my teacher at the time, Nick Flynn, found something honest and worthy in my essays that would become my memoir, The Sky Isn’t Visible From Here. Back then, I was painfully shy and prone to giving violently awkward first impressions, so instead of the cocktails and conversation, I chose to sit on the wet grass and listen to writers whom I admired. One evening, Denis Johnson gave a talk on dialogue.
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Dialogue is difficult. I often think of it as the power-lifter of novel writing because it has to operate successfully on several different levels. Not only does it have to move the story forward, convey information quickly, and grant narrative breathing space (because who wants to plow through pages without an exhale), but it also has to reveal core character truths. Dialogue delivers what narrative can’t — a voyeuristic, in-depth look into the minds of characters through what they say, and more importantly, what they chose not to disclose. Characters come to life when they speak. We visualize them as living, breathing people who have a particular way of talk, a specific view of the world and their place in it. While the author has dominion over the narrative, serving as your tour guide through the story, the dialogue serves as the wild card, the wrench that could usurp everything you’ve just read and what you’re about to read.
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These podcasts invite guests who look and sound just like them. They regurgitate the same bullshit business advice that Seth Godin wrote a decade ago, and pithy platitudes because it got that influencer turned entrepreneur rich on Instagram, and now she sells courses for $600 a pop when she’s never done the thing she teaches for anyone other than herself. These people are so obsessed with building their brand that they forgot to be human.
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