As my best friend says about me, I operate at a high frequency. It’s almost like there’s constantly a buzzing between my ears. I’m prone to making lists, to multi-tasking, to thinking about one thing while doing another, to preparing the next thing while finishing the first thing. My brain loves this kind of engagement. It thrives on being pulled in different directions, on adrenaline and inspiration and projects. I don’t deal well with doing one thing at a time, or even with doing nothing at a time. I love the fuel of constant productivity, of keeping in time with that buzzing.
I’m the classic example of that person who should be meditating. Daily. You know that joke, you should meditate for twenty minutes a day, unless you don’t have the time, and then you should meditate for an hour? Yeah. That’s me. Only I don’t. I can’t. I can’t imagine sitting still for an hour and just breathing. My skin would crawl. I’d freak out. It would be like torture.
I’m just really bad at sitting still.
It’s not that I can’t. Because I can. But if I’m sitting still, my mind is anywhere but. I’m prepping for classes, brainstorming blog topics, outlining my next paper, even having mental conversations with people I need to catch up with. My mind is crazy, which is why I love keeping it engaged. Otherwise, it’s just whirring in circles like some merry-go-round on crack.
All of which is why I decided I had to figure out a way to get off that merry-go-round. I needed to learn, painful and awkward and unnatural as it might feel, to slow it all down. To do one thing at a time.
Because I really am very bad at that (I catch up on news while I get ready for school, I catch up on television while I’m cooking and cleaning, I catch up on emails while I’m walking the dog – you get the idea), I knew I’d have to start with baby steps. Really laughable baby steps to anyone else, but really huge giant steps for me.
I decided to start with dog walks.
I started leaving my phone at home when Miles and I went out the door. This meant a couple things. This meant no checking of the email, or facebook, or Instagram, but this also meant no music. I never walk without music. I can’t walk without music. I want to climb outside of my head if I’m walking without music. I need music to keep my brain in just that particular groove where I’m pleasantly engaged with my disengagement.
So I left my phone at home.
This difference is so laughable that I wonder if this is what it feels like for an alcoholic to go a day without alcohol. For the rest of us, a day without alcohol is totally NBD. But for an alcoholic, a day without alcohol is long, interminable, and uncomfortably alive.
That’s how the walks felt.
I was forced to be alone with myself. How awkward. How uncomfortable.
Without my phone, I couldn’t jot down to do lists, which meant I couldn’t think about what I needed to do later. How strange and disquieting.
Without my phone, there was silence. But, ironically, that silence was loud. The chirping of the birds, the roar of passing cars, the shout of the occasional pedestrian, the cough through the open window – all those sounds seemed unnaturally loud.
And then, of course, Miles.
My attention grew towards everything he did.
Because I’m neurotic and an overachiever and can’t just do something lightly, I read a book about dogs. Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know, by Alexandra Horowitz, is a fascinating perspective on how dogs experience the world. Suddenly, I had extra insight on how Miles was experiencing our walks. With nothing else to distract myself, I started watching him as he watched the world around us. The way that he sniffed certain bushes, the way he looked at certain people and ignored others, the careful rituals with passing dogs, the exuberance with which he tried to pursue motorcycles and joggers, the fervor with which he barked at ambulances.
It was as if my attention had been focused and sharpened, as if every gesture of his grew larger and more pronounced. Amplified.
It was a pretty shocking adjustment.
I can’t do it all the time. Sometimes the whirling dervish of my mind is just too much, and I need the music to seize it and regulate it. But even on those walks, when the musical accompaniment is non-negotiable, I don’t let myself check my email. I may answer a text if I get one, mid-walk, but I won’t proactively send one.
These adjustments may seem small to most people, but for me they’re huge. And maybe, one day, I will actually be able to sit and breathe and think of nothing for twenty whole minutes.