52 Ways to Shift Your Focus: Think of Nothing
Shift #29: The Five-Minute Unplug
My entire autumn has been so full of things that clamor for my attention at the same time that I’m getting a little short-tempered. In my efforts to integrate my work with the rest of my life as well as keep the creativity flowing (dangerously close to cliche, I know), I’ve tried shifting around my writing schedule, taking my laptop to different places in the house, not answering the phone, answering the phone, driving somewhere else, taking photos to clear my head, cooking until every pan in the kitchen needs to be washed, and just going to sleep.
In this frenzy of activity, I missed one common technique that works for many people. I’m talking about the art of sitting still for five minutes and thinking of absolutely nothing.
Some call this “meditation”. I call it “the great unplug”. As I sit with my legs crossed like a kid in kindergarten, I get a sharp mental image of me yanking the computer plug from the wall socket with a swift “yoink” and then everything becomes serene.
Several years ago, I learned about zazen (Zen sitting meditation) in a class I took with my son, who was then in high school. I had a lot of difficulty with the concept of letting all my thoughts go; I pictured champagne bubbles rising to the top of a newly-filled glass. Do you know how many champagne bubbles there are in a glass of champagne? How small they are? How they seem to keep rising up one after the other after the other? That was my general mental state every time I tried to sit in that class.
I did eventually learn to sit still without so many colliding thoughts to clutter up my calm. It was by accident, though. I learned how to sit by being outside. My husband and I do a lot of yard work. When we’re done with whatever the most recent project is, we usually sit down and enjoy a few minutes of sky and earth and birds and nothing else. Sometimes we talk, but we often just sit. I’m not sure when I became aware that those were times when I thought of nothing as I simply observed whatever was right in front of me. What did filter into my head was the way sitting there made me feel. Peaceful. Clear. Strong. Things that meditation is credited with. And I realized my definition of meditation was, perhaps, too restricted. There are ways to achieve that state of mind without a zafu.
Along the way, I learned that I need to take advantage of the unexpected spaces in the day to just sit. Spaces like waiting for a doctor’s appointment or a concert to begin or a checkout lane to move forward or my kid to appear for a ride home. Just when it seems that there are way too many things to get done, there will be a few moments of unfettered serenity that rise to the top and create a beautiful gap of absolutely nothing.