On Being

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When was the last time you watched the clouds? Perhaps you were a kid pointing out funny shapes, and perhaps even this has been lost on the next generation of iPhone-carrying tots. But I mean have you ever really, seriously taken enough time to gaze up and notice just how huge and majestic those big puffs of paint looming overhead every single day can truly be?

When I spent the summer getting my yoga certification in Bali last year, every morning we were required to spend our mornings in silence. But “silence” didn’t just stop at talking - it also meant no reading, no writing, no eye contact, and absolutely no phones.

Giving up the constant chatter of my phone was easier than expected, but to remove all other forms of reading or writing, to not even have the time dedicated to meditation as is the case in silent retreats, and suddenly you had nothing - and I mean nothing - to do.

This was not how my experience was supposed to go. I wanted to squeeze every last ounce of productivity from every hour spent on this not-so-cheap self-discovery trip, and I wanted to spend the little free time we had during the training journaling, getting through my new “self-discovery” reading list, and then writing some more.

But unknown to me, we were learning something else entirely. Something I wouldn’t understand until I was forced to sit in complete stillness with myself for two hours every day for 21 days. Instead of constantly doing, we were learning how to simply be.

Maybe you’ve heard it said that we’re human beings, not human “doings.” Over time we’ve certainly developed no lack of distractions, expectations, goals, and busywork lest we ever find ourselves bored, but at the end of the day, what really separates us from the lion that lays out in the sun, or the plant that just watches as the world turns around it?

Over those three weeks I found myself sitting in the sun, really noticing just how warm and held my body felt under its rays. I watched the clouds, in utter awe of how gracefully but powerfully and quickly they shifted overhead. And when it rained, I stared aimlessly at my cup of tea, completely memorized by the steam dancing in circles until it vanished into thin air.

This is mindfulness. Slowing down enough to notice; making space to be present. We feel uncomfortable when we’re not filling every minute with something, but are all these distractions really worth missing some of the very moments that are so basic to being human?

Silence is powerful. Taking the time to just be - without a phone, without a book, without a podcast - was one of the most potent ways of “breaking” years of having to make every moment - from work to my social life - as productive as possible.

I encourage you to make the time to try it. I, for one, will never look at clouds again the same.

*Thank you to Katherine Girling and Everett Newell of Zuna Yoga to whom I owe this experience. I cannot recommend their YTT’s highly enough should you ever find yourself looking!