These days it seems I have forgotten what it is to slow down. Isn’t this true of many of us? It’s so easy, in this ridiculously fast-paced, high intensity, noisy, noisy world we live in, to lose all sense of stillness. Stillness, slowness, being of course the life’s blood of the writer. My life can look, from a distance, like it is replete with stillness. Take this moment, for example. It’s almost five o’clock in the afternoon and I haven’t left the house, except to take the dogs out. I’ve never gotten dressed. I’ve gone from yoga clothes (not that I did yoga) to a bathrobe. I’ve puttered around in an efficient manner, making my favorite new loaf of bread, and my favorite green juice. I’ve hung out with my teenaged son, who is home from school and ever-so-slightly bored. I booked a trip to Chicago to visit my ninety-year-old aunt in a few weeks. You might even say I’ve done a pretty good impersonation of stillness. But in between all this, I either answered or sent — I’m actually going to count right now — I answered or sent fifty-one emails. I looked up dozens of articles online that caught my attention on Twitter. I tweeted twice, retweeted six times. I favorited quite a few tweets. By the way, the spell check on my computer doesn’t even recognize these as words – retweet, favorited – but here I am, using them. To decompress, I took a bath. Hence the bathrobe. But mostly, I’ve spent most of the day trapped in my head, thoughts bouncing one into the next like so many marbles dropped from a paper bag onto a hard floor.
What next? The thoughts all whisper, an endless drone. What next, what next, what next?
Yesterday, while driving the country roads near my house (yesterday being a day I did actually leave home) I listened to a beautiful audiobook by Pema Chodron, which contained these words: Trying to find the moment when one thought becomes another is like trying to find the moment when boiling water turns into steam. When the mind is noisy, when the speed of life seems to be a river and myself the unmanned raft, this is just how my thoughts appear: random, formless, useless, inaccessible.
This past weekend I taught a workshop at Kripalu with the yogi and scholar Stephen Cope. Titled Writing Through the Chakras, the workshop was – if I do say so myself – quite extraordinary. Most everyone who came left feeling blissed-out. Steve led the yoga, and I led the writing, and we moved the eighty students in that great hall from states of repose and receptivity (slowness!) directly into the experience of moving the pen across the page.
I have become a master of helping writers get out of their own way. But the momentary irony is that I have been so busy doing this that I have lost the ability to get out of my own.
Someone wiser than I would counsel me that I can’t possibly know right now. That I need to take some time. Since October, I have appeared on Oprah, been to San Francisco twice, Seattle twice, Aspen, Florida three times, New Orleans. I have given speeches in front of thousands of people, or hundreds, or a few dozen. I have taught private workshops, small retreats, big retreats, on both sides of the Atlantic. Someone out there reading this is going to think that this is a humble brag. But it’s not. It’s just a fact of my life that I’m trying to learn how to make jive with the rest of my life, which is that of a solitary, introverted writer who needs to the time and space and wherewithal to once again discover the world anew. To breathe, to think, to walk, to remain in my bathrobe, to take baths. To shut off the email. To take a holiday from the Internet. To stop considering who the world is telling me I am (to the degree the world cares, which is to say, perhaps a hairsbreadth more than a rat’s ass) and instead, consider that somewhere deep in the recesses of my being, stories are growing in the dark.