A black and white photo of a swan on still lake to show what it means to find stillness.

The Easiest Way To Find Stillness

Last Sunday, I said fuck it and took some time for myself.

For some of you, that might sound harsh, but with an unending to-do list, I had to do something drastic to find stillness and break free from the cycle of busyness that kept me stuck.

I’d spent many of my January evenings and weekends working to launch my Writing Your Resilience podcast and getting caught up on the tasks I’d set aside while caring for my father.

Since October, my mind has been a swirl of do-this-post-that-don’t-forget-remember-to… that’s spinning so fast it sometimes steals my breath.

Ever felt that way? 

Hypervigilance is my number one jam, so that breath-stealing swirl often feels not just comfortable, but good.

Healthy me knows that’s not sustainable, and while I’m not complaining about my to-do list—I chose this career, after all—I am letting you behind the curtain to show you that none of us has it all figured out.

Some days, I get weary and when that happens, I can get discouraged, and if I let that go on too long, my try harder-faster-more demons can take over.

So, I said fuck it and gave myself a break.

For me, that meant completing an extended meditation that helped me find stillness, then spending three hours writing for the joy of it while drinking coffee and petting my cat. In the silence, I began to hear myself think and feel my heart crack back open.

The next day, I said fuck it again and left work early to spend time in a sensory deprivation tank so my jangled nervous system could settle down. 

As I lay there, floating in the dark, I found myself internally saying allow, allow, allow. Hearing those words, my body relaxed into the salt water, and my mind cleared. In the emptiness, the words to be called back to me.

Allow to be.

Interpret it as you will.

For me, that means spending more of February with an open mind and heart—something that’s important because February isn’t just the second (and darkest) month of the year. On the eighth, I’ll commemorate the twenty-seven-year anniversary of my brother Joe’s suicide.

Allowing to be means letting in what comes, whether it’s grief, joy, or an opportunity to say his name.

I’m spending this anniversary at the 2024 AWP Conference, where I’ll chat with fellow panelists, Athena Dixon, Margo Steines, Libby Kurz, and Elizabeth Kleinfeld about how to write about trauma without retraumatizing yourself.

In this context, allowing to be means letting intuition guide what I share and being present with my fellow panelists and those in attendance who are writing hard stories.

Allowing to be means experiencing gratitude that I get to pass on what I’ve learned and that while the beginning of my journey was often lonely, it’s now very full.

Allowing to be means listening in to what panels speak to me and finding time for colleagues, students, and clients in attendance, but also making time to find stillness and pen a few pages, because I can think of no better way to enjoy a writing conference than actually writing.

While I look forward to filling my next few newsletters with the things I will undoubtedly learn, I’m equally excited to share what I’ve been working on—not the content, necessarily, but the process I’m following as I work on some new projects.

Here’s my first process-related tip.

If something isn’t working, don’t be afraid to follow my colleague Brendan O’Meara’s lead and compost it.

I’ve been working on an essay since last summer that wasn’t coming together. I’d written part of it quickly, and that section flowed nicely, but I couldn’t find the bridge between this work and what I thought was its opening frame. 

So, I revised and revised and revised it, hoping to marry the two. But no matter how much I fiddled with those opening sentences and the lines that transitioned to the stuff that worked, it felt stilted.

During my fuck it day, I pulled them apart, just to see if I could spend time with the essay’s initial energy. Up to this point, I’d resisted doing this, because I liked that opening frame. Plus, I’d written fifteen drafts of the essay combining the two concepts. But once I separated them, the right opening appeared, and the essay finished itself.

The composted section will fertilize a future essay that’s already in the works. For now, I’m allowing it to be, by patiently listening for the insights needed to pull that project together—which may mean more time in the sensory deprivation tank.

Until next week, may you take the breaks needed to find stillness and in it may you hear what you need to write on.

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