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How Noticing as a Practice Turned My Busyness into Relaxation

I said something to my husband this weekend that caught us both by surprise. 

“I feel like I’m starting to experience real relaxation.”

I tell clients that it took me 20-plus years to experience the stillness of both my mind and my body. 

“Don’t sit still,” was my mantra for the first 50 years of life. 

I took classes, did 30-day challenges, and read all the books about stillness until one day, I resigned myself to the fact that I didn’t have the capacity for “relaxation”. It was just not who I was.

Who I was, was someone full of ideas, plans, and things that “had to” be done. I didn’t have time to quiet my mind. I was busy. 

Despite that belief and lots of evidence to support it, deep inside, I knew it was the source of my suffering (suffering that I couldn’t admit to but that’s another story).

Until I met Jenny. She gave me full permission to stop striving for a quiet mind. That takes too much energy. Quiet mind is a practice and she assured me there wasn’t one right way to approach it. 

She taught me how to put my attention on my breathing and sensation in my body. When I did that, I noticed that my mind was quieter. 

From there, my work was to “notice”.

She said that my mind could wander a gazillion times while I practiced but the important part was to notice the wandering and bring my attention back to sensation and breath. It wasn’t a directive to focus or not let my mind wander (indeed, I have entire conversations in my head regularly). I just had to notice it. So this is what I did. I kept it super simple. I generally still do. 

  • I notice that I’m breathing;
  • I notice that my body is here because I notice sensation;
  • (I’m no longer a head-on-a-stick!)
  • I notice each time my mind starts doing its thing again and instead of beating myself up for doing it wrong, I start the process over. 

 

And I don’t make myself wrong for a wandering mind because it happens an infinite number of times a day. I just notice it. 

[Sidebar: I don’t call this practice a meditation but don’t get hung up on that. I stick with “practice” because it resonates with me. Call it what you want.]

Before I worked with Jenny, I had no idea what it meant to be anything other than a walking, talking, head (how fitting that I love the band by the same name). Picture a popsicle stick with a head on it. That’s what I felt like.  I didn’t know there was any other way to be than a head-on-a-stick. 

It didn’t bother me because I didn’t know there were options.  But I had a nudge from deep within that told me this was what kept me from feeling relaxed. This was indeed, my suffering. 

What I know now that I didn’t know then is that the constant activity in my head wasn’t real thinking. It was frenetic. It was planning. It was anticipation. I thought about my relationships, sometimes at the expense of those relationships. What if I put that same energy into the actual relationship I was thinking about? 

Thinking kept me busy. Yes, I was also busy doing things, but those things weren’t always things I needed or wanted to be doing. Alas, my thinking often misinformed me. I chose to believe my thoughts when maybe I should have investigated further. 

Real life has busy seasons. Times that are busier than others. The beginning and end of the school year and the holidays, perhaps.

When your busyness takes place between the ears, there is no season to it. It’s full-on, 100%, capital B, BUSY. All the time. And it isn’t real.

Let’s go back to my time at the lake this weekend. My realization that I was relaxed wasn’t a brand new one but I hadn’t been willing to say it out loud. Before my declaration this weekend, I’d found windows of time when my mind was quiet. My body was relaxed, too. The tension was gone. 

If I’m honest, it has befuddled me. I thought maybe I was having a 5-year stroke because my head wasn’t running all the time. I’d spent half my life forming an identity around multi-tasking, thinking, and knowing what’s next. But now, I was learning that I didn’t need all that activity in my head. It just wasn’t necessary.

This wasn’t something I made happen. This isn’t something I willed. I was changing. My nervous system was changing. Presence changes us at a cellular level. It’s not just a new mindset. It’s a rewiring. 

Now what? Who am I if I’m not busy all the time?

That’s what the second half of life seems to be about. It seems that I’m deconstructing this identity and something much more fitting and true is emerging. 

These days, I can:

  • consciously slow my thoughts and clear my head of unproductive thinking;
  • discern whether I need to do something or whether I think I need to do something (those are very different!);
  • Make a list of what I need and want to do without attaching myself to that list; I’m right-sized about the number of hours I have and what I can and want to do.

 

Most importantly, I know how to catch myself when I’m a head-on-a-stick and change gears. I take a breath, notice sensation, and the noise thins out.

This is what it means to be present in the Head Center. This is what Inner Guidance looks like. It is always absent obligation, story, and suffering. 

Remember that question I asked above? “Who am I if I’m not busy all the time?”

Turns out, I’m pretty relaxed. Nicer to be around. Have more energy. And most of all, I’m thinking about and doing exactly what is needed at that moment. No more, no less. And everyone benefits. 

Picture of Christina Granahan

Christina Granahan

Enneagram-informed coach + therapist

I teach you how to use your Enneagram type to realize the relationships and success that you’ve been chasing at work, home, or school. Let's connect and see how I can help you.

You have one life. Let’s get you living it.

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