I am practicing the word no. It’s only two letters. It shouldn’t be that hard to pronounce. But it’s not the pronunciation I’m having trouble with. It’s saying it. To you.
My conditioning began, just like yours, when I was in diapers. It had a negative connotation. No! Don’t touch that radiator. No! Don’t run away from me in the park. No! Don’t go too close to the water.
Then no moved on to no, thank you. Would you like more lima beans? Would you like to go visit Uncle Irving? Would you like to go see that nice dentist who gives you a red lollipop? No, No, No.
The no that I’m nervous about now has to do with the inner hermit I found lurking in my cells during these many isolated months of quarantine.
If I were to have described myself, pre-COVID, the top of the list would have been “social butterfly.” I love people. I love parties. I love noise. I love music. I love dinners. I love potlucks. I love eating with people. Talking laughing discussing arguing singing dancing just plain being with my fellow beings.
But something shifted in those early months of staying home and learning to be with my Self. Turned out I liked my company. The big surprise was time. It slowed to a lovely crawl. And the bigger surprise: I loved the quiet.
I’ve always been a reader, but with everything always pulling me in all directions, I would start things, articles, stories, even books, and somehow not get to finish. The distractions were just my way of life. I never complained because I was happy. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right?
Well, maybe it was a bit broke. Because having a year of no plans, no expectations, no folks bursting through the door with a giant, “Hello, anybody home?” (which I always loved), I not only finished books, I wrote some, and just plain slowed down.
There is a meditation I sometimes do where the teacher, Mooli is his name, says, Bring your sense of attention to presence. Don’t worry about all the thoughts. You don’t have to make an effort or go anywhere to notice. There is no place you have to be. There is nothing to do. Just the natural feeling of being. Stay only in the noticing. Don’t follow any thought. Just be here.
I’ve been meditating for years, some years trying to meditate, some years actually meditating, and many of those meditating hours making up menus for my catering business that I would use … if I had a catering business.
But this past year, with nowhere to go and no one interrupting me, I have managed to sit and more often than ever let the compulsive thinking float past and begin, as Mooli directs, to notice.
What I’ve noticed is … everything.
I have actually taken the time to watch the habits of birds at the feeder. In the past they were some kind of movement out the window. I filled the feeder, but I don’t think I spent real time watching the guests arrive and their very specific pecking orders, their rituals, their deferences. Blue jays are aggressive, and the crest on top of their heads is affected by their moods. When they’re excited, the crest is fully raised. When they’re eating with other blue jays, it flattens. And sometimes it goes sideways. They haven’t told me what’s going on there yet.
The chickadees say, “Chickadee dee dee.” But they add more dees when the cats are around. It must be their nervous call.
I used to think the expression “It’s like watching paint dry” meant it was something not worth watching. But now it means noticing, a much worthier endeavor.
This new life where I have sat in the room across from my husband for two hours without speaking, both of us engrossed, each in our own world, is magic I didn’t know existed. I thought you had to talk. Now I look up and see what he looks like when he doesn’t think anyone is looking.
My kitchen control freak has given way to sharing the space and trusting that this guy who I never thought would know a shiitake from a parsnip might be more than a sous-chef and cleanup man. We are cooking side by side.
So many gifts came from what has been for most of the population a nightmare.
I am filled with gratitude, but also an increasing dread. There are more cars on the road than I ever remember in April, more people who have moved here year-round who are nothing but temptations. And as we open up the new world, I don’t know if my old person and my new person can stay in some kind of balance with each other.
On the one hand, I don’t want to go anywhere. On the other hand (and thank God we have two hands), I think I will get a twinge of “But what about me?” if you have a dinner party and I don’t get invited. Then again, why would you invite a person who doesn’t want to go anywhere any more?
I’m practicing no, but I’m also trying to figure out a limited edition of yes.