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Restlessness ()

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Writer admin Date07 Sep 2006 Read2,524 Comment0

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At a red light. At a bus stop. In line at the store. While someone fills the tank with gas. Walking to class. What do these moments have in common? They are all moments in which we find ourselves waiting, a dead space, a moment of no purposeful activity, entertainment or distraction.

What do you do in these moments? I know what I do: get out my cell phone and begin calling, playing a game, or updating my address book. I don’t have SMS yet, but if I did, I would surely use it. If my cell phone is out of network, I check my fingernails or find something, anything, to read (even boring things like the back of a toothpaste box), or I turn on the radio in the car. Most of us, only faintly aware that we are suddenly doing nothing, reach out to find something to fiddle with to distract ourselves from inactivity.

More these days than ever before, this kind of restlessness can be assuaged by a multitude of distractions, the #1 distraction among young people being their cell phones. And, we young people are especially restless, our energy wanting to go, go, go and do, do, do. This is only natural, and yet, is there a way that we can turn these moments of boredom from useless restlessness into something more nourishing to ourselves?

Lately, drawing from Buddhist teachings, I have found that these “dead times,” like waiting for the light to turn green or waiting for the subway train, are opportunities to practice a few minutes of meditation. Most of the time, our minds are busy planning, analyzing, or reminiscing. Because of this, our thoughts wrapped up in so many things, we are less often aware of where we actually are and what we really are experiencing. Thus, stopped at a red light, I reign in these flying thoughts to come into the present moment, noticing all the qualities of my experience.

“Ah, the sound of rain on my car roof. The gentle vibration of the car engine. My hands on the steering wheel—it is warm where my fingers are resting. My lower back pressed into the seat. These people crossing in front of me—may they be happy and well. Noticing that my mind is grasping for something to do, wanting to turn on the radio. A slight tenseness arising as I anticipate the green light. Taking a deep and relaxing breath, calming myself.” And so on.

These days, I find that waiting in line at the checkout is not boring at all but a small space in my busy life to relieve my anxious, busy mind. With a little mindfulness meditation, just a few minutes while waiting, I find myself calmer and reenergized by noticing the world around me, by getting out of my buzzing thoughts and appreciating exactly where I am. The present moment is, as Seon master Thich Nhat Hanh teaches, a wonderful moment. Mindfulness, not cell phone fiddling, is true relief from restlessness.

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