Five minutes?

I sit on the beach, enveloped in a giant towel, a cool warm breeze wafting over me. Glistening waves come in and go out, my mind follows. I hear teachers: Be an innkeeper – greet thoughts, let them in, let them go. I tell myself: Do not get stuck. Do not problem solve. I am determined: Sit, breathe, focus on the breath. I will do this. I try and try to sit still and focus, to be still, to meditate for even five minutes.

In January, as we left our desert winter retreat, a story is shared, another student’s remark in the face of the unexpected: This is not what I expected. I wonder what will happen next? Carrying those words as a mantra since, I wonder – what if? What if I held these words at so many past times? When…when…when… Such simple words, freeing, giving overwhelm permission to evolve into wonder.

Since March, how many times have I said these words? This is not what I expected. I wonder what will happen next. Liberating when the moment grips, the enormity of decision-making overwhelms, the fear of so much brings my heart to race and my stomach to my throat. When I’m ready to toss out adult responsibility for the freedom of that soaring Alaskan summer I learned to hike, stood with awe at the foot of glaciers, lost my heart at a campsite. My nature? Forge ahead. Get things done. Keep moving. Yet, ever so slowly, I learn to stop, turn within, and sit quietly.

Can I? The world is still broken. I am a parent, and a child, so often feeling insufficient in the face of both. Work is gratefully and meaningfully intense and does not quit, nor do my desires to make a difference. Adult decision-making stands starkly alongside grief at children’s loss of innocence in this time. And, yes, by the way, my house is a mess. I don’t have time to sit. 

But I realize. Sitting still and feeling breath is privilege but not indulgence. So I sit on the sand. I try, try, try to focus on my breath alongside spraying whitewater, to follow rhythms of the waves. I grant permission to not accomplish or solve. I push away judgment – can I really do this? Is it right? I recall the little girl who would sit for hours ensconced in stories of other worlds, and say: I can do this!

And I stop moving. I listen to the waves. I listen for my soul. I’m not sure what or how I am doing, but it’s a start: five minutes, maybe six or seven… I wonder what will happen next.


(With gratitude to Rabbi Jonathan Slater & the Institute for Jewish Spirituality (IJS) faculty.)