A moment of stillness in a chaotic world

“The birds are always chirping. At least there’s that. Every morning when I step outside to get the newspaper, the birds are chirping. I can’t see them, but knowing they’re there gives me pause. I stand in my own silence, listening. Sometimes it’s just a moment, other days it seems I need more, so I lean against the porch railing and breathe deeply for as long as it takes, to clear my mind and find gratitude. At least in this moment, alone in my robe on my front porch, the details of the day ahead are held at bay.”

I’ve paraphrased the above, which was told to me by a dear friend over an impromptu glass of wine. She is my age, a physician, mother to three children and also married to a physician. The broad descriptors of our lives are remarkably similar. And with the honesty that comes with friendship, we share the emotions and frustrations of most of the moms we know, who struggle with the push/pull of responsibilities and our own self-care.

Often the lists we create run unchecked in our minds, multiplying even before they are drawn. Fountains of details springing up and spraying into the far reaches of our brains, obscuring the small foci we’d thought we’d protected for just “being.” I’m not talking about exercise or time with friends, dinners with our families, or hobbies, which themselves take planning. I’m talking about the seemingly out-of-reach moments of stillness and gratitude that can reset us.

There’s a phrase in meditation practice called “monkey mind,” when despite our intention to sit quietly and clear our minds and hearts of thoughts and worries, the details jump around and climb from one platform to another, distractions run amok in our subconscious.

These days, it’s increasingly easy to let monkey mind take over, whether during attempted stillness or in the midst of a normal afternoon. For me, the frenetic thinking kicks in just as I lay down at night, making it difficult to drift off. For many of my friends, the thoughts bubble up during the early hours of the morning, wake them and prevent them from going back to sleep.

There are so many things to worry about right now, and information is readily available at our fingertips, in real time, updating us on the state of the world. Immediacy adding fuel to the fire of our mental machinations. Pandemics, war, intolerance on a global level; restrictions, opinions and intolerance on a local level. So we ruminate: if “X” happens, then “Y” or maybe “Z,” but what about “A,” “B” and “C”? The desire to know right now, to control, burns into our psyches.

And so, once again, I have learned from a friend. “At least the birds are chirping.” Their songs to each other have nothing to do with us. Every morning, the birds chirp. Let me pause and listen to them. Let them reset my worried mind, and yours, so that peace and gratitude give foundation to our thoughts as we navigate the day ahead.

— Kelly Abate Kallas of Hinsdale is a contributing columnist. Readers can email her at [email protected].