Why is it So Hard to Just Be?
Several years ago I volunteered in the kitchen at the Green Gulch Farm Zen Center near Muir Woods, north of San Francisco. A sign of instructions for cooks was posted that could not be missed.
Do one thing at a time, was instruction number one.
Speak only to ask for instruction, was instruction number two.
I don’t remember much about the rest.
Here’s what was important. When you’re peeling carrots, just peel carrots. When you’re slicing onions, just slice onions. When you’re cooking, just cook. When you’re talking with someone – which happens at another time than when you’re cooking – just talk.
To do one thing at a time was extraordinarily restful.
To “just be” was (is) a relief. To do one thing at a time, to exist only in the present tense, is extraordinarily peaceful.
These past few weeks I’ve spent some time intentionally revisiting this “just be” experience at Green Gulch, observing what happens in order to write about it and share it with you in this space.
So here’s what happened, step by step.
When all you are doing is the thing that is in front of you to do, that is a relief. Unmistakably, relief is the first thing I feel when I “just be” with the thing that is in front of me to do, even when that thing is simply to sit.
Soon enough, and predictably, my American sensibility of “do more” started nudging me. Get up, it said. Do something, it said. Strive, it demanded.
It was a lot like getting distracted in meditation. And just like in meditation, I practiced noticing the distraction and returned my focus to the thing that was in front of me to do.
Then the memory returned of how it felt in that calm, purposeful kitchen at Green Gulch. We worked quietly and efficiently. We prepared food for a community much faster than in other, significantly more chaotic kitchens where I’ve also worked.
The muscle memory to “just be” was still there, it turned out, and happy to respond when I called it back into service. The practice of focusing on one thing at a time, when repeated intentionally, carves a path of remembrance that was comforting to visit again.
Still, despite the relief and the comfort to “just be,” I had to return my attention to the task at hand again and again. It kept trying to veer off.
This is what makes the practice so hard.
Our culture in the U.S. doesn’t exactly encourage sitting still. There’s always so much to do, and so much that needs to happen, and so much fear of missing out on something exciting if we dare to let ourselves sit still while everyone else runs ahead at mach speed.
Here’s the thing. “Just being” – sitting still, or doing one thing at a time – hasn’t yet made me feel as though I’m falling behind. On the contrary. “Just being” settles the flurry of thoughts and busy-ness in my mind and distills them, so that all that’s left are the things that matter, the things that are going to move the needle, and the thing that is just then in front of me to do. The demand to strive, to not fall behind, is never far away. At least now we have a clearer roadmap of the most personally resonant ways to get there.
The practice is in the return, over and over. Eventually we come upon the reward.
The reward might be simply finishing the project we’re working on, quickly and efficiently. That in itself is plenty.
The reward might be the pleasure of immersing ourselves into the flow, of being untethered to flyaway thoughts that threaten to unground us.
The reward might be the refreshment of a mental break from multi-tasking, and a renewed energy for the next one thing that we need to do, and the next one thing after that.
The reward might be the stillness of concentrated thought, and the quiet to listen to our inner intelligence.
What’s it like for you to “just be” with yourself? To “just do” the one thing at a time that is in front of you to do? To be one person who is doing one thing, and that’s it.
Meet The Tribe:
Our community is only as strong as the company we keep, and here we meet some of the folks who make our profession so dynamic.
Amy Bess Cook
Founder, Woman-Owned Wineries
Years In Industry:
Eight years as winery manager and brand consultant, 1 year as wine entrepreneur
My Biggest Challenge To Wellness:
I am my own biggest challenge! I keep multiple creative projects cooking at one time. If I don’t carefully tend my proverbial kitchen, the whole house burns down.
How I Keep It Together To Stay Well:
Mornings are important. When I first open my eyes, I pay attention to how I feel, what I dreamed about, what’s happening in my body—all that good stuff. I write down my observations. I’ve been keeping a journal since I was a child. Then I try to start the day in a way that sets a positive tone: a coffee, a poem, a moment of quiet. I have been practicing yoga for about 20 years, and while I still can’t rock Scorpion pose (someday!) I can show up on the mat. Am I sometimes riled unexpectedly so I wake up grumpy? Sure. Do I always have time for yoga? No. But I can almost always count on that moment just after I open my eyes, when life—even with all its challenges—seems clear.
What We’re Reading:
There's no shortage of wine stories and media inundating our IN Boxes. Here's what has piqued our interest this week.
"Strong communication skills, an approachable style, and a bicycle are this wine director’s tools for success"
"Ancient mindfulness philosophy says that humans are wired to cling to pleasure and avoid pain. That truth is evident across the span of human existence and is more prevalent than ever in modern-day society. "
Let's Meet Up!
As work life has it, we are traveling over the next few months and would love to see you. Check out details on the new Let's Meet Up!
Atlanta Food and Wine Festival, May 31 to June 3 (Cathy)
Aspen Food & Wine, June 15 to June 17 (Rebecca) - We are planning a Sunday morning meditation and yoga so please email Rebecca if want to join
Fine Minds 4 Fine Wines, in Champagne, France, July 5 to 7 (Cathy)
Wine Australia event in Lake Tahoe, July 22 to 26 (Cathy)
TexSOM Conference August 11 - 13 (Rebecca)