I have realized that I am, by nature, an incessant worrier and a supremely indecisive person (particularly when my schedule is so packed, as it was all of winter quarter, and even spring quarter until this past Sunday). As such, I consider myself a planner: I am always anticipating the next thing, constantly thinking of the future and trying to strategize for said future. I don’t think I was always this way, but I know for sure that I am now, most of the time.
In my improv class, TAPS 103, we were tasked with picking an exercise from the book, “Improv Wisdom,” written by Stanford professor emerita Patricia Ryan Madson, and seeing how it affected our lives.
My mind has recently felt like it’s going in a hundred different directions at the same time, leading me to forget what I’m currently doing or forget things that I just did: Did I look the bathroom door, what did I just have for dinner, which class was I just at, did I remember to bring my glasses, did I remember this, or that … and it’s been really getting on my nerves. It’s also worrying – I had to squint to read the menu at Coupa before I realized that my glasses were not, in fact, sitting on my face, but instead were still on top of my desk back in Donner. This was embarrassing. I’ve become scared that I’ve suddenly been hit with short term memory loss. Was/am I becoming Dory from “Finding Nemo/Dory”?
I didn’t really think so. I think I was just so caught up in moving from one thing to the next and always in a constant state of anticipation that I kept forgetting details. This is where the “Try This” exercise came in: I decided to (a) “attend to one thing at a time” and (b) shake up my schedule a bit.
So, one fateful Wednesday night at midnight, having just put down “Improv Wisdom” after reading a particularly invigorating and life-affirming chapter, feeling like I could take on the world, I decided to do just that. I cleaned my room, changed my bedsheets and took a shower, something that I rarely – if ever – do at night.
It was during this shower that I really tried to pay really close attention to things. I noticed the water bouncing off of me, noticed the way the tiles were shaped, noticed the metal shine of the shower head, noticed how claustrophobic or spacious the bathroom with the shower curtain drawn vs. with the shower curtain open (don’t worry, this was a private bathroom … my new schedule did not include exhibitionism). I noticed how soap bubbles ran down my arm, noticed how warm the water felt, etc. I wasn’t thinking about what I was going to do after, or what I did that day, or what I was going to do in a few days. I was completely and entirely focused on the present moment.
Of course, my mind wandered a little bit, as all minds do. But I made sure to always rein it back in and try not to punish myself for not staying focused.
I found, at the end of the shower and jumping into clean sheets, that I felt better and far more relaxed than I had been in a while. I also slept better than I had in a while. Having that time to just clear my head and focus on nothing but the task at hand was the best thing I could do for myself. And I liked that feeling (obviously), so I started taking a shower every night to just clear my head and relax without thinking of anything else. It’s become a nightly ritual, and one that I intend to keep up for as long as I possibly can.
My mom, who’s a yoga teacher (and a damn good one), has been trying to get me to meditate daily for years … I think I just figured out how to do that.
Contact Matt Bernstein for more stress-relieving tips at mbernstein ‘at’ stanford.edu.