Don’t just do something – sit there


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The search for a deeper understanding of self is both inherently natural and completely exhausting.

That kind of self-reflection can leave you sweating and chewing your toenails if you aren’t prepared for it. It’s the reason that we have reality television — so that we don’t have to do the hard work of sitting with ourselves and trying to figure out who we truly are. But we do reflect, because it seems more selfish to just wander through life and not think about what you want your contribution to be.

Since I was a kid, I’ve had a nasty habit of getting so anxious about things that I hyperventilate and black out. It could be about a phone call or a party or merely pondering what the hell I am doing with my life. Panic attacks can happen anywhere. I can be in my living room or in a restaurant, when suddenly there is gasping and shaking and trying to fight the tunnel vision and convince myself (and anyone else who might be present) that I’m not actually dying.

My shrink recommended that I try meditation. She sent me home with stacks of books and the instructions to just sit there and breathe. Just sit there. Alone. In silence. With my own self. I would have preferred a recommendation to massage my eyeballs with sandpaper.

I had an entire film career based on the fact that I could let my thoughts run away with me. Acting required me to completely believe the worst possible scenario, such as the fact that my computerized house was really trying to kill me, and let my body react accordingly. My mind was the master, and my emotions needed to follow.

However, I tend to do what I’m told and so, I sat. Every emotion that I wished would stay lurking under the bed, got in my face. Those voices pointed out all the other people in the world who understood how to do this life thing just fine, and how pathetic it was that I had massive anxiety about going to the grocery store.

But I still sat.

I started going to a weekly group that did Yoga Nidra, a deep form of meditative relaxation. Most of the other people in the group were vets from Iraq and Afghanistan. They possessed this disconcerting combination of looking both very young and very world-weary. They picked at their cuticles and talked about their PTSD. They mentioned their lingering pain from combat injuries and they pulled down their sleeves and tried to cover up the scars.

I stayed quiet at the gatherings, deciding not to bring up the whole “I’m stressed because I’m a former child actor” thing. It lacked the drama of mortar fire and made me feel like a massive jerk.

Instead, I just listened. I listened to these young warriors who knew more about sacrifice and suffering than I ever would. One guy told me he hadn’t been able to sleep more than a couple hours a night since he got back from his tour. He said this “chanting hippie shit” was not his scene, but he had actually started sleeping since doing a meditation practice. So, he was happy to trek down the pathway, which was draped in Tibetan prayer flags and Obama signs, to come to this little shed near the chicken coop in a yoga teacher’s backyard. He’d do whatever it took.

We sat together and breathed deeply. We sat with the voices that tormented us and we sat with the uncomfortable unknown. We didn’t fight with the doubts and fears and regrets, we just stared them down until they exhausted themselves and slithered away. We let go of the past and the future and simply practiced gratitude for this moment right here. Eventually, I noticed that I was spending less and less time gasping like a fish who had just leapt out of her bowl.

It wan’t like some lightning bolt where I saw God.

But I saw some peace.

And then I saw that maybe those are kind of the same thing.

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30 Replies to “Don’t just do something – sit there”

  1. Lisa as a counselor – I believe in self reflection, but you are right it can be very stressful. Self reflection also called self care is VERY important in life however, we need self care to keep our lives in check, and to make sure we are on the right path.

  2. Thank you. Your insight was much needed right now when life seems in a tailspin personally and professionally. Some days it just feels right to sit quietly. But I find my best “meditation” with the purr of my foster kitty near or on me. 🙂

    1. Animals are the best at mindfulness. My dog always sits with me when I meditate — it’s so easy to be present with them. Hope your tailspin gets a little easier, soon.

  3. It’s funny because we will fight to do anything other than sit down and be still and then finally when we somehow make ourselves do it, especially if it becomes a regular practice, then it becomes the only time when everything makes sense. Suddenly when everything stops, the world can be meaningful and beautiful again. But we will fight ourselves every step of the way before we let ourselves experience that. Whether it’s the ego, or attachment to who we think we are or want to be, once we let it go everything finally comes together. At least that is my own experience, though I’m certainly not suffering from PTSD or anything like that. Beautiful post. Thanks for sharing.

  4. As always, enlightening, Lisa!

    Happy New Year! May this find you&yours well.

    These are in itself therapy-cathartic. They help rid yourself of expectations Brought on by yourself, and those of others. They too help your public, your support, your fans, see that you’re no different in dealing with these ‘issues.’ Not only in seeing you in a more ‘human’ approach, but that we are not alone in our battles. As always, I enjoy ‘feeling’ what comes across from your writings, and my readings. I commend your courage to expose yourself, in a ‘vulnerable’ and organic State, that perhaps being of ‘Hollywood’s past,’ pigeonholed you into the expectations of perfection. Be well. Look forward to hearing from ya! Love&Light, Nadia H.

    1. That’s so kind of you, Nadia. Thank you. It’s incredible how much better things feel when we realize that we are not alone. Thanks for reading!

  5. I think God has given you a way, a few,first, our problems pale compared to others, second, I don’t know much on mediation, or yoga, but it seems the calming, deep breathing helps, that to me might suggest a physical act might also help. To me, working in the yard always gives me peace, planting, trimming, it all helps. Third, opening yourself, showing to you first, what scares you, makes you conquer them in a way. I’m thinking you are on the right track. You sharing them reminds not just me what helps, but others too, thank you for helping.

    1. Absolutely – anything can be a meditation! Especially things that are out in nature. Glad you found something that works for you.

  6. I had never had an anxiety attack until I was in a serious car accident seven years ago. Thank goodness I had the first full blown attack in the ER at the hospital with a doctor and nurse standing beside my bed. I thought I was going to die! Thanks to the help of a psychologist, who I saw for four years but no longer see, I was able to develop coping mechanisms for my anxiety. It was no small task, as I’m sure you’re aware. Autogenic relaxation techniques, meditation through yoga, and acupuncture keep me on track and I only very rarely need to take prescription medication for it now. Before, it felt like I was eating Ativan like it was candy. Much better without it. 🙂

    Lovely post, Lisa. Thanks for putting yourself out there, letting the rest of us know we’re not alone.

  7. Lisa, I love your blog and today in particular made me smile. Not at the anxiety of others but of something I learned when I was very young (during high school). You see I wanted to be a singer and an actor, I did plays at school, church etc and usually had the lead in everything I did but I would get so nervous before I would be sick (sound familiar?) However, I was determined that’s what I was going to do I read books an took classes and did every play I could. Finally I read a book, I think it was called, “How To Audition” in reading it I realized it boiled down to this regarding an audition or anything that can make you feel anxious…if you think of the worst thing that can happen to you there is a thought process, for example in the case of auditioning: you could get so nervous that your throat would constrict until you couldn’t breathe and you would die, thus not having to audition in the first place. I know it sounds extreme but it’s kind of like psyching yourself up and then out of whatever it is that your afraid of.

    I also think personal beliefs, faith and/or a good support system of encouraging friends and family can have a lot to do with helping ourselves out of our fears.

    Bad things do happen to good people, that’s inevitable but there’s usually a reason or a chain of events that usually has some sort of a positive outcome for someone connected to that person the bad things are happening to (wow if you knew me and my recent history you’d be as surprised as I am that just came out of my mouth or in this case fingertips!)

    Anyway, keep up the good work, I think you have a lot to offer the world through the insight of your thoughts and experiences and I for one appreciate and benefit from it. Thank you.

  8. Lisa you really inspired me to get into personal writing more and as a result I started reflecting on myself and my life through my posts. Thank you for sharing such wonderful content with us.

  9. Good for you Lisa, looks like you have done alright in life and continuing to move forward, an very proud to have known you in my lifetime, keep up the great writings.


  10. I, too, have recently tried to make a serious effort at meditation for some reasons similar to yours. And what you describe is exactly the problem I have with it. It is so difficult to quiet my mind, but what they say is that it just takes practice. Keep doing it, make it a regular part of your life, and your “skills” at this will grow. I’m still waiting for that to happen for me. 😉

  11. Loved this post. Between acting & writing, I’ve gotten really good at drawing up the worst case scenario and embellishing it with vivid colors. (Somehow the best case scenario is never quite as life-like.) You’re so right – it’s important to be with yourself in this moment, and appreciate what’s actually here.

  12. Dear Lisa, How astute and deep you are in your being. Thank You for sharing the experience of “letting go & letting God”. He is full of mercy, grace, peace, understanding and LOVE which you only will find in Him. My Dad is a Vietnam Vet, got a Purple Heart…when I was 16 he came back with PTSD…He spends a lot of time with himself. I remember his night terror noises, his irritability about most everything, his fear when we were in a toy store and someone shot a play gun…He “hit the deck” in record time. His temperament changed but every now & again I saw a glimpse of the man I knew who was tender, caring and loving. Keep On Doing Lisa 🙂 You are the only one who can be YOU in this world & we are lucky to be Blessed with you. May the Lord Bless You and Protect You. May the Lord Smile on You and Be Gracious to You. May the Lord Show You His Favor and Give You His Peace.

  13. Thanks Lisa- perhaps it is a space thing- I get anxious when the slobs I work with chew seaweed in my face, and attempt to talk business while slurping food, the world is uncouth, I often retreat from it. Retreat is okay, just keep a peace full heart. And not feel you must change to please others.

  14. This is one of the better posts you’ve written – at least to me. I wish I had read it when you first wrote it (I’ve been shedding my online life and stayed away from the blogs to focus) for it reaffirms. That line toward the end about past and future, and “But I saw some peace” resonated. Anyway – thanks!

    1. Thank you so much. My next book is going to deal with a lot of these topics – so I hope that means that you will enjoy it!

  15. “such as the fact that my computerized house was really trying to kill me”

    Hey, I saw that TV movie!

    “Those voices pointed out all the other people in the world who understood how to do this life thing just fine, and how pathetic it was that I had massive anxiety about going to the grocery store.”

    Ugh, yeah. I’ve been there. I think my whole life I’ve been wondering how everyone does everything. Then I started suspecting that most of them are faking it. Or lying:(

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