Eileen Fisher, Designer and President of Eileen Fisher, Inc.
You have only to lay your eyes on Fisher's elegantly understated clothing to appreciate her talent for paring away the unessential. Now 52, presiding over one of the top privately held female-owned businesses in the country, Fisher recalls her early 20s, when she lived unhappily with her boyfriend in a dark SoHo loft. "I think it's the most lost I've ever been," she says. "Everything was hard. I felt depressed a lot of the time." One by one, her friends had fallen away because her boyfriend didn't like them. She couldn't turn to her family because her parents disapproved of her living arrangement. And, having fulfilled a long-standing ambition to move to New York from her home in Chicago, she didn't want to reveal herself as anything other than the strong, independent person she'd always presented to the world.
I see you in the kitchen, the only real room in that huge loft. You're there because you're trying to make space for yourself. You feel so negated, so erased, that you're looking for a corner to call your own. But here's what you don't know: The space you're searching for isn't physical. You need psychological space.
You need to be alone—but you're afraid. It feels incomplete, wrong somehow, to be without a man. When you have a boyfriend, you feel defined as a person. But, Eileen, that's a trap.
What I can see, almost 30 years later, is that you need time with yourself, not a friend or a man. When you sit with yourself, you can't ignore your thoughts and feelings. You may have to go through pain, but on the other side is the good stuff. You don't have to be afraid of being alone.
I feel so sad to think of what will happen if you don't learn this huge lesson. You'll lose pieces of yourself along the road. You know how much you love to dance? You've danced for the fun of it from the time you were tiny. You went dancing with your boyfriend in college and rocked out with friends in your college dorm. All that joy is going to fall away and you're going to stop dancing for 20 years.
Meditation has become the best way I know to listen to myself. The gift I give you is the words I often say when I begin to meditate:
Stillness is the ground of being from which all else emerges. It is within and behind every breath, every thought, every action. It is my starting point, my resting place, the home base to which I can return again and again.
In stillness I notice how time and space disappear. All there is, is the present moment and my willingness to listen...to allow the stillness to speak.*
Next: Breena Clark, author of River, Cross My Heart, on barriers
* From Meditations & Rituals for Conscious Living, by Nancy J. Napier and Carolyn M. Tricomi