Am I Overthinking Things?

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Am I Overthinking Things?
Once, during savasana, or corpse pose, at the end of a yoga class, I was lying on my back with my eyes closed, jiggling one foot, when the teacher came over and whispered, "Whatever you're thinking about, I promise it will be better if you can stop thinking about it for five minutes."

I knew that was true, but then I spent five minutes thinking about why it was true: why ceasing to think might be useful, and why I struggle with it, and whether I really wanted to be more corpselike. I do not have a quiet mind.

I'm a writer, which is a lucky break for me: I'm paid to turn things over and over. The artist I feel most kinship with is the French painter Pierre Bonnard, who revised his work endlessly and once had a friend distract a guard in the Musée du Luxembourg so he could fix a painting after it had been hung.

But self-editing becomes a habit. I lose sleep rerunning conversations in my mind. All the dumb things I said (the inane questions, the indiscretions, the inadvertent slights) could have been avoided if I'd been able to take some time to consider and revise.

I also think about the tiny chance occurrences that determine the course of a life. I tagged along on someone else's blind date, as the guest of a guest of a guest, and met the man I love. I took a beginning fiction class, and a fellow student became, years later, my wonderful editor. I stood in the shade against a building and then walked away, and a ton of bricks fell and buried the spot where I'd been standing. Those accidents of fate make me think that every step we take should be weighed and measured. A different party, a different class, a longer pause on the street might change everything. How do you know which is the right path when there's no moral difference and you can't see the outcome or the other options? How do you not second-guess everything?

I think the yoga teacher is right: Giving your brain a break makes everything easier. The solution seems to be in the physical, in getting out of the mind and into the body, but yoga isn't enough for my fidgeting brain. So I've tried to find activities that don't let you think.

My latest attempt is flying trapeze. In theory, it's the perfect Zen practice because it happens so fast. If you're not in the moment, you'll do everything a moment too late. But I am perfectly capable of stewing and indecision in midair. When doing a trick with a full twist, I have twisted one way and then changed my mind and twisted back the other, which doesn't work—you go tumbling crazily to the net. A coach once shouted from the ground, as I reached for the bar to begin, "I can see you thinking! Stop that!"

Sometimes, magically, I can stop, especially when I've done a trick so often that my body knows what happens next without any meddling from upstairs. I am airborne, weightless, not thinking at all. It has a sluicing effect on the mental clutter. It's not only exhilarating, it's a profound relief.

Back on the ground, in my deliberating brain, everything is a little quieter. Thinking is necessary and useful again, but there's a clearer space for it. Once in a while you need to put thoughts on hold, by whatever means possible, and just leap.

—Maile Meloy, author of Both Ways Is The Only Way I Want It