Arranging the Pieces… Mindfully wrestling with Newton’s first law of motion

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By Tabitha Bozeman

Newton’s first law of motion refers to the way moving objects resist change from outside forces, which can result in a state of inertia. We’ve all learned the phrase “an object in motion stays in motion,” or its fitness enthusiast cousin, “a body in motion stays in motion.”

I’ve written before about realizing that I have been too much in motion and realizing I need to be intentional in slowing down and paying attention and appreciating my surroundings. For example, earlier this week on my way to work, I sat in my car with windows down and chatting with my husband.

Suddenly, several birds began singing. We paused to listen because their songs were so beautiful. The other day, on my way into the house from work, I paused for a moment to look up at the trees. We have several extraordinarily tall pines that I love to watch sway in the breeze. These are lovely little moments of calm and beauty, and I try to pay attention to them. They help me slow down when I need to slow down and breathe when I need to breathe.

There is a delicate balance to seek out when it comes to slowing down. I want to be intentional, inslowing the minutes and hour and soaking up time with my family and appreciating the beauty of nature. But I also don’t want to realize I’m in a stupor, slowed to barely moving. Three weeks on my back when I broke my leg were more than enough to remind me that I prefer being in motion,  even slow and steady, over complete inertia.

I sometimes realize that I am stuck in a pause that isn’t the same slowness or pause as intentional moments of stillness. These moments are less restful than they are frustrating, more a standstill than a stillness. Maybe we can’t all decide what activity to do next as a family, and everyone has slowed to a standstill. Or, I can’t decide which item on my to-do list to actually do next, and I am at a standstill.

“Standstill” is defined as “a state marked by absence of motion or activity.” This is the flip side of Newton’s first law of motion: an object at rest will remain that way until an outside force makes it move.

There are moments where the internal and external and their effects on the other  seem to flip-flop. These are the moments when I realize that there is less an issue of an outside force causing or stopping motion, because the thing making me too busy or too still is often my internal self’s continuous thoughts. Those continuous thoughts, worries and plans are the monologue that rarely ceases and is often a source of inspiration, new ideas and creativity. Just as often, it is also the source of anxiety, apathy and frustration.

Learning to balance a flourishing inner life and a healthy outer life with all its relationships and demands of survival requires learning a delicate balance. It requires paying attention to ourselves and what motivates, inspires and moves us. As Lao Tzu reminds us, “Knowing how to calm ourselves and knowing when we need to sit in stillness reveals the secrets of eternity.” It also requires knowing when we need to jolt ourselves into movement, into participation in the world around us.

Susan Sontag says, “Do stuff. Be clenched, curious. Not waiting for inspiration’s shove or society’s kiss on your forehead. It’s all about paying attention. Attention is vitality. It connects you with others. It makes you eager. Stay eager.”

Finding that delicate balance is all about paying attention to ourselves, to those we love and to the world around us.

Tabitha Bozeman teaches English at Gadsden State Community College, where she is the editor-in-chief of the Cardinal Arts Journal. The opinions expressed are her own. She may be reached at tabithabozeman@gmail.com.

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