There’s something about the promise of variety, novelty and sheer quantity.
The other day, while I was at my trainer’s studio, I noticed a popular women’s fitness magazine on the coffee table. Mixed in with the usual headlines (flat belly, sexy legs, yada yada yada), one line with an eye-popping number grabbed my attention: “860 MOVES FOR A HOT UPPER BODY.”
Not six moves, mind you, or even 60, but 860. That’s a lot for any person to go through, even for the hottest of upper bodies. I felt exhausted before my workout had even begun.
Of course, the cover line was mostly a ruse: In reality, the article was a fairly standard collection of a couple dozen straightforward resistance exercises.
I suppose, technically, that if you combined all the suggested sets and reps in various combinations, it would probably add up to something like 860 total “moves.” And I’m sure if you did any of those moves often enough for long enough, they’d probably net you a hot upper body. But I don’t think that’s the point.
The point is that there’s something about the promise of variety, novelty and sheer quantity that appeals powerfully to us. That’s why fashion magazines like to trumpet 379 ways to look great this fall, why money magazines promise 1,029 ways to get richer faster.
Variety is fun and interesting. So if we’re told there are 12 of something, or 101 of something, or 860 of something, we naturally tend to be at least a little curious about all of them. As a species, we’re wired up to be fascinated by new things and new possibilities, and in many respects, that thirst for learning and discovery is good for us.
But I sometimes think that we allow our insatiable appetites for things numerous and novel to distract us from deeper, more singular explorations that really deserve our attention.
Take the meditation class I signed up for last month. I won’t lie: I only made it to two of the three sessions, and I never got around to doing most of the homework. But in those precious moments I spent seated cross-legged on a blanket, breathing and silently repeating a simple mantra, something amazing happened: The zig-zagging, neon-lit marketplace of my busy mind became a soft, dark, quiet space, and I felt…at peace. Really.
Even though it was the hungry, curious, experience-collecting part of me that brought me to the class, once our meditation sessions started, that was not the part of me that showed up. What showed up, instead, was an aspect of my person that was shockingly uninterested in seeking or knowing or evaluating or worrying — or even in getting anything in particular out of the experience.
I’d meditated before, mostly in short stints during yoga, or as part of my brief morning practice. But I’d never done it in this kind of formal, group setting with an experienced guide and proper preparation. All I can say is — wow.
It’s not until your brain stops its infernal spinning that you realize how accustomed you’ve grown to its constant hum and vibration. It’s not until you agree to simply observe your thoughts passing across the screen of your mind that you realize how utterly ridiculous, grasping and repetitive some of those thoughts are.
And in my case, it wasn’t until our meditation teacher brought our sessions to an end, inviting us to emerge slowly from our meditative states, that I realized how refreshing the simple experience of “just being” could be.
For a moment there, I didn’t want 860 of anything. Blissfully, I had everything I needed, and felt just fine the way I was. It’s a good feeling.
Maybe you mediate; maybe you don’t. Either way, if there’s one wish I have for you, it’s that for at least a few moments, you get a chance to experience the rare pleasure of doing nothing at all, and discover firsthand just how satisfying that can be.