Staying Still

by Thomas J. Scheff (May 2014)


For the last few years I have been meditating every morning. Naturally, my mind wanders off. I quickly forget that I am supposed to focus on breathing, thinking instead about work I have done or needs to be done, past or future conversations, or countless other matters.

My own wish is that I had discovered meditation when I was younger. In twenty or thirty years I might have become a different person than I am now. Come to think of it, my mother tried to steer me in this direction. Mineh Yiddishe mama hat mir die ganze geschicte gesagt. (My Jewish mother has told me the whole story.)

When I was old enough to jump around in my crib,

At our home in Kilgore, Texas

My mom would say:

Schwei stil. You’re the Wild Man of Borneo.*

If you don’t lay down and take a nap,

You’ll be sorry.”

Since I kept dancing, she pretended

To hit my rampaging feet with a belt.

The only result was that we would both laugh.

Finally she would put down the belt.

Her parting shot: “You’re trying to drive me crazy.”


Sorry, mom, at 84, still frolicking, but only in my mind.

But there are too many hills and green valleys to explore

conversations to remember,

lists of household jobs crying out to be done,

poems to imagine, and more, on and on.

The difference is,

Now I am earnestly trying to schwei stil

Before staying still forever.


* Attraction at Barnum & Bailey Circus




Thomas J. Scheff is Professor Emeritus, Dept. of Sociology, at the University of California at Santa Barbara. His latest book is What's Love Got to Do with It?: The Emotional World of Popular Songs (Boulder: Paradigm Publishers) 2011.

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