Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Year of Doing Nothing (Post 5.01)

I've just reread the last post I published and had a good laugh.  It's been three months since I posted and I can see from my last post that I needed to take a break from recording my insights!

I'd like to say that I took these last three months to "begin again", to just practice, and that I was able to immerse myself daily and to find clarity of purpose.  It's never this easy, at least not in my experience. Again, I go back to the challenges of being on the householder path.  How do we remain committed to our spiritual practices in the midst of what seems sometimes to be the never ceasing demands of those in our household and the extended family we belong to?

Sometimes we find ourselves playing a particular role in a loved one's life and it is necessarily all-consuming.  Swami Kripalu's own intensive sadhana included social silence for many years.   I had the priviledge of listening to a recording of a talk he gave at the Kripalu ashram years after emerging from this intensive sadhana in which he eloquently spoke about love as the highest spiritual practice, and the greatest practice of love being that of love of the family. I take refuge in remembering his sweet words on this subject often.

We should not despair in being on this householder path.  Even when circumstances drain our energy or leave us feeling uninspired, a little lost and confused.  Though it may seem like it, we have not abandoned our spiritual path; when we are in loving relationship with others, we are practicing the highest spiritual practice of all.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Year of Doing Nothing (post 2.04)

Doing nothing is extremely challenging.  If you meditate, you may not need to read further because you already know what I am talking about.  We can't sit on a cushion attempting to not think for more than a few seconds before a thought arises.  We can be sitting on a cushion for minutes at a time thinking before we notice we are thinking.  It happens to all of us.  It happens all the time.

This morning I'm realizing that a subtle aggression has crept into my practice.  Each week for the past several weeks I have been berating myself for not posting more on my Blog.  It started out in my head as a gentle reminder, then worked it's way into the quietly whispered "I should", and "oh, didn't I want to post at least four times a week", and then before I knew it, I was practically shouting at myself,- in my head of course.

Check back with me to Blog Post 1.04.  Clearly, I am aiming this year to reduce the "shoulds".  Clearly, my desire to document my progress during this Year of Doing Nothing, has become a "should",  a kind of battle in my head.  Here I am, caught in my web again.  So I stop.  I recognize what's happening.  I am gentle with myself.  I begin my practice again.

Often times, when I am not engaged in this battle, my writing flows more freely anyway.

I discovered an interesting entry in Pema Chodron's book, Start Where You Are.  On page 26 she states, "Write less; don't try to capture it all on paper.  Sometimes writing, instead of being a fresh take, is like trying to catch something and nail it down.  This capturing blinds us and there's no fresh outlook, no wide-open eyes, no curiousity." 

There is a paradox here.  As I try to remain in my practice, fresh insights come to me.  In fact, I am somewhat surprised at how many insights I've had since January.  I am excited to write them all down and hoplessly behind in doing so.  But as I try to capture these insights here on my Blog, I have already begun to solidify in my observation, potentialy blinding myself from fresh insight.  It is an interesting balancing act, indeed.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

The Year of Doing Nothing (post 2.03)

Today I reviewed my progress.  I looked over my calendar and determined whether I was on track for scheduling no more than 1 appointment a week.  In January, I had three appointments.  February, however, was looking a bit problematic.  Seven appointments were scheduled for February.  I thought to myself, how could this be?  I'm only a month into The Year of Doing Nothing and I have seven appointments scheduled in February, two of which were scheduled at the same time on the same day!  One problem was that the month was short; the other, that I had to fit in a trip to my sister's near the end of the month. 

I decided that it would be in the interest of this project to reschedule a couple appointments into March.  I also had one week in February that had nothing on the calendar.  I called up and made an appointment for that week, filling it with something I had been procrastinating on.

I also reviewed my "to do" list.  Several items were checked off, but quite a few remained.  I decided they were in the "important, not urgent" category and kept them on the list.  I briefly pondered whether I should take one item off the list everytime I add an item, even if it's not completed.  Otherwise my "to do" list will get very long.  I am making a concerted effort not to do to everything on the list, which may sound strange, but this is in keeping with trying to make my spiritual practices a priority.

I decided it is worthwhile to check in at the beginning of the month, each month, in this way.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

The Year of Doing Nothing (post 2.02)

In her book, Start Where you Are, Pema Chodron says that real life problems, even interruptions, "are the material for waking up".  In Chapter 12. "Empty Boat", she states:  "interruptions themselves awaken us,...to the experience of both absolute and relative bohichitta, to the open, spacious quality of our minds and the warmth of our hearts."

Today was another snow day, even though we didn't have much snow.  My son was home.  My partner was working from home.  Somehow I missed the call of the snow plow operator the day before and  my vehicle was one of several that was plowed around, snowed under, and subsequently sealed by freezing rain.  I went out cheerfully and began to dig out my car around 3 pm.   After all, when you are doing nothing, you may as well be cheerful about it.  (...and I must acknowledge, shoveling my car out at 3 pm. was a bit more pleasant than shoveling it out at 8:00 pm and trudging off to work).

My neighbor was coming home and was about to park his car next to mine when he realized what I was doing.  He pulled out his shovel and began to help me dig out.  My neighbor, who barely speaks English, chatting about how crazy this winter has been, helping me, cheerfully helping me, dig out my car.  "No where to put it", he says, and then he remarks on how wonderful it is that my windshield wipers can be positioned manually up, as his car can't do that.  Amazing technological advances to be grateful for.   Amazing neighbor to be grateful for.

I think, sometimes. this is the point of practice.  To learn how to be present in the midst of each and every moment, as much as possible, even, or perhaps especially, in those moments which seem to be inconvenient interruptions, ...to drink in the full experience of life, in all it's complexity and unpredictability, and ....to remain cheerful, light-hearted.   Here, as Pema Chodron says,  is  "the open, spacious quality of our minds and the warmth of our hearts."   This is the gift.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

The Year of Doing Nothing (post 2.01)

So here I am on the first of February, wondering where January went.

I'm laughing at myself this evening.  I'm thinking about how difficult it is to do nothing.  You would think that I would find it easy to post every day.  After all, doing nothing should leave a lot time for posting.

In the past three weeks we have had several major snowstorms, several school cancellations and/or early dismissals, and work reschedulings.  Each major snowstorm brings with it the interesting challenge of shoveling out three vehicles and juggling each around ten parking lots at the condominimum so that the plows can do their job.  We've decided that snowstorms here at our condominium are a community bonding event.

It seems just yesterday I was redecorating the Christmas tree.  In the midst of these disruptions, we have had some meaningful family time, ...mostly welcome, ...usually treasured.   I also had to put together and run my workshop, "Yoga for Life Transitions", which a friend gently reminded me was not exactly "doing nothing". 

Two difficulties of householder practice: 1) life doesn't get into a rhythm, much less a predictable rhythm, and 2) uninterrupted stretches of time are difficult to come by. This is true for everyone, I think, but even more so for people who have caretaker responsibilities. 

Do deeper practices require regular stretches of  uninterrupted time? If so, I may be doomed.  Again, I find myself returning to inspiration from Pema Chodron.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

The Year of Doing Nothing (post 1.07)

I was rushed putting the Christmas tree up this year because we had company coming.  I put on the traditional holiday glass ornaments, white and red and gold, and a few other decorations of the season, but I did not get out my favorite ornaments, the animals.  I thought at the time that I would return to do that in a day or two and then I just didn't get around to it. 

Shortly after the New Year, I was considering taking the tree down as usual.  After a week or two of putting it off, I realized I didn't want to take it down.  The tree was bringing me great comfort this year. As I sat near it to read and study and reflect, I became aware that the tree was helping me to wait patiently, which I had the sense was a kind of prerequisite for The Year of Doing Nothing.

There have been many changes in my world over the last year and while we had some respite during the holiday, soon after the momentum of life took over again, resetting my family to a faster pace. My fiance returned to full-time work on January 3 after being out of work for 19 months. My son went back to school and back to "raging" adolescence in all it's glory. I sat near the tree wondering just how I was going to "do" The Year of Doing Nothing, even as my ever-changing world continued to spin around me.   Sitting near the tree, I was aware that I was able to breath deeply and remain in touch with my gratitude for the abundance in my life. Sitting near the tree, I was able to get in touch with the spacious expanse of doing nothing.  I had time. I did not have to rush. On some organic level, I knew inspiration could not be rushed.

So I kept the tree up, but redecorated it to make it more reflective of nature. I took all the ornaments off and brought out pine cones, boughs of berries, and my animal ornaments, birds, mice, polar bears, armadillos (!), etc.  A dear friend of mine reminded me that it was the Pagans, pre-dating the Christians, who started the tradition of lighting an evergreen tree. The tree lights were symbolic of  hope that the "dark" season would pass and a new season of light would return, when the sun would again stay longer in the sky and planting could begin.  It was in the spirit that I redecorated the tree.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Year of Doing Nothing (post 1.06)

One of my intentions regarding setting up my daily schedule is to reduce my "shoulds".  I've decided to experiment with making no more than one outside medical/health service appointment a week on my calendar.  I calculated the normal rate of doctor, dentist, hair, and personal service appointments and it looks like we have about 50 a year.  Since most of these appointments are scheduled several weeks in advance, I should be able to schedule them so that there is no more than one per week in my calendar. 

I'm not opposed to making exceptions, of course.  Exceptions will be made when it's apparent that something needs a higher priority.  But I'm going to look at scheduling appointments differently then the highly disciplined method I've been using since I read The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey.  (A recent google search indicates that this book, written in 1989,  has sold over 15 million copies, so I imagine a few of you know what I'm talking about.  I was at Bank of Boston when this book was first published and it was a required course for all Senior Managers.  I loved getting more organized, particularly with the demands of my position, Director of Consumer Risk Management; a field where every request tends to be perceived as a high priority request.  I learned to take refuge in this organizational style.)
Fast forward to today, I'm realizing that it is disfunctional to continue scheduling appointments and deadlines on every day of the week, sometimes several a day.    It is still my habit to look at my calendar, see a blank spot, and fill it.  I'm realizing that there is a difference between feeling "productive" and actually doing the things that matter.  What are the things that matter to me now?  ....reflection, study, prayer and meditation, activities that deepen my practice.  These activities require a certain amount of down time.  I have not been scheduling enough time for these activities., or rather, I have not been leaving enough uninterrupted time on my schedule for these activities.  I could see that I needed to change this behavior.