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.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Year of Doing Nothing (post 1.05)

At Kripalu, they call this path the path of the householder.  As opposed to the path of the spiritual ascetic who spends all of their life immersed in the path, often by the way supported by entire communities of people, the householder blends spiritual practices with the common requirements of living a family life filled with a variety of responsibilities and obligations.  How do we accomplish this?

As if to illustrate my point, mother nature has dumped a winter storm on our doorstep today.  Yesterday, it was my intention to continue working on blending my "shoulds" with my time in spiritual practices, with an aim toward reducing the time spent on "shoulds", but there was a very practical need to prepare for the winter storm.  So most of my day was spent running errands, getting food and supplies, and making chili for my family.  I also had to teach a Yoga class in the evening and possibly needed to pick up my son from an after school event.  It didn't look like it would be a day that I could easily balance.

I decided that my attitude toward my day was of utmost importance.  I could run my errands, feeling frustrated and rushed, and maybe even a little resentful, and try to stuff as much into the day as possible.  Or I could choose to run my errands in as relaxed a state of mind as possible, breathing deeply, and reminding myself as frequently as necessary that any task that didn't get completed was okay.  I repeat:  I reminded myself as frequently as necessary that any task that didn't get completed was okay.  I used the challenge of the day as an opportunity to practice.  I wanted to work on "non-striving", even as I went about my day trying to be as productive as possible.  I was especially conscious about not rushing which has been a bad habit of mine and seems to be a sort of epidemic in our culture.

As a result, I did get my errands done and to my surprise I had time for a one hour meditation/practice session.  I did need to let go of my desire to post a blog, but  I ended the day feeling refreshed instead of depleted.

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Year of Doing Nothing (post 1.04)

In addition to non-striving, the idea of eliminating as many "shoulds" as possible was appealing to me.  I had been wanting to dive into my practice in a deeper way for awhile, but I was frequently plagued with the "shoulds" that kept interrupting the flow of my day and disrupting my good intentions.  I should clean out the closets.  I should get more organized.  I should get my son to the orthodontist.  I should send an email to that long lost friend.   I should check out that sale at Coldwater Creek.

Obviously, there were "shoulds" in my life that had to be addressed at some point and there were "shoulds" in my life that didn't have to be there at all.  The sum total of "shoulds" was using up a lot of real estate in my head.  I needed to reduce these.  I also had a sense that I needed to examine how I handled the "shoulds".

When I am on retreat at Kripalu,  I gradually slow down and let go of the "shoulds".  There is a spaciousness that enters my days that I don't have at home.  Of course, at Kripalu, I'm not doing laundry, cooking, grocery shopping; it takes about 24 hours for my whole system to slow down enough for me to realize I don't have to keep up the hectic pace of daily life.  I take a deep breath and time expands.  How could I structure my life so that more of this was happening for me at home?  How could I set up my life over the next 12 months so that I could be on sabbatical, as I defined it?  So that I could dive into my practices in a deeper way.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

The Year of Doing Nothing (post 1.03)

Non-striving.  Not trying to reach for anything.  Not trying to change anything.  Letting go of the desire for things to be different.  Staying in this moment just as it is.

Well, of course, as a long-time Yoga teacher and student this essentially was my practice anyway.  But I realized that making this my sole focus for an entire year was going to raise the bar a bit.  Was I ready for this? In some respects, I was more than ready for this.  In 2010, which according to some who study the effects of the planets on our life, was an incredibly tumultuous year.  I don't really understand the effects of the planets, but I can say that 2010 was, for me, and for my family, a very tumultuous year.  At the end of 2009, I got engaged.  In 2010, my partner moved in, my son went through some significant adjustments, and I completed my 500 hour certificate for Yoga Teacher training at Kripalu.  That all happened before the end of January.  Then I became sick for many months with mysterious symptoms of unknown origin which included vertigo, temporary blindness in one eye, and extreme fatigue.  Before I was really well,  I bought a condo with my fiance, then purchased a second condo before either of us had sold our homes.  We then proceeded to sell both homes and move in the middle of the summer.  I moved my son from one school system to another, my fiance had minor surgery which required about 6 weeks of recuperation and we took two vacations.  At the end of the year, my father-in-law-to-be passed away, and with some sadness we celebrated our second Christmas together as a new family.  It was exhilarating.  It was exhausting.

Perhaps I was drawn to the idea of being on sabbatical because I really needed some down time!  I knew that with a partner, a child, a business to run, it wouldn't really be about doing nothing.  There was plenty to do.  So I began the year by looking at my habits and determining where I could make more room in my life for "doing nothing".  I decided I needed to define what "doing nothing" meant.  Certainly, non-striving made sense.  We had been through so much change in 2010, it really was time to just stop for awhile, to be still, to not try to change anything else. 

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

The Year of Doing Nothing (post 1.02)

A good friend of mine and Yoga teacher gave me a valuable piece of advice which has become a tool that I use all of the time. She said, "Whenever you find yourself deliberating and unable to make a decision, let it go, and then see how it comes back to you." I've used this tool over and over again and it really works. If I'm stuck and unable to make a decision, I'm usually obsessing. I can weigh the pros and cons as well as anyone, but sometimes there is something else weighing on my heart and I just can't figure it out. This is when I let "it" go. I stop thinking about what I want to have happen and what I don't want to have happen. I stop worrying. I stop wondering what it would be like if I pursued this thing I'm thinking about. I just let "it" go.

When you really let something go like this, you actually forget about it. You go about your business as usual, get back into your routine, get grounded in yourself, and then at some point, and it could be fifteen minutes later or perhaps fifteen days later, a thought occurs to you and you realize what it is you truly want or need to do. It's called clarity.

After I let go of my thoughts of taking a year-long sabbatical, (and I must admit that first I had a pretty good laugh with a friend about what a crazy idea this was) I completely forgot about it. About a week later, I was reading Pema Chodron's book as I was preparing for a yoga workshop on life transitions that I was going to give in January and "it" struck me. I suddenly realized that The Year of Doing Nothing wasn't about doing nothing at all. It was about non-striving. The Year of Doing Nothing was exactly what I needed to do.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

The Year of Doing Nothing

Late last year I once again picked up Pema Chodron's book When Things Fall Apart. In the introduction she said that she had the pleasure of producing the book during a year that she was on sabbatical. She begins: "In 1995 I took a sabbatical. For twelve months I essentially did nothing. It was the most spiritually inspiring time of my life. Pretty much all I did was relax. I read and hiked and slept. I cooked and ate, meditated and wrote. I had no schedule, no agenda, and no "shoulds".

I found her words refreshing and extradordinarily tempting. What would happen if I decided to take a sabbatical? What would happen if I dedicated an entire year to doing nothing? One minute I was allowing this delicious thought to dance between my synapses and in the next I was splashdown. It's not possible, I thought. I have a child. I have a partner. I have a Yoga studio to run. There is no way I can drop everything and go on "sabbatical".

I decided to put my doubts on hold and see what comes up next.