This week I went to my local bookstore and asked the clerk: Why is it that if I buy a new notebook, I think I may write something worthwhile? Nonetheless, inspired by spring, I bought a new little notebook for my new lists, along with Austin Kleon’s Keep Going, which I have really enjoyed reading.
You would think that as long as I have been working at home on my own, having to create my own structure, that by now I would know what to do. But I spend a lot of time – with paint, garden and pen – not knowing what to do. I feel this way each time I am preparing to teach. I remind myself that the time of not knowing is just as important as the time of knowing, and the time of not doing is just as important as the time of doing.
It is time to re-think the structure of my days. I discover that the pattern of my week also has a needed “refresh” button.
My need for a “new” structure was awakened by being sick for two weeks, and becoming naturally slowed down with spring congestion. It was an invitation to retreat, to rest, and renew my picture of a day. Anyone looking at my new list, may think it hasn’t changed much … the roles for the meditator, writer, painter, calligrapher, teacher, and walker are re-installed. But I have adjusted the rhythm to reflect a more realistic pattern, and to remind myself that some change in attention is needed. For example, rising at 5 am is my best time. For some of you, it will be the late hours. Find some time when the rest of the world is asleep. A time for being quiet in the stillness of the world is most important.
When I was done and had written out my new list, I realized I needed to make adjustments. In addition to times during the day when “nothing” happens, I added one whole day (inspired by being sick) where “nothing needs to happen”. Somehow, writing this down made it official. When I came to this day and consulted my list, I smiled.
Doing nothing leads to the very best of somethings.
– Winnie the Pooh
I also realized that I had left out scheduling screen time: social media, email, texting … whatever version you do for your screen time, it works best if there is a designated beginning and ending. You can always adjust the time needed, once you see how it works. What I notice is that if I set a timer for when this activity is to end, I am more focused and clear, and less tired when I finish. The danger with screens is a numbness that grows in dribbling time away on, well, dribble, and sending emails, texts, etc. that you wish you hadn’t. I also added in my coffee (or tea) ritual after meditation, and before reading and writing….
Odd as this seems, I now wake up in the morning and look at my schedule, feeling happy to have “someone else” telling me what to do. There is a paradox that is built in: my heart needs to be continuously re-oriented toward doing what feels worthy to do, rather than on how much I get done. Forget about your audience, forget about yourself for awhile.
If you don’t know where to begin, start by making something for someone else:
The best experience we get to have as humans is when we forget about ourselves and, as Kathleen Singh states, “… show up, open and embracing, in the present moment’s play of form and formlessness.” This can happen when you give yourself over to what you are making. And our making needs structure in order to play.
May is spring, a new beginning. If you are looking for a way to be happier in your days, start by making a list:
Write down 10 things you want to pay attention to this month, and create a structure for doing this.
If you want to change your life, change what you pay attention to.
– Austin Kleon, “Keep Going” https://austinkleon.com/
Or 10 things that you want to draw, and spend some time drawing each day.
(I put the penny in the photo below so you can see how tiny the redbuds are when they first bloom, with tiny green leaves at the end of the twig).
Or 10 things that you have neglected, and wish to make time for.
I will end with this poem from Pablo Neruda:
"KEEPING QUIET" BY PABLO NERUDA
Now we will count to twelve
and we will all keep still.
For once on the face of the earth,
let's not speak in any language;
let's stop for one second,
and not move our arms so much.
It would be an exotic moment
without rush, without engines;
we would all be together
in a sudden strangeness.
Fisherman in the cold sea
would not harm whales
and the man gathering salt
would look at his hurt hands.
Those who prepare green wars,
wars with gas, wars with fire,
victories with no survivors,
would put on clean clothes
and walk about with their brothers
in the shade, doing nothing.
What I want should not be confused
with total inactivity.
Life is what it is about;
I want no truck with death.
If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with death.
Perhaps the earth can teach us
as when everything seems dead
and later proves to be alive.
Now I'll count up to twelve
and you keep quiet and I will go.
—from Extravagaria (translated by Alastair Reid, pp. 27-29, 1974)
What have you discovered about “doing nothing”? Or changing your daily pattern? Or tending to something you have neglected? I’d love to hear from you.
You can see availability in 2020 classes here: https://www.lauriedoctor.com/new-events
I have just received a new book of poetry, Orion’s Belt at the End of the Drive, by my friend Pat Owen, which you can see at the publishers site: http://accents-publishing.com/orionsbelt.html