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Daily Rituals

Benjamin Franklin’s ideal daily routine, from his autobiography

Given this schedule snippet, I think ol’ Ben Franklin and I could’ve been friends. Last night, my friend Jeff lent me a book he thought I’d enjoy, called Daily Rituals: How Great Minds Make Time, Find Inspiration, and Get to Work, by Mason Currey. The image above is pictured alongside the title page at the start of the book, and right away I thought to myself: This is gonna be a good read.

I read the intro and the first 15 pages this morning and was hooked. Over 160 of the greatest philosophers, writers, composers and artists are featured in this collection of Daily Rituals. And I could relate right away with the author’s musings in the intro, which I took as a good sign of things to come. He writes:

 

My underlying concerns in the book are issues that I struggle with in my own life: How do you do meaningful creative work while also earning a living? Is it better to devote wholly to a project or to set aside a small portion of each day? And when there doesn’t seem to be enough time for all you hope to accomplish, must you give things up (sleep, income, a clean house), or can you learn to condense activities, to do more in less time…More broadly, are comfort and creativity incompatible, or is the opposite true: Is finding a basic level of daily comfort a prerequisite for sustained creative work?

…The book’s title is Daily Rituals, but my focus in writing it was really people’s routines. The word connotes ordinariness and even a lack of thought; to follow a routine is to be on autopilot. But one’s daily routine is also a choice, or a whole series of choices. In the right hands, it can be a finely calibrated mechanism for taking advantage of a range of limited resources: time (the most limited resource of all) as well as willpower, self-discipline, optimism.

And my favorite line from the intro:

A solid routine fosters a well-worn groove for one’s mental energies and helps stave off the tyranny of moods.

With the catalyst and accelerate of going to Deer Park Monastery every January for the past 4 years, to spend a few weeks on retreat, I’ve parlayed myself into something I’d been wanting for a long while: a consistent and diligent routine, primarily to help me develop a writing schedule that I could stick with. As someone on disability, who works a job-job just one day a week, I have a lot of unstructured time on my hands. But, as I am also someone who is highly organized and manages, plans, and hosts a wealth of different things, I perform optimally when I come up with a schedule to follow.

Every day I am balancing my passion for writing with my to-do list associated with being the director of a mindfulness community center, serving in my capacity as a spiritual leader to my cherished sangha, and being a grateful home-maker, helping to take care of my household and the people who reside within its humble walls. There’s also the delightful element of cultivating friendships, which is a great joy for me that I prioritize in my life. And last – but actually first in the priorities department – comes the relationship that I build and strengthen with my own self and my mindfulness practice. So, these are ALL part of my every day balance: writing, to-do list on the mindfulness center/sangha front, to-do list on the home front, staying in close contact with friends, and staying in close connection with myself. And in all sincerity, I do each of these things with an overwhelming sense of gratitude. Each element nourishes me in different ways. AND, I actively practice to keep it that way. How we live is a matter of choice – it really is – and I choose to fuel up my joy and gratitude tanks on the daily.

While it doesn’t speak to everyone, of course, having daily rituals and a schedule works really well for me. Lately, I’ve been stepping into sharing about this side of myself more, which can be challenging, as there’s a tendency for others to either feel bad for not having such a regimented accounting of their own time or for them to be rather incredulous about the nature of how I craft my daily routine. What?! they’ll say, you get up every day at 5am?! That’s crazy! And then I’m all like: Is it? I mean, on some level I get that it’s not super common and comes as a surprise to hear, but on another level I’d rather not draw unnecessary attention to myself and have to field people’s shock-and-awe response.

But, as I’ve been working towards sharing more and more about myself, in regards to both creative and mundane matters – in the last year especially – this new read I’ve just started offers a wonderful writing prompt for me to embark upon. So this is me, embarking upon it.

I wrote this in my leather-bound journal early this morning:

Just as the sun needs to trade places with the moon in order to construct the most suitable conditions for life-dwelling, so too does my desire for solitude and stillness sit in balance with the nourishment and inspiration I richly receive from being in the direct and precious company of others. Like the in-breath and out-breath, I require both solo and collaborative time, in order to thrive.

 

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Posted by on December 13, 2017 in Everyday Practice

 

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Knowing Thyself

To listen to me reading this blog post in audio form:

 

I’ve questioned whether I can make it through this book: A Million Little Pieces by James Frey, the likes of which I discovered propped up in one of those little free libraries situated on a quiet neighborhood street in town. I almost didn’t take it, on account of the Oprah’s Book Club sticker adhered to the cover, which was designed to be a draw, a first-class recommendation, a rubber-stamp of approval by someone people trust. For me, though, it served only the ill-affects of resigning to a fate that had been chosen – neigh, thrusted – upon the masses, as though a woman who graces the cover of every O magazine should wield the power to say what’s hot in the literary world. How does this work? Do people care so little for their own opinion that they should have cause to hold hers in such high regard as to turn over their decision making power? But, I digress.

The reason I may not get through this book has nothing, in fact, to do with the circular sticker glued to the front. Instead, it has to do with the sheer visceral magnitude of the writer’s account of getting sober – in what turns out to be the oldest residential drug and alcohol treatment facility in the world, located in the state of Minnesota. The rock-bottom nature of his experience. The clutching force of how far a human being can spiral down the black hole of depravity. The hellish descriptions of agony. But it’s the realness that keeps me reading. And I know that since he mustered the ability to relive it while coiled over his computer, hands shaky on the keys, I can settle in beside him and listen to his story.

The point? There’s a time to push through discomfort and there’s a time not to. It depends on the situation and where we’re at. If we don’t know ourselves well, it becomes almost impossible to intuit which time calls for which action. Sometimes discomfort is a sign of needing to stop engaging with something because it may trigger us in un-beneficial ways. Other times, it’s a sign to keep going because it affords us the opportunity to learn and grow. And only we ourselves can know which time is which.

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Zen is Right Here (Recommended Read)

This morning I started reading Zen is Right Here, which is compilation of short teaching stories and anecdotes of Shunryu Suzuki, who’s often called Suzuki Roshi. It’s a great read so far and I’m very much enjoying it – I also especially appreciate how short the stories and anecdotes are, as I wasn’t looking to launch into a long and heavily involved book.

From the book:

A student asked Suzuki Roshi why the Japanese make their teacups so thin and delicate that they break easily.

“It’s not that they’re too delicate,” he answered, “but that you don’t know how to handle them. You must adjust yourself to the environment and not vice versa.”

– Page 64

 

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Deer Park: Day 18

(Helpful Info & Terminology: This is part of a series of blog posts written during my recent retreat stay at Deer Park Monastery, located in southern California, in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh. Due to not having had Internet access I will be posting two days worth of my writing each day from while I was there on retreat.

Laypeople: Also called lay friends or laymen and laywomen, are all of us who come here to practice but are not monks or nuns.
Monastics: The collective group of both monks and nuns.
Clarity Hamlet: Where the nuns, also called Sisters, reside. Laywomen stay here as well.
Solidity Hamlet: Where the monks, also called Brothers, reside. Laymen and couples/families stay here as well. (Clarity and Solidity are just a short 10-15 minute walk in distance from each other).
Thay: Refers to Thich Nhat Hanh, meaning teacher in Vietnamese)

DSCN0701                                                                                             Pepper tree

Day Eighteen:
Tuesday February 2nd, 2016

12:00pm

Here’s a time I don’t usually write at: noon o’clock. Usually at this time I would be otherwise engaged in a scheduled activity, most often outdoor walking meditation, soon to come back to my hut to take a nap. But I skipped both our working meditation and the outdoor walking today and instead went back to bed after breakfast for some more rest and to care for my still injured leg. I applied arnica cream a few times yesterday, used the crutches, and stayed off of the leg for most of the day and evening. I went to bed earlier than usual last night, skipping really the only evening program we’ve ever had scheduled (which was a Beginning Anew with the laywomen in the tea room, led by one of the Sisters I would guess). I was awoken just before 9:00pm by my roommate who’s been caring for me. She was gently slipping a rubber hot water bottle, surrounded by soft cloth, under my affected leg, to help soothe the sore and tender muscles. Having had my ear plugs in I pulled one out when I felt my sleeping bag moving just in time to hear her whisper, “It’s OK, stay asleep.” The heat was a welcome addition and I could feel my leg rest more at ease with its aid. She brought me a freshly heated one this morning too as I drifted off to sleep for my long morning nap. Both times were unexpected and unprompted. Like I said before, not her first rodeo.

I’m enjoying the rare occurrence of an empty hut with no roommates milling around. Thankfully all of my roommates are all very quiet but it’s more than the quiet that I revel in, it’s the stillness, the solitude. Turns out skipping scheduled activities is a great way to get the place all to yourself – no wonder my one roommate was always around before, she was probably trying to get some alone time too!

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Posted by on February 25, 2016 in Deer Park Monastery

 

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Present Moment, Wonderful (Rainy) Moment

Weather photo from the Missoulian from Sept. 3rd. By Carson C., 10 years old. (I'm pretty sure the words on the right say Noodles Express :)

Weather pic from the Missoulian by 10 year old Carson C. – the words on the right say Noodles Express :)

Yesterday morning I woke up at 4:00am to the wonderful sound of rain outside.  Situated here in the Rocky Mountains we’ve been in the midst of a very active fire season this year, along with our northwestern neighbors of Idaho and Washington.  While fire season is nothing new around these parts I was reading in the news that the severity of our air quality has been the most troublesome its been in over 10 years.  And, the article noted, fire season isn’t over for us yet.  We got a little reprieve from our dry, smokey conditions by getting some much needed rain yesterday, with lower than average temperatures rolling in.

I had such a lovely morning yesterday – listening to the rain, sipping tea, and starting a new book I was eager to read.  My living room window was open and the cool, dark morning air sifted in along with the sweet sound of the rain.  I opened the front door and the rich fragrance of wet earth was simply amazing.  On Wednesday I had stopped to smell some beautiful roses whose scent was similar in nature – incredible beyond words.  Breathing in deeply the perfumed morning air yesterday a thought arose, Never before have I inhaled such a wonderful aromatic bouquet!   And then I remembered thinking the same thing about the roses from the day before.  One of the things I most appreciate about having a mindfulness practice is the power to transform everyday situations into precious moments – where every rose and rainstorm have the ability to be the best smelling rose and rainstorm ever.  I am so grateful for being in touch with a practice whose foundation is that each present moment has the capacity to be the most wonderful moment.

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Great Read

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“…people in your life don’t get in the way of your spiritual practice; these people are your spiritual practice. Through each other we discover that if we have the heart – the willingness, the strength, the courage – we have the capacity to plant the seeds of kindness, compassion, forgiveness, seeds of laid-back humor, a sense of letting go. But your heart must be quicker than your mind. Trust me, that organ between your ears is always spoiling for a fight…But the real fight is taking place inside you, within the “dharma organ,” the heart, where the challenge is to unify and understand, where the seeds of love and compassion are struggling to lay roots, to gain ground. Lend this struggle an ear. Just pause for three seconds. One banana…two banana…three banana…Pause and listen. Pause and breathe. Pause and gather your scattered, wild energies, your shattered soul…before you fling that seed of hate into the wind. Mark my works, times are tough and the ground is fertile. That seed will grow.”

From Zen Confidential, Confessions of a Wayward Monk
by Shozan Jack Haubner

 
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Posted by on July 15, 2014 in Everyday Practice

 

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Recommended Read

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Browsing through our local Book Exchange store a few months ago I came upon this book (pictured above).  Not being an avid reader I didn’t actually get to reading it until recently.  But with my new morning routine, since coming back from my recent one-month retreat at Deer Park Monastery, I’ve been waking up early, reading, and then practicing sitting meditation.  I’m almost finished with this book entitled, A Spiritual Renegade’s Guide to the Good Life by Lama Marut.  And while I’ve not connected with everything in this book I have very much enjoyed it and would recommend it to others.

Lama Marut’s book is filled with humor, insight, real world correlations, big fancy type words I had to look up the definitions for, and a laid back approach, and did I mention humor?  On the back of the book cover it explains Lama Marut as “an ordained Buddhist monk, a university professor, a surfer, and a motorcycle enthusiast.”  And while pictures of motorcycles grace the front cover of the book and are peppered throughout the chapters, there is no real connection that I can ascertain between them and the content he writes about.  So, in case you were wondering, this book does not, as the cover may imply, have anything to do with motorcycles.  I think it is Lama Marut’s clever way of drawing us rogue spiritual types in to pick up the book :)  And apparently, in my case at least, it worked!

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Posted by on March 21, 2014 in Everyday Practice

 

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