We are a group of women of a certain age, who, having led busy lives between work and family, are now, for the most part, at a time in our lives when we are able to choose the things we really want to do. Most of us have a lighter load of the things we feel we have to do, thanks to retirement, an empty nest, husbands taking on a greater role around the house, etc. Of course, some of us have more responsibilities, taking care of loved ones who are ill, reaching out into the community, etc. But in general, we feel more empowered to choose our actions and activities.
Perhaps because women are inherently multi-taskers (to keep the toddler from drowning in the river while we gather berries and firewood), we often find that our thoughts during any activity include a little anxiety about something else we should be doing instead. This keeps us from being fully present in the moment to enjoy what we are doing and to do it well.
One way to bring full mindfulness to every activity is to organize our day as if we were on retreat. Vipassana meditation retreats are quite structured, which we might think would create limitations, but actually creates freedom. When it is time to sit, we simply sit, and don’t feel we should be elsewhere. Likewise, when we are doing a walking meditation, eating a meal, or resting.
Part of every retreat day is a designated period where we do our yogi job. This is a voluntary chore of cleaning or food preparation that helps keep the retreat running smoothly. During that period we do our work mindfully, noticing the arising of misguided motivations (‘This will be the cleanest shower anyone’s ever seen! I’ll be the best yogi ever!’ or ‘Why on earth did I pick this yogi job? I bet sweeping the terrace would be a lot better.’) We might notice unskillful effort: striving too hard with our thoughts only on the goal instead of living the activity; or sloughing off, doing the least we can ‘get away with.’
This sense of a yogi job, that we do to the best of our ability with mindfulness and wise effort for a set amount of time during the day, works very well for doing household chores, bookkeeping and errands. Without that boundary-setting of a limited time frame, we have a running To Do list in our heads that keeps us on a never ending treadmill of feeling we are not doing enough, when we may very well be doing too much.
One thing that several students and I found was that email and online activity gobbles up time in a way that is quite unnerving. I liken my circling round to check email as having the same addictive quality I have felt at times in my life when I have mindlessly circled round to the refrigerator. If it feels like an addiction, then we can either go cold turkey by not having this technology at all, or we can set limits.
Limits might be as simple as using a timer. Make a note of what we originally wanted to accomplish on the computer/smart phone beforehand, then do that first before opening email and getting off track. This sounds easier than it is in practice, but I am setting the challenge for myself to see if it can be done.
A Surfeit of Options
– What is my intention with this action?
If you find through this exploration that any of your activities are not Wise Action, then the wise course of action is to make a change in as mindful and compassionate a way as possible.
11/12/13 P.S. I just received a link to a post on TinyBuddha that totally fits into this discussion and offers more valuable questions we can ask ourselves when we are looking at all we have to do.