Monthly Archives: August 2014

Bring something to do


When I was first married (many years ago, to my first wife), my bride and I travelled to visit her parents.  They had a lovely place in the Colorado mountains and that morning we all agreed to go on a hike.  As we gathered near the front door, my mother-in-law excused herself to go get something.  We waited.  It took a while.  While we stood there, my wife’s father confided to me the secret to his happy marriage.  “Always have a good book,” he said with a smile.  His point: by having a good book to read while waiting for his wife, he never suffered from resentment or frustration when his wife took a few extra minutes to get ready to leave.

These days, I carry with me a small laminated piece of Scripture that I practice chanting.  Each week it’s a different set of approximately 14 verses, and it travels with me throughout the day.  On the passenger seat in my car, in my backpack, to the bank, the post office, wherever.

This means that whenever things slow down –a red light, a long line to wait in, my friend has to use the restroom at the last minute before we leave the restaurant–  whenever I’m forced to wait, I have something to do.  I have something I enjoy, something I find meaningful.  Sometimes I’m actually happy that the traffic light turned red because it gives me another minute or two to study.  Instead of getting angry, I make progress towards a spiritual goal.

I am convinced that this is a helpful practice for me, because whenever I am out and about without my little lamination, I find myself much more prone to irritation and grumpiness.  I feel forced to “waste time” or “kill time” sitting or standing around, and I don’t know how much precious time I have here.

So I heartily suggest that you find a book (poetry?!) or a calendar of daily sayings, or audio lectures, or anything that interests you that you can turn on and off easily for a minute or two at a time, and carry it around with you.   I’d guess something you find centering and calming is good, and something you won’t mind putting back down when the “enforced” wait is over.  You might want to try things that you otherwise never make time for, but that you always wanted to do– perhaps practice that foreign language you always wanted to learn?

If you decide to try this practice, please let me know how it works for you.

If you have a similar practice that you already find helpful, what is it?

May you find yourself using the time you are given wisely, in ways that strengthen you in being the person you want to be.






All beginnings are hard


So here we are, at the beginning.  The Talmud says all beginnings are hard.  And all beginnings mark the end of what went before.  So goodbye blog-less past.  Hello…  whatever the future holds.

I have found that in conversations with friends and strangers (“friends not yet met”), sharing my practices is often helpful (for both of us!).  So I am embracing the experiment of sharing them more widely.  My intention is to write the book Tools from the Shed: a Modern Mystic Shares His Spiritual Practices through blog posts.

I hope to avoid these snares:

(1) The One True Way.  Sometimes, when people find a path that works for them, they feel they have discovered the One True Way that will work for everyone.  Whether it’s seven habits or four questions or one quote a day, it’s suddenly the only way.  But here, I have no such outlook.  I intend to share practices that I find helpful in my life.  If you find one of them useful, feel free to incorporate it into your daily life however you like.  If not, not.  (And if you have a practice that works for you, please share it with me; I might find it useful.)

(2) Glittering Generalities.  I find myself impatient at times when I hear folks talking generically, exhorting me to “be more mindful” or “harness the power of positive thinking” or “just do it!”.  While there is truth and power in these ideas, when I’m looking for a practice I need something more concrete; I need more “how to”.  Without specifics, these ideas don’t pass the two tests I have for helpful advice: (a) how will this make my tomorrow different from my today? and (b) will this help me on a grumpy morning?

(3) Look at Me.  I don’t hold myself or my life up as ideals to aspire towards.  I have plenty of faults and bad habits, and have no desire to pretend otherwise.  Since the world already has a me, we really have no need for another one.  Rather, we have a need for you — the most authentic you that you can bring to each day, to each moment.  The you that, at the end of your life (may it be far in the future!), you look back on and smile with pleasure.  So if these practices (which, because of my ongoing imperfections, I have developed and am posting in this blog) help you to become more you, please use them.

So now that the formal stuff is out of the way, let’s start with lists.

I find it helpful to make a short list of things I want to accomplish the next day.  I find this is best done at night, before winding down for sleep.  A short list, usually 3-7 items.  I like to indicate the category of the item as well.  For example:

Relationships: call mom to catch up

Householder: stop by bank to sort out overdraft charges

Daily Maintenance: laundry

Householder: fix back screen door

At the top I write the date, and I order the items by priority.  (The next day, I start with the first one before going to the next.)

In making this list, I consult with the larger list of everything that I want to get done (by category), which I try to review once a month.  If I notice I’m not getting to items in a particular category, that’s a sign that I’m out of balance, and in the month ahead I try to incorporate more items from the neglected category.

In this way, the daily list moves forward my long-term goals, but the daily tasks aren’t overwhelming.  For me, the key to success here is to keep the daily list small and doable.  If I run out of items, I can always get more from the larger list (“backlog”).  So the “oh, yeah, that reminds me…” items go on the backlog; I keep the daily list as trim as possible.  And if there’s some task I dread and find myself putting off, I try to break that down into very small steps.  Really small.  Like “do a Google search of health insurance sites”.  Small is good.  Small is your friend.  Small is something that can actually happen.

So this is all very nice, you comment, but it’s hardly revolutionary and not really a spiritual practice.

And yet it is.

Because I think the fundamental spiritual challenge of this life is taking our large, long-term sense of what we want our life to be about and turning that into small, concrete steps that we actually do.  When in a calm, balanced place, we have lofty goals of what kind of person we want to be.  In the rushed moments that comprise much of our lives, however, we have impulses, intense emotions, and grumpy thoughts that generally undermine those goals.

This is the same problem for dieters, fitness folks, students trying to study, those battling addiction, and so on.  The long-term, soulful aspirations can be preempted by the immediate spikes of intense desire.  Over and over again.  And time flies by.

So a practice that takes the long-term desires and translates them into small concrete steps — steps that we can maintain focus on and actually do — that’s a spiritual practice.  At least in my book.  Or in my blog.

And that’s my musing for today.

May you find it easy to make your lists (if you decide to), and may that practice bring you closer to your goals.

And may the realization of your goals make the world a better place.