I love making lists. I love checking things off my list each day or week. I make a list of things I want to accomplish and then gleefully check them off. I don’t scratch them out because I might not be able to read them easily if I did. I want to go back over the list and make sure I don’t try to do something twice (waste of energy) and I want the joy of knowing exactly what I accomplished.
To some degree the whole list thing is useless for doing spiritual practice. I can’t say “meditate”, then put a check mark by it and be done for the day, much less the rest of my life. So far, I can’t pray for a better attitude just once. That one seems to be ongoing. Spiritual practice lists would be like putting “brush teeth” on a daily project list. Yeah, you’ll do it (one hopes) but that doesn’t mean it’s really complete. If I put it on the list of things to do, it just takes up space. It should be habitual, but I find that my habits are hard to start and even harder to stop.
I do have a mental “do every day” list but that is short. It only has three things on it. It’s just cell phone, cat box and medications. That’s my do every day before leaving the house list. I found that if I didn’t do those three things, if I tried to leave them for later in the day, bad things often happened. If you are a cat person, you don’t need me to explain. If you are not a cat person, you don’t want me to.
So how do I make my mad skillz at list making work for me in my spiritual practice? I finally found an answer. I have a list of things to do when I don’t know what to do and/or I’m not having fun. On that list are things like “use a lifeline” which refers to prayer and meditation. It also includes “call a friend”. I have the word HALT on that list. It stands for hungry, angry, lonely or tired. If I’m feeling any of those, I stop, take care of myself and then it is usually easy to move on to knowing what else to do next. Doing some kind of service is on that list. Service work both keeps me out of my head and out of the fridge (emotional eating is an old coping mechanism). I can read a book or watch a Youtube video of a sermon by a friend. There are so many things to put on this list – but when I’m in the dumps, I don’t naturally think of them. When the things on this list are a habit, I’ll have to create a new list. Luckily, that’s a favorite thing to do.
What’s on your list? What works for you?
I took last week off kind of by necessity as our building including my office was all packed up. We got new flooring – and it’s absolutely beautiful. On Saturday a bunch of folks put everything back and I am happily sitting in my office, back in the saddle and ready to go.
My sister was/is an equestrian. She did dressage and competed in cross country stuff. What I learned from her boils down to which direction to face while mounted on a horse, but life has taught me that getting back in the saddle, especially after a fall is important. I hear people talk about “less than active time” as down time. I often hear folks talk about just sitting around and doing nothing as if it were a waste of time. I hear myself talk about not having time to take breaks, having too much to do. What a load of horse….. you know.
What happened as a result of not being in the office this week? I got some down time and let my brain rest. I got some visits with shut-ins done on Valentine’s Day that would otherwise have felt rushed. I read some books and contemplated the vision for this Center. I did some dream-weaving around what I’d love to see happen here over the next few years. I took the time to get to an appointment that will help with my allergies.
While I “did nothing”, the building was beautified and dusty old carpet was removed (so my allergies might even be better). My office is now set up again – and much better organized. I don’t have a lot of the clutter because who puts that back? I finally looked at all the books I inherited seven years ago and decided which ones I’d actually keep here. I got the sanctuary chairs set up in the way I like, with a definite aisle down the center that is straight.
How often have I told myself that it was important not to stop and take downtime? And how often have I taught that “downtime” is another word for spiritual practice? After all, I’ve defined meditation as sitting and waiting for nothing to happen.
I’m back in the saddle, but I’m going to remember this time that it’s important to climb down and wander around every so often. And I’m going to remember that it’s been the horse that carried me when I was in the saddle. I don’t need to make things happen. I don’t have to carry the saddle OR the horse. Stopping long enough to contemplate, slowing down long enough to actually look at my life and my calling and being willing to be in the stillness… that is the essence of the spiritual life and my work. I’m so glad that Spirit found a way to make me do it.
Dictionary.com defines politics as “use of intrigue or strategy in obtaining any position of power or control, as in business, university, etc.” That’s actually the sixth definition, but it’s the first that does not use the word politics in the definition. If this is an accurate definition, is it any wonder that I hear folks talk about being sick of politics? I don’t like playing manipulation games, either. And yet, we all do it. We all have methods of getting what we need and/or want that are less than direct. We all hint at things we want to ask for rather than just asking. Why? For most of us (okay, me) it’s because I no longer realize I’m using a coping mechanism that worked when I was a child. Or I am making the assumption that it’s obvious what I’m asking for directly when the words I use actually mean something entirely different to the person I’m asking.
I have a friend who asked “Do you mind if I manipulate you into your greatness?” at the beginning of a class of adults. The uproar was immediate. No one wants to be manipulated. It feels like a power play. Even if the stated reason is to show you your greatness, the word manipulate makes it icky.
I have had lots of reasons to look at what manipulation means and especially what it means to “talk politics” lately. As a minister, it is mine to say the hard stuff sometimes. Like, are we really living from Principle in our interactions with each other and with strangers? Or are we just defending the status quo by remaining silent, not speaking out when we feel in our hearts something is going sideways? I don’t want to talk politics from the pulpit. I feel comfortable saying that the strategy I am willing to employ to use the inherent power that I have is really just spiritual techniques that help me govern my own thoughts. Yes, of course, there are times when I wish folks would just stop arguing and do as I say, but that’s not my usual modus operandi. I don’t want to lead a cult; I want to share a spiritual journey.
Having said that – there are some social justice issues that for me are purely about Principle. I can’t teach Oneness and sit quietly by while my LGBTQ friends are excluded from enjoying basic civil rights (like the right to work or rent an apartment while gay). I would hope I’d have the courage to intercede somehow if a woman was being attacked for wearing hijab (I grew up with nuns; one doesn’t touch the veil any more than one tugs on Superman’s cape). To be comfortable in my skin and in my role as minister, I need to put into action the things I teach on Sundays. So if that’s not okay…that’s okay.