Mini-Post: Bringing Life to the Dead Zones of Routine

I’m experimenting with a mini post. Life is all about trying new things, right?

Today Enjoy Life For Once’s Facebook status was:

Pick a routine today, especially a dull one. Doing the dishes, tidying the living room, packing your bag. Devote ten seconds of the time to just paying attention. Feeling the water on your hands, feeling your legs. Notice the colors, the sounds around you. Bringing fresh attention to the dead zones of your day is a great way to start making friends with the present moment, which is where your power to change is.

Do you ever try this technique? What kind of results do you see?

How many times during the day do you think that you are unaware of things where you could be more present?

 

For me, I noticed that when I spent time paying attention while doing the dishes, the routine became more enjoyable. I felt more collected afterwards, and even felt moved to clean up the living room a bit, noticing the weight of each pillow in an enjoyable way.

It was nice.

I would like to try doing that more often, since “doing the dishes” is one of those things I always assume will be horrible.

Are there routines that you despise, that you do begrudgingly, that could perhaps get some fresh life into them if they were less bothersome?

 

Turn Around, Mister Cricket! You’re Free!

I’m experimenting with a shorter blog post this evening.

Last night, a giant black Texas cricket got into the apartment. It was sitting there on the carpet, possibly trying to not jump because it saw the dog drooling. I ran over with a cup and piece of paper- the sissy way of getting a non-stinging bug outside.

I heroically (in my mind) moved the thing to the porch, and closed the door as much as I could while still getting my arm outside, and knocked over the cup while whipping my hand back into the house as fast as possible. As you can imagine.

While I watched it through the door to witness its fate, I saw that it was stuck in the bottom of the side-turned cup. All it had to do was to turn around and get out, into the open air, the free night, the huge field below. But it was obsessed with the bottom of the glass; with looking out at the barrier, and freaking out about it; jumping and struggling against nothing.

Huh. I thought. How often am I in that same position, without realizing it?

That is, that my world all of a sudden feels restricted and insane (someone putting me in a sissy cup & paper concoction), and then feeling trapped when all I have to do is turn around?

I’m not one to believe in the big-dude-in-the-sky God, but I do believe in something. At least, something that can nudge things into one direction or another. I couldn’t control that cricket’s every move; but I could get him outside of my living room. And I’m not a God, but I am bigger than him.

And that leads me to wonder:

How often do I need to just turn around in order to see the  big open space, instead of assuming that the one barrier I see is the be-all-and-end-all of my freedom choices?

How often does a thing that acts as a trap in one situation turn into a simple shelter in another? What are the restraints that we get so used to, that we fail to even notice when they are gone?

How to Use Your Routines to Break Your Own Mold

I know that it’s rather easy for me to spout off about how great it is to be creative each day and how a sitting practice can really help you slow down your mind, but it is not as easy to say that you’ll have no trouble finding the time to do these things.

Once you finish the dishes and the laundry and cleaning up the food that your dog knocked out of its bowl, do you really have time to sit and meditate for an hour? Who has time to take out the paints and go at it, especially given that they will need to get cleaned up after? Well, there is a solution to this problem.

You always have time. Not time to do anything new necessarily, but time to see it differently. Time to slow down.

One great thing about routines is that they are predictable. You can rely on them. We all have slightly different routines, but we know what they are. Maybe you take a shower every day, maybe you check the dumpster by the natural food store to see what treasures are there.  Maybe you do dishes, maybe you check your email. There are things you do, each day, predictably.

In some ways, these routines can make you feel less alive. They are repetitive, they are predictable, they are a time where you can tune out. On a familiar drive, you may not notice the curve of the big oak tree against the blue sky or the interesting feeling in your stomach as you take a sharp turn. You are going through the motions and thinking about what to make for dinner. You can let these routines give you more time to tune out, if you want. But then there are more routines to add in. Soon, most of your life becomes tuning out. And you can hold these routines up on a pedestal as you tell me that you don’t have time to meditate, don’t have time to paint; you are too busy with these things.

Or you can use them as built-in reminders to be present and creative. You can choose to be aware of how your body feels on those turns, to smell the difference in the air as the seasons change when you get the mail. To notice how different temperatures of water in the shower make you feel differently about the world. The point is that you are going to be doing these things anyway, they are like the string on your finger that reminds you to tell someone something.

Except the person you are talking to is yourself. And you are simply saying, “My routines are a reminder for me to be more present with myself.” They can be a reminder for whatever you want. I personally find that my routines are the time when I am most likely to obsess about negative things or indulge in my anxiety. This is a pattern that I acknowledge, and therefore, that I can let go of. I know that as soon as I am one-on-one with a sink full of dishes, my mind is going to start getting grouchy and anxious about the work I’m not doing. However, knowing this helps me to remember that doing dishes is my reminder to wake up. My reminder to smile, to feel centered and grateful for the world around me.

There is no getting rid of routines. You can escape paying the mortgage by living in your car, but then you have a gas tank to fill. You can watch the little numbers climb up at the gas pump under a new sky and still, you are in a routine. You can change your location all you want, but you are still going to have to do some things repetitively. If you can use these things to feel that energy of creativity, of presence, then you are going to have a different feeling when you are done.

Try to remember the last time you were really creative. Remember not what you did, exactly, but the feeling you had. The sensations in your body and the feeling in your mind. This is the feeling that you can have at any point, whether it is while you are painting a picture or while you are gently washing crumbs off a plate or folding a pile of clean shirts. The feeling is what matters, and if you are present while you perform these routine chores, you are going to see that there is quite a difference in the quality of your life.

Most importantly, cultivating that feeling while you do the things you have to do may help you to find the time to do the things that you really love. If you feel nourished and alive after folding clothes, maybe you will be more likely to take out a canvas and some paints and get creative with the colors. Each feeling leads to another one, so you may as well use any chance you can to feel the aliveness of creativity so that it can fill up  more crevices of your life.