Friday, September 14, 2012

Out of the Ballpark

Tuesday was quite a stressful day at work, with J. and I having significant difficulty understanding each other when it came to our various lists. I was extremely stressed out by the end of the day.

The next morning, I IMed the fellow who generates some of these lists and asked if he’d be willing to do a brief consultation. We talked on the phone for about five minutes, and he cleared it up completely. “This is this and that is that.” Aha! Well, why didn’t anyone say so?

Thursday was another somewhat panicked day at work. J. had demonstrated the day before how she goes about comparing two columns, using something whipped up for her by an Excel expert who sits near her. I was impressed and asked, “What’s that?” “Oh, just a function,” she said, and I hastened to take a picture of her screen so I could try to figure out how to do it myself, while saying, “Sure, sure,” as if I knew how to use a function. At that point, my expertise was limited to the use of AutoSum and perhaps typing an equals sign in the function bar to indicate my desire to add the values in two cells, but that was about it, so first thing on Thursday, I got busy trying to duplicate what she had done.

I read a bunch of stuff online and experimented until I had it working, which was very satisfying. On the other hand, it wasn’t what J. had expected me to be doing with those hours, and when we had our regular daily meeting and I told her what I had otherwise done, she said sternly (or was it morosely?), “That shouldn’t have taken you all day.”

I said, “Well, to be honest, I spent some time delving into Excel, making sure I could use that VLOOKUP function,” and she said, “Oh, the Excel whiz is walking by right now. Let’s have him look at how you do it.” Thank goodness I spent those hours as I did, because next I had to perform my new skill with both of them watching. I got through it and said to the expert, “You probably have some much more elegant way of doing this,” and was delighted when he said, “No, that’s exactly what I would do, too.”

Tuesday I had been so frustrated at the end of the workday that I considered staying home and trying to make sense of the various lists instead of going to Howie’s, but I ended up going and was glad I did. We’re doing another 100-day practice period, intensifying our meditation practice in some way or other.

Last fall, Howie led us in a similar thing, inviting us to specify our own objectives. I set some goals, totally failed the first day, revised my goals downward, failed again, revised downward again, discovered a flaw in my method of quantifying and therefore recording what I was doing, and basically forgot about the whole thing after about five days, though of course I continued with my normal practices of daily sitting and trying to be mindful the rest of the time.

Howie encouraged us to partner with a buddy; mine was N., who decided that once the initial hundred days was over—I think she was considerably more diligent than I was—she would immediately embark on a second 100-day practice period. Seeing a chance to redeem myself, I joined her.

Soon thereafter, she asked how my new practice period was going. As it happened, I’d forgotten to set any goals for this one whatsoever, so I told her it was going extremely well, with all measures wildly exceeded. “I’d have to say I’m pretty much knocking it out of the ballpark,” I said, which made her laugh.

Not to sound as if this is something I don’t care about, though. My meditation practice is the most important and beneficial thing in my life. Diligence is good, and so are relaxation and ease. Straining and perfectionism are not so good. I’m always sorry when people say they are failing at their practice, or in their quest for enlightenment. I’m sorriest of all to hear people say they are unable to meditate, meaning they are unable to stop thinking.

No one can stop thinking. It’s the nature of the mind to think. At times, meditation may calm the mind and reduce the number or duration of thoughts, but to hold this as the goal of practice is to invite a lot of frustration and self-judgment.

As for seeking enlightenment, that makes it sound like I am in one place, with enlightenment over there. How can I get there? I never will. I will always be right here. Fortunately, right here is a perfectly fine place to be. I believe each moment of being awake right here is a moment of enlightenment.

So, another 100-day practice period is upon us now and I’m going to stick with my trademark modest goals, but do one thing differently, which is that I will keep starting over this time instead of dropping the entire thing when I don’t meet my goals for a day or two or ten.

My goals are to sit four times during the course of the day, most typically my normal 45-minute sit in the morning plus three other ten-minute sits. In the past, I’ve tried three-minute sits, but ten is actually better. I can spend three minutes just getting settled onto my seat, whereas ten minutes provides a real flavor of stepping out of the flow of activities in a still-modest bit of time.

I’m also reciting the Five Remembrances aloud once each day. In one formulation:

—I am of the nature to grow old—there is no way to escape growing old.

—I am of the nature to have ill health—there is no way to escape ill health.

—I am of the nature to die—there is no way to escape death.

—All that is dear to me and everyone I love are of the nature to change. There is no way to escape being separated from them.

—My actions are my only true belongings. I cannot escape the consequences of my actions. My actions are the ground upon which I stand.

These remind me of my priorities, and that time is fleeting and precious, and provide an encouraging reminder that there is much I can do toward my own happiness.
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