Week Twelve: Chop Wood, Carry Water

This week, I’ve been struggling with dual and somewhat opposing impulses.


On the one hand, I’ve experienced a terrific burst of energy and creativity. I’ve been storing up yarn and patterns, and quilting fabric and my own designs, for years; suddenly it’s time to CAST ON. Now. Start. Finish. Work. Sew. Knit like the wind! I’m getting vivid dreams. I’m getting the urge to sketch things, make plans, open new files, and (in a purely theoretical sense, since it’s SNOWING as I write this) open the windows and let in fresh air. Spread my wings. Redefine and reinvent myself. Run run run run run.


On the other hand, I’m disciplining myself with quiet time, practicing meditation, and reading about mindfulness. I am trying to listen to the quiet, follow my breath, and be still.

Don’t do something — just sit there.

I need both things in my life. Sitting still doesn’t take away from my busy-ness as much as it prepares me for it, conditions me for it. The writing I do after I wake up and before I go to sleep is not creative writing but a way to both organize and de-clutter my mind. It also makes a safe space for anything that wants to be written about, contemplated, memorialized, or speculated upon.

So how do these different impulses interact with each other? Do they crash into each other? Do they pull away from each other? Do they chase each other like snakes trying to make meals of each other’s tails? Do they twist in opposite directions to form a knot? Internally, they probably are taking turns doing all of those things. It’s difficult to keep that internal conflict-resolution process from showing on the outside, but that’s another benefit of the sitting practice, of the breathing practice, of the mindfulness practice, of the writing practice.

And this practice is difficult. I have often described my father, who just turned 79, as the oldest living undiagnosed and unmedicated ADHD patient. When I was growing up he always worked at least three jobs. He finally retired from his primary job only to work a series of post-retirement jobs and travel with my mother on trips ranging from Alaska to the Panama Canal, and from San Francisco to Maine. (They’re banned from New Hampshire, though, or maybe it was Vermont. Don’t ask.) He still gets up early and does a few hundred situps before he goes to the basement to lift weights, row, and walk the treadmill. He simply does not stop. (Unless golf is on TV, then it’s naptime!) And the older I get, the more I discover that I am truly my father’s daughter. When I was younger, I swung my legs, tapped my fingers, hummed (I thought) to myself. I ran, I rode, I hiked, I biked, I paddled. When I was in class I doodled beside my notes, made lists, passed messages to my friends. The knitting I took up almost a decade ago has given my hands something to keep busy with while my brain focuses. If you have never tried if, let me tell you that sitting quietly and emptying your mind is HARD. They don’t call it “monkey mind” for nothing. It is full of chatter that must be dealt with. And I’m not very good at it.

At the risk of driving my readers crazy, in Wherever You Go There You Are Jon Kabat-Zinn quotes one of his students as saying “When I was a Buddhist, it drove my parents and friends crazy, but when I am a buddha, nobody is upset at all.” So I’m trying not to go all “Buddhist” on anyone. I’m not in an evangelistic “three recruits and I get a zafu” program, and in many ways, this place is familiar territory to me. Some of my Zen and Buddhism books have been on my shelves for quite some time now. The wheel turns, and they are needed again for me to regain my balance. I’m writing about my own experience. If my words speak to you, it’s up to you to decide what that means for you.

But, as Bill Cosby might say, I told you that quote so I could tell you this one. In The Miracle of Mindfulness Thich Nhat Hanh quotes a line from a Vietnamese folk song:

Hardest of all is to practice the Way at home,
second in the crowd,
and third in the pagoda.

Right now I’m practicing at home, swinging five bats before approaching the plate to assess what life intends to throw at me next. (From the way it’s gone so far, I’m guessing knuckleball.) I need to do what I need to do. It’s not time to try to walk and chew gum at the same time; it’s time to walk for walking’s sake and chew gum in order to chew gum. When I try to do more, I tend to bump into things.

Published in: on March 22, 2013 at 9:39 am  Comments (1)  

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. I have “monkey mind” too. What a chatterbox. Emptying my mind and being still really is hard!

    Was in Columbus today. (Okay, it was Dublin.) Thought of you. 🙂

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