Tag Archives: efficiency

Bringing procrastination to the path

In 2013, Lama Jamdron gave a seminar at PTC called “Bringing Distraction and Procrastination to the Path.” It was a great topic, and I was reminded of it this week when the New York Times ran an article on why we procrastinate, which resonates in various ways, from a psychological perspective, with Buddhist teachings. It’s a very interesting exploration of the basic cause of procrastination — which isn’t what you might expect, though it totally makes sense. The link is below (click on the graphic, sorry I can’t get a better one), and here’s an excerpt, which borders on vipashyana (lhaktong, insight) meditation.

“Cultivate curiosity: If you’re feeling tempted to procrastinate, bring your attention to the sensations arising in your mind and body. What feelings are eliciting your temptation? Where do you feel them in your body? What do they remind you of? What happens to the thought of procrastinating as you observe it? Does it intensify? Dissipate? Cause other emotions to arise? How are the sensations in your body shifting as you continue to rest your awareness on them?”

And here is Lama Jamdron’s teaching from 2013:

“Bringing Distraction and Procrastination to the Path”: session 1 and session 2.

In which I am pursued by a hungry blue heron

In recent years, this heron (or maybe several, but I’ve always seen just one at a time) has regularly hung out by the koi pond in Richmond’s Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden. Visitors pay their quarter and toss in a handful of pellets, the fish surface for their breakfast, et voila: the heron breakfasts, too.  Herons are usually quite shy, but this one is now savvy enough to stay put when a visitor appears with pellets, and today it got quite close and followed me around. I cleverly threw my pellets on the opposite side of the path from where the heron was poised to strike, so it had to go back and forth, which is a slow process for a heron on foot, and the only breakfast served while I was there was to the koi.

As a Buddhist, I feel I can’t prefer fish over herons or vice versa–they all have an equal desire to live and an equal need to sustain themselves. But I always try to err on the side of not contributing to anyone’s immediate peril.

heron lgbg 7-1-17

Lo Sar Tashi Delek!

“There is no problem other than the thought.” –Lama Norlha Rinpoche 

When I was running a household and raising my daughter, I eventually learned to streamline the more mundane aspects of my life, such as housework and meal preparation, with the help of an online housekeeping maven who emphasized the importance of having household routines—things you do automatically on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis without thinking about them.

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Location, location, location

I’ve been spending a lot of time in my hometown of Richmond, Virginia, for the last couple of years to help care for my mother, who has Alzheimer’s. She was diagnosed in the last year of my three-year retreat, and I had to move her to assisted living a few months after retreat graduation in 2011. Since then, I’ve been back and forth periodically, and right now I’m in Richmond again, helping her adjust to a recent move to an all-dementia facility, and overseeing major repairs to her house.

Spending time with my mom and other people in her facility, I feel I’ve gained some insight into how to prepare for my own old age and the possibility of dementia. In a nutshell: practice as much as possible, learn to rest my mind wherever I am, and cultivate contentment with whatever is happening. (Corollary: Eat everything. Including parsnips if needed.)

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Efficiency Expert

February 2008

As Buddhists, we are encouraged to spend a lot of time contemplating the impermanence of all phenomena and, in particular, the inevitability of our own death. We realize that if we are going to reach enlightenment, we had better get started right now! There is not a moment to waste. Our opportunity might end before this paragraph is over—by death, disability, or a life-changing phone call—and if we don’t attain mental freedom in this lifetime…we will have to do the whole thing over again, all the confusion and suffering, lifetime after lifetime, sort of a cosmic version of the movie Groundhog Day.

In retreat, I am learning how to harness this quickly passing time and make it work for my benefit as long as it lasts. I won’t be able to transpose this lesson entirely into my post-retreat life (assuming I live that long), but I think I am learning a few valuable tricks. Mostly they have to do with habitual patterns I wasn’t even aware of.

Retreat is an exact inversion of my previous agenda. I would plan for everything else in my life, and maybe even program in a daily slot for some meditation, but in general, Dharma practice was reserved for whatever free time I had left at the end of the day…unless I wanted to watch a dvd…or read the New York Times online…or chat with a friend on the phone, or attend a really important meeting, etc,. pretty much ad infinitum. In short, not much time for Dharma practice at all!

In retreat, it is all about Dharma practice. We have four meditation sessions a day, beginning at 4:00 a.m. and ending at 8:30 p.m., for a total of more than 8 hours of solitary practice in our rooms, plus additional practice to finish up each session after it officially ends, totalling over an hour; plus 4 hours of group chanting practices—in short, 13 hours of scheduled practice daily: that’s five more hours than a full-time job. Everything else has to be fit into the spaces between practice sessions—that includes eating, sleeping, exercise, showers, laundry, brushing your teeth, getting dressed or undressed, cleaning your room, communal chores, dealing with pieces of paper, writing letters, studying, reading, getting out for some fresh air, etc.

At first it seemed completely impossible—on most days we have less than two hours of unscheduled time, most of it in increments of 15 minutes or less, in which we have to fit all of the above activities and anything else we might need to take care of.  And most breaks are usually just enough time to visit the bathroom, get a cup of tea, adjust clothing, and take care of any preparation that’s needed for the next session. (There’s an additional hour and a half of “free” time after lunch, but it is usually taken up by work or classes. There’s also an hour after the 8:30 p.m. gong—but it includes a half hour of follow-up practice, and anyway I am toast by then and just go to bed as soon as possible.)

If it sounds grim: it’s NOT! It’s quite wonderful to wake up every morning and live the same day over again, a day devoted almost entirely to the very thing I thought I most wanted to do and considered the most important before, but never found time for. Every day is Groundhog Day in retreat … with the potential to get it right every day, and still do it all over again the next.

An additional benefit: I have become an efficiency expert. I plan in minutes and seconds; I know precisely how long most things I have to do take, when pared of most of the thoughts, daydreams and spacing out that fill up so much time in our ordinary lives. I shower in five minutes flat, get dressed in about a minute, eat in ten, wash my dishes in one. If I find myself in the basement with my toothbrush in my hand and my tea cup empty one minute before I’m due formally dressed in the shrine room (2 floors up) to begin the 6:00am chanting session…no sweat! I fill my cup from the perpetual hot water pot, dash up the stairs, put my toothbrush away, put on my zen (monastic shawl) with all the folds properly in place (or, occasionally, not), grab my mala (prayer beads), turn off my light, and make it upstairs just before the shrinekeeper sounds the first, wrathful blast of the conch.

An interesting and previously unsuspected thing about time: when your mind is really focused, time becomes spacious. Five minutes to spare now seems generous and relaxed; a minute or 30 seconds is enough time for any number of things, without rushing. It turns out, there is plenty of time for Dharma practice (13 hours a day!) if inessential activities are eliminated and others reduced to the minimum time actually needed to do them.

Of course, I have a much simpler life now than I did outside retreat: no shopping, errands, medical appointments, family and social obligations, or income to produce, and most meals are prepared for us. Those things do take up a lot of time, so it wouldn’t be possible to spend 13 hours in formal practice in my ordinary life. But I hope I will find a lot more time when I go back to it than I did before. One less movie is two more hours of meaningful time; 5 minutes less in the shower adds up to over 30 hours in a year. And what do I really get from browsing the political commentary in the New York Times, besides more spinning thoughts?

The more time we have for meditation and Dharma study, the quicker we will start to deactivate the habitual patterns of thought and perception that keep us confused and in pain. The Vajrayana path says complete mental freedom can be attained in this very lifetime, if we play our cards right.

So… enlightenment…or a long, hot shower?