Just after spending a week reading inspirational material and deciding a thought-provoking blog would help others address the issues in their lives, I started a workshop on Eckart Tolle’s The Power of Now. The thrust of the first chapter focused on NOT THINKING. Thinking, he said, is our ego taking over. If we want a life of peace and joy, we must focus on not thinking – on being!
Well, having already published two (what I hoped would be) thought provoking blogs, I chuckled at the irony. Caught in the pincer between thinking and being, I tried thinking my way out, then silencing my mind and meditating into a state of being. If you recognize this conflict, I’m sure, like me, you are laughing. Adding punch to my dilemma I had just listened to an interview with Dr. Sanjay Gupta on his book Keep Sharp: Build a Better Brain at Any Age. In it he emphasized the importance of movement and change to keep one’s brain young. I had decided my big change would be doing things with my left hand.
So now we have Tolle arguing for stillness and a state of being – Gupta extoling motion to keep us thinking, so the controversy expands.
This morning convinced recognizing my children and comprehending the contents of a book was of paramount importance as I aged, I deliberately did everything with my left hand, beginning with eating my breakfast. I am so right-hand dominant a two-year-old could beat me in a left-hand arm wrestle, so this meant every task took longer. I dropped, spilled, fumbled, even took a fork in the lip – all time-consuming acts. I called patience, usually far behind the lines in my life, up to the front, and battled on. Cleaning my teeth left-handed took tremendous concentration, turning over the 1000 pieces of the new puzzle I started demanded patience. As I focused on the task at hand, my brain quieted. Thinking crept across the line waving a white flag. Being accepted the surrender. Things I concluded opposed each other, came together in an unexpected way, helping me grow new brain cells, while I quieted those already at work. Doing the tasks left-handed had bonuses like body building my patience, and by requiring total focus, silencing my thoughts. Thus my presence emerged, conquering ego. How delightful! What joy I felt as my essence – the energy that is me, emerged from the conflict between thinking and being.
Others in the Tolle workshop expressed their futile attempts at quieting their minds. I’m a worrier, list maker, cogitator some described. Others said they talked out loud to themselves throughout the day. Yet another concluded her thoughts were needed for stimulation and to fill time. Hmm. Any of these habits makes turning off the faucet of your mind difficult. Yet, if you can suppress the flow of thinking to the odd drip, you find quiet and inner peace. I suggest you change something you do so the act requires your total attention. Gupta advised picking a new route for your commute or a walk through the woods. You might alter the type of material you read or try playing a different game. I know I will continue picking up my fork with my left hand, until eating that way no longer requires total focus and quiets my mind. I hope you, too, make a change and discover the joy of being.
An old story circulates sporadically. An expert in time management puts a one-gallon mason jar in front of a class. The expert fills it with fist size rocks. “Is the jar full? S/he asks.”
“Yes.” They reply in unison.
“No, it is not,” s/he declares and proves this by pouring in a bucket of gravel, then a pail of sand, then a pitcher of water. The chagrined students, caught out each time, finally get it right. The jar is now full.
“And what lesson did you learn?” The expert enquires of the class.
An overachiever shouts out, “No matter how full your schedule is you can always fit in more.”
“No.” The time expert replies. “The point is, if you don’t put the big rocks in first, you will never get them in.”
As covid-19 turns our lives topsy turvy, our big rocks have been pushed or thrown aside. Home-schooling might take up the time we gave to a career we loved. Cooking might steal the hour we spent on self-care. Learning the technology needed to move forward may have stolen our down time. Careers have been put on hold, the dreamed of year of travel scrapped. WE can’t write our treatise if we hold down two part-time jobs to pay our rent. If we can even find our big rocks, we often can’t reach them, let alone put them back in the jar of our life.
As the over-achiever proved, we interpret the story from our own perspective. His answer is not wrong, simply different from the point the expert made. When I assess the story against the direction of my life, I see the other elements that went into the jar as important components of the lesson. The gravel sprayed between the rocks is the busywork we attack. Never has there been such a cleaning and sorting binge as went on across the country when the pandemic first kept us in our homes. By addressing a multitude of small tasks, we avoided the changes affecting our bigger goals. We were not ready to make those changes for many reasons such as apathy, lack of knowledge, emotional whiplash against change, or stubbornness. Immersing oneself in busywork is an age-old way to procrastinate.
I poured a lot of sand into my jar, hiding the rocks in a cloud of distraction. I frittered away precious time with television, and books, few of them edifying. Some may have chosen board games, social media, Netflix binges, or gaming as a veil for the big rocks. We don’t have to deal with them if we can’t see them. Or we could spend the day texting, phoning, Zooming with friends. Some of our choices may have been positive, helping others cope, but a majority were just sand, hiding the truth of the bigger questions: What rocks did we lose? Need to rearrange? Have to pick up again? Was this the time to find new rocks for our jar?
The water finally filled the jar. It served several purposes. It finished the job. With the task completed the lesson was taught. It provided clarity – settling the sand and gravel so we could once more see the big rocks.
My readers may think I make this point too often, but there is always good. When we look for it, instead of focusing on ‘the bad’ of a situation, we find many plusses. Covid – 19 may have forced us out of a job we disliked but given us the time to pursue the online course that heads us in an exciting new direction. It may have turned us from commuting to home-schooling, building stronger, memorable relations with children we usually wouldn’t see most of the day. Canadians have stock-piled money in greater amounts than in many years – money that will kick-start the economy and make our lives better in the years ahead. With travel scratched, we’ve spent huge amounts on recreational equipment and homes that give us a bigger fix of nature and better physical conditioning. And Covid-19 helped us look outward and act, helping our neighbour, our community, our country. Let’s find our big rocks, place them back in the jar and make this time in our life count more than ever.
Saskatchewan, Poet Laureate, Bruce Rice, offered a writing exercise in preparation for a workshop sponsored by the Prairie Quills. I took up the challenge. Name five things I love. The word love is bandied about so easily these days, identifying what things in my life evoked the greatest depth of the feeling proved hard work. I arrived at: Nature, Excellence, Feeling fully alive in the moment, Security, Family.
Do any on your list stand out in some way, Bruce asked – as a surprise, as a subject about which I’ve never written?
SECURITY vaulted over the others and stuck in my mind. Finding it in a list of things I loved astonished me.
Write a ten-line poem about this subject, Bruce assigned.
I let the words overflow, lifting them clear like a bucket raising water from a well. Phrases that made me feel, react, conclude gushed forth. Here is what I wrote about my love of security.
Safety in knowing
I have what I need.
Not just money, shelter, food
But strength and confidence
To win through if all is taken.
I have touched the icy fingers of death
Yet, the security of my will power
Keeps me living on.
Although I give thanks for security nightly listing a lot of the tangibles (food and shelter, clean air and water), and intangibles (freedom, love, independence), for the first time I examine the concept past the surface definition. I realize the characteristics, placed in me to draw upon by my creator, provide the greatest security. Inner strength, courage, resilience – I pick up and use under varying circumstances. Knowing I have and will draw on this wellspring of resources within, provides a greater sense of security.
The Corona virus and collapsing economy are eroding the sense of security of many people. Tangibles like housing, income, food – so necessary are slipping away. Losing those things cannot be taken lightly, but I hope you look past the loss and recognize a different type of security. Instead of replacing what is gone with fear, anxiety, anger and depression, draw upon your compassion, competence, patience, love, and shore up the sagging walls of your world with trust in yourself.