November 2, 2011

How to get things done (the Zen way)

Kaspa writes: It would be lovely if I could just learn something once, and then have it learnt for good. However I find myself discovering the same things over and over again.

A few days ago Fiona and I were talking about moving house again. For a while we’d been toying with the idea of moving to a more rural, remote, location. A place where we could step out of the front door and into the countryside, instead of out into the street as we do now. In the end we decided to stay where we are, there are lots of good things about where we are now, and we hadn’t seen anything that ticked all of our boxes.

The decision to stay motivated us to think about how we use the space here. Could we be more settled in this house?

We bought two new (pre-loved) sofas for the sitting room. We moved one of our old sofas up into the office, and got rid of the other one. We moved the uncomfortable cane sofa that was in the office out into the conservatory and set about making the office into a livable space. If this winter is as cold as last winter, we’ll retreat up here away from the draughty single glazed sitting room…

The last big job was to sort though all the accumulated stuff on the shelves, and in the drawers of my desks… There were piles of papers I hadn’t looked at since I’d heaped them on the shelves, over a year ago, back when we moved in.

Last Sunday evening, after our furniture shuffle, my energy ran out. I knew that I’d got meetings on Monday (or thought I had, see Monday’s post: We all get things wrong sometimesand we both had plenty of work to do on Tuesday. We earmarked Wednesday for the big sort out.

On Monday evening I was working in the office. Fiona was sitting up here too, looking at the mess on the shelves, thinking about starting to clear them. She said that she was going to make a start… An hour later, when I had finished my job, she was still sitting on the sofa… I can hardly blame her really. I didn’t want to start then, either…

On Tuesday Fiona was busy seeing clients all day. I did some writing in the morning, ran some errands in town, and then settled into some study. All the time ignoring the looming mess in the corner.

I’m re-reading Zen Therapy by David Brazier. One line jumped out at me. Of course I can’t find that line today, as I flick through the pages – but here’s another in the same spirit:

The way of Zen is supremely practical. Although we tie ourselves up in knots with our ideas and feelings, the way through generally begins with acting purposefully now. Know your purpose at this moment and there is no difficulty in knowing what to do. Paradoxically, perhaps, being able to act in this way means letting go of trying to control tomorrow or yesterday. Simply do the right thing now.

I put the book down and started sorting the shelves out.

I packed up around 30 books to be recycled (off to the amnesty bookshop later) and got rid of huge amounts of stuff. It wasn’t long before Fiona appeared. Together we created a space we can both live with. The essentials are stored on the shelves, the books we want to read are there, as well some beautiful objects we wanted to display. Job done.

We sat back and enjoyed the clean space. We enjoyed knowing that that we’d now have the whole of Wednesday free…. (I’m working at the weekend, so today is ‘our day’)… of course it’s now mid-morning and I’m writing a blog post while Fiona catches up on email…

In our hearts we often know what our purpose in this moment is. Whether it’s simply sorting through a years worth of junk, or joining the occupy movement, or baking a cake for a friend. In my experience the courage to take the first step comes with taking the first step. Simply do the right thing now.

If you want to explore Zen philosophy, and getting things done, think about joining myEastern Therapeutic Writing course. It’s a month long, and we’ll also look at deepening our relationships with others through naikan and writing Japanese poetry…

It starts on Monday. More details here. (or email me)

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