Friday, June 5, 2015

A Rule of Life

Image result for public domain image of a sand clock

I am bouncing around in relative chaos this summer, awash in some bits that are delightful, ecstatic even, and dog paddling through other times that drain and fragment me. As I repair a little home to live in, set new gardens, deal with enormous life and relationship changes, face surgery yet again, train a new puppy, get ready for the visit of my teenage son, on and on, I have had to gently implement a rule of life to create a bowl to hold all this “life happening.”

'A rule of life is a simple device used within monastic communities the world over to frame the way time is used during the waking hours.  Without this disciplined ordering, retreatants and monastics often find that they fall into states of mind and behaviors that work at odds with their vows and goals.  The rule helps them create a kind of drone string to the melody of their days, helping to mold a brand of continuity that frees the soul to do its work.

I have found the same applies to my small and normal life.  I am a solitary worker, writing and crafting art at home and so in many ways I am a monastic, a hermit even.  If I wish to stay mentally sharp and connected with others, I have found that I require a flexible list of what makes my day feel both useful and delightfully creative.

It is important to not use the rule as a “stick” to punish myself, even as I must also gently correct my course when I drift too far away from the spirit of the discipline. Certainly, life will serve up times when the order of the day falls away.  But that should be the exception and not the norm.  I have found a simple rule is best for me, one that doesn’t so much dictate time slots but rather, sets out a few key exercises and activities that I know my soul requires.

It becomes more interesting when a partner becomes an element in the rule, a co-participant. I certainly have to watch the urge to impose the rule on him from without. At the same time, our shared rhythm and vision helps strengthen our relationship.  Right now, we do our spiritual reading in the morning and will be adding a meditation practice before dinner to help him transition from a busy day of working in the world to the slower pace of working with his hands around his cabin. Each morning, we lay out the evening hours—what we want to accomplish at the house or here at the summer cottage.  Or to make room for simply admitting to each other that we just need a break and the freedom to watch a comedian or read a book. 

So this is what my rule looks like:

Each day, I vow to:
1    Exercise in some way—walk at least a mile, or do an hour of yoga or qigong
2.       Meditate at least 15 minutes a day
3.       Work on my writing and marketing
4.       Spend some time with art-weaving, painting drawing
5.       Watch to be sure the house, clothing and gardens are orderly and clean—a little bit a day
6.       Tell my partner via phone or texting that he is loved and appreciated in the middle of the work day
7.       Hold and train the family pup
8.       Do some spiritual reading—at least 15 minutes a day
9.       Write to at least one friend so they know they are loved
10.   Plan the day of any other activities with my partner in the morning

Your rule of life may be more structured or have fewer items to track.  Some of you may choose to follow a more monastic schedule, using St. Benedict’s Rule for instance. I urge you to read a few, explore books about writing a rule of life and then try it on for a while.  As the Buddha said, “experience and judge for yourself. Be your own lamp.”


Tuesday, June 2, 2015

This Old Cabin, Part 5

I haven't been writing much as I work on my little house.  It set me to musing "why not?", and I felt a shiver of naughty delight.  In graduate school we were told to never ask "why" because it wasn't a useful scientific word with which to frame a hypothesis.

However, I can tell you my soul loves that simple question.

Where does the energy and sustained imagination come to write poetry and science fiction?  I will tell you a secret--I am always telling stories to myself when I weave or work on the glass paintings I've shown here.  Not in words, but in blues and greens, with the occasional glance out at this bowl of light that is Long Lake.

When I bend and plant seeds in my new raised bed gardens, or amble up a long driveway with my doggie companion, I am soaking in the light, the scents, the puppy antics that will some day turn into words.  I think that is why I didn't write much when I was younger--I was building an inner library of sensation to pull from, mellowed and given meaning by the sandpaper scrubbing of time.

Walks and art are vital parts of writing for me, the time when I make physical the link between my isolated mind and the outer world.  I enjoy the struggle to verbalize what I see or hear or feel--it must be the same happy frustration of a seed pushing against the earth or a puppy straining at the end of its leash.  I have to wiggle through this fabric of learned conceptions, self-criticism, and pleasing behaviors to find that wider and freer reality.  I choose to do that, eventually, with words.  And I hope sometimes, I can bring others along with me, moving this solitary creature I am into community and communion.

The glass painting is done with simple acrylic craft paint. I have also found Sharpie markers work great (less mess with kids), although their colors are a bit more harsh and intense.  Be willing to layer several coats to deepen the color if you don't like seeing the brush strokes.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Source of Courage

Image result for public domain image of a kingfisher

I want to know the source of your courage,
the way you smile,
the way you cry.

Is it like wind over a Kingfisher’s face when he dives,
his eyes
never leaving his target?
Or perhaps the thin tether of a stem,
allowing the leaf to throw open its variegated belly
laughing in the twirling silver-green splash?
Or is it as simple as water over scales,
and never asking a question like
“what does wet mean?”
Maybe the question has as many answers
as this first Holy Book called nature,
but still, I root always
in curiosity when