It’s funny how the less busy I am, the more I need meditation. When I have my normal teaching schedule, I have a clear set of tasks. Grading papers, because of the focus required, seems almost like meditative training. When your mind begins to wander, you must always return to the paper, like a meditation guru returns to the breath.
However, when my days are not filled with eight hours of must-dos, I am unmoored and pulled in the many directions of want-to-dos. I want to work on my garden. I want to write more. I want to plan a summer schedule. I want to clean my office and bedroom. I want to cook some healthy dishes. So I turned to meditation today in order to increase my productivity and avoid decision paralysis — what should I be doing now? When starting to read Tim Ferriss’ Tools of the Titans, he stated 80 percent of his 200 featured “titans” had a type of meditative or mindfulness practice. As I titan-wannabe, I gravitated to this actionable item. I can do this.
When I hit play on my Google top search result of five-minute meditations, I was struck with the irony of doing a mindfulness meditation now in order to do more later. I was focusing on the present in order to better perform in the future. Part of mindfulness is letting go of the rehashing and rehearsing cycle we all fall into. It was hard to use meditation to prepare for the day without bringing in a rehearsal of what I could write or do. The meditation I chose asked me to focus on my feet, stomach, and breath. It did not ask me to draft a to-do list. And that is a good thing. I need to appreciate what I am doing now instead of thinking about what else I should/could be doing. If I do this, no moment will be lost.
I envisioned my summer nights differently: bursts of creativity, late night typing, epiphanies, and professional growth. Instead, I find myself heavy-lidded and drained, searching for mindless entertainment. My summertime days of full-time parenting are relentless. I understand this time to be a privilege, both because I can do this and because I do not always have to do this. In a few short months, I will be back in my college office and immersed in my conversations on writing, education, and culture. But for now, I am the invisible architecture of my children’s existence, creating boundaries and direction, making the space in which they live.
However, it is difficult to shed what I have come to see as valuable and productive. I prefer enduring work, a piece of writing, a new learning experience, then the ephemeral household labors. Last night, I began reading Charles Duhigg’s new book, Better, Stronger, Faster, the Secrets of Being Productive. I completed the first chapter on motivation, which discusses how when faced with challenging circumstances, Marines-in-training were asked why they were completing a particular obstacle. If they could identify a larger goal, such as building a better future for their family, they were more motivated to keep going.
While the concept of “big picture motivation” is not new to me, I began last night to consider it in light of my summer at home. Why am I limiting screen time? Why do I need to vacuum? I am setting up standards of behavior that will shape how my children live their adulthood. This exercise was a good reminder that what I am doing is important, even though it does not require me using my Ph.D., even though it is considered ordinary and to some unambitious.