Bits of zen flotsam & jetsam from the daily practice of a zen fool with shards of modern Buddhist art from my studio. Sometimes cranky, sometimes inspiring, mostly entertaining.
Sunday, January 8, 2012
The Freedom of Schedules
So we've tucked the first week of the new year under our belt and if we ate too many Christmas goodies that belt may be bulging a bit (but who wants to talk about that?). I want to talk schedules. What do you think about schedules? Yeah me too. I've never been a scheduley sort of person. But I thought, new year, try something new, right? I have some projects I want to actually happen, time that seems to have slipped deftly through my fingers and toes. It's easy to suffer from this little syndrome that Fran Leibowitz describes here: "When I'm supposed to be writing, I clean my apartment, take my clothes to the laundry, get organized, make lists, do the dishes. I would never do a dish if I didn't have to write."
It's so easy for the days to morph into weeks and merge with the months; project lists remaining as large and unfinished as ever. When my friend the Zen monk asked about what I've done with my writing and I mumbled something about working on it this winter in the long evenings, she gently said, "you know if you don't slot in the time, it's not going to happen." Those words have been wandering around my head, occasionally tripping over the empty canvases on the studio floor.
So with my daughter home for a bit and both of us with projects in mind we sat down to create schedules. We identified things we wanted to do on one list and then created a loose daily schedule that involved meditation first thing, a couple of 2 hour work blocks where I slotted in painting and writing, an exercise slot and the evening for sketching, listening to Dharma talks and whatever. I have never really worked by a schedule. Perhaps I have made some weak attempts on occasion but somehow that tricky customer slipped quietly out into the winter fog. And before you take me for a total slacker, let me clarify, I'm only a partial slacker. If I become obsessed with something the hours can pass without much else happening. I can get on track, it's getting off the track before the train comes that can be a problem. A day of painting can easily end without a walk. That's another issue I hope a schedule might address.
So scheduling seemed a good way to help me move from one activity to another, also a way of ensuring a particular activity got started. I'm visualizing my schedule like one of those cute little shelves with compartments that I can pop things into; like the ones I've noticed on tumblr (whoops, that's not in the schedule, is it?). In the past I thought of schedules as way too bossy (kind of like those automatic check-outs at the big box stores that shout "put your item in the bag"), too left brained, too business oriented, nothing an artsy sort would want or need. Just the thought of a schedule would make my face screw up like I'd just tasted a cup of wormwood tea.
So when I asked myself "what is the essence of a schedule, why would I want to do this?" It's about discipline, about holding and containing, about bringing order. And if I think about Buddhist practice I see that mindfulness is simply discipline for the mind? Instead of letting the mind roam wildly over whatever craziness strikes it, we attempt over and over to bring it back to the present moment. As RM Jiyu Kennet Of the Order of Buddhist Contemplatives used to say, "the mind makes a good servant but not a very good master." So really what am I doing with my schedule but trying to take charge of my time, it's discipline for the parameter of time. Dogen, in his sobering way reminds us, "Quickly the body passes away. In a moment life is gone." Not to be morbid, but just a good reminder to us to get on with it.
And how is my schedule going, you ask with a sly grin? Pretty well to my surprise. The exercise right after lunch part isn't working out too well. In fact the exercise thing in general requires some attention. And I forgot to schedule in a sleep in morning (my body decided that was today). But so far I have actually started work on a little e-book that's in the future plans and have managed to get in some serious painting time. A little sketching project is underway. And we have built in a day for reassessing the schedule and adjusting it as needed. That will happen Tuesday.
As always there is some Dharma in it all. About midweek I could see some grimness creeping in, some feeling that I was being chased around by my "schedule". My mind starting singing a little song that went, "this schedule is taking the joy out of everything." And when I looked at this I could see it had nothing to do with "the schedule" but everything to do with my attitude, how my mind was regarding the schedule. I could look at it as a jailer or a liberator, or perhaps I don't even have to think about it at all? In a great little book I picked up second hand "The Art of Abstract Painting", by Rolina van Vliet she say in a section called "Freedom in restraint, "Limits encourage more intensive exploration. ... direction and limitation activate our creativity more than does superficially wandering about among an overabundance of alternatives." She is specifically addressing the learning phase of a task. I think this is not the whole truth or always the truth, but for me, at this point, the schedule is "the restraint" and within it I can choose freedom, the freedom to get done what my heart ultimately longs to do but my wandery mind and fearful ego shy away from.
Buddhism & Art...if I had to pick two words that give an overview of what I get up to in this world those would be my choices. Buddhism is the ground upon which I rest all else. I like to think it brings me some sanity. It helps me think in some logical way about what I am doing and look at it as deeply as possible. What did I just do? Why ? What's that all about? ...To try and look at my life without sliding over things or fooling myself...To be present for life, not rejecting or preferring one experience over another. Buddhist practice makes my life full and rich, sometimes filled with joy and sometimes with a deep experience of the suffering present in this world.
After all those words does it seem odd to say that it is the simplicity of Zen that appeals to me? This inclination to simplicity pulls me to try and integrate my practice and work, to paint Buddhas, to observe my process as I work.
I am drawn to mixed media, integrating script and words with images and colour.