I have been worrying about the free-form, feel-it-out nature of this project. I think this is probably because a) I am reading Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project, meticulous in its planning and organization; and b) because I have been teaching the idea of experiments to my students and have stressed the importance of having a hypothesis, a plan, and a list of materials. Honestly, these days I feel like I am just swimming in a sea of possibilities, ripping teeth off coffee-shop flyers that advertise mindfulness, taking book recommendations, and having random ideas about what this project should look like. Not disciplined at all; in fact, rather messy. And not, to date, too mindful, either. But there are glimmers.
So I didn’t think I had found a framework until a couple of Buddhists popped by last night (whaddya know?). They brought me some books and asked a few questions about this project, which I cryptically answered; I am not trying to be cloak-and-dagger about things, exactly, but I’m also trying not to bring everyone I know into it just yet. So I told them it was a personal exploration but that, because I am a writer, I will document it as I go. And that for now, I am just trying to gather information and figure it all out.
“Oh,” Alison said breezily. “You’re in the reading books phase.”
“Some people are perpetually in the reading book phase,” Don added.
I don’t know why, but it made me laugh and feel good. I think because it almost sounds like the Reading Books Phase (and for grammatical reasons too esoteric to explain, I have chosen NOT to hyphenate “reading-books phase”) is one of the ten steps: Animality, Anger, Reading Books, Buddhahood…
Great. Et voila, my framework: I am, now, in the Reading Books Phase (check the sidebar on the left to see which books are crowding my nightstand). I will let you know when I reach Enlightenment.
I think also I am in the Noticing Phase. One somewhat unhappy consequence of being more mindful is noticing all the ways in which I am not mindful. So, even as I managed five minutes of meditation this morning, I also managed to freak out about a small miscommunication (as perceived by me) half an hour later. Even as, while I was meditating, I registered the birds begin chirping in the yard…and the freight train running through the mau-mau (a friend’s kid’s word for the railroad crossing, now a word adopted by our entire family)…and the smell of the heating duct in its first use of the season…I also had to refrain from writing this blog post in my head the whole time.
One big notice for today: I write my life in my head while it is happening. This is an exhausting practice, probably pretty normal for a writer, but not ideal for someone trying to live more in the moment. I do it all the time, and have done it since I was a little kid. I am walking to the store. I am picking up my son from daycare. I am noticing the ways in which I am not mindful.
Alison said she used to do it, too, back when she first started practicing Buddhism. Now, she said, it doesn’t serve her.
Amen to that.