Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Organizing the mind

[photo: The beloved critic John Leonard showing us what a working study looks like.]
This morning I knew I had to get back to my usual meditation. I felt scattered, full of ideas and reactivity. Specifically, I reacted when Tom suggested we move some wire shelving he built into my toy closet.

This closet is one of the luxuries of my life I take for granted. I don't take them all for granted. Not a day goes by that I don't thank whatever God may be that I do not have to work anymore - how did I ever survive it? I sweet-talk the robot vacuum cleaner, and load the dishwasher with gratitude. But closets? I'm used to them. My study, for instance, has a whole wall of closet. I like to think the doctor who built this house put this in for his wife, who I like to think had a lot of clothes. It was the fifties, after all. What we did was buy clothes.

I don't have a lot of clothes, so one half of this closet houses my toys - drums, paints, drawing pads, unfinished crewel embroidery, drawings and paintings and photographs, seeds collected at Grailville . . . you get the idea. The kind of toys we enjoy as grown-ups.

Over coffee this morning Tom brought up the fact of this shelving, which sits in the guest room awaiting my command. The idea is to put it in my toy closet and make everything much more accessible - there are boxes under boxes put there when we moved in, boxes that are a mystery to me. He had a friend coming by who could do the heavy lifting.

Immediately Don't want! sprang full-blown into my head the idea of the Right Way to Do This. It was muddled in with a sense of embarrassment - surely I couldn't let Greg see this mess! I would need to at least get in there and remove the little boxes before he came, and where would I put them? What I should do is buy a bunch of organizing stuff at The Container Store . . .

Now wait, I said to myself, what's all this about? Isn't this actually just what closets look like? I realized I don't actually know. I don't get much chance to look in other people's closets. But I bet hardly anyone has every single thing stacked and labeled like . . . ah-ha, like my parents did, compulsive workers. Then I wondered whether my reaction had something to do with always wanting A's? A in everything and, as my father once said, "Why aren't they A pluses?"

I could see that the whole thing was one of those half-thought constructions brought up by a knee-jerk No, a slight aversion, a sense of threat. And fifteen years ago it would have ended there, with my refusal, I'm too busy right now. This time I caught myself and marveled. Because moving the shelving is not about how good a person I am, or what someone thinks of me. It is about nothing but hey, moving the shelving. My kneejerk reaction was the kind of mysterious weirdness we can see in our friends and spouses, but usually not in ourselves. Unless we meditate.

I am not talking about destressing with a mantra, or doing a visualization, or the practice of lovingkindness meditation, all good things. What I'm talking about is plain old ordinary sitting meditation. It is taught in all the Buddhist traditions, this sitting still and following the breath, watching our thoughts, desires, fears rise and letting them pass like clouds in the sky. Practicing not grasping. Practicing just being here with ourselves and whatever arises in us.

I am not at all sure about the division often made between the psychological and the spiritual. I am just one person, with these things muddled in my mind and gut. I have found that meditation leads me time and again to what you would call psychological insight, as in this case. Then again, once I see the snafluffle I have built in my mind, and let it fall away, something spacious and relaxed appears. That feels spiritual. It is very nice when it happens.

Yesterday I wrote about some of the ways women nourish themselves spiritually. And certainly none of us should beat ourselves up for falling away from our practice. That's not productive. But I woke up this morning wanting to correct myself, afraid that I seemed to equate meditation with a number of other practices. That hasn't been true for me.

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