Abandon Text!

W. H. Auden once said: "Poems are not finished; they are abandoned." I have been abandoning writing projects for many years, since only the pressure of deadline and high expectations ever got me to finish, or even start, anything of merit. This blog is an attempt to create a more consistent, self-directed writing habit. Hopefully a direction and voice will emerge.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

The IKEA meditation

I have discovered a new meditational discipline: assembling IKEA furniture with two children under five "assisting."

Like all meditational disciplines, like sitting cross-legged or walking very slowly, this one is designed to force your mind and body into a position where it is more likely to make space for real presence. Some folks find assembling the furniture itself to be a demanding task, one that requires careful study of directions. (I would say "reading directions," but appropriately enough all IKEA directions have no words, only pictures. Wordless tranmission, indeed.) Once you add in the toddlers, you are forced into a task that requires taking everything very slooooowly. The only way to do it is to completely relinquish all expectations and desires of finishing the job. You must be content with the task of the moment, because nothing else is certain.

Toddlers, all on their own, provide plenty of fodder for attention mediation, simply because they require so much attention anyway. They are truly unpredictable; they literally can be fine one minute and hanging upside-down from clothes rack the next. Once you add the furniture-building to the process, you find yourself engaged in a task that you might ordinary rush through, but now must take with complete timelessness and equanimity.

Even as you are calming your own mind and relinquishing all desire, your children are continuously reminding you of the "monkey mind." "Daddy, is that going to be the bottom of the cabinet? I want to do some hammering. Malcolm, give me the hammer! Hey! Malcolm won't give me the hammer! AAAAAA! Daddy, I want some juice." Etc. etc. In this state, all desire and conflict can only be seen for what it is: silly, childish, momentary, transient.

The only trick to this discipline is knowing when to stop. As long as you can observe your kids, the half-assembled furniture and yourself with understanding and equinimity, you can continue. The moment you find yourself surpressing the urge yell at someone or something, it's time to stop. The awareness of knowing when it's time to stop is also a part of the discipline.


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