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.

Monday, November 06, 2006

The Power of Being Boring (um, I mean, Consistent)

Over the last several weeks the theme of consistency has been popping up at various places in the SKS meetings at UNC. Often spiritual seekers strive for intensity, but they miss the fact that intensity is not merely a single visceral barbaric yalp of effort, a Hulk-like “gaaaaaaaAAAAHHH!” That looks like intensity, but more often than not it’s a temporary phenomenon that fades. Real intensity is cultivated through steady, consistent effort. The effort has to be consistent over time, because only consistent effort has any chance of becoming a habit: a way of being that is automatic and natural. Five minutes of meditation a day would be better than an hour once a week, which in turn would be better than eight hours of meditation in a once-a-year retreat. Lasers get their intensity, not through brightness, but through coherence, everything lining up and moving in the same direction.

Of course, I am preaching to myself. Consistency of effort has always been my weakest virtue. I am the king of the all-nighter, the frenzied emergency firefighter-mode of responding to the most urgent need. The operative word here is responding: it’s a very reactive way to live, moving from crisis to crisis. It might make me feel like I’m working hard, but I know that it’s uncontrolled and ultimately unsustainable.

Nisargadatta Maharaj spoke often about having a “clean and well-ordered life.” Richard Rose advised people to start the spiritual quest by “putting the house in order.” I think they both were saying the same thing: adopt a lifestyle that will allow for consistency of effort. Make everything in your life predictable enough that you can count on doing the most important things regularly.

This is a hard teaching, because being consistent in your work (spiritual or otherwise) is the most unglamorous thing in the word. It’s work-a-day, hum-drum drudgery. I might as well write a book: “Anal-retentiveness as a Spiritual Discipline”. I don’t want to glorify routine as the end of the spiritual life, but it is certainly the beginning. You have to do the right things every day, which means you have to start by being able to do something, anything, with daily mindful consistency. Rose said, “Walk around the block every day.” People thought he meant that figuratively, but he was serious: “No, really, physically get up and walk around the block every day. That will teach your body and mind that you are serious.”

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