Projects, errands, and chores. Goals, milestones, and daily devotionals. There are tasks ranging from a minute to a lifetime available to you – every day can be jam-packed with things to do and places to go. You can have schedules and plans that stretch out for years into a fictional future you imagine.
And that’s great. That’s exactly right. It’s inconceivable that you could get bored with so many possible adventures around you. You should take your large projects and break them down into small tasks you can accomplish on a daily basis. Each night you should close out a list and create the list for the next day. That’s how you can make real progress toward your ambitions without cluttering your mind. It’s good.
There’s a terrible trap laying hidden inside all those schedules and lists, though. You can get to thinking that the plans and objectives are actually life – you can mistake the striving for the journey. When that happens, we start unhappily marching in ego-based dreams.
It starts out innocently enough. You get up in the morning and you think to yourself, “Here’s what I’ll do: I’ll meditate, then I’ll blog, then I’ll go shopping for the week.” Simple and unambitious – only three little things: one spiritual, the next creative, and the last one of the fun little errands of life.
So you sit down to meditate, and while your mind is still settling the phone rings. You don’t answer it, but you start thinking about the voicemail the caller might have left. When you finish your meditation, you check the phone and it’s your friend, wanting to get together for coffee.
The trap appears. If you go for coffee, you might not get around to blogging or shopping. Your ego-driven list for the day might come back to you with bitterness tonight. If you refuse the coffee and stick to the plan, you’re missing out on life itself – the spirit calling you forth into the community.
You’re caught by the trap if you stay to blog and refuse the coffee. Your whole list is oriented toward the enjoyment of life, so why on earth would you delay enjoyment in order to attend to your list? You didn’t plan to be unproductive, you were called. That’s all the difference in the world.
In that little scenario (familiar enough to most productivity-oriented people), you did one thing right even if you refused the coffee. You finished meditating before you checked the phone.
Each little item on your list is an interval – a dedication of time fully to a task. Your full mind and body must be given over to each thing you do, wholly, and that means shutting out everything else until it’s done. You can’t meditate if you let a distraction break the meditation any more than you can read while you watch TV. You’ll find the most enjoyment and get the best results from attending to your tasks with mindfulness.
Any list of errands, tasks, or devotionals is a list of intervals of full engagement, fully doing and being whatever is involved. But in between the intervals are transitions, breaks where you (optimally) boot down from something, sit in silence for a few minutes, and boot up into something else. Subside and arise.
The Little Interruptions
The transitions shouldn’t be just that, though. If you force them to be, you are declaring yourself a servant of your ego. That road leads to unhappiness and grinding, no matter how spiritually-oriented your daily devotionals might be.
The transitions should also be resets. In your moment of quiet between intervals, you have to look around and reassess your experience – start your day again. Let your list be changed or even thrown out the window. You’d do that if it was a medical emergency. How can you know whether the coffee you’ve been asked to isn’t an emergency of a different sort?
Spirit summons us and we must allow ourselves to be called into whatever adventures life offers. Don’t be timid about embracing it either, don’t just wait for the phone call. Go for a walk or call a friend you’ve been thinking about yourself. Invite the unexpected into your life often.
That might mean your entire list for a day goes undone. So what? Better that than ignoring the gifts and blessings of this current day in favor of some imagined future. You should no more abandon your life for your private ambitions than you should postpone happiness until after you retire.
The Big Interruptions
Beyond those points in the day where you offer spirit the chance to destroy your productivity, you should also take a day each week to offer spirit the chance to completely reformulate the ego ambitions hidden in your schedules and lists. This is the essential sabbatical, the taskless day, that I’ve written about before.
Ego is a little fiction, the result of the infinite interfacing with the temporal. It needs to be superintended and the superintendent should be spirit – your immortal spirit created by the divine One as the infinite experiencing itself. Spirit speaks to us in our silence and through our lives. If you view interruptions and the events of life as irritating or distractions, then your ego is attempting to be the superintendent of spirit – a damning reversal of a happy life.
The importance of interruptions – both big and little – is the lopsided balance between spirit and productivity-oriented ego. Perhaps you haven’t found productivity and feel like you’re just treading water. If that’s you, it’s time to contemplate what attracts you in life (not what you’ve been told you should do, which is a different animal), break it down into daily tasks you can do each day, and begin climbing what mountains call you.
Whether or not you’ve explored self-improvement and have programmed your life, though, don’t forget to let yourself be gladly interrupted. The interruptions are the calls of happiness and spirituality, regardless of their form. There are a thousand little endeavors in your life, but all of them together are less important than your life journey itself.