A few mornings ago, I noticed that the hallway bathroom has mildew patches on the ceiling; as I have noticed almost every day for the past month. I can picture myself, sometime in the past, standing on a step ladder, a bucket with Spic-and-Span and hot water in one hand, a scrubbing sponge in the other, spending an hour or two banishing the discolored blotches on the ceiling and walls. But these days I don’t bother to even add it as a task on my To-Do-List. There doesn’t seem to be any point, since my lists are already bouncing other items along from week-to-week and month-to-month, like the proverbial kicking of a can down the road. I’ve developed an approach to potential intentions and resolutions in which I don’t add a task on my various lists until I can formulate a plan for carrying it out.
This strategy (of only writing down a task once I can “envision” carrying it out) entered my daily life in the mid-70’s, in the aftermath of my destructions of several years of daily journals; which I did when it became painfully clear that there was no real communication between the one charged with carrying out activities and the one assigning them.
My present strategy (of listing only tasks that I feel capable of doing) is working better. Yet I can’t help feeling that I’d like to be more like those individuals and communities, whose environments bespeak an energy and love of clarity that my own life does not manifest.
Such exemplary manifestations range from individuals whose houses are incredibly neat and orderly to entire spiritual communities, which maintain the candle flames of faith and knowledge that are holding at bay our world’s gathering darkness and confusion.
So when I look at the mildew marks on our bathroom ceiling, and question whether I’m up to balancing on a step ladder in order to scrub away those gathering age spots in my environment, I push that recognition away into some mythical future, as if it is unconnected with the body of time in which my embodied life is bobbing up and down.
Coming out of the bathroom that morning, I returned to the items that did make it onto my To-Do-List: study, write, respond to some e-mail; change the filters in our Reverse Osmosis system under the sink (which this time calls for a few drops of bleach and flushing the system twice—which in the past has taken several hours to complete. This is in addition to my usual 30-60 minutes each morning cleaning the dishes, wiping surfaces, and putting everything away in cupboards . . .
This morning there’s a new item. Yesterday, backing out into the street, I must have been off to the side a few feet more than usual because the frontend of my Prius (with its 4 inch clearance above the bottom of the tires (a feature of gas-mileage aerodynamic engineering that made better sense in 2011 when gas prices were above $4/gallon) came down hard on the sidewalk and opened a sizable gap where the bumper joins the wheel well. So now I have two new items on my To-Do-List: apply duct tape to the front of my Prius today so that it doesn’t vibrate apart next time I drive; and contact my mechanics about doing something more permanent when they open after the holidays.
The situation in which I live requires that I make choices each day about what to do among competing elements of disarray. And when I see the perfectly placed, well dusted items in the household of someone who doesn’t live with five other people, two dogs and a cat, I merely nod to myself like someone gazing through a car dealership window at a solid SUV which would never fall apart because I backed up a foot to the left of my driveway’s cut away. I content myself with spending those 30-60 minutes each morning cleaning up the kitchen, cycling the dishwasher, wiping surfaces, immersing pots and pans in the sink while I make coffee, checking the cat litter, garbage, recycle, wash, rinse, and put away those pots and pans, and in one way or another continue to make a daily bargain with time in order to preserve a window–before others appear from their bedrooms–for study, practice and writing, which I value more than such skirmishes with the armies of entropy that are constantly storming the castle of my life.
Still, I sometimes think of the people in the Nyingma community who have planted thousands of trees and flowers, constructed temples and who unceasingly create the books which keep an ancient tradition alive for practitioners in Asia and the West alike. This is not simply an abstract recognition that there are more balanced and energetic people doing important work on our planet. Their work has rescued me from a way of living that was discouraged, dark and confused, when I most needed it.
Thanks goodness that there are people actively engaged in our world who keep the lamps of knowing and caring burning, and who keep launching themselves into the precious opportunities of time and space, as if there is no tomorrow guaranteed for our world.
A passing thought: a week from today, on the first day of a new year, will I find it in me to articulate a vision, and an accompanying intention, that pushes against the membrane of caution which has formed around my willingness to hope and dream and aspire?
Don’t get up on a ladder. Very hazardous activity for people our age. Last week I had my backyard landscape redone. Twenty three rotting railroad ties were replaced by stone and working garden area was reduced. As the crew was leaving I gave them a 16’ aluminum extension ladder. I had tried to sell it for $10, but without success. Happy to have someone haul it away.