There's one phrase I heard early on here that seems to hold true pretty consistently - "You're going to get what you put into it." This can seem intimidating, especially here because there are several thousand years of tradition, history and mind-blowingly in depth metaphysical concepts to study and help support. A seemingly simple seven line prayer has an entire book written about it.
There's also not much guidance for rank novices like myself on where one should actually start. I actually ended up quite liking this as it allowed me to find my own comfort level, rhythm for absorption and a baseline to start work. However I did run into some difficulties - it's daunting and my initial response to daunting tasks tended to be "hide and wait it out."
The approach I've been using to deal has been effective for me and so thought it may be worth sharing. It's pretty simple on the surface, like most good maxims - "Show Up." 5am Kum Nye class? Just get out of bed. Once I do, just like that going back into bed is now a defeat larger than the initial challenge. Tired after lunch but have to paint a Stupa? Just pour the paint into a tray. Now it's a task to put the paint back into the bucket so I may as well get started. It's sort of a micro-victory approach, combined with pump faking my own laziness and ego.
For me that's always the hardest part- it's thinking about how nice it is in bed while you're under the covers and should get up, or rationalizing the reasons that you don't really need to go this class and besides everyone else is watching a movie. And really I don't have to do any of it - apart from a little guilt the consequences aren't so great. I'm not in grade school, and no one is going to give a shit that I don't go to class - the only party being affected negatively is me and my personal growth.
When I have some objective distance from the situation (easiest post-showing up by the way) the choice is obvious - just go, idiot. After all why am I here at Ratna Ling? To grind 10 hours a day for a cause I can't be bothered to learn about and make no money in the process? Or am I here to put in my best effort to contribute to myself and an organization that I learn about and believe in? Both at work and in study there are opportunities to develop greatly and find satisfaction if approached with the proper energy.
h/t to Alexandra who sends me wonderful nonsense like this on the daily.
In reality it's a small hump to get over but it is constant and pervasive - and it's something I've dealt with for years before coming out here to Ratna Ling as well. Any activity not mentally labeled as "fun" or "enjoyable" or "easy" can fall victim to this line of reasoning. Studying, exercises I don't like, phone calls I don't want to make - there are micro barriers that I erect in the mind that lead to procrastination or poor effort. That's why the "show up" approach works pretty well - it's a micro effort to overcome a micro barrier. Once you start dialing the phone it's usually fine and in fact tends to be enjoyable in the end.
So if you want to be a person who goes to the gym every morning, don't think about how the hour spent there will be. Unless you're remarkably positive or stupid your mind will begin telling you all kinds of stories about how much it will suck compared to staying here in bed where it's warm. Just get out of bed, get to the gym. Once you're there it's more work to go back home, and so you may as well start to wake up and jump rope.
Another practice I've learned here from Arnaud is to set personal time commitments. So for example, can I go to Kum Nye class every morning for a month? How does that feel? Impossible? How about one week? Try that and see how it feels. If I hate it, at least now I know and I tried. This keeps the ownness on me too, which is a more consistent metric to reference than any sense of responsibility to others (which can vary based on personal preference, respect, etc.).
Now once I do show up, the next hurdle is usually full participation. In my best moments I like to look at my work in this life as an expression of my human potential - that can be hard to find when you're neck deep in an Excel spreadsheet but even there I think it holds true if you're doing it for the right reasons. If that's true than why do I sometimes find it difficult to throw myself into a task, participating with joy and an open mind? And it's even more true for activities outside of work. It seriously boggles my mind as to why someone would show up to a class or event of their own volition and then mope or not take part as fully as they can.
I have noticed there are some common mental patterns I've observed that lead to issues like procrastination and holding back. Oftentimes it's the shitty inner roommate who tells me the project is stupid, or I could be doing something better, or this person or that organization doesn't appreciate it anyway, etc. I'm also starting to recognize that I personally need to improve on the middle portion of projects in particular. I tend to be a strong starter, good at creation and tapping into ideas with others, and I'm pretty good in the clutch ie, deadlines and crunch times. But the middle - routine, maintenance, etc. - I tend to get frustrated and bored with.
I'm working on those issues by - yes, once again - keeping it small. Setting micro deadlines and more importantly taking the time to immediately reflect on a task once it's accomplished has been a big help. Trying to find the sense of joy and accomplishment in the single blue stripe on a wall that I do on week four, as opposed to the initial rush we had in the beginning while talking about the renovation's potential, or scrambling and working late as a team to get the project done in time for a larger deadline.
I recently helped paint and hang these giclees of the Buddha's life story with the wonderful Alexandra at Dharma Publishing.
With something physical and tangible like painting or exercise it's a little easier because my body's energy starts flowing, the heart rate increases, hormones pump and synapses fire. I can tap into that ape-based evolutionary reward system and it makes the task a little easier. But full participation in mental activities - study, office work, art - that's a more difficult challenge to unpack sometimes. Especially working in digital - there's a sharp disconnect between the body and the sense of accomplishment when it comes to tasks like programming or graphic design where it sometimes take an inordinate amount of mental energy to move something ten pixels to the left, and then it doesn't work on a goddamn phone anyway:
Not saying it should feel like a struggle every time, and if you seriously can't find any joy you should absolutely find something else to do. If you hate programming or dry walling or management or whatever - get out. Just quit, life is way too short and you're too important to the human story to be wasting your (and all of our) time being miserable.
But I would suggest first trying to set that time period for a personal commitment to show up, participate fully and then taking the time to reflect. Did you find any pleasure or joy in the task? Then maybe see if you can identify that feeling during the task itself the next time, maybe by breaking it down into smaller and smaller pieces. Can you find pleasure in tapping the keyboard, delight in finding a good color, joy in lifting up a sand bag, happiness in hoisting a pallet over your head?
If you're interested in learning more a lot of these ideas originated via Skillful Means, a book I recommend highly when it comes to motivation and discipline in your work. We're developing some programs here at Dharma Publishing that expand upon that, including an online academy that I hope will launch soon. Look forward to sharing that with you all!
Till next time, nerds. XO