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What Are You Going To Do?

Front Porch of an old house with furniture and plantsThe number one question I was asked when I told people I was retiring was, “What are you going to do?”  I wish I had had a more satisfying answer for the questioners and, honestly, for myself. I named my  hobbies including gardening, music, reading, crafting. A desire to travel. I mentioned potentially writing a book. But, ultimately, I didn’t know what I was going to do other than not continue doing the work I had been doing. It was work I loved, which made it hard to leave behind. But, the love had made it all consuming, and I knew it was time to take the next step even without being completely sure of the path.

Because of the holiday weekend, today seems like my first real day of retirement. So, what did I do? The usual morning routine of reading and journaling then feeding and walking the dogs. Rode my bike to the post office. Watched Wimbledon. Puttered around the house and garden. Ticked a few items off the to do list.

Now, as the afternoon wanes, I am getting around to doing the one thing I did want to accomplish on this first day of retirement: writing a blog post. And, in writing, I have come to a short time answer to the question: I have blogged on and off almost since blogs existed. But I never got into a regular practice. Now, I have the time, and I want to use at least some of it to establish that practice.

Not sure what I’m going to write about: technology, education, gardening, cooking, and pretty much whatever else takes my fancy.

Laundry/Not Laundry

The Laundry Worker
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec
From Wikiart

Renowned meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg offers a variety of techniques for practicing meditation that focuses on the breath. One of my favorites is a very simple, nonjudgmental approach: as you practice, you identify what is the breath and what is not. The latter covers the whole range of things that happen as you practice from random, quickly passing thoughts and distractions to long, winding stories and fantasies.

The most important moment in meditation practice according to Salzberg is when you recognize those distractions and gently, without judgment, bring your focus back to the breath. You can mark that moment by mentally noting “not breath.” That’s it. Then, as you settle your attention, you note “breath.”

Salzberg often comments that you may do this thousands of times and that’s okay. I can hear her voice saying, “That’s the practice.” And, I am proof that you do get more skillful. But, as with life itself there are times when you feel very skillful and times you don’t. The beauty of breath/not breath is that it does not carry judgment. You simply identify the distraction as not breath, and then come back to breath.

Another lesson I am learning about meditation is that it isn’t just about taking a break or getting some quiet time to breathe and release. Another goal is to shift your mind so you carry meditative and practices with you throughout your day. I have been playing with the breath/not breath technique in other areas such as doing the laundry. Chores like this, I have discovered, are fertile practice ground as their familiarity means our mind can go elsewhere and while that can be good as it part of the creative process–I’ve had many an inspiration while folding the towels–we can also find ourselves revisiting our failings, rehearsing how others have failed us, rehashing old wounds or worrying about new ones, letting our mind spin tales that pull us into darker less welcoming places.

When my mind starts doing its thing while I sort the socks, I use that sorting as the focus of my attention.  I recognize that I have been led astray and think “not laundry” and go back to the socks, noting “laundry.”

Dishes are another good chore. I am the primary dishwasher as we don’t have an appliance. I sometimes listen to the news or music, but lately I have been experimenting with focus: you guessed it, dishes/not dishes. Besides a good meditative rest, I think my dishes are cleaner.

I encourage you to give this a try, perhaps as a stand alone practice but also as a first step towards a more formal meditation practice. While I used to find laundry and dishes as necessary but somewhat boring practices, I now look forward to another opportunity to tweak my consciousness and practice mindfulness throughout the day.

Almost But Not Quite

Woman on BikeI set a goal to create a postcard every day of March, focusing especially on using resources from the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA). It was a great way to explore the resources before doing a session that included talking about DPLA. But…I did the talk last week and that was that. Four days at the end of March without postcards. The holiday weekend had arrived, and I wanted a digital break. I played with my paper cutter and started moving irises in the front garden. I baked a coffee cake and cooked one of our hams in the crock pot for Easter. I played Minecraft.

A CLMOOC Postcard Remix was the impetus for my personal challenge, and I’ve heard from at least one CLMOOCer that she received the postcard I sent. It is fun to make those kinds of analog connections with people. And having an online tool to print and mail the cards was cool. I can almost get rid of my color printer.

I’m not too upset that I didn’t get the last four done. I accomplished my mission to learn more about DPLA. And I did most of the work using free tools, especially the Preview tool that is part of my OS. Check out all the postcards here.

What’s Next?

There are always challenges that support creativity. This month, the CLMOOC is participating in Illomo, a daily drawing challenge. Camp NanoWriMo has been emailing me about their April session. I am interested in a daily writing practice but don’t really want to write a novel.

In fact, part of the goal of the postcards was to create a habit. But, I didn’t really establish a daily habit in terms of time…I made postcards early in the morning and late at night. I did a couple catch up posts with several postcards. But, creating postcards was part of my life for most of the month of March.

So, how did I do it? I put it on the list each day, even when I was traveling. (Actually, it was a little easier to do it on the road because hotel rooms come with few chores or distractions.) But *how* did I do it: some days, the postcard started with an idea; other days it started with an image. But the main idea was that I started with an intention so I opened the laptop and created a postcard. The topics came from the landscape around me: women’s history month, pi day, baseball.

So, can I do the same with writing? The postcards felt like they were low pressure: an image with some text could happen pretty quickly, something more interactive like the author map, took a little longer. Writing means more somehow, particularly if it is going to be published on the blog: drafting, editing, linking.

I am already a day behind as I write this on April 2. But, I am committed to writing over the course of the next month.