Shaping a mindful week
In my last blog I reflected on what a mindful day might look like. Well, of course it will be different for everyone but my suggestion was that someone seeking to live a mindful life might try to have three moments in the day when they deliberately connect with mindful awareness. Each of these moments could take just a few minutes or even a few seconds but the value of just stopping and coming back to this moment and then making more of a conscious decision about what to do next can be an invaluable antidote to the automatic mind which can take us through whole days without us quite realising where all the time went. If one of these three was a longer meditation that would be even better but the ‘rule of three’ is a great way to integrate mindfulness into our daily life.
But we can also think in terms of a mindful week. The days of our week will vary quite a lot. But how do we decide what to do and when? In many busy lives there does not seem to be much choice – there is just an endless stream of urgent things to get done and it seems to us that the best we can do is just get going and see how much of my ‘To Do’ list I can get through. For others there is a lot more space with much less pressure and even perhaps too many choices – which can leave you a bit at a loss as to what to do now, today, if everything could possibly be put off till tomorrow.
The other challenge here is to recognise the difference between the urgent an the important. Unless we bring a bit of awareness to our week it can end up being dominated by apparently urgent things – which seem to need attention immediately or as soon as possible – and then we come to the end of another week realising (or worse, not realising) that there are so many things which I really value and which are really important to me which, once again, I do not seem to have had time for. ‘Oh, well, maybe some day – when the children have left home, when I cut down my working hours, when I retire …..’
Well, yes, we can’t do everything now and some things may need to wait for different circumstances but maybe not everything.
So, one way of approaching this dilemma might be to sit down and have a think about those important but non-urgent things and plan them in – actually set aside time when you are going to do them. But some of these things might not so much be single tasks but on-going things I would like to be a part of my life. Like: reading; socialising; engaging with the arts; exercise/sport/yoga; support for some cherished cause; spending time on my hobby; engaging with a spiritual community. And if we are seeking to live the mindful life we might add: time for a bit longer meditation; time for quiet and doing nothing; time in nature.
All of these things, however good and important, can get squeezed out by a week dominated by the ‘To Do’ list of urgent tasks.
So what I have decided to do is to give my week a bit of a shape – so that not every day is the same and so that there are days and times for task achievement and there are days and times for specific other activities. I try not to make this too rigid but I do try to bring a reasonable amount of seriousness to my own intentions. For instance, if I decide that Saturday, for me, is not a working day then I actually instil in myself almost a sense of obligation not to work. This is an important day – not just a day off work – but a day for something else which is equally (if not more) important. This is how I manage to dispel any guilt or anxiety about not doing work tasks when, in fact, of course, I could be doing them. I am raising the status of my Saturday not just to a day of rest from work but to something much more important than that. This is a sacred day – as indeed in the Jewish tradition it is – let me honour what kind of a day this is and what it is for.
Each of us, of course will have to work with our own week and the possibilities which it affords. But just as an example here is the weekly pattern I am trying to keep for myself.
First I have my list of important things and these are:
- work – of course – I need to earn a living
- extended times for mindfulness practice, silence and solitude
- serious intellectual reading
- home making (not ‘house work’!)
- body care (exercise, yoga, walking)
- cooking – especially bread making
- the arts
- inviting people to meals
So, first, work. And the question many of us have even forgotten to ask is: so how many days do I want to work – or perhaps, how many days do I need to work in order to live the lifestyle I choose to live. It can be helpful putting it this way as it may be that I could live more simply in order to be able to work less hours. We may be sacrificing nice things or foreign holidays but many will report greater on-going happiness with this approach. Anyway I have decided to work four days a week – which happens to be possible (mostly) for me in my current circumstances. So Monday to Thursday are my working days and, as far as possible (which isn’t always) I keep my working life within these days.
So – three-day weekend? Well, I don’t quite see it like that but rather try to bring a sense of specific intention to each of the other days. These are not three days off so much as three sacred days each with a particular flavour and intention to them.
For instance, Friday morning I keep as a quite morning: no emails, computers, music, mobile phones and no chatting with whoever is at home with me. And this is (usually) great. I tend to take a bit more time over meditation practice, maybe do a bit of reading around mindfulness and take the dog for a short walk. But also I spend time just sitting. The sense that there is simply nothing to do – nothing to get done (because this is not the time for it) is truly liberating and the most wonderful experience. Wow! – just one morning in the week where I can say to all those thoughts about all that needs to be done, ‘yes, but not now – now is not the time’, seems to open up new worlds of experience for me. This is my favourite time in my whole week. But if not a whole morning, what about two hours – one hour even. Start with whatever is possible and then build from there.
Friday evening I thought might be the time for offering hospitality in our home. And I am wanting not to make so much of a big deal about this. Rather just that we’re having a meal anyway – who can we ask to join us. And again, not slavishly every week but sometimes.
Saturday does seem to become a bit of a task (though not paid work) day as, of course, you do need time set aside for this. But exchanging the label ‘house work’ for ‘home making’ can give a very different feel to much of what needs to be done.
Sunday, currently, is my time for serious reading – and bread-making. I find I am one who really wants to engage with ideas. But I need a sense of space to be able to do this. Sunday is the space I try to keep for doing this.
And Sunday evening has become the time for my regular (though not only) engagement with the arts. I have set up a small cinema club whereby about once a month I look at the films which are timed for around 6pm in our local cinema, choose one and email ‘club’ members that this is the one we shall be going to this month. And those who come meet in a nearby hostelry to discuss it afterwards.
So, you get the picture? I have managed to allocate certain times of the week for certain activities – and in this way these activities do actually happen – rather than may happen one day when I have more time. If you do this for yourself it probably needs to be seen as a bit of a trial and error process in order to find out what actually works for you and what is actually possible. But the principle can be the same – certain days of the week (or perhaps certain evenings of the week) have certain characteristics and can be dedicated to different aspects of a healthy balanced life. Effectively we are bringing mindfulness to the way we live our week.
One final point, though, which neatly leads me into what will probably become next month’s blog – you will notice that I have not covered everything in my list in the week I have described. Actually, exercise and some writing and some music does happen during a normal week. But the truth is, just as you can’t fit everything you value in life into each day, you can’t fit it into a single week either. So we also need a longer view – a mindful year, where we might decide that we spend a bit more time doing certain activities in different months or different seasons of the year. But more thoughts on this next time.