Monday, September 14, 2009
The Advantages of a Disciplined Life
Photo credit: Pascal O. Marolla
"The notion of ruling your world is that you can live in a dignified and disciplined way, without frivolity, and at the same time enjoy your life. You can combine survival and celebration. Many people feel that the regularity of life is a constant imposition. They would like to have a different life, or a different menu, every second, at every meal. It is necessary to settle down somewhere and work at having a regular, disciplined life. The more discipline that occurs, however, the more joyous life can be. So the pattern of your life can be a joyous one, a celebration, rather than obligation alone. That is what it means to rule the kingdom of your life."--``Chögyam Trungpa, from Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior
This weekend my husband and I and the two cats stayed home. It had been a while since we had a weekend at home, much less a weekend that wasn't so humid that I had to sequester myself in the bedroom--the only room with an air conditioner. My foot is slowly mending so I was able to walk around without hobbling too much. We both had ambitious to-do lists--mine had about 38 items on it. Some were easy like, Put away clean dishes. And some were more ambitious like, vacuum entire apartment. In the morning, we took the kitten to the vet for her last booster shot and cha-ching! another $250. So far, this kitten has cost us upward of $750. Not that you can put a price on cute.
When we got back to the apartment, I took a nap. I take a lot of naps on the weekend. Naps in a cool room with my sound machine on and no interruptions is heavenly. Yet, I almost always feel guilty. I don't have time to nap! I have a to-do list taunting me, saying You are the most undisciplined, lazy person I've ever known. You're 36, start acting like an adult and do your chores. Cross something off of me, lady!
So I cleaned out the fridge from top to bottom, swiping every crevice of its stuck-on food particles, sticky spills, and onion peels. It took a couple of hours because I also cleaned the outside and the top of the fridge. I found all sorts of weird things tossed on the top--bags of nails, a torn mobile, a chipped mug filled with various pieces of folded paper, a mangled cat toy, an ugly fake plant that was left behind by the apartment's previous owner. Once I was done, I knew that would be the end of my usefulness for the day. I curled up with the kitten and read a book.
Meanwhile Mike was running around, picking up blinds and fixing our broken basement door. He washed all the dishes, and then because he hadn't written wash dishes on his list, he wrote it in and then crossed it out.
We are not self-starters, Mike and I. We need a deadline or someone's parents coming over to spring us into action. When company comes over, I actually think our place looks pretty nice--cluttered, a little ragged around the edges, but homey. It's the same when I'm taking a writing class or posting on this blog. I remember why it is I like to write. It's no longer a chore, but a pleasure--especially the end result. Why don't I write more?
On Sunday, I was determined to clean up all those spots of dirt and dust that had been bothering me for weeks. I washed the floor, vacuumed, cleaned the bathroom, even wiped down the inside of the microwave (have you ever looked at the top of the inside of your microwave? Don't. It looks like the aftermath of a slasher film.)
I made a dinner of pumpkin and sage ravioli (store-bought) with a walnut and basil pesto (homemade.) Mike, who had been laboring away on sifting soil from his worm composter (pretend I didn't write that and you didn't read it) was genuinely impressed by the difference a day and a half of harried, almost manic cleaning made to the apartment. Our cats spent most of the day either advancing or retreating on each other like boxers ready to throw a punch, or they were fleeing from the vacuum. But mutual terror of loud machines became a bonding experience, because at one point they were both in the livingroom, just a few feet apart, and no claws were extended, no hisses or growling could be heard from the kitchen.
Sunday night, I thought about the weekend and felt a sense of accomplishment, but also a sense that I had spent my two days off in the most mundane way possible. We hadn't gone to any nice restaurants or taken any fun car trips or visited any of our far-flung friends. I would have no stories to tell about my weekend. I kept thinking how age was making me duller and duller. Wasn't it more fun to ignore the laundry and buy new, never-before-worn clothes? Wasn't it better to have an interesting life than a to-list with checkmarks?
But obviously we can't sustain a life of idle luxury. There's a recession going on. Frugality is the new black (even if budgets make me tremble and sweat).
I have to admit it was nice to walk barefoot around an apartment with a clean floor. It was nice to see sparkling white tiles in the kitchen. I was happy because I cooked, something I want to do more of as summer gives way to fall. And there was no big bill at the end of dinner that would surprise us when we opened our next credit card statement.
There can be joy in doing what you have to do. There can be satisfaction in starting and finishing something. There can be comfort in knowing you're not going to be eating cat food when you're 90 because you spent all your money on things that are now long gone. We're saving money for a rainy day and I'm making do with the fall wardrobe I have (for now--I'm not a monk.) Sure, a new Lulu Guinness bag has been calling my name lately, but luckily I can't hear it over the whirr of the vacuum.