A Benedictine solution to procrastination: pt 1: Organize

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“An ancient proverb states: ‘It is not the size of the tree but the depth of its roots that make it strong.’ Procrastination usually has very deep roots. The problem of procrastination is one that often goes beyond self-discipline and whipping oneself from stasis to stress.” T. Quek

Comparing this to the way of a Benedictine monk, I notice his fluent transition from one activity to the next, at the sound of a bell, without dragging his feet.

Quek mentions 4 possible causes for procrastination:

(1) Disorganization:

  • poor distinction between urgency and priority
  • distractibility
  • forgetfulness
  • ‘lumping’

(2) Fear

  • rational vs. irrational
  • discipline vs. comfort

(3) Perfectionism

(4) Procrastination as an indicator of underlying illnesses (like ADD or mental disorders)

This is the first article in a series of three, where I go into these causes and present a Benedictine inspired solution for them.

Disorganization: The luring illusion of ‘comfort’ tasks

This is characterized by a poor distinction between urgency and importance.

Quek’s theory is that the typical procrastinator tends to procrastinate doing a lot of so-called ‘comforttasks, which are easy to reach, convenient or interesting to perform.
This causes a pile-up of old and new tasks wich start crying out for attention, thus becoming urgent, regardless of their level of importance.
The ‘tyranny’ of all the open loops of important tasks start weighing down on the procrastinator and she will want to perform even more comfort tasks to relieve that stress: a vicious cycle is born.

Distractibility: “What does THIS button doooo?”

Distractions are a multitude of off-task behaviours

This is a HUGE issue for me. Midsentence I fall prey to the lure of Facebook, What’sApp, texting, email – not so much anymore these days because I get so repelled by all the unanswered emails sitting in my inbox – eating, drinking, sudden cleaning urges, old-fashioned daydreaming, or doing non-important, non-urgent comfort tasks, *sigh*…

Forgetfulness: “Yeah, I was just about to do it…”

I can be really short about this: Put your mind on paper (or electronics). Author and guru of GTD (Getting Things Done): David Allen states we can only consciously remember a list of 10 things, if we put in another, then we “erase” the first again.

“The mind is for having ideas not holding them” –

David Allen

It’s key though to keep reminders of things to do in a dedicated place! Not in ten!
In my next post I will elaborate on this, with regards to the GTD-method.

Here’s already a nice teaser for you: David’s terrific video talk for “Dolectures“, on this subject.

Lumping!

Lumping or chunking is the errant perception that most tasks come as an inseperable whole (a “lump”) and cannot be subdivided and dealt with systematically.

Whoa! I feel so relieved to see that my plight actually has a name. How many fears in my life stem from this misconception.
Lumping my writing, lumping my household, lumping my life!

Ok, now that I’ve acknowledged my utter state of disorganization, I feel relieved yet inspired to change this. But: babysteps, one step at a time, towards no more lumping.

How would a typical Benedictine monk go about his tasks? Can I borrow some of his wisdom to infuse into my disorganized life?

  • A Benedictine monk would divide his attention well, praying for discernment in setting priorities at the beginning of his day, after a period of empty mind: meditation.
  • He would neither make a distinction between Ora et Labora (Pray and Work), nor between eating, loving or praying, because he knows that everything is equally important. The mundane is just as key as the heavenly.
  • He would also set emotional boundaries for himself: saying “no” to himself in case of distraction. So when the bell tolls: change of scenes. No: ” I quickly finish this…” or “Hey, I am praying but I actually have to give my abbot a phone call right now”.
  • He would take notes on his little notepad, which he takes with him everywhere, hidden in his habit. (Don’t you like the pun that monks are creatures of habit? A monk’s “habit” is also his cape.) He would then place a reminder on his to-dolist, but there wouldn’t even be the need for an agenda, because his day is being shaped by the ever present bell.
  • And he would not need an intricate productivity system, because his life were already stripped to the bare essentials: eat, pray, love your neighbour, work and recreate.
  • The monk would keep it simple, and progress slowly but steadily. He would give each different activity his undivided* attention, mindfully and slowly going from one thing to the next.
  • The daily timetable or horarium** of the monk automatically prevents him from “lumping”, because his day is already neatly subdivided. The great thing for him though, is that his abbot makes that table already for him, following the Rule of Benedict. We in turn have to let our own wise mind (our own ‘abbot’) sternly but lovingly set boundaries for ourselves, using a timer and planning ahead at the start of each new day.

To be continued!

In the next post we are going to look at fear-based procrastination.

Let me know if you recognize anything in my article, I’d love to talk with you about it! Maybe we can inspire each other with ways to tackle the problem of procrastination.

You can also find me on Facebook or Twitter.

*to divide comes from dividere (Latin), which means: to force apart or to cleave.

** Continue reading

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Practicing Mindfulness and Eye for Beauty

Mindfulness techniques seem to be the new trend nowadays. Of course the concept is not new, being rooted in both Eastern and Western spirituality.

Since I’m still on a quest to integrate the Benedictine way of living in my daily life this year, in order to gain awareness, peacefulness and a healthier daily structure, I will share with you some monastic secrets of being mindful.

What is mindfulness anyway?

Let’s start with saying what it is NOT: mindfulness is NOT: sitting on your meditation pillow all day and doing nothing. Neither is it only thinking about God / a Higher Power and floating away on your boat of self-centered happiness.

Here’s a definition from an online dictionary:

mind·ful adj.

1 bearing in mind : aware

2 inclined to be aware
— mind·ful·ly adverb
— mind·ful·ness noun
e.g.: a truly considerate person, always mindful of the needs of others

Related to MINDFUL
Synonyms: alive, aware, conscious
Antonyms: insensible, oblivious, unaware, unconscious, unmindful”

Benedictine Mindfulness

Being mindful in a Benedictine way, is more about connecting than about isolation. It is about paying attention to what is right in front of your nose. It’s giving people and things their due attention and care, both the mundane and the spiritual. In that sense Benedictine Spirituality is profoundly “down to earth”, which sets it apart from many other forms of spirituality

In the excellent resource on Benedictine living: Wil Derkse’s book “The Rule of Benedict for Beginners” I found a beautiful example of two mindful Benedictine nuns in the Hildegard Monastery:

“We see [the nuns] during different moments of their daily rhythm: singing God’s praise in the monastery church (in polished Gregorian), working: the precise work of the goldsmith, the thorough cleansing of the lamp shades, meticulously teaching a private class of [philosophy] by the abdis (…) to a young novice, arranging flowers for the altar, working in the wine cellars, attentively reading private literature in their rooms, a phone conversation in the monastery hall, during which the nun retreats to an alcove to give the caller his due attention, installing new electric wiring, during relaxed leisure activities…”

What is most striking in these examples, is that the nuns give everything and everyone their undivided and due attention, whether it be cleaning a toilet or conducting a conversation, scrubbing the floor or arranging the toilets, praying and meditating or leisure activities. Everything is attended to in the right way.

“To attend and get things right” –

Iris Murdoch

A specific area of attention that comes into view if you look at the nuns is the beautyfying of their environment:

“Beauty and order are contagious” and the reverse is equally true.

“A Thing of Beauty is a Joy Forever” – John Keats

Monasteries are an oasis of care and cultivation, the proverbial neat handwriting of the nuns or monks, carefully arranged flowers, every tool put in its own right place.

Little things do matter; they contribute to an atmosphere of peacefulness, order and beauty.
Outward order creates inward order and inward order paradoxically creates space for focus and creativity.

How can I be attentive/mindful in my own life?

  • by being fully aware in the present moment, taking care of the very task at hand, ignoring distractions as well as possible, yet being responsive to what the situation requires at a given time.
  • by treating every task as equal, and as an opportunity to give God (/your Higher Power) praise, be it scrubbing or praying. Everything done with an attitude of gratitude.
  • by making sure to practice outer order with love and an eye for esthetics, especially in the small things.

Goal

Today I will be mindful by: acknowledging urges to procrastinate or otherwise follow my impulses, doing my household chores with as much love and care as my writing, making sure my living room looks orderly, pretty and inviting.

Are you on board with me?

Please share with me how you practice Benedictine mindfulness today. Do you have tips and tricks?

You can do so in the comment section below or on Facebook.

In gratitude,

Ester

Benedictine Humility

How many times have I tried to look bigger in the eyes of my friends, family or co-workers? Look at me! I am good, I can do this, I have accomplished that! Scared not to be noticed or loved.

Benedict is comparing the way of humility to the angels’ ascending and descending of the Jacob’s Ladder in Scripture.

(…) if we wish to attain the highest point of humility (…), we must by what we do to attain it set up that ladder which appeared in Jacob’s dream and by which angels were shown to be both descending and ascending; for without doubt we are not to understand that descending and ascending but as descending by exaltation and ascending by humility.-

Rule of Benedict, Chapter VII

So in fact I will be raised up when I am humble and put down when I am prideful and boasting. An interesting paradox to chew on.

This week I will practice humility by….[fill in the blank for yourself]

Peace,

Ester

4 Benefits of Silence and Solitude

Sometimes I catch myself thinking silence is not important and actually a waste of my precious time. There are always chores to do, people to communicate with and ‘busi-ness’ to busy myself with.

If life is so short, why bother sitting still once or twice a day? Why be alone if I can relate to and have fun with others? Why be idle if I can be working?

The Benedictine monks as well as the author and priest Henri Nouwen (in his book Out of Solitude*) recognized the value of silence and solitude.

Let’s look at four benefits of silence and solitude according to monks and Henri Nouwen:

Silence as antidote to impulsiveness and lack of focus

Noise spreads my focus thin, silence enhances it. If my mind is like a laser beam, I am sharper, more focused and present in and after a period of silence.

Distraction is a post-modern public enemy and we need silence as a healthy antidote, to stop the addictive yearning for always more stimuli.

“Silence requires the discipline to recognize the urge to get up and go again as a temptation to look elsewhere for what is close at hand.” Henri Nouwen

Silence as a way to my emotions and my heart

Sitting still and listening revives my strength and restores my emotional balance. I tap into new energy at the source when I find “the freedom to stroll in my own inner yard, and to rake up the leaves there and clear the paths so I can easily find the way to my heart.” (H.N.)

Silence to find order and peace, make a ‘cozy home’

Silence is a gift to myself, reconnecting to a power greater than me, someone I call God, just as the Benedictines and Nouwen do. A way of really being present.
When I am not ‘home’ in my own heart, who can I receive there?

“Slowly and surely you will discover an order and familiarity which deepens your longing to stay home”
H.N.

Silence to learn to listen

Listening to something or someone greater than ourselves  requires turning inward instead of being in a constant reactive state.
We might receive an intuitive thought or helpful guidance when we ‘just’ sit still for a while.
Being attentive to another person is another fruit I can reap from spending time in silence and solitude.

“Hearken continually within thine heart, O son, giving attentive ear to the precepts of thy master.”
(Prologue Rule of Benedict)

I’ve noticed that my habit of being still morning and evening is developing, now that I’ve grown accustomed to a big change in my life.

I love living this life, seasoned with some Benedictine flavour!

How are you doing this week, developing some Benedictine habits?

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Spread the word, word of mouth rocks!

Ester

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My silent room

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Here I am, aspiring little benedictine monk.
Today is the first day since I took on my new job that I took the time to sit in my silent room and be….silent. I have been praying, but not here. Having a sacred: set aside place to go and refuel is different though.

I thought I’d take you on a guided tour today.
The above picture is the one of my little ‘altar’, with things and pictures that matter to me and of course Scripture and a candle to remind me of the Spirit leading me, not me being in charge.

The modern icon of Jesus on the left hand side is by Russian artist Natalka Satsyk.

In front of it all is my kneeling bench, which I got at Stichting De Spil at my silent retreat.

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On the other side of my room is a comfy chair for reading, listening to sermons on my laptop, drinking my coffee and watching the morning sky.
My laptop and coffee rest on an authentic church kneeling chair I luckily got at a second hand store.

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Finally I want to show you my banana leaf ikea side table for spiritual literature and matching banana leaf devotional scripture cards holder.
The cards were a sweet gift from my friend Clare in South Africa.

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I feel blessed today and realize that silence is food for the soul in this impulse-driven world.
Blessings on you too.