Mindfulness and Time

When we think of mindfulness, we usually associate it with meditation. We think of it as a specific type of sitting quietly and paying attention to something specific (often our breathing). Yet this type of mindfulness meditation is intended as a first step. We want to bring this sort of attention to everything we do, whether we are “meditating” or going about our everyday life. One of the most powerful applications of this mindfulness is the impact it has on how one spends time.

If I am paying attention to everything I do, I am less likely to do things that I would consider a waste of time. If I am “mindfully” playing a computer game I use for procrastination, I am unlikely to feel good about doing so for more than a few minutes. If I am “mindfully” watching TV, and discover that the show isn’t holding my attention, I’m likely to decide to do something else, something that will make me feel better about myself.

I have the feeling I need to introduce more mindfulness into my life right now. I need to pay attention, not just to my breathing, but to how I spend my time. I need to pay attention to where I am, and why I’m there.

Routine, to a large degree, obviates the need for mindfulness. A routine (such as going to CubeSpace every day) works to keep one on track. Lack of structure requires far more attention to what one is doing, what one needs to be doing, and how to get there. And when I say “one”, in this case, I really mean “I”.

Mindfulness meditation is one step I can take towards focusing myself. Another is heading out of the house to get work done (I’m in a coffee shop as I write this). A third step is setting up rituals around work (such as writing a blog post as I begin work each day at a coffee shop).

Mindfulness is about spirituality, but it’s also about getting work done better and more efficiently.

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Missing Shabbat

I don’t normally post on Saturday, because that’s shabbat and I try to stay off of the computer on shabbat. Today, however, being on the computer, writing this post, may be the closest I get to shabbat: remembering and marking the day by noting the absence. 

Today, we are hosting a conference (unconference) at CubeSpace. Which means we have about 100 people here, in various states of organization, and I’m part of the host. And also trying to do a whole bunch of networking. 

None of which is particularly shabbastic (shabbat-like). [Returning now after major kitchen cleanup]. 

I completely lack the consecutive attention span to write this post. So I’ll try to do it really quickly before someone else comes up with a distraction.

Shabbat used to be something I didn’t compromise on: I didn’t work on shabbat. Unfortunately, like immigrant entrepreneurs a century  before us, we’ve discovered that the job really requires working on shabbat, at least once in a while (a while being most often described as a “month”). 

I miss the old way of doing things, when life really did slow down on shabbat. I felt better physically, and was able to appreciate shabbat more. Now, all too often, my observation of shabbat is noting my lack of observance, which just isn’t that satisfying. 

In any case, that’s my minor thought for today.

Stretching My Brain

The last week or so, I’ve taken on some new roles at CubeSpace. I’m doing more of the budgeting and more of the web development. These are fairly similar functions in that they are both detail oriented, and require use of specialized software. They are also similar in the fact that they are bending my brain.

Working on these projects is good for me, it utilizes a part of my brain I’ve been using less recently: the highly analytical, detail oriented part. But thinking in an unaccustomed way stretches the brain, pushes it, and frankly, kind of hurts. The last week I’ve been coming up for air from working on these projects and felt a touch dazed, wrung out, even.

This is work I used to do with some frequency. I started my career as a market research analyst, and would spend days immersed in data or focus group tapes, analyzing and writing. This is fairly similar. More recently, however, most of my work has been more people focused than detailed focused, and the shift is both challenging and rewarding.

The rewards of this kind of work, for me, are that it has a concreteness that so much of what I do, doesn’t. The questions that can be asked are: does the budget balance? If not, keep working on it. Is the website doing what it is supposed to be? If not, keep working on it.

The challenge of this kind of work is also the concreteness of the questions. It’s the “if not” phrases above. When it’s not right, you can tell and need to keep working on it until you’ve got it in a workable state. This can be frustrating, but the reward of finally figuring it out is enhanced by fighting through the sense of frustration.

Satisfaction in work, by which I mean, feeling like you are fulfilled by your work at the level of your spirit, depends, at least for me, on some combination of working with people and helping them, and feeling challenged by what I’m doing. I’m also more engaged when I’m learning new things and pushing myself to step outside of my comfort zone. All in all, it keeps the work fresh, and keeps me moving in new directions.

Work is Cutting into My Knitting Time

I hate it when this happens. I had two hours blocked out for knitting last night. In fact, I was going to work on the socks I had started yesterday. In order to create these two hours for knitting, I’ve gone so far to create a Knitting Night at CubeSpace on a weekly basis. And I’m about to begin knitting, when Eva says to me, “Can you finish writing this proposal for me?”

Now, the real answer to that question happened to be “no.” Not that I wouldn’t, rather that I was not capable of doing so at that time. Nonetheless, I did give it my best shot. I spent about two hours trying to reorganize the text, write transitions, answer questions and the like, all about something I know very little about. To make it worse, my brain was already a touch on the toasty side by 6:30 last night when I began.

On the bright side, Eva tells me what I did was useful, and got her to the next step. On the brighter side, this could result in money coming. I am fond of money, or at least of its uses. We approve of money coming in. Anything I can do to facilitate money coming in is a good thing. Yet trying to kick start my brain into gear last night was extremely painful. I tended to have 15 productive minutes followed by 15 minutes of staring at the screen trying to figure out what those little marks on it represented.

All of this is to say, that I didn’t get to knitting last night.

Today I am down in Salem at the congregation. Some days in Salem are slower than others, and today is not a slow one. I walked through the door planning on spending half an hour writing a different proposal for CubeSpace (which I felt guilty about, until I remembered that I spend at least 4 or 5 hours at CubeSpace a week working on congregational business, so turnabout seems like fair play). But the phone was ringing from the moment I walked through the door. In fact, pretty much as soon as I put down the receiver from the first call, there came a second call (which was great, because it was the necessary follow-up to the first call, completely coincidentally) but between the two calls it was pretty much an hour before I got to the proposal. And all of a sudden, the day is beginning to get a little squeezed with meetings.

On the bright side, tonight is a Temple Board Meeting. And one of the functions of Temple Board Meetings is to provide an opportunity for the rabbi to knit on the congregation’s time (I’m pretty sure that must be one of the functions of Temple Board Meetings, even though it never gets explicitly stated, I think it goes without saying). So tonight, I’ll get a chance to get some knitting done. Which will be a good thing.

When I go too long without knitting, I begin to notice a certain tension in my life, a certain trembling of the hands. Withdrawal doesn’t begin particularly painfully, no deep headaches like caffeine withdrawal, but over time it builds. Eventually, I start noticing everything that’s longer than it is wide and thinking, “I could use that as a knitting needle.” Anything that is vaguely fibrous begins to look like yarn. Pens, chopsticks, scotch tape. . .

And that’s when you know you have a problem. Addicted to the yarn. But I could quit any time I wanted. Really.

Flavors of Shabbat, Flavors of Yarn

Shabbat (the Jewish Sabbath) begins at sundown each Friday night, lasting through sundown Saturday. It is a time of prayer and rest. A break from the business of the week, an opportunity to reconnect with your soul, your family, your congregation or the Divine. It is a day on which Jews traditionally do no work.

Unless, of course, the Jew in question is a rabbi. One of the ironies of life as a rabbi is that many of us “give up” those religious holidays and observances which we became rabbis in order to celebrate. Part of the reason many of us became rabbis was to live more in tune with the rhythms of the Jewish calendar, to have the Jewish holidays be dates of special importance, and be able to observe them. While at some level we all know that rabbis work on these holidays, but it is fairly easy to say, “but that’s different, I want to go to synagogue on the holidays anyway.”

This certainly remains true…but there is a difference between “I want to go to synagogue,” and “I have to go to synagogue.” There are weeks when I want nothing more than a Shabbat of rest, when I can catch up on sleep and rest, yet I am obliged to head out to synagogue.  I’m pleased that as Shabbat draws near to day, I’m excited about heading down to Salem for services. This week, my schedule and my spiritual needs are well synched, and I’m eagerly anticipating services.

I like the fact that there are various flavors to Shabbat…prayer versus rest; contemplation versus play. All are refreshing in their own way. I enjoy the fact that as a rabbi I have the opportunity to experience more of them than many people. Often, multiple on the same day.

Tomorrow, after services, (prayer) I will proceed to play.  As many of you know, my hobby is knitting. And knitting requires yarn. For you who come at this blog more from the Jewish side of things, let me explain about knitters and yarn: as books are to a rabbi, yarn is to the knitter. There is no such thing as “enough yarn.” Going and browsing yarn is an activity in and of itself, even if there is no intention to buy. After all, you never know what you might discover. Tomorrow, I will go play, because a new yarn shop is holding a grand opening. Yarnia is opening up, and I’m pretty excited to go explore.

Yarnia is a new concept in yarn shops, which lets you blend your own yarn. You choose how many plies  of which fibers and colors to mix. This is potentially VERY exciting (I do kind of already have some projects in mind that will be massively enhanced by having a sport weight yarn made from several fibers, one of which in a lace weight is used for another part of the same project). For me, this visit to Yarnia will be play. I probably won’t buy anything (I do try not to shop on Shabbat), but even just exploring it will help refresh me, and prepare me for the week to come.

May the Sabbath be one of rest and refreshment for all of us, whichever day we celebrate it on.

Running the Hamster Wheel of the Good Life

Today has been a long day. I’ve opened and closed CubeSpace before (which I’m doing today). I’ve opened at CubeSpace and then gone done to Salem (which I did today). I’ve been done to Salem and I’ve closed at CubeSpace before (which I’m doing today). But never before have I opened CubeSpace, gone to Salem, returned from Salem, and been back at CubeSpace for a few more hours before closing. Frankly, I’m thinking this isn’t my favorite way to spend a day.

All of the parts individually have been good, rewarding etc. It’s just that when I went to look at the paper in the breakroom, and found a section, I realized I’d already read it, and it must have been yesterday’s paper. Then I looked more closely, and realized it had today’s date on it. That was the point at which I realized that this morning felt like much too long ago.

Nonetheless, in another hour I get to go home and sleep the sleep of the righteous, or whatever. At least sleep hard. I’m sort of fighting off a bit of a cold, I believe.  Thus, perhaps I have less energy than I sometimes do.

My point, however, and I do have one (which is rare enough in and of itself), is that despite how I feel now physically, I feel good about what I’m doing occupationally. I have two work situations which I find rewarding, in which I do a relatively good job, and in which I am recognized for what I do (admittedly, at CubeSpace, the staff often recognize me for what I don’t do, like not getting in their way…but they are always very positive about it).

At CubeSpace, a part of my self-designated role is court jester. I’m the one who is easily and often made fun of (most often by myself, in fact). Congregationally, I’m the rabbi, if a somewhat casual version of the rabbinate, or at least a rabbi who doesn’t take myself particularly seriously (note: it’s really hard to take yourself seriously if you spend much time teaching kids; between kindergarteners who really aren’t sure what a rabbi is, and adolescents who will throw me a tissue box which may hit me in the nose instead of being caught, it’s just hard to take oneself seriously). In both places, however, I’m one of the people who sets the tone of the organization, so I guess it’s a good thing that I’m fond of both organizations, like both cultures.

So the take away message I’ve been dancing around: even when I’m tired, sick and spent 2.5 hours driving through dense fog today, I love my work.