Helpful Problems and Establishing Practices

I spent the last three days working on a long, philosophical, metaphysical blog post, trying to build a framework to better understand and explain some of my beliefs and practices. I finally got it to the point where I was happy with it yesterday afternoon, but when I went to upload it I ran into some technical issues. It was late in the day and I had a meeting at Denton UU last night, so rather than fight through the computer problems I figured I’d just take it home and post it using a different computer.

I stopped for a sandwich before going to the meeting and as I usually do when I’m eating alone, I started browsing on my phone. As I did, I came across an article that any other day would have been interesting but unremarkable.

This article pointed out something I left out of my long, philosophical, metaphysical blog post. And it wasn’t something I could tack onto the end. No, this was something that simply wouldn’t fit into the framework I had constructed. Either the framework is wrong or incomplete or a certain spiritual practice is meaningless – and I know from multiple first-hand experiences it is far from meaningless. I don’t know if I made an error in my foundational assumptions, if I made an error in logic, or if – as I suspect – I was trying to intellectualize something that can’t (or at least, shouldn’t) be intellectualized. I’m just glad I didn’t post it.

I’ll give it some more meditation and thought and see if I can work through this issue. It may yet make it to the blog, but for now, the lesson of all this is that computer problems aren’t always a bad thing.

At the same time I realized I never posted a follow-up to January’s call for a contemplative season. I said I was going to do this and I asked you all to join me, so I think I should share how it went.

The answer is that it went very well… for the first two weeks. I spent less time on the computer, more time reading and more time meditating. I performed several devotions that were very good. I reduced my distractions, didn’t miss them much and I filled that time with spiritual activities that were far more fulfilling.

And then I went out of town for the weekend. My new routine was upset: I spent two days doing nothing but driving and meeting. It was a good, productive, enjoyable weekend, but it left me no time for reading and little time for the other practices I was trying to start.

When I got home I tried to pick up where I left off. And I did, but the momentum had stalled – it took a lot more effort to do the things I wanted to do on a regular basis. I think I might have done better if I had taken a couple days off and then done a complete re-start.

So what did I learn from this contemplative season? First of all, breaking my mundane (in all senses of the word) routine is neither complicated nor painful. It just takes a little determination and a little effort to get started. Second, establishing new practices and new habits takes longer than two weeks. I’ve had some people tell me it takes 20 days, others have said it takes 30. 14 isn’t enough.

Most importantly, I got a lot out of the devotions. Some of them were as simple standing before my altar and reading from Hoofprints in the Wildwood. Some involved going outside and pouring libations. Others were more receptive, sitting quietly and listening with more than physical ears.

I frequently talk about the main purpose of religion being forming and strengthening connections. For me, devotions do a better job of strengthening connections than just about anything I can do by myself.

Devotions are the one thing I’ve continued from the season of contemplation, though I haven’t set up a regular schedule for them. I probably should – I schedule everything else, and if things aren’t on my calendar, they tend to get overlooked.

I haven’t given up on that metaphysical framework, but for now I think I need to concentrate on devotions.

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