I finally cleaned the back yard the other day, a task I had spent several months avoiding. In fact, in about 90 minutes, I accomplished something that I had actively avoided for at least sixteen hours. I calculate those hours from the time I spent staring out the kitchen window, cursing the mess and myself for not cleaning up the mess.
So you might be wondering what finally propelled me to do it? Was it a guest coming, someone I wanted to impress? Nope. Just the day before, two friends stopped by independently, having called to say, “I’d love to stop by and see your garden.” I showed them around the beautiful, well cared for front yard, with a dismissive “ignore the back yard,” as if they could. Didn’t bother me a bit.
Was it the fact that the dog dug a huge hole in my perennial garden because she could no longer access the parts of the yards which are hers to dig, full as they were by chest high weeds? Nope. Those holes have been coming for a while. They’re annoying, but mostly I couldn’t see them for the weeds.
Was it that we had a hard rain the other night making weeding easier and providing a pleasant temperature? Well, that didn’t hurt any, but it wasn’t the deciding factor. There have been scads of rains that have not motivated me in the past.
What finally propelled me out the back door to this long-avoided task was simply this: I wanted to avoid another task even more. Suddenly the activity which had been on the top of my procrastination list was bumped. Suddenly, the back yard was the lesser of two evils. I woke up thinking about what I needed to do, and thought, “You know, I REALLY should clean the back yard!”
Five minutes into the job, I was thoroughly happy, wondering why it had taken me so long to get there, delighted by how quickly a huge mess could turn into tidiness (and lawn bags full of limbs and weeds) and vowing, though with little credibility with myself, it would never happen again.
Have you ever noticed this: The same task can be done to avoid something else, or to simply accomplish the task itself? For me at least, each one of these ways of doing something has a distinct energy, rhythm, and value.
Much has been made of simply doing what you are doing. Ram Dass’ book, “Be Here Now,” was the Bible for my generation, and what he didn’t say about simply being in the present, Thich Nhat Han finished off with all of his mindfulness talks about doing the dishes when you do the dishes and stuff like that. Sure, I’m good with all of that. Who can argue with it?
But what about the value of being here later, or earlier? Or going somewhere else altogether because we just can’t bear to be where we’re supposed to be? There’s a certain lifeforce in that as well, though I’m not aware of any religious teachings which embrace it as central. Although Unitarian Universalism comes close sometimes. I mean, as much as we like to say, it’s not about what we don’t believe, it’s what we do believe, that’s only partly true. In reality, for many of us, knowing what Unitarian Universalism is NOT was of keen importance, before we would commit ourselves to taking the time to learn what it was.
So my backyard is clean, for the moment, and I’m not going to tell you about this other task I’m avoiding. I don’t even want to think about it!