I am delighted to share another beautiful submission for the Monk in the World guest post series from the community. Read on for Melinda Thomas Hansen’s wisdom about the dance of becoming a monk in the world:
It is all too easy to fill my hours with tasks – things that need doing. There are classes to plan, lectures to prepare, websites to build; bills to pay, emails to answer, and products – necessary and unnecessary – to search for on Amazon. The tasks have a way of making themselves seem to be of utmost importance. They arrange themselves in lists on notepads and in my calendar. They fill up space the way hours fill up days.
While it is true that many of the tasks are necessary to sustain my business and lifestyle, most are not vital. That is to say they are not essential to the animating energy of being alive. (My yoga students might disagree when it comes to class plans.)
Living as a monk in the world is, for me, about vitality. It is to make conscious time and space for those activities and states of being that nourish my own alive-ness. And, at the same time, infusing the tasks of living with as much vitality as possible. To balance tasks with activity, doing with being, is the integrative path of the monk in the world. I don’t deny the lists of things that need doing as important, but I do my best to keep them in proper perspective.
And so, the day becomes a dance. A series of staccato steps that move through the lists, checking items off, bringing the same lightness and satisfaction that comes from engaging in cardiovascular activity. The body and mind has been exercised. Sweat drips from the pores like tasks falling away from the list.
The dance slows, grows lyrical. Breath moves deeper as attention descends from the frenetic head to the deep pulse of heart. There are trees to visit. Skys to admire. What could be more vital than fresh air brushing against bare skin, filling lungs, clearing vision?
I move through the day in rhythms. From the quiet moments of awakening, through the routines of breathing, eating, and bathing. Then the tasks begin. Sometimes they last for hours. Sometimes all day if I let them. The trick is to find the moments of pause, the lyrical spaces in-between and to decide. To decide to let the dance slow. To switch partners and allow Grace to lead rather than the tasks. To choose to give time and space to those activities that nourish my own vitality: writing, walking, meditation, asana, study; listening to inspiring music while cooking dinner or enjoying the sound of oils crackling in the frying pan. These are the activities that nourish my inner monk.
Allowing the tasks to lead the dance of the day for too long brings a superficial satisfaction that easily gives way to disconnect, listlessness and the nagging sense that my life lacks meaning. Making conscious choices to carve minutes or hours out of my day devoted to dancing with Grace, to being creative or contemplative, quiet in silence or joyful in song, infuse purpose and direction back into my life.
And yet, there’s danger here too. Too much creative or contemplative time, too much quiet and stillness and I begin to to neglect the world in which I inhabit. The dishes pile up, emails go unanswered, and it’s eggs for dinner again.
The trick seems to be not so much in the number of hours I afford to tasks or vital activities, but in the amount of presence I bring to each one. When I offer my full attention to whatever I am engaged in at the moment, when I invite the broad expanse of the sky to embrace the focused light of awareness I get a glimpse of integration. I get a sense that everything has a season. Even the tasks. And that each season has it’s own beauties, it’s own Graces. To be aware of the Grace leading each season, each task, each step in the dance is to be fulfilled.
Now, as I await the the birth of my first child (somedays with greater patience than others), I begin to open new parts of myself to this dance. In particular, to recognize that the difference between a monk and a hermit is community. Too often I live as a hermit in the world, stepping out occasionally into relationship when convenient or necessary. Now, my dance is widening, opening more fully to others, inviting people into my daily rhythms with greater compassion and generosity of spirit. This part of the dance is not so choreographed. I stumble a lot. I still trip and fall over the dance of tasks and vitality, but I trip and fall over the steps that welcome others into my world even more. But I want to be in community. I want to enjoy this part of the dance. So I buy birthday cards in advance – and then remember to mail them. I make a point of sending messages or better yet calling (really working on this one) to check in on friends. I practice listening to what others have to say with less regard for what I might say in response. It’s not easy. I often feel awkward. But if I can soften and let Grace take the lead in tasks, in vitality and in community, then I can truly live, if only for a moment, as grace-filled, monk dancing in the world.
Melinda Thomas Hansen practices living as a monk in the world through writing, art, teaching yoga, and engaging in relationship. Melinda blends ancient wisdom with modern understanding to guide others from feeling stuck, disconnected or uninspired to a vibrant, creative and nourishing daily experience of Life. Visit her at www.thehouseholderspath.com.