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December Path Update: Right Effort

December 6, 2016

Balance by Joris Louwes via

In October, I announced the start of an intentional practice of the Noble Eightfold Path on a rotating monthly cycle. During October, I worked on Right Action and during November, I will work on Right Livelihood. Below is my progress on last month’s path and my plan for next month.

November Report: Right Livelihood

Round 1: Live frugally, reduce harm, and give back what you can to the benefit of others.

As I did not use a goal tracking app, I am giving each goal a letter grade.

  • C: Do not waste food; eat what we have on hand and pack lunches for work at least 3 days a week. I managed about two weeks of proactive lunch packing, then tossed it out the window when life got busy. During the Thanksgiving holiday, I wasted a lot of food by buying too much before we left to visit my family and then, while I was with family, not making use of leftovers as much as I could have. I’m not used to eating the way they do anymore.
  • B+: Aside from essential groceries, do not shop during November, including for entertainment (i.e. movie rentals, new books, etc.).I did really well with this goal except for the two days we were visiting family in Omaha. One of the things I miss about my family is going shopping with my dad. So we went shopping. I bought two shirts and some gifts and we had a good time.
  • B+: Limit ‘going out’ to dates with partner or social gatherings (no hitting the drive through to avoid cooking). I had to remind myself about this during the first week of the month, but after that I did really well at NOT hitting the drive through.
  • D: Reduce reliance on disposable products. I’m not certain I made any progress here, although I tried to use fabric towels more and paper towels less.
  • C: Payoff remaining credit card balance. I made good progress at the beginning of the month. Then my car broke down. Someday, I’d like to have enough savings for things like that. ‘Nuff said.
  • A+: Put at least $500 in savings in November. Did that. Then my car broke down.
  • A: Identify and support a local charity, a global charity, and a Buddhist-based charity or project in need. In my most recent post, I identified several of each kind to support.

Overall, I would give myself a C+ for this month. I made progress, but there’s still a lot of room for improvement.

What I Learned

I’m actually happier when I limit my spending. I feel proud of myself, accomplished, and content. When I’m more free with my spending, while I do enjoy things I buy, I also feel a little bit anxious, worried, and discontent. These feelings are usually so subtle they’re hard to notice, but it reminds me of what Thich Nhat Hanh likes to write about the seeds we plant. I do see how they grow over time.

Poverty can cause a lot of suffering. When you’re so poor you worry if you’ll be able to buy soap or bread or have enough change to take the bus rather than walking three miles – that’s a lot of stress. It occupies your mind and lives in your body. You carry it around through your day like a bag of sand, each little worry another grain that adds up to a ton.

I think relative wealth can also cause suffering. In October, I was worrying about my wardrobe. It seems ridiculous now, but I was worrying about my appearance and where I could find a certain item that I felt would make my wardrobe complete. Those kind of anxieties also cause stress.

It seems so ridiculous now. As soon as I set my goals for November, I stopped worrying about my wardrobe by pre-deciding not to buy anything. That stress went poof. When I was poor, I wish I could have made my stress about soap go away like that. It’s not the same and it’s all still stress.

December: Right Effort

This is going to be an interesting month to work on Right Effort, with a holiday and winter recess right at the end. Academics are some of the only people I know who say “I can’t wait for the holiday. Then I can finally get some work done!” I usually try not to join them, but this year I am firmly in that camp.

I’m coming into December feeling behind. You’ll notice this post is coming out on the 6th instead of the 1st. I feel behind at work and in my personal work, my qualifying exams for my doctorate. I also feel a little ‘behind’ in my personal life, like I haven’t given my partner enough attention lately and that I’ll have to make up that deficit somewhere.

So what do I do? Just start.

I actually learned that years ago. When you feel behind, just start. When there are a hundred dishes in the sink and it feels overwhelming, just pick up the first one and wash it. Don’t commit to anything beyond that. Just start.

Then there’s usually a momentum to it. I’ve never stopped after one dish, one folded shirt, one page read or written. Sometimes, I might only get to two or three before something else intervenes, but even then I feel infinitely more accomplished and ready to come back to it later.

If you want to learn more about Right Effort, which I’ve probably written about more than any other aspect of the path, check out earlier posts here, here, and here.

Round 1: Nail that routine. Pre-decide and stick to it, for work, relaxation, and necessary self-care.

  • Morning routine:
    • Out of bed at 6:30 am
    • One hour of writing on exams from 7-8:00 am
    • Ten minutes of meditation
    • Out the door by 8:45 am
  • At work routine:
    • Start with the daily schedule on the yellow pad
    • Mid-morning walk for 15 minutes
    • Lunch in the dining hall with knitting
    • Mid-afternoon walk for 15 minutes followed by green tea
    • Complete tasks on the daily schedule or re-schedule them within the same week before leaving
  • Evening routine:
    • Take the dog to the park (every day, no excuses!)
    • Eat dinner with Colin and hang out in the living room for at least 1 hour
    • Read for exams at least 30 minutes
    • Ten minutes of meditation
    • No other work in the evenings
  • Saturdays goals
    • No work at all
    • Run errands and do chores in the morning
    • Hang out with Colin when he gets up
  • Sunday goals
    • Take the dog to the park for a double walk
    • Write at least two hours on exams

Of course, I already know this is all going to be shot to hell because I have an all weekend board meeting coming up and then my parents are visiting before Christmas and then we’re all flying up to spend the holiday with Colin’s family and then winter break. But, oh well, might as well try anyway.

Round 2: Re-align life and work priorities in relation to values.

Round 3: Retreat for spiritual renewal.

January: Right Mindfulness


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