In his 'Thought for Today' Dan, our Primary School Counsellor encourages us to ...stop, collaborate and listen to the more marginalised parts of yourselves before planning too much more usefulness over the weekend!
"I'm reminded today of an old zen koan teaching the value of cultivating uselessness (to balance our 'useful' obsession). In the spirit of being more 'eyebrow', here's some ideas on cultivating more useless time. Choose one or two and begin a useless practice.
Be gentle. You can start small. A pause of even a moment or two, or a breath or two creates an opening and a deepening. It leavens and lightens your time. It can also have a lasting effect. I began a breath meditation with a few minutes a day, over twenty years ago. Sitting facing a wall and going nowhere, just breathing. Now, it’s just a useless part of everyday life, like getting dressed or cleaning my teeth.
Your body is your friend, so use it to create a pause. Take a few breaths, dwelling on the pause between breathing in and out. Or, sit still and feel your feet on the ground and the position and posture of your body. Be curious about where you hold tension, seek it out, and then let it go - relax your jaw, drop your shoulders, apply gentle pressure to a sore spot, whatever it is. You can do that in just a few seconds – in the middle of something else even.
On waking, or before you fall asleep, take a few moments to scan your body from the tips of your toes to the top of your head. Make that first (or last) moment into one of noticing the body that is you. Just do it for the sake of it.
Thresholds as reminders
In zen practice, we use thresholds and transitions as 'wake up' calls. It’s why there’s usually a whole list of ‘rules’ at a zendo when on retreat, such as only enter the zendo hall with your right foot first. It's about jolting you back into the present moment when you realise you've forgotten, no other fuss. So pause for a moment (and count to 1!) before you enter a room or the house. Or when you leave, or when you turn the car keys in the ignition or see the ‘Join Meeting’ screen on Zoom…. Use those triggers to take a breath or two, remember uselessness, feel into your body, or to simply be with yourself for a few seconds.
Choose a song that means something to you. One you love. And listen to it. From beginning to end. Use headphones. Ignore any potential interruptions. Let yourself be in the music, let it wash over you and soak into you. Do this as a useless routine, or whenever you feel like it.
Open up your ears to hear everything you can, first what’s around you –the tapping of the keyboard, the washing machine, then go further out…. can you hear voices from the next room, birdsong outside, footsteps in the street, a single car passing by…. see how far you can go. Sink deeper into listening. You could easily make this into a game with small kids if you like, giving you a moment of pause even whilst you are with them.
Look for ‘found faces’ in the house. As if you were drawing (which is another possibility). It makes you really present: when you find one, you literally see things afresh. I found two this morning (one, a light switch and another in the grain of the wood on the bathroom door). This is another one you can make into a game for kids. This was the last thing I saw when we left our home in Cornwall to travel to KL.
Cup Of Coffee (tea)
Pay proper attention to a cup of coffee (or tea). Feel the heat of the cup in your hand, the smell before you sip, the taste, the aftertaste. Sit with it. Don’t do anything else. If people ask you for something, tell them you will give them your attention when the coffee is finished. Make sure it’s good coffee!
Stop Trying To Do Everything Perfectly
You can’t do everything perfectly. If only because that will make you stressed, which isn’t perfect. So let that go. Really. Once and for all. Nobody’s perfect. Don’t ask yourself to do something which is impossible.
Stop Trying To Do Everything Full Stop
So you are homeschooling, working from home, doing home-stuff and trying to stay sane. That’s enough. More than enough in fact. Let go of any useful ideas you have that you should also be using this time to write a blog, change your body shape, or fulfil all of your potential. make uselessness part of your plans
Let Something Slide
Go further and choose to let one thing slide. On purpose. Make toast instead of a meal. Dress badly. Fail to deliver on a work thing that doesn’t matter any more. Don’t feel you have to talk to your friends or contacts every day. Skip the bedtime stories with the kids to watch netflix instead. Choose a different thing each day and take that time back for yourself. That will probably feel taboo, but it’s ok. Really, it is ok.
Brush your teeth Like A Zen Master.
You brush your teeth twice a day. Take that time as a conscious pause and allow yourself to just brush your teeth. Don’t use it to think about other things or make plans, or process worries. Just brush, taste the toothpaste, smile at yourself in the mirror.
Action, not activity
Improvisers distinguish between activity – which is stuff happening and action – which are the few things that make a difference. Look at your day and work out which are which. Focus on actions, let activity go. (Resting is self-care in action).
The night before, or at the beginning of the day, make a realistic list of a maximum of 3 things to do for the day. Not pie in the sky stuff, but what would be a good day’s effort. Once you have written it you are not allowed to add to this list. And when it’s done, you are done. It is then time for you to be useless.
Give Yourself Permission.
This is the big one. Do you give yourself regular permission to be useless? And if not, why not? You do not need to fly into 'useful thinking' about it. Instead get moving on uselessness. If you can create small useless pauses, you might be able to start to get some perspective on that and grow the sense of space and the feeling of agency you have over your own life.
Enjoy the weekend, Dan"
Author: Dan Lawrence, Primary Counsellor