I have been travelling a bit, and it reminds me how useful it is to have a checklist.
I was packing, and remembered that I have a ‘travel checklist’ stored on my phone. It was created in my busy training days, when I travelled around the world in quite an organised fashion. The checklist became my store of accumulated wisdom, and it helped me to cope with the mass of detail without overloading my brain.
SPIRITUAL PRE-FLIGHT CHECKS
When I began taking meditation more seriously, the lists and rituals used to annoy me. I once confronted a Buddhist monk about this.
‘Can I borrow you for a moment?’ I said.
‘Of course,’ he said.
‘I’m curious. There seem to be lists of everything. 5 this-es and 4 that-s; 10 such-and-suches; 8 whatsits…’
‘Yes, there are quite a lot of things like that,’ he acknowledged.
‘What’s the purpose?’ I said. ‘I mean, does everyone believe there are always these fixed numbers of things to think about?’
‘Think of it as a thinking aid,’ he said. ‘A way of trying to make it easy for you to practice.’
Since then, I have thought about the rituals as pre-flight checks. Just as a cabin crew will run through a series of routines, to make sure everything is safely done, so a meditator can use checklists to keep on track.
MEDITATING BY NUMBERS
I still had to make sure I wasn’t just going through the motions. Just like a cabin crew, I didn’t want to be complacent, and mistake the ritual for the practice. Even though checklists are helpful in all sorts of ways, they can stop us thinking when they become too automatic.
I do try to follow a similar pattern whenever I meditate – like an ‘order of service’ in a religious tradition. It stops me cutting corners, and helps me to attend to things which I might be tempted to skip over otherwise.
But, equally, it’s nice to keep things fresh. Adopting little modifications and updates can keep your mind alert, and stop you getting lazy.
Next time you do any self-care routine – exercise, time out, meditation, journalling, walking – perhaps develop your system to help your mind and body to get on board. Many writers have a routine they repeat in order to teach their body to cooperate. And many meditation systems encourage the learning of patterns of behaviour, in order to enhance speed and depth of development.
If you already have a system, then maybe think of some ways it could be improved, so that you don’t get complacent or lazy.
In particular, try to ‘top and tail’ your activities. The introductory time, and the rounding-off time, are just as important as the action itself. Think of it as paying due care and attention to your take-offs and landings!
Checklists help the mind to cope responsibly with activity.
They can provide added health and safety in spiritual routines as well as other business.
Even so, they need to be kept updated, to avoid us getting lazy, repetitious and complacent.
It’s worth developing, and continuously improving, a set of self-care routines that work for you.