If you’re anything like me, sometimes you find yourself stunned at the end of another week, saying, “Where the heck has the time gone, and what on earth have I accomplished?”
For about a month I have been experimenting with a new ‘planner.’ Ugh, I cringe even writing that word. How many of us pen-friendly people own stacks of half-finished date books, journals, planner systems that each guaranteed to help us get out of our own way and become successful beyond our wildest imaginations. The problem is, most of them don’t ask a few basic questions first, like:
“Who the heck are you?”
“What blows your skirt up à la Marilyn Monroe?”
“Where do your longings belong?”
Early in September I started using my brand new Monk Manual and in three short weeks I have learned a lot about myself. I discovered I am not disorganized, but rather I am rebellious, a long-overdue state after decades of blind, quaking obedience and contrition to any and all authority figures. “No more!” I proclaim jubilantly. Now I even tell myself, “You are not the boss of me!” It can be problematic at times, thus I struggle to follow even my own plans.
Enter the Monk Manual. Mine arrived in the mail on Saturday September 7th, and it felt like Christmas. “Yay, my next illusion of a clean slate! Let’s have at it!”
The Monk Manual company’s complete attention to detail is impressive: beautifully classy-yet-understated packaging, carefully wrapped around a truly lovely bound journal. If you are sensitive to aesthetics and enjoy the mere act of thinking, of planning and reflecting, you would love this book. Even if you are not in the market for a planner, I highly recommend checking out his website anyway. It offers a series of videos that entice and excite and, above all, made great sense to me.
The first video to watch is found at the bottom of the Home page, check it out here.
The next one you might like is under ‘About’, and is the Starter Guide .
Here is what I have learned so far:
Morning Has Broken
1- “The Carrot”: My Morning Focus Time (sitting quietly at my desk for just a few minutes first thing, with my Monk Manual, my cup of coffee, and a deep breath) helps me to feel purposeful daily.
2- “The Stick”: If I skip the morning step (especially after having done it for several days in a row), I find I have this weird, nagging sense that I am either behind schedule or off track, ALL DAY LONG, even if I have a very productive day! Isn’t that crazy? But it is true. Of course beginning one’s day in contemplation has been done by millions, including monks, for centuries. It comes by many names: prayer, meditation, morning pages, and more.
3- The Secret Only My Doctors Know
I have an additional incentive for being very, very gentle with myself first thing in the morning. I have been gifted and cursed with an extremely active dream life, as vivid to me as anything happening when biologically ‘awake’. Every single night, for as far back as I can remember, I have drifted off to sleep like a perfectly normal person, but then eight or so hours later I am so deeply embedded in the action movie my head has created, that leaving it to ‘wake up’ is like being dragged through a wall by an impatient drill sergeant. At best I often wake up depressed. At worst I am angry that Life has yet again ripped the remote control from my hand. Then I struggle to get up to sea level, where other people arrive effortlessly upon awakening each morning. After years of medical research including medications and sleep studies, the sleep doctor finally concluded, “Perhaps this is just the kind of brain you have,” and suggested I start my days as gently as possible, even if it means getting up earlier to have time to ‘return to the planet.’ Not always easy, but a silent Morning Focus Time helps. (By the way, if you are one of these people too, we should talk.)
My Evening Reflection Time (again, very brief), ensures that my successes do not slip through my fingers, leaving only the dark stuff in my memory bank.
There is a prompt on the weekly reflection page that states, “God is teaching me…” If like me this make you twitch a little, it is easy to change it to, “Life is teaching me…” or my preference, “I am learning…” Oddly enough, this is now one of my favorite weekly questions.
1- I have learned I often expect too much from a day, that I don’t leave room for a head cold or a low energy day.
2- I have learned that although this journal suggests three ‘Priorities’ a day, at my age I am happier with just one. For a while I made maintaining my health an official daily Priority, but it backfired. I do my best from day to day with the basics of food, exercise, hydrating, etc, but I can’t afford to have that be my official “Priority”. If I do, then my whole day is wrapped up in physical self-care and I lose the point of why I would even want a long life! So I do what I need to do to make all those things relatively simple (check the weather in advance to plan my walks outside, have a weekly grocery list that only needs tweaking from time to time) and then I just call it good, rather than assessing my success at the end of every day and giving myself a D-Minus if I slipped up.
3- Finally, and best of all, I discovered that if I slow down, I can get so much more done.
I can’t leave a blog post with no illustrations, of course. So here are a couple visual examples of the insights I have had recently, thanks in part to the Monk Manual and my new morning and evening rhythms:
I have been at the finishing stages of more than one watercolor painting, just to discover (too late, sadly) that I stink at creating trees in the way I envision them. It dawned on me last week that rather than ruining sheet after sheet of perfectly good paper, I could create a whole page dedicated to nothing but lousy trees! It would save money, minimize despair, and it would be hard to get through the whole exercise without learning at least something. I had a blast, needless to say. No plan, just planting. Here it is.
I also wanted to have a quick way to explore specific elements of a landscape, so I divided a page into twelve squares, intending to just paint a different sky in each one. When I was finished, I looked at it a while and decided to place a horizon line in each square, just to give it a sense of sky vs. land. Again I thought I was finished, but suddenly realized I was actually having fun so I decided to take a walk from those far horizon’s distant hills to the foreground in each mini-sketch, and discover if I would need to swim, or hike, or slog through a marsh, or climb a fence. By then, curiously enough, each vignette was calling the shots. I just looked at each scene until I could see what was missing. I was not thinking at all. Completing this sheet took about a week, because I only worked on it when I felt drawn to it, and that is why it worked out so well.
Draw What Drew You. Do What Calls You.
A brilliant man once said the only thing we need to know is that our conscious mind is a brass band and our intuition is a wooden flute. Until you know how to calm the brass band, you will never be able to hear the wooden flute which, by the way, is playing constantly yet is rarely heard. For me, the first step to quieting the cymbals is to place a pen in my hand, if only balanced on the web between my thumb and index finger. I feel the difference immediately; it is a step in the right direction.
Then I gently ask myself, “To be honest, what would you absolutely love to do today?” The answer appears like magic on the page. After that, my One Priority and I are free to start the day together.