Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Unprogrammed Quaker Living a Highly Programmed Life

As I posted yesterday's thoughts, I laughed at myself for being an unprogrammed Quaker living a highly programmed life. Ironic.

What I have been learning, though, is that you can program or schedule your life in a way that helps keep the spirit flowing effectively through all that you do, if you approach the scheduling process with proper discernment.

First of all, you do have to believe in what you are doing. The act of scheduling is an act of holding spaces in your schedule to give proper time to the work you believe is important. To honor your schedule is then an act of faith. You trust that even if you do not feel "in the mood," that work still deserves attention -- and you trust that in fact the right spirit will come as you get into the work. This usually does in fact happen (especially if your original discernment was done well, and you correctly identified this as work you feel called to do, and you have found the right times of the week to attend to it).

Secondly, you ironically have to schedule in times to be unscheduled! You have to make sure that there are protected times in your otherwise busy schedule for not pressing yourself to do anything in particular, in order to open up fully to the spirit. This is what "sabbath" has come to mean to me. This is also why I do value unprogrammed worship.

Thirdly, you have to be flexible enough to be willing to revise your schedule, should you find this schedule not working. If your schedule beats you up, makes you tired or depressed, ties up the flow of work or joy into painful knots, or otherwise strangles the spirit, it is crucial to make radical changes. Look at it all again, and try to figure out what has gone wrong. As much as you can, try living without without the schedule for a week or two, and see what patterns naturally assert themselves. Or seek help from someone wise who can help you re-think it all.

The ideal is a schedule that liberates you -- a schedule that gives the gift of time to all that you find important in your life. The ideal is a schedule that you largely enjoy, that has you dancing from one meaningful and fun (or satisfyingly challenging) task or meeting to the next.

I also find it helpful to approach scheduling, and adhering to my schedule, not in terms of forcing myself like a machine to be productive. The metaphors of tending a garden, or producing a work of art, work better for me.

In gardening, there are things that you need to do on a regular basis to ensure good growth -- planting, harvesting, watering, weeding, tending the soil. Thinking of work as a way of tending the growth of one's soul and the growth of goodness in the world lends itself well then to this gardening metaphor. The work can sometimes feel satisfying, other times tedious. But you know that when it is time to do one of these things, then doing it is good, regardless of how you may happen to feel about it at the moment.

But I also like to think of my life as a work of art. There is an art to creating a good day. What does a good day look like to you? We are taught to think that good days just happen to us, occasionally, and for reasons beyond our control. But the truth is, our days are mostly shaped by our own actions. Yes, other things happen to us, but it is our own responses to the unpredictable events in our lives that really makes a difference. It is possible to deal with good fortune badly; but it is also possible to deal with tragedy well.

Much in our lives is beyond our control, but what is within our control matters enormously. No matter how much our lives feel driven by the unpredictables of life, or by our own demanding schedules, at every moment there is a "space" of choices, and in this space we can always find the Spirit if we look.


  1. This is very helpful. Thank you.

  2. Scholar, there is great wisdom here, and you say it well. I too have been thinking about such things lately: about how much the way my day goes depends upon my own preparation for, readiness to meet, that day. I have recently learned, for instance, that if I schedule my travel time more generously, with allowance for unexpected traffic jams or construction or other delays, I am a much more relaxed person and much nicer to be around. And I have more opportunity to step back from what I am doing to make sure that it is in right order.


  3. Thank you both for your expressions of appreciation!

    And, Kent, I agree with you about travel time. This is a way we can find a special kind of space in our lives, if we plan our travel time "generously" enough, as you say. When we are not rushing and frantic, travel time can provide its own kind of reflection time.

  4. Is unprogrammed quaker ontology compatible or complementary with Schopenhauer's world of Will and Representation?

    Arion, Philadelphia PA