(photo credit: Zen stones by oen voyage on flickr.com. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/legalcode.)
So simple yet difficult to comprehend once you try to put it into practice.
Do. It. Completely.
What does that word “completely” mean?
That word gives me hives. My husband is always complaining that I start projects and stop before I finish them. There is truth (and non-zen behavior) in his complaints.
What happens is I decide it’s time to put the winter clothes away and bring out the summer ones. I work my way through the winter stuff, making piles: to wash, to send to dry cleaners, to store in cedar (to repel moths,) to mend, to throw away. Then I go through the summer things, pulling out and putting away in drawers and closets. I toss the winter throw aways, put the to wash in the laundry room, put the dry cleaning in the bag to be picked up by the dry cleaners, and set the mending and cedar storing piles in the guest room.
When I’m done, I go onto another activity. Except I’m not done. There is the mending, which may never get completed, and the washing, which will take time to finish, and the cedar storing, which may sit for weeks before I remember to do it. Weeks when moths may freely find their way into some wooly winter coat heaven, and not leave until they’ve bore a few prime holes.
I know that I avoid the mending and cedar storing. The not washing, though, is more a consequence of circumstance. I can’t get the washing done completely before moving on to another task. Would it be more zen-like to sit and watch the ski-jackets swirl around in the washing machine or to go forward with my day while the jackets get washed?
Most things that I do in my work also cannot be done completely before moving on to the next task. If I’m writing a novel, that takes many sessions of planning and then writing and then getting feedback and then rewriting and then editing. This could and does take years. Is completing a single planning session really a completion if there is still so much work to be done to get to the final product? And even when the book is done, there is the selling of it, the physical publishing of it, the marketing of it. Are each of those separate tasks that should each be completed separately? How is that even possible, since the tasks of plan, write, edit, publish, market, sell are intertwined? Often a book that’s already been sold to a publisher requires rewrites, and the marketing begins on social media often before the initial draft is even written.
So where do I draw the lines between tasks? How small do I make each task in order to do it completely? If it is zen-like not to start something new before finishing the task at hand, can anybody doing anything more complex than washing dishes ever truly be zen?
Completion is a term that I understand only in the most simplistic way. To succeed at doing whatever I’m doing completely, I need to do one thing at a time, slowly and deliberately, keeping my attention on the here and now until I’ve completed what I’ve set out to do.
And I can do that. If I learn to view my tasks in increments, pieces of a whole that is too complex to complete in one sitting. Once one incremental task is done, I can shift my attention to something new, perhaps the next step in the bigger project or perhaps something unrelated.
Or perhaps I’m missing the point. Perhaps the things I’m doing in my life are more complex than they need to be.
Or perhaps . . . the command is more of a guidepost than a hard and fast rule.
[This is the third post in a short series about Zen Things. If you’d like to see the list of Zen Things or read the first post, “Do One Thing At A Time,” click here. If you’d like to read “Do It Slowly and Deliberately,” the second post, click here.]
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