Sunday, March 6, 2011

In need of blank space

I stopped wearing a watch in college as I was annoyed by my slavery to time. Eventually, as a nurse I returned to wearing one for dispensing medications and taking pulses. Now I once again sense my dissatisfaction with time. I keep wanting to rid myself of the watch and thus the concern for time, but alas I obligated by the world to notice when it is time to pick up my children or get them off to school and other sundries. My neighbor observed in rereading the "The Little House on the Prairie" series how much time they seemed to have to just sit on the porch. We don't just sit on the porch anymore. I think there are too many things calling to our attention- phone, email, jobs to do, papers, stuff to organize, food to cook, clothes to wash. Just think of how much more stuff we own!

In my childhood I remember having only a few toys that I played with again and again. I read a few books over and over again simply because they were there- particularly "Curious George" because it was the only kid's book at my great grandmother's house, "Peter Pan" because I dreamed of that mermaid cove and what it would be like to be the Indian Princess with water up to my chin, and a pirate book about Blackbeard. My parent's home was uncluttered as there was not much in it. In recent years with disposable income along the way, we've all accumulated too much stuff; this stuff takes away from our lives. This stuff requires tending and keeping. Even my beloved recipe books tempt me with cooking recipes from all over the world which then require various spices and basic ingredients in which to conjure up the dish- more space dedicated to storing spices and special cooking dishes. More thought is put into what to cook since I don't cook the same way or kind of thing every day. Really, the simplicity of cooking beans day in and day out for tortillas seems like both a healthy and simpler way to live. But I don't do it, and yet I have only begun to realize what it is I have done- giving to so much time to managing all of this stuff.

The Buddhist say its the looking forward or looking backward in time that make us miss the moment, the here and now. I drift into the future with planning and planning mostly for naught since plans change. The discipline of staying in the day, in the moment is not something I sense happening- people talk of their day (past), their trip (past), the future, etc. In fact those who are most in the moment are children. They are so in the moment that my children can drive me crazy. They are oblivious to the need for food, getting some where on time, etc. These little zen masters disturb my equilibrium and at the same time remind me that I too once was constantly lost in the moment. It is all right here within me to find again.

This weekend my daughter spent a great deal of time playing in a water tunnel- it is big enough to walk through and explore, there are spider webs inside it to add a bit of mystery and spooky factor, and there is a small stream that runs through it for a splashing fun time. When asked about going to take an onsen she was adamant that we return home as she promised to return to play with her friends in the "ditch" as I took to calling it. We returned home without the onsen, and she went out to the ditch to play with her friends.

The fullness of time is kept fuller by thoroughly knowing a thing or person like in childhood when we return over and over to the same toys, games, and places the fuel our imaginations. Modern life tends to distract us from old acquaintances and keeps pelting us with the new, the shiny. Constantly shoveling in new stuff distracts us from the richness we already have and sucks up our time. There is something to be said for limiting inputs and getting to know what is at hand like a neighborhood ditch.

I have an artist friend whose house has very little in it. I was so struck by this because she could have whatever she desired in it, and yet she chose to have little. Slowly I have begun to understand that it is by having so little in the house that she is freer to manage her time to focus on her art and her life. Learning to choose what to have in the house, the kitchen, etc., is the tricky part. I appreciated John Maeda's guidance to add space to create order which was nicely illustrated by the use of the tab key with a string of words. Later he writes, "The opportunity lost by increasing the amount of blank space is gained back with enhanced attention on what remains." Let us attend to what we have.