Q& A from Duncan and Karen

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Answers to some of your Homeplay questions, from Duncan and Karen

Week 1 - Honor your space

Q: I’m disappointed in myself that I didn’t take the opportunity this week to declutter more of my office space when the focus this week is on doing just that.

A: There is always next week!  Also it can be interesting to notice if we are avoiding cleaning or decluttering certain places - what are we hanging on or avoiding?  The main thing is bringing some awareness to the spaces we live and work in, and if the space is supporting us or not.

Q: What is the relationship between the internal and external world? If Buddhism has a focus on the importance of our internal world, why bother spending time on the external world? When we do the internal work, the external stuff seems to take care of itself…

A: This is a great question and is actually the key of the whole course.  The Buddhist path in fact pays attention to both internal and external. For example the Buddhist 8-fold path is divided in three main areas (1) wisdom (right intention, right view), (2) meditation (right concentration, right mindfulness, right effort), and (3) ethics (right action, right livelihood, right speech).  

The “ethics” pillar is the foundation and is all about getting our external life in order.  It’s really really hard to do the deep internal work without first sorting out the external.  Once we have done a lot of internal transformation, it’s certainly true that is going help us transform the external world, and that we’ll be able to keep in a clear state whatever our surroundings.  But that’s something later in the path. To start - to be able to support the depth work - we first have to get our external situation in order.

Therefore we train ourselves to speak in a compassionate and helpful way.  We train ourselves to act with kindness and wisdom. And we try to have a wholesome and supportive livelihood.  The Pali word for ethics (sila) is sometimes translated “coolness” in the sense of easeful, not fevered. By applying the “ethics” part of the path we are getting our lives in order, and bringing a coolness or ease.  This gives us an untroubled platform for developing the “meditation” pillar - developing our mindfulness and concentration. Finally then with this solid ethical base, and strong mindfulness and concentration, we’ll find wisdom and clarity will naturally start to arise.  

Ignite Your Spiritual Life is all about “ethics” in this sense - how do we get our external in order to support our growth?  How do we build supportive conditions for the deep work of spiritual transformation?

Q: I am very new to meditation and although a bit overwhelmed I have really enjoyed spending time this each week on something for myself.

A: Excellent.  If some of the course feels overwhelming, we recommend just to let those parts wash over you, and focus on what resonates.

Q: It's hard to get started changing my space. It seems like a lot needs to be changed. I suppose I just need to take small steps?

A: Maria Kondo in her book “The Magic Art of Tidying Up” recommends approaching cleaning your space by category.  For example, put aside a couple of hours and go through all your clothes. Or overhaul your office. That’s ideal.  Having said that, any small step can really help and it’s better to do even a small positive step than to not do anything because things seem overwhelming.  We also recommend approaching changing your space with curiosity. It can feel heavy, so playing and see what brings you more lightness and joy is a good way to approach it.  See also the next question.

Q: I had to be OK with focusing on a small area and not get perfectionist about the whole house because I didn't have the time. This meditation corner is also shared with my partner and so negotiating shared space can also be challenging.

A: Great to focus on a small area.  When living with someone, it can be good to make time to discuss what you each are looking for in the space (and a great opportunity to practice principle #3 on communication!)

Q: The big challenge was purging old research docs that I 'might need' someday. Much harder to let go of them than I expected.

A: Yes older belonging we have can be hard to let go of - often when we can, we feel a great lightness and freeing up of energy.

Q: The main challenge that came about was when cleaning, the frustration that came when I couldn't get it spotless. I think I did a fairly decent job of letting it go. Also, to remain vigilant in the face of complacency.

A: Yes there’s an interesting balance between keeping a space clean and fresh, and the realities of what we can do.  It’s a good exploration finding that balance!

Q I found this week to be challenging because I live in close quarters with others and have to sleep, meditate and sometime eat or do work in the same room. This can be a challenging space to honor but I found a few strategies that would help.

A: Yes this is can be very challenging.  Making time to have an open conversation with the people you share the space with can be a good idea - what do you each need from the space?  How can you agree to set-up or boundary the space to support each other?


Week 2 - Structure and Routine

Q: It's challenging creating structure. I can do something for a while, but stop altogether, so how do you stay motivated to keep up and continue with structure and routine? When is it good to change your structures and routines?

A: Answering the second question first, basically it’s good to change our structure and routines when they aren’t working for us.  For example, if notice we are stuck in bad habits or deadening routines. Or if we find that the structure of our week or year is not supporting our growth and happiness, or isn’t aligned with our vision and values.  This also speaks to the first question - if we really see how our current structure and routine is not helping us, it’s the best motivation for changing. Most structure and routine is imposed from outside so there’s a strong tendency to resist it.  If we can consciously choose structures and routines that genuinely help us (not what we think we “should” be doing, or what we read about working for other people), it’s easier to stick with them.

Q: How many hours sleep do you think a person needs? I have this sense that 8 hours is impossible, and perhaps indulgent, and that i should get by on 7hours - which people around me seem to get by on.

A: We’ve read in various places that 7-8 hours is generally recommended.  However it also depends a lot on the quality of our sleep, and also the degree to which we are leaking energy during the day.  For example being off screens an hour before bed, having a dark and quiet sleeping environment, and a regular time for sleeping and waking up, can all contribute towards quality of sleep and feeling rested when we wake up.  Also if our days are hectic or stressed, if our structures and routines are not supporting us, or we feel not aligned to our vision and values in what we are doing, and so on, we’re more likely to get into bad habits decompressing (too much social media or Netflix or snacking etc).  This will all contribute to having less energy and needing more sleep.

Q: I find I ask too much from myself and expect a lot at once, then am disappointed when I don't "get it all done". Sometimes I may spend a lot of time dealing with the little things and not make time for bigger goals. I would like to know if other people experience similar challenges and what has been helpful, as well what is not helpful in that regard, and how to make a schedule that is more realistic.  

A: Many people shared in the homeplay that it’s difficult to “get it all done” (see next two questions as an example).  Some of the insights and positive changes people shared in their homeplay were from approaching things more organically and focusing on one particular area.  So overall we suggest starting small - and with a spirit of curiosity. Recognize it’s a process that takes time, and also that it’s not about getting the right answer or “getting it done” but about consciously exploring what is genuinely helpful and supportive to us.

Q: I am finding it a bit overwhelming to look at my routines.

See answer above.

Q: Do you feel it's a good idea to slowly add little bits of structure to focus on a few aspects of our lives rather than plan it all at once?

See answer above.

Q: How to keep the creativity, and the dynamism within a strong structure ?  How to keep a helpful structure within a changing environment ?

A: On the first question, our experience is that a strong consciously chosen structure is the foundation of creativity and dynamism.  Also remember that the idea is not to create a rigid structure. Perhaps a question to explore is: how would you structure your day/week in a way that most supports you to have the energy and space for creativity?  That might certainly include unstructured time, but in general if we have no structure it’s likely energy just leaks away and there is no creative breakthrough.

Q: I mentioned previously my struggle to commit to an activity and improve my wellbeing. I seek distractions and I am a great avoider because I do not want to deal with myself and the task I need to complete. I almost always complete the task I start with in regards to my job, but it does not flow, it is very choppy, a struggle. In regards to taking action to improve my wellbeing and life in general there is this barrier, this weight that I feel towards improving my life, this feeling of undeserving, this feeling of dragging my feet, of more “work” that I need to do even though I know it would be beneficial. And this fear of the unknown. Even though I know applying these tools would benefit me, I fear the outcome. Any insight into this struggle would be greatly appreciated. I am stuck in this avoidance cycle and have been for several years now. Taking action on my life is an incredible challenge for me and it frustrates me incredibly that I continue in the avoidance cycle and cannot seem to get out of it.

A: Great question.  This is a very common struggle and as you say can feel incredibly frustrating.  One tool we’ll cover during principle #4 “Cleaning up big areas of your life frees up energy” is called “Immunity to Change” created by Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey.  They were struck by how many of us have what you could call an “immune response” to change. We want to change, we know it will be beneficial, but (just as you’ve described above) somehow we fear it and avoid it.  The key is getting insight into the fear, and understanding what Kegan calls our “hidden competing agendas”. You can get a preview here in this talk by Kegan on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FFYnVmGu9ZI  We’ll talk more about this during principle #4 and it’s also a tool we go much deeper with during the 6 month Ignite Your Spiritual Life small group coaching (in the smaller group we can take the time to go through this process with each person and we’ve found it a very powerful approach).

Q: It would be nice to hear a bit about what you think about interrupting patterns. I’m thinking about the Clear Sky journal. Perhaps you already plan to do this... I won’t be able to make the next 3 or 4 Saturday live sessions given my new work schedule but will be listening to the recordings. Thank you!

A: One approach we use at Clear Sky that you’ll be familiar with from the Clear Sky journal is weekly, monthly and yearly challenges.  Once a week we do something that is a small challenge - this is generally interrupting a habit pattern. For example if we have coffee everyday, maybe one day we interrupt that and don’t have coffee.  Or if we always drive to work the same way, we cycle or go a different way one day. Once a month we do something that feels more challenging and out of the box. This is more about interrupting our habitual identities.  If we never dance, we go to a salsa lesson. If we are always talkative we take a challenge for a few hours to be quiet and listen. If we always avoid conflict, we take a challenge to speak our minds. An once a year we do something “impossible”, something that really seems out of our box.  Jumping out of an aeroplane, giving a public talk to hundreds of people, etc.

The idea of the challenges is to interrupt habitual patterns and patterns around identity.  Notice that they are brief - one time a week, month, year. The rest of the time we relax, do our daily meditation and explorations, etc.  

This can be a skillful way of using interrupting patterns to learn and grow, without needing to beat ourselves up trying to magically and permanently rid ourselves on long-term habitual patterns.  Instead we get insight into how the patterns were built, and this can help organically loosen and change them.

Weeks 3 - 4 Coming Soon


Week 5 - Cleaning up Big Areas part 2

Q: When I free up big areas in my life, where would I direct the energy?

A: As you free up some more space and energy in your life, this opens the possibility to work more on your vision and values. You have the time and the strength to look at this with fresh eyes. Also dropping big blocks can naturally open space where new things emerge. For example, if the tendency is to isolate and procrastinate and you can let go of this draining pattern, you can apply it to making interesting new contacts or starting a training course that interests you. This can then spark ideas and insights about where you direct your energy.

Q: Though I know on an intuitive level that taking personal time and space is needed, and is a good thing, I still tend to feel guilty about this when I have important commitments and goals. I still over schedule my time with commitments and tend to leave no space. I would like to know if others have a similar experience and how to manage this block .

A: We’ve found this is a common experience. A message we’ve probably received much of our lives is that getting things done means to work hard, buckle down, push harder. Taking a walk or a break is felt as “goofing off”. It’s also very common to underestimate the amount of time things will be take - in project management a rule of thumb for a project manager is to double or triple the time the team estimates a task will need. We think it’s important first to reflect deeply and observe how this isn’t actually helpful. Then to very consciously cultivate a new habit. For example for day, experiment taking several 10 minute break for a walk or to breathe. Then observe and reflect. Did we actually get more or less things done? Did we get things done more creatively and well? Did others see us as goofing off or not contributing? In other words we think it’s only by very consciously observing for yourself what works that you can step out of the habitual and cultural guilts around time.