Anything that tells us what to do, does so at the risk of pissing us off.
Think about that for a moment. Perhaps not every time, but the chances are we’re going to react at least internally to a rule, an instruction, a tone of voice, and even our own schedule at times. Because we feel like we’re being controlled. It hits that same button that was getting hit by the two-year-old us, when we learned the power of, “No!”
As adults, our “No’s!” get more refined:
“Follow a weekly schedule? That sounds boring.”
This particular reaction sometimes comes up during the second week of our Ignite Your Spiritual Life course. This week focuses on Clear Sky’s second principle, which involves structure and routine and how it’s a supportive part of the spiritual container. And yet, many of us resist being subject to a schedule, even one of our own making that would clearly help us.
It’s understandable. Often, this kind of time management tool is focused on being more productive. Instead, think of creating a schedule with the goal of having a more sustainable life that’s conducive to following your spiritual aspirations. The point is to keep our energy strong and focused so that we can quickly unfold. It’s important, of course, to build what you want into the schedule, not just things you have to get done. Base a weekly schedule on ensuring that meditation time, exercise, and fun happen as well. But even then seeing, “Have fun for two hours on Friday evening” on your schedule every week begins to sound like someone is telling you what to do!
Challenges – keeping it fresh
How can we keep things fresh, awake, while still maintaining a supportive structure in our week? One way is through an exercise suggested by our founding teachers, Doug and Catherine. It’s called the challenges. This powerful yet simple method injects a fresh tone into our lives and propels our learning forward by showing us the inherent conditioning.
There are weekly, monthly, and yearly challenges. What are they, exactly? Well, it’s up to you – where are you challenged? Something that feels challenging for you might already be another person’s habit, hobby, or way of being, and vice versa.
In Dharma if You Dare, a book compiled from live teachings recorded years ago in Japan, Doug Sensei says of weekly challenges, “What is something that’s easy, but that you wouldn’t do unless you set your intention to do it?”
So this describes the weekly challenge, which is simply meant to tweak a habit. An example would be; if you’re a coffee drinker, don’t have your coffee one day. It could look however you’d like, though. You could have tea instead. You could have an americano instead of a mocha, if that would be a challenge. And then watch what your mind does with it. You see how much a simple thing is conditioned into the system as part of “me,” even for things we think won’t bother us at all.
Other examples? If you always wear t-shirts on weekends, then wear a collared shirt one Saturday. Go for your morning walk after breakfast instead of before. Go to work via a different route. Get up an hour earlier than usual. And watch your reaction to whatever change you make. This kind of challenge is done on one day, once a week.
Here we suggest the challenges as a balance to the idea of a following a supportive structure and routine. And, they can be much more than this. Our founding teachers recommend the challenges as a tool for growing beyond yourself, and a method to lightning fast spiritual progress (click to read more and learn about monthly and yearly challenges).