I have been thinking about our puppy class all week, and it occurs to me that I could use a similar class for myself. Just think about it: a snap of the fingers, the command to "leave it," and I'd walk right past that peanut butter cookie or fudge brownie! And it could only be useful to have someone remind me from time to time to "focus." Or to command me to "sit" once in a while!
It's easy to get distracted. It's easy to lose focus on the important things and get caught up in the busy and urgent and noisy things. And we don't take the time to sit enough, to just relax and be, without bouncing up every few minutes to do something else. Most of what we scramble to do really isn't that important or even urgent. But it takes a moment of sitting and thinking to figure that out.
I recently read Michael Moss's book Salt, Sugar, Fat wherein he says many people tend not to cook, but rely on pre-packaged and prepared foods for almost every meal. That is a horrifying thought to me. He says it's because we're so busy that we look for convenience and time-savers and so have lost the cooking-from-scratch that our great-grandmothers took for granted. We just don't have time to do it anymore. Surely Great-Grandma, who had to wash clothes by hand, knit her own socks, dip her own candles, milk her own cow, and churn her own butter, would laugh if we asserted we're busier than she. What is it that's keeping us so busy, anyway?
Part of it is women working outside the home more, obviously. Part of it is the 90-minute commute to work. Some of that is unavoidable nowadays if you want to put any food on the table at all. But really, what else is convincing us it's more important to do than to spend time feeding ourselves nutritious food? TV? Clubs? Junior's piano lessons? Soccer practice? Shopping?
I look at my own life. I work an hour and a half from home every day, leaving at 5:30 a.m. and getting home at 5:15 p.m. (if I'm lucky enough to catch the right bus). I belong to a band that keeps me busy 1-2 nights a week. Junior does have piano lessons and Young Men's group he must be driven to. I write books. I read 2-3 books a week. I walk dogs. I teach workshops, do book signings, and I attend church each week for three hours or more. I garden like a madwoman and put up much of the food we eat all year. I do knit socks. I clean house once in a while... and I watch probably more TV than is good for me (but who can resist Inspector Murdoch, I ask you).
But I also have time to make ricotta cheese, to make pasta and peach pie from scratch, to hang garlic to dry in my laundry room, to make my own grape juice. And if I ever felt something was coming between me and my homebaked bread, believe me, that thing would be outta here. Because really, what's more important to us than health? We can't do a single other thing very well without it. And where is the joy in life without hot homemade bread? No sir, homemade food is the last thing to go in my schedule.
I just re-read this blog, and I seem to have ended up somewhere I hadn't intended to go. I started off talking about puppy class, and the need to focus...isn't that ironic? But I guess it all ties together after all. If my focus becomes too distracted by trivial things, I have to find a way to bring the right things back into priority. I need to sit for a while.
Which is why when my husband "zones out" to do zazen once in a while, I don't see it as "doing nothing" or "staring at a blank wall." He is doing something. He's sitting.
Brio had his first puppy class last night. He is so tuned in to people that I think he will respond well to training. His eyes never left the instructor's face...except when a tiny moth fluttered by about a foot off the ground, taking its time to work its way across the carpet. Brio went up on all fours into classical stance - target locked, ready to pounce, let me at it! - and I found myself thoroughly distracted by the moth too. Two ADHD partners, doing their own thing in tandem while the rest of the class doesn't even notice the fluttering distraction.
Anyway, I came home from the class optimistic about one day being able to live without barricades, without moving all potted plants four feet off the ground, without Maple's tail being chewed to bits. The instructor is teaching us silent hand signals as well as verbal commands, so we can theoretically communicate with our pets from halfway across a football field. And I find myself wishing I had taught my children similar hand signals while they were growing up, so I could have summoned them (or told them off) from afar. The closest I ever came to it was training my kids that when they heard bagpipes start up a block away, it was time to come home from the park. My husband asserts that he knows plenty of silent hand signals that communicate perfectly well whatever he's thinking...but those are Italian, and not to be demonstrated at puppy class.
My 14-year-old attended class with me, and several times during the evening he leaned over and said, "This is fun. I want to practise more when we get home." Maybe even a new career option? (for him or for me?)
An evening out with my kid, the hope of a mellow dog and an undestroyed couch...priceless.
Okay, well, that was interesting. The media fast didn't go quite as planned, but it was eye-opening anyway. For one thing, I spent one day in the Emergency Room and took along a book to keep me company, so so much for swearing off books for the week. (I took along In Praise of Slow by Carl Honoré, which seemed appropriate as I sat waiting...and waiting...while the nurses at the desk chatted and Skyped with a colleague who was on vacation).
For another thing, when the TV was turned off in the evening, we discovered that we, in fact, were tired - and instead of letting the TV keep us up later than we really intended, we found ourselves going to bed at 8:30. Even the teenager.
My son and I played just one board game, a lovely homemade Parcheesi game my sister sent us at Christmas, and we cooked together once, but most evenings my son retired to bed with a book and fell asleep reading.
It wasn't too hard to let go of Facebook, though I did peek a couple of times to see if any new photos were posted of my far-away grand-daughter. And I did email a couple of times to check on my sister in law, who was slated for cancer surgery this week, but I think that's forgivable. I also emailed a friend a lead on a job, but I think that's okay too.
So did I learn anything? I learned that the puppy can suck up every spare minute I want to give him, playing fetch. I learned that my favourite TV show, while fun, is not vital to my happiness (currently it's Murdoch's Mysteries). I learned I can do without the news - the bits broadcasted on the screens at the subway were enough. I learned that I really CAN'T go a week without reading, or I start hanging over people's shoulders on the subway to see what they're reading. I learned that even if given the time to do it, I still don't knit.
Was the experiment worthwhile? I think so. Will I do it again? Probably fairly frequently. But next time I force us to stay awake long enough to have more family time!
Once a month, members of my church go without food for 24 hours and donate the money we would have spent on food to charity. But this month we've been asked to try an additional, new kind of Fast.
In preparation for an upcoming church conference, we have been asked to go for a week without using electronics and other media, including telephones, TVs, computers, radios, magazines, and newspapers. The time we would have spent thus engaged is to be used for a better purpose, serving others, playing together as a family, and focusing on our spiritual preparation for the conference. The only exception, of course, would be if our jobs truly require the use of these things. Even then, use is to be kept to a minimum as much as possible.
I am all for this. I am a Luddite at heart anyway, and I have seen my children all too easily get sucked into their computers, to surface only at meal times, looking pale and dazed as they crawl into the light... So of course I assumed I would get some resistance when I told my 14-year-old son about the media fast.
His reply? "I can do that." Simple as that. We discussed the alternatives to video games and You Tube and came up with other activities we can do together. He remarked that it would have been easier to do in the summer, when there are more options (true), but he's still willing to give it a whirl. There aren't many teenagers, I'm guessing, who would face a week without Facebook without flinching. What a kid!
So next week, beginning March 4, you won't find me on Facebook or here on my blog or even - gulp - curled up on my couch with a book (I figured if he can give up his computer addiction, it's only fair I give up my book addiction). Never fear, I'll be back after the week is up. Perhaps a bit wiser, a bit calmer, a bit more in tune with my family. See you then!