Finding Meaning in the Routine

Meet Kate, a YA living in Vancouver, BC, Canada. Kate has found that in the day-to-day routine of her practice, there is always freshness and spontaneity.

Kate, a YA meditator for the last 15 years, uses her spiritual routine to channel her restlessness into personal transformation.

Kate, a YA meditator for the last 15 years, uses her spiritual routine to channel her restlessness into personal transformation.

I’m a restless person by nature. I thrive on variety in work, school, social settings and interests. I’m someone who often starts a book with great interest, and after about one-third of my way in, abandon it, only to pick up a new one. I dream about being self-employed one day, so that I can choose to do something different every day, be somewhere different every day, and work with different people every day. As I finish graduate school this July, the thought of a routine day job or “daily grind” sends my mind into anaphylaxis.

Perhaps you’ve noticed I’m a tad dramatic as well.

As most of you may know, there is a fair amount of routine that is built into the eight-point program. We get up every morning, at roughly the same time, and sit in meditation for a full 30 minutes. At some point during each day, we use mantram exercise to balance our inward travel in meditation. We attempt to eat healthy meals slowly, and one-pointedly. In our interactions with people, we try and put them first, listening one-pointedly, and helping them wherever possible. We repeatedly turn down the cookie after lunch, and we resist the double latte and choose the single. Later in the evening, some sit down again for an evening meditation. The final thing before bed is spiritual reading by one of the great mystics, or one of Easwaran’s books, to send us into sleep with elevated thoughts. We turn out the light, close our eyes, and silently repeat the mantram as well fall into sleep. Then the alarm goes off, and we start the routine all over again…

Seen in this light, the fact that I have been practicing passage meditation and the other 7 points for 15 years is purely the grace of the Lord. Upon more reflection, it is also because my commitment to practicing this “spiritual schedule” somehow does not seem to have this dreaded constriction inherent in it. And with a playful irony, I’ve realized that learning to rely on a spiritual schedule actually brings freshness and depth to my daily life.

Kate is finding her love of outdoor adventure also shows itself in her love of the "inner adventure" of her spiritual practice.

Kate is finding her love of outdoor adventure also shows itself in her love of the "inner adventure" of her spiritual practice.

And yet, how could a spiritual routine bring freshness to daily life? Especially to someone who thrives on change and variety? The Bhagavad Gita describes three ‘substances’ that make up the world as we know it: tamas (inertia), rajas (energy) and sattva (law). Easwaran’s commentary on the Bhagavad Gita Volume 2, describes how we all have some measure of these substances in our personalities. In particular, Easwaran notes that a sign of “rajas is restlessness, which is endemic in our modern civilization. Whenever you see someone who is restless, who travels around the world once a year, or who takes up one job after another, this may be a sign that he or she has real potential for meditation.”

Hmmm. Definitely sounds familiar. Here comes the bright side.

“Through meditation and the allied disciplines, all of us can learn to transform the self-directed energy of rajas into the selfless power that is characteristic of the third stage of consciousness, called sattva.” When I first read this, I wasn’t sure what all the terms meant, but now I can understand them through my own experience. For me, an application of these terms suggests that through a transformation of scattered and restless activity, we can begin to make more effective use of our energy.

For me, the key idea from this passage is the transformation of energy. On a deeper level, I believe my restless self really desires this kind of lasting transformation, even though it is often expressed superficially as incessant change, by beginning book after book, or seeking out dynamic situations. I have seen that the process of transformation comes through regular effort, practice, and commitment to these spiritual ideals. I think this makes sense intuitively, too.

Here is Kate with the "traveling mantram book". This notebook is making its way to YAs around the world and each YA is writing lines of their mantram in the book. Read more about the mantram here!

Here is Kate with the "traveling mantram book". This notebook is making its way to YAs around the world and each YA is writing lines of their mantram in the book. Read more about the mantram here!

Because there is transformation woven deep within it, my spiritual schedule is ‘routinely’ fresh and different. Concentrated effort in mediation, the use of the mantram, the interactions with others, all seem to take on a depth and a variety as a result of my regularity with the spiritual schedule. When I’m paying attention, this sacred routine seems to be freshly challenging day after day. Spontaneity through routine – who knew?

Not only does this schedule bring meaning to daily life through transformation, but it also brings solace during periods when I am weathering the storms of life. It acts like a safety net when life sends me a challenge with strength to bowl me over.  During a rough period, crawling onto my meditation pillows can feel like a true safe haven. It is almost as if our commitment to our daily spiritual routines accumulates serenity, little by little, like a retirement savings account.

Kate's bedside books.

Kate's bedside books.

And yes, I am still a restless person. But I’m also a person restless to transform myself into a more loving and fulfilled person. Over the long run, it’s clear these difficult, incremental efforts bring greater focus and meaning to my life. So while the spiritual schedule is regular, there can be spontaneity to it because we always have a chance to put one more person first. We can always find another moment to repeat the mantram. We can always be looking for another sense craving to transform. We can always concentrate a little harder in meditation. And we can always keep trying to finish those unfinished books on the bedside table…