Once again the obvious seems profound. Maybe its sheer simplicity is what made it elusive before this moment. No drum roll, please. I don’t want to build more anticipation than I already have by virtue of this preamble. In fact, as I start to put this concept into words I realize they have already been uttered countless times in the aphorism: “Variety is the spice of life.” I know, not so profound, but why did the idea hit me in a new way this morning?
I arose at about five a.m. today. I wouldn’t have minded another hour or two of sleep, but this isn’t so unusual. Throughout this past winter it seemed more often than not that this would be the hour I would awaken. I used the early morning stillness to develop a fairly regular spiritual practice. At the same time, as an early indicator of my current concern, I struggled to faithfully perform my morning ablutions in a consistent manner. Only in recent days have I consciously given myself “permission” to start each day with some contemplative practice, but not necessarily the same practice day in and day out. That’s just my nature, I guess. I’ve spoken little about this diversified approach with any of my colleagues or mentors. I’m not sure whether they’d say this is a reasonable adaptation to the reality of who I am and what I need, or a caving in to the lack of discipline that undermines what I aspire to be.
There are so many ways to begin my day that recently I found myself trying to cram as many of them in as I could in a couple of hours before breakfast. Even then I felt shortchanged. Some of the typical pieces include traditional morning prayers, meditation, and/or a little stretching. I also have enjoyed using this time to write prose or poetry to capture fragments of lingering dreams or flashes of early morning insight commanding my attention, as they do right now. Add to this my recent acquisition of chanting, drumming, and an inexplicable ten-minute yoga/energy tune-up. For years I have done what I’ve called my “Walk ‘n’ Talk.” This is a compilation of words that I have cobbled together from various sources and most days chant almost silently as I take a morning constitutional down to and within the neighborhood park. It includes gratitude, setting intentions for the day, my personal Amidah, prayers for my family, the ill, and my Kol Zimra sisters. As much as a cornerstone to my mental, physical, emotional and spiritual health as this walk has been, on too many mornings it has been getting edged out by all the other bits and pieces that I’ve been cramming into my morning practice, not to mention "normal" activities like showering, dressing and eating.
Instead of continuing to either stuff all that into each morning or to feel incomplete, it seems reasonable to be flexible and to let each morning guide me to whichever among these many tools I feel drawn.
What inspired me to write this morning was recognizing that this approach has become a useful pattern in other areas of personal development. Years ago, before I had a consistent habit of working out at the gym, when I did show up I would always see this one very fit woman there. Her comment to me, which I am now beginning to understand, was that regardless of whether it was jogging, or swimming, tennis or calisthenics, it was important just to do something physical every day. In my fitness regimen I now mix it up between walking, cycling, working out in the fitness center. Within each of these activities I add further diversity such as selecting among an unlimited choice of biking or hiking routes. Last night, as I dragged myself to the gym, feeling a bit bored with my workout routine, it was simple to mix it up by using some equipment that I had not used in many months.
I realize that this approach is what has also made it relatively easy and enjoyable to get a grip on my diet in recent weeks. Accuse me of having a short attention span if you wish, but there are just so many months that I can perform a similar eating ritual before it begins to gnaw at me instead of the other way around. By discovering the book If the Buddha Came to Dinner: How to Nourish Your Body to Awaken Your Spirit, I’ve put a whole new slant on my diet even if only for the duration of the suggested three-week cleanse. Limiting myself to fruits and vegetables for a week opened my eyes and taste buds to new sensations. I found myself putting together various combinations of fresh and dried fruits, squeezing a bit of lemon juice on them to make different colorful and zesty fruit salads. It’s quite possible that it was the quiet thoughtful enjoyment of each bite that made the experience special more than any breakthrough recipe. Likewise, I've been having a lot of fun with vegetable entrees. I've even—perish the thought—trolled vegan websites for recipe inspirations!
If I were a Zen master perhaps I could relish each grain in a bowl of brown rice with the same appreciation. Consciousness and consistency has its place. It could be that a modicum of consciousness would lead me to a more consistent daily routine that I would increasingly find rich, meaningful, and enjoyable. Or vice versa—a more consistent, disciplined routine would lead to greater consciousness. I can’t say which comes first. Some people have a fixed practice, but I think I’ll stick to the premise that I’m hardwired to need that spice of life. After all, seeing the variety of shapes and colors, feeling the diverse textures, tasting the contrasting and harmonizing flavors—isn’t that what makes fruit salad (and the rest of life) so enjoyable?