“Do what you are doing.”This is a lesson I have learned and relearned hundreds of times over the past four decades. “Do what you are doing” is one of the lessons from Hugh Prather’s Notes to Myself, given to me in 1975 by my dear friend, Carolyn.

notes to myselfWriting about Lenten disciplines yesterday prompted me to think about this statement, so I got my tattered copy and thumbed through it. The pages of succinct verses and paragraphs are marked with my handwriting. I used a blue fountain pen when I first read the book, and though the ink is faded, the memory of reading it and jotting thoughts is still fresh. I learned many things from that book, but the main idea that stuck with me is “do what you are doing.”

That sounds simple enough, but like sitting and allowing my mind to be still, it is an illusive concept much of the time. So much of my days are spent in a split experience: doing one thing with my hands while my mind is somewhere else, talking with one person while I’m looking over their shoulder to see who else is in the room, reading and rereading the same paragraph because I’m ruminating about something completely unrelated.

I am doing one thing while I’m doing something else with some other part of my attention.

I have found that when I can do what I am doing, I am not miserable. I am not lonely, or depressed, or anxious. When I am doing what I am doing, I am present, and the moment at hand generally holds all the life I need at that moment. I am lonely, depressed, or anxious when I am doing one thing but busily thinking about how things ought to be different. I’m not doing what I’m doing.

working in attic 2Earlier today I was in the attic, balancing on rafters, contorting myself to fit in small spaces, and then cutting and nailing lumber into place. All of this was to provide something to screw sagging ceiling drywall into. I dreaded doing this. I put it off and busied myself with all kinds of other things in order to avoid the task I assumed would be miserable. But once I got up there and began the work, I forgot about everything except what I was doing at that moment. Each part of the task blended into the next part, and it was not until my back started hurting that I decided to take a break. I was doing what I was doing.

To me, that is what Lenten disciplines help me recognize. It’s not enough to make one decision at the beginning of Lent. A discipline requires a conscious decision each day. The activity prompts me to consciously do what I have chosen to do.

If I can do that during Lent, perhaps I can take that awareness with me the rest of the year.

Do what you are doing. I have heard the lesson expressed in many ways.

Ram Das used the phrase, “Be here now.”

Jesus taught, “Don’t be anxious about today. Instead, seek first the kingdom of God (the experience of God in each moment), and all other things will be taken care of.”

My most recent phrase is from Richard Rohr. “Just this.” Whatever I am doing, thinking, saying, paying attention to, I want to focus on “just this.”