We’ve reached that point of the semester when keeping up with work feels a bit like trotting on a treadmill running several steps faster than my usual stride. I’ve given up hope of catching up, so all I hope for is not to fall too far behind.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, just a busy one. Yesterday morning, after Tuesday night’s snow, I shoveled my driveway when I’d normally meditate, replacing one sort of repetitive, mindless activity for another. It felt good to be moving, and it felt good to see my car and driveway emerge from a half-foot of fresh snow, one shovelful at a time. Now that I’ve settled into the stride of yet another busy semester, the repetitive tasks of paper-reading and class prep are almost soothing as snow-shoveling in their monotony: just like this, each week greets the next, and no sooner do I dig out from one to-do list than I find myself facing another.
There’s a certain, albeit circular, sense of accomplishment that comes when you surrender to the task at hand, no matter how boring. Shoveling snow, walking the dog, grading papers: none of these tasks is particularly interesting, but each is essential. No sooner do you cross off one of these tasks Today, you have to do it Tomorrow. But when you come inside after shoveling the driveway, walking the dog, or teaching another full day of classes, you have a sense of contentment knowing you did what needed to be done, and now it’s time to relax. Coming home from a full day’s teaching, or a good long dog-walk, or another stint of snow-shoveling feels like a good kind of tired, like when a basketball team gives every ounce of energy on the court and then walks off to the showers knowing they left it all on the court. It doesn’t matter if you won or lost, and it doesn’t matter if tomorrow you have to play the same damn game all over again. What matters is that for whatever span of time you ran on your own metaphorical treadmill, you gave all your attention and energy to every blessed step.