Jolly Eggs after rain

I’ve started keeping track of the days J and I have been social-distancing at home: today, we’re on Day 13. Because both J and I can work from home, our daily life is largely unchanged except for an ongoing, low-grade worry over what is happening, what might happen, and what might come after that.

One of the things keeping me sane is my daily schedule: a predictable routine I call my liturgy of the hours. Monastic life directly depends upon a set schedule, religiously followed: when you are never confronted with the question “What should I do next,” you are free to focus full-heartedly on the task at hand. Now that J and I are retreating at home, my life feels monastic in many ways: as I explained to a friend recently, we’re all Thomas Merton now, living, working, and praying within the four walls of our new freedom.

For years–most of my adult life, it seems–I’ve struggled to find a schedule that suits me: one that is structured enough to keep me productive but loose enough to allow for spontaneity. When I lived at the Cambridge Zen Center in the 1990s, my life as a wife, graduate student, and teaching assistant was book-ended by formal Zen practice. Most mornings, I’d wake at 5:30 am to bow, sit, and chant; most evenings, I’d return to the Dharma room at 7:00 pm to chant and sit some more. Sandwiched between these practice sessions was the rest of my life: it was as if I were a layperson by day and a Zen nun in the morning and evening.

This regular structure suited me for the two-and-a-half years my then-husband and I lived at the Zen Center, but the logistics were less than ideal. Living as a part-time nun was fine and good, but my grad school obligations and teaching duties bled beyond the usual 9:00 – 5:00 time frame. Beginning and ending the day with Zen practice sounds good in theory, but in reality I was constantly sleep-deprived from too many late nights spent either writing or grading papers.

I no longer follow a Zen Center schedule; instead, my schedule centers around the creatures with whom I share a household. When do the cats need their insulin, and when does Roxy need to go outside to pee? Instead of setting my own schedule, these days our pets tell me what to do and when…and by following that set-but-spontaneous cadence, I find my entire life naturally falls into line.