“What did you just say?!” she asked, laughing and incredulous at the same time. I was in the midst of cleaning up the kitchen, having just done the dishes. “Um, I love me some order,” I confessed, somewhat sheepish, based on her response to hearing it. Was it that I had said it out loud, talking to myself, or was it the content of my phrase that seemed to be giving her such entertainment, I wondered.
“That’s what I thought you said!” she rather exclaimed, still laughing. “Uh, what’s wrong with that?” I finally ventured to ask. ‘I love me some’, she proceeded to explain, is a phrase that is, of course, commonly used. But usually followed by something more along the lines of the decadent–or at least something like ‘french fries’ or ‘chocolate’ or ‘mud pie.’ But order?!
For the past few weeks I’ve been more regular in my yoga practice, heading to La Fonda two days a week for class. This week as we were moving through the poses I realized that something was a bit off. I couldn’t really place it, other than the fact that I felt as though I was out of sync. Normally Cindy, the teacher, moves through the same sequence of poses, so that once you’ve been a few times you can begin to pick up the rhythm of it. For whatever reason, I didn’t seem to be following as well. “I just realized–we didn’t do the balance poses during that sequence,” said Cindy.
That was it. My body, over time and from doing the same series of poses, has begun to develop a ‘memory’ of what came next. But ‘what came next’ had subtly shifted–not an entirely new pose, or else that would have triggered the ‘we are leaving the known sequence’ button somehow. It was that subtle shift that had caused me to feel out of sync, but not to be able to recognize why, or what exactly was going on.
Back to the ‘love me some order…’ This lent I have tried to make it my practice to ‘give up leaving Mexico’ (some people give up chocolate, some people give up coffee, why not give up leaving?). So, for going on four weeks I’ve actually (for the most part) been in one place long enough to be able to develop something of a routine (though the phrase ‘routine life’ may be something of an oxymoron in this case). It’s been in the range of 5 years since I’ve actually had anything in my life that might be called a ‘normal routine’ and to be honest I am thoroughly enjoying it.
Sure, ‘routine’ can be used as a synonym for ‘rut’ or for ‘boring,’ but it can also be something solid, grounding and life-giving. Like in yoga, having a normal series or sequence (a routine) that we follow allows us to, in many cases, act without having to think through every single step, every individual move, every particular detail. Having a routine can be comforting and provide a sense of stability.
Of course, there can be a danger in this. The word ‘fundamentalist’ (of whatever religious or political flavor) tends to have the connotation of someone who is rigidly and inflexibly tied to a particular structure, system or routine. In this case, not having to think through every step can is not so much in the service of freedom as it is in a desire to prevent the adherent from straying from a particular path.
The thing that becomes problematic, it seems, is if the routine is all there is. The routine is not meant to exist simply for itself, for its own sake. The life-giving grounded centering that the routine provides is meant for something beyond itself. The routine releases us from having to think through every little detail, so that we are free for something else.
A clean kitchen, though nice, doesn’t exist just to be a clean kitchen–the point of it, at some point, is to provide a space for cooking a meal, for enjoying that meal. A routine in yoga frees one up from having to think through each individual pose, and allows the body to learn the movements without necessarily having to think about them. In the case of yoga, this frees one to pay attention to the breath.
It occurs to me, as I’m writing this, that in theory, this is what liturgy does in a worship service as well. Ideally, having a series, or a sequence of prayers, recitations, or other ‘routine’ liturgy provides a basis that can then, potentially, free one from ‘thinking through the details’ to be open to an experience of God. There is something in the repetition and the ‘known-ness’ that both engages and releases.
Having a routine in life (I get up, meditate, drink coffee, read, write, etc.) is not only for itself, but to somehow provide a grounding that then allows for life to grow from it. Sure, “I love me some order” may be veering a bit too much to the OCD side of the spectrum (but, as a Presbyterian, I tend to lean towards the ‘orderly side of the spectrum anyway), but maybe it’s not such a bad thing after all. Perhaps it is in this groundedness that new life is able to take root.