Routine Change

A certain type of mindset thrives in routine.  Perhaps you’ve noticed that these posts appear each day about the same time.  This happens because the routine states that work comes next and it will be largely the same day after day after day.  After work there’s also a pattern until I fall, exhausted, into bed.  Hit repeat.  In the midst of this routine change has crept.  Partly it’s the pandemic, but mostly it’s technology.  And spending habits.  People don’t buy academic books like they used to.  Overall books are booming—so much so that paper shortages aren’t uncommon.  In order to try to keep up with electronic lifestyles, publishers have to integrate the newest technology and to do that everyone has to learn far more tech than technique.  The pace of change is dizzying.

For those who thrive on routine, such rapid-fire alterations make it feel like we need a personal change manager.  “How do I do this now?”  The way we’d done it for years has suddenly shifted and it is only one of many moving parts.  Meanwhile, outside work, other aspects are shifting even as many people still survive without computers at all.  We’re left, those of us tied to routine, in a haze of uncertainty.  It’s like that dream where you’re driving and you can’t slow down but you can’t see out the windshield either.  To make it through we look for routine.  I type this posts on a laptop.  I prefer to write things out by hand, but there’s no time for that any more.  The routine has been broken and the shop that repairs it has gone out of business.

Perhaps this is a malady of those of us who look to the past.  Technological changes used to be measured in centuries, not seconds.  Ancients thought a spout on a jar was a pretty rad invention.  For a hundred years.  Maybe two.  Now if you don’t buy a new iPhone every couple of years you’re hopelessly outmoded.  What was my routine again?  I still awake at the same time and begin each day with writing.  I’ve learned to do it via laptop.  Then it’s to the work laptop where updates seem to be loaded daily and I’m the dog chasing that stick now.  I wonder whose vision we’re following?  Technology’s in charge now.  The rest of us mere humans should be able to get along, as long as we establish a routine of routine change.

Change Management

Calendars fascinate and flummox me.  When I try to convert from Julian to Gregorian, or vice versa, I get hopelessly lost.  The same applies to time zones and that horror known as springing forward or falling back.  Time, as something that is constantly moving, isn’t easy to grasp.  I’m in charge of a scheduling activity at a local organization.  (Whoever thought that was a good idea I’ll never know.)  While trying to sketch out 2022, with fear and trembling, I noticed something for the first time.  In a non-leap year the dates correspond to the same days of the week for January and October.  This is also true for February, March, and November.  And September and December.  This would’ve been helpful to know, it seems, in the previous half-century of my life.  There’s solidity underlying the flux.

It was really only in the 1890s that “eastern religions” were discovered by Americans.  Our nation was so thoroughly biblicized that we had forgotten that there are other ways to view the world.  The idea, prevalent in the sixties and seventies, that we can gain wisdom from exotic religions was probably misguided.  After all, to truly understand them you need to have years of immersive experience in them.  It also helps to be a true believer.  Still, I find the conceptions of change from Buddhism and Taoism particularly helpful.  Change is permanent.  If we spend our lives fighting it we’ll be frustrated rather than enlightened.  Of course, for those of us who are chronologically challenged this isn’t necessarily good news.

Employers are busy hiring change managers.  These people work at a pretty theoretical level that doesn’t always address the desire for stability.  Sometimes I want to say, “Hey, for the first two decades of my career change was slow, and now that I’m aging I’m being told to go faster.”  I do try to keep up, but the automobile hadn’t been invented when my grandmother was born and we were walking on the moon before she died.  Since the internet, however, things have speeded up even more as ideas are shared worldwide and we see new ways of looking at things.  We may desire stability, but change is indeed permanent.  The pandemic has changed much, and things aren’t going to go back to the way they were.  I look to the notebook in front of me.  I probably would never have noticed the correspondence of January and October if I hadn’t been writing the dates out on old-fashioned paper.

Ritual Time

Timeless, it is.  The internet I mean.  The ultimate 24/7.  No matter the time, day or night, it’s always here.  And that’s good because time’s about to change again.  Daylight Saving Time ends, for most of us, tonight.  Then a few short months later, it begins again, disrupting sleep, productivity, and good moods.  As this story on NPR shows, it really no longer serves any purpose and there’s a great will to change it.  But then politicians get involved.  So nothing really happens about it and we yawn and stretch and wish we were asleep as we dutifully move the hands forward or back, hoping we remember the correct direction.  So it goes with tradition.  Religions are filled with actions whose meanings were lost long ago.  We do them because we’re told to.

This particular futility always makes me ponder critical thinking.  Autocrats and others who enjoy authority don’t really encourage it.  Who wants the masses thinking “why am I doing this pointless thing?  Why can’t I do something that makes sense?”  I suspect that’s behind a lot of the decline in mainstream Christianity.  People are busy, frantic, and worried about getting everything done.  Why take an entire Sunday morning (and it takes all morning) of the precious two free days afforded on the weekend, and spend it doing something the same old way?  Religions, we as students learn, are inherently conservative.  Problem is the world outside is changing, and more and more rapidly.  Two day weekends seem hardly long enough and something’s gotta give.

Time is something we are powerless to control.  Change, as long observed in east Asian religions, is the way of things.  Changing clocks then, only to change them back later, is an effort to control that which controls us.  Many of us, I suspect, approach this pointless ritual with a literal sense of weariness.  There are other things we’d rather be doing.  And many more that we’re compelled to do.  Is this some kind of spiritual lesson or simply an exercise in futility?  How do you tell the difference?  Ritual, in the best of circumstances, is comforting.  It reassures us that things are progressing according to some kind of universal plan.  Changing clocks creates a glitch in those plans.  Darkness is about to get more aggressive for the next few months.  Politicians bungle around in the darkness too, powerless to alter that which we do, for once, have the ability to change for the better.

Permanently Changing

Classifying the world of thought into “eastern” and “western” is a gross oversimplification.  Nevertheless we require some handles by which to grip this unwieldy beast of mental life.  One of the first distinctions that we’re taught is that western thinking tends towards the default of permanency while eastern thought emphasizes change.  Change, of course, is the lack of permanence.  The older I get the more I see the wisdom in accepting change as the only thing that’s really permanent.  It’s a lesson you learn as a homeowner.  In my typical western way of thinking, I assume things will pretty much stay the same, but the myriad of small, external forces work constantly toward change.  The only way to keep a house well is with constant upkeep.

The other day I found a rotted windowsill that our inspector somehow missed.  That it hadn’t happened on our watch was clear by the fact that the previous owners had slapped a thick layer of paint over what was clearly a broken and decaying sill, in essence ignoring the problem.  Change, you see, is constant.  Things really get interesting when you start to apply this to religion.  Although the Bible only hints at it (for the view isn’t entirely consistent) God is considered unchanging.  The same yesterday, today, and forever.  Meanwhile everything down here is constantly in flux—changing, evolving, decaying, reproducing.  Religions of eastern Asia tend to embrace this change as a given.  Our frustration in life, as Buddhism recognizes, has its roots in attachment to permanence.  Things inevitably change.

On the one hand this is so obvious that it might appear simplistic.  But then think how we live our lives here in the western hemisphere.  Our employers hire “change management” teams.  We suppose things will return “back to normal” after this pandemic is over.  We’ve been living the cloistered life for nearly six months now and things have been changing.  Especially in the early days people could be heard lamenting how quickly information and circumstances shifted.  Change is permanent.  For the homeowner anxious about the ability to keep up with upkeep, the constant growth of the lawn and the aggression of weeds can be their own kind of trial.  At times it feels like you need to be paid just to take care of your home since it’s a full-time job.  It is overly simplistic to draw an arbitrary line from pole to pole, but it does seem that some cultures, tending toward the east of the birthplace of monotheism, have some basic insights from which we might learn.