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Procrastination and Meditation: A Call to Action March 02, 2018 11:46

It's been a challenging week at school; it always is when major essays are due. Even though I remind my students to come to their tutoring sessions prepared with completed drafts well in advance of the due date, and they nod their heads in understanding, and they assure me that they will arrive to their sessions prepared; alas, they rarely do.

Instead, they wander into my office with their computers open, wondering what their thesis statements are, or they've written several pages without citing a single source, or worse, without having read any of their sources yet. When their essays are due within hours, or the next day, but their drafts are train wrecks that cannot possibly be salvaged in a twenty-minute session, it creates tension and pressure, both for me and my students. This is the unfortunate end result of procrastination.

Procrastination is an insidious, time-wasting diversion. Partly rooted in motivation, or a lack of motivation, partly linked with priorities, or mismanaged ones, procrastination is an expression of laziness and attachment. We're all guilty of it. I put off scheduling doctor's appointments; my attic is filled with miscellany that I should have cleaned out, sorted through, or donated a long time ago; I still need to call the car dealership and arrange to drop off my vehicle for a necessary recall--something about the gas tank and the risk of explosion ( I received a notice months ago).

I get it! We prefer short-term pleasure to the hard work or inconvenience of reality. We are attached to the avoidant coping response of procrastination to dealing with the negative emotions associated with the task.

This is where a meditation practice comes in handy. The practice cultivates awareness of the present moment. This awareness allows us to recognize when we are averse, freaked out, or bored out of our minds about an impending task. Ultimately, this awareness can signal the need to inhibit our habit of procrastinatingIf we are aware of our emotions, we can then exert control, stay focused, and take action.

I keep a small quarter mala in my desk drawer at school. There are 27 beads on a quarter mala, so it takes less time to chant a circuit of recitations in between student sessions. I happened upon a lovely mantra recited by Pema Khandro Rinpoche, and I chanted it between student sessions, not only for my benefit, but for theirs as well: 

Sentient beings are numberless, I train in order to free them.

Delusions are inexhaustible, I train in order to transform them.

Reality is boundless, I train in order to realize it.

The awakened way is unsurpassable, I train in order to embody it.

This helped me remain focused and patient with my panicked students.

Mindfulness is a fundamental step and an important part of the solution. Action, however, is essential to avoiding the pitfalls of procrastination. 

Several of my students recognized the benefits of coming to their sessions prepared after the fact, but they remained optimistic: "I have a government paper due in a couple of weeks--I'll bring my rough draft to our next session."

Yesterday, I finally went to a lab to have a routine screening that my doctor had ordered. I didn't have to wait long, and the lab tech had a great sense of humor. I left feeling good that I did something to benefit my health, and I'll call the car dealership as soon as I finish this blog so I don't have to worry about my car exploding on my way to work on Monday.