My July Challenge: “Geek In”

July. Like most people in the U.S., I associate it with watermelon, fireworks, hot days. But this July for me is a “geek in” — my term for spending between 10 minutes and 10 hours each day coding for the Web.

I’ve been doing a monthly practice of forming new habits or changing old patterns in my life since February. It’s my version of what Leo Babauta so tirelessly recommends in his fabulous blog, Zen Habits.

At the same time, I managed to over-extended myself in a big way — having committed to far too many volunteer activities. I truly cared about each of the many things I was doing, but it was just too much. And I paid the price I hear many wise people speak of in many places — in particular Thomas Merton.

“There is a pervasive form of contemporary violence to which the idealist… most easily succumbs: activism and overwork. The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by the multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything, is to succumb to violence… It destroys the fruitfulness of his own work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.”

Thomas Merton
Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, 1966

I happened on this quote in May, when I was at my lowest ebb. Nothing was wrong in my life. My family is the best. I love my job. My team is stellar and the work rewarding. I loved volunteering too. I can’t say enough good things about my church and the other non-profits I’m involved with. There were even moments of joy.

Nevertheless, I was reduced to that mode of putting one foot in front of another — having trouble sleeping many nights, teeth clenched on my worst days. And I lived with great fear that I would lash out from exhaustion when faced with life’s inevitable conflicts. I’m pretty sure I didn’t — at least not directly. But that fear is every bit as draining as remorse. In a way, it’s reliving remorse.

Then I heard Tara Brach read the words of Thomas Merton. As this wisdom percolated into me, the quote served as a clarion call to return to myself, to the present moment, to what matters most.

For me one of the things that has mattered most over the last 18 years has been creating the Web. As with most momentous things, I have trouble articulating why it matters so. The word creation is certainly a key part . As The Artist’s Way points out so beautifully, we humans are all about creating. Another key part is the generous sharing of information — how countless numbers of people put incalculably valuable information out there where anyone with Web access can help themselves.

But over the last year, I’ve drifted further and further from this soul-source of mine. Actually, it’s been in the making for longer than that. As best I can tell the reason is not fully believing how important this is to me. How could something mean this much to me when it didn’t exist when I was born? (Not even in science fiction.) I don’t know the answer to that one. Perhaps it’s a koan. I just believe that it is so. And this month is an exploration of that possibility.

One week has been a strong affirmation. Mostly I’ve been digging into the fundamentals of responsive design. I’ve taken the Skeleton boilerplate and from it have built the rudiments of a foundational WordPress theme. It’s nothing I can share, but of course I have ideas for the future — once I’m a tad bit more comfortable with this.

But this first week I’ve been on vacation. Next week will be a much more real test of my belief in the Web as a soul-source, not to mention my resolution. Hopefully I’ll keep you posted, since this blog is now a way to hold me accountable….