Executive-Dysfunctional Devotion

Disabilities that cause executive dysfunction—I have four such—make it difficult to develop one’s will.

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The other month, Christopher Drysdale posted “The Other Side of the Hedge: The Power of Daily Practice” on Patheos Pagan’s Agora:

When I was young, I struggled with daily spiritual practice. I wanted to be the guy who had that discipline, but ‘no dice.’ I beat my head against a wall that was inside of me.

For years, I tried and failed. Life was just too distracting. A couple of years after college, I found some introductory practices. It doesn’t really matter what they were. What mattered was that they were simple, basic, and clear.

Looking back, the true secret was that I did them every day for a whole year.

In my locked Dreamwidth journal for spiritual purposes, I noted this post a couple of days ago, and—because I have the damnedest time with prioritization—my intent to try several different daily practices. No kicking myself if I miss a day on any or all of them, just go and track my streaks until I’ve hit a streak that’s a year long.

A friend who (like me) has ADHD noted in response that she, in her more than two decades of ritual practice, has never managed a year-long streak of any given practice. She never expects to.

This is a very good point, I suppose. But it’s also feeding into the endless frustration of the process of my trying with only intermittent success to be better at devotion, better at art, better at religious practice, better at being a good person, better at being myself. (In no particular order.)

The author of gleewood.org/seeking, in “Developing Will”, talks about something similar:

What [developing your will] means is that you need to increase your ability to:

* decide what you’re going to do.
* decide how you’re going to do it.
* do it.
* and remain focused on your goal while doing it.

This is both very simple in some ways, and very complicated.

She mentions health issues as one complicating factor, but the thing is that disabilities that cause executive dysfunction—and I have four of the fuckers—fuck with the ability to develop will.

Let’s go down those four bullet points. Okay. What am I going to do?

Well, I could work on grounding and centering. Or prayer. Journaling. Or offerings. Tarot practice. Or spending time outside. Reading ancient texts. Or scholarly texts. Writing. Or doing.

Which one is most important, or most urgent, or most basic? Uhhh. I mentioned I have trouble prioritizing, right?

Okay. How am I going to do it?

Uh, which it? Can I do them all at once? (Spoilers: no.) I am literally asking random.org to give me a number between 1 and 10 inclusive to decide which of the above I’ll use as illustrative for the rest of this post: it says 6—spending time outside.

Well, right this moment it’s kind of gray and misty out; Accuweather says 62F (feels like 69) and claims it is raining and will be for two hours. (It’s not raining, but whatever.) No particular barriers there—if it were above about 85F, you wouldn’t be able to pry me out the door with a crowbar with intent to stay outside longer than it takes to get to my car, unless I meant to go swimming, and possibly not then. If it were raining cows and horses, or if it were too snowy or too cold, much the same goes. Raining merely cats and dogs I wouldn’t want to be out in long either.

But to go outside I have to first remove myself from the presence of the computer. (I could bring my tablet and/or phone, but that…kind of defeats the purpose, wouldn’t you say? And I wouldn’t dare bring either device I can’t afford to replace down to the lake’s edge.)

Maybe I have to trade the yoga pants I’m currently wearing for jeans; maybe I have to put on shoes; these depend on how I’m feeling about bare feet or being seen. (Right now, though I’m comfortable telling you I’m sitting here in T-shirt and yoga pants, I wouldn’t want you to see me. The feet are okay, though.)

So what would I do outside? I could just sit on the red bench and stare at or across the lake, but that sounds boring. Or I could sit on the red bench and read a book, but first I’d have to pick a book—and do I have enough focus today to understand large chunks of words I am not myself generating?

I could go down to the lake’s edge, or sit next to the tree nearest my door, and say hi and perhaps pour an offering to the limnad or dryad there, both of whom I’d like to be friends with. The limnad seems friendly but distant. I’m not sure if the dryad’s paying the slightest attention to the world outside her tree. Am I doing something wrong? I don’t know how to make friends. I don’t know how I made the friends I have. I don’t want to do something wrong, and leaving them both alone seems less potentially wrong than going to talk to either of them. (This is probably itself a wrong statement.)

I could—if I put on jeans and shoes and got in my car—go to the park on the far side of the lake, and walk. But that’s several more mental steps, and quite a few more physical steps.

But regardless, first and most importantly I would have to get off this sofa. I can’t seem to do that right now.

Here is where that bulleted list stalls.

I have been trying and trying since I got up this morning to do something. Clean the art stuff off the dining table (an essential prerequisite to cooking the meals I need to cook today if I’m to be eating properly for the rest of the week). Water the potted plants. Recite a formal prayer. Feed my cat. Feed myself. Shower. All of these stumble on the first two bullet points and stall altogether on attempting the third. (I’m only successfully writing this post because I wish to complain about this problem, and because I can write the post without getting up from the sofa. And I’m surprised my cat hasn’t come to start nudging me towards the food bowl!)

The sheer effort involved in the attempts to do something, instead of simply sitting here and surfing the net or watching Disney all day, is exhausting. And no amount of my own willpower is likely to override the executive dysfunction, anyway.

I must develop my will. I must follow the bulleted list in order to develop my will. I cannot follow the bulleted list. I cannot develop my will.

The fourth bullet hardly matters, does it?

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