Saturday, February 9, 2013
No Contradiction: Routines, Patterns & Alertness
I remember the arguments with my kids about getting their homework done. It seemed so simple to me that if they would just routinize it, it would get done, leaving them free to do the other things they wanted to do. The more they resisted it, the longer it sat before them, denying them the possibility to move on. Isn't it the same with all distraction, procrastination and anxiety? It blocks the way between what we think we have to get done, and what we'd rather be doing. In that case, I do think that creating a routine can help. It is partly for this reason that many people support the idea of setting aside a specific time of day for a meditation practice, or signing up for a yoga class (or practicing at home) at the same time of day every week or every day. Knowing that it is on the schedule, that a place has been made for it, can stream line the decision making. Make the decision once, and then just follow through again and again.
At the same time, one of the revelations of meditation and yogic practice is the awareness of patterns that we have formed and that guide our behaviors mostly without our knowing of them. Cultivating awareness allows us to run into them quite directly and by seeing them, we gain insight into ourselves, into the traps we set and the strengths we have. Perhaps it is as simple as noticing that in a seated posture, we nearly always cross our right leg over the left. Simply seeing this can help us understand why our right inner hamstrings are so tight, or why we tend to pull our low back muscles on the left. Seeing this can help us remember to mindfully cross left over right, gradually undoing the habitual training of muscles and joints into a more symmetrical and supported condition.
All patterns do not require "undoing." Knowing that our digestive system works better on smaller amounts more frequently, or by starting the day with plain water before that cup of coffee or tea, can be very useful and can protect us from unnecessarily struggles. Knowing that we tend to blame external causes when we are late for something, or get anxious about things the night before, are patterns that can be addressed and in many cases assuaged just by acknowledging them as temporal behavior and not permanent. We may see that this doesn't help us deal with anything, and that other kinds of behavioral steps can be put in place to ease the way and change the pattern. A step can be as simple as setting a timer to get you off the computer in time to get your coat on and catch the train, rather than missing that train and arriving late. Routinize a few minutes of meditation (even 5- 10 minutes) in the evening before going to bed can begin to dissipate that night-before anxiety, allowing you to sleep better and see the next morning with more equanimity.
Everything is happening in this very moment. Nothing tomorrow is happening now, nor is anything from yesterday happening now. Sounds ridiculous, but our minds and our feelings can be quite attached to this way of thinking -- about what we thought happened or will/might happen. We can be consumed by our reactions to something that is not happening now, and literally wipe out all the possibilities in this moment. I'm not just talking about the mind drifting in the middle of a conversation when you stop hearing your companion and are startled back into the moment by their silent pause, waiting for your response to something you actually didn't hear. I'm talking about right now -- not noticing the slump in your shoulders or the effort of your eyes as you read this. The actual condition of balance in your body, the sweetness of the light around you, appreciation of the speed with which your mind absorbs all this information and catalogs it, making meaning or discarding it.
Alertness can help you gain the power of mindfulness. You can cultivate awareness in this moment, and put routines in place that support you, for example using abdominal muscles to help stabilize your pelvis and support your low back when you sit at the computer, or committing to that 10-class card so you can just sign in and go to yoga every Monday morning to start your week. Awareness allows you to acknowledge the patterns that bind you to behaviors that cause distress, like turning out your right foot when you walk which slowly stresses your hip and knee over time, or speaking over someone who is speaking to you because you are anxious to be heard. Once you learn to be alert, you have options. Being present in this moment, you can use this moment, and establish routines and patterns that support you, rather than trap you.