Hello and welcome to this glorious Friday, February 26, 2021. Today is a rare and precious day that will never come again.
How we feel about anything in particular changes from moment to moment. For instance, maybe your boss approached you and suggested that you change the way you file your documents. Realizing that you’ve been doing it the same way successfully for years, your first response may be one of defense. Maybe you find yourself angry at her suggestion and feel justified in your position. Later, however, once the initial emotional reaction has faded, you begin to see the wisdom in her guidance. Another example: You see your doctor and discover that you have high cholesterol. You’ve been thinking about changing your diet for the better for quite some time. This lab test is just one more confirmation that it’s time. You’re motivated. You’re inspired. After a week or two of planning and psyching yourself up, you make the decision to start on Monday. You go to the store and pick up the ingredients for healthier meals. Mon, Tues, and Wed all go great. Thursday morning rolls around and you wake feeling tired, a bit discontented with no real explanation as to why. Because of your recent changes in diet, a thought arises which implies that maybe you initially overreacted and that you don’t need to go to the extremes you planned. You feel a little uncertain about this thought, but because you’re not feeling the same motivation, you justify your mom’s favorite biscuits and gravy recipe – something you’ve sworn off. Within a couple weeks, you find yourself eating the way you have been for years. Except this time, there is an increased feeling of remorse.
Just because we may not always “feel” motivated, does not mean that our intention is no longer important and valid. Emotions and their associated thoughts are changing all the time. These thoughts and emotions are driven by habit. When we try to adopt new and healthier habits, we are confronted with a mind that persistently does everything it can to convince us to revert to what we’ve been doing all along. What I find amazing is that the very same mind that tries to persuade me to let go of my new healthy intention, is the very same mind that later beats me up for not following through with what I set out to do in the first place. Our mind does not always have our best interest in mind.
In my mindfulness practice I have discovered this truth: I cannot think myself into right action, I must act myself into right thinking. Regardless of any new intention, I start out with fervor and determination. Nevertheless, my mind soon kicks in. Shortly, maybe days or weeks, I start listening to the persuasive thoughts nagging me to return to a state of normalcy. I lose momentum, and interest. It is at the precipice of these initial thoughts where we can successfully create the neural pathways which foster meaningful habits.
“A single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives.” ― Wilfred Arlan Peterson
A plan, we need a plan. And to make it successful, we need to persist, regardless of what our mind tells us. Eventually, it will stick. Except for my experience, I don’t have any evidence, but I firmly believe that my mind doesn’t really care what the habit is, it just likes to do things habitually. Therefore, we just need to do something long enough until such time that our mind “wants” to do it.
I love many things about the Mindful Life Program and their Communities (MLP), but one thing has always stood out: it’s practical. When I do the suggestions, I see the results.
I suggest that we need a plan of action that is clear, measurable, and most important, doable. If we are not clear about where we are going, we’ll get conflicted and confused along the way. On paper, list exactly what you are going to do and why.
I’ll share my daily practice as an example:
What am I going to commit to each day? Why commit? Because I’ve learned to love myself enough to do what it takes to reduce suffering in my life.
When I wake, think about my motivation for the day – all I have is this day and I don’t know if I’ll get another. I don’t want to waste it. (I have a note on my bedside table to remind me.)
Consider the Four Immeasurables (Equanimity, Loving Kindness, Compassion, Empathetic Joy) – What we pay attention grows and expands. (This is the note I have on my bedside table. For whatever reason, this practice falls off quite easily. It is not yet a habit.)
Drink Coffee and read the MLP daily guidance – I love coffee (ok, it’s an attachment! LOL) and the MLP guidance often becomes my intention for the day.
Journal briefly on the Three Thoughts (Gratitude, Impermanence, Intention) – Inspires Skillful behavior.
Set my intention for the day – I need to know where I’m going.
Shamatha meditation – This is the antidote to my unruly mind that sometimes still tells me that I don’t want to meditate. I do it anyway.
Check in, in writing, 4 – 6 times throughout the day – How can I assess accurately whether I’m living skillfully or unskillfully if I don’t inventory my actions?
Review my day – Again, assess my day accurately and objectively looking for areas that need improvement and areas that I’m doing well.
Write myself a note on how I’m going to honor myself tomorrow.
You may see this as overwhelming. In all honesty, it still looks overwhelming to me. It doesn’t take as much time as it seems and the results, well, they are worth the effort. Bear in mind that I did not start out with this full practice. I started with a daily meditation practice and that lasted a couple years before I adopted some of the other skills. To be successful, we must start with what is doable. Meet yourself where you are at. Remember, just having the intention to want to develop a daily practice is a beautiful thing. Some days I don’t live up to my plan. Just yesterday I was called into work early. I didn’t do my reading and I cut my meditation time in half.
Circumstances change and sometimes we need to adjust. It’s OK to adjust. Each day is a new day where we get to start anew. Being kind to ourselves is of utmost importance to adhering to a practice.
May I suggest writing a doable plan that fits you, where you are right here and right now. Define why you want to adopt these practices. Put your list in place where you will see it each morning. When thoughts arise that suggest otherwise, go ahead and do your practice anyway. I’m happy to help you to outline a doable plan of action that fits your schedule, needs, and goals.
You are Loved by me, Unconditionally!
In Loving Support,
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