Sunday, March 22, 2020

The New-Habit Crucible

Have you heard the thing about how it takes 21 days to make a new habit?

That's what was on my mind when I conceived of this blog post.  A lot of the world is sequestered away in social distancing protocols and some of the initial recommendations aimed toward doing that for two or three more weeks.  I thought: 'Wow! What a powerful time to work on making some different habits!'

But the truth is, we don't actually know how long this is going to be going on.  With the way science works, you never can tell when a chance insight will change EVERYTHING, but with the way complexity works, you never can tell how a disease is going to progress.  The wonderful thing here is, though, that the 21 day habit thing is actually not a scientific figure.  Habits can take anywhere between 18 days and 9 months to change!  So while we're in this altered lifestyle for an unknown duration, we could also be working on making changes - without needing to know exactly how long that process might take.

The thing I want to share with you here doesn't have much to do with duration, it has to do with change.  The meditators of old, they prized moments of change because they felt that the mind could be more available or pliable than at other times.  This is perhaps why there's an old trope about the Zen master throwing the student in the creek, or the yoga teacher hitting you with a muddy sandal.  The idea is that by startling one out of habitual tunnel-vision, new insights could be gained.

This is also part of why practices for the "post-death state" are central in much of Tibetan Buddhism. According to their way of thought, when you die, it's impossible to conceive of yourself in the same way as you did just moments before, when you had a body and a certain set of relationships.  This period is called the Bardo, and in that style of meditation is said to be a time when one could make great strides in practice.

You don't have to believe in a Buddhist type of reincarnation to benefit from this idea.  A "Bardo" really just means any "inbetween" time - a liminal period.  If you're one of the people who's employment is threatened right now, there may be a big part of your life that you had identified which feels MUCH less substantial.  Those of us who have healthy or unhealthy relationships that we depend upon may feel shocked or disgruntled at the lack of human contact while secluding - those relationships are feeling less substantial too.  All of this is uncomfortable, but it can also be very useful.

While many of our habits have been forcefully broken by external factors, we find ourselves in a liminal zone, an inbetween country.  If you're not used to this land, it's not pleasant.  But the ancient meditators advised us to rejoice when we find ourselves somewhere like this - because while part of our lives is being shaken up, we have access to many of our habits and behaviors.  We can get in there and make changes we've been longing to make, but were too scared, tired, or resistant.

What changes should we make?  Well, that's up to you - but I'll tell you what inspired this blog today, the clear skies that we're seeing all over planet earth with fewer cars on the road, fewer factories in operation.  The habit of pollution and consumption has been one that we earthlings have been realizing needs to change NOW, but our ways of living have been so ingrained that it's been nearly impossible to conceive of changing our lives that enormously.

We have all just changed our lives that enormously.  And the best news is that we've done it to help each other.  Humans all over have banded together to behave in ways that can protect the most vulnerable among us.

What if we were just getting started?  What if the gardens people started now as a way to fill time became a new habit, and we started conquering food waste, carbon releasing agriculture, deforestation, and diesel use (for food transport) all at one go - while making ourselves healthier in the process.  What if the yoga and meditation we practiced via the many free offerings abounding became a regular part of our lives and we walked forth that much calmer and more ready to tackle the challenges of an ever changing world.

What seemed enormous just a few weeks ago now seems like child's play compared to the muscles we've discovered we have in facing this pandemic.  So, knowing you have this strength, what will you change?  Will you take the low hanging fruit of simply unplugging your most wasteful electrical devices?  Will you grow some of your food at home, or support local CSAs and learn to cook at home?  What habits can you install NOW while everything is up in the air?

We're living in frightening times, and confusing ones, but there are also gifts.  We're being given a glimpse of our own inner strength, our interconnection, and some of us have even gained more time to dream into new ways of being.  Will you take advantage with me and make new habits that help us all share the world in a good way???

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