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Changing Habitual Patterns

Posted Jan 07 2009 3:03pm
I hope everyone entered into the New Year happily and safely. I was asleep at the stroke of midnight, so I missed that magic moment. I woke up again sometime after 1 AM. I'm pretty sure it was the three glasses of wine that knocked me out earlier. I didn't mind sleeping through the switch over from 2008 to 2009. It felt good to be so relaxed. The truth is there was no switch over really, just a continuation of time, but we humans make up constructs to define our world, just as we define borders where there are none. Still there is something to be said for coming full cycle through the four seasons (well, there are four seasons where I live). There is no denying that time has passed and we have changed. And it is hard not to feel the pull to change oneself for the better right now by following new year's resolutions, though those will likely change too as circumstances shift.

I want this to be the year that I get back in touch with my body. Since I quit smoking cigarettes again 64 days ago I've put on weight. I have been hiding behind the weight for years now, but I have moments when I move with some small bit of grace, a leftover from the dance and yoga of the past. Tonight I listened to an audio recording of Pema Chodron speaking about getting unstuck from habitual patterns. I turned out most of the lights and sat down on the floor, then I lay down first on my back and then on my stomach and listened.

She talked about how our minds are rarely still, how we live in a state of restlessness and how we fall into habitual/addictive patterns as a way to get temporary relief and comfort. She said feeding our addictions is how we stay stuck and in pain. One of her Buddhist teachers taught her that we are like small children with a case of scabies (a contagious, itching skin disease caused by a mite). The more we scratch the itch, the worse it gets despite temporary relief. We wind up living for that temporary relief, that drink or smoke or piece of food or whatever. We wind up bleeding and suffering from all the scratching that we've been doing.

No one is exempt. It is the nature of the mind to be restless. Just try sitting still for 15 minutes following your breath and you'll see. Pema Chodron illustrated her point by ringing a meditation bell. The instruction was to listen to the sound of it as it faded away. Simple right? No. She hit the bell three times. Only one of those times did I feel as if I had stayed with the sound from beginning to end, the other times I attached to my thoughts. I wasn't being willful, I just got distracted.

How serious is it? Potentially life threatening. Certainly life deadening. I give in to instant gratification--I eat too much and I exercise too little. And yet I continue to have the wish to get healthy. Compared to alcohol and heroin addiction this seems a minor problem, but it really isn't. I am no longer young and my metabolism has slowed down. I just don't need as much food as I did even 10 years ago and yet one of my meds is an appetite stimulant (Risperdal). So when I have that extra mug of sweetened coffee or that extra bowl of cereal, I am staying stuck in an addictive cycle.

What am I afraid of? Sitting with the discomfort of doing without. The discomfort has been exacerbated by the effects of living with schizophrenia. I've lived without my sanity. I've lived with voices ordering me about. And so I learned while things were going badly to comfort myself in small ways. But now the worst is, it seems, past and I have to learn how to turn back the tides and refrain instead of indulge, not to punish or deprive, but to heal. Initially it won't feel like healing; it will be uncomfortable.
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