Confession: I do like my Sunday ritual, which consists of taking Zoe, my Jack Russell terrier, for a long walk by the river, followed by a light breakfast, then an hour-and-a-half of mindful yoga.
On a recent Sunday, I showed up to class to find my yoga teacher, Amy Gorely, seated cross-legged at the opposite — and dark — end of the room from her usual place. “What’s up with that?” I asked her as I tried to orient myself to this new configuration. “You’ll see,” she said.
I had not thought much about it before, but with Amy as my North Star, I had known my place. With this, I scrambled to figure out where to put down my mat.
As it turned out, this was the second class of a series on “habits,” which Amy defined as “ways that we have trained ourselves to act and react so it’s become almost automatic to act a certain way.” She added later: “They are like ruts in our brains.”
Amy reminded us of the previous week’s homework assignment: “Instead of brushing your teeth standing on two legs, stand on one. Stand on the other the next time. I want you to change it up and work on your balance.
“We usually think that change is bad,” Amy continued, trying to convince a roomful of perplexed souls to get with the program. “I want us to try to see change simply as different. Without a value judgment.”
But I liked my routines, my inner chatterbox prattled. I liked my “ruts,” thank you very much. And I didn’t like Amy shrouded in darkness against the back wall, or having to crank my head in the other – wrong – direction.
Above all, I liked not having to think about where to sit. Very unmindfully in this mindful yoga class, I was used to just assuming my position.
Not that I had any choice in the matter.
I know that I am capable enough of switching up my habits — it’s just hard to break free. For instance: I got lost a few years ago while hiking through a Northern California fog bank, trying to find the full moon in the sky to lead me home. I knew our celestial neighbor was there because I had seen it earlier, before it disappeared. To find it again I made a slow 360-degree twirl but was unable to see anything other than thick mist. I got a little panicky. Still, I kept rotating. No, I don’t regularly get lost in fog banks, but my approach to solving the problem was typical: Try. Repeat. Fail. Try. Repeat. Fail.
Finally, a quiet revelation. A helpful little voice spoke up in my head: Hey, Steven, this is not working. You need to try something else. It was all I needed to snap out of my own fog, change course and walk 10 yards toward where I thought the Pacific Ocean might be. The fog parted and the moon winked. I was found. By being mindful — or let’s just call it awake — I had discovered a new way to respond.
Oh, that little voice. I also remembered hearing it when I was single and dating … and dating … and dating … and still single. I kept following the same steps, expecting a different outcome each time, only to find myself still single. It took me years to defer to that voice, which echoed: Try a different approach. Change your intention. Continue reading >>