Creating a healthy habit requires several things. Firstly, you have to want it. Then you have to make it possible and commit to it. The other piece of it, which isn’t talked about enough, is that you have to be willing to forgive yourself if you falter.
As part of a yoga training I took with the fabulous Rolf Gates, we were assigned to meditate each day for 10 minutes. He was quite clear that this should be done EVERY day. As this was a monthly training, we were all to do our daily practice and then discuss it when we met again the following month.
Eager to begin, I set my alarm 10 minutes earlier the next morning, got up dutifully, grabbed my timer and sat for my meditation. It was nice and my brain was all atwitter with how nice it was. I did it again the next day and the next. Restlessness kicked in and I was quite enjoying all my great thoughts so I had this brilliant idea. Instead of meditating I would write in my journal for 10 minutes every morning. That was kind of like meditation anyhow.
I did this EVERY day until our next meeting and felt mighty proud of myself too. But when we started to talk about the experience of meditation I had nothing to offer. I did not, in fact, do the assignment but rather turned it into something I could do easily instead of embracing the challenge at hand. I totally cheated!
Our next assignment was to increase our meditation to 15 minutes. I knew I had to put myself to the task but also found great value in the journaling. It helped me process my feelings and gain clarity on the things that were troubling me and the things that I wanted. It may have been a cheat, but it was a beneficial one and I did not want to let it go. It was a habit I enjoyed and took pride in.
In the spirit of compromise I decided to do both. I would get up 20 minutes early and do 10 minutes of writing and 10 minutes of meditation. This felt right to me even though it meant I would have to get up at 4:45 some mornings (yikes!). For 3 months straight I committed to it fully. My focus for work was much clearer, I was able to listen with less mental distraction and I truly felt more present. It was fantastic! Even though 4:45 was ridiculously early I began to savor those quiet moments in the morning that were all my own.
Then, somewhere along the way I stopped. It wasn’t cold turkey, it was gradual. I skipped just one day and then the next week skipped another and then it slowly vanished. The habit and the desire to keep the habit just went *poof*, gone.
I was vaguely aware of my decline in focus and increase in angst, but I was BUSY, a handy excuse to justify my lapse. Interestingly, I also took fewer yoga classes, ate more French fries and got less sleep. I had to stop and recognize that the gifts of my morning ritual were far-reaching.
So I have started once again, rediscovering my joy for the quiet that settles over me as I sit and the refreshing honesty of stream-of-consciousness, messy writing. To return to this habit with enthusiasm I had to let go of the judgment I was casting towards myself for stopping in the first place.
The art of practice in yoga is referred to as Abhysasa and it is described as the “will to repeatedly align and then re-align attention to the present moment.” (Hartranft 5) Certainly, it is work and takes discipline. But to be successful you have to be willing to come back again and again if you fall away, repeatedly aligning and then re-aligning with the present.
I look forward to carrying this practice with me into 2013. Along with my 31 days of movie viewing, January is looking good. That is saying a lot as I usually endure this particular month, not embrace it. This year, I’ve changed my tune. Though, it is probably no coincidence that both activities can, technically, be done in my pajamas!
Here is hoping you find something valuable to bring into your life this year. May it be something you dearly want, may you commit to making it possible, may you let go of any judgement you might be harboring about your ability to stay with it. Every day, every moment is a new opportunity. Don’t give up on yourself. Keep coming back.
Hartranft, Chip. The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali. Boston: Shambhala, 2003. Print.