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Posts Tagged ‘habits’

We have a four and a half month old puppy, who is as affectionate and enthusiastic as a puppy can be. She can also be quite insistent that others be as affectionate and enthusiastic, barking or whining quite sharply to make her point.

Now, I had been intending to teach her to not make such a fuss to get attention, and to be a little more patient, and to help her be less noisy. What I ended up teaching her is that if she starts barking and whining when she sees me, soon I’ll run her around on the porch playing exciting games like “let’s run really fast” and “chase that ball!!!” And she’s been teaching me to try to pre-emptively play with her so she doesn’t fuss.

Today I finally caught on with what was happening, and already she’s starting to learn better. But to train my puppy, I had to train myself first.

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Today, I practiced more at keeping up the discipline of a relaxed and aware mindset. I was feeling a downturn again, and was struggling with things that were keeping me from even starting what I’d planned to have completed first thing in the morning. I kept reminding myself to not think like someone who’s overwhelmed, but like someone who is mindful of the limitations of the day and staying on pace to overcome them.

I had help in this by a story I heard last night.

The Shopkeeper

In feudal Japan, life wasn’t so good to a simple shopkeeper. He struggled to make ends meet, a struggle made harder by taxes, bandits, or even samurai taking some or all of what he and his customers needed to get through the month. The life of a peasant wasn’t worth much, and the life of a shopkeeper wasn’t any different.

Finally, this shopkeeper decided he didn’t want to be such easy prey, particularly for the bandits. So he began training with a master in the martial arts. Without neglecting his shop, he dedicated the remainder of his time to becoming a worthy, and then the finest student of this master. Eventually, he had learned all his master could teach him, leaving only life to test his skill.

His test came when he was walking home with his wife, and they were beset by bandits. Soon they were surrounded, being pushed around and berated for being so helpless and worthless. His wife then cried out, “Stop thinking like a shopkeeper before they kill us both!”

This snapped him out of it. His decades-long training to cower for his life was replaced by his years-long training to protect lives. Soon the bandits lay on the ground, and he walked his wife to their peaceful home.

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I was telling my friend the short list of things I might make for a very quick dinner. She told me that whenever she hears me discuss meal plans, she always wants to ask, “Okay, that and what else?”

What’s funny is that I knew exactly what she meant. Growing up, we usually always had a starchy side to the meal, such as bread or tortillas or some form of rice. We also usually had some kind of meat as a centerpiece. Unless I could drown it in barbeque sauce I didn’t want to eat it, but it was there.

Now, even though I don’t eat meat and have cut out “incidental starches”, I do still slip into those sorts of meal-planning habits from time to time. Just recently, my husband pointed out that I keep trying to find something to add to a meal just to have a “centerpiece” to it, as though I’m trying to fill the place of meat.

It’s not the only space in my life that I start to try to clutter up just to fulfill a habit I never even really bought into as my own. Something about the recent mindfulness practice has seemed to bring those things up to the surface more, so I can acknowledge them and move on.

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I was talking with someone about how I try to be fairly strict about not eating not-so-good food and snacks. My body just does not react well to them. This means staying away from refined grains or starches or sugars or, really, most anything very processed. Also, just about no animal proteins (I’m allergic, for a start).

I said I have to be very strict because I don’t feel I have much willpower. My friend protested, saying that I show a lot of willpower by staying away from the foods. I explained further that when I stay away from them, I’m not tempted to over-indulge in foods I oughtn’t be having at all. It would be fine if I could have just a little bit here or there, and sometimes I do. Then, it’s not too long before I start to have a little more, and a little more, until I’m making it a bit of a habit.

The fortunate thing is, it doesn’t take long before my health begins to suffer from my over-indulgence. I then notice that I’ve been feeling a bit worse, do a mental inventory of what I’ve been putting into my system, and get right back on the wagon.

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Having company this week and then catching up has really thrown off my thinking schedule! So today I have a perfect quote to remind me to keep up:

Sayings remain meaningless until they are embodied into habits.
– Kahlil Gibran

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Today’s thoughts are courtesy of Shunryu Suzuki, a son of a zen monk who grew up to do pretty good zen for himself, too.  He ended up heading one of the first zen centers in the US around the 60’s, and his talks have been compiled into one of the first zen books I ever read – Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind.  It’s a great title, because it stresses the importance of keeping the mind of a beginner.

See, a beginner doesn’t expect to know everything.  That’s why it’s so hard for people like me to start new things sometimes in areas we’re normally so proficient at.  We feel slowed down, and a little frustrated, because we have to stop and put scrutinous effort into things that we normally just breeze past.  We have to stop taking our normal flying-by of things for granted.  We have to actually, you know, pay attention.  See where the zen bit comes in?

This brings up the quote of his I came across that I really wanted to share:

“Strictly speaking, there are no enlightened people, there is only enlightened activity.”

That one sentence both opens and closes doors for me.  It closes the door of thinking that there’s ‘enlightened people’ out there, superior to me, and that I have to struggle and kick myself trying to become one.  It opens the door of hope that I can have more light in my life simply by practicing better habits.  Paying more attention.

It’s also a reminder — there’s nobody out there who’s great, save for how their current thoughts, words and deeds make them so.  Like everything in life it’s a continuing process, and nothing to get too hung up about.

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