Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Breaking Habitual Patterns

Each Sunday night or Monday morning, I find that I make promises to myself about the week ahead. This week, I'll only eat salads for lunch or I'll exercise every morning or I won't have a single drink until Thursday night. Most of the time, I make it through Monday with my promises intact. Tuesdays are iffy - if I'm on a roll and feel strong about my convictions, I can usually make it through a Tuesday. Wednesdays are harder. If I haven't already blown it, my willpower usually starts weakening by Wednesday. I've been so good, I tell myself. It's been a rough week, I deserve it. I'm bored, I'm tired, I'm cranky... oh the ways we justify our behavior. And once I allow myself one indulgence, all my promises to myself go out the window. I find myself bargaining: the "If I drink a glass of wine today, I won't have one tomorrow" kind of thing. I'm an all or nothing kind of gal and it's easier for me to indulge in bad habits than embrace good ones. So I frequently feel like I'm stuck in a bickering match between the devil and the angel that take up residence in my mind.

In Getting Unstuck: Breaking your Habitual Patterns and Encountering Naked Reality, Pema Chodron talks about how to break habitual patterns and live in the present moment. She compares the habitual pattern to something akin to the symptoms of a rash. A rash makes us want to itch, but itching only provides temporary relief and can actually make the rash worse in the long run. For instance, we experience an emotional hook or an urge which then leads to a chain reaction of thoughts which intensifies the feeling and then we try to move away from this feeling with the habitual pattern. We are constantly distracting ourselves, but this distraction can actually make our lives worse rather than better.

How can we break this cycle? The trick is to stay with the feeling or urge without reacting to it. She gives 4 steps to the process of breaking our habitual patterns:

  1. Recognize the initial emotional hook or urge

  2. Refrain from strengthening the urge (refrain from following the thoughts and the habitual pattern that results from the urge)

  3. Relax into the underlying feeling

  4. Resolve to repeat this pattern again and again

How do you get unstuck? We would love to hear from you! Please leave a comment below

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Expanding our Consciousness

Have you ever had one of those moments when you thought things could not possibly get any worse and then they did? I had one of those moments just last week. I know that I've mentioned my upcoming wedding a few times in my posts, but I'm not sure if I mentioned that I decided to have a destination wedding. Well, guess which country I chose to have as the destination? Mexico.

Poor Mexico. They've had a rotten year. First the Mexican drug war made national headlines. That was bad enough, and the coverage stressed me out a little, but this stress was manageable because I knew that the violence was mainly affecting border towns. My wedding was going to be in tourist Mecca, right near Cancun. I felt it was unlikely that the Mexican government would let one of its main tourist hotspots turn into a dangerous place to visit.

Then the swine flu made national news. People were suddenly dying from this strange flu, and visitors who got the flu were spreading it in their home countries, upon their return from Mexico. This became the headline of every news story for days; the possibility of a pandemic was even discussed. I couldn't believe it. Now, I was getting seriously worried. I tried to remain calm, telling myself that it was still early, that this would probably blow over in another few weeks. I talked to the resort, where our wedding is booked, and they reassured me the flu was mainly in Mexico City. I took a deep breath and figured that if this was the worst that could happen, it was good that it was happening now and not nearer to my wedding date.

That's when the earthquake hit Acapulco. I just looked up into the sky and half laughed, "Really? Are you serious?" I was beginning to think that I was being punished for some unseen thing that I had done in this life or some past life.

Sometimes life does seem that way doesn't it? It's easy to get caught up in the "why me" state of mind. This happens especially when we think at the micro level -- when we are deep in our own universe, we don't see past our personal and limited consciousness of the world. In truth, this series of disasters wasn't happening to just me. It was affecting thousands of people, not to mention many who were faring a lot worse than me. Some were dying, while I was perfectly fine (besides being stressed). Only after I had taken a step back was I able to take in the bigger picture and put these events into perspective.

Eckhart Tolle talks a lot about this idea of expanding our consciousness. When I last wrote about his audio program, Bringing Stillness into Everyday Life, I mentioned that I would be writing much more about his work. I have to keep coming back to him, because there is just so much to what he is trying to communicate. I have listened to his programs again and again and have still not absorbed everything. His work is as profound as it is simplistic. It's hard for the mind to wrap itself around what he suggests, because our ego clings desperately to what is familiar. We naturally rebel, finding it too easy to continue living and suffering in our own micro universe. Yet what would it mean to start living this new consciousness? If we were truly connected to everything, what other things would we have to change about our lives?

Do you have an experience you'd like to share? We'd love to hear from you! Please leave a comment below