Thursday, August 1, 2013

With awareness and discipline, anything is possible.

There is a moment of choice in the midst of every bad decision.  Before we hit that extra Snooze that really makes us late; before we eat or drink something we had planned to avoid; before we say something we don't mean; before we gamble away our last $50; there is always an opportunity to stop and redirect the behavior.  What differentiates the times when we are able to resist temptation, from the times that we choose not to, or the times that we don't even stop to think about our options?

My answer is blindness: the opposite of awareness.  Other words for this could be unconsciousness, indifference, or detachment. If awareness is continuously awakening to the present moment, then blindness is being led into darkness by temptation, as if self-awareness doesn't even exist in that moment. The Snooze button drives us.  The cookies drive us.  The excitement, or the rush, or the distraction drives us, and we forget ourselves and our enormous capacity to control our behavior if we choose to take the reins.  

In Buddhism, the demon Mara tried to distract the Buddha with temptation in order to bring him away from his quest to become enlightened.  Mara represents temptation toward all kinds of alluring things that provide instant gratification, which a disciplined spiritual life doesn't necessarily offer.  The Buddha was able to resist Mara's temptation.  He touched his hand to the Earth (symbolizing connection) beneath the Bodhi tree where he sat (symbolizing wisdom, growth, beauty), and that is said to be the moment when he first became enlightened.  

The Buddha beneath the Bodhi tree, resisting Mara, the demon of temptation.
Remaining in a state of awareness requires continuous effort.  You don't just arrive at it one day and remain there.  Some days you feel connected; other days you feel lost, and sometimes you feel connected in the morning and lost by the afternoon.  You have to laugh at how difficult something so seemingly simple can be. It takes continuous effort to remain mindful of the present moment.  It also takes continuous effort to remain mindful of a greater goal.

I've been thinking a lot about how those two aspects of being alive intersect with one another: the present, and remaining in it, alongside having a greater goal.  Here's what I know: No goal that's not in line with who you essentially are and what you essentially want will be successful.  The word "essentially" is key here. Who you are may always be changing slightly but essentially, you are always the same person.  Create a goal that's like that: big enough to accommodate your ever-changing self.  Goals like health, balance, and calm will always be compatible with the best version of yourself at any given moment.

If you have carefully considered your goal and determined it to be a truly worthy one, perhaps this is where self-discipline comes into the picture.  Learning to train the mind, and the self, is not easy.  If it were easy, everyone would be walking around totally self-actualized, living fully to their own personal potential.  Instead, most people have something, or many things, that they're capable of doing better in their lives, but they lack the necessary discipline.  Perhaps they haven't created a plan to get themselves away from negative behavior,  toward a determined goal, or if they have, perhaps they haven't stuck to it.  Or, maybe there was a flaw in their plan for self-improvement, and instead of revising it, they've just given up altogether -- perhaps time and time again.  Whether or not you can stick to a plan when it's not fun anymore, or when it's not exciting and easy, must be all about 1) whether your goal is worthy of the effort, and 2) whether you're disciplined enough to do the work and see it through.

I'm at at a crossroads.  In one direction, I see a path that stretches far into the future.  Maybe I've mastered this mindfulness thing so well that I'm mindfulness trainer.  I have overcome my anxiety, chronic stomach problems, and bouts of irritability and depressive mood.  In other words, I have seen the full realization of my goal.  Here's what it looks like, practically speaking, in relation to the Total Body Happiness guidelines I've created:
  • Waking up early becomes natural to my body.  I feel ready to get out of bed at 6:30.
  • Exercising in the morning becomes natural to my body.  I wonder how I ever lived without it.
  • Meditating daily becomes natural to my body and mind. I benefit from connecting to my body, my surroundings, and the source of all awareness, and I've found a regular time that works for me so that it's more natural than forceful.
As a result of this routine, I benefit from:
  • better connection to the natural circadian rhythm
  • more exposure to sunlight, instead of sleeping through it with the drapes closed
  • more hours, and more spaciousness of time, within my waking day
  • faster metabolism as a result of eating and exercising in the morning
  • routine, and the stress reduction and improved physical well-being that comes with it
It's Thursday, and I've only sat for formal meditation two mornings this week.  I've exercised in the morning once, although I've still worked out every day as scheduled.  If I continue to release the grasp I have on my goal, by losing sight of the reasons why I want to wake up early and the benefits I anticipate having from it, then this experiment will fall into the ranks of other failed experiments.  I will have given into temptation, because discipline is more difficult than instant gratification.  (In my case, Snooze, Snooze, Snooze).  I will fail to grow and improve as a result of overcoming the morning-discipline challenge toward Total Body Happiness.  

I need to redirect myself.  Do you?  Here's how:  

Be gentle.  Be as kind and compassionate to yourself as you possibly can, as you would be to someone else: your mother, your brother, your friend, a total stranger, a beloved pet.  It really is okay.  Give yourself credit for the things you've done right:
  • I've nailed every workout this week.
  • I haven't had any panic attacks, and if I've had the faintest inkling of anxiety, I've quickly reminded myself that panicking is a choice that I don't have to make, and I've snapped out of it and back into awareness.
  • No stomach pain or lingering headaches.
  • I've been practicing informal mindfulness "minis," such as breathing exercises, throughout each day even though I haven't sat for formal meditation as much as I've planned to.
  • I've identified that I've started to lack discipline, and I'm taking action to regain it.
Identify the reasons why your goal is becoming more difficult to achieve, and be honest!
  • I haven't been going to bed early enough.  
  • I've been hitting Snooze mindlessly for an hour because I'm tired, instead of summoning the awareness inside of me that knows I will feel less sleepy once I'm up and about.
  • I've told myself, "I've been feeling much better lately," as if I'm cured.  I shouldn't tell myself, "I feel better, so I don't have to do this anymore."  That really makes no sense. Feeling better should tell me that my experiment is working, so I would benefit from keeping at it.  I should say, "I feel better, so I will keep doing this."
With mindfulness, you always get a clean slate.  There is no need for guilt nor punishment.  You haven't failed, you've just learned something new about the challenge.  (I'm SO giving myself a pep-talk right now.) New breath = brand new opportunity.

I believe that waking up early and establishing a positive morning routine is possible for me.  Anything is possible.

I look forward to my cardio workout this afternoon, getting to sleep on time tonight, and an early morning wake-up tomorrow.  :)

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