Sunday, January 4, 2015

new year, new habit

It's the new year, a time I love for it's fresh perspective, it's unlimited potential, the joy of reviewing the past year and focusing on what and how I want to be in the year to come. 

I'm a steady reader of Leo Babuata's blog, zen habits. Following his methods of habit generation have helped me let go of things that weighed me down (a suburban house) and embrace new lifestyles (minimalism and nomadism) as well as the straightforward habits like daily walking, yoga, vegetarianism and eating whole foods. Leo gently prods, exposes fears, and provides logical reasoning to help me on a path to a more intentional life. 

I still struggle with procrastination and silly distractions. I still struggle with sugar. I still struggle with compassion.

Last Friday, I woke to a vacation day, full of possibility and no commitments. I was catching up on Twitter in bed, waiting for the sun to come up and discovered a link to a Mindful New Year meditation series focusing on the 6 Pāramitās:  generosity, discipline, patience, vigor, meditation, and wisdom. It was free, it was online, it was 3 times per day for 6 days and it started in thirty minutes. Up I jumped. I made 15 out of the 18 sessions during the next week. 

I've avoided meditation for most of my life. Thinking of it fondly, but ignoring it. Seeing it at the dance, and waving across the room, but always dancing with someone else. Meditation is patient, it's been waiting for me. I have been to three weekend meditation retreats. I loved the immersion and always came back home excited to practice, and pretty much immediately dropped it. I think this time might be different. I can clearly see how my distracted mind (yes, I'm talking to you, solitaire game on my phone) is preventing me from doing more meaningful things. Clarity is calling.

Habit formation involves some tricks, as Leo points out. One of which is to carve out the time and space to let the new habit in. I already practice yoga first thing in the morning, so adding meditation to the end of that existing habit, rolling up my mat to do double duty as another mat, works well. I want to add the yoga and meditation to the evening routine. I certainly have the time and space for that.

Making sure you have the skills and tools appropriate to the success of the new habit is another trick. I downloaded a cute little meditation app with a chime and a log. Logging/journaling is another one of the tricks. I'm using videos from Shambhala Mountain Center to guide the technical part of the practice.

A big part of successful habit creation is enlisting support. Publicly announcing the intention gives the practitioner a group of family and friends who can help with the simple "How's the meditation going?" support that helps the habit become manifest. Make me accountable.

The other, related, practice that continues what I started learning about with the Mindful New Year series is personal study to better integrate the 6 paramitas into my life. I have a simple journal started. Every evening I make a brief note on this list of how I embodied that paramita during the day. Sometimes it's a stretch. I find the patience line is often blank. 


Date (written out in full)
Location - (where I am - mostly Richmond for now - I will use this for historical context)
Generosity - 
Discipline - 
Patience - 
Exertion/Vigor
Meditation - 
Wisdom/Prajna -

Another trick to keeping of track is a reward. This will be my reward if I can stick with this for a few months.

from the Zen Mountain Monastery in the Catskills, right down the road from the Dai Bosatsu Zendo, where I once dragged my 16-year-old daughter for a weekend to try to get our relationship back on track. I think it helped.

reading list:
Anything by Pema Chodron or Thich Nhat Hanh