"Habits change into character." – Ovid

Beginning a couple of years ago, I have tried to start every day the same way. On waking, before I even sit up, I set an intention for myself (be calm, be kind, be productive, be present, be funny, etc.). Then I either meditate on that intention or I pray. The prayer is always the same. I ask for help in meeting my daily intention. I ask for healing for a list of people whom I know are dealing with illness. I ask for continued blessings and protection of all my families. I ask for comfort and blessings on all those whom I know are grieving some loss or another.

I haven’t managed the routine every day — in fact there have been occasional long gaps when other less helpful habits have intruded — but I have done it more days than not. I write it down as “IMP” in my calendar — Intention Meditation/Prayer. Just to be clear, the intention can be as broad as “Get it together,” especially after a disappointing previous day. The meditation is often just talking myself down and away from some rash action or discussion I’m tempted to initiate. The prayer is often abbreviated, and if I’m still tired when I wake up, I’ll forget whole groups of people for whom I wanted to pray. I’m not trying to pass myself off as St. Suzanne here, believe me. This isn’t a post on piety. It’s a post on “habit.”

I find that, after years of trying to maintain some good habits and jettison some bad ones, I am more obsessed with “habits” here in early 2020 than I have ever been. In fact, one of the first books I began reading this year is entitled Atomic Habits by James Clear. I think Mr. Clear would agree with the Ovid quote above, based on what I’ve read. So far, I’ve found the book interesting, helpful, specific, and sane. But in order to employ Mr. Clear’s suggested methods, or anyone else’s for that matter when it comes to changing your life by changing your habits, the key must be mindfulness.

Mindfulness can change your reality. Look, I’m no expert on “being present.” You’ve heard the phrase monkey mind? My mind is the Koko of monkey minds, but I do believe in intention. I’ve never understood the phrase, “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.” I just don’t believe it. I get that it means your intentions must translate into action, but actions ought to at least start with good intentions. Otherwise, they’re the product of randomness or, worse, thoughtlessness.

Last week, I ran my first half marathon. My daughter asked me almost a year ago if I would run the race with her, and for some reason I still can’t grasp, I said yes. Before this past year, I wouldn’t have considered myself a runner. I have run some 5Ks and I run for exercise, but nothing serious. In training for this half marathon, I was serious, mostly because I was terrified of failure or catastrophic injury, but I was serious and mindful. I employed the habits of a runner for months, and somewhere along the way I became a runner.

Similarly, has my “IMP” habit changed my character from, well, me to some beatific zen-radiant all-mother? Nope. But while I can’t say I’m a person who always starts my day thinking of others, I can say I’m a person who wants to always start her day thinking of others. By employing a couple specific habits with that desire in mind, I bet I get a little bit closer to becoming a person who does always start her day thinking of others. Then I can tackle the habits that will lead me to becoming more helpful to those people.

Intention has always been important to my spirit. One of the things I hate most is to realize that I have unintentionally hurt someone. I’ve done so much of that. I still cringe when thinking of things I have said or done, even as a child, not trying to hurt anyone, but that were hurtful to someone nonetheless. I’m sure I still do it more than I know, and that makes me terribly sad. I struggle to forgive myself for those unintentional wounds I inflict. To be so thoughtless and careless with another person’s feelings truly bothers me. It is ridiculous, I know, that I can forgive myself more easily for intentionally insulting or hurting someone! At least in those instances I have been present and responsible for whatever energy I was sending out into the world.

And that’s the gist of all this, isn’t it? Asking myself, What are you intentionally gifting to the world today? and wondering What are you unintentionally signaling? seems like a good small first step to accomplishing so many things, including establishing some character-building habits.

Who do you want to be?

Thanks for reading.

Hindsight is 2020, Right?

Happy New Year, y’all. Yes, I’m still here. But I’ve been elsewhere and otherwise occupied for a longer while than I intended. I’ve been on a kind of sabbatical, I guess. We’ll call it “a sabbatical” because that sounds official, although I don’t know that I garnered much rest, and the only new skill I might have acquired for purposes of writing was fostering a deeper, more seething method of creative fermentation. Well, one hopes it will prove to be creative. Too much seething can make for a bitter brew. Time will tell. Check back in a couple of weeks and we’ll see if I am creating or sitting on the couch ruining the touchscreen TV remote with Dorito dust-stained fingers. But I digress. Naturally. Those of you who know me personally know how I like to remark that my life is just one long interruption of itself. But before I go too far astray …

I come here today to ponder “hindsight.” Hindsight is defined as recognizing the realities, potential issues, and details etc. of an event that has already passed or a decision that has already been made. The saying goes that hindsight is 20/20 because presumably we already know everything. But do we? Is your hindsight 20/20? If we are to learn from our mistakes and missteps, it must be. Yet, how many of us really examine the past event or decision from all angles required and in the depth required to have 20/20 vision truly? I will sometimes consider a decision made or an action not taken, assume the outcome would have been different (better) had I done something differently and then I move on. I. Move. On. I often fail to move through. I don’t always sit with my actions or decisions, place them back in the context of circumstances with which I was dealing, and really ferret out whether there might have been a different outcome or whether that difference might have mattered. If our hindsight really was 20/20, would we continue to be haunted by the same mistakes, failures, annoyances, bad habits, flawed decision-making? Maybe. Then what good is having 20/20 vision if we aren’t going to do anything with it?

We’ve talked about this before as it relates to writing poetry. The poet has a willingness to move through painful things in order to examine and reflect on them instead of moving on from them as quickly as possible. Poets are odd that way and are more willing to take on the emotional burden of negative experiences (perhaps, not more “willing,” just less able to avoid it); but they also are able to experience and share the full deep well of joy, so it works out. The thing is, poet or not, everyone must move through things in order to learn, to heal, to breathe again. Yes, yes — some things are not worth all that time and effort; move ON from some things. Learning to tell the difference is also a skill.

It is the year 2020. It’s just too on the nose to ignore. I think in order for my vision of what is ahead to be better, my hindsight really does need to be better. 2020 will be a year of change for me and, perhaps for the first time, the notion of change doesn’t scare me. The idea of moving on from things that have proven unhelpful exhilarates me. Some of my “sabbatical” was spent stewing in the cauldron of a recipe that just hasn’t been working for me. I started changing the recipe by adding new ingredients without really thinking about it much, until I did think about it. Intentionality is another good attribute, yes? Forget the recipe metaphor. Remember this: the decisions you make matter. But you aren’t in charge of everything. You are buffeted by circumstances and other people’s decisions and actions and weather and the entire universe of things you cannot control. And yet you have so much power. You are a free agent. Claim your agency.

All the while I have been contemplating 2020, the concept of “change” has been a siren call. So I guess we’ll be doing some things differently around here. I’ll be making good use of hindsight because that’s where I’ll find my baseline. It won’t always be pretty, but past mistakes are only millstones for people who want to avoid change, who will accept the lie that “it’s too late” or “there’s no hope” in order to justify their refusal to claim their own agency. I refuse to do that anymore. I invite you to consider “change,” to get comfortable with the notion of it, and to remember that small changes can make big differences, like the difference between a hug and a handshake, or the difference between choosing to create or ruining the touchscreen TV remote with Dorito dust-stained fingers. FWIW, eating Doritos and watching TV during the day would also be a change for me, but not the kind I’m looking forward to experiencing. In conclusion, now seems like the appropriate time to offer this bit of well-worn advice just for laughs: Make lasting changes! I love oxymorons. Meet you back here soon. SBL