Habits, or that Old Comfy Sweater

I have a reddish brown wool sweater that I can’t seem to shake. I’ve owned it for awhile, at least 4 or 5 years, and I love pulling it on. It’s not too scratchy, just the right amount of baggy, and totally natural. No man made fibers.

I’ve tried looking for a replacement because it’s got a small hole in the sleeve, and I figured it was an excellent excuse to replace it. I’m one of those vintage store junkies: I adore pre-worn clothing with a classic level of craftsmanship and quality. I also like saving money.

But I digress (as you’ve probably come to expect from those who have been reading me for the last couple years). Every few weeks I’d dig through a couple vintage stores, and never find what I was looking for. And then last week, the holy grail, a new (to me) Eaton’s sweater from the 70s. it fit like a glove, even better than the old one, so I snatched it up, got it home… and upon looking it over in greater detail, it’s got not one, but two holes in the back section.

patch

Yet this parable contains a lesson. It’s a bit of a simplistic koan, at least as far as I’m concerned. It allowed me to let go, and find valuable realizations concerning  my path.

My routines that are in turn comprised of habits, don’t have to be perfect in order to provide structure, familiarity, and overall value to my life. In fact, the holes also remind me of wabi-sabi, a Japanese design ethic which embraces imperfection, and the acceptance of transience. They also allow me to stop being so hard on myself, something I’m all to familiar with. I crave to live a white existence: any black, or darkness, is to be avoided; it reminds me of the stirred turbulent waters of my past. Yet the grey is an inevitability: you can’t have the balance without it. The holes also represent determination: wool often wears out where it is most used. Where there is friction, a hole appears.

I need to remember that Ying and Yang are both part of life, that suffering is integral to the pursuit of the cessation of suffering. I also need to remember that struggling with dukkha doesn’t mean that I need to compare anything difficult with any addiction issues I’ve experienced in the past. I need to build on those strengths, not lump them all together as an absolute failure.

I sometimes really enjoy where a post takes me. This sat as a draft, with only the first line written, for a few months before I wrote the rest. I’m emphatic to share where this has ended up, and to see the importance of self acceptance, how failure is part of my success: the best personal triumphs are those rooted in humility.

The Five Minute Miracle

I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve been slacking a bit recently. Ok, not the first to admit it. It’s difficult to share when we’re not walking the path we aspire to. Yet as I put my routine back into place one block at a time, it’s the smaller habits that I find form the foundation for larger ones.

I live in a new apartment with 2 other roommates. While one barely ever eats in, and is often out of the house, the other is always here. This leads to dishes in the sink that I wasn’t responsible for. (Yes, I know what you’re thinking: How is this news? Get to the point!)

The point is that I’ll always do them, regardless of whose they are. While I initially got into doing my own dishes right after using them as an exercise in mindfulness, I’ve come to the conclusion that pretty much anything can be an excuse to be mindful.

Yet when things start to fall by the wayside, be begin to procrastinate more and more. And the big things we’re putting off, just like a foundation of building blocks can be good, can also be the root of our lackadaisical behavior. By putting off the small things, they end up becoming big things as time passes. One dish becomes a mountain, a pair of socks becomes a huge hamper overflowing with underwear. These tiny tasks have created huge obstacles in our lives, and block us from seeing the true mountains: the really daunting tasks that we want to chip away at until we’ve mastered them.

So as you go about your daily activities, and you see something that can be resolved, cleaned, put away, etc, and it takes five minutes or less?

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DO IT.

It’s not rocket science. But it’ll make you feel good, accomplished, and keep your life (and ergo your mind) uncluttered. It’ll also reset your perspective, give you a spurt of motivation, and keep you sane. In order to make this a habit you repeat, reward yourself for this small task. I find that this system can be as easy as writing the chore down and immediately crossing it off the list. I don’t want to overwhelm myself by adding all these jobs to the list beforehand, but by doing them as the come up, recording and ticking them right away, I have a tally of everything I’ve done.

This is a great way to get yourself out of a funk as well. It’s easy to feel the winter blahs in the depth of February, when it’s just as cold as it was in December. All these small 5 minute tasks can create a chain of activities, and these then become part of a daily routine (as I’ve mentioned before, routines are a great way to say on the right path – Look out for a post focusing on this soon!)

Once you start, you’ll be amazed how well these 5-minute chunks add up to a general sense of well-being, and they’ll soon lend their structure to all parts of your life.

Here’s a little secret: This is how I started sitting. Five minutes a day is effortless, but once the habit is in place, and you see the benefits, you’ll want to sit longer.

Try it, and you’ll see…

External vs Internal Reliance

I recently moved to a new apartment even further downtown than my previous two places. These new digs place me almost squarely on top of my favorite pho restaurant, in the heart of Chinatown.

Whilst moving, I was overcome by the people who showed up to help. Only one of the invitees I asked did so (unwaveringly, even showing up first at 9am after a night of drinking), and the other primary “lifter” was an old friend who, get this, volunteered to help.

While I feel truly blessed these two gents are in my life, I was a little perturbed at the number of people I had to enlist to help with my belongings. Considering myself a minimalist, I was horrified at the seemingly endless parade of boxes that left my small 10 x 10 room. Granted, much of it was clothing, but a large portion was stuff that I even never wore anymore (due to it being too big or too small), yet they were all reminders of someone I used to be: I’ve often kept things as a physical manifestation of another part of my life, but never 100% sure why.

I realize now that it’s because they were memories of myself in what I thought were “happier” times.

This isn’t the case, or not for the most part. Instead, they were times when I was definitely not happier at all.. in fact, I was probably miserable, given the amount of drugs I was into at the time – it’s that I was oblivious to even wanting to improve myself.. they were memories of when I was a 20-something year old, feeling impervious to time, invincible, and striving to strike out on my own as a young, independent adult.

And now, some 15 years later, these mementoes are littered in the bottom of a shoebox, or worse: a huge pile of clothing I can’t seem to rid myself of. All this time has passed, and I’m still somewhat reliant on the family I felt strangled by growing up, still attached to their lives as much as they are to mine. I’ll admit that after moving boxes of this “stuff” into my new space, I was easily able to get rid of a number of things that had been impossible only hours before in my old apartment. While the old adage states that “no matter where you go, there you are”, I’m always amazed at how much of a fresh perspective, how renewed in spirit I am when inhabiting new spaces, as I make them my own

I’m not sure what makes me compare my own path to that of my father’s, but nevertheless, it’s a pretty constant measure. As I consider it, how he moved to Canada with his wife and young child some 30+ years ago, I’ve always been amazed at how strong and confident he must have been in his convictions that the Great White North might furnish his new family with all their hopes and dreams. Over the last few years, as he’s retired and softened somewhat (much less the stone-hearted Brit of a man he once was), I’m chagrined to learn that he often feels as lost as I do, that he’s not sure if he made the right choice all those years ago.

While it’s somewhat comforting to know that he’s humbling as he grows old, it also causes a shift in the foundations that I have built beneath my feet. This man, whom I hold the highest regard as my life long hero, suddenly as vulnerable as a small child. The duality of my feelings towards this fragility is perhaps even more so destabilizing due to the confliction of it’s nature. One part is pleased to know that he’s human, that he questions his existence and purpose as much as I, and the other part, well.. The other part of me is scared to know the exact same things.

As I continue on this journey into myself, I find my closest companion is my own identity. It’s comforting to start becoming best friends with yourself.

Be-alone-to-enjoy-being-yourself