Habit and flexibility

Once we see that it’s our everyday practices, and the stories that accompany them, that shape who we are (through the gradual bodily formation of habit and familiarity) many new paths can open up.

You can start to see how the inner and outer sigh you make when you see the sister who frustrates you reinforces your very sense that no progress can be made in your relationship. You’re an audience to your own sigh – the world shows up in a particular way in the light of it – and so is she. Each sigh sets out a narrow path for a particular kind of repetitive interaction that is reassuringly familiar even as it’s reassuringly frustrating. And once you see this, you can perhaps start to practice something else – a smile, or an embrace, or a simple and true expression of how you’re actually feeling which invites an equally truthful response from her.

Perhaps you can see that your repeated practice of criticising people (yourself, those close to you) invites a world in which nobody is ever enough, and there’s always something to fix. And that along with this practice comes a kind of vigilance in you and others, a way of constantly scanning the world to see what’s missing or what might be criticised, which has you on edge, and afraid, and pessimistic about what’s possible. And once you see this, perhaps you can start to practice something other than a judgement. A welcome, for example, or a breath that relaxes the tightness in your chest and the clenching of your jaw. Or a spoken appreciation of what’s good, and of value, and to be cherished here.

When we get too convinced by the familiarity produced by our existing practices, when we misunderstand the momentum of our habits as proof that we are such and such a way, we close off profound possibilities for ourselves and others – possibilities that come from our enormous capacity for flexibility, for attunement to the world, for generosity and compassion, and for creative and nuanced response.

Photo Credit: Nico Kaiser via Compfight cc

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