Tuesday, April 21, 2009
The route to happiness
"When you don't do the habitual thing, you're bound to feel some pain. I call it the detox period. You've been doing the same predictable thing to get away from that uneasy, uncomfortable, vulnerable feeling for so long, and now you're not. So you're left with that queasy feeling. This requires some getting used to and some ability to practice kindness and patience. It requires some curiosity to see what happens next. What happens when you abide with this shifting, fluid, universal energy? What happens if you pause and embrace the natural movements of life?"--Pema Chodron from Taking the Leap
I've been walking home after work lately. I can go one of two ways: down Huntington Avenue, where Northeastern University and the Massachusetts College of Art have their campuses, and then turn onto Longwood, past all the big Boston hospitals and the many, many Starbucks, past the Fens, until I hit Harvard Avenue and Coolidge Corner. The other way is to walk down Mass Ave., with its slightly down-at-the-heels merchants and restaurants, and the Berklee College of Music buildings, and then turn left to walk through Kenmore Square, past the Fenway parking lot, and into Brookline via busy, tree-lined Beacon street.
Both routes are relatively long--if I walk fast and don't make any stops for water or groceries, it takes me about an hour. I consider it my daily exercise,though, and this way I can avoid the overcrowded "T" during rush hour and when the Red Sox are playing. I heard once that if you can do something for three weeks straight it becomes a habit. I've tried to make a habit of going to the gym, but that hasn't stuck yet, I've tried to make a habit of eating a piece of fruit with every meal, but I'm lucky if I eat a banana. I buy packages of sliced strawberries and pineapple from Whole Foods, and then they sit untouched in my fridge until they're slimey and my husband has to eat them.
Then there are the habits that I WANT to change--they're even harder than the ones I'm trying to acquire. The automatic negative thoughts, my risk-aversion, my preoccupation with superficial things like appearance and money and status. I want a more spiritual, meaningful life, and I'm working at it a little at a time, but it's so easy to fall back on habit. There's a tear in my skirt--oh, no, I can't let anyone see me this way, I have to go buy a new outfit! (That was last week, and luckily I talked myself out of it. In fact, I walked around all day with a big safety pin on the hem and told myself no one cared.) My hair is flyaway and uncooperative--I must run out and get a haircut/deep conditioning/hair transplant. That person just looked at me weird--what did that mean? Is she thinking something bad about me? You see, I don't want to be a slave to these insecurities! I want to have positive, loving thoughts towards myself and the people around me. I want to be calm and even, not quick to worry or get angry or frightened. But it's the endless procession of unwanted thoughts that keep sneaking in--the thoughts that have been dogging me since I was a pre-teen.
It's really hard to incorporate real change in your life. You always want to revert back to what's comfortable, even if what's comfortable is making your life miserable. But you have to start somewhere, and hopefully in time and with practice the route to a more peaceful mind will be the one I start taking.