A few weeks ago I met a man who it turned out is gluten-intolerant like I am. Don’t worry, this is not going to be a rant about the evils of our GMO wheat (though trust me, the black magic Monsanto is working on our grain supply IS frightening).
I tell you about “gluten-intolerant man” because his story hits the nail on the head about the dangers hidden in mindless habit. G-I Man is educated, a professor at a MidWest college, a thinker, and a habit zombie. Turns out he had been living with a pain in his abdomen for over 20 years! You read it right, 20 years!!! Somehow he just accepted this discomfort as part of his life experience and mindlessly went on with building his career, raising his kids, etc.
It wasn’t until he turned 50 and went in for the obligatory physical exam that he mentioned this condition to his MD. It was she who recommended that he stop eating wheat for a few weeks and see if it made a difference. It did. Immediately. And now, as soon as he eats even one cookie, the pain returns. Yikes! I can’t think of a better example of how powerfully debilitating habit can be. For all those years he had chosen the routine of eating mindlessly, paying no attention to his body’s reaction over the option of being mindful and proactive.
Dictionary.com describes habit as “an acquired behavior pattern regularly followed until it has become almost involuntary.” So living habitually means we are functioning on a kind of autopilot requiring little conscious thought or decision making.
Reminds me of the thought-provoking character Will Ferrell played in the 2006 movie Stranger Than Fiction, where Harold Crick (Ferrell) is such a slave to his habits that he literally has no life without them. He even brushes his teeth with the unconscious precision of using the exact same number of strokes, every single day.
Screenwriter, Zach Helm has crafted an incredibly intelligent meditation on the deadening quality of habit. Helm then presents Harold with the only antidote possible, a hearty dose of unconventionality provided by two artists who live fully – through the passion of their craft.
Of course the craft that Harold needed to develop was that of living. Of being present and allowing himself to experience the true joy of his life. This is the take away the writer wants us to have as leftovers tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow.
Circling back around to those artists from whom Harold learns to choose conscious living over thoughtless habit, I am compelled to scrutinize my own unconscious addictions to patterns that do not support my desire to develop a distinctive voice as an author; you know things like eating dinner in front of the television, surfing the internet mindlessly hopping from one link to the other, or pouring a glass of wine as soon as I get home from work (to name a few). But where do I begin? I get so much comfort out of eating while I channel surf. And a day without my precious glass (okay two glasses) of wine? Who am I kidding? Give me death rather than a life without wine!!
From where I sit now it appears there is only one way to begin anything from choosing growth to starting a new manuscript to losing weight, to paying attention to that persistent knot in your stomach: to simply imagine yourself shifting into a different person than you are today. If it works for brainstorming a story why can’t it work for everything else I want for myself?
I decided to try this vis a vis my wine habit. It was scary to think that something I have always loved and enjoyed might one day not be as important to me as it was the day I imagined my altered life. So I allowed for the possibility that this might take me as long as 5 years to grow into that new way of being. But I had planted the seed.
Funny thing is, the seed took hold way faster than I would ever have believed possible.
Now six months later, I never have a glass of wine at home during the week. I have come to realize that I don’t like how the residual haziness distracts me the next day from my creative mind and the goals I am excited about reaching.
I can’t believe that imagining a different me and then paying attention to myself, my thoughts, my actions could produce a change so effortlessly. Being mindful also allows me to fully embrace how rewarding it is to be making conscious choices for myself.
Of course, I still have to tackle eating in front of the t.v. and tons of other comfort inducing things I’m deathly afraid to let go of (after all, what will I do with all that freed up time?)
My hope is that I will spend hours absorbed in creating a masterful novel as well as a richer version of my non-writing life. Maybe I’ll take up skydiving! Not a chance – I get motion sickness!