Every January, for the past few years, in an effort to keep my practice fresh, vibrant, and strong, I’ve come up with 2-3 new mindfulness-based practices in which to enfold into my daily/weekly life throughout the year. For me, these new practices each year serve as the ultimate homage to the tag line of this blog, the URL of my website, and my social media namesakes on Twitter, Facebook, and Youtube: In Mindful Motion.
As I don’t think I’ve made much reference to them here over the course of the past calendar year, I thought I’d take the opportunity to do so, as 2018 comes to a close.
This past year, I’ve had two new practices. The first of which is shown above (my second practice will be fleshed out in a part 2 post). Inspired by Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography and coming across his set of Thirteen Virtues, which he formulated at age 20 in 1726 as a system to help him develop his character, I came up with a similar approach to the charts he made for himself in order to help keep track of his progress.
Ben Franklin focused on one virtue for a week at a time and then moved on to the next one on his list. He fashioned charts to keep track of his progress (see pic above). At the end of each day, he would take inventory of how he felt he did with upholding whichever virtue he was focused on. If he felt he lapsed or made a misstep, he would give himself a tick-mark on the chart. Once he completed the 13-week cycle, he would start over again. He did this through the whole of much of his life, though as he aged the 13-week cycles grew less frequent, as the virtues grew stronger and there was less cause to repeat them in such rapid succession.
For the last few years, one of the new mindfulness practices I create each year is something I can do while driving, as this is an area where I need all the help I can get. If you’re an avid reader here, you know that I still consider myself to be – confusingly enough – an East Coast driver at heart. I say confusingly enough because while I was born and raised in the suburbs of Philly, I was only a licensed driver there for just shy of 3 years, whereas I’ve been a resident Montanan for nearly 20 years, which equates to almost the entirety of my adult life. Some habit energies settle deep into one’s bones and for better or worse – and probably for both – having angst and impatience while driving is mine.
So, starting in January of 2018, I created my own chart to help me keep track. I keep it folded in half and tucked in the strap attached to the flip down visor/mirror above the steering wheel of my car. I have a pen that clips in right alongside of it and both are locked and loaded for super easy access. My practice has been to give myself a tick-mark every time I either mutter something unfriendly aloud to myself about another driver (which is usually based around how slowly they’re going), huff or scoff in disapproval or impatience, or make any other sort of subtle facial expression that indicates my displeasure with someone else’s driving.
As I’ve been well-focused on transforming my negative habit energies centered around driving for many years, I am at the point – and have been for a number of years now – where I am immediately aware of when I make a transgression. So every time I make a disparaging remark about what I’ve deemed to be someone’s crumby driving skills or indicate via body language or facial expression that I am displeased, out comes the chart and my pen. I see clearly that the more subtle ways my angst and impatience comes up while driving is progress being made. Strong habit energies don’t dissipate overnight. When we’re diligent in doing our work, they more corkscrew their way out over time.
Along these lines, I am now having more occasions when I notice a thought arise before I say something aloud to myself about someone’s driving and I make an active, conscious choice NOT to say it, which is partly based on my motivation to avoid getting tick-marks. This too is further progress being made.
Slowly, slowly I am transforming this habit energy. Eventually I reckon where I’m headed is that I’ll get to the point where I don’t have unfriendly/impatient thoughts arise. But in the meantime, I’m seeing and appreciating the progress being made.
This particular practice has been so helpful for me that I intend on carrying it through 2019 as well. Which reminds me: I need to make a new chart!
SUPER IMPORTANT NOTE: A few months ago, I shared in a talk I gave at my local sangha about this driving practice I’ve been doing and made sure to mention that this whole chart/tick-mark system is NOT for everyone. There is a way to do this particular practice – and really any practice in this tradition – in a way that is more harmful than helpful. It’s important that if we are called to take up a similar charting system in regards to something we’re working on that we approach it in the right spirit. If when doing a charting system it will simply be a way for you to give yourself an even harder time every time you go to add a tick-mark or it creates more turmoil, overwhelm or stress, this is NOT the practice for you. We need to use our own discernment and intelligence when it comes to which mindfulness practices and tools to pick up and make use of in our daily life. No one way of practicing and no one tool fits all. We can know if a certain practice or tool is working well if it’s helping us to feel more connected to: the present moment, ourselves, our surroundings, and/or other people. And if it isn’t, we would probably do well to try something else.
If you’re interested in reading about the second mindfulness practice I added in 2018, please hop along to the next post.