Ever been sitting, walking, running, or driving somewhere, and suddenly felt like you have been running on automatic pilot? Or find yourself complacent, exhausted, or caught up in the routine of daily patterns of acting or behaving? You know the times when a close friend, family member, or coworker begins to sound like a broken record, and your mind goes on automatic response, and gets prepared to say “the same old thing again”? Or the times when everything seems to be going along just fine, but there’s no life in anything, no energy to do the simple things, and the thought of doing things differently or entertaining a new idea just seem farthest from you mind?
We all have these moments. What happens when you have such a moment? How does your own thinking aid and abet passive complacency? How does a change of attitude or behavior affect you enough to want to put some energy back into your life? For some of us, we get stuck in a rut or buried beneath years of putting up with life-draining relationships, jobs, thinking, and patterns of behavior to the point that we feel we can do nothing. See where I’m going with this? When we catch ourselves in those moments when we recognize that we’ve slipped into negative patterns of thought and behavior, it is time to actively and mindfully take action. When you feel you’ve hit one of these road blocks, there are some things you can do to change, if nothing else, the way you view yourself and your life.
Diagnose the problem. To diagnose the nature of a situation, illness, or problem you need to identify the symptoms that characterize it. For example, if the problem I am wrestling with is feeling trapped or feeling too exhausted to move, I identify what that looks and feels like. It may mean that I’m feeling lack of energy, sleep disturbances (too much or too little), little appetite, or the feeling that you have no motivation to get up out of bed, off the couch, or even take a break from a chore or job you are doing.
Describe the Cycle of Mindlessness. Being unable to break a cycle of behavior or thinking indicates that there is a cycle that is caught in a loop. This happens when we get caught up in the routine so much that we lose our focus and the connection to what we’re doing or who we are with. In our heads this might sound like, “I hate this job, and I wish I didn’t have to do it anymore, but I have to earn a living and I can’t just walk away. Besides, I don’t know what I want.” And the loop goes on, finding reason after reason for not identifying the problem and making changes that would create more energy in our lives.
What is your cycle of mindlessness? “I would like to write that book/climb that mountain/learn a language/try yoga or Tai Chi, but I don’t have time, beside I’d probably be no good at it, and you can’t earn a living doing that.” Or “I’d like to exercise more, but it’s so cold/hot/rainy/sunny/late/early to go out for a walk. Besides, I feel okay and I have so much to do, there really isn’t enough time to fit in one more activity.” And then there’s “I’m gong to keep trying to be happy in this job/relationship/location/house/friendship. I’ll keep pouring my time/energy/money/resources/hopes/advice/suggestions into it, and hope it will eventually get better, even though I know it won’t. Besides, it’s the economy…there are no jobs (and that often takes us on another loop complaining about the ‘system/culture/society/family/marriage/or role we’re ‘stuck in.”
Take just a few minutes and identify the types of mindlessness that keep you locked into patterns of behavior and thinking that serve to plunge you into stagnate, static complacency.
Patterns of behavior and thinking feed the habits that make up much of our daily routine. To change the routine, break the patterns that are draining energy or causing us to feel lethargic, unproductive, hopeless, or trapped, we need to begin changing some of the routines.
Expand your consciousness. Once you identify a problem, pattern, habit, or issue that you would like to change, then allow yourself to imagine something else. In a concrete manner, describe how you would like to feel, what you would like to do, and what you would like your life to look like. What is the ideal for you? What would bring you peace, make you happy, and make you feel more alive and fulfilled? Allow yourself to dream and imagine the answer to the question, “If I could do anything, be anywhere, learn anything and live any way I’d like, what would it be? How would it look?
Begin to imagine your life beyond the constraints and habitual patterns that you have allowed to trap you. Make a list of what you would like to draw into your life. Create a treasure map for your life. Write out a plan for achieving some of your dreams and goals. Make a chart of all the alternatives you have to your present situation. For example, I could move to Portland, or San Diego. I could move to Ojai or Sausalito. Then make a list of all the positive reasons for moving to each place. Leave the negative reasons until later.
At this point, just put the ideas, the dreams out there. You may simply want to change the way you are using your energy in what you’re doing. The point is to recognize what you want to change, alter, or adjust. Identify the symptoms that feed lethargy, fear, or whatever negative loop of thinking or behavior you’re caught up in, and then imagine how that could change.
Make Simple Changes.
Rather than attempting to completely transform yourself, your life, your relationships, or your work overnight, begin taking little leaps of faith. Stop what you are doing right now, and walk around the house. Get a drink of water, and then look out the window and think about where you could go for the next half hour to get rejuvenated.
Break your routine up, especially when you recognize the traps you may be in. Do things differently to help generate new energy. When you catch yourself thinking about going about ‘business as usual’, and that behavior feels stifling, change your behavior in little ways.
Just before you make a change, notice how your body is feeling. Is your neck hurting or is your back uncomfortable? Notice your breathing. Pay attention to your breath for a minute, and notice how you breathe. Take a few deep, belly breaths, or do some alternate nose-breathing (With your thumb, block your right nostril and breathe in through your left. Then block your left nostril and breathe out through the right. Do this slowly 4-5 times). Notice the difference even this simple act makes. Stand up and do some stretching. Pretend there is a cherry tree full of ripe juicy cherries right above you (yes, imaginary cherry trees do grow in living rooms and offices). Standing on your tip toes, reach high first with one arm then the other, reaching or and picking those cherries. Of course the cherry tree is as large as your house so you can walk all around the house picking cherries and getting some good stretching in. Or drop to the ground and do some yoga exercise (even child’s pose or shavassana/corpse pose are good for restoring energy and making us more conscious and aware of our whole selves). The point is, do something. Move yourself around, and get yourself thinking and feeling differently. Break your routines, and occasionally try new patterns.
Most of the major changes I make seem to coincide with the seasons, the climate, and the weather. We’ve had our first summer storm this week, and that has allowed me to do things differently. Consider how you have been jostled out of the routine, or awoken from a period of malaise in the past, and start doing something that reminds you of that period of time. One of my friends, an artist, moved to the coast from New Mexico a few years ago, and has struggled with feeling at home here. What I have observed her doing is painting from her feelings and from those places in her heart where she longs to be. What else has happened along the way is that she has created a whole new body of work that reflects her struggle here. She has used her art to remind herself of what made her come alive. She uses her art to get herself grounded in a way that makes her feel more at home than she feels where she lives. She is creating movement, energy, and new ways of thinking, perceiving, doing and creating life.
Find whatever it is that breaks up the routine for you. Use whatever it is that helps you get grounded when you are not. Find ways to use your gifts to explore the dreams you have not yet let yourself dream, and acknowledge your right indeed obligation to live life fully from the heart, mind, and soul.
Create New Rituals and Practice.
Routines and ruts are simply rituals and practices that have lost their life and energy. When we notice this happening, we need to create some new rituals to help us focus our intentions, honor our needs, beliefs, and desire, and to become more mindful of how we are to use our resources—time, energy, finances, creativity, talents, gifts, and dreams. Find turning points and markers in your own life that serve as reminders to reconsider how you are living. Your markers may be determined be holidays and holy days, or by work or academic calendars and needs. Whatever it is that helps you define the cycles of your life, create some new rituals to help you maintain a fresh and revitalized way of living.
Along with rituals that we celebrate to remind us of the importance of our spiritual and human nature, we can create practices to help stimulate our energy. Practices are those daily routines and ritual we perform to keep ourselves more mindful, among other reasons. Practices can also become stale and outdated for our present needs. We might have done a lot of running or played a number of active sports, but now do less. When I walked around my classrooms for years, I rarely if ever sat down. Now my walking has to be worked into my life as a daily practice. It even took me a while to realize why I seemed to walk less. Part of diagnosing is looking at how our lives have changed. Only then can we adequately address the needs we have.
Animals play a big role in many of our lives. I have just recently gotten two kittens who have made me more mindful and aware of how I’m living. When humans began domesticating animals, we made those animals dependent upon us for their livelihood and safety. Domesticated animals depend on us to feed, shelter, and protect them. They, on the other hand, remind us by their own example of our own animal nature. Feline companions remind me to take better care of myself. I have to do this in order to not be their slave all day and night long. Cats remind you, before you may even think about it, that it’s time to eat, it’s time to get up, it’s time to change the cat box, it’s time to take a break, it’s time to play, it’s time to be petted, it’s time to go out or it’s time to come in, and then it’s time to start the cycle all over again. Whereas I can sit for hours on end writing or reading, my feline sister, Ginger Rose, jumps up on my lap and demands I stop long enough to pet her and remind myself I haven’t eatten breakfast yet. Frederico stands, paws on my legs, staring at me, reminding me he needs some attention, and I need to take a walk. This is a part of our daily morning routine. Dog people also are reminded by their pet friends, that walks and runs are essential to life. As is playing, feeding, and cleaning up after. We do it for them, and we need to do it for ourselves.
Many of our relationships help remind us of our need to vary our behavior, keep to some routines and vary others, and all remind us that we have a limited amount of time, energy, and resources. If we don’t want to waste that life force, to have that energy drained by lethargy, wishful thinking, unfulfilled dreams and desires, or to living a boring, routine, lifeless life, we need to actively work at using our energy wisely.
As we move towards the end of July and the start of August, take some time to reflect on, try to understand, and alter and change those areas of life that no longer give you life, energy, or fulfillment. See what little changes you can make in your behavior, attitude, and routines to energize your life. Consider how it is you would really like to be living, and then chart out your course, gather your supplies/resources, “cast off the bowlines”, and set sail for that life you seek. Challenge yourself to do a little more than you think you can. To dream big, but also make plans and start taking action towards those plans. Nothing will happen magically if we don’t get involved in making our own dreams come true. And by all means, be grateful for what's working in your life. Be appreciative of others for supporting and caring for you. And be kind and gentle with yourself, appreciating and honoring all that you do that is working, life-affirming, energizing, and just fine the way it is.