We become what we do
For the month of July - a month that coincides almost perfectly with the 30-day Islamic time of Ramadan - you have been offered a challenge. Knowing that human beings have a tendency to be transformed by our actions - to become what we do - you have been invited to take up a practice for 30 days to cultivate some quality in yourself.
I took up the challenge. And now, here we are just a week into the month of “we become what we do”.
I committed to taking better care of myself - both mind and body. I committed to exercising and meditating at least 5 days each week.
I knew it would be challenging. In fact, I knew from the start that I would not be perfect - that I would sometimes not make my five days per week - and I gave myself advance forgiveness. I didn’t want to fall into the usual “New Years resolution trap.” You know the one… Well, I ate a little bit of chocolate, I might as well eat the whole bar. In fact, I might as well go to the shop and buy their entire stock… Oh, didn’t get to the gym yesterday - no point going today - or ever…
That advance forgiveness was a good strategy and it’s kept me from quitting. I hope you’ll also give yourself that kind of forgiveness. This is not the sort of thing where you fail because you miss a day or a few. Even if you haven’t started yet, you haven’t lost your opportunity. It’s much better to start now than not to start at all.
With advance forgiveness, I thought I had pretty well anticipated what this challenge would be like. It’s just about the doing, right? Do a bit of meditation, a few random acts of kindness, be a bit more playful, and nothing else changes? Well, no. And that’s the hidden power of this challenge.
Doing something new doesn’t end with the doing itself. It also has the almost inevitable effect of making us more aware of how we live our lives. Trying to make time for exercise makes me aware of how I use my time. Meditation makes me more aware of what’s going on in my mind and in my heart.
Because I am being more deliberate about what I do, I am automatically more observant of how I live. I become not only the one who is living this life, I am increasingly also an observer of that life - and - to be honest - I’m not thrilled with what I’m observing.
Returning to our opening words from the Buddhist Monk, Thich Nhat Hanh: “Live your daily life in a way that you never lose yourself. When you are carried away with your worries, fears, cravings, anger, and desire, you run away from yourself and you lose yourself. The practice is always to go back to oneself.”
Of course, that’s exactly why I chose to do these practices. I knew that I needed them. I knew I wanted to practice to go back to myself in body and mind.
Somehow, though, I thought it would be easy. Somehow, I expected that a few days of meditation and exercise and I’d be there. Done and dusted.
Instead, I find myself with a familiar feeling that I should have anticipated. Embarking on change inevitably means coming to terms with the fact that you are not where you want to be. Whatever that change may be and however much you may desire it, this is true. Whether your aim is about cultivating something in yourself - to be more playful, mindful, peaceful, brave or kind. Whether your aim is a different kind of change: to lose weight or gain it, learn a language, play an instrument, or stop a destructive habit.
In every case, starting means acknowledging where you are.
And this is exactly why change is so hard. To change we need to accept that where we are is not where we want to be. And we hate that. It doesn’t feel good. At the worst, it makes us dislike ourselves. This is why we so often quit and it is why we so often initiate change only when we are forced see to by loved ones, by a health crisis, or - as I too often find - when none of my clothes fit.
So, we find ourselves often in a bind. We can’t change the things we want to or need to because acknowledging that very desire or need makes us more unhappy with ourselves - and we run from that feeling and run from change.
There is way out of this bind and it is almost as odd as the bind itself. The solution was beautifully and simply stated by one of the 20th century’s greatest psychologists, Carl Rogers.
“The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.”
We cannot hate ourselves into change.
We cannot punish ourselves into change.
Negativity merely makes us more resistant to the changes that will help us.
Only when we accept and even love ourselves as we are can we find the freedom to change as we wish.
And in this truth is revealed something crucial about our being together. To support change, offer acceptance. To support change, offer love.
I accept my out of shape body that needs exercise.
I accept my distracted mind that sends me off in all sorts of directions.
I love these things about me as I am.
And now, with 23 days to go, I can change.
May you find acceptance from those around you.
May you find acceptance in your own heart.
Love yourself into the person you want to be.