I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, September 9, 2012

The power of habit

Me under my beautiful canopy
My life has returned to normal. After a couple of stressful weeks, I was able to hike with my friends on Thursday, as usual, and yesterday I spent at the Drop Zone making four wonderful skydives before heading back to our new apartment. Finally I am sleeping and waking at my usual time, rather than struggling to relax into sleep after being bone tired day after day.

Several times this week I have turned the wrong way to head into the bathroom, or reached for the wrong drawer in which to take out a piece of silverware. You see, our new apartment is exactly the same as our old one (in the same complex), but it's mirror image. Everything is backwards from the way I have become accustomed to it. After almost five years of habit, I am reminded of how much of my life is usually on autopilot. I don't think about where things are supposed to be; my mind is on other things. And when I open a drawer and realize it's the wrong one, I am brought back to the present.

Over the more than twenty years I have been jumping, I've developed several habits that I should examine. I carry a small suitcase with all my skydiving gear in it to the Drop Zone, and I know that everything I need will be in there. My rig (parachute harness and container system) is as familiar to me as my own skin; I've been using the same rig for twelve years now, with only the main parachute being changed several times. It should last me for the rest of my skydiving career.

When I am packing my main after a jump, there are several things that need to be done correctly in order to have the next canopy ride be perfect: I must stow the brakes, un-collapse the slider, and cock the pilot chute (that small thing following behind the canopy). I cannot tell you how many times I have obsessed over those details while riding up to altitude in the plane. It's because of the power of habit: did I REALLY do what I thought I did? If any of those three things were missed because I hurried or wasn't paying close attention, I could really get hurt. Or worse.

What I have done to keep that from happening is to accomplish those three tasks and then look at the parachute lying there ready to be folded up and say it out loud: "Brakes stowed, slider open, pilot chute cocked." Then I can let it go. It takes me about twenty minutes to complete the entire job of packing before I'm ready to go again. Yesterday, my friends stayed after I left and probably made another three skydives before heading home, but I know my limits. I was already tired after four jumps and would have been way too tired to make the 75-mile drive home safely if I had stayed.

At home, I am finding that the process of living in a mirror image of my old habits has been a good wake-up call. It's easy to fall into the same habits I had before without thinking, if everything is exactly the same. Now I have the option of change, of examining what I do and assessing its relevance to my life today. Several things have been altered already, and I suspect there will be much more.

Smart Guy is not one who goes through an unexamined life. His perfectly functioning kitchen is arranged for frequency of access, and many things were pitched when he realized he didn't use them any more. Items used occasionally are tucked away in the back of cabinets. It is amazing to me to see him in action, and I don't interfere with the process. We discussed the mirror image concept and he made some changes that made sense to both of us. It's like being in a better version of our lives, and I am content to have him make these decisions.

We finally have a place for me to set up a meditation area, which I fully intend to begin again. It's been years since I was a daily meditator, but it's been on my radar to get back into the habit. Strangely, the ability to meditate has never left me, and those few times I have meditated have reassured me that it will simply be added into my life, once it becomes a habit. The power of habit will take me to a more serene life.

The incessant sunshine that we have enjoyed here in the Pacific Northwest is gone today. As I sit in my bed with my laptop, facing north instead of south, I can see out the window that the sky is grey and cloudy for the first time in weeks. It is a welcome change. Everything is falling into place as we begin our journey into another season. I hope that life today is satisfying to you, my dear reader.


Rita said...

That's so true that we do so many things on autopilot. I love your idea of standing there and saying out loud what you are checking so you don't have to wonder later. Even that is a habit, but a good, defining one that frees you of worry. Those are the best kind!

In an ever changing world, sometimes habits are a comfort beyond words. I guess the skill is not to do them without awareness on autopilot and to be present.

I love that you are going to do meditation again! Speaking about being present. ;)

Deb Shucka said...

I love this post! I love your reflective heart. I think we'll stay as young as possible if we continue to seek and embrace change. When I started the drumming classes, our teacher encouraged us to do things with our opposite hand just to make us more aware and to develop a more balanced strength. So glad things are smoothing out for you.

Trish said...

Fascinating reflection on autopilot! Interesting, too, that the new place is a mirror image of the other apartment. Your 4 jumps amaze me!

CiCi said...

There is a calm, reassuring, serene sound to this post. I can picture the mirror image in the apartment, and how it feels to learn new places even though it is the "same". For me, I learn as I go so to speak. I have been here in my apartment four months now. The place was pretty sparse at first, since I left most things at the house and wanted to start over with my own things. Now that I had to empty out the house and brought so much here, the place is crowded. One of the things I will have to do when I return from the visit with my mother is to decide what must go and make arrangements to let stuff go. Again. I have done the letting go thing so often, and now I know I want less material things and more time to do other things.The kitchen is the smallest I have ever been in, and I like it. I am not spending lots of time there, so probably half the things stuffed into the cupboards could go. I waited a couple weeks after moving in here to hang anything on the walls until I could get a feel for what I wanted to display. I decided when I moved into this place that I wanted "cheerful and fun", so I have a I Love Lucy trash can in my bedroom and the brightest shower curtain ever. I have several photos of interesting things here in this town in frames all over my living room. I have no family photos except all over the refrigerator! So I get to see them often.
I like to hear of your partnership with Smart Guy and how you work together making your home livable and suitable for each of you. Getting to the point that you are sleeping peacefully and awake rested is a good feeling! I am so glad for you that the move is over. Enjoy your new place.

Anonymous said...

I know what you mean about old habits. There are days when I can't remember if I took my meds in the morning. Since they must be taken every day, I often say to myself: Did I or didn't I? I can't remember! So I end up not taking them to avoid an overdose!

Linda Reeder said...

Yes, we are creatures of habit. I am trying to reassess what's in my house too. Jill and family will be here to watch football, and help us move the heavy pieces of furniture back in. The she has invited Jan and Ann to join us to eat the crab that has been stowed in the freezer since their fishing trip on the Oregon coast in late July. so we have a busy afternoon ahead of us. Right now we're enjoying some quiet time.
Tomorrow I'll finish putting things away, and start doing more cleaning upstairs. Looking for the cat under our bed I realized what a dusty place that was!

Linda Myers said...

Autopilot. I've noticed that when I'm driving I have to pay attention to where I'm going, or I may turn correctly, go into autopilot and then realize a few seconds later that, for a moment, I don't know where I am! I also pay attention when I'm going up and down stairs.

In the longer view, I maintain habits of thinking that are no longer productive. I'm wanting to change those habits.

Bragger said...

I noticed another commenter made the same observation I did, that there is a calming effect in your writing. That does wonders for me, and I thank you. I also love reading about your skydiving. Wistfully......

karen said...

I really enjoy reading your posts. This one in particular...I also found a synchro in there for me today as well. Meditation has been in two of the three places I've visited online today...I think I'm getting the message. Something I need to get back to as well. Thanks for sharing that. Sounds like all is going well in the new place...I'm happy to hear that.
Hope you're having a relaxing Sunday. The sun continues to shine here although we got a break from the heat today. I love a cloudy day and would really enjoy one right about now.
Take care Djan, and thanks for your enjoyable blogs, both here and the other.

Gigi said...

This one struck home. I have lately realized just how much of my life I live on autopilot. Maybe I should look into meditation to bring me more into the present.

So happy your are getting settled in and comfortable.

Red said...

I prefer to think of the habit thing as being on auto pilot. However, I think there's a conscious habit thing and a subconscious habit thing. I'm definitely on the subconscious. I like being able to go through the same routine. When I make breakfast the stuff is put on the table in the same order each day.
Glad you're settling in to the new digs.

Nancy/BLissed-Out Grandma said...

I know that you like structure in your day, but clearly you often reflect on what you are doing and why. I like that you are going to meditate. I keep intending to structure my days to include some type of meditation or reflection along with other good things I too often overlook. Thanks for another thought-provoking post!

SquirrelQueen said...

I know what you mean about auto pilot in the kitchen. It does make the mornings go smoother. Having things mirrored would make it confusing. We moved to Walla Walla 11 years ago this month. Since our initial move we moved one other time before finally buying a house.

I love that photo of you under your canopy. I'm sorry your sunshine was absent. It was sunny here but the wind brought in lots of dust and smoke.

#1Nana said...

The sense of contentment comes through in this post. The photo is terrific.

I had a wonderful day too, spent it with my brother and my 85 year old father. We went to Point Loma and looked out at the glorious Pacific.

Dee said...

Dear DJan, your posting fits where I am right now with adding a new habit into my life. Really I want to add several new activities--one at a time--and give each new activity a month or so to become a habit.

Slowly, after six years of physical problems that began with Meniere's back in 2006, I want to build a routine to my days. And also, like you, I want to be aware, be present to these days. Thank you once again for prompting my thoughts. Peace.

CrazyCris said...

My parents' apartment was completely remodeled last year (100%, all walls torn down etc.) and with the changes for some reason the hallway bathroom light switch got moved to the other side of the door... Well, over a year later and I'm still automatically reaching to the wrong side to turn it on/off as I enter/exit the bathroom! I guess it takes more than a year to break a 28-year habit! :p

I'd worry about the "automatic pilot" of preparing a chute too... Sounds like you've got a good way of making sure though. Be vigilant!