Learning to Live Compassionately Through Better Habits

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The past year or so, every day was completely different. (Like the Nine Inch Nails song, but like, the opposite). There isn’t a thing I did every single day, except eat. Between two shift-work jobs, continuing studies, and planning a Catholic wedding which required taking marriage preparation courses and actually going to church every Sunday, I never woke up or went to sleep at the same time. Some days I didn’t sleep at all. My daily life has been such an amalgam of human practice that I can’t even really say what kind of human I am at this point. So this is my affirmation for the fall: I will choose healthy, rewarding actions and make habits of those choices.

Our biggest challenges tend to be the things we need most. As someone with bipolar disorder, my biggest challenge but also one of my greatest needs is consistency. Already I feel like I’ve cycled between myriad karmic, independent lives. There’s been so much bouncing around in my head, I’d forgotten much of the self-care knowledge I once knew. Or not exactly forgotten. Just forgotten that I know, or know how.

I used to take an arsenal of vitamins daily. I was vegetarian for two years ten years ago and now it seems everyone thinks I eat way healthier than I do. I know my way around a weight room and on a yoga mat. I’ve taken months, years even, off alcohol and yet always seem to go back to it. I used to spend time styling my hair. Now I wear it in a messy bun six days of the week. I used to light candles every night. Took shots of apple cider vinegar with the mother for a while. But then at some point it’s like I blanked on being able to take care of myself.

Every habit starts with a single choice. I’ve read that it’s best to introduce new habits one by one, but I’ve also read that willpower works like a muscle. When you flex your willpower in one area, it gets stronger for other choices. So if you make your bed in the morning, you’re more likely to go to the gym later that day. Neural pathways don’t get erased, they just get underused and overgrown, so here’s to finding those old paths in the dune grass and and walking down every day to the shore of holistic health.

There is an urgent reason for making this change, and I’ll get to that. Habits make decisions easier. They make life smoother by creating neural shortcuts so we don’t have to struggle to take action. Without habits, too much of our energy is turned inward towards ourselves and our position in the world. This is where I’m at right now. I find myself constantly comparing action plans. Thinking about myself. How can I achieve blah. Mulling over basic shit. Being self-centered. Functioning in survival mode. Looking out for number one.

There is no need for me to be in survival mode. I’m in a place of stable, continued growth. I recognize my privilege, now more than ever. I’m starting to feel that it’s irresponsible for me to be taking such bad care of myself that all I can focus on is my own damn bubble, when there are so many in the world who require care and active attention. My gut is telling me that it’s wrong to read articles about racism and climate change without doing anything more than shake my head in disgust.

What does not have a consequence does not exist. Choosing not to react actively to another’s pain essentially says: “Their pain does not exist for me, in my life.” It is a form of passive aggression though negation. I’m not saying that I’m going to go out and try to save the world single-handedly. But I’m aware and weary of being so focused on moving forward that I don’t see the world falling down around me. I know I can be more open to opportunities to help others.

Recently, tending to my wellbeing is helping with the flow of existence. And now my self-centeredness has begun to bother me in a way it didn’t before. I’d like to educate myself more about the issues going on in the world, as well as get out of the mindset that I only have enough energy to watch out for myself and my inner circle. Looking forward to a more porous existence. Rather than a conservation of energy, it’s about coming out of isolation and casting off the sense of ‘not being ready yet’ to engage with others’ issues. If not now, then when?

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