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"Forced into mindfulness, we muddle around hoping to stumble back into our familiar habituals again."

Years ago, The Insurance Company where I worked distributed Covey's Seven Habits to all management, strongly encouraging each recipient to carefully read the book, for it described how the company would henceforth operate. This title remains the only book I've ever felt moved to burn after reading. It helped accelerate my timetable for leaving the company and not only because it described a manner of living utterly alien and repulsive to me. One may not prescribe any habit without bumping one's head on a low-hanging Be Spontaneous! Paradox. Habits remain the antithesis of mindfulness, more indicative of obsession or compulsion than choice. The author described what seemed to me like a two dimensional solution for an n-dimensional difficulty, a superficial strategy for inducing some sort of pseudo-significant effect, affects too-desperately seeking causes. I felt crazy reading it, so I figured the very best service I could provide to the world would be to eliminate any possibility that my copy might infect anyone else, so I built a fine fire and threw that sucker in there.

Books don't burn all that easily. It seems as though they resist actually burning.
Though made of theoretically flammable paper, the pages huddle together, with outside pages producing flame-smothering ash, leaving some legible pages remaining in the cooling embers. The diligent book burner must stir those ashes, perhaps even build a second fire atop the remains of the first, before the deed truly gets done. My artistic self still strongly opposes the habit fetish, the notion that habitual repetition necessarily becomes a guiding mantra, as if simply showing up produced anything. A colleague found a perfect use for the Franklin/Covey Day Planner his company distributed to encourage employees to better manage their time, as if Time Management were a thing. He found that if he placed that volume beside his printer, it effectively stopped the annoying rattle it exuded. Still, judging from sales figures, millions received Seven Habits. I can find no record of how many actually read the book, how many took the lessons to heart, or how many burned the damned thing in service to an ungrateful universe.

I catch myself exhibiting habitual behavior anyway. As much as I might rail against habitual engagement, I tend to backslide into it. Human nature might insist upon assuming some habits. The coffee habit seems ever-popular. I might have decaffeinated myself just so that coffee could become a choice rather than an imperative. I do maintain my writing rituals, though, as if they somehow induce results. Up early, choosing a topic, never feeling really present until finishing something. I hardly ever feel like a junkie for my work, though I know how itchy I feel when prevented from engaging in it. One day follows another like a mid-team sled dog and before I realize it, I'm mindlessly engaging in my most mindful practice. I become a sort of syphon, a mysterious force pulling me along, immersed as if coming up for air (or anything else) might drown me. The habit takes over. Lord might know who's driving, but I most certainly won't know, don't know.

I think it healthy for me to occasionally break some habitual rhythm. Not out of boredom, for any decent habit becomes self-reinforcing enough to never elicit serious ennui, but in the spirit of inquiry. How's that routine working for me? Will I actually dry up and blow away if I interrupt that preconscious cadence? So I took two days off this week, not as a vacation, but as a check-in. I used the time to read, reflect, and, I suppose, renew. I asked myself, "What if I never write again? What would I do then?" After that first day off, I indulged in a second. This missive demonstrates that I chose not to take off a third day in a row, an act that might well have become the seed of some replacement habit, one reliably producing nothing at all. The Muse was out of town all week, which provided the opportunity to reconsider some of my habitual behavior. I opted out of eating supper most nights, figuring that without anyone to share it with, I might easily suspend the suppertime ritual. Rose The Skittish Spinster Cat seems almost entirely habitual, and I tend to lose her when The Muse travels away. The reliable cues disappear for both of us and I catch myself not finding her where she usually plants herself. Forced into mindfulness, we muddle around hoping to stumble back into our familiar habituals again.

©2018 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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