First published in February 2017 in a blog long-ago under a name far-away.
A couple of weeks ago, I rearranged my drawers. I just made a little extra room for my socks, put the outerwear shirts in the drawer next to the sleep shirts, and the jeans in a drawer next to the non-jeans. Little shifts that just made a little more sense than the haphazard way I assigned drawers when I first moved into this home just under two years ago.
These couple of weeks later, I still have to hunt around a little, especially for my yoga clothes which I moved to a dresser in another room. Each time I open the wrong drawer and then am reminded of the right one, I’m retraining that muscle memory, recarving the neural pathway that encoded the location of my apparel . In the not too distant future, I’ll open the right drawer to find my socks the first time, and instinctively go to the dresser in my bedroom for yoga pants.
It reminded me of what I heard Sharon Salzberg during a mindfulness conference last year. She referred to the repetitive refocusing required by meditation as micro-practice in self-forgiveness. (That’s right, my newbie meditator friends – your loss of focus isn’t a sign that you’re doing it wrong; it’s simply a sign that you’re meditating!)
The trick – the challenge – is noticing we’ve lost focus without judging ourselves for it; to instead think, “Whelp, lost focus again – back to my breath!” instead of “Sassafras, can I not even hold focus for three minutes?!”
Mindfully trying to find my sock hunt amusing, shaking my head playfully at myself when I open the wrong drawer, is micro-practice in self-forgiveness, too.
In whatever way we find that micro-practice, what it’s preparing us for are those bigger challenges of self-forgiveness: Those moments when we react instinctively rather than act thoughtfully; those moments when we realize we’re not seeing the current situation for what it is, but rather distorted through the lens of old hurt and story; those moments when we’re feeling rotten, angry, embarrassed, guilty, or even shameful.
Roughly 22 months of socks in the upper left-hand drawer and after two weeks, I still go there before remembering they’re now in the upper right-hand drawer.
Roughly 30+ years of believing an old story that my innate value is tied to my behavior, and I still have to remind myself time and time again that my value just is, notwithstanding how selfless, effective, or socially respected my behavior may be from moment to moment… notwithstanding, even, how neurotic, non-productive, or reactionary my behavior may be.
Twenty-two months of sock placement and it will take weeks, all told, to realign my drawer orientation. More than 30 years of developing the self-diminishing neural pathway about the (false) connection between my value as a person and my behavior, and after four years of effort toward carving a new neural pathway, I have much work left to do.
Shifting our thinking – rerouting our neural pathways – takes time and effort, and our tendency to flog ourselves all along the way not only doesn’t speed the process, but infuses the time with needless suffering. Why not spend that same time laughing with ourselves, and allowing ourselves to enjoy the effortful process of becoming – always becoming…