Last week, I couldn’t seem to get out of bed in a timely manner at all. Snooze button, one, two, three, times. Exhaustion. Waking up appallingly early. Bad dreams. Every excuse under the Sun kept me from getting up and getting started. Who knew that adding a daily practice to one’s routine could be so difficult?
Consider: most of my daily routine is for someone else. I rise in the morning for the sake of my body and my students. If I had my druthers, I’d sleep an extra hour or two (assuming I could, at this point). I leave the house for their sake. I buy gas and go to the dry cleaners so I can get to work, and work there. Very little of that day is in service to myself, or of who I wish to become. But some part of me is selfish, very much so. It wants me to stay in bed, and not alter my routines at all. Even if those routines don’t serve me.
So, knowing that the house is cold, I wore pajamas to bed. If I wore pajamas, I could get out of bed, and go start my routine before my body was aware I’d started. And so I proved. Once my feet hit the floor after the alarm went off, there was no going back.
Sometimes one has to prepare, to prepare. I couldn’t start tai chi in an orderly way while I was dragging and couldn’t pull myself out of bed. It was dragging down my whole morning in unpleasant ways. Time to change the routine. Wearing clothes that make it easier to get up and started in a cold house made the difference today. Tomorrow? We’ll see.
Underlying this insight, though, is another one, a deeper one. Ten months ago, when I started this journey, I just rolled out of bed and started. Now, months in, I can see that the practice has gradually been altering me and my habits and practices all along. Settling on a practice and sticking with it for a while can transform your whole life — because you gradually alter habits in service to the practice. This is what makes addictions so destructive, I suspect. The body’s physical demand fora drug can wash away habits of a lifetime, and destroy mental mechanisms for self-,social-, and economic-preservation. Rapidly or slowly makes no difference.
It’s the same thing with tai chi, although maybe the results are a little more virtuous. First comes the practice, then come the preparations to practice. The room must be a particular way, perhaps; I need to wear pajamas to bed. Small change and large ones ripple out from the practice to establish beachheads in other parts of one’s life. Daily practice is imperialistic: you give it a half hour a day at first, and then it takes over your whole life. It’s important to select a daily practice that serves the person you wish to become.