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Forty Days in Forty-Eight Years

Everyone has heard the saying that it takes just 21 days to make or break a habit.  This long-standing myth has been around for decades but newer research suggests that it's more likely 66 days or more with the caveat that everyone forms a new habit at his or her own pace of 18 to 254 days.  I am no expert, at anything really, but I have spent a better part of my lifetime doing my best at making and breaking habits.  While I've had many successes, I've had some failures too. Chasing perfection while running from shame, and managing anxiety and addiction is exhausting.  In today's world of social media, we all are guilty of putting our best face forward.  To the outside world looking in through the screen of Facebook,  one's life may appear as a pretty bed of roses but beyond the crafted posts and perfectly poised selfies reality may be entirely different.  I struggle.  

Looking back on 2016, I've had many wonderful moments, exciting highlights, fun times, memories of a lifetime were made and I shared a great deal of these with my friends and loved ones through social media.  But what I didn't share so much this past year, if at all, were the challenging lows.  The underlying current of anxiety I live with is like a river, sometimes flowing smoothly and softly.  And other times its current becomes more rapid and loud often sweeping me away in its rapids.  I took many steps in 2016 to try and calm the current, reduce my anxiety.  I stopped watching the news, cut junk and people from social media, did my daily readings, exercised.  I'd write.  Create.  But as always, none of it was enough to prepare me for when the rapids did come. I could run, lift weights, go for a walk, use my hands to draw, write, work, do, do more.  Only to be met with the perfectionist part of myself that would begin to criticize and pick apart whatever it was that I was doing.  Self doubting would turn the self talk into stories in my mind that weren't real, completely losing me in the process.  I'd lose myself to my own mind games.  Impatience.  Lack.  Worry.  Shame.  Unworthy.  Anger.  Sadness.  

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.  I know this, intellectually I get it.  I have it literally tattooed on my body.  But how to build change for the long haul?  I'd fail again and again over time to find that steady peace of mind. Occasionally I'd experience moments of peace that usually followed intense exercise, a good run, or long walk.  So, I'd do more. More chasing.  Chasing moments of peace, chasing the high.  If only I could bottle it and save it for times I really need peace of mind, when I need to calm myself down. I prayed for it.  

One of my favorite runs is a four and half mile route from my home to the lake; Mount Baldhead is a local sand-dune mountain and a popular spot for active locals and visitors alike.  A climb of 306 steps takes you to the mountain's highest point and the best vantage point to see the surrounding area.  I was on one of these runs one morning following the recent election when I arrived at the base of the mountain.  There was one car parked in the lot near the steps and I noticed its bumper sticker which read "Movement is good for the body.  Stillness is good for the mind." I noted I liked that and began to climb the mountain's steps as I always had, with a steady pace of one at time and not stopping until I reached the top.  With the last step, I noticed a guy off to the left sitting quietly on a bench.  His eyes were closed, he looked still and peaceful.  I didn't want to disturb him so I quickly did my thing.  I looked around at the views, snapped a picture and turned back to make my descent when I heard the man say, "it's breath taking up here, isn't it?"  "It is," I replied and smiled.  "You don't have to rush away, take it in, I was just leaving," the man said.  "Thanks," I said. "Enjoy," he said as he turned away from the steps and started jogging into the sand trails that led back toward the lake.  I paused to look around again then began my climb back down the mountain.  As I neared the bottom of the steps, I noticed that the car I saw when I arrived was gone; I just assumed the car with its bumper sticker belonged to the man I saw meditating at the top of the mountain.  I kept thinking about that bumper sticker on my run back home and the meditating man.  I've tried meditation many times before over the years but never stuck with it long enough and it only led to more frustration more times than not.  Whoever that guy was, I wanted what he had.  By the time I reached home I had decided I wanted to give meditation a try again, and seriously commit this time. 

At home, later that afternoon, I opened the meditation app I downloaded to my phone only months earlier.  An app called Headspace.  I gave it a try a few times before but I had difficulty getting past the guy's British accent.  My son often speaks in a British accent, even though he's not British.  He's never even been out of the country since the time he was a baby, he was born in Ukraine but only ever learned to speak in the United States and I'd get impatient sometimes when he'd put on an accent as he often did.  And so, the British guy, Andy, on the app, was a bit much.  But this time, I committed myself to the app's "Take 10" program.  The program teaches the purpose and basics of meditation and the meaning of mindfulness in a very relevant, modern way.  The program is very forgiving yet on point with each day's session.  And I found it seemed to know exactly where I was in my head about meditation with each passing day and would provide the words I needed.  It was providing tools, little by little--a life-vest, a raft, a paddle.  I went beyond the ten days, completing levels two and three. Then a fourth level. By forty days change was underway.  Real change.  More moments of peace.  Beginning this journey, sitting for ten minutes being still and quieting the mind was nearly impossible but in time and with practice each day, it became easier.  Ten minute sessions increased to 15, then 20, then 30. After 40 days, I could sit for 30 minutes and it would seem as little as five.  I began noticing other positive changes too.  Less impatience.  Less worry.  Less anger and sadness.  I was less reactive.  Calm.  

As with anything new, it takes dedication and practice.  Practice every day.  Not every other day, not occasionally, but every day. And slowly over time, change begins.  It's still a new beginning for me, my forty-eighth year in life, but after a mere forty days I've realized I am the man meditating on that mountain top.

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