Jean Marie Gunner

Jean Marie Gunner
We are all basically good.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Working with Habitual Patterns -- A Tribute to My Son on His Birthday


The single greatest challenge in love and sustaining the basic goodness that resides within loving relationships is our habitual patterns.  Our habits are both an obstacle and an opportunity.  When we experience something somewhat familiar, whether a good or bad feeling, the memory triggers our mind to remember; and when something feels similar to an experience in the past, we may react the same way if we don’t pause to notice first.  We are conditioned to respond similarly over and over again, and we do this, ironically, even if the outcome was not what we wished for or wanted in the past.  The good news is that we can re-program our habitual responses and tendencies.  The situation is workable.  If we can slow down and pause for even a few moments, and feel the habitual response in our body, we can make some adjustments to the way we typically respond.  Retraining our mind to respond differently, or creating a new and healthier pattern, takes time and the reprogramming takes places in the body and in the mind.
 
The mind is basically good, that is clear, stable and strong beneath all the tapes, patterns, criticisms, self-judgment, and fear.  And the good news is every situation can be worked with.  The first, and most important thing we can do to shift habits and our knee-jerk responses, is to be aware, with supreme gentlenss, and even if we aren’t aware all the time, which most of us are not, when we say or think or do something that is a habitual response, it wakes us up.  We notice and then take a moment to pause before reacting, or at least considering pausing before reacting.

My eldest son is a teenager and in his first year of high school.  The last few days I have caught myself reacting to him.  I have been reminding myself, with kindness and gentleness, that I want to rewire my response to his patterns and pace in the morning.  He has trouble getting up and getting going, and I have been a neurotic mess in the morning, actually for many years, sometimes yelling, becoming anxious, whipping around the house like a tornado thinking that moving everyone along into their routines at this frenzied pace will help ensure a smoother running day for us all. 

I have realized  some things.  First, we do need to keep a schedule because school and work all do have a start time and we are bound by this in our society.  Second, I am responding to my own long held patterns and personal struggles of getting going in the morning that I have experienced first years ago as a child and teenager, in my years in graduate school in Chicago, then in my marriage, and when my children were babies.  For many reasons, including some depression I experienced, starting my days was a challenge for a long time for me.  It has become clear to me that my son is reminding me of my own habitual patterns and fearfulness of the depressive tendencies I had for years, depression that I think continued because I was too afraid to look at some things in my life truthfully.
 
My son has a practice he now does which is to sit with his eyes open in the living room and look around the house.  He said to me the other evening that he just wanted to walk around the house and look around at everything, to be aware of the world in our own home.   He has expressed some anxiousness about the speediness with which he feels the world is moving and the pressures of high school and growing up.   And as he sat the last couple of mornings, I caught myself in my knee-jerk pattern of too aggressively reminding him to go and get ready.  Very gently he reminded me that he was sitting and calming his mind for the day ahead.  This stopped me in my tracks and I stopped repeating my same morning, "let's get going" worn out mantra.  His quiet reminder to me woke me up on the spot, spoke to me to stop pushing my agenda, my fears and anxieties onto to him.
 
Today is his 15th birthday.  He is a burgeoning, awakening being.  I am thankful for his loving kindness and gentle patience as we all uncover our way to waking up.