Friday, March 23, 2012

I Don't Like It, But I'm a Robot and an Animal.

I might have commitment issues.

I've been doing this mindfulness challenge now for almost a quarter of the year, and trying to faithfully uphold the challenges as they come along. Some have been easier than others, but I haven't found one yet that proves impossible for me. That is, until this week.

You'll notice I'm late posting this week's recap and challenge. That's because I'm committed to fully attending to it until I tell you all about it. Well, I suck, that's all there is to it. Not at everything, but certainly this one thing... and it turns out, it's pretty important.

This week, I've been tasked to do something very simple, and taken it to a level that I felt it resonate. The challenge in the book reads:
Each time you hear a telephone ring, chime or buzz, stop what you are doing and take three mindful breaths to settle the mind before answering.
I don't know about you, but these noises are incessant during my day. I have two mobile phones. One of them chimes each time I get an email (I do work in IT) and the other has plenty of text messages, Facebook alerts and CNN updates throughout the day BEFORE it ever rings for a call. It's really hard, extremely hard, like - not eating another Lay's potato chip, hard - or not saying 'bless you' to someone who sneezes, hard - or (if you're compulsive like me) not counting every occurrence of "buy-in" on each conference call, hard...

not to look THE SECOND they alert.

At one point, I thought of disabling the alerts for things that didn't need my attention completely, but I decided that would defeat some of the purpose, so I kept all of the (now horrifyingly annoying) sounds: chimes, beeps, clicks, rings, tones, music, and buzzes turned on.

I do enjoy my commitment to the project, and the fact that when I find I can't comply, I don't just skip to the next chapter because I've sat for the prescribed week with this one. Commitment isn't always bad. It's nice to know I'm consistent with my compulsion, the same thing that makes it impossible for me think before looking at my iPhone also makes it impossible for me to half-ass this challenge - but, uh... geez.

Okay, so I'm stuck. Until I can feel like at least half of my phones' noises don't compel me to pick the device up, I can't move on. So let's examine that for a second: compulsion. We're compelled to do a lot of things.
  • Clean up your table in a busy lunchroom so someone can have your spot
  • Appear at jury duty
  • Ask someone how their day is going when they make eye contact in the elevator
  • Hush a crying baby
  • Swat gnats flying in your eyeballs
  • Reciprocate
  • Pick up the phone and call for takeout
  • Bite your fingernails
If you look at the motivations behind all of these compulsions - and they are compulsions, no one genuinely cares how your day is going - they're all things that probably compel us more than we'd like. Politeness, the law, social norms, someone else's comfort, your own comfort, the weird laws of balance in the universe, your hungry tummy, your subconscious distress with your upbringing - all of these things make us mindless.

At one point, during a conversation today, I stuttered long enough to take a breath, and found what I was about to say entirely compulsory. I didn't mean it, I didn't want to say it, and it didn't have to come out of my mouth. This is the kind of control it takes to breathe before you answer the phone. Seems easy, but we're robots when it comes to these things. Until I have a decent handle on compulsion, I can't move on... I can't stop picking my cuticles long enough to write this blog, much less answer a Pavlovian tone on my phone with pause. Once a day is not enough. I feel like a bell goes off and I salivate - for the email or call or badge or whatever. I'm in control, not the bell.

Here's hoping this doesn't take all year!

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