I am not in the habit of making coffee. It is something I very rarely do. Mind you, I drink it like a caffeine-junkee who’s sure today is the last day coffee will be available ever, but I rarely make the coffee I drink. This past week I made every cup of it. Well, every cup except the one pictured here.
Carmen the dog is in the habit of walking three times a day. It’s part of her — ermmm, how to put this delicately? — constitutional. There are things she will not do to relieve herself in the backyard and so she relies on those thrice daily walks. I, however, am not in the habit of walking her three times a day. The midday walk has been my responsibility since Carmen came to live with us, and for the most part it is the only one I’ve done.
I am in the habit of sleeping on the right side of the bed. And by right, I mean my side or not the wrong side. It may actually be the left side depending on your perspective, but I know it as my side. If there is no one else in the bed, I am still on the right side, not the middle, and never the wrong.
These are just a few minor habits of mine that came to my awareness this past week. Bruce, the maker of coffee and twice-daily walker of dog and usual occupant of my wrong side of the bed (his right, of course), was out of town, and we muddled through without him. Even the last evening, having to walk the dog on her third walk of the day and set up the coffee-maker and lock up the house, as well as the usual chores of making sure Kate didn’t run Lake Ontario dry with her shower before getting to bed on time and that she took her allergy meds, whilst remembering the dog’s nightly bit of rawhide and loading the dishwasher, threw me. It’s too much for one person to do in the short time it’s usually accomplished around here. Which is of course how it all got divvied up in the first place. Organically, for the most part (there are a few exceptions that required … words) without thinking about it, we settled into these grooves like a stylus on a vinyl disc … Oh, right. We don’t use those any more. But didn’t that technology make a lovely metaphor for ruts and routines and music-making while they lasted?
To muse a little further: These housekeeping habits are built over nearly three decades of choosing to live alongside Bruce, some by silently coordinating our efforts toward a common goal, and some banged out with fierce arguing over how best to accomplish something neither one of us likes to do, and a whole bunch others somewhere in between. We meet people we admire, about whom we want to learn more, with whom we wish to associate, and we match our pace to theirs for a little bit or for a long time depending on our circumstances. We take on habits of being that allow us to connect better with that other. Sometimes those associations fade long before the newly acquired habits do. Sometimes the habits lock us into unhealthy relationships.
Which brings me to monastic retreats and self-examination. Going outside my well-worn grooves, habits, routines, ruts, and matching my pace for a little while with those mindfully living a communal life set apart. Immersing myself in their order jars me out of mine, freeing me to begin to pare away unhealthy habits I might otherwise not have recognized as such, and to adopt new ones that are better for me. It also awakens me to relationships I have missed without knowing because the lack was covered over by layers of habitual thought or behavior that masked the void. Difficult work, but lucky to have it.
I am a creature of habit. Of course, so is Carmen the dog…