Routines: Short-Sighted or Salvation?

So many perspectives shift as we age and I was just ruminating about one such shift in my own life; that of the value of routines.  While in college I became deeply immersed in the philosophy of the Don Juan/Carlos Castaneda series of books.  One of the things Don Juan railed against was the human predilection to develop routines within our daily lives.  I remember him chiding Carlos with his apparently very realistic imitation of a factory whistle which signaled when it was time to start work, stop work, take breaks and finally go home.  At the time I found his arguments extremely compelling regarding how routines limited human freedom and the ability to experience new and unexpected things.  I could see how the development and implementation of routines could be viewed as limiting the human experience and even be the product of a lazy mind.  In this perspective allowing one’s self to succumb to routines was a very negative practice to be avoided at all costs.

Fast forward four decades and my, my but my perspective on routines has changed!  Without question the major shift is based upon aging as from an intellectual standpoint I can still see mainly negatives to establishing and utilizing routines.  But the realities of aging have caused me to rely more and more on routines to manage my day to day existence.  Sure, life continues to become more complex and that means more technology which requires more willingness to learn and retain said learning’s but I also cannot ignore the fact my mental ‘edge’ is nowhere near as sharp as, say, fifteen years back.  In response to pieces of this increasingly complex lifestyle I have come to rely on some basic routines.  In addition, I also use routines to insure I undertake activities and events which I might otherwise skip or put off.  A classic example of the latter involves my stepping; I currently take anywhere from 11,500 to 13,000+ daily steps.  Across the first five to seven hours of my day, when I am largely at my system, I also take between 1,000 and 2,000 steps each hour – generally at the bottom of each hour.  This routine forces me to get off my fat butt at least once an hour and perform a bit of exercise.  Because I am, and have always been, a very lazy person regarding physical exercise I really fought against the daily urges to put off my stepping.  But with the advent of my hypertension diagnosis, and then exacerbated by my late onset Type 2 diabetes, I knew I had to become more active and said physical activity had to be on a daily basis.  The only way I knew to virtually guarantee I fulfill my exercise requirement on a daily basis was to turn those first 2,000 to 3,000 morning steps into a routine.  Within about two months I had made getting up in the morning and quickly getting in those initial steps a habit; once I get those steps done it just ‘flows’ into doing the remainder of my quota.

In this sense the routine of arising and almost immediately doing those first 2,000+ steps  is a healthy habit and really helps me get at least some daily exercise.  Across the last month and a half I’ve turned my daily morning blood glucose testing into a routine.  When tracking one’s blood glucose it is important to do one’s ‘stick’ at the same time each day to avoid introducing variability into the measurements.  As I prepared to add the blood glucose (BG) testing to my morning/evening blood pressure measurements it occurred to me I should combine the BG testing with the AM blood pressure measurement.  I’ve now standardized on taking my morning blood pressure around 05:50 and my daily BG test around 06:00.  I also record these values in spreadsheets which help make it even more difficult for me to forget to perform these daily requirements.  Once again, I view these routines as invaluable aids that help me handle some daily requirements which have become crucial to my health.

I suppose I could set schedules on my cell phone and/or network regarding these important functions but is not doing so the same as making them a routine?  As an older human being I find comfort in my routines; they offer me a degree of ‘consistency’ in what appears, at least to me, to be an increasingly inconsistent world.  And they are also rather like ‘old friends’ who’s presence is somehow reassuring and pleasurable.  But mostly, they insure I perform activities and handle events that are a necessary part of my existence; events and activities I might otherwise forget or forgo.  In the latter sense my routines are making up for a lack of real commitment and willpower on my part.

Given all this I have to admit to really shifting my valuation of routines based mostly upon my aging.  But I remain vaguely uncomfortable with the whole concept because I can still recognize that to rely on routines more and more does, indeed, begin to limit one’s ability to really ‘push the envelope’ and be willing to try new things.  Without question, this entire topic is one which really evokes a sense of ambiguity within my soul!  Most likely, the best way to resolve this ambiguity would be to accept that with age some ‘routine reliance’ is a good thing and probably healthy but – as with all things in life – needs to be used in moderation.  The real trick is understanding what said ‘moderation’ involves and then living it…

 

routine-spirals

The trap of routine behaviors

The Balance In Letting Go

During a recent email exchange with a good friend I declared I believed all of life is a balancing act and then suggested this might be based on my ‘Type 6’ personality in the wisdom of the Enneagram and being a Libra in terms of astrology which has a balance as its symbol.  While I am an ardent follower of the wisdom surrounding the Enneagram I never had much faith in astrology; it has far too many glaring inconsistencies.  This conversation started me thinking much more about the concept of balance in one’s existence.  At some point I realized I had the foundation for another blog piece.

I cannot deny I feel and function best when my life is in balance but just what does this concept involve?  It can be very difficult to define yet most of us would recognize this state of being and almost certainly understand what it feels like to be ‘out of balance’.  Many eastern philosophies speak of being ‘centered’; I believe this is synonymous with being ‘in balance’.  Both imply a state of being in which our existence ‘feels’ equalized within all the surrounding forces both external and internal.  In another sense our internal energies are in balance with all external energies providing a ‘sum zero’ existence.  Imagine a bubble floating in the air, moving neither up nor down, right or left.  Its internal pressure is equally balanced against the external pressure allowing it to maintain its iridescent sphere of film.  I conjure this image when meditating or performing other efforts to regain my center.  Without question I feel better when my life is balanced even though such states of being are very difficult to attain let alone maintain.

Of late I’ve begun to wonder if the whole ‘in balance’ thing is just a philosophical construct.  While setting one’s sights on such a goal may not be a bad thing, to cling to such a drive on this plane is probably a snipe hunt.  The more I dwell on this concept the more I believe it is probably best to keep all things in ‘moderation’ – at least where ever possible – and just go with the flow.  Part of me believes this is my attempt to resign myself to the fact I will most likely never achieve a real state of ‘balance’, at least for any period of time, and hence have lowered the bar.  But I do believe if I could moderate all my beliefs, my passions, my emotions and similar I would probably be a much more balanced person.  And I honestly do embrace the concept of just ‘going with the flow’; as I’ve written in previous postings some of the best things that have occurred in my existence have come from truly letting go and just allowing the Universe to flow through and direct me.  However, as with the concept of balance, I find it very difficult to honestly let go.  This is reflected in my ‘Type 6’ personality as one of the major attributes is being ‘security oriented’.  One of the toughest things for a Type 6 person to really embrace is the concept that almost all their ‘securities’ are illusion.  I understand and do embrace the idea of really letting go but I have a very difficult time doing so because I remain so afraid that letting go will compromise my security.

For me, letting go is hand in hand with the concept of ‘pushing one’s own comfort zone’ which is another way of saying reaching for goals well outside of one’s daily existence.  Like so many people, I am not really comfortable doing this yet I have a long history which proves to me that great things happen when I am willing to do so.  One example is my volunteering at KTNA doing live radio; as a young child I struggled intensely with stuttering for which I went to therapy but had little success.  Because of this I was terrified of speaking live in front of people.  Over the decades I slowly learned to manage the issue but I always knew it remained within me.  I was given the opportunity to become a ‘trainer’ for field sites when the company I worked for was rolling out new operating systems and applications; I spent many sleepless nights wondering if I should accept.  Finally, in a fit of desperation, I truly ‘let go’ and agreed.  The upshot was I became one of two top rated instructors – based on feedback by the students – and was even offered a posting as the trainer for a large plant in Georgia.  Despite this success when I was encouraged to volunteer at KTNA and do live radio I was once again shy and afraid.  But I needed a way to become more familiar with the immediate area as well as get my name out – I moved to the Talkeetna area knowing no local folks – so I finally agreed.  I’ve now been doing live radio as either newscasts or music shows for almost four years and I cannot imagine not doing so.  None of this would’ve happened had I not ‘let go’ and just went with the flow.

So why do I continue to resist and even fear letting go?  I have a bad habit of trying to make my life as comfortable (i.e. ‘secure’) as possible yet in my 63 years I’ve yet to learn that to really exceed at such an effort virtually guarantees I will become ‘comfortably numb’.  As soon as this settles in I become bored, lazy and begin to lose sight of that big picture.  And this causes a loss of moderation and focus as well as a feeling of being out of balance.  Ultimately, this will lead to depression and a loss of interest regarding life in general; I know because I’ve walked this path far too many times.  So once again, given I know all this why do I so resist letting go?  I suspect it all comes back to that ‘devil in the details’ involved in knowing something intellectually but not really embracing it spiritually.  My memories prove to me that letting go produces some wonderful results and is rarely negative; this forces me to accept the premise on an intellectual basis.  But my fear of releasing my ‘security’ – illusionary as it is – and really allowing myself to just go with the flow still frightens me and causes me to ultimately accept comfortable numbness over the unknown.  While age has exacerbated this issue I cannot place all the blame in that area as I have demonstrated real ‘neophobe’ tendencies for decades.  No, I do fear dropping my guard to allow myself to really let go and I also am lazy and I know doing so will require a lot of energy.  But long term refusal to at least try to just go with the flow will lead to a negative situation which I know all too well.

Quite obviously I am a human being with some definite imbalances and one of the worst is the aforementioned inability to resolve my perceived need for security versus my acknowledgement of the benefits of just letting go and allowing the Universe to offer up ideas and paths for me to walk.  In a way by identifying this imbalance I’ve taken the first step towards working the issue and, hopefully, resolving it.  A simple axiom from long ago comes to mind as I reflect upon this situation; ‘none are so blind as those who will not see’.  Perhaps it is time for me to finally face the delusion of my ‘security’ and come to ‘see’, at the deepest levels, its myth..?