Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Monkey On Your Back

Over the several years I have written articles for this blog I have mentioned more than once how it seems we often get to a point in our lives where we have finally resolved some issue.  Then it pops up again, perhaps with a new face, or a new situation, but the same elements of stress, discomfort and perhaps fear.  What brought this to my attention was the proverbial email from a friend that included the following quote she had come across in a book she was reading.

"....even though you get the monkey off your back, the circus never really leaves town." 

I suppose finding these “old issues” popping up now and again could be likened to an athletic coach providing repeated situations to a team member so he/she could learn to react in the most effective manner.  Certainly, there is much to be said for practicing in order to gain better presentation of our efforts.  However, it is not simply practicing that “makes perfect.”  So-called perfection requires practicing properly, following certain steps designed to move you forward toward your best results.  For example, if you continue to find yourself behind in payment of your bills, you may have practiced with poor priorities in the use of your money.  If certain health conditions keep nagging at your sense of well-being, you may not have changed your practice around your diet, exercise or proper rest.

So even though we get “caught up” on paying bills once in awhile, old habits of spending more than we earn shows us the “circus never really leaves town.”  What this indicates is that we have not finished our work with whatever the challenge may be that haunts us.  The temptation to fall back into unproductive thinking and behavior is like visiting the circus again, with all its fakery and tricks for the gullible spectators.  To get the circus out of town we need to consciously develop new ways of doing things.  We need new ways of thinking.  Most of all we need new habits geared toward the practice of behaviors that replace unproductive ones.

Thomas M. Sterner, in the introduction to his powerful book, The Practicing Mind,[1]  states,

Of all the riches available to us in life, self-discipline is surely one of, if not the most valuable.  All things worth achieving can be accomplished with the power of self-discipline.  With it we are masters of the energy we expend in life.  Without it we are victims of our own unfocused and constantly changing efforts, desires and directions.

Mr. Sterner goes on in his book to talk about the importance of practice.  We all practice a variety of things every day.  This is not just in regard to learning to play an instrument, but touches everything we do.  Each routine we develop in our day’s activities is a practice of behavior.  Soon the routine is done with little or no thought.  Our practice builds habits and habits become the way we think, feel and act in response to life.  Changing from unproductive practices requires discipline and patience.

A paradox of life:  The problem with patience and discipline is that it requires both of them to develop each of them.[2]

How, then, do we build a practicing mind in regard to correcting our actions, for example, in our relationships?  What can I do to get not only the monkey off my back, but also send the circus packing?  In making any change in our life, we have to begin where we are.  It is necessary to recognize that how we interact with others is not producing the loving, joyful connections we want to experience.  When we begin to notice how easily we criticize others, we have our first recognition that we have developed a habit that is unproductive.  Now, we can catch ourselves when such criticism begins to well up in our thoughts.  The next step is to consciously speak well of others.  If we are not at a point where we can speak kindly about someone, at least we can be quiet and not hold in our thoughts the negative criticism.

No matter what issues and conditions continue to resurface in your life, change the way you think and talk about them and you will change the kinds of experiences you have.  Then you can finally wave happily as the circus leaves town!

[1] The Practicing Mind, Mountain Sage Publishing
[2] Ibid,, page 12

1 comment:

Dan Perin said...

I just discovered the source of the quote about the Monkey On Your Back:

"You can get the monkey off your back, but the circus never leaves town"
— Anne Lamott (Grace [Eventually]: Thoughts on Faith)