“Uuuuuuup! Doooooooooooowwwn!” … “Uuuuuuuuup! Dooooooooooowwwnn!” … “Uuuuuuuuuuup! Dooooooooooowwwnn!”
– Mr. Miyagi, The Karate Kid
Did you know it’s possible to actually change your brain? The real, physical, grey and grody pulpy mass thingie? Yup – so I’m told by persons who actually know stuff.
When you change a behavior, replacing an old habit or reaction with something new, you actually build a new path in the ol’ noggin.
Were you to install a skylight in your skull (which I don’t think is wise, just for the record), you’d see little road construction vehicles, driven by little guys in yellow vests, with other little guys in yellow vests drinking coffee and holding little STOP/SLOW signs, ticking off other little guys in little vehicles who are already 20 minutes late for that important meeting with Steve the Mental Hamster, and it’s the third time being late this month, and there are rumors of staff reductions, and nobody wants to be transferred “downstairs,” doing the kinds of work that make everyone cringe when watching Dirty Jobs with Mike Rowe reruns.
Or am I the only one who imagines this sort of activity? Perhaps I watched Tron or Tron: Legacy one too many times?
** by the way, just kidding about the whole “yellow vests, standing around drinking coffee.” Just about anybody on a road construction crew could whip my tuckus with one Thermos tied behind their back. **
But it’s not easy, building those neural pathways. The old stuff doesn’t want to go away just because I see something new and shiny that I’d really like to do. Nope. This here groove is deep, this here groove is wide, it’s served us well for nigh unto 52 years, and we sees no reason that it ought to be changed. Nope. Nosir. Nope.
It’s only by showing up, doing the new, keeping after it, telling the Internal County Commission that we’re a’comin’ through, come heck or high water, and doing this day after day that we finally make something new.
And even then, if we don’t keep after it, the new doesn’t stick.
Take Tai Chi, for example…
I took my first Tai Chi class a year ago January, and immediately fell in love. I had wanted to pursue it for years, but never ever thought I’d be able to. It was a huge dream come true, and I found that I deeply love it. Tai Chi does amazing things for both body and mind – it teaches my new body how to move, increases my flexibility, keeps me balanced, and reminds me that some dreams do come true.
So why haven’t I been to class in a couple of months? Why haven’t I at least been watching my instruction DVD and practicing? Or doing the part of the form that I do remember?
Because the new habits, the new pathways are easily killed. It starts with something simple – entering December, holiday rush, no time to practice, so I’ll just lay Tai Chi aside and catch up with it in January. January comes, and I’m still recovering from the holidays. No time to practice, so I’ll go next week. Or the following week. Or the other following week. Maybe next month. If I had time to practice, then I’d feel ready to go back. Or a place to practice – there’s just not enough room anywhere in the house with all this crap… um, stuff. And after all, I’d just be wasting my teacher’s time, and holding back the rest of our class. No – I’ll get back to it when I’m ready…
The Internal County Commission laughs, pours another round of coffee, and gets back to paper shuffling. The “new guy” hangs his head and wanders out of town. The new desires die, the old wins. And change never happens.
Or riding my trike…
If you know me at all, you know that my recumbent trike, Big Blue (and my Rover before it), is an essential part of my world. Riding is my prime replacement behavior for food addiction, and much of the wondrous transformation I’ve been through has been accomplished on three wheels, by God’s grace. I ride bike trails, I ride city streets, I dream of doing the Dalmac ride from Lansing to Mackinaw, and of doing my first century. (100 miles in one ride) The Lakeshore trail in Chicago still awaits (36 miles of amazing – it was on last year’s list, but time and finances killed it, so it’s high on this year’s list), as does riding in Holland and Grand Haven. Yeah, I’m a little obsessed with riding my trike.
So why so often when it’s beautiful and sunny, do I find reasons not to be out? Even on some of those amazing sunny, snow-free and unseasonably warm days we’ve had in this bizarre winter of 2012, you can find me flattening my fanny on a chair in the living room instead of toning my fanny on the trike. (Yeah, it’s cold, but I like riding in the cold, so no excuse there. Take today for example – sunny, no snow, it’s February, and a nippy 34 degrees outside. Yet I’m out riding. Like I said, I do like riding in the cold. Cold AND sunny? Oh heavens, yes!)
The old fights constantly, trying to keep the status quo. It resists change at all costs, even at the cost of harm to the whole body and mind. It rebels, it resists, it never willingly jumps in and participates, and it’s what the phrase “kicking and screaming” is all about.
Ok, that phrase is actually about a ticked toddler, but in many ways our ingrained nature is a toddler, and a dang spoiled one at that.
Now, these examples are physical pursuits. But don’t think the world of the mind is any easier…
How about the simple practice of spending time in God’s word every day? In my world, ‘simple’ means turning on the iPod, playing the Daily Audio Bible, mindfully listening, and allowing the Word to speak to me. No page turning, no deciding where to read next – just show up and listen.
So why is it a test of my resolve every day to get it done? To keep up with it, and go through the whole Bible in a year, setting aside time in my day every day to hear God’s Word and to allow it to penetrate my heart and mind? Why do I have to possess an iron-clad determination to just show up?
How about writing? I get to sit at Biggby (or another coffeehouse du jour, although my heart belongs to the East Beltline Biggby), ponder deep thoughts, and see where the words take me. It’s a blessing, a luxury, and although it is essential to my mental recovery, it’s still extravagant.
But to do it faithfully, I have to make it an iron-clad resolution. No excuses, no weaseling out of it, just make it happen.
Audio editing? I’ve got a backlog of projects that I need to have done weeks ago. Not hard, just time. I get to go sit somewhere, listening to audio books, editing, sipping a coffee or an iced tea. And yet, I drag my heels. Why?
Because the Internal County Commission doesn’t like change, doesn’t like anything outside of the comfortable, the small, the dumb. It likes the life of living in the recliner, immobile at 480 pounds, because then one has an excuse to not have to think, to not have to work, to not have to make things happen. Just sit here, make this chair your world, only do what you can reach from your pudgy perch, and don’t strain. After all, you don’t have the energy to do anything else. A deep, wide groove that has been my only choice for so many years, I don’t remember any other choices.
Oh yes, the Commission did indeed get the memo that there have been major changes. The pounds have dropped, new things are being learned, and the big blue recliner was tossed in the garbage. Doesn’t matter – as long as there’s a chair in the living room, and a table, and some yarn, and some snacks, and a DVD remote, and a game controller, and a semi-darkened house, and a dog to keep me company, well, things can stay just as they are – just as wonderful, just as safe, just as subversive, soul-robbing, mind-numbing, hope-crushing, body-wasting… just as they always were.
And as they have been for more years than I can remember.
How easy was it for Daniel to learn karate in “The Karate Kid?” Hours upon hours of one or two motions… “Wax on, wax off.” “Paint da fence – up! Down!” “Sand da floor.” “Side to side.” Hours and hours, one or two motions at a time, same motion, same angle, same breathing…
Until the day that Daniel loses it, blows a fuse, and discovers what Mr. Miyagi has been up to all along. When all the repetition and focus add up to what was really being learned.
I need to be learning the small motions – “iPod on! Ears open!” “Hiney at Biggby! iPad on! Type on keyboard!” “Trike out! Ride on!” “Chair bad! Moving good!” “Lazy brain off! Audio editing on!”
“Oh, and tell the Internal County Commission to go stuff it someplace. There’s been a coup, and the new regime is taking over.”
Ah, the continuing war of the old and the new. At least I’m not unique – it’s a struggle as old as the history of people, and well-documented in the Bible. The old nature doesn’t go without a fight, never gives in, and requires constant work to keep in check. The new, with all its wonders and freedom, is frail and fleeting, can vanish without notice, and is in constant danger of assault from the old. Unless we defend it, it will lose the war.
The hope is this – in Christ, we are given the strength, the hope and the tools we need to wage this war. Our armor is provided, the strength to swing the sword is promised, and we have a shield and refuge to run to and hide in. So we can get back in there, pick up where we left off, and continue the battle.
The end of the Book tells us that the outcome is already decided – we win. Now all we have to do is show up, fight, and keep going.
Thanks, Father, that you provide what is needed for this day, every day. Help me to put on the armor, to take up the sword and to fight. Give me the sight to see the darkness of the old nature, the strength to defy it and the hope of the new. Thanks for proving Yourself faithful again and again and again, all along this amazing journey. For this is a war, but it’s also an adventure. Help me see both the wonder and the warfare, keeping my eyes on Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith.
Wax on, wax off. Wax on, wax off. Wax on, wax off…