I serendipitously discovered Mark Williams’ and Danny Penman’s Mindfulness two weeks ago. It’s in the same tradition as Jon Kabat-Zinn’s work, which I encountered at the beginning of this year and loved. I’ve been feeling my ability to be mindful and present slipping a little recently, so I decided to try the eight-week program the book lays out. Week one, which I started yesterday, is about waking up from autopilot, and one component of it is about breaking routines.
As you probably know, I fall into routines very easily. I find them comforting, in part because of their predictability. My senior year in high school, my friend Sarah and I stopped at the same deli for lunch almost every day. Every day, I ordered the same thing: Quick & Easy Corned Beef on wheat bread, sour cream and chive potato chips, and a Mountain Dew. She made fun of me for it — “Variety is the spice of life” she said — but I had a simple defense: “I know what I like best, and that’s what I want.”
The routine I’m focused on breaking this week is pretty trivial. I’m supposed to sit in different chairs than I normally do, or move those chairs to different places in the room. Seem pretty simple, right? Hah. Now, it’s important to understand: I have determined the best seat for me in the Starbucks I write at. If someone is sitting there, I hang out nearby, and as soon as they leave, I move it. So when I showed up today and realized I was supposed to break my routine, I started to get annoyed. All of the other good writing spots were taken. This wasn’t just my chair this was messing with, but my whole productivity scheme. If I couldn’t write over lunch, then…
And at that point I realized the best thing for me to do was not to try to write anything. I just got my cup of coffee, grabbed an overstuffed chair in the corner, and chilled. I noticed that the way the ceiling was hung was pretty cool, which was something I couldn’t see from my usual, favored location. I noticed a bunch of other things about the store that I hadn’t picked up on before — despite going there almost every weekday for the better part of six months. But most importantly, I noticed what was bothering me. I just sat with those things and let them pass. I took advantage of the moments of mental quiet that not-writing afforded me, and at the end of my cup, I found myself much calmer than I had been when I walked in.
Then I went back to work and ran one of the most effective retrospectives I’ve ever facilitated. There’s no way I would have been able to do that if I hadn’t been in the right headspace. And I only got there because came off autopilot, woke up to present, and did what made sense in the moment.
It’s funny what sitting in a different chair can do.