By Ruth Fishel, M.Ed.
The first thing I did every morning for many years was to read something inspirational and then meditate for at least 20 minutes. One day I received the surprise gift of an Ipad from a friend, a gift that would allow me to instantly access my email and the internet within seconds. Temptation smiled at my self- discipline and I thought, “Just this time I’ll take a peek at my email.” The “just this time” was fun and I began a new habit of checking in, that lasted for months. Each time I thought of stopping I told myself “just this one more time. I’ll stop tomorrow.” This is the same thing I have said to myself over the years for many other habits I wanted to give up such as alcohol, cigarettes and coffee.
I told myself that just for today I would not look at my Ipad before I meditated. And I let myself feel the feeling, the wanting mind, the need for instant gratification. I stayed mindful of all the uncomfortable feelings without pushing them away or trying to change them. And as I watched my feelings, they had less power over me. They softened in my body. I could smile at myself and know I didn’t have to do something just because I wanted to. It reminded me of a little booklet titled “I Don’t Gotta Just Because I Wanna!” which I wrote for kids when I was teaching meditation in schools. We can be mindful that we want to do something, we can watch what the wanting feels like, and we can realize that it is just a thought and we don’t have to give in to it. What a freedom!
We’re all filled with habits we have accumulated from the time we were
born. Actually some of our automatic responses came even earlier, from our parents, grandparents, their parents and so on. And many of these habits make us suffer deeply.
Over the years we develop many ways to search for joy. If we don’t like
how we feel, instead of looking for the source, the roots of our unpleasant feeling, so that it can be transformed, we look for instant change. Feeling irritable, unhappy, down or bored we go in many different directions until we find the quick fix. Some of us find solace in alcohol or look for a high in drugs. Others might turn to shopping, eating, sex or gambling to feel better. Even texting and looking at our email might take away our pain ...for a while. Soon all these escapes can become addictive. Without our being aware, we become hooked and we want more and more of what we think makes us feel good.
Many of the ways we speak to ourselves were habits formed in the past. Phrases such as: “I can’t get through this difficulty without a drink,” or “I’m not good enough,” or “I’m getting too old,” or “I’ll never have enough” can turn into “I’m afraid that I won’t have anyone to take care of me when I am older.” “What if my money runs out when I am old?” If you are used to having thoughts of fear or negativity, the thoughts of aging will trigger more of the same. “What if I have to live in a nursing home? What if I won’t have the energy to do the things I love?” Our negative thinking is one habit that can cause us very deep suffering.
As we learn to become more mindful, we can learn to quiet our minds and listen to what we tell ourselves. We begin to see how words have the power to make us feel good or bad, confident or fearful, positive or negative. It has been scientifically proven that the words we tell ourselves can make us healthy, depressed or sick. Once we realize that often how we feel is a direct result of how we talk to ourselves, we have a new and powerful tool for change. We learn we have a choice.
Practicing mindfulness, the simple practice of living in the present moment, helps us recognize when we discover a habit that is harmful to ourselves or others. When we find one that makes us suffer over and over again, rather than being upset with ourselves, beating ourselves up with guilt or embarrassment, we can treat ourselves gently. Meditation teacher and author Thich Naht Hanh suggests we say: “I can breathe, I can smile, I can change.” We replace the negative habit with a new and positive one. By reacting in this new way we lessen the hold the old habit has on us and gradually our new habit becomes more and more automatic.
I can affirm “It’s so good to know that I don’t have to be stuck with my old, negative habits.”
Warren Buffet writes: “Bad habits are like chains that are too light to feel until they are too heavy to carry.”
Mindfulness is simply a practice of quieting down our thoughts and being fully present in each moment. Mindfulness is a form of meditation, a time to quiet our mind, to simply notice what is going on in the present moment, a time to become balanced, a time to find inner peace. By adding mindfulness to your life, you can achieve a richer life. You can find more purpose, peace and joy as you age.
The practice is really very simple. Sit either in a crossed-leg position on a cushion, on a meditation bench, or with your feet on the ground in a chair,
wherever you are most comfortable. Sit with your back as straight as possible, with your eyes closed very gently, or look down at a 45-degree angle. Begin by being mindful of your breathing. Feel your breath going in and coming out of your nose. You can also watch your chest as it rises and falls and your stomach as it fills and empties.
It’s normal for thoughts to come in, your body to itch or hurt, or for you to become impatient. Simply notice whatever comes up that takes you away from your breathing and return to your breath, without any judgment. The more you practice, the more peaceful you become. Practice this for the minimum of 20 minutes every day. As you develop this practice each day, you will be able to bring this mindful awareness into other areas of your day.
Once we develop a daily sitting practice, we can then bring our awareness to the rest of our day. For example, we can be fully aware as we wash the dishes, take a shower, talk to a friend and so on. We begin to live more peacefully, without the constant chatter that goes on in one’s head when we are not mindful. We can catch ourselves more quickly when our thoughts are negative, or we find ourselves craving something that we know will cause our suffering. It’s worth the twenty minutes in the morning to bring peace into the rest of your twenty four hours and experience all the other healthy benefits that comes with it!
There is a relatively new field of neuroplasticity. It explains our ability to
actually change our brain, and thus change ourselves and our perception of the world around us. The ability to make our brain forgo its habitual internal wiring and fire new patterns and combinations is how neuroplasticity allows us to change. The good news is that our brains are NOT hard-wired, as it has been thought until very recently. Scientists have now proven that we have the ability to rewire and create new neural circuits at any age! The other part of this exciting news is that our thoughts can rewire our brain. It has been proven that the areas of our brain that are attributed to compassion and generosity grow in people who practice mindfulness. People who practice are less stressed and retain their memories as they age.
The more often we catch ourselves in a negative of self-destructive
thought, we are actually lessening our automatic reactions that produce stress and suffering and increasing reactions that produce joy, compassion, love and equanimity. It shows us we do not have to escape into our habits to be happier. Once you realize that how you feel is a direct result of how you talk to yourself, you have a new and powerful tool to change how you feel and then you have a choice. The exciting news is that our thoughts can rewire our brain.
Why not take some time today to look deeply into the habits that you
might have developed that pull you down and result in suffering. Where do you go to escape from the reality of the moment? What do you do to avoid unpleasant feelings? Learn to stay with feelings from which you usually try to escape. Be mindful and honest about what is going on. When stressed or upset, stop and bring your awareness to your breath as you breathe in and out three times.
We’re never too old to let go of bad habits that keep us from the joy of

Author's Bio: 

Ruth Fishel, MEd, is a prolific author, national retreat and workshop leader and meditation teacher. She is an ordained member of the Order of Interbeing, a social service organization established by the renowned peace activitist Thich Nhat Hanh. Her books include: WRINKLES DON’T HURT, Daily Affirmatkions on the Joy of Aging Mindfully, PEACE IN OUR HEARTS, PEACE IN THE WORLD, and TIME FOR JOY ( which has sold over 300,000 copies). She can be reached at ruth@ruthfishel.com or through her web site at www.ruthfishel.com.