Working with the Habits of Impulse


What happens we meditate just to keep things on an even keel? In this post, I talk about opening to experience as it is without trying to control it. Sometimes it just takes a gentle nudge.

For me, spiritual practice is about being present to life as it unfolds moment by moment. This isn’t always easy, of course. What I often notice is a subtle impulse to regulate my inner world. That’s what I practice with.

I think this impulse is pretty normal. It’s like adjusting the temperature in a room. It gets too hot, I pop open a window. It gets too cold, I turn up the heat. Clearly, a part of me wants to maintain some level of comfort. There’s nothing wrong with that.

At the same time, this is precisely the way habitual patterns develop. What I notice is that I have kind of a knee jerk reaction to my inner experience whenever it gets a little messy. My impulse is to fix it, however I can.

This impulse to regulate our experience naturally transfers to our spiritual practice. When that happens, spirituality becomes just one more way to try to keep things on an even keel.

But if everyday practice is about being present to life as it unfolds, doesn’t this imply learning how to tolerate and even appreciate the subtle changes in the weather? I’m not necessarily talking about tsunamis, just the moment to moment changes in the light.

Each moment brings a small variation in experience. Cultivating an awareness of these small variations and developing the capacity to notice them leads to a willingness, and even desire, to allow life to just be as it is. What I have discovered is things are not always on an even keel, so it doesn’t make sense for me to try to make them so.

The whole world is moving, inside and out. I think that allowing that movement to occur, even flowing with it, is a key to cultivating health and well being. It seems that when I allow the ups and downs of my experience to flow through me like a river, I am washed clean.

All I’m really talking about is developing a new habit which begins with looking directly at my inner experience and being curious about it. What I notice first is the impulse to regulate my thoughts and emotions.

So I redirect that impulse with a gentle nudge and invite myself to experience the full range of my inner experience instead. Then I play with it, see what I can tolerate, possibly even appreciate. I also give myself full permission to regulate again if it feels too hard.

For me, it’s all about falling in love with life and staying in that love. I think the only way to do that is to stay completely open to the experience without requiring it to meet my definitions. Definitions tend to get stale pretty quickly, but life is a vibrant ecstasy of ever changing wonder.

I used to guard myself from the fullness of life. Now I want to drown in it.

As Jesus says, “I came that you may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10) That’s what it’s all about – life, eternal life, everlasting life, ever evolving life. Ironically, the more I let go, the more it carries me. The more I feel, the more I am felt.

Kimberly Holman

Kimberly Holman is a Certified Mindfulness Meditation Instruction with a B.A. in Psychology from the University of Maine and an M.A. in Religious Studies from Naropa University.

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