It is morning, mid-week and the temperature outside is in the single digits. As I write to you, the sky is mainly clear. The wind is mostly calm with a mild gust. It is cold and peaceful. I went out to start my car so it will be warm when I make my morning drive.
The white snow on the ground absorbs the moonlight. I love this. This somehow brightens the land around me. I am in the mountains and approximately 30 miles north of New York City.
Behind my home are a string of mountains that weave together. They are snow covered as well and the empty trees stick out from the snowy ground like hairs from an old man’s arm. I am no stranger to this scene and by now, I suppose neither are you.
I was thinking about the farm that I lived on. I was only a kid at the time. I was thinking about the cold mornings when I’d be up in the middle of the night for fire watch. I’d have to go to the barn and check the animals. I’d have to check the furnace in the main house and make sure there was enough wood to burn.
My memory of the actual chores are hazy at best. But more are the memories of the sky and the stars and the way the night was unmolested by the city lights or street lamps.
There was nothing else but the moon and the stars and the glassy-smooth look across the white-covered fields after the snowfall.
It was cold of course, but this was nothing short of beautiful. The world was peaceful and quiet. There was no one around and no one to interrupt the silence. I remember my breath smoking from my mouth and the sound of scattering pigs and sheep that were inside the barn.
My habits of the time were strict. Then again, there was no choice but to be strict. I had to be up before the sun and out of bed within 20 seconds.
I can remember the sound of the alarm screaming, which was only a touch less insulting than the sound of the dorm leader who ran over to the lights and screamed the count of 20.
By then, I had to have my bunk made and be on my way to the barn. Within minutes of our waking time, I was up and out and swinging a shovel to get pig slop out of the pigpens. Although there are good memories in the barn, they are certainly less peaceful than my memories on fire watch. Come daybreak and everything was fast. Move quickly. Hurry up. Let’s go, go, go! This was life back then.
I had to be sure to spread the hay. The cows were led in and milked by the milkers. I had to be sure to clean up behind them too. And I had to be fast about this.
The rules were that no one is allowed to be late at the breakfast table. Being late meant there was no breakfast. Hence, the reason for all the screaming and the mad rush to return to the bunk. You had to get back for a two-minute shower, which was literally two minutes with a dorm leader timing this. Plus, you wanted to get back and get in as soon as possible before the hot water ran out. Otherwise, freezing cold showers on cold mornings with frozen bits of pig slop and other great things were no fun at all.
I would like to talk now about a little word called “Dedication.”
Back on the farm, the word dedication meant different things. There were some people on the farm who chose this place to help them dedicate a change of life. And there were those who worked on the farm. They were connected here. They were there for longer than my brief stint.
Also, there were those who were health conscious and there were those who would look to be sure and get their cigarette breaks in whenever possible.
If we talk about dedication; let’s talk about smokers. I have been in some cold winters where the wind is sharp like the tail-end of a whip. There could be icicles coming down from runny nostrils but cold as it was, nothing would stop the smokers from getting their cigarette breaks. I would see them shiver. I would watch them jump up and down or dance in place, literally freezing their asses off, but dammit to hell if they didn’t get their smokes in.
I can remember the run from the dorms to the main house. I can remember cutting it close to the point where we were almost late – and here’s the bitch about this rule, if one was late, all were late. This means if one didn’t eat, no one ate.
We’d run from the dorm to the house and smokers would smoke, choking in the frosty air, coughing up lungs, but hey, they were dedicated to their choice.
I see this now in the City. I see them outside on the street, the smokers that is. It’s cold as ever and there they are, jumping up and down or dancing back and forth to stay warm. I see them puffing on their cigarettes to get their fix. Then off they go back into their office buildings and into their offices to return to their desks.
My work in the recovery field has shown me different sides of dedication as well. I have watched people devote themselves to a lifestyle that was less than fruitful. I have seen people dedicate themselves to their own demise. I have seen people with substance or alcohol use disorders who would otherwise die, yet the dedication to their habit is something that far exceeds description of sanity.
I have listened to people who talk about their lifestyle with regret. I have heard them talk about the miserable outcomes. I’ve heard people talk about quitting their habits. But what’s missing?
I go back to that word again: Dedication.
What does this mean? To be dedicated; to be devoted or committed to something with no retreat. There’s no backwards. Only forwards.
I think about the chains of our habits and wonder.
Imagine if we dedicated ourselves, Imagine if we were equally (if not more) as devoted or as earnest in a different direction. Imagine if our commitment to our bad habits were outweighed and overrun by that same dedication to change and move away.
In my past regrets, I spent a lot of time wasting my investments. I lost time and energy with anger, frustration and doubt. At best, I can say that I was an angry man. I can say that I was hateful. However, my eyes opened wide when I came to the truth.
I learned that my energy is always my energy. If I can hate that much then I could love just as equally, if not more, because the reward feeds me more.
On the verge of change, I realized that if I offered my changes the same honor and dedication as my habits, quitting anything would be simple.
Understand something, personal change is a mindset. This is a process in need of specific parts, which are all bound together with a specialized glue called, “Dedication.”
At one point, I was dedicated to my beliefs. I was dedicated to my habits. I was dedicated to my thinking and dedicated to my acts.
Transformation is only transformation. In some regards, I can remember when I transformed into a monster. However, in itself, transformation is neutral. It is us, however.
We are the direction. We are the conductors on this locomotive that we call life. We are the engineers and the brake person. We are the throttle and the brakes. Our speed, direction and destination are determined by one incredible thing: Our dedication.
I’ve heard people accuse and call someone lazy. I’ve seen people call the out-of-work, unemployed and the unemployable lazy. Meanwhile, I’ve seen people work so hard to get out of work, it would be easier to do the job and be done with it. The predicament is emotion and control. We want what we want. And when do we want it?
I heard someone remark about a homeless person on the street. They talked about this person’s life as if their opinions were all high and mighty.
I offered, “I bet you that person has to work harder for his lifestyle than you do for yours.” I was pointing out the need to keep with a poisonous fix. “Addiction is a full time job,” I said.
I was talking about a habit that comes with unthinkable withdrawals and that without honoring their habit, the sickness is incredible.
I doubt the person I was speaking with was open-minded enough to understand where I was coming from. But that’s not my business. I suppose he was too dedicated to his point to listen to a different point of view. And there it is again. There’s that word – dedication.
Imagine the improvements we could make. Imagine the goals we could achieve. Imagine the world and what it would be like if we updated our thinking and switched our dedication in a different direction.
If a smoker was as dedicated to changing their health as they were to a cigarette or, if eating is a problem and rather than dedicating the energy to break or the wasteful calories (and by the way, immediately, fast food comes to mind, tacos, burgers and fries, burritos and the list could go on) but imagine if our dedication to sweets and snacks were switched into a new direction. I say a new direction but with equal dedication. What would happen if we were dedicated to our nutrition instead of eating with our minds and glorifying a two-piece menu with fries and a shake?
The glory of change and any worthwhile transformation is not free or simple. It is not quick or as instantly gratifying as something like deep fried Oreos. Ever have them?
They are literally the most sugary sinful thing in the world. You eat a bag of this and fall into this food coma, as if to be narcotized by sweetness met with deep fried flavor. Or wait, what about deep fried Twinkies? See what I mean?
Our mind goes to the treat. We go to the reward. Our spirit of dedication is moved by this; therefore, we honor the need to solve the desire, to feel better, to have our fix and feel good.
Mindful practice teaches us ways to overcome the thinking errors of our habits. We learn new ways and replacement strategies.
I have seen people who transformed their life, not only physically, but emotionally and professionally as well. And how did they do this?
And what fueled their dedication?
Practice. Patience. Accountability. Distraction and replacement methods. Finding new rewards. Learning new outlets. Honoring new directions and updating their thinking and belief system.
As a kid, my Mom once told me that if I was as dedicated to cleaning my room as I was to messing it up, I’d have the cleanest room in the world.
She told me if I spent as much time memorizing my studies in school as I did memorizing lyrics of songs, I’d have graduated as valedictorian.
Mom was always right . . .
If people were as dedicated to physical and mental health as they were to quick fixes, we’d all be in great shape. This means things like deep fried Oreos wouldn’t even be a thought . . . with confectioners sugar, hot and toasty and crispy in a bag. Gone in minutes.
See what I mean?