I took this picture just over a week ago during a three day practicum for my Mindfulness and Leadership class. As you can see, it was an absolutely perfect day! Throughout our time, we had the opportunity to approach mindfulness from a number of different perspectives. We talked about Buddhism, Ignatian contemplation, and even neuroscience. One of the topics that struck me is the role of homeostasis in life.
The interesting thing about homeostasis is that it resists any kind of change, regardless of whether it is for the better of worse. If a room gets too cold, the heater will kick on to bring the temp back up. If a room gets too hot, the AC will kick on and bring the temp back down. Thinking about homeostasis can help us to better understand habits and patterns. For example, homeostasis creates a new perspective on backsliding. When we are seeking growth in any dimension, we usually become frustrated when we stop seeing forward progress and start backsliding. Instinctively, we begin to blame ourselves for failing. Understanding homeostasis, however, helps us to see that backsliding is not only a natural tendency but also an essential tendency. It’s kind of the whole “one step back, two steps forward” idea.
Growth is not only accompanied by backsliding but also plateaus. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve attempted to master some kind of skill (magic tricks, chess, music, etc.) and have reached a seemingly indefinite plateau of growth. Plateaus, however, aren’t negative things but are just another part of the journey. Growth is slow and steady and the absolute worst thing we can do is dismiss the importance of little things we do in life. The majority of our habits have simple little triggers. For instance, I know that I will spend significantly more time looking at my phone if I am sitting down versus standing. My solution: stand up every time I check my phone. It may seem silly, but the trigger of sitting down and checking my phone wastes a surprising amount of time that could be used otherwise. I’m currently reading St Terese of Lisieux’s autobiography, in which she emphasizes the importance of the little way: “Miss no single opportunity of making some small sacrifice, here by a smiling look, there by a kindly word, always doing the smallest right and doing it all for love”. It is not the large efforts but the small efforts that invariably adjust the thermostat of homeostasis. Mindfulness is a wonderful tool in helping to identify those small agents of change that have the capacity to harm us or help us grow.