An Appreciation of Habits

Interesting how many unthinking habits are revealed when the pressure tank in the well fails, and a household is without water! Over the years, we’ve been waterless several times, for different reasons. The most difficult was the winter it got down to 30F below and someone forgot to leave faucets dripping, resulting in a frozen water line. That time it took 4 days to restore water flow, fortunately without associated broken pipes. Four days of not being able to flush toilets, or easily wash hands. Of hauling water in three gallon bottles, doling it out in dribbles for washing with a cloth in the sink, “birding off” as a friend used to call it (another acquaintance used to refer to the same process, I know not why, as a whore bath).

This latest episode of being without running water lasted only a little over 24 hours, in warm enough weather to need to shower, not just dab and dry. I gained experience at showering without access to running water back in my early teens, when we lived in Saigon.

Our House, a Very Very Very Fine House - Saigon, 1956

Our House, a Very Very Very Fine House – Saigon, 1956

Water only flowed in our housing compound for about two hours a day. The live-in maid would fill large vats with a hose from a standpipe, then carry buckets up to the bathroom whenever someone needed to bathe. Showering became a matter of pouring a bucket over oneself, soaping, pouring another bucket to rinse, and drying off. In the steamy heat, two or even three showers a day were necessary. A five person household used a vat of water just for bathing. The second vat supplied water for cooking and mopping and hand washing.

In those days, I also learned how to throw a bucket of water (the third vat’s supply) with just the right force, at just the right angle, into a toilet to force it to flush. In recent days, I learned I am still able to shower by the bucket, but have lost the knack of the toilet flush. Or maybe modern toilets are less amenable to alternative flushing procedures? In any case, the knowledge of how to manage without running water rose up from depths, at the same time as I caught myself automatically reaching behind to flush the toilet that had no water in its tank. Knowing there was no water did not stop the unthinking hand gesture.

How many other actions of daily life, including much less mundane ones, do we unthinkingly perform? How many aspects of our routine do we take for granted? And what about people… how often do we take them for granted? Or respond to them out of habit? Or respond to a present situation with an inappropriate habit learned in childhood?

Regrettably, my mother was only able to experience disappointment with life. She had a unique knack for projecting that disappointment, ensuring by her actions that anything I looked forward to with happy anticipation would fit her world view, and therefore not materialize positively in my life. My childhood was one of fearing to express what I wanted, since to do so was to assure it would not happen. Put differently, I became ingrained with the behavior of waiting for the other shoe to drop. As I matured, left home and began living my own values, I gradually freed myself from maternal negativity, and experienced lots of positives. Life brings mostly what one looks to receive from it – and I look with curiosity for new opportunities, good friends, and spiritual growth. I’ve been blessed to receive an abundance of all these.

So – how surprising to discover, in recent days, that a corner of my being is busy defending itself against a shoe dropping, in relation to my upcoming new employment! Why am I suddenly hearing myself reason that I should delay certain purchases because one should never “count chickens before they are hatched?” In ten weeks of living and working on the Maine coast at a home without electricity, I ‘forgot’ the habit of reaching for a wall switch when I entered a dark room. So why do I, after 50 years of living away from my mother’s fearful negativity still subconsciously duck and cover in response to upcoming positive and desired changes?

The Habit of Following Along

The Habit of Following Along

Well, at least I recognize the old emotional habit and can now practice setting it aside. I hope I have more success breaking that pattern than I’ve had with the one that leads me to look up to the right as I leave my living room. For nearly 20 years I had a clock on that right-hand wall – it’s been gone for 2 years now but I still glance there to see the time. And then laugh at myself. I suspect that being able to laugh at practicing an outdated habit is a step in the direction of letting it go, so I will chuckle to myself if I fall back into emotional duck and cover. What better way to switch over to a positive attitude?

And I do intend to retain the habit of washing with minimal water, although not the bucket method needed so recently. Collecting the water that accumulates until a suitable temperature is reached, and turning off the shower while soaping up, have become common sense habits in our continuing drought-plagued environment. Hmmm… I wonder, if someday I move to a place where water is abundant, will my water-saving habits endure?

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