What we repeatedly do

Is it not a good jest that when God gave us work to do as punishment for our disobedience in Eden, it was work that could never be finished, but only repeated, day in and day out, season upon season, year after year? Acedia & Me p195

Early this morning, in my first swim toward the surface of awakeness, I thought: I didn’t lay anything out last night. What will I write about today?

I have tidied up my digital stack of note-scraps, glanced at my books with tabs in them, and looked once more at Acedia & Me. There are only a few tabs still stuck on its pages, and the quotes they mark don’t mass together in my mind. I am ready to declare my work here finished…which I bet my opening quote did NOT lead you to expect!

Though really, reading books and thinking about them is not the work given to us in Eden. Mowing the yard, which is what I’ll be doing next, is. Mowing is still new enough to me that I haven’t dumped it in my mental bin of “oh no, not that again.” Or I could be close enough to enlightenment that I’ll just skip it to where I store ‘putting away dishes’: brief and, after 23 years, nearly automatic.

But it’s my dislike of repetition, that building block of habit, that got me blogging lo these few years ago. Punishment, indeed–nothing new to think about? No fertile field for innovation, or even novelty? Do the same thing again, like last time?

Perhaps it becomes easier for me to sit alongside habit as time/age steadily damps down emotion’s intense amplitudes. Perhaps habit becomes more attractive as I move farther into the senior woman’s space of “Who has time for this nonsense?!” 

I aperciate the research demonstrating how repetition’s habits liberate the thinking mind–how a habit removes items from consuming front-of-brain energy. I even have my own case study: within the past year or so I realized I no longer dread driving a car. It’s moved to emotionally neutral, or sometimes mildly pleasant. Me, who at 16 informed my parents I need never learn to drive because I would only use public transportation. (I was a generation ahead with that, evidently–but I digress!) Over 30 years of practice, the elements of driving have now become so habitual that driving has receded from my front of brain.

So I’m willing, now, to actively enfold habits. I am able to step outside my repetition-as-punishment mindset, and even see a reward: the more automatic the habit, the freer my mind can be. But as I put Norris’ book away on my shelf, I want to challenge myself one step further:

Kierkegaard reminds us that “repetition is the daily bread which satisfies with benediction.” p195

God’s hand on my head, setting a blessing for going forth, embedded in those things I do repeatedly. Huh.

Savoring my habits as blessed sending rather than using habit to dismiss tasks as I focus on something different. Now there’s a vision for me to run towards.


The title is taken from philosopher Will Durant’s summary of some of Aristotle’s thinking:

Excellence is an art won by training and habituation: we do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but rather have these because we have acted rightly; these virtues are formed in man by doing his actions; we are we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.
– Will Durant, The Story of Philosophy (1926)

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