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Alarm Clock Model #2: Practice Menu

The second type of alarm clock, one that I've been using for many years, I call having a practice menu, where I have a different specific practice on each day of the week. I do the particular practice from the moment I wake up until I go to bed at night. Whenever possible, I pick a practice that might be particularly appropriate for each given day. For example, since Monday is a day that normally triggers a higher level of irritation, I often choose it to practice the nonmanifestation of negative emotions. Then the practice is to not express negative emotions, inwardly or outwardly, for the entire day. The practice isn't meant as a moral dictate to suppress emotions; its purpose is to bring awareness to the emotions as they arise and make the choice not to fuel them, justify them, or solidify them by expressing them internally or externally. Being human, we'll no doubt express negative emotions at least on occasion when we're doing this practice. But chances are we'll express them less. More to the point, when we do express them, we'll become aware much more quickly of what we're doing.

Another example: if you have a day where anxiety or fear is likely to be easily triggered, you could practice saying "yes" to fear for the whole day. Whenever fear arises, instead of running away or trying to get rid of it, simply say "Yes." Invite it in and allow yourself to really experience what fear is. Notice what fear feels like. Notice where you feel it in your body, and how your mind tries to take control so you can ignore the bodily discomfort that accompanies fear or anxiety.

Another good example of a menu practice that wakes us up out of our normal mechanical patterns is called "It does". Instead of using the pronoun "I" when describing yourself, for one whole day substitute the word "it". This is particularly helpful when describing your emotional states. For example, instead of saying, "I'm irritable" or "I'm depressed", you say, "It's irritable", or "It's depressed". Just by using the different terminology you can momentarily step outside of yourself enough to break the normally blind identification with your emotions. Other items on a practice menu might include focusing the entire day on awareness of sounds, the hands, or the breath into the belly. You could also spend a day asking practice questions such as "Am I here?", "What is practice right now?", or "What is my life really about?"

You may have some days where you remember to practice what's on your menu often; other days you may remember less. But even practicing a few times is better than not doing it at all. Just deciding to follow a practice menu means you're making practice a central focus in your life. Both pauses in time and practice menus are reminders to return to reality. They can sharpen the fuzziness that we often feel in practicing with everyday life.

The practices on the menu aren't meant to add another "should." For example, to dedicate a day to the nonexpression of negative emotions doesn't imply that negative emotions shouldn't arise; nor is it meant to take us to sainthood via behavior modification. The point of these alarm clocks is to remind us to see clearly what we're doing. They're ways to wake ourselves from sleep and mechanical reactivity and to enable us to see clearly what gets in the way of awakening.