h is for habit

[again for the Pagan Blog Project]

I’ve been thinking a lot this week about the habits we get into when doing things.

There’s a reason for that: I’ve spent the past five days in Washington DC, partly for a professional conference, and partly to play tourist. (I am writing this while sitting in a sculpture court in the National Gallery of Art, because it has comfy chairs and a table of convenient height, and my feet hurt.)

Not my habitual surroundings. Not my habitual amount of walking. Not my habitual weather. (DC broke heat records the last two days – 90+ on Wednesday, while Maine is getting another snow storm.) Not my habitual technology: I’m doing this trip solely with the iPad and keyboard, rather than a laptop, and the limitations of the device (particularly around multitasking) mean I’ve been adjusting my way of doing things.

Getting shaken out of my usual habits is good for me. (and probably good for you, too), but I’ve been thinking this week about mental habits, even more than physical ones.

One of the sessions I went to at the conference was talking about different ways of doing continuing staff training (something that’s a part of my job), and several of the panelists talked about forming the habit of lifelong learning.

And that got me thinking back to a workshop given by Nancy Pearl (a librarian who you may know from her book reviews on NPR, or her books Book Lust and the sequels.) She talked about how librarians who interact with the public, or who do collection development should make a point of reading outside their own personal comfort zones on a regular basis, by reading things that are appropriate for those duties, but that they wouldn’t have picked up. (She suggested a book a month in a genre you don’t normally read, if you do fiction selection, but adjust for your reading speed and related tasks.)

I’d like to suggest that the same habit – working outside our comfort zone – might well be good for Pagans, too. I don’t mean that you need to go out and try a brand new religious tradition (though if you happen to be at an event – Pagan Pride, a Pagan conference or gathering, etc. – that makes that easy, you might find it interesting.)

But do it in the small ways. Read a blog post from a perspective or path that isn’t yours. (That’s part of what makes the Pagan Blog Project interesting.) Find a forum focused on a different kind of perspective than your usual one, and read for a while. Take a bit of time to learn about a path or pantheon or deity or practice that’s outside your usual frame of reference. And then do it again. Once a week, once a month, block out a bit of time in your life.

The point here is not to become an expert in everything. It’s not even to dabble in everything. (You don’t need to do anything with the information you learn if you’d rather not.) The reason is to develop the habit of being open to new and different information, so that you don’t end up with limited focus, limited perspective, limited views of the world.

Despite the fact I am sitting in an art museum, fine arts are not my first choice for how to spend my time (I’m actually much more about material culture – give me objects that got used, textiles, jewelry, carved seal stones, pots, furniture, instead.) But despite that, here I am today, and last Saturday, I was at the Museum of Fine Arts, in Boston.

Part of that is that there were specific exhibits in both cases I wanted to see (old favourites in Boston: my mother started taking me to the MFA as an excuse to get out of the house when I was about 6 months old) and the Pre-Raphaelite exhibit here. (Ok, granted, part of why I find the Pre-Raphaelites fascinating is because there is a strong crossover to material culture and objects that were used in daily life.)

But I also am glad of the chance to go do something I don’t get to do very often, and the chance to see new things, and the chance to learn and appreciate something different. And I’m glad of all the chances on this trip to do that. (I got to play with tools I’ve read about but never used this morning! And got to look at fascinating forensic archaeology yesterday, along with a bunch of stones and meteorites and fossils.)

That doesn’t mean I won’t be glad to be back in my comfortable little town in Maine (and my own bed, with my own cat) – but this trip is part of my habit of doing new things, of taking the chance to learn. And that is a habit I want to continue for a long time to come.

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