New goals

This might be premature, but I feel as if I am in a new phase of my journey. I seem to have broken the bad habits that triggered this persona and this blog in 2013. At least, I feel ready to aim at some new goals, and to orient this persona and this blog around them.

I have three largish goals I’d like to aim for. They are more like states of affairs than events.

  1. Be a good husband (and father)
  2. “Come out” as Christian
  3. Have sex with my wife

The first has to be achieved before the other two I think.

I’d like to achieve the first goal this year, and then aim to achieve the other two in 2018.

By being a good husband I mean being a source of stability and strength for my wife. Also a source of good vibes and happiness of course, and a source of feelings of calm and safety. I want to establish that before demanding special treatment or “recognition” (2) or special favours (3).

I don’t quite know what I mean by “coming out” as a Christian. It might mean “declaring myself” to my wife. It probably does mean going to a church semi-regularly, and meeting other Christians In Real Life.

Another Church

At my bedtime prayer last night I felt I’d had a good day and was thankful to the Lord. I couldn’t think why the day felt so blessed, so I traced back over what I’d done. A reasonable day: ups and downs, but nothing special. A couple of points to be ashamed of. In the end I did find something.

I was in town to do some errands. I arrived at the library five minutes before it opened. Usual practice would be to go to one of my usual cafes, get a coffee, write some diary and watch the world go by (actually just the babes and milfs). The weather was exactly right. However, I dithered, I wandered, undecided without knowing it, like Buridan’s ass.

I found myself at a church. It was open but quiet. I walked around for a bit enjoying the atmosphere. I found a pew and sat down and prayed. Not for anything special. Not my bedtime prayer or my morning quiet time prayer, an extra unscheduled prayer. Sat calmly for a while. Made a donation. Left and got on with my day.

Bad Habits After Lent

I was really stimulated to embrace Lent this year. Since reading about “turn away” I have been much more mindful of where I am casting my gaze. After reading Ugochi’s two posts on masturbation (Is it sinful?, How to stop) I decided I would cut out pornography and masturbation completely. As is my wont I have monitored everything closely.

  • “Turn away” has been very effective and has even affected my mood generally
  • Pornography I haven’t missed at all. Odd how sometimes a habit will just fall away without a murmur.
  • Keeping my hands off myself was harder, and by mid-March I was seething with lust and wondering if I could last till the end of the month, let alone Easter. However, I made it!

During Lent, the duration of 40 days seemed like a target. Now I am on the other side of it (especially perhaps as Easter had that special landmark), it feels more like a door I have walked through. I have no desire to watch pornography. I am quite horny most of the time but I don’t want to masturbate, and I feel in control of that.

I used to have pornographic sexual fantasies running in my head almost all the time. Now, they rarely pop up, and when they do they are so obviously weak echoes of habitual reflexes. My horniness and lust is undirected and kind of purely sensual.

What now?

The obvious thing would be to pounce on my wife, but I think I should take that slowly.

confirmation

I had a work meeting in County Town and I decided that while I was in town I would find time to go and pray in a church. This would be a first for me.

Aside:

I have been trying to establish a habit of daily prayer, with intermittent success. However, on 8th March I decided that I would say a special prayer daily for a friend. Among other things, this desire to pray specifically has reminded me to pray at all, and after saying my special prayer for the friend, I go on to say my “normal” prayer. So now I am safely praying every day (at bedtime, or at my morning quiet time when I arrive at work, or both).

The cathedral where I was planning to pray is a bit of a tourist trap and they have a greeter on the door doing triage. When I arrive the greeter asked brightly “Are you visiting?” and I said sheepishly that I was coming in to pray. Because the cathedral is such a tourist trap they have special areas set aside for private prayer (they do do normal services there too, it is a functioning church), and the greeter described the way to get to the chapel: in a corner, up a stone spiral staircase, …

(click for bigger pics!)

I realised I had no idea what to do. I lit a candle as a way of starting. I knelt on that little red cushion. I said my prayer out loud.

Praying like this — aloud, so I could hear my own voice; in public; in such a place; and of course for the first time in my life — was a powerful experience. I asked myself later why I didn’t pray my “normal” daily prayer or even a special prayer for myself. Perhaps I didn’t want to unleash too much emotion.

There was nobody else in the chapel while I was there. Mid-prayer I did hear footsteps come up the stair and into the room, shift about and then leave. Perhaps security or a stray tourist. I didn’t turn round to see and I kept praying. So — a complete unknown stranger saw and heard me praying!

A couple more pics of around the cathedral:

On the way out I thanked the greeter and we talked about what went on at the church. It became clear that I knew little about services, whether Easter Saturday was a special day, etc., and I found myself saying, “I’ve only recently got into all this”. I don’t know why I didn’t say something like, “I’ve only recently become a Christian”.

Samuel

Walking around the cathedral afterwards, I came across two pleasant surprises from Samuel. Firstly this mural of 2 Samuel 18:33

Then the gift shop had a copy of Straight to the Heart of 1&2 Samuel by Phil Moore (I’ve linked the Amazon page as it has a “look inside”; there’s also the author’s home page).

I bought the book obvs, and I am enjoying reading it.

Confirmation

Also in the gift shop I bought this Confirmation card:

I don’t know what “Confirmation” is in the Church of England, but coming here and praying felt like a confirmation (with a small ‘c’) and another step towards a real confirmation.

I know that real confirmation will involve “coming out of the closet” to my wife about being a Christian, and finding a local group to join.

First Steps (good habits)

I think focussing so much on sin and on stopping my bad habits has been affecting my mood. :(

At least with all that I have made a start. For notes on this chapter I’ll think about good habits I’d like to cultivate.

good habits to start

A habit is a means to an end — e.g., I’ll exercise daily because I want to get/stay fit. Come to think of it, that will go for bad habits too, though the end might not be conscious (but that’s a story for another time).

More generally, keeping good habits — as long as they don’t interfere with each other — can lead to an orderly and harmonious life.

I have three areas to work on:

  • I’d like to incorporate study time into my day. Three languages I am supposed to be good at have rusted away to almost nothing.
  • I’d like to be fitter. I get plenty of aerobic exercise cycling to work, but I am not very flexible. I used to go to yoga classes so I’d like to bring that back. Also, yoga would give an outlet for my “sensual side” that can be public and not sinful.
  • I’d like to pray every night at bedtime. I enjoy it and it helps me sleep better, but I often forget, even if there’s something specific I want to pray about.

ideas from the book

There are a lot of good ideas in the chapter. Two are particularly relevant.

start small (study, yoga)

The theme of the chapter is “start now” — don’t put off starting your new habit until the “right time”. One way of doing this is to start small, even find the smallest thing you can do that “counts”, and do that every day. Finding and doing “the smallest thing” can have other benefits: it’s a good practice in computer programming for example and can make for modular, flexible and reliable design.

Following this idea is helping me spend time with my languages more often, and I’ve discovered I do have time for a short study session every day after all. With yoga, I can fit in a few stretches before breakfast or after cycling to work (and I’ve already noticed an improvement in my posture on the bike).

marker activities (prayertime)

Rubin gave the example of brushing her teeth in the evening. She wanted to stop snacking in the evening so, instead of brushing her teeth at bedtime, she would brush her teeth soon after dinner. Because of the strong associations already set up, brushing her teeth meant “no more eating”.

I thought I would make Scripture my bedtime reading, or at least the last thing I read (I have a small pile of books by my side of the bed, and most nights I will dip into a couple). The Gospels especially I find very relaxing. That will be a very easy habit to pick up, it will put me in the right state of mind, and in turn it will (hopefully) remind me of my desire to pray.

Accountability

A brief note on the Accountability chapter.

I think of accountability as making sure I am following the rules I have set myself. It might also include things like: whether I am cheating, or exploiting loopholes; whether targets are too hard/easy. So, like a coach or a trainer.

Rubin discusses four types of accountability:

  • self
  • public (e.g. I announce at work that I don’t drink)
  • group (e.g. Weight Watchers)
  • partner (e.g. a coach or a trainer)

Really I think self-accountability is not like the other three. (i) it is not an external source of accountability like the others are, so in a way it’s weaker and less reliable; (ii) even with the other three, self-accountability must still be there as a kind of bedrock — otherwise you will find a way to play the system.

An external source of accountability is obviously a Good Thing, as long as the type of source fits the type of person (Rubin has Four Basic Personality Types) and the type of project.

I am not going to announce at work that I don’t want to wear frilly knickers and bras any more. I am not going to tell my wife that I want to stop watching porn.

An accountability partner must be the “gold standard” but that would mean a professional service or some kind of reciprocal relationship (you check I’m doing my French homework; I check you’re doing the knowledge).

A group, an online forum could be ideal. I have looked in the past and not found anything. In a recent comment, Beth provided the phrase “bouncing your eyes”. I did a web search and that came up with a lot of promising links I hadn’t seen before.

A forum or group might be more trouble than it’s worth — and I think I do have quite strong self-accountability. OTOH it might give me a space to delve into the gruesome details, leaving this blog for my more general Christian exploring. (unless separating like that would be unhealthy?)(in any case, I’ll see what there is.)

Four Bad Habits: progress review

Lent might be a good time to review progress against my bad habits.

It’s four bad habits now. I haven’t gained a bad habit. After reading Is It Sinful to Masturbate? recently, I decided to change my attitude to masturbation (the physical act itself) and think of it as a sin and a bad habit. It obviously “goes with” the other bad habits on the list.

wearing ladies lingerie

I threw out all my clothes and things last August and I haven’t shopped or browsed since. I have turned down perfect “opportunities” to return to the indulgence. So I think this habit is behind me for the time being.

I still like the idea of it, all the things I wrote in my review of Wearing God, but I don’t want to go down that road again.

Also I should say that the “new crowd” that has emerged in the last decade — the highly politicised “trans” activists — are inadvertently helping me keep away from dressing up. I don’t like them at all: politically, psychologically or aesthetically. Part of my not wanting to get back into dressing up must be not wanting to be associated with them.

using pornography

From say the late 80s until very recently I would look at some porn almost every day. First magazines, then pictures on the internet and latterly internet video (very rarely bought videos or DVDs). Last August, as well as throwing out all the clothes, I deleted all my porn. From then till Christmas I didn’t look at anything, but this year it has been making a comeback.

I have these slumps where I am drenched in porn for a few days at a time. It can be there all the time on my phone or iPad. Sitting in the same room or even lieing in bed with my wife while she reads I might be watching porn. I created a special twitter account for it, in case I RT’d or faved some porn using my work account.

These binges last two or three days and happen two or three times a month.

The porn binges tend to happen after I haven’t masturbated for 4 or 5 days (yes I am keeping a log).

masturbating

Because of the way I watch porn, my masturbating is almost completely disjoint from my watching. I go without for as long as I can. Then when I can’t any more, I grab whatever safe quick opportunities I can — in the loo or shower at home or at work.

The way I’m working at the moment, I’m not having business trips away to visit clients, so no scope for long all-evening sessions (which in the past would incorporate watching pornography and/or wearing lingerie).

ogling women

After discovering “turn away” I feel good about making progress on this one, and this is my main focus during Lent.

Lent: Repent, “Turn Away”

Repent

Until yesterday I had always thought of repentance as contrition, in the sense of feeling bad about my sins, bemoaning all the bad things I had done. I had thought of it as entirely oriented on the past.

Reading about Lent I learnt that repentance had another, future-oriented, sense.

In the Wikipedia entry on repentance:

Generally in the Old Testament the term repentance comes from the Hebrew word group that means “turn away from.”[3]:1007 Sometimes this word group is employed to request a turning from sinful activity (Jeremiah 8:6). In the New Testament the μετανοέω/metanoeo word group can mean remorse but is generally translated as a turning away from sin (Matthew 3:2).[3]:1007

[3] T.C. Mitchell, ‘Repentance’ New Bible Dictionary (Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 1996): 1007–8.

And in my Oxford Companion to the Bible:

The phrase “turn away from” really hit me.

For one thing, it means the Bad Thing is already in front of me. It doesn’t mean, “don’t do X” or “you used to do X, in future you mustn’t”. It means something more like, “you are doing X now — stop it!” or “you are about to do X — take a detour!” It seems very immediate. It also seems to say, “it’s not too late.” It seems perfect for when temptation comes and finds me.

The physicality of the phrase also — almost shocked me. Physically turn away from what I am doing, from what I am looking at.

Me

I read the Wikipedia entry on my phone on the bus into town and was quite disturbed by the phrase “turn away from” and everything it was stirring up inside me.

The bus stopped and a babe in leggings walked past me to get off. Without thinking my eyes went to her behind. The phrase was there, “turn away”. Again without thinking I found myself looking out the window.

In town my bad habit of eyeing up women was confronted again and again with this phrase. If my gaze had latched on to some woman in front of me it would lift my gaze away. It even seemed to work pre-emptively: if I sensed a temptation in the corner of my visual field, this phrase would find me something to look at in the other direction. Writing in the cafe I would sit and write. Walking along the street I would look where I was going and think about what I was doing.

I was in town today again. Both days the phrase was with me, helping me.

So “Turn Away” is my Word For Lent. I am going to hold on to it tightly, and it is going to help me “give up” eyeing up women.

Why do I want to write about all this cringe-worthy stuff here?

  • Wrestling with these issues is the whole point of the blog and of this online persona.
  • Taking the time and care to write up these experiences and decisions (hopes), makes them firmer in my mind.
  • If any “fellow sufferers” pass by and read, it might help them.
  • Words of support and encouragement are always welcome of course :) anytime :)
  • Words of admonition and correction are also always welcome. I want to learn, I can take criticism and new ideas, and if necessary, I can disagree in a respectful and friendly way.

Scheduling

Scheduling is a way of manipulating your environment so that your environment will then act on you in certain ways: you do something “because it is on the schedule”. I think this is a theme Rubin returns to later in the book.

There are quite a lot of good ideas in this chapter. Here are some of them:

ideas that I’ve started using

When scheduling a new habit, it helps to tie it to an existing habit … or an external cue … [rather] … than using a particular start time. (p. 76-7)

At work I have had a rule that I would do all admin — paying bills, logging bank statements, etc. — on a Friday afternoon. On a Friday afternoon I am a bit tired, I don’t want to be starting anything new, perfect for small relatively mindless tasks. However, come Friday afternoon, I am rarely in the mood for ploughing through a pile of receipts and statements — so the stuff doesn’t get done — until the molehills turn into mountains and bills are paid “just in time”.

My new idea is to deal with admin as soon as it arrives. I was thinking, “this is a case for *not* scheduling” but Rubin is cleverer: instead of scheduling to a time (Friday afternoon), it is sometimes better to schedule to an event (the post arriving).

Now, not only does the stuff get done but, as with the monitoring, the activity is qualitatively improved: my feeling for the company’s finances are much more immediate and intimate; and seeing to the task actually energises me (as it’s usually just one or two items at a time) rather than dragging me down.

“Quitting Time”: after Quitting Time I don’t check my email or social media, or do original writing. (p. 83)

This I honour “more in the breach than the observance” but it’s definitely an aim. I am quite good at not working late in the evening, but it is too easy to drift along on social media — and it is not at all relaxing.

ideas that I want to use

I schedule some slightly ridiculous habits, such as “Kiss Jamie every morning and every night.” (p. 74)

The more I think about this the less ridiculous it appears, and the more I want to emulate it. I kiss my wife a lot as it is (I am a very kissy person), so I’ll have to think of a way to “escalate” it without seeming weird. Another good target would be to touch my son every day.

I often find it harder to make myself do something that I enjoy than something that I don’t enjoy. (p. 82)

People who schedule playtime are more likely to tackle unappealing projects than people who never let themselves enjoy guilt-free fun until after their work is finished. (p. 83)

I tell myself that I don’t deserve nice things — there is no time, there is too much work to do, how can I enjoy myself when my wife is ironing/cooking/working? So enjoying myself is already encumbered with shame and secrecy … but there are things I enjoy doing that are not shameful and that don’t have to be secret. Some of these could even not inappropriately be scheduled into my work day.

to be continued …

Scheduling can also be used to restrict the time spent on an activity. (p. 85)

I’ll cover this in a separate post.

Quotes from the book

In the meantime, here is another half-dozen quotes from the book (I am trying to train myself to touchtype;):

Scheduling forces us to confront the natural limits of the day. (p. 75)

The desire to start something at the “right” time is usually just a justification for delay. In almost every case, the best time to start is now. (p. 77)

In many situations, we do benefit from scheduling a habit every day … I’ve found that it’s actually easier to do something every day than some days. (p. 79-80)

While we often overestimate what we can accomplish in the short term, we often underestimate what we can accomplish in the long term if we work consistently. (p. 84)

Something that can be done at any time is often done at no time. (p. 85)

The goal is to develop habits that allow us to have time for everything we value, in a way that is sustainable forever. (p. 89)

The expense of spirit in a waste of shame

I used to know this sonnet off by heart. A useful poem for me to have in mind.

Sonnet 129

Th’ expense of spirit in a waste of shame
Is lust in action; and till action, lust
Is perjured, murd’rous, bloody, full of blame,
Savage, extreme, rude, cruel, not to trust,

Enjoyed no sooner but despised straight,
Past reason hunted; and, no sooner had
Past reason hated as a swallowed bait
On purpose laid to make the taker mad;

Mad in pursuit and in possession so,
Had, having, and in quest to have, extreme;
A bliss in proof and proved, a very woe;
Before, a joy proposed; behind, a dream.

All this the world well knows; yet none knows well
To shun the heaven that leads men to this hell.

(source)

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