“Love is what we are born with. Fear is what we learn. The spiritual journey is the unlearning of fear and prejudices and the acceptance of love back in our hearts.”
In Part 1 of this series, we learned how our original state is one of freedom, innocence, and openness. We saw how habits form as a strategy of survival in response to challenging relationships in our lives, obscuring this original way of being.
The first essential step to unlocking the prison door is to realize you are behind bars. We reclaim our innocence by identifying when we are caught in a habit. This is easier said than done, as some habits seem like such an integral part of our identities that they are hard to pinpoint.
This post offers a descriptive map to help you find all habits, including those that may be hiding out unseen, and the next three articles in this series detail the path to relating to them in a completely different way. Approach these waypoints with an open mind. Freedom asks us to consider all aspects of our thinking and behavior to see if we are trapped or free. It helps to abandon our expectations, to not take any familiar ideas for granted. Illuminating our habitual ways of being clears the way for our natural radiance to shine.
In what areas of your life are you rigid and inflexible?
When you are caught in the web of a pattern, you are in a well-worn groove, feeling, thinking, and acting in automatic, standardized ways. It’s like having tunnel vision, with only one option available for reacting to or handling a situation. It may not even occur to you that a new and different perspective is possible.
Consider an alcoholic who is offered a glass of wine. The momentum of the habit is so strong that the only possible reaction is to drink up.
Inflexibility can show up anywhere in your life. Take a look at all the beliefs you hold about yourself, your abilities, how you and others should think and behave. Consider how you react to certain situations or people with exactly the same emotions every time and how you try to get what you want from people. Maybe your pattern is depression or anxiety. Perhaps you feel shy or lonely or are ruled by shame and guilt. Maybe you think you are right and are unwilling to entertain other perspectives.
Once these habits begin to relax, we are in the natural state of openness, free of all expectations of ourselves and others. We receive what is happening in the moment and respond as if for the first time. We see situations as they are with clarity, and our responses are fresh and unencumbered by the past.
Are your thoughts, feelings, or behavior uncontrollable?
When a pattern is carrying on unconsciously, you are the robot, the hamster on the wheel. You are propelled by forces outside your awareness that make you behave in self-defeating ways. You observe yourself doing things you don’t want to be doing and expressing your emotions in ways that deplete or frustrate you – but you don’t seem to be able to stop.
If you keep trying to make changes, but continually fall off the wagon, the habit is still in control. The moment of realizing this is a crossroads – a call for celebration. When all your methods and strategies fail, you are ready for a different approach.
The solution to uncontrollable habits is not to try harder to control yourself – the solution is to investigate the habit. Observe how it appears, what the components are. Map out a timeline of how you experience the habit beginning with the very first trigger. Get to know what an urge or craving feels like. See what familiar stories you are telling yourself about the habit.
Are you a victim of your habits?
If your habit is in control, you are a victim. You feel passive and powerless. You may be telling yourself that this habit is who you are, that you will stop “some day.” You give up your power to the strength of the habit.
At any moment, you can decide to stop being a victim. The beginning of the end of a habit is your willingness to be aware of it. If you are willing, you are ready, prepared, and inclined toward something. When you are willing to be fully aware, you bring enthusiasm and interest to directly investigate the habit. This active, empowered approach shifts your experience from stale and resigned to alive and new.
Are you hiding from fear?
As we learned in Part 1 of this series, habits protect us and keep us feeling safe. They develop to shield us from unacceptable and painful feelings.
Simply said, fear activates habits. Fear of being wrong, of loss, rejection, love, failure, success, to name a few. And above all the fear of feeling the emotions that would surface if the pattern stopped, a fear so intense that we engage in all kinds of undesirable activities to avoid them.
Take emotional eating as an example. When people eat mindlessly, especially at night, they are usually escaping from uncomfortable feelings lying outside of their awareness. Fear of experiencing these feelings keeps the pattern in place and the one who is eating at its mercy.
The path out of a habit is to befriend these deep-seated emotions. When seen with understanding, a habit, then, becomes a source of support and guidance. Habits offer us exactly what we need to wake up from them. When we realize we are caught in a habit, we can rejoice in the opportunity to untangle the knot and release ourselves from its trap.
By turning our attention inward toward the habit, we get to tell the truth. We shed light on the belief systems that derail us. We actually feel the feelings that have been ignored for so long. With great compassion, we discover how the habit has lodged in our bodies, and we experience the contractions and tensions directly. We allow what has been suppressed to breathe in the light of day.
In Part 3 of this series, we will put on our miner’s hats to go straight into the darkness to discover the hidden aspects of our habits. For true freedom comes only by shining the light in every corner, by seeing the identities we take for granted and the assumptions we live by. We welcome all of our feelings like honored guests.
Prepare yourself for a wondrous journey.
What do your habits feel like? Maybe you enjoy them? Anything you would like to add?