Note: This is the second in a series of posts to inspire and support awakened living. The first post asked, “Is Your Deepest Longing a Part-Time Hobby?”
“The greater part of human pain is unnecessary. It is self-created as long as the unobserved mind runs your life.”
Habits can be pesky little things, as you might have noticed. Before we realize it, we are embroiled in a conversation or thinking pattern that takes us down a road we prefer not to be traveling. We feel out of control, propelled by mysterious forces that make us question our sanity. We ask ourselves, “How did I end up here – again?”
I recently spoke with a friend whose mind was flooding her with harsh self-criticism. She just didn’t get it. She related how the past few months had rolled by with ease, and now this. Whatever your habit – food, alcohol, argumentativeness, obsessive thinking, self-criticism – you might notice that you are well into playing it out before you know it. It’s almost like being possessed.
We Need to Study Our Habits
So how do we get ourselves back? How do we regain a semblance of control so that we stop hurting ourselves? Get out the microscope.
Many of our patterns are so ingrained in us we don’t even realize we are doing them. The medicine is to become acutely aware of every aspect of them. Only then can we let them go. We become so familiar with them that we see them rearing their little heads – and when we do, we can choose differently.
The Fruits of the Analysis
You might be amazed when you begin to gain awareness of your patterns. Once I crossed the threshold to wanting to know everything about my experience, I realized that I was meeting much of my life with a fear response. When I put my reactions under the microscope, I saw a pulling in of the breath and a physical movement back and away. It was like a lion had just appeared in my path. Somehow I was reacting as if everything was threatening me.
This was quite a revelation. I had no idea the extent to which fear was driving me. But once I did, I was able to befriend the fear and untie the knots in my thinking that were keeping me boxed in. My awareness was so precise that I was able to go right to the root – fear – rather than playing out a pattern that left me feeling confused and unhappy. Then, just like dominoes toppling, many subtle tendencies started to unravel.
Can you see the power of penetrating awareness? When we place our habits under the microscope, we get to know them so completely that they can’t play out unconsciously anymore. Awareness is the get-out-of-jail-free card. It is the pathway to sanity.
The How-To Guide
If you want a sane, relaxed, drama-free life, put on a lab coat, and study your habits. Here’s how.
- Press pause. When we stop our habits mid-stream, we immediately get some distance from them. This distance is essential to studying them. We step back and observe. We are witnessing what happens without being identified. Think of a specimen under the microscope. Be curious.
- Proceed in slow-mo. Ssssllllloooowww it down. Start at the beginning or backtrack from the place you first become aware. Break it down into each step. Remember, you are focusing on your internal response – thoughts, feelings, physical sensations, pictures that appear in your mind. Know your habit so well that you could teach someone else to act it out.
- Discover the root. Keep peeling the layers until you find that very first reaction. To find it, ask, “What else? What is under that?” This reaction is likely to be subtle, so take your time. It might be a physical response, like the drawing in of breath I described above, or an emotion or thoughts.
- Give yourself love. Be so kind and compassionate toward yourself during this process. Welcome in whatever you find with a loving heart. We heal inner division, those cut off and hidden places in ourselves, with love. It works every time.
- Connect with your inner wise one. Once the pattern is known so completely, it stops running like a madman. The emotional agitation and dramatic stories quiet down, making space for wisdom to arise. When you aren’t propelled by unseen forces, you might be surprised at the clarity that emerges.
- Once is not nearly enough. The key to dissolving a habit is to work with it every time it arises. There is no goal, no such thing as a finished product. The habit appears in the moment, you study it, and it stops driving you. Every time. The more vigilant you are, the more willing you are to develop steady awareness, the deeper the possibility of being free.
A Concrete Example
Habits still come up in me, like the one this morning, for example. My schedule is already full, but someone asked me to add something to it. I immediately feel tension in my body. I physically lean back and my breathing gets shallow. I notice negative thoughts (“I can’t”), followed by more thoughts scrambling to figure out how to manage everything.
Then I realize, “Oh, I’m afraid.” I breathe into the fear, relax with it, bring compassion and understanding to it. As it subsides, I have the space to decide the best course of action. Calmly.
As the fear continues to come in waves, I ride it out with ease every time. That’s it. No endpoint, no goal. Simply being wise and loving with my own experience so that I am not controlled by it.
Next time a habit catches you, get out the microscope. Know yourself so well that your driving emotions have no place to hide. Inhabit your awareness – it is your true home. Be joyful, intelligent, and relaxed in the moments of your life.
What have you learned by studying your habits? What are the obstacles to studying them? I’d love to hear…