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Growing Into New Habits

We are just beginning the season of new life. Spring is here! Many good seeds have been planted and some new plants and flowers are growing. Easter and Passover have brought us the recognition of new spiritual life. Now, all we have to do is grow the new way of life, a new mental life.

First, we must forget the old ways. Actually, we will never forget them, but we must begin to detach ourselves from them. That is a tough task and takes a lot of practice (the second task) because, as yoga says, negative samskaras (our old self-hated habits) are so strong and persistent that, like the weeds, which always seem to have a head start on the vegetables we plant, they begin after a while to even “color” the landscape of our life. We begin to look, at least to ourselves, like a weed patch.

These colorings become “vasanas”. They begin to shape the way we see things, our personality, even the patterning of our thinking. These patterns then become our unconscious mode of operation. When our habits become unconscious, it is very hard to change them, almost impossible. Only until we begin to see those unconscious tendencies in our daily life causing us pain and suffering, instead of the joy and happiness for which we long, can we hope to bring about some change.

How do we detach from the old patterns, especially the pain-causing ones? This is the second part. It is called “practice.” For example, if we don’t want to yell at a loved one for saying or doing something that irritates us, we must direct our mind to experiencing the breath in our nostrils. We continue to do this until the mind becomes absorbed in the breath. Then we say something else to ourselves, like “I am at peace and filled with love and joy” or “I thank God for my loved one.” As we say that, our whole self begins to change and our mouth doesn’t blurt out a negative comment towards the one we love.

I always tell my students, “Don’t believe what I say, just test it out and see if it works for you.”

It will work, especially if it is a habit that is newer than most of our habits or it is a habit that, although deeply engrained in our personality, is so painful that we really determine to change it. But it will take lots of practice (“abhyasa” in Sanskrit). And it will take lots of detachment (“vairagya” in Sanskrit). It is like a person who wants to change their genetic heritage of the potential for adult-on-set diabetes. If the person starts early in life to stay away from sugar there is a good chance that that vasana will not “grow up” and bear the fruit of diabetes, but if the diabetes is already starting to show, then the transformation becomes much more difficult.

There is always hope! We can always change habits that we don’t want, even the deep-seated ones. All it takes is vairagya and abhyasa. We as human beings are incredible beings. God has made us powerful and loving. And God really never makes junk.


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