Creatures of Habit – November 27 2019

Depression also has an addictive side, in which sadness and hopelessness take charge. “I can’t be any other way” is the common cry of both the addict and the habitually depressed person. In many cases, a “good me” and a ” bad me” are warring against each other… the best moments are merely a prelude to a relapse. The “bad me” is going to win in the end; the “good me” is merely its pawn.

…When a war is unwinnable, why fight? The secret to beating any fixed habit is to stop fighting with yourself, to find a place inside that isn’t at war. In spiritual terms, that place is the true self. Meditation opens the way to reaching it; the world’s wisdom traditions affirm that no one can be denied peace calm, silence, the fullness of joy, and reverence for life. When people frown and tell me that they don’t believe in meditation, my response is that they must not believe in the brain, because four decades of brain research have proven that the brain is transformed by meditation.

Deepak Chopra, M.D., Rudolph E. Tanzi, Ph.D.,

Super Brain

We are creatures of habit. The places we eat, the websites we visit, the route home from work, the way we dress. We find something that works and we go with it. We develop patterns, habits that work for us, that allow us not to have to reinvent the wheel each day, that allow us to feel safe in an ever-repeating known; and to some degree this is absolutely as it should be. Once we have learned to ride a bike, we no longer need to attend to the finer points of balance. We simply get on and ride.

Within ourselves, too, we develop patterns and habits. Our moods, our point of view on the world, our place of emotional reset, for better or for worse–all become habituated and we find ourselves having the same experiences over and over again, regardless of what circumstances may change in our outer world. Indeed, if my glass is always half-empty, it doesn’t matter how big the glass may be, what color it is or even what it’s half empty with. It’s never going to be half-full.

In spiritual work we find that these patterns can be changed. We can find new resets, new ways of speaking to ourselves within. We can change our conditioned responses. Since these habituated responses reside in the non-dominant side of our brain (right brain for right-handed people, left brain for left-handed people), what some would call the unconscious, these changes can happen only over time, through repetition and continual attention. But they can and do happen. If we have a tendency to depression, we are not doomed to a lifetime of depression. If we have a tendency toward despair and unhappiness, we need not accept a lifetime of despair and unhappiness. We can change. The book quoted above, Super Brain, has many suggestions as to how these changes may be brought about, as does the book Mindfulness by Mark Williams and Transcending the Levels of Consciousness by Dr. David Hawkins, as well as many others too numerous to reference here. 

And what nearly all of these books recommend, as a necessary adjunct to the daily work of slowly shifting the way our minds behave, is a practice of meditation.

If a new way of thinking and of seeing the world can be thought of as crop to be seeded, meditation is the tilling of the soil. If changing our point of view on the world can be seen as a new software program on our human computer, meditation is the upgrade of our hard drive so that we can fully take advantage of the new, improved software. All these habituated responses are structured in the stresses we carry in our physiology. Meditation unwinds these stresses, making our systems plastic, more easily molded into new configurations, new ways of thinking and new, healthier responses to life.

We are growing, evolving creatures, always are seeking ways of feeling better and of making our lives and the lives of those around us better. Why on earth would we forgo the one practice that is recommended by so many to help us in this work of a lifetime?

Today I will cease fighting the way my mind works and I will commit simply to becoming aware of one habitual response I have–yelling at traffic, sighing at the hopelessness of ever losing weight/falling in love/getting it right–and I will find a way to respond differently, just for today. And I will sit in meditation once in the morning and once in the evening for 15 to 20 minutes in order to support myself in this endeavor.

Gilt Edge, Young’s Point, MT

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