Can we break our habits? Or: Why we suffer.

I came to my first Vipassana session at the beginning of  2012 after a short experience with relaxation techniques and psychotherapy; so those first encounters were framed with a beginning attempt to seek therapeutic relief for myself.

By now I did six 10-day meditation courses and each course was quite different. Each sitting brought some insight of what’s going on in my mind. Gradually I came to realize what some of my conditionings were, my views and habits and how they influence my life. During the sittings all kind of emotions came to the surface of my mind – some connected with past or present pains, injustices and grievances. I realized the value of emotions and I learned how to actually physically be withmy emotional experience. By being able to relive and observe the thoughts that were coming to my conscious mind the feelings and grievances lost their urgency and became weaker.  After each session I was able to get a clearer view of what was happening inside me, what the causes of some events were and subsequently I was able to look at my actions/reactions from different angles.

On my last session it was not only the meditation itself that got my attention but some events that accompanied my stay there.  A few things that happened in the camp were connected with other events from my life that weighted on my mind. When I came there I was given a room to share with a Dutch lady. When she came she was a little tense and she expressed strong feelings about how the room and our stay there should be organized – she asked for the window to be opened during the night and the hair removed from the shower on each occasion. I did not say much, but thought: ok, that can be done. But I thought that she is a little bit too set in her ways.

She even noticed a small piece of jewelry on my neck and mentioned that we were not allowed to wear it on the course. This time I had harder time to bite my tongue, but I removed the ceramic heart from my neck.  After the meditation we became friends. One of the first questions she asked was – ‘I hoped I did not disturbed you too much. And she said – ‘did you notice that I am much more peaceful now’.

Next I had quite a long discussion in the dining room with another lady who got married a year ago at the age of 61. She mentioned that whole her life she kept people at a distance and only recently she feels more connected and opened to the people which helped her with her partner.

Both these discussions were interesting as they guided me directly to the situations which I am facing myself – the habits and mental blocks in my own mind, and how they influence my view of the world. Very often we create huge blockages or patterns of behavior in our mind – mostly connected with past traumatic experiences- that dictate how we behave next time. The only way forward is to observe them, try to break them and change our routines in an attempt to introduce more choices and freedom to our lives.

To change any routine is not easy, even something stupid like me breaking/biting my nails, which has annoyed me for years, is not easy.  It repeats hundred times, but then ones or twice we can get out of the routine and next time it is slightly easier.  Our routines are our little programs that we put in our mind and are often harmful to us; consequently the body warns us and brings diseases and stress.

The fact that we are pre-conditioned by our past was noticed by B.F.Skinner who discussed that our behavior is deterministic and the future is a result of our past conditioning. This means that if all our habits and beliefs were known we would act in the future consistently with our views, believes and programs that are already in us and thus the future is already predicted (known). Vipassana gives us the tool to get away from determinism; we can observe our patters of behavior and introduce more options or free choices to our life.  We are not longer the robots reacting to our habits; we have the choice now to evaluate our programs and potentially replace them.

Once we are able to break the patterns we are able to change – we can modify our behavior, our habits, or the negative features that existed in us and resisted changes for many years.  They were with us for so long that we have almost stopped hoping that we may change them; we acepted that they are us. The patterns of behaviour may have been created by actions or situations that happened to us repeatedly in the past, and we were fighting against them.  Often failure in repetitive situations  made us unhappy. Now the pattern that we repeated hundred times can be broken – initially, maybe once or twice – but this is enough to realize that we are able to change our views, our habits or behavior – the rules  that we have imposed on ourselves. That’s why I often say – the rules are here to be broken – and it is always our internal rules that need to be broken. The rules we create are connected with our Ego. The less ego we have the less rules we need. The less ego means the less troubles and more flexibility in our life.

On my last session I have seen myself and other people following our habits without thinking about them.  Now we are more aware and because of this awareness we are able to observe our mind and our habits, we can realize that it is us who created/accepted these views and beliefs that govern our behavior that we have been following unconsciously for long time.  But we can be ready next time – when there is a sensation to act a certain way we have a split second to decide not to act, to change the mode of our behavior and replace the old pattern by a new  – more positive one.

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This entry was posted in Personal Experiences by Ryan Shelton. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ryan Shelton

While I'm currently married to a beautiful woman while teaching physics at Padua Academy, these descriptors fail to capture the totality of my adventurous life. I have hiked over 1700 miles, traveled to 5 continents, managed a bakery, started a meditation center, counseled troubled teens, attended Duke, UNC, and Harvard, protected forests as a wildland firefighter, volunteered thousands of hours with Americorps, rafted the Grand Canyon, SCUBA dived on the Great Barrier Reef, and continues to find new adventures. I hope my writing encourages you to pursue your dreams and be the best version of yourself while supporting your communities to work together to solve the current challenges in our world.

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