Feeling Stuck in Old Habits? Understanding is the First Step to Freedom

Have you ever decided to change a tendency in yourself that you didn’t like, but notice that you still do it? Do thoughts cross your mind like “Why am I in this place again?” or even “What’s wrong with me?” If so, please read this post. I believe that in it, you can find the key to lasting change.

Last week, we began to look at the three-step process of transformation: 1) to understand, 2) to witness, and 3) to release. Our tendencies that block us from inner peace will not just disappear because we want to get rid of them. We must begin with step one: understanding.

To understand is “to stand in knowing”. We are both grounded in what is, and receptive to change. The more we understand our tendencies, the more aware we become. In that awareness, we can let go of what blocks the peace that is our true nature.

We all have habits or aspects of our personalities that interfere with inner peace. Many of us put a lot of effort—consciously or unconsciously—into trying to conceal them from ourselves or others. By doing this, it is as though we send our life-force energy into an eddy, cutting ourselves off from the ocean of life. We heal as we become aware of how painful this is. Understanding is the first step to freedom.

When we repeat a tendency over and over despite our intentions to “do better”, we need to understand that something within us is perceiving a benefit from this habit (or maybe even addiction). If we look deeper, we would see that in some way, it reinforces our sense of feeling separate. We express separateness by feeling “greater than”, “less than”, “apart from”, or “all about” what is. When we feel greater than, we are in egoic pride. Feeling less than is also an egoic distortion in the exact opposite way. Moving into isolation, for a person who is truly introverted, in order to heal and gain energy, feels deeply energizing. But if we feel “apart from”, for example sorry for ourselves or trying to hide from life, we are in pain. The opposite is also painful, when we think that everything happening around us is “all about” us.

Seeing this moment and any of these tendencies which may be present exactly as they are, without judgment, we come to understand that we are in the impossibilities. That feeling of disconnected self will continually be in wanting: hungry for reinforcement, needy for attention, desperate for love. But seeing life through the lens of this broken self can never be satisfying—because it is based on something unreal: that you are separate from the whole. Quite simply, that is not possible. We are a part of and exist within the fabric of life. To see anything else is an illusion, perpetuated by our attachment to distorted perceptions of reality.

What Are You Afraid Of?

Imagine a sailor who is terrified of snakes. Every time he steps onto a deck where ropes are coiled, he panics. When someone goes to hand him a coil of rope, he reacts with rage and upset, as though the other person is endangering his life. He continually mistakes inert, harmless rope for the snakes of his nightmares. As such, he spends his days miserable and reactive.

This may seem far-fetched. However, we all do this to some extent. We react to our illusory misperceptions. It doesn’t matter what you call it. We each have our own version—maybe even multiple versions—of a coiled rope appearing as a snake. It could be the idea that eating chocolate cake will make us happy (as I mentioned last week), or that we have to do all our tasks perfectly to feel safe, or that we have to have everyone’s approval in order to feel loved. Like our friend on the boat, we will not find freedom until we understand that we are projecting something unreal onto this moment. As I mentioned earlier, we repeat tendencies because we perceive a benefit from them. We will enable them until we understand why we are doing so.

Perhaps at one point in the past, the sailor did live among many deadly snakes and he survived by being perpetually alert and ready to flee. But now that habitual pattern no longer serves him. In understanding, he can see that he is trying to live the present moment as though it was the past, instead of being receptive to the moment as it is. Part of him incorrectly believes that he needs this behaviour to survive. But it’s not true. That rope is, indeed, just a rope. When he recognizes that this pattern will never bring him happiness, and that the rope is just a rope, as the grass is green and the sky is blue, he has taken the first step to lasting change. In so doing, he understands, that is, stands under knowing, and aligns with the loving support, of Nature. Then, once established in understanding, he can witness any fear or lingering reactivity from this tendency with clarity, so that he eventually will release his attachment to it.

Practice Understanding

Try this exercise to continue to deepen your practice of understanding.
Consider a few situations when you reacted strongly, even disproportionately, to something. Or, consider times when you repeated a painful tendency despite trying to choose otherwise. In each case, ask yourself:

  • What did I feel in that moment?
  • What was the illusion that I was projecting onto the situation that made me feel that way?
  • How does this illusion keep me feeling “greater than”, “less than”, “apart from”, or “all about”?
  • In full understanding, how could I see the situation differently?

From my heart to yours,

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