Habits. Your mind is built around recognizing patterns. Done with awareness, it’s a great tool for efficiency. Done blindly, it digs the rut that leads to an early grave. Often we’ll work on our behaviour habits without realizing that without changing the underlying thinking, there is no hope of lasting change; no hope of new awarenesses forming.
Real change happens when we study something closely enough that we can have truly profound realizations about that thing. To most of us, our own families are simply patterns and we’ve stopped interacting with each other with any authenticity long ago, and that reality usually isn’t faced until there’s a death or serious illness. This is what it is to be asleep, spiritually.
When we’re open we’re free. Our minds hover, unattached, unattracted, and quiet. When we’re lost in ego we’re attached to our desires and our minds are busy. They bounce around familiar conversations like they’re the walls that form our own mental prison. We get in the car and every day we yell at fellow drivers, never seeing our own upset as being the habit that is generating our suffering, but using our thinking to instead blame others the suffering we have chosen through a lack of awareness.
We walk into rooms and begin old and familiar self-conversations about arguments from the past; or we talk to ghosts from our history about days we wish never would have happened, or we see things in symbolic ways rather than open ones. These are all common, understandable events to begin, but to stay healthy we must catch ourselves in these states of mind and we must consciously shift out.
The value isn’t so much in the switching, because any pain we feel is confined to our thinking anyway, so the important part is the awareness. Once we understand it in a larger context, any suffering we do is less meaningful. By placing it in a larger context it takes on a contrasting value that is difficult to recognize when we only see it as something dark that we want gone. Like a big, mean dog that we’re trapped in our homes with, if we can’t wish it away, then we’re all better to make friends with the part of us that has the potential to tear us apart from the inside.
Don’t move through your life with blind habits of thought. That’s to live the life of a spiritual zombie. Awaken. It’s not some big mysterious paint your face in the jungle thing, and it’s not something profound and holy and out of reach–true spirituality is with you when you do the mundane mindfully. It is not what you are doing, it is how mindfully you are doing whatever it is.
There are walls in your life that restrict you. From how you wake up, to what you listen to, to your route to work, to your reactions on the way and when you’re there; these things are all too-often decided before you even start your day. If we live unconsciously we will bounce between barriers formed by nothing more than our own limiting thoughts, and we will live repetitive, unimaginative existences. We have to get out of our common thoughts and develop our awareness like a muscle.
Here’s a little brain test: I’d consider slotting it into at least one day of your week as purely worthwhile exercise. Maybe it’s the radio in your car, maybe it’s a podcast instead of a music playlist, or a streaming audio book–it doesn’t really matter–your job is strictly to listen. Do whatever you’re doing safely and with the appropriate attention, but to prevent your mind from otherwise wandering to familiar self-talk narratives, stay listening instead.
If you miss even one sentence, double back and listen again. Do that; frustrate yourself until you can maintain your focus well enough to simply listen to whomever you choose, for what is really a relatively short period of time. If you can’t hold your focus for that long, or you can’t even keep dedicated to that single achievement, then you know you haven’t suffered enough yet to truly want your health.
If the awareness doesn’t motivate you then that’s fine–but it does definitely mean you are actively choosing suffering, because once we have that shift in understanding,all of this gets easy . We’re suddenly aware that our day is built by us, and so for the day to improve we have to improve at building it, not at finding some secret hidden in our past.
What kind of day will you build today? Will it be made from an unconscious collection of learned habits from your past, or will you awaken to your own originality and create your day anew, from freshly minted and silent moments of now? You make the choice every day. The only< question is: are those choices conscious or not?
Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organizations locally and around the world.