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The Light and Shadow of Habit

I'm currently in Nosara, Costa Rica at a yoga teacher training on experiential anatomy. I've completed one week of the two and the experience so far has been enriching and empowering. Besides learning the muscles and bones and how to apply the information to the practice of yoga, we have also explored some of the Yoga Sutras and the Chakra system. In our morning session a few days ago, we focused on the topic of habits and the Yoga Sutra III #10 “Tasya prasanta vahita sanskarat”, which literally translates to “It’s steady flow habit,” with “it’s” referring to the former sutra about the moment of conjunction of a thought and one’s effort to restrain it.

We broke this down and discussed habits and what “habit” means to us. There are two ways of looking at repeated actions or habits. These habits could block the flow of evolution by suppressing transformation; or through the flow of repetition, the focused mind becomes the constant state. Neither is right or wrong all of the time and there is light and shadow in all things. Habits can give us gifts or hold us back from growing and evolving.

We linked this in with Newton’s Law of “An object at rest tends to stay at rest unless acted on by an outside force” and vice versa, and the idea that energy travels the path of least resistance. As shown in the Cycle of Awareness, we can be going along through our life in a state of “normalcy” and then a challenge interrupts the balance and throws us into chaos and confusion. If we never surrender and embrace the new challenge, we get stuck in chaos and confusion, in a fertile void of giving up. However, if you move to the next step of using inner resources to integrate the new lesson into you life, you can move to the new state of being.

Sarah (our instructor) shared a thought with us from David Whyte that touches on why as adults we may sometimes get stuck if we let the risks prevent us from moving forward. “Children inherently walk towards the frontier of their lives, but to be an adult and live at the frontier means to know the risks and chose to live fully anyway.” This linked in well with an article I received from Yoga Journal via email the same day that talked about being mindful of not letting the intellectual knowledge cloud our direct experience. If we go through life focusing only on what we know and guided by only our intellect, “we are robbed of a sense of discovery.” Wisdom can arise by from approaching each moment as fresh and new “and lead to a greater wonder about the mysteriousness of life, we may realize just how little we can ever know.”

We spent some time in meditation about what habit means to us and I thought about that in my life, I have created and harbored habits that are both good/positive and those that are negative/damaging. I realized I have been able to change those “bad” habits that I accepted control over (such as work, food and exercise habits), but I have gotten stuck in a loop of repeating bad habits that I have made excuses for or attributed to feelings that I was helplessly unable (or unwilling) to change because I have been afraid of the alternative.

In Buddhism there is a theory of moving through the four stages of habits. The first stage is where the habit may be completely unconscious, in the 2nd stage you notice the habit and stay with it, in the 3rd stage you decide to make a change. To move from the 2nd to 3rd stages, you have to get past being comfortable in that habit or feeling. And the 4th stage is to move to a new state of being where you react differently when the same situation arises.

This week has been a great opportunity for me to evaluate my own habits and those that no longer serve me, and work my way towards the 4th stage of being to a new beginning where I am no longer held back by old patterns and can evolve and transform. Take a moment to reflect on your own habits and whether there are any that are preventing you from fully living at the frontier. Keep a childlike curiosity and remember that the risk of living fully allows you to fly.

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