I had a hard time waking up this morning. I deviated from my regular diet at the party last night and the sugar was still circling around in my blood to reduce me into this big blob of laziness. I eat on these occasions not because of hunger or even craving but by force of habit! While I do notice the disconnect between the act of eating, the food itself and the sensations in my body, habits overpower me. Yesterday the radio doctor said “Exercising self control does not work, but self monitoring does”. Well I was aware of the act of eating but all this noticing was just making me eat more and guilt free! This is because I kept rationalizing that it was ok for me eat since I was noticing! Meanwhile, have I ridden myself of the habit pattern that compels me to eat food which is put before me, especially if it looks eminently edible? Nooo. In other words, just noticing does not break deeply ingrained habits. But, joking aside, it is definitely a start!
Given our conditioning then, the act of falling into temptation is much easier than we care to notice. Our so called transgressions of our personal or public code of conduct big and small, occur on the turn of a dime. Take the case of Shashi Tharoor and Sunanda Pushkar. The media assault on the strength of their marriage has resulted in tragedy. As news comes out of the couple's public rows on twitter, airplanes and other locales, it appears on all accounts that Shashi had succumbed to old patterns of behaviour that craved the attention of beautiful women. His wife's jealous rages and ultimate death may have resulted directly or indirectly from his alleged clandestine communications with the beautiful Pakistani journalist Mehr Tarar.
The question then is this. If we are all so habit prone and eminently capable of deviating from societal or personal norms why do we subscribe to absolute “dos” and “donts”, “right” and “wrong”. Why do we all blindly don the strait jacket of these black and white ideals? They clearly are impractical but we rationalize, cheat and lie our way both to overselves and others because we desperately want to hold on to our carefully constructed image of ourselves. We have a great sense of shame even self censure! Given that we live in self denial we make little spiritual progress.
The first step to our spiritual and moral advancement is unravelling our immutable false image of ourselves and acknowledging we are utterly fallible. That we are no different from Shashi Tharoor or anyone else who repeats patterns of behaviour either unaware or unable to transcend them. The next step is keeping an open mind and listening without judgement to our own mental chatter and to what others have to say about us. As we do this we will peel away our conditioning and see our natural mind free of prior causes or constraints.
In the words of Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche in "The Joy of Living"
"For most of us, our natural mind or Buddha nature is obscured by the limited self image created by habitual neuronal patterns - which, in themselves, are simply a reflection of the unlimited capacity of the mind to create any condition it chooses. Natural mind is capable of producing anything even ignorance of its own nature" and he follows this with a quote from the Song of Karmapa " In natural mind, there is no rejection or acceptance no loss or gain". In other words, there is no need for habits.
In summary, if we notice without judgement and chip away at our baggage bit by bit then we will uncover our natural mind and let go of habit patterns.
Here are some non Buddhist suggestions to observe and change habits!