We all get stuck following the same old routines and patterns and there’s often a certain sense of security and comfort in doing things the same way as we’ve always done them. The question therefore arises, “Why do I need to change?” Well, if your habits are healthy ones, such as brushing your teeth, exercising daily, getting a good night’s sleep and meditating regularly, there may be no need to change them.
However, take a good look at your life and ask yourself which habits and patterns are no longer serving you. Holding on to things which no longer serve you is like holding your breath, they become stale and suffocating. Releasing them is like breathing out to allow new, life enriching experiences, to flow in.
Identifying Where You Are Stuck
Many of our patterns and habits have become so deeply ingrained in our lives that we don’t even recognize them as such. The patterns have taken over our lives and we, like a compliant prisoner, do as they tell us. It can often be easy to do the same things the same way day in and day out, not wanting to ‘rock the boat.’ While always living with the ‘known’ might seem comfortable, over time it can lead to apathy, an underlying sense of boredom and basically going nowhere. If you’re a spiritual seeker, you’ve chosen to be an explorer, to venture into the ‘unknown’ and to always be looking for new and exciting adventures.
The first step is to recognize your patterns. Take a long and honest look at your life. Identify the things that you do repeatedly the same way on a regular basis. These could be things like always shopping at the same grocery store or other daily routines, reacting with the same emotion or resistance every time a similar situation arises, having fixed expectations for how you want other people to behave towards you, worrying about things that may never happen, or being critical and loving to gossip. What do you strongly believe in and what patterns do you follow as a result? Do you notice any situations that tend to repeat themselves? However, be careful not to judge yourself or feel guilty, self-blame is just another pattern to release.
At first, you might not recognize some behaviors as patterns, especially the ones which inflate your ego, so start with those which are obvious. Once you’ve identified some of your patterns, ask yourself how they are affecting your life and are they supporting your long-term spiritual goals. Are these patterns still serving you or have they become habits that you follow mindlessly? Then ask yourself, “Is it time some of then went?"
Making Space for Exciting New Possibilities
Once you’ve identified inhibiting patterns, focus on why you want to change them. How might you benefit and how will your life look without these patterns? Next, decide what you plan to do to change them. Avoid making judgments both of yourself and also blaming others for your patterns. See if you can identify the things that trigger you to behave this way, does it always happen in a certain location or time, are other people involved? Do you need to change your surroundings in some way or perhaps even some of the people you associate with?
How long it takes to release an old pattern depends on several things including how long you’ve had it and any physical or emotional support it provides. But as the West African proverb tells us “God gives nothing to those who keep their arms crossed” so the sooner you start the better. You might find it useful to leave yourself reminders, for example if you habitually snack between meals, you could put a sign on the refrigerator door. Or you could enroll the support of a family member or sympathetic friend.
Beware of the ego which loves to control everything and will give you endless reasons for not making a change. Negative behavior patterns often become such a part of our way of life, that they’re difficult to change. Perhaps start small with just one of the patterns you wish to release.
And if you fall back into old habits, start again. Don’t worry about failures, but think of the chances you may miss when you don’t even try. Ramana Maharshi advised us to, “Let come what comes, let go what goes. See what remains”. What remains will be magical and wondrous, life enriching experiences, as the destiny we truly deserve unfolds.
Know What You Want and Realize It
Rather than leaving an empty space, it’s often easier to release a redundant pattern by replacing it with a new useful one. We are infinite choice-makers, ask yourself what wonderful new opportunities are you ready to explore? Be fully present and conscious of the choices you are about to make and take responsibility. Look at your spiritual journey, how is it unfolding, what new habits will support it? Perhaps committing to meditate regularly, eating an Ayurvedic diet, studying the ancient Vedic texts or those of your own religion.
You might choose to start simply with things you are comfortable with. What we put our attention on grows. Always focus on what you want, not what you don’t want, never come from fear and a sense of lack. Ask your heart and higher self for guidance and remember, you are a spiritual alchemist, when you combine your inner vision with joy and courage, you will create a future filled with abundance on all levels. Now is the time to be bold, it’s your life, dare to dream big. What do you really want and what will you do to get it?
Try to avoid extremes, be loving and compassionate towards yourself, be patient, have faith and don’t punish yourself if you slip up. Your path is ever unfolding and transforming, so your choices need to stay open and flexible. Know when to drop a new pattern if it ceases to serve you and reward yourself for the successes you achieve. As the explorer Benedict Allen said, “Humans, though physically weak, can do great things, because we can imagine a better future. Keep thinking of that better future.”
A Life of Spontaneous Fulfillment
Most people think they have freewill, however, much of the time we are merely following pre-conditioned patterns generated by our actions and the memories and desires they create. Just the same as your computer or smartphone is controlled by its software, we create and become entrapped by our own programming. Let’s say a new cafe opens in your neighborhood, you go there and drink a cup of coffee, that was the action, this created the memory of how the coffee tasted. If you enjoyed it, this creates a desire to go back again the next day and very soon a pattern emerges and every time you pass the cafe, you get the urge to go in. Our memories and desires put limits on our lives.
All memories and desires are in the thinking process and one of the great benefits of meditation is that it takes us beyond thought. Instead of remaining trapped in our self-made limitations, we are able to step beyond them and into the field of infinite possibilities. A whole new world opens. This doesn’t mean that we lose all memories and desires but as the great sage Adi Shankara said, “I use memories but I don’t let memories use me.”
The culmination of our spiritual journey is therefore to transcend all but the basic patterns and habits which support the necessities of everyday life. Here we live from our innermost essence of Being, where all thoughts, words and actions are spontaneously correct for ourselves and the world around us. Every moment we create a new and fresh experience of spiritual fulfillment. We realize that everything we have strived for was already ours, we were just looking in the wrong place or as Swami Vivekananda tells us, “All the powers in the universe are already ours. It is we who have put our hands before our eyes and cry that it is dark”.
Those hands are our old patterns, holding us back from the magnificence that awaits us. The Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore told us, “You can’t cross the sea merely by standing and staring at the water”. Now more than ever before, we have the opportunity to come out of the dark, to make the changes and to live the joy, bliss and beauty of who we really are. It’s your choice!