Meditation has been described as “us getting out of the way of ourselves”. Meditation allows us to know ourselves outside of what others have told us we are, and in the stillness and silence we begin to see things clearly.
In vipassana, (Buddhist insight meditation), we are consistently observing the thoughts that arise and noting them. Eventually, through this process, we see the nature of the thoughts, and they gradually fall away as we grow in our ability to catch them as they arise.
Moving through our daily lives, we do not even realize we are thinking until the thought has erupted into a full on internal dialogue or story. The thinking just happens to us. In vipassana, we cut the stories out and observe the thoughts immediately, not allowing them to form webs and branch off one another.
Once we reach this level of concentration in noting and knowing the thoughts, we begin to go into a deeper state of existence. The thoughts are no longer there and eventually, you are no longer there.
The pull of thoughts that tug and beg for your attention has dissipated. In this concentrated state, all the painful sensations from sitting in lotus position for hours are gone. You feel as if you have transcended the barriers of the body because all sensory perceptions are dropped. This is a feeling of content neutrality, for no pain nor pleasure exists in this state.
From leaving the realm of the senses, we firsthand experience their futility and limited nature. The things we used to enjoy do not hold the same flavor. And through the process of watching the mind, we see when each desire or craving comes, and we can consciously choose to act upon it or let it go. Many of these desires and cravings we think are us but it is not, it is just a learned behavior. Our most dangerous learned behaviors are our personal addictions and attachments.
Many times when we try to break a bad habit we attempt to shove it away from us, thus giving it more energy. Suppressing and rejecting gives as much energy as giving in to the desire, it invests in it in a way. It is like Carl Jung once said “what resists persists.”
Or, we often break from a bad habit by replacing it with another habit that is “less evil”. This acts as a bandaid for the previous attachment. We too often clutter our life with a different activity to fill our previous void and give us a similar feeling we had from our previous addiction. Denying and suppressing is a trap, but so is replacing it with a “lesser evil.” I speak not from a place of righteousness, but experience being a full blown hedonist obsessed with the pursuit of pleasure.
After my first vipassana, I stopped doing drugs and having sex. This was never in my plans; I genuinely enjoyed both endeavors and felt little guilt or shame around them. I went to a party about three days after vipassana and when offered drugs, my response was a genuine no. There was never any attempt to quit them, it just happened naturally.
My bad habits fell right off me because through cultivating awareness, I saw the emptiness in the behavior I was previously engaging in. The constant pleasure-seeking seemed exhausting and honestly repetitive. I saw the meaninglessness in my actions and thus transcended them.
Osho described transcendence as “a spontaneous phenomenon, that does not need to be cultivated. You simply see the absurdity of a certain thing, and you transcend it.”
To see it in the first place requires a degree of mindfulness. To be mindful is genuinely difficult because it requires creating space in what used to be just reactive programmed behavior.
To really watch our own minds in the beginning we must be still and we must be in solitude. Just watch your thoughts without psychoanalyzing yourself. All you need to do is just note what arises within you.
For example, if I have a thought about wanting to be with an ex-boyfriend whom I know is toxic for me, I will note “loba”. Loba is craving. There is a craving for love. Not “I am craving” but “there is craving.” The craving is not you, it is just there at that moment. In that noting process of seeing the craving, I cut the thought process off instead of diving into the ‘why’s’ of my thought.
The ‘why’s’ act as our form of reasoning. Many times we give our bad habits a reason. Though this can be beneficial in terms of understanding ourselves, many times it justifies the bad habit. I can justify going back to toxic men because my mother did the same thing through my childhood, so that was how I was taught to love. I can then blame my mother’s behavior for the way I am now.
When we attach our habits to a reason we give them a story. The ego grows stronger through this because it identifies with this mental narrative. In insight mediation, we do not need the reasoning nor the psychoanalysis behind the thought. Inherently, we know why we do what we do; we cannot bullshit ourselves.
So instead of attempting to psychoanalyze ourselves, judge ourselves, or blame others, let’s simply watch ourselves. In this careful observation, we cannot be reactive because we are aware of what we are thinking at every given moment. We observe when anger or old patterns start to arise. We see them before they can manifest.
When practiced consistently, life then becomes a meditative practice. When we maintain this watchfulness in daily life, the bad habits naturally fall away because you see them for what they are. Habits, not you.
You no longer see them in your greedy reactive dance to their presence and pull. You can see their presence as they walk into your mind, but no longer feel the pull as intensely as before.
After another vipassana with my friend, we left the monastery and instinctively she pulled a pack of cigarettes out from her backpack like a thousand times before, eager to finally smoke after ten days of sobriety.
As she was about to light the cigarette, she paused, looking at it resting between her slender fingers. With that two-second pause, the ingrained habit she had for years had been broken. She did not react, she saw. And when you see yourself, you cannot unsee.
And that is how bad habits end when mindful, with a pause, a small space between you and the learned behavior. The attachment does not cease out of guilt or shame, but a natural halt. In mediation, these physical sensations and cravings are neutralized by wisdom.