Handling habits: Core Practice Advice

Handling our habits is a crucial practice for meditators. How does a beginning meditator train? Like an athlete or an artist, we practice. We can replace harmful or destructive habits with positive traits. And just like practicing a jump shot, we repeat the process until we become proficient. 

We need to look at our own habits frankly and without self-judgment. First, we simply acknowledge which habits are not beneficial. Then, we can be attentive to those habits and spot them as they manifest. After that, we can gradually work to drop the unhelpful habits from our lives.  But sometimes, we need help in recognizing particularly ingrained habits. Here, in this short video clip from teaching in Malaysia, Phakchok Rinpoche shares advice on handling our habits.

Sometimes, Rinpoche notes, our habits are so strong that we need someone else to mention them. Handling our habits starts with learning how to see how they work. Therefore, when people scold us or correct us, we can learn a lot. If we don’t take the criticism personally, as an attack, we really can learn how to improve. Honestly, this can be very difficult to do. Our natural reaction is to be defensive. Most of us receive criticism emotionally. But, if we can relax and hear the other person, we may discover something important.

Handling Our Habits: Gross and Subtle Habits

One student raises a question about subtle habits. Most of us, if we are honest, do notice our gross habits. But subtle habits can be very hard to notice. Here, Rinpoche reminds us to balance our practice. We strike a balance between remembering our main practices (according to the instructions we have received) and seeing the subtle habits is not really all that hard. However, changing subtle habits is a more difficult step.  So, when we recognize our subtle issues, we apply the practice to help with that. Simultaneously, we continue with our main practice, alternating back and forth. In this way, we gradually shake loose the sticky bits.

Handling Habits by Training our Minds

Learn more techniques for training in meditation and handling habits in our on-line support program: Training the Mind: An Introduction available here.

Reflection Exercise

Take some time this week to observe your own habits. On the first day, simply try to notice when you slip into patterned behavior or responses. Don’t blame yourself or judge — simply notice, “Oh–I’m doing that again!” It can help to see the humor in our own story.

If one particular habit seems particularly strong, then you might want to select that as a focus for a week or so. Gently, and with kindness, watch your thoughts and behavior. Can you start to see how the habit seems to “take control”? When you see that happening, look at that habit mind and let it dissolve. It is not solid or fixed; it is just a habit.

Experiment with this process and see how you can learn to disempower those habits. After you’ve played with this for a while, how do you see yourself thinking or behaving? Is transformation happening?

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