How do we change? How do we break old habits? How do we stop behaviors that we know are not good for us? I believe these are questions that everyone asks themselves at some point or another. Yet probably many are left feeling frustrated, discouraged or even depressed when their efforts to make positive changes fall flat. We try controlling ourselves using diets and discipline but these methods usually fail. So what is the secret?
My experience of transformation happened in two parts. The first was the wake up call I received which gave me a forceful shove and the second was intentional awareness. Now I don’t recommend waiting until you get the wake up call because it often comes in the form of something unpleasant like a health problem. And sometimes even the wake up call goes ignored if we are living deeply in our denial.
That leaves us with the second option: awareness. As far as I can tell, the first step towards deep and lasting change is always awareness. When you start to shine the light of awareness on the negative thoughts and beliefs in your mind, they lose their power to control your actions. With awareness, it become impossible to treat yourself with disrespect or cruelty. With awareness, it becomes impossible to continue bad habits. There can be no darkness once the light on.
In Osho’s book, “Awareness”, he tells the story of a thief who wants improve himself but still wants to be a thief. Everyone else had told him that he had to stop stealing and it hadn’t worked. Finally, a man tells the thief that all he has to do is be aware; ‘Do whatever you like but do it with full awareness.’ So the thief followed this man’s advice and found that when he was aware he could not steal. The thief then realizes that he must choose between being aware or being a thief because these cannot exist together.
You can’t make transformation happen; all you can do become aware. Once you are aware, you will no longer let weeds take over your garden. Once you are aware, you will carefully tend to the plants and flowers making sure they receive all the water, nutrients and sunlight they need to grow. You cannot force a flower to bloom; it will bloom when it is ready. All growth in nature happens at its own pace and so it is with human growth.
Yesterday I stood under a tree and looked up. I watched as a water droplet fell from the branches above. I watched another and another. It seemed so amazing and beautiful to me. These droplets of water seemed to be saying, ‘Jeronimo!’ and then letting go as if free-falling from an airplane. They just allowed themselves to be pulled down by the force of gravity; no resistance. These droplets were transparent. I could see right through them. What could I learn from them?
I had a dream that I lost my jacket and I was so distraught. I believe that my dreams of jackets represent the layers of protection that I wear. The idea of losing these layers is quite unnerving. I have worn them for so long, thinking they would protect me from being hurt but in reality they only keep me from deepening my connections with others. What if I could become transparent? What if I just let go and allow myself to surrender to simply being? What if I stopped trying to restrict and control myself? What if, instead of molding myself the way I think others want me to be, I was authentically me? What if, instead of worrying about how others might react, I acted in accordance with my own integrity?
I believe with awareness, there is no gap, no distance, between your innermost needs and your external actions. When you start to see through your reactions and habits to the fear that lurks behind them, they start to drop away just like those droplets of water. The jackets of protection are no longer necessary and all that remains is your consciousness. Then there is no confusion: there is no–should I do A or B? There is no judgement or resistance: there is no Ahh–that is bad! Go away! There is no fear: there is no anxiety about saying or doing the wrong thing; no concern about being able to handle the future. All that exists is love, serenity, clarity, openness and acceptance.
A woman asked the question: What is the difference between ‘acceptance’ and ‘putting up with something’? I pondered this question and came up with some ideas. I interpreted ‘putting up with something’ as being the same as ‘tolerance’. So I will compare acceptance and tolerance.
Tolerance basically means to disapprove of something but to endure it anyway. This way takes effort and time and it brings fear because we have no idea how long this undesirable quality, person or situation is going to be around. Tolerance is shallow. We may appear not to care but beneath the surface, it leaves us feeling disturbed since we would actually like to change the bothersome thing. With tolerance, we put our heads in the sand and try to pretend it’s not there. We do not seek understanding. Tolerance is a kind of resistance to reality. It breeds close-mindedness, indifference and hate.
On the other hand, the fundamental aspect of acceptance is approval. Because it happens in the present, there is only love. We are seeing reality, moment by moment. Acceptance is a peaceful surrender to what is. It is passive, restful. There is no struggle underneath the surface; no attempt to try and change the uncomfortable or ‘negative’ condition. In fact, conditions are neither negative or positive, good or bad; they simply are. Having acceptance, we are open-minded and curious; we seek to understand that which triggers feelings of unease, vulnerability, embarrassment, irritation.
If you start living with awareness, you will notice your negative self-talk, you will see all your flaws very clearly, you will recognize your foolish behaviors. You may be shocked with all the mess in your closet! To me, it sometimes seemed like I was regressing rather than progressing. How could seeing all this muddled ugliness lead me to anywhere peaceful and happy?! And the ego is tricky and tenacious–you will keep getting lost in your thoughts, caught up in your emotions. You will keep forgetting to be aware. Be gentle with yourself and continue pulling yourself back to awareness, back to your centre.
I am sticking with it, and more and more I am moving toward acceptance. I believe acceptance naturally follows awareness. Acceptance of self includes welcoming all your qualities and feelings. Traits which don’t serve your highest good will fade out as the life-affirming qualities flow into the lit-up space you created. “There I go being a perfectionist again! This is really not helping me here.” I take a breath a let it go. I am becoming less afraid to admit when I am feeling a so-called ‘negative’ feeling. Facing these feelings is a big step. Who wants to concede that they are feeling envious, uncaring, judgmental or enraged? These feelings are merely passing through your consciousness. And those qualities that you think make you YOU are nothing more than temporary states of being.
I think it is important point out that YOU are not this solid ball of thoughts, feelings, memories, experience and knowledge. You are fluid, continuously changing. When you take the time to be silent and still; to step back from your own internal stories and dramas, you will see the ego for what it really is–a false self.
Be aware. Be a witness to your mind. Watch, as all that stuff you once identified as ‘you’, quietly disappears. At the core, is the real YOU–conscious awareness.