I have characterized, in memory, one of my many life transitions as the “vicious rut.” I had worked long and hard for an unappreciative company, sacrificing health and satisfaction. At that time, the actual rituals of the day were not noticeable for me – they had been made invisible by the very fatigue and anguish they created. At some level, I attributed the dim light of those days to the habits and cycles of the world.
They weren’t, of course. They were my habits. In the world there are cycles, but no habits. The world spins as day to night. The world stumbles from season to season. It is a tide of growth and decline. But it does not circle the parking lot out of fatigue or blindness.
We too have cycles that are not habits. They are localized versions of those of the world. Our pendulum of consciousness swings our attention and wakefulness to and fro. We have the decades-long life lessons that dissolve imperceptibly to make room for new. Life contains tides of growth and decline, and our lives are waves of greater tides.
The discernment between habits and cycles of the world is a vital and difficult spiritual endeavor. Habits arise from conditioning; they start as behavior forged by beliefs and are repeated until they become automatic. Having grown into a force of mind, they begin to be perceived by us as cycles of the world. When we are profoundly entranced, we understand our experience of a dim twilight world to mean the world is actually shrouded. The difficulty lies in the fatigue and anguish – because we are enslaved to ourselves, we no longer have energy or motivation enough to refuse ourselves.
The endeavor eases as it becomes habitual. We build up our power to refuse the unreasonable demands of ego and to maintain a spiritual practice in increments. Because our worldly striving subsides, our energy and motivation increases. The thinner and more transparent your ego is, the less painful the ego-thinning transformations of self become. But there is a trap in making of it a habit… the “mindfulness habit” and the “meditation habit” are often prideful things. The surest route back into the vicious rut is to take pride in being a spiritual practitioner. We must not believe any such thoughts of identity. There are no practitioners, only practice.
Gaze into the reflection of self you behold in the world, or at the reflection of the world you behold in the self. See the tides and notice the effortlessness of the cycles of the world. The days and nights effortlessly tumble and winter dances with summer. Such is a cycle of self or the world – it is painless and weightless, it flies freely as it wheels. Look to see where there is fatigue or anguish, and there you will behold some part of yourself needlessly holding a conjured weight overhead. Habits are the action of attachment, resistance, and conditioning that perpetuate the illusion and the suffering.
To be free of all habits, then, might seem the ultimate unfolding from meditation and mindfulness. That is a mythological, conjured ideal and a distraction, though. Because there are no practitioners, only practice, there is no enlightenment or Heaven, only practice. Rather than set your eyes off to some distant land of bliss, focus on being wholly present. Force yourself, if you must, to meditate or pray daily. As the weight comes off, you’ll naturally find that the times and places for meditation come to you. We free ourselves of the habits that make the daily rut with a habit of spiritual practice, but ultimately even the spiritual habit is left aside.
Stop for a moment and feel your body, this tiny physical thing, embedded into the side of a vast spinning orb that wheels through the heavens. The cycles of the world are like this. We ride winged days and nights, we soar and swoop as birds through the air. We float on the tides of seasons like clouds in the sky. Focus on your breath for a little while. Notice how all the mortal realm breathes. Notice how you yourself are a single breath of something infinitely majestic and indescribable.