Most of us do not change significantly throughout our lifetime. We tend to stay and enjoy life in our comfort zones, where we feel secure. Disturbing the status quo is always a difficult move, due to fear of the unknown. And that’s why leading a conditioned and repetitive life is an easy option for most of us. Even when conditions are not optimal for growth, we love to resist change, rather than making an attempt to transform our thinking and our lives. Unless we grow and evolve to a higher level, we may never experience life’s deeper satisfactions. Without basic contentment, happiness will always be a distant dream. To evolve progressively in life, we should continue to adapt to changing situations. However, we are required to make consistent efforts to change ourselves, to face and confront the rigidity in our thinking and behaviour. The following suggestions for growth are extremely hard to implement, but if we succeed, our life will surely be transformed.
To detach from our mind and thoughts: Each one of us is deeply identified with his or her mind. We feel that our mind, body, and inner self is a single entity. This identification is complete in most of us. To distinguish one’s mind from its steady stream of thoughts is a nearly impossible task. When we feel “uptight” in any way, and match that feeling with related thoughts about what’s gone wrong, we are trapped in a negative loop. The more we try to distract our attention away from our mind, the more we are attracted to the same set of compelling thoughts. In fact, on many such occasions, the frequency and intensity of the negative thoughts increase. This happens to all who do not learn the art of managing their mind. And, as previously discussed, we must also contend with a strong inclination toward negative thoughts as opposed to positive ones.
Unless we know how to observe our thoughts and feelings nonjudgmentally, we continue to suffer from a stream of negative thoughts. This simple observation can be achieved through the practice of mindfulness and meditation. Because of our modern lifestyle, meditation may strike us as a difficult or time-consuming task. After all, we are “busy people” with no time to sit quietly with closed eyes – doing nothing! – while watching our thoughts. There are many myths and misconceptions associated with meditation that may stop us from starting the practice afresh. Precisely for these reasons, relatively few people, especially in India, practice meditation. Absent meditation, it is much more difficult to detach ourselves from our mind. But just 20 minutes a day of this very simple practice can definitely bring numerous transformational changes to our mental and physical health.
To change our habitual and conditioned behaviour: Since most of us continue to repeatthe same thoughts and actions throughout our waking hours, we tend to become habitual. If nothing else, the familiarity of a fixed modus operandi helps us to carry out routine tasks with ease. Very little effort, attention, or energy is required for these everyday actions.. Our habitual and conditioned behaviour starts in early childhood, when parents taught us to do things for the first time. Those learnings are deeply embedded in our subconscious mind, after which we generally don’t attempt to challenge them. Our belief system as well as behaviour remains generally fixed. Since parents are the role models for their children, people often continue to emulate their parents’ ways and retain their values right into adulthood. Our behaviour becomes as automatic, conditioned, and as subconscious as pedalling a bicycle.
For those who somehow consider themselves better than others, there is even less interest in changing habitual behaviour. Every day, the same sets of thoughts are recycled, as life becomes more and more habitual. When offered an opportunity to change, or to see something in a different light, such people like to say that they are “all set” — set in their own secure and comfy prison. Responses to any given circumstance become static and predictable. Such a life becomes easy, effortless, and, seemingly, secure. However, this is a serious impediment to mental and spiritual growth. To change any strongly conditioned and habitual behaviour is an extremely wrenching and time-consuming task. Many prefer to remain imprisoned in their self-created zone of comfort and ease. Success in changing habits and behaviour patterns opens the way to transformative changes.
To practice the power of acceptance: One of the main causes of suffering in life is resistance to change. We resist and react to any change that brings disruption to our life. No one is immune to unwelcome changes. Impermanence is the only constant in life. There are situations that we come across in life where nothing can be done. Circumstances can be so perplexing or tragic that nothing is left for us to do but accept the situation as it is. Let’s say that Arjun met with an accident that was someone else’s fault and his leg had to be amputated. One option for him would be to keep on suffering the unfairness of it all — “Why me?” Although nothing could be done once the tragedy had taken place, his bitterness toward the perpetrator and the surgeon – and life itself — could remain. The second option would be to accept what has happened to him and move on with his life. The latter option is of course the only way to cope with the situation and escape much of the suffering. However, it’s not an easy thing to practice acceptance. Acceptance is not resignation or failure on our part; it’s simply accepting and allowing a situation to be as it is.
There is a famous quote from Carl Jung, the legendary Swiss psychiatrist andpsychoanalyst : “What we resist persists” and, he added, “will grow in size.” Most of us do feel at least a few deficiencies in ourselves. Ideally, we will accept what we presently are. We must not regret, or feel ashamed if something is lacking in us. However, we can always make efforts to improve our character and personality — which are entirely in our hands. If someone is born with an intractable or unchangeable deficiency, he or she has to live with it. One must accept reality. Too often we mistake acceptance for weakness or surrender, when it is actually a sign of great strength. When we can accept life as it’s presented to us, we can be sure that we are growing in spirit.
It’s always a challenge to bring about major changes in one’s life. Since we are all inclined toward a comfortable life with the least disturbance possible, we generally resist big changes. Too risky! Yet if one can succeed at the above three challenges, however difficult they may be, they can transform their lives.