Every day you do stuff. That is probably not a big epiphany. But why do you do the things you do? Why do you pick that “stuff” over the plethora of alternatives available?
In some ways, we are remarkably consistent creatures. Our brain loves to find tasks it can complete over and over again. When this happens, our brain creates a kind of energy-saving shortcut that files that task away as “second nature” and gives our brain the freedom to use energy on other things.
When we talk about habits, we are talking about these consistencies. The patterns you have developed. Habits are not just the little idiosyncrasies like biting your nails or tucking loose hair behind your ear. There are habits of language and thought. Habits of cadence (the order in which we do things) and habits of routine (the time of day in which we do things). Our habits, to complicate things further, are not just individual. Communities have habits. So do relationships.
By definition, a habit is something that is difficult to give up. Why is that? Is it just the inertia of the thing? Is it just the long consistency that is hard to break? Or do our habits tell us something deeper, something more meaningful? And that is what makes them difficult to release.
So, what do all of these habits tell about us? Why do we choose to participate in the ones we participate in and forego the rest? Some religious orders call their clothes their “habit”. It is literally what clothes you. What covers you. In what have you covered yourself? And why?
Arrow and Target
First and foremost, your habits are not just random things floating around in your life. They are all arrows flying toward a target. It might surprise you to discover your habits all have an aim. They are heading somewhere.
You actually learn many of your habits (you picked them up from parents, older siblings, etc.). But even those have an aim. You have borrowed them and grafted them as your own.
I said before that in one way we are very consistent creatures. In another way, we are very chaotic and inconsistent. The latter is a result of this: we adopt different habits heading toward different targets. When we consider our lives to be confusing, frustrating, “direction-less”, what we are really saying is that some of our habits are ushering us toward one target and some another. When we talk of “bad habits” that need to be dropped, we are usually talking about practices that are flying toward a vision that is either inherently bad for us and/or is in contradiction to the aims of our other habits.
So, a careful examination of your habits can tell you what your life is aiming for. You may be surprised at the results. Some of our habits are aimed toward stability. Some are aimed toward adventure. There are some that are aimed toward the affirmation of others. And some are aimed at our inner peace.
When we talk about a Transcendent There for your life, what we are essentially saying is that you need to figure out what the ultimate aim is. What is the big target? Is it stability or adventure or the affirmation of others? Or, are all of these really just strategies, different ways to try to get to something more meaningful?
When we figure out where all of these arrows are aiming (and, more to the point, where we want them to aim), we can align the arrows, understand our life better, and drop the arrows that seem to be pulling us in a different direction than the one we want to go.