On Habits Essay

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Formed habits ensure steady behaviour and safe functioning. They are acquired after a very long sustained effort. If an uneducated man at the age of thirty tries to learn writing, the effort he has to take to acquire it will be enough to found a small institution. Every habit man has so far acquired has a long, long history behind it. Some habits are skin deep like polite manners; others are deep-seated like willing submission to conscience. The latter is far more difficult to acquire than the former. Still, even surface habits like polite manners can be acquired only by those who have attained a certain level of civilisation, education, affluence and culture. If poverty-stricken, uneducated people living far away from civilised parts of the country try to acquire polite manners, they will find it futile.

Habits when acquired are accepted gradually by the total being of the man and they sink down into different layers of the physical, vital, and mental parts. A physical habit like writing becomes more and more perfect when the vital consents to it (i.e. takes interest in writing) and mental accepts the habit (i.e. the mind understands the process and puts its energies behind the physical act of writing). A mental act like good behaviour starts from the mind and steadily passes through the vital and physical expression. When a habit is learnt by all parts of the being we say that it is in our blood, it has become second nature, or it has become an instinct. The whole life of man is a huge bundle of physical, vital and mental habits learnt for his survival and he lives through these habit-channels. Once all the habits are fully learnt, life becomes smooth and efficient. The family teaches its part, the school another part, the society the rest and the social individual is thus fully formed. The process of habit formation is an enormous effort for each individual and no one can have a short cut. The short cut is to travel the full length. If earlier generations are trained in one line, the latter generations pick up those habits quickly. But the process can never be skipped.

Our theme is not habit. Habits belong to the parts of the being. Our consideration is the capacity to function without that function being a habit. This capacity of functioning readily in a given situation does not belong to the mind etc. It belongs to the BEING. It is not a capacity to be developed. It is innate, inherent. It is a far more capable way of living. For that capacity to flower, all that one has to do is to relieve himself from functioning through his habits. Once this freedom is given, the capacity of the Being will emerge and act on its own and the efficiency of the work will be miraculous. This is what is known as acting from a centre of freshness. The theme here is, one should move to this centre and gradually shift all his life to this centre. This centre does not require any knowledge or training since all knowledge that we use in a life of habits are dribbles that slip out of this centre which is the home of native knowledge and skills.

To undo a habit is as difficult as to form it. If we are to give up eating sugar we must take as great an effort as man originally took to teach himself to like sugar. (Originally man had to teach himself to like sugar, because anything new will not be liked by the system.) The undoing must start from its surface life and continue up to the deeper layer. This is a very difficult or even an impossible effort. Mostly men either suppress a habit or replace it by another similar habit. Generally all habits at one level are equally strong. Drinking is a bad habit and we know it is difficult to give it up. Any other habit at that level, other things being equal, is equally difficult to give up e.g. coffee addiction. Many habits remain to the end as a useful channel of functioning. Many others cease to be useful and are dead in external life; but they remain alive deep down and can come up to the surface when there is an occasion. When habits of clothing change, the older habits still remain below the surface; when a man changes the country of his living permanently, his earlier habits, no longer useful, do not die away. These I call dead habits that are live below the surface i.e. "live-dead" habits. To be alive there, they need energy. There are a few hundred such habits in anyone which draw copiously upon his energies. If man comes forward to identify them and takes efforts to shed them, his energies will be many times greater. That is like the pension bill of a nation.

In trying to undo them it is safe never to take that step right away. Such an uprooting of habits may tilt the man’s balance and his health or nerves or mind may crack up. The safe thing is to grow aware of that legion in oneself over a long period. For shedding them it is better to wait till the nature is ripe. If one REALLY gives up even a single habit, the change in his mental attitude, energy etc. will be remarkable. Habits organise themselves into behaviour and behaviour grows complex and acquires the name character. Many habits generate sentiments around them. These are further complex areas. (It is equally true that all fully live useful habits are also a drain on the man’s energies and if he can give them up he will be fresher.)

To learn to watch one’s habits, their different stages of formation, their associations for us in emotions, their rigid hold on us, and how much we are a slave to them, is a great valuable knowledge and a first step.

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