Habit, Routine, Ritual

Habit Routine Ritual
November 20, 2019

Habit, routine, and ritual are similar but far from identical. Find out how our “skill” at forming habits and falling into routines can help us to wake up. A podcast from Satsang with Shambhavi

Today I want to talk about habit, routine, and ritual. There's a saying in this tradition, "We rise by that which we fall." Meaning that the thing that brings us down is the thing that will also help us to get up.

Anandamayi Ma, my teacher said, "The floor that we fall on is the same floor that our hand will use to push us back up again."

In an ordinary sense you can all understand this. Because every single person here, I'm sure, has had the experience of a misfortune that we dreaded, perhaps. Or maybe it was something unexpected. But then in the middle of it or afterwards, we realized that it was the best thing that ever happened to us. [laughs]

Because it helped us to learn and transform. And become freer and more loving people. It's such a common experience it's almost a cliché.

We can think of habit, routine, and rituals existing on a continuum.

So habit is what we're all really, really good at. [laughs] We have all kinds of habits that we have no problem repeating every day. We have habits of eating that we have no problem repeating every day.

We have habits of the way that we express ourselves. The things we always say. The way we always say them. With the gestures we always make. [laughs]

We have habits of emotional reactions to things. The way we always react to that, or we call that a trigger because we want to have some reason for why we always react that way.

Then we have habits of our activities. Habits of relationships. Habits of pretty much anything. Habits of thinking—things we always think about.

We even have habits of dreaming. Patterns of dreaming that repeat in our lives.

So when I say habit, in this sense—because I'm going to talk about routine in a minute—when I say habit, I mean something that has some aspect of compulsion.

It's a pattern of body, energy, and mind (or body, energy or mind) that repeats either consciously, or semi-consciously, or unconsciously. And that if we try to change that habit it resists us. Because it has energy. It has momentum.

And also when I'm talking about habit, at least in this context, I mean something that has a stale quality.

It repeats even when circumstances are not in sync with whatever habit we are exercising. We got drunk last night and we get up and get drunk again. [laughs] That's a habit that isn't being responsive to our real circumstance. Which is that we feel tired, and hungover, and our organs aren't really happy with us.

We have a habit, perhaps, of always presenting ourselves in a certain way to other people regardless of who the people are. And so we have a habit that—its sort of a stale relating kind of a habit that causes us to feel a lack of intimacy. And even though we're very lonely, we just keep repeating that same stale way of relating. Or same stale way of being emotional.

So there's always some aspect of staleness. And as we do spiritual practice, and we begin to wake up a little. When our senses begin to become more alert, more awake, because that's what happens when we do spiritual practice.

We start to actually notice the staleness and in the best of all possible circumstances, we get bored with ourselves. [laughs] We get tired of that thing we always do, and that thing we always say, and the way we always do things. And then we start to cast about looking for some way to change.

Now in Jaya Kula, when people first come around—if they decide this resonates with me, and I want to go further with this—we learn some basic practices.

And those practices take our energy that we are putting into habit—either consciously, semi-consciously, or unconsciously—and we redirect those energy to more healthy routines.

The routines are things that are more conscious. In this instance, we're directing them toward something that's going to help our body, energy, and mind to relax. Rather than reinforcing samskaras or karma.

For instance, as most of you know, one of the main things that we do is called dinacharya. It's a practice from the Ayurvedic tradition. And it teaches us a routine that helps us to wake up in the morning, remember our connection to everything and other people, and treat our body, and energy, and mind in a healthy way.

So we're taking, basically—according to Trika Shaivism—we're taking our capacity, or our power, or our skill at forming habit. Because we have vast skills in that, we have mad skills for forming habits. [laughter]

We take those, that capacity, or that power, that shakti. And we redirect it towards more healthy, but still rather ordinary routines.

Now what happens? We establish a routine, maybe of doing dinacharya. Maybe we establish a routine of doing some seated practice every day, some meditation or mantra. We establish a routine of coming to satsang. We establish a routine of eating better for our constitution, and maybe paying some attention to the seasons and those kinds of things.

As we establish those routines—and at first it's not easy because our habits are tugging at us. But as we establish those routines, our body, energy, and mind start to relax. And they start to desire to do things in a healthier way.

And when that happens, when our body, energy, and mind starts to relax a bit, our senses start to reconnect. When we are in a state of habit, we're just acting out karmically in some way. That is a state of greater separation. A greater feeling of separation from others and from life.

We feel more individualized, more atomistic when we are operating unconsciously or semi-consciously out of habit.

When we start to put into place healthy routines, we start to reconnect with life. And our senses start to feel more awake. But also life starts to feel more alive. And we start to be more interested in what's going on around us. And in other people. And in making that connection deeper.

And when that happens, eventually, as those new routines start to really kind of seep into our bones, and our senses start to relax, we start to notice something else. Which is ritual.

So let's just take Puja as an example. Puja actually is a ritual. You know, you put a bunch of fancy stuff on your altar. And you sit down, and you make offerings of water, and flowers, and incense, and some other things. Maybe food, sandalwood, kumkum. However you make simple puja or an elaborate one.

And you know, if you don't have a natural connection to ritual, you will do it as a routine.

You may enjoy the colors, the smells, the sights and the sounds that attracts us and kind of keeps us there. Because there's a lot of color and kind of pleasurable chaos when we do Puja, but you may not really be connected to it.

And in fact, on the level of anything devotional or ritualistic that's meaningful to you. It takes a while to be able to do that.

But when your senses start to subtilize, and really reconnect with Presence, then you start to get the direct perception that you're in a living situation. That you start to understand the communicative aspect of habit, routine and ritual, because all three of them are communicative situations.

Habit is communicating to your body, energy, and mind in a way that keeps you feeling separate, and might do various unhealthy things to you, right? But it's basically a non-spontaneous way of living, when you're living through habit.

Routine is communicating in a more positive way to your body, energy and mind, and to others.

And ritual is really getting in the conversation.

So when your senses start to open, you start to notice the ritual quality of everything. It's not just when you sit down to make offerings at your altar. But it's just when you're moving around your kitchen.

You know, a lot of people who love to cook, like myself, already notice this. When you really love to cook and you're in your own kitchen or in a kitchen that you're comfortable in, there's a very dance like quality.

I used to work in one person kitchens when I lived in New York, where I was the only person doing everything basically. And you had to just kind of be everywhere all at once. And it was really, really dance-like and pleasurable.

So that had a quality of ritual. Because ritual always has this dance-like quality.

But when you start to notice the ritual dance-like quality of everything, it's because you feel you're in a larger communicative situation.

So that comes as a result of relaxing habit, getting better routines, and eventually discovering that everything that you're doing has this ritual, communicative quality.

Now, what does it mean by ritual?

Ritual is a language. And when you are more aware and more awake, you will begin to understand the language of ritual very, very naturally. And you will be able to use it to communicate.

To feel that you're having a real conversation with Presence. To feel that you are in the total conversation. Or what Rumi called "the constant conversation."

This is an experience that anybody who has done some practice over a period of time will have eventually: the feeling that you're being communicated to, and that you're answering back. It's what I call the call and response aspect of the world.

And ritual is that.

Ritual is all the languages that are being used to have the experience of communication with nature and with other people.

And you will even begin to notice the ritualistic aspects, or the dance-like or communicative aspects of how other people are moving through the world. And it becomes an extremely rich and profound landscape once that begins to happen.

But it starts with establishing better routines in your life.

The point of establishing better routines is not just to make you feel healthier. Or to make you feel happier. Or to punish you, as some of you might think. [laughter]

The point of it is to start to relax your senses. To be giving your senses the right communication. To be giving your body, energy, and mind the right messages. So that your body, energy, and mind and your senses can begin to relax, and then you can have an easier time recognizing Presence.

So those of you who are my students and who have learned the routines that we learn, like dinacharya. These are very important to keep doing. If you want to have that deep sense of relaxation that comes from the inside. That's not just like a superficial kind of physical relaxation.

And then you can start to feel what's right for you, and what's not right for you. What is nourishing you and what's not nourishing you.

You can begin to get all kinds of direct information for yourself in, you know, moment to moment. That's what we're really looking for.

It's living in spontaneity moment to moment. Responding skillfully to what is actually happening. Both with our bodies, and our minds, and our energy. But also with everything else that's happening.

And that's a very wonderful circumstance, when you begin to sense that. Life becomes, you know, exponentially more interesting. Rather than just when you're running around like a mind on a stick, you know, trying to figure everything out and decide everything for yourself.



Satsang with Shambhavi is a weekly podcast about spirituality, love, death, devotion and waking up while living in a messy world.