Strong Habit Patterns and Denaturalization

February 21, 2024

Things could be otherwise. Realizing this is the first step to working with karmic habit patterns. A podcast from Satsang with Shambhavi

I want to talk a little bit about karma. Karma means activity that is bound, activity that is limited.

You can't really have good karma. Or bad karma, really, we would say. But freedom is what is best, not karma.

And I was talking to somebody the other day who was very upset about some pattern in their way of having relationships. And it was a very, very strong pattern. Of course, we all have strong patterns.

And generally, the strongest patterns that we have are the ones that were not formed in this lifetime.

So it takes a long time to build up a very strong habit pattern. For instance, of always getting into a certain kind of train wreck relationship [laughs], right?

If you have that pattern, and it keeps happening over and over again, this is not something that just started in this lifetime.

We all have these kinds of patterns. I mean, I could name a few patterns of mine that are very, very strong. And that I might more or less unwind, but probably won't entirely unwind in this one lifetime.

When we're born into a lifetime where we receive teachings, and we have tools, and we have help to work with these patterns. Then we should understand that we were not in that position in every lifetime.

There are many, many, many forms of life, be it human, animal, or vegetable, that had this pattern. Those patterns travel around like trains, and they go into different stations, a.k.a. different beings.

And sometimes, in some lifetime, in some incarnation, a pattern won't be recognized as that. Someone will not have enough distance on it to be able to even consider changing it.

And there might be an awful lot of concepts and stories that grow up around a certain pattern that almost make it impossible for somebody to change it.

They have completely naturalized it.

Here's something that people say about relationships. After x number of years, it's either usually three or seven for some reason, you lose interest in having sex with your partner.

So, someone has an experience where after a certain number of years, they lose interest in having sex with their partner.

And then there's a ready-made story about that. That this is completely natural, and we should just put up with it because this is just what happens.

This is the sort of thing that happens to these patterns when they are naturalized, when they just seem like this is how things are. Or we might not even recognize them.

I've had a couple of friends who's had a parent who was a rage-aholic.

I never had that kind of parent. But a couple of people I've known in my life had– one of their parents just responded in a rage to almost everything. And cursed at people. I mean, some things that would have been unimaginable in my household growing up.

But that becomes naturalized. Like, maybe that person doing that doesn't even realize they're doing it. Or doesn't even think there's anything weird about it. Doesn't care that it's harmful. Or knows that it's harmful and is really happy about that.

This is when these patterns have become naturalized.

In a lifetime when we're given tools, we're given teachings, then we get a little distance from those patterns. And that's what I call denaturalization. We start to think, oh, things could be otherwise.

And the ability to think that something could be otherwise is the beginning of growth. All human growth, not just spiritual growth.

Having enough distance on how you normally do, think, and feel. Or how WE normally do, think, and feel in our various collectivities. To have enough distance to say, oh, this COULD be different. It doesn't have to be this way.

It's one reason I've always had a fondness for teenagers, is oftentimes the teenager years are the years when people are less moored in these naturalized ways of being. And where they're more rebellious but they often say, why not.

Instead of, no, I can't, or this can't be, or this can't change. They often say, why not. And that's a very nice way to be.

When someone proposes something to say, why not, let's try. Instead of, no, this could never be. This is just the way things are.

I broke up with somebody once and it was a very unilateral breakup of a rather long relationship. And we had a mutual friend. And that mutual friend said, you and your ex can never be friends because exes are never friends.

What do you say to something like that? We're still friends to this day, 20 years later. [laughs]

What happens when you have these patterns that build up this cruft of story and conviction and concept, is that then you can't move. You box yourself in.

So when we have a lifetime when that pattern becomes apparent to us. And when we're able to get some distance on it and denaturalize it a bit. And have some tools to take energy away from that pattern. What should we do?

We should jump on it.

This person was bemoaning the fact that they had this pattern and feeling very upset about herself and et cetera.

And I said, look, this pattern is not YOU. It just came from somewhere. You're the train station this time around. It just came from somewhere.

And now you've recognized it, and you have tools, and you have a teacher, and you have teachings, and you can do something about it.

So, the message that I wanted to convey is that it may suck to see these patterns, and it may be painful, but don't take responsibility for having caused them.

You didn't cause them.

These patterns are from infinite causes and effects. Don't keep misery on misery by feeling like it's somehow your fault or you're to blame.

First of all, there's no blame. We all know that this tradition teaches us that nothing is anybody's fault because everything is being made by God. So, where is there fault to be found?

If you want to rail at God, go ahead.

Rudy, the American Tantrik kundalini yoga teacher, used to say, if you blame people, you're blaming God, basically. And that's true.

We have a blame culture because we grew up in an Abrahamic coalition culture. This is what my puja teacher used to call the Abrahamic traditions. The Abrahamic coalition. [laughs]

And, of course, it runs on an axis of blame and reward. And we have just basically built an entire culture based on blame and reward. It's gotten into every pore of us, our whole mind.

And this is not that. We have to understand this is not that. We are in a different world. There's no blame to be had.

So, understand that the strongest patterns that you have– of course, there's other strong patterns, like doing sadhana and being kind to people and whatever other good patterns you have.

Being creative, being insightful, being thorough, having clarity. We all come in with varying degrees of all those things. So recognize those as strong patterns, too. Which you also didn't cause! But they're just all part of this package.

Bemoaning the way that you are is basically being mad at God.

And the real remedy is to recognize that you didn't create these things, but that you have tools. Be thankful that you have tools. And pick up those tools and use them.

Otherwise, it's a big missed opportunity.

So, the first thing that happens when we're studying and practicing, and especially when we have a teacher around, is that we start to learn more about our patterns.

And in this culture, in this Abrahamic coalition culture, that can get very self-blamey.

A student who would rather not talk about any of his patterns complained that we in our community talk about these patterns that we have too much. And we should just talk about God and unity and blah, blah, blah.

Because if we keep talking about our patterns, everybody feels shame. I was like, that's not my problem that everybody feels shame. [laughs] The teachings are not causing that. The teachings are teaching the opposite of that.

And everything I do is to try to help people get out of that.

But we can't get out of it if we can't have a practical and non-blamey relationship to the package that we came in with. This is the big thing that we need to try to divest ourselves of. This self-blame.

On the one hand, you could say this is all being created—every form, every limitation, every circumstance—by the one Self. So what's there to blame?

On the other hand, you could start from the other end of the spectrum and say, who the heck do you think you are that you think you caused all this? [laughs]

I mean, there's both self-denigration and egotism that come together in this shame game.

The egotism of thinking you could possibly have created all these things, or you're somehow responsible. That's egotism. It's also narcissism because it leads to this incredible self-focus.

But on the other hand, if we want to go to the more absolute end of the spectrum, we could just say everything here is alive and aware. And everything that's here is an upsurge of THAT.

And it's all been created as a form of play, dramatic play, and there's no one to be at fault whatsoever.

But we do have the tools to discover that. Why are we working with these patterns? Because we want to discover something.

We want to be able to live in contact with that larger self and feel our continuity with it and not suffer so much. And have more skill. So that's why we're doing it.

That's at one end of the spectrum. On the other end, we're doing it just because that's what happens. There isn't any reason, really.

Even that is hopeful, because if there's no reason why we're doing this, what does that leave us with? It leaves us with, it's just fun and engaging and exploratory. And it uses all of our senses and all of our intelligence.

And it's through us that God gets to experience all of this. God is basically an experience junkie. [laughs]

So, please, if you possibly can, remember this and stop blaming yourself. Stop taking responsibility for things you aren't responsible for and start taking responsibility for what you've been given. By using it.

I had the thought as you were talking, like, what even is the next lifetime if we're just going to scatter into a million pieces and be... [Shambhavi: Mhmm.] Because there isn't going to be, like, a single soul that goes into a new train station or whatever.

Yeah, but that's the thing. The more we're aware as we're going through the bardos, the more stays together. Consciousness stays more unified.

And that's why we get people having experiences of past lives. I mean, real ones, not made up Atlantis princesses and stuff. [laughter]

That's why we have reincarnates and why we have even ordinary schlubs remembering things, is because there's certain things that unify.

And very strong awareness will unify, and very strong unawareness will unify. So, [laughs] take that as a warning!

So, if we cultivate being [as] aware as we can, going through the bardos of death, or we just cultivate a very strong samskara of doing sadhana and trying to wake up, then more of that will stay together.

If we cultivate very strong unconscious patterns, they will also stay together.

So basically, whatever has the most momentum, most energy bound up in it, is going to tend to keep going in the same direction. It's strongest. Literally has the most energy. More momentum.

Let's say your body, energy, and mind is unified toward this process of waking up during this lifetime.

You spend a lot of time. You do sadhana, you work for your teacher, you are thinking about the community. Then there's a bunch of other stuff, but we won't go there. [laughter]

So there's a lot of unification. Right? Of momentum, of parts going in the same direction. Even if you aren't aware in the bardos, that will serve you.

Of course, if you don't want to be doing practice in your next life, you might be out of luck. You should stop now. [laughter]

There is a thing that teachers say, but I always suspected it was mostly to make their lineages feel important.

But, especially in the Dzogchen lineages, they say you would never encounter Dzogchen teachings unless you had been doing them in a previous life.

I don't know. [laughs] My skepticism kicks in.

But these are more mature traditions. Spiritually speaking, more mature. They require more self-responsibility. There are fewer rules.

You have the traditions where the job of the teacher is to not meet your expectations, on some level. In other words, to not perpetuate your karmas by feeding into them.

That takes a lot of maturity to deal with that.


Photo by Rupert Britton


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