Repetition or freedom? Towards Conscious Attention

You get up in the morning and take a shower. Does it last 15 minutes or 5, do you like it warm or do you shower ice cold? Is your breakfast—if you eat one—healthy or speedy, and with or without the latest news? You are asked something, you look up in order to organize your thoughts… does your questioner understand that gesture or does she think twice before asking you again?

Repetition or freedom? Towards Conscious Attention

You may not even be aware of all these familiar actions, things that you have come to do the way that you do them during your life, whether by conscious choice or automatically. Aptly stated in a text from the Talmud that you have probably read in some form:

Heed your thoughts: they become words.

Heed your words: they become deeds.

Pay attention to your actions: they become habits.

Pay attention to your habits: they become your conduct.

Pay attention to your conduct: it becomes your destiny.

But what would that be? Habits allow us to perform recurring actions easily. In this way you could have driven 20 kilometers in your car, on the highway for example, without being aware of where you were driving and how many cars you passed. This of course ensures that you use your attention efficiently, that you no longer have to consciously process stimuli and can therefore think about that one difficult problem. Not so much wrong with that; this life on autopilot ensures that you can focus on what really matters to you. Still, the second part of the poem feels less positive. Because here it is central that my habit becomes my destiny. And do I want that?

What about the habit of judging someone I meet at lightning speed, based on the craziest things? And to what extent is my habit of smiling at everyone who approaches me really so genuine? Isn’t it more of a habit that I put on like a mask when I’m tired one day? A friendly mask, but not myself, incredibly tiring. And what does it say about my destiny? What is true, what is real about my thoughts, my habits, my destiny? Becoming aware of this can come as a shock. What about the power of habit, that always lives in our being? And did we ever consciously choose that?

In this day and age, almost everyone’s daily life has been shaken up. What used to be normal now works differently. Habits have changed, a different rhythm, close to home for many. The weeks seem to run together, with new habits, like a modern monastic life. And in this modern monastic life I actually wish that everyone may become aware of the force and power of habits.

The power of a good habit, such as being consciously and attentively in the moment, and experiencing it again at the end of a day, so that you can really let it go.

The power of habit so that you don’t have to make a choice every moment, you don’t have to think, and therefore you can focus on something else. To contemplate the essential.

The power of habit, if it no longer concerns a conscious choice, while the behavior actually does not fit (any longer) with the reality you are seeking. And you know: your actions become your habits, they become your conduct, and this becomes your destiny.

I wish that all of us may use this time to pay attention to what we think, to what words we use, to our habits. That we become aware of what moves us all. Then we probably recognize in the other, just as in ourselves, a longing for a new direction, away from the stifling habits, away from the contradictions, back to truth, freedom, love.

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Date: October 18, 2021
Author: Ansfrida Vreeburg (Netherlands)
Photo: Hu Jiarui on Pixabay CCO

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