By editor - 23.2 2018

“Bad habits are like a comfortable bed; easy to get into, but hard to get out of”  

A friend of mine often argued with me about the local trains of Mumbai. While I found the peak hour travel disgusting, he exclaimed it was all right. I asked him if he never felt that it’s inhuman to travel the way people do so, with barely any space to even stand inside the trains. Isn’t the whole thing sickening? He’d look at me as if I was crazy. A few months later he was transferred to a remote but scenic place in Assam.

Five years later he returned to Mumbai. We again met often and had our friendly exchanges. One day I casually asked him about his office travel and immediately he began lambasting the Mumbai trains. I was amused because I had previously seen him indifferent to the hellish train rides. But now he was animated as he expressed how he finds it disgusting. It didn’t take me long to understand what had caused this transformation. During his earlier stay in Mumbai, he had no idea what it meant to inhale fresh morning air or watch a beautiful sunshine.

But when he went to an idyllic setting, he walked daily to his office and back home, amidst verdant meadows, with exotic birds swarming at beautiful lakes. He experienced a higher taste in life. And then when he returned to Mumbai’s trains, the contrast was glaring. This incident helped me come to terms with why some people find a materialistic life centered on sense gratification normal. They wonder what’s wrong with drowning ourselves in liquor, drugs, and the sensual passions of this world.

They even question the rationale of rising early and chanting of God’s holy names. But the paradox is obvious to one who despite a past of sensuality now takes to spiritual practices. After a few weeks of rising early, eating sattvic food, chanting and associating with spiritual teachings, a practitioner’s consciousness takes off to an entirely different realm.

One experiences tranquility and inner contentment. The taste is rich and profound. Then if he were again put in an environment surcharged with the modes of passion and ignorance, he feels choked. The higher taste is obvious, as the saying goes, ‘the proof of the pudding is in the eating.’ Then the previous life of sense gratification appears gaudy and tasteless.

This is confirmed by Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita.

“The embodied soul may be restricted from sense enjoyment, though the taste for sense objects remains. But ceasing such engagements by experiencing a higher taste, he is fixed in consciousness.” (2.59)

“The secret to permanently breaking any bad habit is to love something greater than the habit.”

Brynt Mcgill

The focus of our spiritual activities is to serve the lord and get a taste of this higher pleasure. Then automatically one could give up lower tastes and bad habits. Along with our endeavor to abandon the undesirable habits, if we also seek to engage in positive habits, we’d transcend the petty pushing of the mind for lower tastes. A mother shared how she got her three year old son to get rid of his thumb sucking habit.

She just brought him a pair of shorts that was a little loose. As soon as he wore them, it would slip off. He’d instinctively grab his shorts when family members seeing him with pants down, would joke, “Shame, shame!” The boy’s hands were on his shorts all the time; the thumb moved from the mouth to his shorts. Slowly as the child grew, the habit was gone. Spiritual seers of the past have done a similar exercise for us. They have given us so many rich engagements that one’s mind has enough opportunities to get positively absorbed. His mind is busy with the higher taste, and he has no time for the lower pleasures that this world could offer. Eventually it’s the higher taste alone that would help us. The founder of the scouts movement, Robert Powell, put it eloquently,

“Correcting bad habits cannot be done by forbidding or punishment.”

The mother had to offer a higher job for the child. We too need to give our minds something higher than mere ‘no’s’ or harsh discipline; we need a taste. Many people in this world are unfortunate; they allow their minds to seek pleasure in perishable things. And some even thrive on others’ misery.

They get to feel relative happiness because their pleasure is dependent on someone else’s suffering. An umbrella seller may feel happy if it rains while a vegetable seller wishes it’s bright and sunny. If a doctor says his business is doing well and he’s happy about it, it means many are falling sick! We don’t even realize how, but we are victims of consistent negative thinking and seeking of lower pleasures. The famous American motivational speaker and author Zig Ziglar quipped,

 “All bad habits start slowly and gradually and before you know you have the habit, the habit has you.”

As we do our daily duties, a spiritualist seeks happiness beyond the dualities of this world.  We focus on the positive and spiritual. As a wise person remarked, “The only way to eliminate bad habits is to replace them with good ones.”