Author Topic: Buddhism and bodily "apetites"  (Read 353 times)

Offline Arkena

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Buddhism and bodily "apetites"
« on: May 27, 2017, 12:31:42 am »
So i have had a weight problem for a lot of my life. i am going to a slimming group for it now and see this as part of my practice.

The more apetite is stimulated the more it grows, also eating as a bad coping mechenism for unpleasamt emotions has been a shortsighted habit of mine.

To me grasping, addiction to food means over indulgence amd over reliance on its pleasurable aspect to sooth my mind when i have suffered intense emotins. I see changing my attitude to food as part of my practice as it involves eating mindfully amd enjoying food and letting it sooth my senses but not having an apetite where i am mentally grasping for food for comfort. So i only eat when hungry or when my body needs food.

To me buddhism doesnt mean depriving yourself of pleasure but it does mean if you are grasping for things for emotional reasons u need to rethink your relation with them.

Onto sex!

I notice a similar thing with sex, there is a healthy apetite that adresses a lay persons apetite but if your having sex because of emotional needs and you are constantly grasping for sex for other reasons then you need to rethink your relationship with sex.

Eg: having sex for self esteem issues....as this doesnt really adress your underlying issue and secondly can only lead to a dependance on sex to feel ok.

Ultimately non grasping is about happiness and freedom from addictions that leads to serenity. I just wanted to know your guys thoughts on these issues and how you approach them in your practice.

 :pray:

Offline Danidct31

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Re: Buddhism and bodily "apetites"
« Reply #1 on: June 05, 2017, 02:13:01 pm »
Hello! About the food I also eat when having emotional problems. What I have always tried is to meditate before eating even though Im dying for a bite. Also, the way I finally changed my eating habits is by only buying healthy stuff for my home and only eating bad stuff when eating out. Still hard to control though!

Enviado desde mi Moto G (4) mediante Tapatalk


Offline Rahul

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Re: Buddhism and bodily "apetites"
« Reply #2 on: June 09, 2017, 02:44:51 am »
Suppressing any kind of appetite, be it for food or sex or an addiction such as social media or games, is never an answer. These pent up passions would some day bounce back vigorously. Same goes for dislikes and hatred to anything. I have found that being mindful towards such emotions, over a period of time, gives a deep understanding of why they arise, their futility in general, and how to get over it.

Here's an example from my own experience: I was addicted to coffee, and used to have up to six cups a day. Every hour or so I would feel my mind tugging at me: time for coffee, time for coffee. Drinking coffee made me feel better, boosted my mood, I could handle complex problems better while drinking coffee blah blah blah... I used to think it was all true. I then started practicing mindfulness: just noticing what arises, when arises, etc. including the urges for drinking coffee, the joy that arose while drinking coffee etc. I started being mindful while drinking coffee, too. After a few months I realized that: we can condition our minds to like or dislike things, coffee being no exception. That it is perfectly possible to work efficiently, feel better, boost my mood without coffee. You can trick your mind to believe what you want it to believe. And that somehow I just got conditioned to having coffee and experiencing the so-called benefits of it. You can train your mind to take pride in being efficient without having coffee, for example. And you will feel great when you skip your coffee and still do a hell lot of work at office...

Today, I drink coffee once in the morning, and that too not everyday. The key here is to realize the fact that you can condition your mind to like or dislike things. With mindfulness, you will eventually start realizing this, and get over all likes and dislikes.

Hope this helps.

Offline Solodris

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Re: Buddhism and bodily "apetites"
« Reply #3 on: June 09, 2017, 02:07:36 pm »
We need to understand that whenever we fall into an addiction, it means we have lost the resources to fulfill our other basic human needs.

The solution to addiction would then be characterized as addictive impermanence behavior, moving from one addiction to another, constantly.

Offline Ron-the-Elder

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Re: Buddhism and bodily "apetites"
« Reply #4 on: June 11, 2017, 05:43:09 am »
So i have had a weight problem for a lot of my life. i am going to a slimming group for it now and see this as part of my practice.
The more apetite is stimulated the more it grows, also eating as a bad coping mechenism for unpleasamt emotions has been a shortsighted habit of mine.

To me grasping, addiction to food means over indulgence amd over reliance on its pleasurable aspect to sooth my mind when i have suffered intense emotins. I see changing my attitude to food as part of my practice as it involves eating mindfully amd enjoying food and letting it sooth my senses but not having an apetite where i am mentally grasping for food for comfort


Hi, Arkena.  Thanks for sharing your struggle with food.

One of the things which helped me was to keep a log of what I was eating, when, where, and with whom.  Also recording information as to what I was feeling was helpful, as I learned that many of the foods I was eating were so-called "comfort foods".  As I became mindful of those, I avoided them.

Another category of food I learned about was "binge foods".  These were foods that when I began eating them, I simply couldn't stop.

The log I kept was very helpful in understanding each of these types of foods and how they affected my eating / overeating behavior. 

The next thing I had to learn about is countermeasures for those foods to which I had adverse reactions.

Two things helped very much:

1.  Using container sizes (dishes, bowls, cups ) which were limited in  capacity.

2.  Buying foods in quantities that limited my capacity to overeat.

In the case of binge foods, I had to avoid buying them at all and to not bring them into my home under any circumstances.






Quote
.Arkena:  "So i only eat when hungry or when my body needs food.

To me buddhism doesnt mean depriving yourself of pleasure but it does mean if you are grasping for things for emotional reasons u need to rethink your relation with them.


Sounds like you are on the right track.   :hug:

I would make one additional suggestion:  There are groups which deal with compulsive overeating.  Losing weight is not the only issue with which food addicts have to deal.  Many of us have unaddressed emotional issues with which we have never even discovered, or which we are well aware of , but never had the opportunity to deal.

Organizations such as "Overeaters Anonymous" have been helping food addicts to deal with such issues for many years, and I have found to be very helpful.

Resource:  http://oa.org/newcomers/how-do-i-start/are-you-a-compulsive-overeater/

Quote
:  Arkena:  "Onto sex!

I notice a similar thing with sex, there is a healthy apetite that adresses a lay persons apetite but if your having sex because of emotional needs and you are constantly grasping for sex for other reasons then you need to rethink your relationship with sex.

Eg: having sex for self esteem issues....as this doesnt really adress your underlying issue and secondly can only lead to a dependance on sex to feel ok.

Ultimately non grasping is about happiness and freedom from addictions that leads to serenity. I just wanted to know your guys thoughts on these issues and how you approach them in your practice.

 :pray:


The biggest problem I have found with attachment to sex is that fact that it is a fundamental biological drive for the purpose of reproduction, which has become a social form of entertainment.

The First Precept of "Cause no Harm to Sentient Beings" is likely the most apt to be violated with regard to human sexual practices:  Just a few examples are  Abuse of women, abuse of children, marital infidelity, jealous rages, anger, violence, retribution, anxiety, insecurities, self recriminations, loneliness, sexually transmitted diseases, neurosis, biologically induced mental disorders from sexually transmitted diseases, etc., etc., ad-nauseum, and arguably the worst of them all:  murder of the unborn in the name of birth control.

Marriage seems to be the institution, which humans invented in order to facilitate healthful and morally responsible sexual reproductive practices, however, eventually boredom seems to set in, and often leads to sexual contact outside of the marriage, which often leads to STDs, jealous rages, retribution, and etc.  ... the entire ball of suffering due to sexual malpractice.

The other purpose of marriage was to assure care for the children resulting from the biological purpose of sexual congress.  When there is marital infidelity, partners get upset with each other, decide to part, and then the children wind up with only one parent, many times left in poor conditions, leading to poor care of the off-spring, another form of suffering resulting from sexual malpractice.

So, that seems to explain why cultures and societies have developed so many taboos, and moral imperatives when it comes to human sexuality.  However, since it is a primary biological drive, these moral imperatives continue to be overlooked.

When a person is wealthy enough, in some cultures harems are collected.  Some kings afforded many concubines as well as many wives.  So, sexuality as a human biological drive is never to be underestimated as a potential source of suffering.

What do we do about it as buddhists?:

If you join a sangha and become a monastic you are asked to abstain from all sexual contact.

If you are a layperson you are asked to observe the sexual taboos and practice the moral imperatives of your particular culture.

Aside from those:  Observe the prime directive of Buddha's precepts to "Cause no harm!"  ... determining this with your big head instead of your little head.

What Makes an Elder? :
A head of gray hairs doesn't mean one's an elder. Advanced in years, one's called an old fool.
But one in whom there is truth, restraint, rectitude, gentleness,self-control, he's called an elder, his impurities disgorged, enlightened.
-Dhammpada, 19, translated by Thanissaro Bhikkhu.

Offline Samana Johann

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Re: Buddhism and bodily "apetites"
« Reply #5 on: June 11, 2017, 09:27:58 am »
To "interrupt" here maybe, Upasaka, Upasika and interested readers.

"Cause no harm!" is a good advice by Upadaka Ron.

Not sure if Upasaka/-sika and others are really seeking advices since most "Buddhists" are more out to find confirming and reasoning of their bad habits and to find equal to feel more comfortable while subtil already not so fine.
So the short "disturbance" can be trown away if it is the normal "Buddhist" case.

Thing need causes to arise and to cause effort and reason to abound things good to abound, insight into the drawbacks, causes of harm for one self and all others. Nyom Ron would know what addiction to pleasure and food causes. How ever, as long as the effects are not seen, neglected or forgotten, one has no reason to be urged.

What did the Buddha told about sensuality, it's backwards, which are visible for everyone with not to much dust in the eyes, for one self:

Quote
From the


... "Even though a disciple of the noble ones has clearly seen as it actually is with right discernment that sensuality is of much stress, much despair, & greater drawbacks, still — if he has not attained a rapture & pleasure apart from sensuality, apart from unskillful mental qualities, or something more peaceful than that[4] — he can be tempted by sensuality. But when he has clearly seen as it actually is with right discernment that sensuality is of much stress, much despair, & greater drawbacks, and he has attained a rapture & pleasure apart from sensuality, apart from unskillful mental qualities, or something more peaceful than that, he cannot be tempted by sensuality. ...

...

"Now what, Mahanama, is the allure of sensuality? These five strings of sensuality. Which five? Forms cognizable via the eye — agreeable, pleasing, charming, endearing, fostering desire, enticing. Sounds cognizable via the ear... Aromas cognizable via the nose... Flavors cognizable via the tongue... Tactile sensations cognizable via the body — agreeable, pleasing, charming, endearing, fostering desire, enticing. Now whatever pleasure or joy arises in dependence on these five strands of sensuality, that is the allure of sensuality.

"And what is the drawback of sensuality? There is the case where, on account of the occupation by which a clansman makes a living — whether checking or accounting or calculating or plowing or trading or cattle tending or archery or as a king's man, or whatever the occupation may be — he faces cold, he faces heat, being harassed by mosquitoes & flies, wind & sun & creeping things, dying from hunger & thirst.

"Now this drawback in the case of sensuality, this mass of stress visible here & now, has sensuality for its reason, sensuality for its source, sensuality for its cause, the reason being simply sensuality.

"If the clansman gains no wealth while thus working & striving & making effort, he sorrows, grieves, & laments, beats his breast, becomes distraught: 'My work is in vain, my efforts are fruitless!' Now this drawback too in the case of sensuality, this mass of stress visible here & now, has sensuality for its reason, sensuality for its source, sensuality for its cause, the reason being simply sensuality.

"If the clansman gains wealth while thus working & striving & making effort, he experiences pain & distress in protecting it: 'How will neither kings nor thieves make off with my property, nor fire burn it, nor water sweep it away, nor hateful heirs make off with it?' And as he thus guards and watches over his property, kings or thieves make off with it, or fire burns it, or water sweeps it away, or hateful heirs make off with it. And he sorrows, grieves, & laments, beats his breast, becomes distraught: 'What was mine is no more!' Now this drawback too in the case of sensuality, this mass of stress visible here & now, has sensuality for its reason, sensuality for its source, sensuality for its cause, the reason being simply sensuality.

"Again, it is with sensuality for the reason, sensuality for the source, sensuality for the cause, the reason being simply sensuality, that kings quarrel with kings, nobles with nobles, brahmans with brahmans, householders with householders, mother with child, child with mother, father with child, child with father, brother with brother, sister with sister, brother with sister, sister with brother, friend with friend. And then in their quarrels, brawls, & disputes, they attack one another with fists or with clods or with sticks or with knives, so that they incur death or deadly pain. Now this drawback too in the case of sensuality, this mass of stress visible here & now, has sensuality for its reason, sensuality for its source, sensuality for its cause, the reason being simply sensuality.

"Again, it is with sensuality for the reason, sensuality for the source... that [men], taking swords & shields and buckling on bows & quivers, charge into battle massed in double array while arrows & spears are flying and swords are flashing; and there they are wounded by arrows & spears, and their heads are cut off by swords, so that they incur death or deadly pain. Now this drawback too in the case of sensuality, this mass of stress visible here & now, has sensuality for its reason, sensuality for its source, sensuality for its cause, the reason being simply sensuality.

"Again, it is with sensuality for the reason, sensuality for the source... that [men], taking swords & shields and buckling on bows & quivers, charge slippery bastions while arrows & spears are flying and swords are flashing; and there they are splashed with boiling cow dung and crushed under heavy weights, and their heads are cut off by swords, so that they incur death or deadly pain. Now this drawback too in the case of sensuality, this mass of stress visible here & now, has sensuality for its reason, sensuality for its source, sensuality for its cause, the reason being simply sensuality.

"Again, it is with sensuality for the reason, sensuality for the source... that [men] break into windows, seize plunder, commit burglary, ambush highways, commit adultery, and when they are captured, kings have them tortured in many ways. They flog them with whips, beat them with canes, beat them with clubs. They cut off their hands, cut off their feet, cut off their hands & feet. They cut off their ears, cut off their noses, cut off their ears & noses. They subject them to the 'porridge pot,' the 'polished-shell shave,' the 'Rahu's mouth,' the 'flaming garland,' the 'blazing hand,' the 'grass-duty [ascetic],' the 'bark-dress [ascetic],' the 'burning antelope,' the 'meat hooks,' the 'coin-gouging,' the 'lye pickling,' the 'pivot on a stake,' the 'rolled-up bed.' They have them splashed with boiling oil, devoured by dogs, impaled alive on stakes. They have their heads cut off with swords, so that they incur death or deadly pain. Now this drawback too in the case of sensuality, this mass of stress visible here & now, has sensuality for its reason, sensuality for its source, sensuality for its cause, the reason being simply sensuality.

"Again, it is with sensuality for the reason, sensuality for the source... that [people] engaged in bodily misconduct, verbal misconduct, mental misconduct. Having engaged in bodily, verbal, and mental misconduct, they — on the break-up of the body, after death — re-appear in the plane of deprivation, the bad destination, the lower realms, in hell. Now this drawback too in the case of sensuality, this mass of stress in the future life, has sensuality for its reason, sensuality for its source, sensuality for its cause, the reason being simply sensuality....


True? So again, "Cause no harm", as best as possible. If goodwill for others do not arise, think on your health. If no mercy for your health, think on all who "need" to take care of you then and the required sacrifies of many.

When seeing pleasant things, look through the packing and skin, think on "Kinder Suprice as it seldom would suprise people when really seen.







The more restrain from sensual pleasure, the more peace on earth, for those who like to be really engaged Buddhist and cause real changes.

If one has actually reasons to put on the Noble fight for one self and all others, the Buddha did not leave one guideless alonge and there are very practical hints and advices one should stick to and of course most importand are admirable friends who are not merely up to gaina friends and benefits from it but to be one at first place.

Ven. Nyanaponika Thera, as such a admirable friend, made a great collection in regard of fighting the hindrence to all works, in the world and beyound: Sensuality

Quote


1. SENSUAL DESIRE   

A. Nourishment of Sensual Desire


There are beautiful objects; frequently giving unwise attention to them — this is the nourishment for the arising of sensual desire that has not arisen, and the nourishment for the increase and strengthening of sensual desire that has already arisen.

— SN 46:51

B. Denourishing of Sensual Desire

There are impure objects (used for meditation); frequently giving wise attention to them — this is the denourishing of the arising of sensual desire that has not yet arisen, and the denourishing of the increase and strengthening of sensual desire that has already arisen.

— SN 46:51

Six things are conducive to the abandonment of sensual desire:

Learning how to meditate on impure objects;
Devoting oneself to the meditation on the impure;
Guarding the sense doors;
Moderation in eating;
Noble friendship;
Suitable conversation.
— Commentary to the Satipatthana Sutta

1. Learning how to meditate about impure objects
& 2. Devoting oneself to the meditation on the impure

(a) Impure objects

In him who is devoted to the meditation about impure objects, repulsion towards beautiful objects is firmly established. This is the result.

— AN 5:36

"Impure object" refers, in particular, to the cemetery meditations as given in the Satipatthana Sutta and explained in the Visuddhimagga; but it refers also to the repulsive aspects of sense objects in general.

(b) The loathsomeness of the body
Herein, monks, a monk reflects on just this body, confined within the skin and full of manifold impurities from the soles upward and from the top of the hair down: "There is in this body: hair of the head, hair of the body, nails, teeth, skin, flesh, sinews, bones, marrow, kidneys, heart, liver, pleura, spleen, lungs, intestines, bowels, stomach, excrement, bile, phlegm, pus, blood, sweat, fat, tears, lymph, saliva, mucus, fluid of the joints, urine (and the brain in the skull)."

— MN 10


By bones and sinews knit,
With flesh and tissue smeared,
And hidden by the skin, the body
Does not appear as it really is...
The fool thinks it beautiful,
His ignorance misguiding him...
— Sutta Nipata, v.194,199

(c) Various contemplations

Sense objects give little enjoyment, but much pain and much despair; the danger in them prevails.

— MN 14

The unpleasant overwhelms a thoughtless man in the guise of the pleasant, the disagreeable overwhelms him in the guise of the agreeable, the painful in the guise of pleasure.

— Udana, 2:8

3. Guarding the sense doors

How does one guard the sense doors? Herein, a monk, having seen a form, does not seize upon its (delusive) appearance as a whole, nor on its details. If his sense of sight were uncontrolled, covetousness, grief and other evil, unwholesome states would flow into him. Therefore he practices for the sake of its control, he watches over the sense of sight, he enters upon its control. Having heard a sound... smelt an odor... tasted a taste... felt a touch... cognized a mental object, he does not seize upon its (delusive) appearance as a whole... he enters upon its control.

— SN 35:120

There are forms perceptible by the eye, which are desirable, lovely, pleasing, agreeable, associated with desire, arousing lust. If the monk does not delight in them, is not attached to them, does not welcome them, then in him thus not delighting in them, not being attached to them and not welcoming them, delight (in these forms) ceases; if delight is absent, there is no bondage. There are sounds perceptible by the ear... odors perceptible by the mind... if delight is absent, there is no bondage.

— SN 35:63

4. Moderation in eating

How is he moderate in eating? Herein a monk takes his food after wise consideration: not for the purpose of enjoyment, of pride, of beautifying the body or adorning it (with muscles); but only for the sake of maintaining and sustaining this body, to avoid harm and to support the holy life, thinking: "Thus I shall destroy the old painful feeling and shall not let a new one rise. Long life will be mine, blamelessness and well-being."

— MN 2; MN 39

5. Noble friendship

Reference is here, in particular, to such friends who have experience and can be a model and help in overcoming sensual desire, especially in meditating on impurity. But it applies also to noble friendship in general. The same twofold explanation holds true also for the other hindrances, with due alterations.

The entire holy life, Ananda, is noble friendship, noble companionship, noble association. Of a monk, Ananda, who has a noble friend, a noble companion, a noble associate, it is to be expected that he will cultivate and practice the Noble Eightfold Path.

— SN 45:2

6. Suitable conversation

Reference is here in particular to conversation about the overcoming of sensual desire, especially about meditating on impurity. But it applies also to every conversation which is suitable to advance one's progress on the path. With due alterations this explanation holds true also for the other hindrances.

If the mind of a monk is bent on speaking, he (should remember this): "Talk which is low, coarse, worldly, not noble, not salutary, not leading to detachment, not to freedom from passion, not to cessation, not to tranquillity, not to higher knowledge, not to enlightenment, not to Nibbana, namely, talk about kings, robbers and ministers, talk about armies, dangers and war, about food and drink, clothes, couches, garlands, perfumes, relatives, cars, villages, towns, cities, and provinces, about women and wine, gossip of the street and of the well, talk about the ancestors, about various trifles, tales about the origin of the world and the ocean, talk about what happened and what did not happen — such and similar talk I shall not entertain." Thus he is clearly conscious about it.

But talk about austere life, talk suitable for the unfolding of the mind, talk which is conducive to complete detachment, to freedom from passion, to cessation, tranquillity, higher knowledge, enlightenment and to Nibbana, namely, talk about a life of frugality, about contentedness, solitude, aloofness from society, about rousing one's energy, talk about virtue, concentration, wisdom, deliverance, about the vision and knowledge of deliverance — such talk I shall entertain." Thus he is clearly conscious about it.

— MN 122

These things, too, are helpful in conquering sensual desire:

One-pointedness of mind, of the factors of absorption (jhananga);
Mindfulness, of the spiritual faculties (indriya);
Mindfulness, of the factors of enlightenment (bojjhanga).

C. Simile

If there is water in a pot mixed with red, yellow, blue or orange color, a man with a normal faculty of sight, looking into it, could not properly recognize and see the image of his own face. In the same way, when one's mind is possessed by sensual desire, overpowered by sensual desire, one cannot properly see the escape from sensual desire which has arisen; then one does not properly understand and see one's own welfare, nor that of another, nor that of both; and also texts memorized a long time ago do not come into one's mind, not to speak of those not memorized.

— SN 46:55


Yet one defilements would easy and fast seek to oppose and shout: "That's for monks, we are lay people and such is not possible to train and not adviced!" Well, then put them back into their seats by telling them, that the Uposatha, held by all Noble disciples and their follower, are not only a training for Monks and many thousands also today, observe them and enjoy the freedom of remorse and the bliss of higher standards of life and its benefits.

Just that one does not be conquered by the defilements when opposing "he just talks, he do not know himself... it's not possible... just a talker...". When my person was still a householder it was not difficult and did not require much of effort and pain to leave 150kg and come to the half in short time. It gives a lot of freedom and welbeing, just that, and its not a matter of age ir other things.

Or let me repeat of what the Buddha told in regard of elders and gray hair, if some desire of being worthy of respect is a good cause for ones effort to arose:

Quote

...

"Brahman, the Blessed One — the one who knows, the one who sees, worthy & rightly self-awakened — has declared the level of one who is venerable and the level of one who is a youngster. Even if one is venerable — 80, 90, 100 years old — yet if one partakes of sensuality, lives in the midst of sensuality, burns with sensual fever, is chewed up by sensual thoughts, and is eager in the search for sensuality, then one is reckoned simply as a young fool, not an elder.

"But if one is a youngster, youthful — a black-haired young person endowed with the blessings of youth in the first stage of life — yet does not partake of sensuality, does not live in the midst of sensuality, does not burn with sensual fever, is not chewed up by sensual thoughts, and is not eager in the search for sensuality, then one is reckoned as a wise elder." ...


So that should be enough food for much straight to lead a good battle and then enjoy the bliss of a battle only less are well given food so that they could win.

Anumodana!
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Offline zafrogzen

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Re: Buddhism and bodily "apetites"
« Reply #6 on: June 11, 2017, 11:37:59 am »
The importance of willpower and self-discipline cannot be overestimated. It’s an inner strength and ability to stick to decisions that is essential to success in any undertaking and can overcome addictions, procrastination and laziness.

Although most people would agree that self-discipline is important, few realize that it can be consciously cultivated and developed. With practice of willpower the brain begins to change ingrained patterns of thought and the subconscious starts to help with regulating and overcoming impulses rather than bringing them on.

HABITS

We rely on habit much more than we realize. For instance when first learning to drive a car we had to consciously think about each action, but once we’ve practiced enough, driving becomes automatic and effortless. That’s because driving and all the actions it entails is a conditioned habit.

The part of our brain that makes conscious decisions, while obviously vital, is just a sliver of our overall mental activity. Our brains and bodies come equipped with a good deal of built-in pre-programing for the control of basic bodily functions, such a breathing and digestion. But most of our functions and abilities are learned and programed into our brains by repetition, until they’ve become automatic and unconscious. A simple act such as walking across the room, which we can do without thinking about it, requires so many rapid, sophisticated calculations, that we’d be frozen in place, unable to move, if we had to consciously decide every action we took.

In psychology, the sub-conscious is traditionally viewed as the seat of repressed desires and powerful archetypal forces festering just below the surface, over which we have little control. I think a more accurate view is to see the subconscious as like a very sophisticated computer that has been programmed by repeated thoughts and behaviors to respond in predictable, habitual ways — which, fortunately, can also be reprogrammed with concerted effort.

When a behavior becomes a habit through repetition and conditioning, it stops requiring our conscious decision and instead functions on auto-pilot. How many times have you done a repetitive act like locking the front door or turning off the stove, only to get halfway down the street and wonder if you’d done so? That’s because those simple tasks have become automatic and unless the act is consciously noted, the brain doesn’t feel the need to record the event.

The enduring character of habits is crucial. Even though we don’t practice such things as swimming or typing, those learned patterns can still be brought up when needed. I couldn’t tell you where any of the keys on the typewriter are, but I can still sit down and type up a storm without thinking about it. Almost everything we do, from riding a bike to shooting pool, and probably even our perception of “reality,” would be impossible without that ability to record and repeat habitual patterns of behavior.

The good news, when it comes to eliminating bad habits, is that once they are formed and imprinted on our brain they can be replaced or changed, over time, with perseverance and mindfulness. The bad news is that they rarely ever completely disappear. Even when a habit is overcome we must still be on our guard lest it take hold again. Repetition and time are crucial factors in eliminating or adopting habits. It’s said that it only takes about two months of repetition to make something into a habit.

Getting rid of a long term, ingrained habit like smoking can be difficult because the brain will resist changing a habit pattern in favor of what it has been programmed to do. The physical addiction to nicotine is said to disappear after a short time but the habitual patterns of behavior keep kicking in. The part of the brain that stores habits doesn’t distinguish between bad and good habits, so if you have a bad one, it’s always lurking there. Unless you consciously fight a habit, the conditioned pattern will unfold automatically.

THE MOMENT OF TRUTH

A crucial moment always arises, when one is confronted with an urge to indulge a bad habit. By paying close attention it’s possible to notice when those moments of choice arrive and remember that one can either reinforce the habit by indulging it or resist it and weaken its hold. That’s a good time to pause and take a deep, breath. Depending on the strength of the urge, it’s possible at that moment to choose to do something else, perhaps substitute a more benign habit.

If one does succumb to the temptation to indulge in whatever habit one is trying to resist, it’s important not to give up completely or beat up on oneself over it. The more one fights a bad habit the less satisfying it will be when it is indulged in, which will weaken its hold. Eventually, the repetitive attempts to alter the habit will accumulate and overpower the habitual pattern.

Many habits are combined with other behaviors, involving cues or triggers that kick in the need to satisfy the habit. The classic example is of Pavlov’s dog which would start salivating whenever a cue that was connected to getting food, such as the sound of a bell, would occur. It’s at that point that the habit can either be reinforced or a new habit connection made.

For a smoker, that first cup of coffee in the morning usually demands a cigarette. Linking habits like that increases their power, but that linkage can also be used to replace bad habits with something less harmful. Instead of a cigarette one could eat a banana with that first cup in the morning. At first it won’t feel right. But if it’s repeated often enough, before long the banana will become the habit and if there are no bananas one will have to go looking for one.

If the bad habit is replaced with another more acceptable habit, which satisfies the same urge, the bad habit eventually will lose it’s power. This means changing a normal routine, which can feel uncomfortable and awkward at first.

When trying to establish a new, more beneficial habit, connecting it with an existing habit will facilitate its adoption. For instance, with that first cup of coffee or tea in the morning, instead of surfing the internet, one could make it a time to write out and visualize what is to be done that day. Through the association of one habit with another, the brain establishes neural connections that double the strength of both habits.

Habits are frequently linked with certain times of the day, which act as triggers for the habit to kick in. It’s been shown that if we eat a meal at the same time every day, when that time rolls around, while we might not start drooling like a dog, we do secrete digestive juices and saliva in anticipation. Linking up a pre-dinner cocktail or a desert afterwards can quickly become a habit, as can doing some exercises beforehand or taking a walk after dinner.

Obviously some habits are easier to adopt, than others. Anything that tastes or feels especially good can easily become a habit. The most seductive and immediately pleasurable habits, such as sugar, opiates and other addictive drugs, and procrastination and laziness, turn out to be negative if continued. Habits like exercise and meditation, which can be challenging in the beginning are productive of pleasure later on, producing a host of positive responses and pleasurable feelings brought on by the internal production of powerful natural drugs, such as endorphins and dopamine, that stimulate a cascade of beneficial mental and physical responses.

SWEET LIMITATION

In the I Ching, the ancient Taoist book of wisdom and divination, the Hexagram that comes closest to self-discipline (other than the constant exhortation to “persevere”) is Limitation. The hexagram’s three lower (inner) lines, or trigram, symbolize a lake, while the upper (outer) trigram represents water.

A lake occupies a limited space and if more water flows into it, it overflows. Thus it show the necessity of setting limits, which is seen as the backbone of virtue and correct conduct. To voluntarily impose limits on one’s activities and desires is analogous to the Taoist ideal of moderation and the “golden mean” between extremes such as overindulgence and severe self-denial.

The I Ching cautions that “galling limitation” must not be persevered in. If we go to far in imposing limitations on our own nature, that would be injurious. Limits must be set even on limitation.

This is a highly refined form of self discipline — one which I find somewhat difficult. It’s often easier to give up a pleasurable habit entirely than it is to be moderate with it. If something is enjoyable it’s natural to feel that more of it would be even better. Most of my “addictions” such as a glass of wine with dinner, a couple squares of dark chocolate after breakfast and even the occasional hit of marijuana, are harmless and even beneficial — in moderation. But if they are consumed in unlimited quantities the effects cease to be pleasant and can even turn negative. Almost everything, sleep, work, and especially food, is enjoyable and beneficial when limited, but harmful when carried too far.

The lower trigram (lake) in the hexagram of limitation also represents “joy” and the upper trigram (of water) symbolizes “danger.” For those of us given to extremes, to be able to enjoy pleasurable habits while still being mindful of the dangers in overdoing them, requires continuous mindfulness. Fortunately, even moderation can become habitual if persevered in long enough.
« Last Edit: June 11, 2017, 11:40:12 am by zafrogzen »
My first formal meditation training was with Shunryu Suzuki in the 60's and later with Kobun, Robert Aitken and many other teachers (mainly zen). However, I've spent the most time practicing on my own, which is all I do now. I'm living in a rather isolated area so I miss connecting with other practitioners. Despite my interest in zen I've made an effort to remain secular. You can visit my website at http://www.frogzen.com

 


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