Change of habits

One of the best teachings I have received about habits and their modification says: “The first step in changing a habit is to replace it with another.” In this clear case, the instruction referred to quitting a harmful habit for another good one, or at least one that was not as harmful as the previous one. This allows the displacement of energy that was used in one activity to another. It is something transitory and in a way it comes to compensate for a deficiency and not to resolve it or transcend it, however it is a good beginning of the transformation.

Then, each time the compulsion or the impulse towards the realization of that habit that I want to give up arises, I immediately start the new behavior with which I intend to replace it. You will remember the example given in “The Russian Pilgrim” where an alcoholic practiced this. Every time he wanted to drink, he read the Gospels and in a short time the urge to drink had passed. And this serves as an example that we can adapt to our own life. This immediate replacement of one behavior for another shows us that vices have a “peak of the wave” and that then it diminishes by itself. It is necessary to go through this kind of “critical moment”, until one can intentionally overcome the stimulus that presses us with strong desire. Habits are formed by simple repetition.

You have to repeat the new behavior you want to install each time the desire for the previous habit appears. In a few days we will feel stronger, increasingly able to overcome the difficult moment. Later, we get used to going through the critical moment without replacing the behavior. We simply remain attentive to this desire that arises with force to repeat some behavior and when observing what happens in some way we differentiate ourselves, we distance ourselves and a space appears that gives some margin of freedom. So first replace, then learn to go through and while this happens, understand what is hidden behind the habit.

A harmful habit is a symptom, it has arisen in response to certain internal and external situations. In a way it served as an analgesic, it was like an anesthetic for the pain that was there at that time. But you cannot live on painkillers, you have to discover and solve the origin of the pain. In very general terms, a life in which we do not find meaning and where we do not often perceive the presence of God in the everyday is a breeding ground for a multitude of harmful habits. The integral answer lies in the sacralization of life. Or, rather, to attend to the sacred that is shown in passing.

But this cannot be imposed, it must be experienced. For this, it is necessary to cultivate attention and train the look. The gaze (towards where we direct the perception) can also get used to and get into the habit of looking for God in everything and everything. A fraternal hug to all invoking the Holy Name of Jesus.

The desert of the unexpected

Our particular internal situation becomes clear when we are in the middle of the desert. When we are left without being able to dispose of what we cling to. Suddenly, we cannot repeat the execution of that habit or start a conversation with that person, we can no longer count on what we had. The desert can come when sickness, unemployment, unwanted loneliness or a sudden change in mood that leaves us in heartburn.

The desert, that which has no boundaries, leaves us without hold, tears away our dependencies, strips us; it shows us its own face, the one we do not want to see, so as not to feel the pain of our constant postponement of change. This figure – that of the desert – which is always mentioned in the history of spirituality, reflects the situation of the human soul: We are here, in the middle of the immensity, included in what cannot be measured or understood.

It is in this situation of perplexity before the mysterious existence, when the real questions can manifest in us. For this reason, The Voice cries out in the desert, (John 1, 23) calling us to profound transformation, to a more true living, inspires us with the desire to make life sacred. Is it that life has meaning without the sacred in it?

The irruption of the desert in our life, -the emergence of the unwanted or the fall of illusions- is a way in which God calls us to awaken the spirit. The emptiness of the desert overwhelms us, dismantles false securities, reveals what it is. What if I am not going to make that purchase? Or if I’m not going to talk to that person? Or if I don’t turn on the television or go online? What if I allow the desert to enter my life? And, in that case, how do you really go through it on a daily basis?

Let us clear the way, so that that Light of which John was a witness may manifest in our lives. (John 1, 6-8) And then how to clear the way?

Opening the spiritual senses

The great mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal was able to say at the time that most of the problems of the human being arise from his inability to sit still and do nothing in his room. How right he was! Let’s reflect on this a bit.

Lacking fullness, that is, a feeling of autonomous well-being in ourselves, we throw ourselves towards things, people and situations, pretending that contact with them produces that satiety that we never achieve. Lacking the perception of the divine presence, life appears to us desecrated, meaningless or with meanings that continually change and are transitory.

We live to achieve this and then that and then the beyond, in a hurry we go after a mirage that will always be ahead. An object, a title, a person, a trip, a love affair, an acknowledgment, a meal … inside us a constant murmur tells us: “When you have this or that you can rest and be happy …” “This now is not important, hurry to achieve that, that is what you lack … ”and similar statements.

The fact is that if we stay still, we soon despair. “Go inside!”, “Heaven is within us”, “Find God in your heart”, the spiritual texts tell us, but when we remain still and pay attention inside, we conect with anxiety, boredom, fear, negative thoughts, oppressive memories, fatalistic imaginations, anger, worries and an extensive menu that makes us go terrified towards any activity that allows us to anesthetize and forget this absence in us: the absence of contentment that derives from a brittle faith , of multiple dependencies and the feeling of being separated from God.

How happy the one who does not fear because he needs nothing! And needs nothing because has everything. He has a heart full of certainty, he feels the living God acting in him, as present and real as the sun feels on his face or the sound of thunder and then heavy rain. It seems necessary to open and strengthen the capacity of our spiritual senses; the eyes of the heart, the ears of the soul, the touch of the Spirit within. How will we do this?

How many activities did I do today feeding dependencies or habits that enslave me? How many activities were there to anesthetize the pain that Your absence causes me? Have I tried to make things, no matter how small, as a worship liturgy? How to officiate the ceremony of the moment? For a muscle to grow, it must be exercised, to achieve proficiency, it must be dedicated to it, any development depends on grace but also requires application of our energy and attention.

Let’s see if we can go on tackling some exercise later that allows us to awaken and strengthen the spiritual senses that lie intact but asleep in the depths of the soul.

The Quality of the eternal

What is the most important thing in your opinion in religious life? What is essential, that which cannot be missing?

The intimate experience of God in the heart. That certainty of his existence, that sense of his presence at every moment while the everyday goes by. The purpose of religious life is to facilitate access to this inner experience. Of course, everyone lives it in their own particularity and approaches or moves away from it according to the path of their own spiritual development.

It is good to remember this, not to forget the ultimate meaning of what we do. Even more so in these times, in which, in addition to a continuous desacralization of human activities, a certain relativism of faith prevails, which I believe manifests a fundamental nihilism.

In a way, it is as if a “habit of disappointment” tended to settle in, a condescending way of looking, as if we knew how all things are and what can be expected of life. More than a routine in itself of events, it is a routine of the gaze, a vice in the way of seeing.

In your opinion, what is the closest thing to this experience of God in your heart?
The sentence. And this, understood not only in its particular liturgical and / or personal meaning, but also as a way of being and being in life, as a way of being the conscience pending of God, of his presence and manifestation while time passes. 
We live unfolding our intention between the categories of space and time; however they are not absolute but are traversed by what we would call the quality of the eternal. This divine quality of events that is present as the background of existence, can be made perceptible to those who, with attention and love, seek the sacred in events.

What happens can be pleasant or unpleasant, it can give us happiness or sometimes a lot of pain; even many times it is incomprehensible, not assimilable. The behavior of others and even our own often leave us perplexed and frightened. However, the intelligence of redemption is also at work there.

Could you explain a bit more?
Hardly. It is something that can be sensed but not fully explained. I would tell you that everything is made for our redemption and transformation, that the destiny of individual and social man is good and perfect, although we cannot see it at times.

And how can one pray, how to reach that state of continuous prayer?
The prayer of Jesus is my way, the invocation of the Name, which tends to replace ramblings and desires and which little by little is focusing us on the only thing necessary. However, there are different ways of praying and approaching God. Each one is called to travel a certain path and that is for something, some particularity has that form to which the heart of each one leans that makes it necessary, suitable for each one.

In general, I would say that it helps not to spend yourself on secondary things, to focus on what is important. We must not forget certain truths, which we do not like to remember very much. We must remember that this life is transitory, that old age, illness and death exist and that only before them do we put things in the necessary perspective.

When you remember these things, you immediately turn to God and wonder about the meaning of life. That question, that excruciating concern is the first form of prayer that I have ever known and, at the same time, the first manifestation of God’s love, of his intimate and personal call.