The Force of Habit and the Physical Consciousness

For the physical consciousness, repetition and the building of habit is the centerpiece of harnessing physical, material nature. The “laws of physics” are essentially habits at the level of Matter that function to create an order and system in Nature that maintains the cohesion and operation of the universe. Our minds can envision other universes that operate under different “laws” and of course, as we lack complete knowledge, we recognise that over time our understanding of the “laws” of Nature will deepen and encompass the actual functionality more completely. Thus, Newtonian physics has been updated, not entirely thrown out, with the development of quantum mechanics and relativity.

In human life, and in our psychology, a similar process of habituation occurs, and this is particularly strong in the realm of the physical consciousness. All of the autonomous processes of our bodies are essentially habitual patterns of action that function under specific circumstances, and begin to break down, or cease to function, when the conditions required by that habitual action are no longer available.

Participation in any kind of body-building or sports activity involves intense repetition to build “muscle memory” and even learning to walk or run or jump involves a process of repetition. Much of our education system is actually based on the power of repetition as it is training the physical mind to respond. How much effort goes into memorizing mathematical relationships, spelling, rules of grammar, historical dates, etc.!

The flip-side of the positive ability to train and utilize the physical consciousness in this way, is the iron-clad control that it exercises over much of our lives. If we try to go outside this framework and methodology, we find that the physical mind resists, and tries to assert its habitual patterns. The attempt to break out of physical addiction for those who face that issue, represents the struggle between a habitual pattern in the physical being and physical mind and the attempt of the mind and the will to assert its freedom and develop a different, non-addicted pattern. For an individual interested in the practice of yoga, to move beyond the limits of the mind-life-body complex, there is a daunting task ahead to systematically unravel the habitual knots and open up new pathways of knowledge and action.

Dr. Dalal observes: “What have been called habit disorders in psychiatry are also partly related to the physical consciousness, for the force of habit is derived from the inertia and mechanical repetitiveness of physical consciousness. As Sri Aurobindo explains:

“In the physical being the power of past impressions is very great, because it is by the process of repeated impressions that consciousness was made to manifest in matter — and also by the habitual reactions of consciousness to these impressions, what the psychologists, I suppose, would call behaviour.”

“The physical is the slave of certain forces which create a habit and drive it through the mechanical power of the habit. So long as the mind gives consent, you do not notice the slavery; but if the mind withdraws its consent, then you feel the servitude, you feel a force pushing you in spite of the mind’s will. It is very obstinate and repeats itself till the habit, the inner habit revealing itself in the outward act, is broken. It is like a machine which once set in motion repeats the same movement.”

Sri Aurobindo and The Mother, Living Within: The Yoga Approach to Psychological Health and Growth, Introduction, Disturbances Associated with the Physical, pp. xxv-xxvii


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