We all know how difficult it is to start habits. We would like to work out more, meditate, spend more time with our family or friends, learn to paint. We want to eat healthier, be more productive, be more generous.
Starting is hard. Continuing is harder.
Even harder is eliminating the imprints of bad habits.
The Buddha taught that we need to purify our karma, afflictive emotions, cognitive obscurations and habitual tendencies if we are to be completely awake. Karma is our actions, we need to practice virtue and try not to harm others. Afflictive emotions are things like attachment, aversion, ignorance, jealousy and arrogance. Cognitive obscurations are the way we perceive self and other, our understanding of reality. Habitual tendencies refer to the impressions, seeds, or predispositions of our past thoughts, actions and experience. Habitual tendencies are mostly unconscious. Most people rarely even think about them much less try to change them.
Think about your perception of food. Why do you perceive some foods as wholesome and good, whereas others you perceive as disgusting? My dog has no problem eating an old hot dog off the street. The concept of 'this might make me sick' is not one that my dog has (or my child!).
Think about your perception of your body. In Nepal it is common to see men holding hands, it is a sign of friendship and affection. In the U.S. people might think you were invading their personal space or question their sexual orientation. One might incorrectly wonder, why are all these monks gay!
Why do you perceive yourself as strong, or weak, beautiful or ugly? Why do you seek out affirmation, or hide in the shadows? What is it that makes you outgoing, or shy?
These are not easy questions to answer, and often there is no answer. But the question is important.
Once you start to ask the question, you can start the hard work of relinquishing your grasping and fixation to concepts about the way things are or should be. Letting go of concepts is how we break free from the tight hold that habitual tendencies have over our minds and hearts. Then, as those seeds ripen, we can recognize them and let them go.
There is a chance that in our experience, we might catch ourselves asking 'why?', or simply notice how strange our reaction is. Recognize it and let it go.