Much of the activity in our lives is governed by the force of habits, whether ingrained in the genetic and species memory as ‘instinctive’ behavior, or built into the structure and function of the anatomy and physiology of our bodies, or developed through various forms of conditioning of our perceptions, feelings, responses, vital reactions, emotions and thoughts. Every vibration in nature has a pattern which lends itself to repetition and this repetition, which we may call a vibratory rhythm, builds habits and “grooves” of response at all levels of our being.

Many, if not most, of these habits take place at a subconscious level of our being. We feel a pressure and we act according to a pre-determined pattern. In the field of psychology there is a concept known as ‘operant conditioning’ which builds in pre-determined responses to specific stimuli. This concept, however, is not limited to things like arranging for dogs to salivate upon hearing a bell, or other similar experiments. These concepts are applied in every field of our lives, including in our social interactions, our exposure to media, brand marketing, advertising, etc. as certain things become associated with a pleasurable experience of the satisfaction of some need so that when the triggering visual stimuli, sounds or verbal cues are put before us, we react as intended. Most of this occurs through a form of subtle training that involves repetition and the creation of fixed lines of reaction. The more deeply embedded these habits are, the harder they are to break or change, and thus, our ability to respond freely to changes in the world gets severely reduced and our lives can take on a very reactionary status.

For the spiritual seeker, knowing these patterns, whether we call them adhering to our religion, supporting our country, or following a moral or ethical principle, or even simply carrying out relationships that have been established ways of doing things in the past, is the first step in the process of freeing oneself from the bondage of these patterns.

In his book, The Mother, Sri Aurobindo uses an interesting phrase when describing the power of the Divine Mother in the 6th chapter, as one responsible for ‘the making of rhythms and the breaking of rhythms”. Habits, or rhythms, can be extremely powerful aids to create positive patterns for growth; however, at a certain stage, these same patterns will need to be left behind, altered or ‘broken’ in order to move to the next level of development. In the meantime, many times we utilize habits at one stage to help reduce or eliminate residual or atavistic habits of the past, such as in the use of pranayama or mantras to help control emotions and thoughts and redirect the energy toward the spiritual purpose of the seeker.

The Mother observes: “One lives by a kind of habit which is barely half-conscious — one lives, does not even objectify what one does, why one does it, how one does it. One does it by habit. All those who are born in a certain environment, a certain country, automatically take the habits of that environment, not only material habits but habits of thought, habits of feeling and habits of acting. They do it without watching themselves doing it, quite naturally, and if someone points this out to them they are astonished.”

“As a matter of fact, one has the habit of sleeping, speaking, eating, moving and one does all this as something quite natural, without wondering why or how…. And many other things. All the time one does things automatically, by force of habit, one does not watch oneself. And so, when one lives in a particular society, one automatically does what is normally done in that society. And if somebody begins to watch himself acting, watch himself feeling and thinking, he looks like a kind of phenomenal monster compared with the environment he lives in.”

Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, Our Many Selves: Practical Yogic Psychology, Chapter 6, Some Answers and Explanations, pp. 155-156

Author's Bio: 

Santosh has been studying Sri Aurobindo's writings since 1971 and has a daily blog at and podcast at He is author of 19 books and is editor-in-chief at Lotus Press. He is president of Institute for Wholistic Education, a non-profit focused on integrating spirituality into daily life.