Micro-cultures and the impossible necessity of lifelong practices 5 July 2010Posted by MOZAFFAR in Misc.
I differentiate between habits and practices, based on their relationship with the raging river that is society. The raging river of society pushes you to conform every aspect of your life to float along with its currents. Your practices, however, might keep you in control.
Dare I suggest that American society is the most potent in coercing conformity? Much of that conformity we find in these habits is synonymous with culture. The point here is that American culture is highly coercive.
In any case, as part of our conformity to this river, we develop habits. These are habits involving and affecting the way we sleep, wake, rise, walk, run, eat, drink, talk, think, everything. Those habits are combinations of our psychology, our spirituality, our physiology, and the prevailing ethos of our society.
Practices, however, are those repeated behaviors that sometimes compel us to remain in place despite the force of the current, and sometimes compel us to swim against the current altogether, and sometimes compel us to leave the river. Practices often work against habits. Sometimes we engage in practices to change habits. Habits control our being, whereas we control our practices. One is a passive relationship, while the other is active.
Now, one of the difficulties in establishing such lifelong practices is that idea of “lifelong” seems endless, eternal. One of the blessings of our traditional outlook is that the moment of your death is set. Set.
While consciousness might theoretically be infinite, we know that life itself is not only finite, but set. With the moment of your death being set you can infer that it is set by the Divine, and thus the moment of your death is not one dictated by caprice. There is wisdom in this pre-setting of your life’s timeline. Note that the length of your life is set not by caprice, but by a prescribed wisdom. When it is time for you to die, it is time.
Still, life for the young might seem more eternal than might life for the old. Thus, your real focus is to make the practice you. Your goal is to make the practice a part of your being, a part of your self, private identity.
So, the real challenge in developing permanent practices is the same challenge we have in breaking bad habits. Because your habits are a result of that powerful combination of your culture, your psychological condition, your spiritual condition, your social condition, your physiological condition, etc.., if you do not change your conditions, you will not change much of your habits. Likewise, you will not be able to easily establish long term practices. The point here is that without serious effort, you will change only as much as your condition changes. With a culture as coercive as American culture, you will change according to the whims of American culture.
But, this is the impossibility of establishing lasting practices. But, these lasting practices are necessities for change to happen. So, to stand still within the raging river of society, or to swim upstream, you must change other elements of your condition. Be it your psychology, your spirituality, your physiology, etc..
So, what is the easiest of things for many of us to change? I used to think that changing knowledge was the most potent tool in making change. Perhaps it is, except that the risk of knowledge is that it is very easy to remain dormant. Note, however, that I am not making “knowledge” synonymous with “education.” The latter is far more comprehensive a project than the abstract former.
But, each of us lives in a micro-culture composed of the company that we keep. This micro-culture is composed of persons who are — like you — subject to the same coercive cultural and material forces. The difference here is that the micro-culture takes on the role of a individual of its own, like a team.
Thus, change your company. Change the company that you keep. When you change the company that you keep, you are making serious changes to all of those other factors. And, it is in that setting that you can engage in enduring practices. “Company” here is not only human, but as we know, virtual. The impact of a virtual/screen presence on your being is comparable — and often more potent — than the impact of a human. Be wary of passing any negative judgment on the humans in your current company, but find more or different company. The result will be a change in your micro-culture, which will facilitate changes in your habits and practices.
A great tool in seizing control over yourself is in seizing control over the coercive forces around you. Control your micro-culture, and it will be come a shield against the greater culture and subcultures. Otherwise, you will find yourself starting and dropping practices.
And Allah knows best.