Have you ever sworn you were going to change a habit -- for example, you promised yourself that you would stop eating sugar, relax instead of fret, meditate bright and early every morning or shut up the voice in your head that judges others? And then, despite your greatest determination, your spoon scooped up the ice cream, your stomach churned when you thought about your diminishing bank account, you slept late and missed meditation time or you found yourself grumbling about a friend, a mate, a boss? Well, if you have had this or any number of other similar experiences, you are not alone. We have many intentions for "self improvement," some successes and lots of frustrating repetitions of bad patterns.
When we repeat patterns we dislike, we often go into shame. And what good does that do? If I feel bad about eating the wrong things, I might feel so distressed, I just have to eat to make myself feel better! If I get upset about fretting, I'm just fretting about my fretting. If criticize myself for not meditating, I might not be able to focus on the meditation when I do get to it. And if I hate myself for grumbling about a friend, I might feel compelled to justify my criticism by proving to myself how bad he or she is.
Many of us are harsh on ourselves and others because we can't seem to break old habits: drinking, smoking, being negative, complaining, gossiping, gambling, shopping. Yet if we think about it, our apparent weakness can't just be a defect in us. On the contrary, if so many people have trouble breaking bad habits, there must be a reason that goes beyond us, a reason fundamental to human beings.
In my 30 years of experience as an intuitive counselor, I have seen that none of us is immune to addictive patterns of the body, mind or spirit. By an addictive pattern, I mean a behavior that causes us or others pain, yet which we feel compelled to repeat over and over. Human beings are prone to these habitual patterns on at least three levels: physiological, psychological and social. More and more, for example, science is uncovering the biochemical chain of addiction. More and more, we are recognizing the early origins of negative emotional programming, often linked to some survival mechanism developed in our immature years. And more and more, we are acknowledging that our society has supported addictive eating, drinking, smoking and sexual habits.
Having acknowledged the social nature of habitual behaviors, we need to take that understanding one step further. Human beings are not discrete entities, separate and apart from one another. We are members of a collective consciousness, human consciousness. And we are dramatically impacted by the state of that collective consciousness. If I live in Brazil, for example, my dreams will be in Portuguese. If I am born to smoking parents, I will identify cigarettes with adulthood. If I live in a militaristic culture, I will tend to value my ability to kill or inflict harm on rival nations, tribes or clans. If I am raised by a competitive father, I am more likely to feel that I have to knock the ball out of the park.
In a way, this is obvious. And yet is it? Do we realize how much of our reactivity and coping skills have been modeled by others? Do we notice these patterns, or do they seem so natural to us that we don't even realize that there are other options? Don't we, in fact, assume that these ways of thinking or behaving are "normal," perhaps even required?
Clearly, many of our ways of being and thinking are socially conditioned, either by family or culture, but there is a further realization we need in order to address our bad habits. Suppose we are truly one on the spiritual plane or, expressed in another way, suppose we are all part of the collective consciousness? If that's true, how can you or I be separate from the impact of the collective consciousness, if only on the subtlest levels? When you walk into a room where people have been arguing, don't you tend to feel anxious? When you walk into a sanctuary, don't you tend to feel more calm? When you're at a boxing match or a football game, don't you tend to feel excited and competitive? If your mate is fearful, don't you feel fear, too, even though you might not share his or her particular fear, if you examine yourself more closely?
We are not separate. We are connected to one another. And so, we feel one another's feelings without even knowing it, and we pick up one another's ways of coping, without necessarily choosing to do so.
This is reality. We are part of a collective consciousness. And because we forget that, we have tended to beat ourselves up for failing to change, instead of realizing that the best way to change is to help others change as well. Let's recognize this: To transform, we need to:
A culture of support is a collective consciousness aimed at overcoming habitual, destructive patterns of behavior or thought and co-creating a healthier environment on the levels of body, mind and spirit. We know this approach works. Alcoholics Anonymous has been effective, for example, because its members have had one another to reinforce their determination to stay sober. Together, they have created a culture of sobriety. We need to expand this concept to embrace well-being on every level.
To change ourselves, we need to change our world. It's easier to stop eating sugar when healthy eating becomes trendy and healthy choices become available. It's easier to put down the sword in a world where others are also disarmed. It's easier to be calm when the people with whom we are interacting are calm themselves. And it's easier to act for the highest good of all when we trust those around us are doing the same.
So we can see that to free ourselves from our destructive and self-destructive habits, we need to co-create a culture of consciousness, where all of us are more aware, more relaxed and happy, and more free to respond in healthy, mutually supportive ways. Which brings us to our final insight. Just as we are impacted by the consciousness of everyone else, we directly and indirectly impact everyone and everything else in our world.
Everything we do, think and feel impacts others directly, but also it also impacts the collective consciousness of which we are a part. This is a stunning awareness. It means that we need to call ourselves to a higher level of accountability than we have, and we need to support one another to do the same.
We are being called to co-create a culture of consciousness where we are self-aware and accountable. This is both a responsibility and a relief. As we build this culture of consciousness, we are not alone fighting our personal demons. We are together supporting one another to overcome our collective ones. And we are co-creating the world we want to live in.
Beth Green has been an intuitive counselor and spiritual teacher since 1980. She is the co-founder of Consciousness Boot Camp, an internet-based program helping to create a culture of consciousness throughout the world. If you would like to be alerted to Beth's blogs, please choose an option under "Get Updates from Beth Green" at the top of the page. For more about Beth, her books, music, videos, counseling and consulting, go to her personal website, Beth's Place. Or check out her spiritual community, The Stream.