The most difficult part is changing our reactions to ourselves and the things around us. These habit-energies are so ingrained, so powerful. They have formed our identity and what we thought about our place in the world for all of our life until we were exposed to the Buddha dharma.
The first thing one must do to really make progress on this is to form the intent to change your various reactions. And this is not a global thing; one must be aware and have the intent to change each and every reaction you have. This is an extremely difficult thing to form because our ego-mind poses a high barrier to the formation of any intent to implement spiritual teaching.
The other morning while meditating, I thought about my past experiences and realized that to overcome this barrier, two things were essential. You had to have deep faith ... in your true self being your heart and that all will be well regardless what life throws your way because you will always return home to your true Buddha nature, your heart, and be at peace and happy. And there has to be a powerful motivator to give us the will to say “no” to our ego-mind. I have experienced such a motivator in various forms.
One motivator was knowing that my habit reactions caused someone I loved much suffering, much agitation. For example, I felt only righteous indignation when I got angry at certain things or people, but he suffered because it surrounded him with a very negative energy which dragged him down. Or I did some things habitually which seemed very benign and even helpful to me, but they again caused him much suffering because they robbed him of his strength and self-confidence. Because of my love for him, and only because of that love, I formed the will, the intent, to change my way of reacting to or relating to certain things.
Another motivator was hitting rock bottom, a very dark space. As I’ve written before, this was the case with my addiction. Although I certainly thought I had the desire to end my addiction many times, it was only when I really hit rock bottom that I had the will power to form an intent and implement it to save myself. Even then it was a hard and long process, and still I will always be a recovering addict; it is always there, lurking. This is why so many people who are addicts relapse after short periods of sobriety … they have not hit rock bottom.
On matters where the ego is not as threatened, the desire to experience peace and happiness, to not suffer, can be a sufficient motivator to change one’s habitual reaction to events.
But having the motivation still doesn’t get you home free. You’ve formed the intent, but now how do you implement it? How do you not fall into your habit-energy?
In pursuing this in my meditation, I realized both from my own experience and from the Lojung that a very helpful tool was to use imagination during meditation. I described this more fully in a post, “Imagining in Meditation.” Basically, while meditating you imagine a particular situation arising. You see how you habitually would respond to it, and how you suffer, and then you see how you can respond to it in a spiritual way which brings you peace and happiness instead.
When you’ve done this exercise during meditation, and it may take numerous times, you will find that when such situations actually arise, you are able to implement a spiritual reaction rather than your ego habit-energy. And each time you are able to do this, your life is changed. You have progressed on the path.