Habit Energy of Running and Our Practice

Habit Energy of Running

“We run during the daytime and we run during our sleep. We do not know how to stop. Our practice is first of all to stop, then to relax, to calm down and to concentrate. When we can do this, then we are in the here and now. Then we become solid. And when we are solid, we can look around. We can look deeply into the present moment, we can look deeply into our true nature, and we can discover the ultimate dimension.


By looking deeply, we can see that though we are waves, we are also water. But if we have not stopped, if we have not learned to concentrate, then we cannot look deeply. We will not free ourselves from fear because we will not be strong enough or stable enough to see the reality of no coming and no going.

It is very hard to fight against the habits we have developed. Dr. Ambedkar was a member of Indian parliament who came from the ranks of the Untouchables. He fought for the rights of the Untouchables. He felt very strongly that their hope for dignity and safety was in Buddhism. The Buddha did not believe in the caste system. So, one day in the city of Bombay, five hundred thousand Untouchables came together and Dr. Ambedkar delivered the Three Refuges and the Five Mindfulness Trainings of the Buddha. I went to India to offer my support and assistance to this community of Untouchables. We gave dharma talks and held days of mindfulness.

Imagine that you grew up as an Untouchable. Imagine that everyone around you treated you badly and made you afraid for your life. Imagine that you had to please all those of higher rank in order to stay safe. How would you live? Would you be relaxed and in the present moment? Or in constant worry about the future? The habit energy of anxiety would be very strong.

The friend who organized my trip came from the Untouchable community. He lived in New Delhi with his wife and three children. He very much wanted to make my trip pleasant and successful. One morning, we were sitting on a bus together, traveling to another community. I was enjoying the landscape of India from my window seat. When I turned to look at my friend, I noticed that he was very tense. I said, “My dear friend, I know that you very much want to make my trip pleasant and happy, but you know, I am very happy right now! Please, don’t worry. Sit back and relax!” He said, “Yes!” He relaxed a bit, so I turned to the window again and I practiced breathing in and out. I enjoyed the palm trees in the morning sun.

I thought about the palm leaves on which the scriptures of the Buddha have been written since ancient times. The leaves are long and slender. A sharp point was used to inscribe the teaching of the Buddha on the leaves. They can be preserved for a thousand years or more. I remembered that some fifteen-hundred-year-old Buddhist texts had been discovered in Nepal written on these leaves.

Then my mind returned to my friend. This took perhaps two minutes. I turned to him and saw that he was becoming stiff and tense again. It was difficult for him to relax for even a few minutes. As an Untouchable, he had struggled all of his life. Now, even though he had a nice apartment in New Delhi and a good job, the habit energy in him to struggle all the time was still very strong. Throughout many generations, the Untouchables have been struggling hard day and night to survive. That kind of habit energy had been transmitted to him from many generations. It would be difficult for anyone to transform it quickly. He needed some time and some training. With the support of friends in the practice, in a few months or a few years he could transform his energy of struggling and being tense.

It is possible for anyone to do. You can allow yourself to relax and be free. If you want to transform your habit energy of running and struggling, you have to recognize it every time it shows its head. Breathing in and out and smiling, you say, “Oh, my dear little habit energy, I know you are there!” At that moment you are free. You can remind yourself. You can teach yourself. You cannot have a spiritual friend twenty-four hours a day with you to remind you. I reminded my friend one time, and it worked only for two minutes. He has to do it himself. Everyone has to do it for themselves.

You must become your own spiritual friend and live in an environment that helps you. The habit energy of running is strong in us. It may have been transmitted to us by many generations. But you don’t need to pass that habit energy along. You should be able to tell your children that you have walked in the kingdom of God. You may like to tell them, as I have told my friends, that there is not one day when I do not walk in the kingdom of God. If you can do this, your life will become an inspiration to many people. Perhaps you and your children will walk in the Pure Land all the time.”
Thich Nhat Hanh, NO DEATH, NO FEAR p.109

7 thoughts on “Habit Energy of Running and Our Practice

  1. Paradoxically, it takes courage to drop our habits of fear and anxiety. We cling on to them because we think they are who we are. We don’t know who we’d be without them. And, as this very touching post illustrates, we would not be anyone in particular. But – we would be free.

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