From the Sufi:
A man who had studied much in the schools of wisdom finally died in the fullness of time and found himself at the Gates of Eternity.
An angel of light approached him and said, "Go no further, O mortal, until you have proven to me your worthiness to enter into Paradise!"
But the man answered, "Just a minute, now. First of all, can you prove to me this is a real Heaven and not just the wishful fantasy of my disordered mind undergoing death?"
Before the angel could reply, a voice from inside the gates shouted:
"Let him in - he's one of us!"
~Cosmic Trigger, Robert Anton Wilson, pg. 183
A common definition for healthy habits involves eating right, getting enough sleep, not succumbing to the temptation of fun and exciting exogenous chemicals, exercising regularly. Common definitions tend towards the dry, the unimaginative, the vague, and the controlling.
How much nightly sleep constitutes ‘enough’? 8 hours? 7 hours? What about outliers who subsist on 3-5, or less? A recent study performed by University of Alabama scientists indicates that less than 6 hours a night increases the risk of stroke in adults. The study had a large population size: 5,666 and lasted 3 years which gives the results a seemingly large amount of statistical power, these were adults who had no sign of sleep apnea which is a common cause of sleep related stroke. The study is as yet unpublished and was just recently presented in June. Do you believe it?
For the insomniac this can be a harrowing thought. The circadian rhythm, that magickal circuit that governs our wakefulness and our rest and, therefore tied very tightly to our ability to dream, can be altered and changed. For the yogi the importance of keeping this rhythm healthy is exemplified in the common adage that one should wake and meditate at the same time every day and one should meditate and take rest at the same time every day. Ideally the morning’s meditation takes place shortly before sunrise so the first rays of the day can fall upon the face of the practitioner. Melatonin, believed the master of this rhythm, releases from the pineal gland in response to changing sunlight conditions.
Regulating the rhythm, willfully and with reasonable gentleness is normally very effective. Sleep does not come easy at first and as with any change in deeply engrained habit: hard, almost metabolic resistance is the rule. However, a skillful and judicious use of meditation during this period almost certainly has a balming effect on tired neurons, making up for some of the initial lack of sleep. Turn off the lamp and go to sleep.
How useful this habit of sleep for the exercise of your own will against the force of nature. How long can you go without sleep before your work begins to suffer? How many hours of sleep aids in the optimal performance of your work? Experiment on yourself. For a period in 2003 the practice of the writer involved seeing both sunrise and sunset every day, going to sleep just after sunrise and waking just before sunset. Sleep came easily, restfully and surely in those days.
Eating right means nothing. Nutrition as a science is mutable, involving rigidly adhered to, some would say outdated, notions of what constitutes poison and what constitutes nourishment. Other camps use cutting edge biochemical technique and theory to develop complex diets that essentially amount to dividing food into nourishment or poison as well. Ayurveda asks you to take a short quiz, and based on your answers tells you what foods are specifically poison and nourishment just for you (isn’t that nice?). Should you eat meat? Should you drink milk? Become more sensitive. You won’t know what nourishes you until you can feel the effects of what you put in your body.
As practice progresses and you lose more and more of what you previously considered ‘self’ the influences of studies you read, people you know, etc. have less of an opportunity to circumvent and occupy the space of mental importance that belongs to your own experience. Become more sensitive and experiment. As desire shortens the foods that you eat for comfort or for the thrill are less and less palatable. Once you develop what you consider good eating habits: a diet of foods that sustain you, contribute to your sense of well being and solidity and don’t distract from your work, add in something terrifying. Fish head soup, organ meats, gristle, and bone marrow. Challenge your digestion and your palate. Remove your limits.
Exercise is a tricky one, but along with eating, may be the route to altering cellular and molecular habit. Your DNA contains many sequences that are harmful and even includes a sequence for programmed cell death (apoptosis). What is required for these traits, illnesses, defects, etc to emerge is that you have a sequence for them in the DNA and that there are environmental factors that are just right for those sequences to be expressed. Environmental here refers to not only the state outside the body, but also inside the body. Once expressed they seldom turn back or turn off. Practicing raja yoga and qi-gong have been instrumental in resetting the current writer’s body to health out of the mire of illness that plagued him for the first two thirds of life. By stilling the body in uncomfortable postures the body learns to slow down, calm down and more importantly to halt non-vital processes. The reaction to external stresses is thus altered. This happens without conscious thought.
By stilling the mind, stress vanishes, the mind and the body can focus everything on a single thing. Theoretically this leaves less of a chance for abberant cell behavior and for those damned holes in the matrix that allow 'foriegn pathogens' to enter and engage a disease state program. Qi-gong, quite simply, engrains the habit of doing just this while moving. These last remarks are purely the view of the current writer. Experiment and find out what stills your body and mind, then keep doing it persistently until it becomes a habit. In this way you can fight back the body’s habits and tendencies toward illness, pain, discomfort by replacing them with a habit you consciously develop toward a specific end.
In fact, as a supplementary practice, for one day, pen everything you do and examine these for signs and symptom of habits that may cause your work to suffer. Then either remove these habits or replace them with something mindful. Something that you conceive and program. In order to develop the habit of changing habits on a whim, change your habits on a whim. Start small.
As a side note: during the past month I have drawn a tarot card during my ritual practice, occassionally drawing more than 1. In the past 15 days, the moon has come up 5 times. This seems remarkable.