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4. Understanding and Conforming to
the Logic of Adaptation

This is Part 4 of Chris Tong's eight-part article, The Necessary Artfulness in Taking Up Disciplines in the Way of Adidam.

The logic of adaptation to a particular discipline

We mentioned that, in order to get a discipline to "stick" (as opposed to phasing in one's practice of it), one needs to understand the logic of adaptation for the given discipline. The first aspect of this is to recognize when a period of adaptation is necessary. For many disciplines, it simply is not a good idea to take them up "cold turkey" (overnight). The raw diet is a good example of this. If you go straight from MacDonald's food one day to raw diet the next, almost certainly your body will have a violent reaction that will cause you to drop the new diet, and (pardon the pun) leave a bad taste in your mouth against trying it again in the future. So don't do that!

But even if you understand that a process of adaptation is necessary for taking up certain new disciplines, you may not be aware of the exact form such an adaptation process should take, for best chances of success. Let's use the example of the raw diet again to illustrate. Not knowing any better, you may decide on a purely quantitative approach to adaptation: I'll just keep making increasingly more of what I eat be raw foods, and eventually the non-raw foods will be displaced, and my diet will be entirely raw. It's natural to think of such an approach to adaptation, when "percentage of raw food" (how much of your diet is raw?) is such a common measure both within the Adidam culture, and among dietary pundits who advocate a maximally raw diet.

Where this approach to adaptation (without further refinement) can run into problems is when you're eating raw foods, but still also eating burgers, drinking coffee, and maybe even smoking and drinking too. Why is this problematic? Because the purely quantitative approach fails to take into account principles of food combining [8] — it gives no thought to what raw foods and what non-raw foods you are eating at the same time. For example, this approach fails to take into account the biochemical messages being sent to the body by the foods we eat. Eating burgers and drinking coffee sends one kind of message, that orients the body toward stimulation (not only via foods, but in every area of life), toxification, and enervation. In contrast, the raw foods are sending a message of detoxification and rejuvenation. Eating both kinds of foods at the same time sends an incredibly mixed message to the body, something like pressing down on the accelerator and brake pedals of a car at the same time. You feel ill, and you tend not to make progress in your "adaptation process".

What, then, is a more workable logic for adaptation? Well, you have to add more discrimination to the process. Rather than just focusing on quantity of raw food, you classify foods (or "non-food" substances you ingest into your body, like cigarette smoke) into different groups: most stimulating, less stimulating, even less stimulating, etc. — and then you systematically phase out foods, one food group at a time. First you phase out the most stimulating or addictive (all the "gross" addictions like drugs, alcohol, and smoking); then the next most (junk foods, drinks with caffeine, etc.); and so on. This makes the adaptation process as easy as possible, from the viewpoint of biological messaging — something like taking your foot off the accelerator while at the same time slowly putting your foot on the brake pedal: a workable way to slow down a car.

Change your act and your subjectivity will follow

This is one of Adi Da's maxims that is of great use in taking on the disciplines of the Way of Adidam. In some sense, it balances out our discussion so far about adaptation to a discipline, and keeps us from (inappropriately) turning a necessary period of adaptation into an infinitely long period in which one never really takes up the discipline.

Think of it this way . . . You're lying in bed. You're sort of awake but you don't want to get up: not because you're exhausted, but because it's a cold day, you feel cozy under the blankets, you're having a pleasant daydream or semi-sleep state — whatever . . . you resist getting out of bed. You can meditate on that resistance and just lie in bed for hours . . . Or, at any time, you could just jump out of bed, and the body-mind will show you a different sign within seconds. The contrast in your subjectivity (once you're on your feet and moving around) is so striking that you may even be amazed at how you let such an easily dissolved subjective state control your day for such a long time. Once you get this lesson, next time you're lying in bed and you feel that resistance to getting up (that otherwise could keep you lying there for hours) — just get up anyway! As Adi Da puts it, "like a soldier on the march" (see quote below). The "resistance" feeling will be gone a few seconds later, and you'll have all that extra time for something else of greater importance to you than hours of semi-sleep/semi-resistance.

The general principle here is to not "buy into" or be so easily controlled by one's subjectivity. Just change one's act (just engage the discipline) and one's subjectivity changes as well — sometimes very quickly, sometimes more slowly, but in all cases, surely.

Real Spiritual life absolutely requires the undermining and frustration of the capability for ego-binding distraction. That is why Spiritual life has often been described in harrowing terms. That is why My devotees must be responsible for constantly cultivating the devotional (and, in due course, Spiritual) relationship to Me, for rightly disciplining the basic life-functions, and for observing, understanding, and (more and more) transcending the dramatization of egoity they are always tending to enact.

Spiritual life is a crisis. Therefore, Spiritual life involves discomfort at times. . . The individual who is really using this process can be enduring this crisis almost continually, with great frequency and intensity — and, yet, like a soldier on the march, the person never misses a step, never becomes outwardly reactive. Such a person continues to function, and apparently only enjoys life. He or she does not get involved in an entire drama of upset.

Avatar Adi Da Samraj
"Meditation and Satsang", My "Bright" Word

Change your way of action and the subjective dimension itself will change naturally. The born condition precedes all subjectivity. You want to manipulate your subjectivity first — your feelings, your thinking, your conceptions, and your feeling-conceptions. You want to change them before you will change your way of life. You want to be free inside before you will love, before you act differently. You must act differently first, and not be concerned that the feeling and thinking aspect of the being remains full of tendencies. You must not be concerned about them. They are just the signs of the old way of living. You must act in love, in radiance, with energy, with life, in all your relations, in your disposition moment to moment, under all conditions. You will observe in the midst of such action that the subjective dimension is also gradually penetrated and transformed. Its negativity, its reactivity, becomes unnecessary and ultimately obsolete by virtue of your different action.

Avatar Adi Da Samraj

Now you are waiting for your insides to change first. They are the last to change! Your action must change first.

Avatar Adi Da Samraj

You must change your act in every moment of hearing. This is the most difficult thing. This is the next moment of your evolution. You're not comfortable with it altogether you see. It requires a certain discipline to take verbal understanding and make moral physical changes in your way of relating to others, your disposition in the world altogether, your energization of human possibility. So it's in this crossover that the fundamental difficulty of this discipline arises. Bringing it from verbal understanding to action . . . from inwardness to incarnation, to incident. Understand this and don't forget it. Because, whenever you meet, whenever you consider the teaching, this is your obligation, you see, to change your act. Never forget that that's what you're supposed to do, and never forget to do it. Because otherwise you will not make this understanding a principle for adaptation, for change, for transformation, and for continued growth.

Avatar Adi Da Samraj
"The Obligation of Eternal Existence: The Law of Evolution"

You either change your action or you do not. You must begin to do it. There is nothing more that can be said, nothing more convincing than that. You simply must begin to do it.

Avatar Adi Da Samraj

Indeed, the process of Divine Awakening altogether is somewhat analogous to this "lying in bed resisting getting up" example. Adi Da suggests that, when we do finally Awaken, we'll be amazed at how relatively trivial the subjectivity was that kept us preferring (and locked into) the dream of conventional, limited, mortal, mostly unhappy life, for endless lifetimes, when we could have instead Awakened to Perfect Happiness in any moment, if we had simply "jumped out of bed", i.e., thrown ourselves utterly to Infinity through complete surrender and resort to the Divine: its Infinite Grace and All-Accomplishing Power.[7]

The "act" and the "subjectivity" have to be at "the same level". So the basic principle is "Change your act and your subjectivity will follow." Now let's examine the principle in a little more depth. It must also be understood that not any change of action will cause any associated subjectivity to change (sooner or later); the "act" and the "subjectivity" must also be at "the same level" in order for Adi Da's principle to work. Some examples will help illustrate what it meant by "same level" (or not).

  • Old Subjectivity: feeling dissociated from someone.
    Change of Act: hugging that person.
    New Subjectivity: feeling connected to that person.

    One discipline Adi Da frequently gave devotees was this: If you are feeling dissociated from someone (e.g., you are angry at them, you are avoiding them, etc.), hug them. For many people, the change in subjectivity is immediate. I can vouch for that: hugging someone I am dissociating from pretty much always results in restoring my feeling of connection to them in seconds. For some people, the change in subjectivity may take longer. For example, Cheech Marrero tells the story of how Adi Da hugged Cheech every day, with Cheech resisting (because of his Latino cultural programming that says men don't hug men), until, after about three weeks, Cheech finally began to enjoy the hugs.

    Same level? yes
    The "whole bodily embrace" and the underlying emotional and even physical dissociation are "at the same level", in the sense that the embrace immediately and directly starts impacting the underlying dissociation.

  • Additional comments:
    There are ways to "blow" this discipline. . . For example, it is possible to just "go through the motions" of hugging someone, and not have any change of subjectivity occur. Thus, another aspect of such "behavioral changes" is that they require whole bodily investment. You do have to not have your mind on something else (which is how one gets away with "going through the motions"). You do have to allow yourself to fully feel the physical closeness to the other, and feel what bioenergetically happens in the body when you pull the other person close to you. For some solids, it may take a while for the "feeling" channels to "unclog", but if one cooperates with the process (rather than trying to sidestep it, by not fully investing attention and feeling), that will happen eventually.

    As another example, a completely insensitive "solid" character going up to a person and aggressively hugging them in a context and moment that is completely inappropriate. The whole point of the discipline is relationship, and relationship is an art, requiring sensitivity to the other person.

  • Old Subjectivity: "disliking" the raw diet: not finding it stimulating enough, tasty enough, etc.
    Change of Act: eating the raw diet.
    New Subjectivity: finding a certain "pleasure" in eating the raw diet.

    Same level? yes
    Adi Da: "If food-taking is intelligently minimized, and if the food selected is both pure and purifying, then the physical body (and, therefore, also the brain), and, thus and thereby, the entirety of the body-brain-based patterning of emotion and mind, passes through a spontaneous natural cycle that shows (progressive) signs of (first) purification, (then) rebalancing, and (finally) rejuvenation." (Green Gorilla)

  • Old Subjectivity: feeling insecure or "powerless".
    Change of Act: adopt more "powerful" body language.
    New Subjectivity: feeling more secure and more powerful.

    The principle of "Change your act and your subjectivity will follow" is not exclusive to Adidam. For instance, certain studies show that changing one's bodily postures does have an impact on one's feeling about oneself in relation to others. (See, for example, Leo Widrich, "Why You Should Never Cross Your Arms Again", Entrepeneuer Magazine, June 18, 2014.)

    Same level? yes
    "Cuddy [a social psychologist] explains that inside our bodies, actual changes are happening as our body language changes. These changes largely have to do with hormones [testosterone, the 'power' hormone; and cortisol, the 'stress' hormone]. . . The actual hormone levels of people changed dramatically. Here is the increase in testosterone and drop in cortisol after performing the power-pose."

  • Old Subjectivity: a person is a racist
    Change of Act: Change one's language to avoid and eliminate racially offensive remarks, and use "politically correct" language instead.
    New Subjectivity: a person is no longer a racist

    Same level? no
    In response to racism, many societies adopt policies (at many levels: government, workplace, school, etc.) that insist on politically correct, non-racist language. Since these policies arose in reaction to racism, one would presume the intent is to help eliminate racism, and the belief is that such policies to contribute to the elimination of racism. But because actual racism is occurring at a deeper "level" than one's speech, one can edit one's speech while still remaining a hidden racist. (The point of course is not to suggest that anybody should be able to say anything, no matter how offensive or hurtful. The point is to be aware that editing one's language is a very surface behavior, and if one really wants to not be a racist, one has to do a lot more than editing one's speech. One has to find ways to impact the depth of the disposition.)

  • Old Subjectivity: an undesirable character
    Change of Act: Change one's handwriting.
    New Subjectivity: a preferred character.

    There are graphoanalysts — handwriting analysis experts — who believe that, if a particular character gives rise to a particular style of handwriting, then changing the handwriting could change the character (a kind of "reverse causality") — this is sometimes called "graphotherapy".

    Same level? ?
    So far as I know, there are no studies confirming this. My impression is that the character certainly produces the handwriting style, but it's not obvious that changing the handwriting style can change the character. How would that work? What would be the "medium" that links the two in the reverse direction? Some graphotherapists suggest that brain waves are the medium: change in handwriting creates a change in the brain wave pattern, and that in turn creates a different character. Perhaps the jury is still out on this one. If you're curious in looking into this more yourself, on the "pro-graphotherapy" side are books like Vimala Rodgers, Change Your Handwriting, Change Your Life, which suggests specifics like how we write the letter "t" correlates with how effective we are in the world. A secondary issue: Even if if turned out that this approach had some validity, would it not be easier to change your character via a more direct approach?

  • Old Subjectivity: engaging the self-contraction
    Change of Act: Remove the word "I" from one's vocabulary.
    New Subjectivity: free of the self-contraction.

    Same level? no
    The self-contraction is at a profound depth, while a mere change in one's use of language is relatively superficial, and can't possibly impact the very core of one's egoity.

Combining the principles

So how do we combine these two principles — "change your act and your subjectivity will follow" and "understand and conform to the logic of adaptation for the specific discipline" — into a single, coherent approach to adaptation to a new discipline? It's pretty straightforward:

  • Do throw yourself — based on devotional response to Adi Da (not willfillness or idealism) — energetically into engaging the new discipline, and don't let subjectivity get in the way.
  • But be intelligent about it. Don't take up the discipline in a way that creates an unnecessary burden of subjectivity.

The existing literature on habit formation

Sometimes use of different words for the same thing helps us see it from a different perspective, yielding insight. Another phrase for "discipline" (after we adapt to it) is "new habit".

People are full of habits — full of adaptation and presumption — based on living as if there actually were a separate "self", associated with a "world" of separate others and separate "objects" of all kinds (including "internal objects" as well as "external objects"). The egoic life is built upon this illusion — and a very complex pattern develops on the basis of this illusory presumption of universal separateness, of separate "objects", and of separate "self". That complex pattern is bondage.

People live habitually on the basis of this pattern. They are patterned by this pattern. In fact, there is nothing but this pattern — patterning itself.

Real practice of the only-by-Me Revealed and Given "Radical" Reality-Way of Adidam Ruchiradam is a profound process of going beyond ego-patterning — actually going beyond it, shedding it, turning from it, and (instead) turning to Me and living in profoundest devotional Communion with Me.

Avatar Adi Da Samraj, As "It" Is, Part 11, The Aletheon

So disciplines are new habits that serve devotional Communion with Adi Da, rather than the egoic illusion of "separate self".

Much has been written (particularly in the psychological literature) about "habit formation". While disciplines in the context of a spiritual practice are serving a greater purpose ("self-transcendence") than the habits usually written about over the last century (which typically are written about in the context of egoic "self-improvement"), nonetheless, a lot of the common-sensical intuitions about habit formation from the literature of areas such as psychology, breaking addictions, diet and health, etc., apply to the logic of adapting to a new discipline in the Way of Adidam. Here are just a few examples:

  • Younger people form new habits ("good" or "bad") more easily than adults. People under 30 form new habits more easily than older people.[1] So the longer you procrastinate in taking up disciplines, the harder it may be for you! But it's never impossible; even an old dog can learn new tricks, as the new field of neuroplasticity suggests.[4]

  • Habit formation (at least on the material level) is a matter of neural connections. Keep repeating a new pattern (and not enacting an old pattern), and more neural connections associated with the new pattern are created, while no more neural connections reinforcing the old pattern are created. ("The good news is just as a neural connection can become bigger and stronger when you do something often, it can also become smaller and weaker if you stop yourself from doing it." [2]) As Adi Da puts it (placing this in the greater-than-material context of the Way of Adidam):

    What is simply not used is intrinsically obsolete — whereas what is opposed is constantly kept in front of you.

    The creative principle of true and positive change is a combination of always relaxed inspection (and discriminating awareness) of existing tendencies and, on that basis, an active, persistent, full feeling-orientation to right, new, and regenerative functional patterns.

    If this creative principle of true and positive change is practiced consistently and in ecstatic (or intrinsically ego-transcending) resort to Me, the Divine Avataric Master, free growth — demonstrated as habit-transcending true and positive change — is assured.

    Avatar Adi Da Samraj
    Right Principle and Right Self-Management:
    The Secrets of How To Change

    Part Nine, The Aletheon

    A man went to his Master and said, "Master, I feel like there are two dogs fighting inside me, a good dog and a bad dog. Which one is going to win?" The Master said, "The one that you feed the most."

    Avatar Adi Da Samraj

  • "Willpower" draws upon the same reserve of mental energy that decision-making does. This has been shown in recent studies. A day that has been heavy in decision-making will tend to "deplete" a person's "willpower". (Stores put candy at the checkout counter — after the shopper has used up a lot of their reserve of mental energy through shopping decisions — to exploit this reality.)

    We have no way of knowing how much our ancestors exercised self-control in the days before BlackBerrys and social psychologists. . . When there were fewer decisions, there was less decision fatigue. Today we feel overwhelmed because there are so many choices. Your body may have dutifully reported to work on time, but your mind can escape at any instant. A typical computer user looks at more than three dozen Web sites a day and gets fatigued by the continual decision making — whether to keep working on a project, check out TMZ, follow a link to YouTube or buy something on Amazon. . . . Choosing what to have for breakfast, where to go on vacation, whom to hire, how much to spend — these all deplete willpower, and there’s no telltale symptom of when that willpower is low. . . . When the brain’s regulatory powers weaken, frustrations seem more irritating than usual. Impulses to eat, drink, spend and say stupid things feel more powerful. . .

    Studies show that people with the best self-control are the ones who structure their lives so as to conserve willpower. They don’t schedule endless back-to-back meetings. They avoid temptations like all-you-can-eat buffets, and they establish habits that eliminate the mental effort of making choices. Instead of deciding every morning whether or not to force themselves to exercise, they set up regular appointments to work out with a friend. Instead of counting on willpower to remain robust all day, they conserve it so that it’s available for emergencies and important decisions.

    “Even the wisest people won’t make good choices when they’re not rested and their glucose is low,” Baumeister points out. That’s why the truly wise don’t restructure the company at 4 p.m. They don’t make major commitments during the cocktail hour. And if a decision must be made late in the day, they know not to do it on an empty stomach. “The best decision makers,” Baumeister says, “are the ones who know when not to trust themselves.”

    John Tierney, Do You Suffer From Decision Fatigue?
    The New York Times, August 17, 2011 [5]

    While over time, when a new habit has become "second nature", one doesn't need much "willpower" to maintain the habit, it is in the habit formation phase that conscious, intelligent use (and conservation) of willpower (as suggested in the above quote) can help one persist in the new habit one is still in process of forming.

  • Put some distance between yourself and the triggers for the old habit. Patterns created by habit can be changed or altered. But when a stimulus from the old days returns, the dormant pattern can reassert itself. So when forming a new habit, it's a good idea to put some distance between oneself and the triggers for the old habit. ("Old habits don't die. They hibernate. . . . This situation is familiar to anyone who is trying to lose weight or to control a well-engrained habit. Just the sight of a piece of chocolate can reset all those good intentions." [3]) A devotee once described to Adi Da a difficulty he was having with the celibacy discipline he had chosen to take up, describing his response to a particular female devotee: "At one of the gatherings, I looked deeply into her eyes and I began to question my discipline of celibacy." Adi Da's immediate response was: "What were you doing 'looking deeply into her eyes' in the first place?"

  • Habits have structure; know it and take advantage of it. Knowing the structure of habits helps us form new habits. For example, according to New York Times reporter and author Charles Duhigg [6], a habit has three phases: (1) A cue or trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and which behavior to use; (2) the routine, which can be physical or mental or emotional; (3) the reward. He discovered that one powerful approach to forming new habits is to not fiddle with the "cue" part of a habit (such as a craving for a snack that regularly occurs every afternoon), but to substitute a new routine for (2), such as "go for a walk" instead of "eat". (He provides many success stories.)

  • "Willpower" has characteristics; know them and take advantage of them. Stanford University psychologist Kelly McGonigal's book, The Willpower Instinct (based on her wildly popular Stanford University course, "The Science of Willpower") is informed by the latest research and combining cutting-edge insights from psychology, economics, neuroscience, and medicine, and lays out "willpower" as a function that can be improved through mindfulness, exercise, nutrition, and sleep. Her book also points out why too much "self-control" can actually be bad for your health.

  • Scientific ways to build habits that stick. Gregory Ciotti is the author of Sparring Mind, a blog that explores creative work, productivity, behavior, and habits. He has written some excellent articles on habits, including The Best Way to Change Your Habits? Control Your Environment, and How to Build Good Habits (and Make Them Stick). One of his themes is to examine a habit or discipline and find out exactly where things start to break down. He cites an example of how getting a discipline to stick can rest on small, easy-to-miss details: "When I sat down to analyze why I wasn't going to the gym, I realized: my closet was in another room. That meant I had to walk out in the cold to put on my clothes. It was easier to just stay in bed. Once I realized this, I folded my clothes and shoes the night before. When I woke up the next morning, I would roll over and see my gym clothes sitting on the floor. The result? My gym attendance soared by over 300%."

So do take advantage of the existing literature on habit formation![9] But keep your eyes open for which parts of the books or articles you read don't really apply in (or need to be adjusted to fit) the "Adidam context":

  • in which all the devotee's actions are a form of devotional response to Adi Da.

  • which is devoted to complete transcendence of the ego (for the sake of Divine Realization), not mere self-improvement.

  • which is devoted to complete conformation of the will to the Divine, not merely exercising "willpower" for egoic purposes.

  • which looks at a "human being" as multi-dimensional (physical, subtle, and causal). Thus changing habit patterns is not just a matter of changes in the physical brain, but changes on the subtle level as well (the level which "carries" and perpetuates habit patterns across lifetimes).

Part 5: Disciplining (and Understanding) the Self-Discipliner

[1] For more on age and ease of habit formation, read Melissa Dahl, How Much Can You Really Change After You Turn 30?, Children And Control Of Habit Formation, and Walter Mischel, The Marshmallow Test: Mastering Self-Control.
[2] For more on habit formation and the creation of neural connections, read The Essence Of Habit Formation.
[3]For more on triggers for habit patterns, read Michael Kanellos, MIT explains why bad habits are hard to break, CNET News, October 19, 2005.
[4]Neuroplasticity: Your Brain's Amazing Ability to Form New Habits and Neuroplasticity Primer and Update.
[5]Adapted from the book, Roy Baumeister and John Tierney, Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength, Penguin Press, September, 2011. Stephen Pinker's review of the book is a useful supplement.
[6]Charles Duhigg, The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, Random House, February, 2012.
[7] Adi Da gave the entire community of devotees the opportunity to test this in 1986, when He invited anyone willing to try it to take up a "change of action" (a renunciate life) commensurate with the ultimate stages of practice and Realization — and He provided the Grace that would have allowed any devotee to Realize that advanced stage of practice, if they persisted in the experiment. Two devotees were able to stay the course. But this point — of "change your act and your subjectivity will follow" was demonstrated to many devotees in Ultimate terms, and remains in our collective memory as a goad to practice.
[8] An excellent book on principles of food combining is Herbert Shelton, Food Combining Made Easy.
[9] Other general references on current research in habit formation and self-discipline include: Scientific American's Breaking Bad (Habits): Finding Happiness through Change, whose starting premise is how hard self-change actually is: only about 8% of resolution-makers actually achieve their goals; Gretchen Rubin, Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives; and Chris Tong, Secrets of Human Transformation.

Quotations from and/or photographs of Avatar Adi Da Samraj used by permission of the copyright owner:
© Copyrighted materials used with the permission of The Avataric Samrajya of Adidam Pty Ltd, as trustee for The Avataric Samrajya of Adidam. All rights reserved. None of these materials may be disseminated or otherwise used for any non-personal purpose without the prior agreement of the copyright owner. ADIDAM is a trademark of The Avataric Samrajya of Adidam Pty Ltd, as Trustee for the Avataric Samrajya of Adidam.

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