Share Your Stories


What I learned from David Listen’s Talk

David’s lecture titled Even Stone Wears Away held at Vancouver Chan Meditation Centre let me reflect on the importance of healthy habits and the difficulty of eradicating bad habits.

Changing habits comes with great difficulty and patience. Habits do not change drastically. They are built over a long time, and it takes a substantial amount of time to change. Some Western philosophers (e.g., Aristotle and Hegel) call habits second nature. Most of our activities are mediated through these habits of second nature. We are not born with habits, but we build them through repetitive practice of certain activities until we can do them without paying much attention.

Some habits can be intended and practiced to become second nature, such as speaking and walking. However, many habits are built up unintentionally, as in the way that we are not aware of getting wet while walking in mist. Either intended or unintended, habits are not easily detected.

There is a relevant Korean saying: when we become 40, we are responsible for our faces. We are born with certain faces. They are given to us, like blank canvas, without any record of life. The face changes as we live our lives in different ways. An angry person would develop an angry face, and a peaceful person would develop a peaceful face. Although the number 40 is arbitrary, it represents a substantial amount of life. This also means that after 40, it is difficult to change the face, because at that age we have built our lives based on certain beliefs, and it is difficult to change those beliefs. More importantly, even when we try to change our habits, those habits have become so deeply inscribed at an unconscious level, that we are not aware of them most of the time. Whether we believe our habits to be good or bad, it is advisable to be vigilant of them. Habits need to be examined over and over again in order to prevent mannerism.

The greatest difficulty is our lack of patience in chipping away bad habits over a long period. We tend to anticipate an instant result, and become disappointed when we do not see the expected outcome. As the title of David's talk implies, changing habits should be like water droplets wearing away stone. The effect of flowing water is not instant – it is almost invisible; but it will eventually prevail after a long time of continual efforts. Practice is the only principle that we can trust.

Written by Soeine Bac
Photo by Vancouver Chan Meditation Centre

Back to list

Your are here : Share Your Stories > What I learned from David Listen’s Talk