REPLAY: Breaking Recurring Cycles

“Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young.”
— Henry Ford

[music of the soul series]

"You've been down there, Neo. You already know that road. You know exactly where it ends. And I know that's not where you want to be." It’s the point of decision for Neo in The Matrix, my favorite movie of all time. The challenge is clear: to break away from the well-worn road. Sometimes it’s hard to choose a new road; as unpleasant as this road is, at least you know it well.

A few weeks ago I woke at 4am in a sweat. Panicky dreams gave way to an angsty semiconsciousness as I lay there imagining all the ways in which my future could go badly. All of a sudden, I became aware that I was at a similar intersection to Neo: You know the road of fear well; you’ve traveled it far in your years…and it doesn’t take you anywhere you want to go. But there’s another road—want to try it?

Every soul gets caught in swirling eddies at times, recurring cycles that generate the same unsatisfying results that occurred last time. Sometimes the cycles last for years. At other times, tragically, a lifetime. Breaking free of that brokenness is a spiritual act—one that comes easier within the context of spiritual practices.

One name for this cycle-experience is mindset: a deep set of (often unconscious) beliefs about the nature of yourself, the nature of God, and the nature of the world you’re living in. Mindsets are shaped by a cocktail of personality, upbringing, attachments, and life experiences that result in an instinctive, repetitive way of responding to circumstances. And sometimes those responses don’t get us what we really want. But how do we change them?



The invitation as you’re doing laps around the mountain is to move unconscious patterns to conscious. Just praying for God to break old patterns rarely works; what’s better is the prayer for discernment. For perception of the truth…and the courage to make new choices. Here are a few ways to wake up to ourselves:

  • Journaling. The act of processing our experiences with pen and paper is one way to tune into the spiritual dimension of our actions. It’s a safe place to name what is…and ask the hard questions of God and of ourselves. It’s a way to notice—without judgment—what we do and why. What would the new road look like? What would it feel like? Where would it lead? The Bible calls this road change “repentance,” and when we know we belong on a new road, grace emerges to change.
  • Community. This move toward consciousness also happens in the company of trusted spiritual companions, people who care about you enough to speak the truth in love, to call you to your true self. Those who won’t guilt you or manipulate you…but also won’t enable your dysfunction. These are rare, priceless friends. Use them well.
  • Breath Prayers. There is nothing quite as fundamental to life as breath, and so becoming conscious of breath can become a spiritual act. Both body and spirit respond almost immediately to a slowing and deepening of the breathing cycle, becoming more calm, centered, and aware. Try combining that with a meaningful phrase such as this one from a Matt Redman song: “I’m breathing in your grace, I’m breathing out your praise.” You can even do this at stoplights!

The more you become conscious of your actual beliefs (vs. the ones you think you have), the more you can engage the power of choice. You can choose a new road and stop replaying your own personal “Groundhog Day” over and over. It’s time to choose the red pill!

What have you found to be most effective in breaking old, frustrating cycles of behavior? Join the conversation by posting your thoughts below.

Posted on March 3, 2015 .