June 13, 2013

When Your Past Creeps Up to Haunt You. ~ Aseem Giri

We are all the composites of our past experiences.

Every day that we have lived and the experiences we have had define us as whom we are. And those experiences cast a shadow. They will impact our future behavior. Some shadows will support extremely positive behavior, others will leave us wondering what is compelling us to behave in a certain way, and some may even prove to be stumbling blocks for our own development and the attainment of our goals.

In Sanskrit, we call the imprint of these past experiences Sanskaras. Sanskaras are impressions derived from past experiences that inform and influence our future responses and behavior.

We use our car keys to lock the door even though it is electronic because we witnessed our mom getting in a continuous rut from leaving her keys inside too many times while growing up. We have an aversion to cigarettes because we witnessed our chain-smoking grandfather die of lung cancer. We grow really concerned when we see someone lose weight precipitously because our sister battled bulimia.

As more time passes, and as we do not alter our Sanskaras, they become deeper impressions and form the basis of our repeated behavior patterns. We become so accustomed to them that it is second nature for us. When this happens, it is a challenge to evaluate or alter our behavior or thinking as it is embedded in our subconscious.

It’s a conditioning that we have been taught.

How we react to life is based on this conditioning that we have experienced. It drives our subjectivity. Psychologists have been well aware of this for some time. Their term is apperception. It has also been a part of philosophical enquiry: Descartes, Leibniz and Kant all grappled with it. Epistemology relies on it as a tool. Rorshach inkblot tests ultimately try to get at Sanskaras.

The examples shared above were a bit benign in nature; they don’t really impact our life too much. But what happens when the issue at hand is a disparaging comment we take offense at, or if we are being bullied, or are being disempowered.

Or what if the situation is worse: there is an abusive father, whose daughters remain attracted to abusive men, because of the sick mix of comfort and warped affection that that scenario represents. Or an emotionally-needy mother who impacts her sons to always be a crutch for the women in their lives.

When those impressions run this deep, Sankaras become less trivial. They become the stuff we can’t get over or can’t get past—that other people who experience the same situation don’t even react to. That disparaging comment—we should shrug it off, but it lingers with us. That disempowering remark—we should stand our ground, but it brings out the worst in us, a negative visceral reaction that shows we have lost control.

Our friends or loved ones can’t understand why we are so worked up about it. And we can’t easily explain it either. We think about it for hours after the fact and remain bothered or troubled by it, in a way that is seemingly nonsensical.

The examples are seemingly ubiquitous. You’ve probably at this point thought about the Sanskaras in your own life.

Think about the things that keep happening to you:

The same kinds of conflicts in relationships, relationships with addicts, your own addictions, being accident prone, attracting certain recurrent reactions from people that you can’t seem to explain, an inability to hold onto money, an inability to spend money on yourself, being temperamental, being without emotion, being extroverted or introverted, inexplicable underlying anxiety, weight issues, compulsions to smoke or drink. All can likely be traced to our Sanskaras.

Are we doomed? A life of treachery with no hope?

Thankfully, yoga provides a powerful answer to these questions.

Only concentrated mindfulness and being present in our senses and emotions can help us break free of our Sanskaras . Only when we still our mind can we find the root causes of our behavior. We can challenge our reactions to certain stimuli by observing them.

Yoga gives us a means to illuminate those dark passages and through concerted effort, remove the cobwebs that handcuff us and keep us bound. The mental space that we achieve in yoga and meditation is ripe for other thoughts, better thoughts to replace the unwanted ones.

Sanskaras will always be a part of us; yet, we need not let them consume us. Yoga is a powerful solution.

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Assist. Ed: Lacy Rae Ramunno/Ed: Bryonie Wise

{Photo: Gia Canali Photography via Pinterest}

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