I’ve been reading a lot lately on the construct of the samskara – the word samskara comes from the Sanskrit sam (complete or joined together) and kara (action, cause, or doing). In a simple word, this term neatly explains why we get stuck in a rut, paralyzed by our old patterns, and feel unable to move forward, despite our best intentions.
Coaches encounter many clients who are “stuck” in one way or another.
- They want to improve their health but continue to frequent fast-food venders and consume deeply fried foods.
- They want to sleep better but go to bed late at night, still hugging their phones, scrolling endlessly, and wondering why they can’t relax into a naturally gentle resting state.
- They come home grumpy from work and take out their miserable mood on the people they most love, their family members, wishing they could display a kinder, more gentle disposition.
Why do we get stuck in habits that are so self-destructive? The yogi, who examines life from the inside out, would tell us that it is because of our samskara. These are the patterns or programming we both inherit and accumulate in life that form familiar ways of being which we repeat when acting on auto-pilot, without intention, insight, or integration (of mind and body).
Even when we adopt a fresh intention, we find ourselves coming up against our familiar, comfortable (and often comforting) patterns that make it difficult to create new ways of being, to adopt healthier habits or change our most unhealthy habits.
But change does start with intention – a vision of what better might look like – claiming for ourselves a healthier way of being, behaving, choosing, living. Being able to see ourselves living in a new way, to envision the future we prefer for ourselves, is essential to martialing the energy available to us for making that change. And change does require fresh energy!
Change also requires awareness – first, becoming aware that our actions, behaviors, and choices are taking us down a path of self-destruction and secondly, awareness in the moment that there are many decision points available to us.
Let’s say I want to change my eating habits, and I have narrowed these changes down to three, seemingly simple decisions:
- Consume smaller portions, less calories, just eat less than I’m accustomed to eating.
- Move toward plant-based eating – not abandoning meat, but certainly increasing my plant-based food choices, tipping the scale (literally & figuratively) toward a more sustainable diet.
- Increase my consumption of wholefoods rather than processed foods: fruit instead of fruit juice, corn instead of cornbread, a whole potato instead of potato chips.
While these are laudable goals, they’re not going to be easy to weave into my everyday life patterns unless I also look at my samskara patterns – gaining insight into WHY I have the patterns I routinely follow and WHY I find it so challenging to lean into my better intentions on a daily basis. This pursuit might tell me. . .
- Perhaps my tendency for “overeating” comes from a time of food scarcity in my life, that conditioned me to eat all that I could, against the day I would have to be hungry, to go without food. This might even have been so early in my childhood that I cannot consciously remember it.
- My penchant for putting meat at the center of my meal planning, may grow from my upbringing, in a family where meat meant money! If there was meat on the plate every night then surely, we were doing well, living “high on the hog” as the saying would go.
- My persistent reaching for processed “snack” foods may arise from both my constant sense of hurry (I don’t have time to eat healthy!) and my nervous system’s learned preference for the chemical high produced by the industry-regulated sugar-fat-salt combination that makes such foods so very addictive.
But insight and intention are likely still insufficient to get me past my patterns, my samskara, of unhealthy choices – even my reasoning, though it teaches me WHAT is problematic with my diet and WHY these patterns have been built – is not enough to help me change. What is needed to move me toward the capacity to integrate my intentions and insight into life changes is another Sanskrit word, Abhaya – fearlessness!
It takes COURAGE to change.
We tend to prefer the familiar to the unknown. In order to reap the benefits of the changes we desire, it will require persistence and consistency – two characteristics we’re unlikely to immediately embrace, especially in a culture that craves immediate results.
In keeping with my example above, I may need to add COURAGE to my daily life. I’ll want to PLAN my meals and PREP my foods ahead of time, so the healthier choices I want to make are available to me when I need to reach for nutrition. I may need to bring my lunch to work, rather than eating at the fast-food place my colleagues prefer to frequent. I may need to try new, unfamiliar foods, that haven’t been a part of my cultural or familial upbringing, in order to expand my nutritional awareness. That’s a whole lot more than intention and insight, it will require courage to be the person I envision myself able to become!
In my reading, I found this quote from Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, the spiritual head of the Himalayan Institute, who advises this: “no matter which practice you wish to do, whatever your intention, make sure that you perform your duties joyfully and selflessly and share a portion of your fortune with those who are less fortunate than you”. He goes on to explain that such a selfless act will attenuate the negative samskaras and infuse the mind with motivation. Once this process begins, the momentum toward self-transformation will continue to increase.
I wish you well on YOUR wellness journey. I encourage your pursuit of intention and insight. I applaud your courageous choices to do better, in each passing day. And I appreciate the challenges each of us encounters when working to overcome the familiar patterns of our samskara. I have my own to deal with and overcome. Always know, you can turn to me for support and strategies for the path ahead!