When they tried to understand how the mind traps itself, the ancient Indian sages devised the key concept of samskara (from two Sanskrit word roots that mean “to flow together”). A samskara is a groove in the mind that makes thoughts flow in the same direction. Buddhist psychology makes sophisticated use of the concept by speaking of samskaras as imprints in the mind that have a life of their own. Your personal samskaras, built up from memories of the past, force you to react in the same limited way over and over, robbing you of free choice (i.e., choosing as if for the first time).
Deepak Chopra, The Book of Secrets
Not long ago, walking with a friend, I asked how her meditation was going. She said, “I’m really good for four or five months, twice every day, then for some reason I stop. Like when I get really busy, at those times when I really could probably use it the most. Why do we do that?”
Most people who are involved in spiritual work have at some time and in some fashion come up against inner thought formations that insist on us doing something that hurts our evolution, or not doing something that would help our evolution. There are times we feel helpless to do anything other than to follow the guidance of these thoughts, even though they seem to want to bring us harm. Where do they come from and why are they so difficult to get rid of?
Much of the time these ‘voices’ are an internalized experience of our parents (or other authority figures). Even if they did a relatively good job raising us, at some time or another they ignored us or raised their voices, punished us, taught us a lesson, behaved selfishly; and depending on the day we were having as our four-year-old selves, a lesson was learned that made us feel less than deserving of love. (This is of necessity a vast over-simplification and generalization, so please bear with me.) Lessons we learn at this age, at the age when our very survival is dependent upon the approval of the parent-figures in our life, go into us at the deepest level–the level of survival: do things our way or you will get no food, no shelter, no love, no protection. And so we learn to treat ourselves less than kindly.
Negative thoughts, negative behaviors, negative self-talk–all are the product of the stresses that we have stored throughout the course of our lifetime. The samskaras. They are grooves of feelings and thinkings and choices, ruts that can be difficult to climb out of. Meditation daily melts away these stresses and the ruts become progressively less deep until finally, they are no longer there at all. But even then, the old habits of thought can still be there. We must, in fact, teach ourselves new habits. Embrace new thoughts. Thoughts of why it’s okay to let go of the old, let go of blame of self and others, and why it’s okay to love–ourselves and others.
To return to the parental paradigm, this body I have, filled with stresses as it is, was birthed by my parents. And I have been my parents’ child, behaving the way they taught me to behave or in reaction to how they taught me to behave. But now I am learning to see myself as a spiritual being rather than as a body, and this spirit I am was birthed by God. I am God’s child. Let me learn what that might feel like. Let me imagine how God’s voice might sound in my mind. Let me imagine how God might want me to care for his child today.
Today I will ask God how to care for myself a little more than I did yesterday, and I will listen for an answer.
Interior Dome, Spice Market, Chandni Chowk, Old Delhi, India
All original material copyright © 2018 Jeff Kober