Samskara n vasana – karmic imprints

Much of our behaviour is driven by triggers deep down within our psyche. These can be intergenerational patterns of behaviour that are passed on from generation to generation. They could be learned or adaptive behaviour. The thing is all behaviour results in an energetic imprint known as samskara or vasana. This is the universal Law of Cause and Effect which no one can escape.

What are samskaras and vasanas? These are energetic imprints that we carry forward from past lives to our present incarnation which also include those we create in this lifetime through our behavioural patterns in thought, speech and action. Samskaras are volitions while vasanas are defined as tendencies. Both compel you to act in certain ways and both can create a lot of unhappiness and suffering because they have the nature of limiting our responses to  what we think and believe have served us well in the past and therefore we continue doing the same. But due to this ignorance, we aren’t aware that our old behavioural patterns may no longer be effective. They can hurt the people around us or ourselves.

For example, if my habitual response to things or people I dislike is anger which then creates fear in others so that they do what I say, and give me what I like instead then I don’t see the need to change something that works for me. However, if I don’t like how others actually think of me as a tyrant and control freak and avoid me whenever they could, and that no one really likes me, then I have the choice to start doing something about it. Or, I can choose to remain in defensive denial and insist the whole world is wrong and I am right.

Seriously, unless you are aware and willing to change, you will continue to perpetuate your own suffering through your vasanas and samskaras. So how do we grow in awareness of who and what we are in relation to the world at large? One, through self-enquiry. Keeping a journal and tracking your emotions is one very effective way of increasing self-knowledge. The maxim, “Know Thyself”, remains as relevant as it did in ancient Greece. And why track your emotions? Because they are a language of the psyche. They tell you what’s happening inside.

But you have to be willing to engage in this exercise for your benefit. Unless you believe that it is something you seriously need to do, you will find all manner of excuses for your behaviour. Two, if you are courageous enough, ask for feedback from people who work or live with you. That way, you will find out for sure how others experience you. It might burst that bubble of delusion (you aren’t all that likeable) once and for all. Once we had a supervisor who made it a year-end ritual to sit everyone down to give feedback to each other. It may be painful and may lead to resignations but it did lead to a culture where it’s better to be nice than sorry come year end.

The Iceberg Theory of Behaviour – what lurks below

What drives our behaviour – thought, speech and action? The clue lies in understanding your emotions. Emotions are the expression of your feelings. For instance, your divorce and break up of a relationship leaves you feeling abandoned. Sadness, guilt, regret, anxiety, anger, and fear may be some of the emotions you will experience as a result. Therefore, what and how you feel has a direct link to your inner experiences at any given time.

All feelings and emotions will form an energetic imprint in your psyche. They will strengthen if you give it enough attention and reinforcement by repeating to yourself limiting thoughts like: I am not good enough. If I were good enough, he would never have left me. Or, all men cannot be trusted. My mother was right. They will leave you in the end.

These same feelings and emotions can be triggered by a future event that bears similarities. For instance, having been abandoned once you might develop a fear of committing in relationships. You have lost trust and come to expect the other person to leave you sooner or later. That history would repeat itself. And it need not be that way. You can learn to trust again. And you can learn not to sabotage your relationships but instead thrive in them.

The question you need to ask every time you catch yourself having that same familiar feeling is: what can I do differently, respond differently, so that I can have a different outcome? Is there a better way to cope with my own fears and insecurities other than driving people away through my hard-to-please, critical, and unreasonable behaviour? Going deeper, was there a defining event in my past that shaped my limiting belief that I will be abandoned yet again? Take a good long look at what drives your behaviour and you are halfway to freedom from the tyranny of your past. In this way, you learn to limit the negative samskaras and vasanas you create and instead create good ones.

And if you haven’t yet watched the video, here it is again. Listen to Swamiji’s brilliant take on how vasanas stand between you and God and what you can do about it.

~  ~