Here we are on the brink of a new cycle, new year and new beginnings. I chose a Barn Owl image for this post as I'm smitten with a new book about a woman's love affair with her owl- Wesley The Owl and am happily ensconsed in learning about animal behavior, particularly owls, which are one of my favorite birds.
On January first, I taught a workshop at Embodied called Samskara-Sankalpa, about noticing and shifting our comfortable grooves, habits and patters (Samskaras) and creating new more life-enhancing habits with more life-force energy than the old ones (Sankalpa). This is not an easy task. Sometimes it feels like we have to be our own wildlife biologist, yet the species we are studying is ourselves. Pema Chodron, in her book, Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change eloquently states, '"My first teacher, Chogyam Trungpa, used to talk about the fundamental anxiety of being human. This anxiety or queasiness in the face of impermance isn't something that afflicts just a few of us; it's an all-pervasive state that human beings share. But rather than being disheartened by the ambiguity, the uncertainty of life, what if we accepted it and relaxed into it? What if we said, "Yes, this is the way it is; this is what it means to be human," and decided to sit down and enjoy the ride?'"
Certainly not an easy task to 'enjoy' this ride of life, especially when at times it feels like a rollercoaster! Luckily there are tools to guide us through and one practice that I love in Pema's book is called 'simmering'. Not acting out and not repressing, it's the practice of sitting with 'what is' when we DON'T do our habitual thing. For example, if you normally reach for a glass of wine when you feel stressed out, what would it be like to just sit and simmer in what you are feeling instead? What thoughts, feeling, emotions and phyiscal sensations arise when we don't do our usual habit- the one that we have been doing for so darn long? It's not easy to slow down and 'not do' but it can be an amazing practice and a path to healing some of the long-lived and outworn behaviors that are weighing us down or hindering our growth. Here are 5 steps to working with Samskaras that I have distilled from my workshop. You can use these 5 steps when you feel that old familiar feeling coming on, or you find yourself spiraling into that same old addiction/habit/rut/groove again and again.
Step 1- Karuna (Compassion): Realize you are only human! Don't throw more arrows at yourself or the situation by getting down on yourself. Realize that you are not alone in repeating unhelpful behaviors. When you feel yourself going down the same dreary road, try to have radical compassion for yourself- pour it on! You might also consider doing some some self-care like taking a bubble bath or enjoying a favorite movie. Hold your tender self with loving kindness.
Step 2- Shani (Slowing): Slow down those lightening-quick reactions and responses. Perhaps do nothing but stand and breathe for a moment, place a hand on your heart or feel your feet on the floor. Don't say or do anything yet. Be still and take 5 deep breaths. This step takes a great deal of discipline (tapas) and the pull to do what is familiar will be VERY strong. As Pema says, practice 'refraining'.
Step 3- Vidya (Awareness): Shine the light of conscious awareness into your being. This could be shining a light into the layers of muscle, fascia and bone or thoughts, feelings and emotions. See if you can pause and become conscious of the situation. What is happening? Is it familiar? What are the deeper or root causes of my feelings? Can you even shift from, 'Why is this happening to me?' to
What does this pattern have to teach me or tell me?'
Step 4- Darshana (Vision): What would a new pattern or groove look like, feel like, taste like? Can you create a new samskara that has more life force or 'prana', than the old samskara? Ways to bring this to life might be to journal about it, tell a trusted friend about it or create a vision board around it.
Step 5- Abhyasa (Practice): I can tell you from firsthand experience that this whole process is NOT easy. Personally, I feel like a raw beginner. It takes willingness, intention, humility and repetition. The more you practice the new, the weaker the old becomes. Certainly we may slip back into the old patterns from time to time, but perhaps the new pattern, practiced enough, becomes organic and natural. Like coming to yoga class over and over until it just feels like the right thing to do or what your body most wants.
Often the familiar, even if unhelpful, feels much more comfortable than something new and more life-affirming. Can you bear and be with that uncomfortability, even if it brings up fear, grief, shame or pain? We do have the power to sit and be with those feelings that in some ways can feel like huge scary demons, but are really quite workable. Here is a mini meditation from Pema Chodron- 'Begin by coming fully into the present. Then, standing or sitting, take your place joyfully, fearlessly, and confidently in the midst of the chaos and pain of your life. Feel your heart and sense that this unpleasant place is workable, that sanity exists here. Allow yourself to soften and become tender, more approachable, and more inquisitve. Then take a leap into the next moment, "suddenly free from fixed mind," as Chogyam Trungpa put it. Go forward with compassion and an open mind.
May we all LEAP or fly or soar or hop into the new year with the tenderest compassion for our own humanity and the well of suffering that lives inside. May we have the courage to transform that pain into truth, love and joy, and may we practice intelligent & brilliant new ways of inhabiting our day to day lives. May we create bright new visions for ourselves and share our love and care with everyone whom we encounter. We are all in this together. Happy New Year Dear Ones!
This world-absolutly pure.
As is. Behind the fear,
Vulnerability. Behind that,
Sadness, then compassion,
And behind that the vast sky.
- Rick Fields
As always, I'd love to hear from you. Please click on the Comments Button to leave a comment.
And, join me this May on Cape Cod for our Ocean Goddess Retreat where we will use Pema's book- Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change- as inspiration and learn the 3 powerful committments for working with ourselves and the world exactly as we are.