“There is nothing more radical than the moment when you realize you can reinvent your life.” – Durgananda
When I was 14 years old, reinventing myself meant a change of hair style, music or the colour of my lipstick. At 24, it meant moving to Africa. At 32, to the Canadian Prairies.
I was clued-in sufficiently at 47 to know when I came home to Vancouver Island that I was not so much creating a new me as acknowledging the essential Self that called for a return to the roots of my childhood.
That was an inner shift in seeing the world as benevolent and my place within it as a supporter for those also wishing for and working towards more love and wisdom in
The interior revolution promised by yoga and other means of opening to change is the crux of transformative self-enquiry. And before we too easily adopt any methods of creating profound change we need to know why we are launching ourselves on that path and just how much work and attention it requires.
Certain elements of our physical selves and our basic nature likely came into this lifetime with us and are not so much subject to change. True some of us “grow” taller after we begin yoga in our adult years; but that is not stretching our leg bones so much as it is reducing the compression between vertebra.
And it is observable that some famously enlightened people exhibit personal characteristics. Bishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa was dancing at the opening to the World Cup and exhorting his fellow South Africans to; Love your Vuvu” (vuvuzelas). His good humour and abiding support for his people are well known.
But the deep grooves of habitual behaviour and attitude called samskaras in Sanskrit can be changed. Samskaras are a bit like scars in that they are ingrained patterns which show up in our daily lives. They get laid down in early life, some would say in previous lives. And the more we practice the samskaras, the deeper the grooves in our neurological urges and responses. If that sounds like metaphor to you, consider the current brain research in neuroplasticity. New technology has gained a glimpse into the workings of the brain. Those who practice meditation consistently and over time
are seen to have brain patterning which is distinctively different from those who do not. They are not rattled by intrusions or other upsetting activity around them. The slower brainwaves are more common among them and the synaptic activity of the brain is more often in the areas given to positive feeling than not.
The most fundamental shift comes when we are able to see ourselves in a different light. In general terms, yoga asanas train the mind to concentrate on the body in the body. Yoga asanas are a form of moving meditation which prepares one for pranayama or breath regulation requiring even stronger concentration.
From such calm inner strength, we can abide with the Witness to our thoughts rather than identify with the thoughts themselves. In the words of a pithy bumper sticker: “Meditation: Don’t even think about it!”
The core of the work we do in yoga is reforging inner patterns of thinking to replace the deep samskaric grooves of worry, anger, hunger, longing and fear with grooves so supple and fluid that life becomes smoother as well.
The new ways of apprehending life will replace the old over time. And we will relapse from time to time as the entrenched behaviours reluctantly give over.
Sometimes habit-breaking requires help. Recently I asked a close friend to tell me when my tone of voice or facial expression were signalling my deep pattern of impatience. I had done enough work to realize that I was not entitled to be impatient, no matter the circumstances. And I had enough feedback to know that curt remarks or expressions are hurtful. I want to change that way of responding. Wanting to change is the key to making it happen. Having the good graces of a friend who will assist us is also important.
The first time I relapsed, I was angry with myself. I detected that little pinch in my heart that signals the urge which does-not-wish-to-be-denied. I caused hurt which flies in the face of the first great law of the yogic yamas: ahimsa. No harm.
Yikes! Fortunately my friend had his rhino -hide on that day and was able to tell me what I had done. Now I can pause for a fraction of a second and ask myself if what I am about to say is really what I want to communicate. At least I can on a good day. And I know that only when I can pause and check myself under stressful circumstances will I be moving away from an old samskara.
Patanjali counsels us to replace a negative thought with a positive one. We might still harbour the old feeling state but with perseverance we can overcome it and replace it with one whose strength will rival the old. Lessening our load of negative mental garbage is auspicious in that it means a lighter load of cosmic waste will go out the Big Door with us. And in this life’s journey we will be more pleasant to be around.
If you like charting progress, you can keep track of the times you resist the old grooves when circumstances might have taken you there previously. But keep in mind that transformation is not so much a linear process as a spiral. And relapse is actually part of the process. Humans are creatures of habit and slow to change. But if you look closely at the spiral of change you see that although it seems to circle back to old habits, actually it is operating at another level and the die hard behaviours are weakening.
In time you will be able to peek under the behaviour to see the underpinning energetic source of the pattern in its original manifestation.
One of my favourite sutras of Patanjali reminds us that no amount of effort, however small, on our spiritual path, is wasted. So take pleasure in the small changes and remind yourself that it is all exponential.
Kelly Murphy is owner of a yoga studio in Nanaimo.