Samskaras: Living Unconsciously


Lately, it has felt as though the Universe has been conspiring to see what it will take for me to break.

I’ve been hit left and right— From body ailments, and pocketbook pains, to precious time lost, personal injury and vital things broken— From all sides, the Universe has taken blows on me like a pelting hailstorm.

With every transgression, I have felt the habit of emotional reaction. In yoga, they call habitual reactions samskaras… Metaphorically speaking, you can imagine your mind as fresh earth. Our thoughts tread on the mind like a truck traversing across that fresh soil, leaving tracks or neural pathways. Habits act on the mind like a truck getting stuck in the mud, spinning its wheels over and over again, getting nowhere, but laying tracks deeper and deeper into the bedrock of our mind; creating stronger and stronger neural pathways.

A reaction, without conscious thought, is a samskara. When we are not mindful of the present moment, we default to allowing samskaras to determine life for us— samskaras are quick choices, time saving solutions and require no thought at all to employ them. In an effort to go through life a little more effortlessly, we allow these habitual reactions to make many decisions for us. But in so doing, our life evolves unconsciously.

If you’ve ever been stuck in the mud, you know it’s an unhappy process— you keep pressing the gas pedal forward, but never seem to get anywhere but stuck. That has been me, stuck in the mud of my habitual emotional reactions.

So, how do we get out of the mud? How do we change the samskaras that don’t serve us? (Because, yes, there are some that do!)

The answer is simple: by pausing. Take your foot off the pedal of reaction, look out beyond the rut you keep spinning your wheels in, and see if there is any other choice or track on the horizon you’d rather take.

When I finally pulled my foot from the pedal and created that moment of pause, I was able to ask myself this question: “do you want to feel this way?” The answer was no, and with that, I created for myself the choice to respond differently and take a different track, strengthening a new neural pathway and means to respond.

It’s the passing storms in life that find us spinning our wheels in the mud. When we pause for just a moment, pulling the pedal from the metal, we create an opportunity to see our many choices. We then see that whether it be rain, snow or hailstorm, it’s all just passing like the weather. And by creating that moment to offer ourselves a choice, we understand we are bigger than anything that happens to us, we are more than the transient weather and the storms that pass within it, we are the sky itself.

“You are the sky. Everything else— it’s just the weather.” Pema Chodron