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How to step out of rigid patterns: discover your samskaras

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I’m not good enough” – in yoga philosophy, this is called a samskara, a behavior pattern so deep-seated that it shapes your identity. How can you discover your samskaras and, more importantly, how can you let go of them?

“We build our own barriers to love and happiness,” said Persian poet Rumi over 800 years ago. We are usually the greatest experts on our own weaknesses: our attraction to the wrong people, addiction to alcohol or smoking, dishonesty, fear of failure, or aggressive attitude. We often try and fail to escape these patterns, knowing that ultimately they do not bring us peace or contentment. But what gives patterns like these such a stubborn influence over your life?

The behavior patterns through which we cycle in the course of our lives are called samskaras in yoga philosophy, from the Sanskrit words sam (“complete” or “connected”) and kara (“action” or “cause”). They are forms of conditioning that repeat themselves endlessly, wearing their way deep into our daily routines. So deep, that at an unconscious level they control who we are and how we live.

A samskara can send you into a vicious circle. A clearer picture of that pattern helps you to recognize their impact in your life and replace negative samskaras with positive ones.

1. Trigger

This is a thought or situation that seems to resemble a painful experience from the past.

2. Identification

The ego appropriates the experience through self-rejection: “I told you so…” What started out as just a memory of suffering becomes new suffering in the present, because of the added experience of an “I” that is not good enough, or stupid, or bad.

3. Reaction

Then we do our utmost to escape that pain, so that we feel good again as quickly as possible. Up to this stage, the entire process is unconscious.

4. Reflection and dissociation

We become aware of the uncomfortable emotion and the unconscious self-rejection. We feel that this is wrong and try to shake off the feeling, but that only makes the discomfort worse.

(This scheme is adapted from Jan Geurtz, Addicted to Love)

Text: Sarah Domogala [edited]

Want to know more about samskara? In Happinez – Being in the here and now, there’s an elaborate article on how it works and how you can transform your samskaras. Check out our store finder, or order your copy here.