Burning through Obstacles (Samskaras) in Ashtanga Yoga. “Almonds,” Agni & our Attachment to our own Suffering.
Each moment we have the possibility of being fresh and new, but very often we live of our lives from a habit pattern established in the past. Once these patterns are established the flow of human consciousness gets organized into certain repetitive patterns. The Sanskrit word for these repetitive patterns is a samskara. These are essentially habit patterns of the mind that have been practiced so much so that they run on auto-pilot, unconsciously generated the same cyclical type of interactions in the world.
There are positive and negative behavioral patterns that a person can accumulate and the choice about what thoughts, emotions and actions you take will determine whether you like will be peaceful or painful. A common analogy used to define a negative samskara likens them to lmonds implanted in the field of consciousness that when given the fertile ground of attachment and aversion ultimately bear the fruit of suffering. There are three things that are important to know about the negative samskaras. First your personal storyline, the narrative of you generally feeds the already established patterns. Second, the more you fight and struggle against them head on, the worse it gets like a constrictor snake. And third, the negative samskaras pull you down like a riptide into the sea of emotionality and you can feel like your drowning suddenly. This feature usually can be seen as a relapse, a kind of slippery recidivism that pulls you down just when you think you are past that particular issue.
In some ways the negative samskaras are like an addiction. But instead of being addicted to a substance you get addicted to a particular emotional state that leads to suffering and pain. The samskaras have a familiarity to them and even though they lead to suffering it is also somehow all you know as life. Their familiarity is also their temptation because the pattern is so well established and you are so attached to its righteousness that it actually hurts to let them go. The more you unknowingly let the negative samskaras fuel your life course the deeper they pull you into the dark spiral. The practice of yoga offers what is said to be the only way out. Instead of fighting them from an antagonistic place the practice of yoga seeks to burn through the samskaras with the light of pure awareness. This is done with actual physical and spiritual practice that cultivates the fire of purification, known as agni in Sanskrit. Once the inner agni is ignited it has the power to literally fry the negative samskara almonds until only their shell is remaining and they no longer have the ability to grow and bear their painful fruit.
When you practice yoga you are in some ways working a 12-Step program when you go deeply within yourself and make peace with all the ways that the negative samskara have harmed you and all the people in your life. Once you see the patern clearly you want naturally want to make amends for the suffering that you have generated through the familiar pattern of the samskara. The fire of purification in the practice of yoga is also ultimately the light of clarity. Once you come out of your denial and see the negative samskara’s effect in your life your heart breaks. The tender achey quality of your heart opens in that moment of realization because you see clearly how your actions have harmed those whom you love and you feel empathy for their pain. In that moment of direct revelation you yearn to go and apologize for the harm that you have caused and make a firm resolution to never repeat that same pattern again.
The best yogi is not one who is perfect from day one, but one who sees the patterns of suffering that they have contributed to and then works tirelessly to burn through those negative samskaras every day of their life. One step along the way towards living a more peaceful is to change the negative samskaras into positive ones. Maitri which means friendliess and karuna which means compassion are two important states of mind that can be actively practiced by yoga practitioners when they strive to burn through their negative samskaras. By consciously seeking to establish the flow of consciousness in friendliness and compassion the yogi is building the foundations of a healed life and a more peaceful planet. If each time you feel the tug to lash out in aggression, fall into depression or give into anxiety you pause long enough to break the cycle you might then be able to go one step further and practice a more positive, healing vibration. If each person on the planet commits to this slow steady process of awakening we will leave the planet a more peaceful place.
As seen on Elephant Journal HERE