Challenge Day 30 – Yoga is Freedom
I live in the U.S.A.—land of the free and home of the brave. We think we are free, but everywhere we are in chains. Our thoughts, especially the most habitual ones, drive us forward through repetitive cycles that lock us into a level of reality that can often be quite painful. Despite our conscious desire to live a life of happiness, love and peace, deeply ingrained behavioral patterns surface from below and sabotage our efforts. The chains are in our minds. Yoga is a path of freedom, true freedom that comes from liberating the mind from these old, stuck ways of being.
Each situation produces a variety of experiences that accumulate throughout our lives. When you interact with anything in the material world it produces a samskara, which is an impression left of the mind. Think about the samskara as the residue or scent that remains embedded within the field of your mind after an experience—like your takeaway, impression, or feeling. We need to understand how subconscious patterns work in order to be free of them. The two Sanskrit words “sam” meaning complete or joined together and “kara” meaning action, cause or doing form the etymology of the word samskara. Repeatedly experiencing the same thing and reacting or responding in the same way reinforces samskaras. This reality was discovered by spiritual seekers in India thousands of years ago and documented by contemporary neuroscience. Studies show that neurons that fire together, wire together and that thinking the same thoughts or feeling the same feelings over and over again works a groove in the neurobiology of the brain that literally makes it easier to feel and think the same things. Once a behavior is practiced and repeated enough times, that behavior has its own neural pathway. The samskara now seems familiar, known and true. But, it is far from that. Remember samskaras are just the impressions you take away from any life experience—they are not absolutely universal truth, but personal, contextual flavor.
At the level of large aggregate patterns, samskaras group together to form what is called in Sanskrit a vasana, a behavioral tendency or karmic imprint that influences behavior. Vasana also means a place of dwelling or abiding, dress, trait, stain or habit. You can think of vasanas as personality traits. If a person espouses a desire to live a peaceful life, but has a habitual tendency to engage in combative dialogue, the deeper habit pattern will often win out. Despite what we say we are, actions and behaviors define the course of our life. Dr. Joe Dispenza says that your personality creates your personal reality. And here, in the deepest innermost reaches of the mind, we find the real chains.
No matter what laws prevail in the world, you will not be truly free until you break the destructive cycle of samskaras and vasanas. All that you “know” is very likely a habit formed at an age when your were suggestible, without your conscious awareness. What you think of as yourself and who you are is a direct result of the habitual patterns of subconscious thoughts that fuel the vast majority of your actions. You cannot be free until you break this habit and become a conscious creator of your life experience. Only then, once you set the mind free, will you be truly free. Psychologist and Holocaust survivor Victor Frankl says, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
The fourth book of the Yoga Sutras is called Kaivalya Pada and here Patañjali outlines the path of yoga as a path of freedom. Translated into English as freedom, kaivalya means solitude, detachment or isolation and stems from the root word “kevala” which means alone. The goal of yoga as stated by Patañjali is to break free of all karmic impressions and train pure consciousness to rest and realize itself. Yoga Sutra 4:6 states that only minds born of meditation are truly free. Kaivalya is the nature of the true self, free from samskaras and vasanas, and the experience of this transcendent state within is the deepest goal of yoga.
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