The Path Well Known


Trigger warning! We've all got 'em. Good patterns that reinforce behaviors like drinking water or exercising, and bad patterns that end in habits like binge eating (cough - brownie mix) or negative thought cycles.

In yogic terms we could call these patterns samskaras - impressions made in the mind. A teacher of mine once likened a samskara to an equestrian path she had been on many years ago. The first time she rode down this path was magical. She and her horse carved their way through lightly charted territory taking in the sights, smells and surrounding sounds that completed their environment before arriving at a waterfall. She returned to the same path 20 years later to find not a path through a rich and varied landscape, but a canyon of repetition carved eight feet deep.

A canyon can be beautiful in its own right, but there are undesirable effects for yogis (or any human) to being in this neurological thought canyon.

1. It's BORING. It's difficult to find the delight in boring. Or maybe you're looking for an awareness challenge - awesome, have fun! I would be bored. You've travelled this same path 623785473093 times, and you know all the turns and bumps by heart.
2. Boring breeds disinterest. When I think I know something, I stop being curious about it. I stop learning. I stop seeking. I stop looking around.
3. Apathy bolsters self-righteousness.  If my brain doesn't have to learn new things, it's not going to; biology is energy conserving (lazy) like that. Love you, bio. Good thing I already know absolutely everything there is to know about this human experience in my 27 years of life. Solid.
4. Self-righteousness promotes fear. Our comfort zone shrinks. We become unable to function outside of the canyon. We can't even SEE outside of the canyon. And the whole world isn't a canyon! Remember? You probably forgot because you've been stuck in a canyon.
5. Fear clouds the mind.  Fear robs us of our divine curiosity, the spark of joy that colors all the patterns of a life. We forget, or are unable to see the multitude of textures and other varieties of life with whom we share this landscape.

Patterns can be super useful.  I'm very glad I have a pattern that tells me red means "stop" at a traffic light - makes everyone's lives a lot easier. But there are many unexamined samskaras hiding in my mind. Feelings of being unworthy, ineffectual, or lost, and habits of self destruction laying in wait at the end of the path. I already know the outcome.

The good news is that we can practice noticing which path we are already on, or about to embark down. This practice of making space in the mind is yoga. In silence, the inner observer can be heard. The one that speaks the hard logic we already know (eating a whole bar of chocolate in a sitting won't actually make me feel better, even on the 57th time), and whispers of openness and curiosity for the rest of the world.

New paths are unknown, but wonder is the spirit of the human heart and curiosity the co-conspirator. What would happen if we went…THAT way?

There's a whole BIG world out there. Pause. Where are your feet pointing?


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