In Yoga there is a term for patterns.
They are called Samskaras.
They’re like ruts you can get into, that limit your abilities: always pushing up into down dog from hands and knees might keep you from being able to access down dog from forward bend. Or always taking the option for the most ego-boosting arm balance might keep you from exploring the lessons in surrendering to a pose you view as for beginners. Samskaras cause limitations. They can be eased on like a well-worn slipper. They can be done mindlessly and therefore unquestioned. It’s a way of living life on auto-pilot instead of being fully present.
Samskaras can also be formed in the mind out of false beliefs.
When I was growing up, I dealt with difficult feelings by wanting to disappear. I felt I was only an adjunct to another’s will, so I could leave my body when I needed to escape. When I experienced post partum depression, this samskara most naturally turned even darker. Thoughts of suicide were a natural destination for chemical depression and anxiety laid atop an already existing thought pattern.
One of my biggest fears is that I will yell at my children. It may not seem like a terrible thing, but my mind has fixated upon the idea of yelling as being one of the worst things I could do to my children. I feel that to have their mother yell at them blights their spirit a little each time. It dims their bright beacon of self-hood, just as mind was snuffed out for a time. I haven’t been able to let this pattern go, yet.
I am recovering from post partum depression, but the samskaras remain.
This morning when my oldest son, Nat, turned around and wordlessly screamed at me in frustration, I screamed back at him. My worst fear. I did it. I yelled at my child in rage.
Yet, I realized that it wasn’t his scream that triggered my samskara; it was the micro-movement of pure terror on his face that I saw in the second before his scream. I instinctually reacted to it as the little girl who was powerless to stop painful feelings and had to disappear.
I created my worst fears and I dumped them on my children. The post partum depression samskara immediately arose. I felt the overpowering urge to run away and devise a plan to end my life. It was a pattern. I can see it for the pattern it is and understand that it is not true. It feels true. It is hard to remember that I am not my feelings. I am not that powerless little girl anymore.
I know this, but I don’t believe it. The feelings are almost overwhelming. When I had post partum depression, they were overwhelming and I was unable to find the truth beneath the false pattern. Now, I can see the pattern and I can stop racing to the end of the samskara.
I still have a long path ahead of me to heal, with many of these as yet unrealized ruts to get lodged in. But, I’m humbly walking the path, asking forgiveness when I yell, and hugging the children without and within.
Samskaras are difficult to recognize and break.
- Facial Micro-Expressions Recognition research paper from University of Tsukuba (pdf)
- The Psychology of Facial Expressions from Cambridge University Press (pdf)
- American Psychological Association Convention: The Relationship Between FamilyExpressiveness and NonVerbal Communication (pdf)
- Post Partum Panic: Not Depressed, Just Scared to Death via Psychology Today
- Yoga for Emotional Balance: What Gets in the Way of Change? via Kripalu
- Etching Lightly-Releasting Negative Samskaras via Spirit of Change Magazine
- Articles on Intrusive Thoughts from Post Partum Progress