Breaking the Karmic Cycle

The ancient yogis believe that through our lifetime(s) we play out a continuous cycle of action and the deep impressions that come from that action. In this way we relive similar scenarios of our lives over and over again. These actions (karmas) and impressions (samskaras) are so deeply rooted in our heart/mind center of consciousness (citta) that they come with us even as we reincarnate. The only way to break the cycle from continuing in the same way in thousands of different scenarios is to recognize that the patterns exist. And then to do a bunch of work by meditating and changing the flow of your energy (prana) so that you may form a healthier approach to the pattern.

This is heady stuff. And know that the above paragraph is very much "pop" yogic philosophy. But it's just a tiny introduction to get you familiar with the idea of:

We act (karma)→ an impression is formed (samskara)→we act again (karma)

gabriellehopp-karma.jpg

With the second round of our action, we have the choice to act even more from a point of a deeply rooted pattern or to recognize our tendencies and change the course of our action.

Here is a real life example:

I am someone who moves quite frequently. Every couple of years, I pack up all my stuff and forge a new life. Each time I move, I become more independent of my old self, develop new ideas from meeting new people and having new experiences, and discover more and more that I am the only person who can make myself happy. Okay, all well and good.

So, every couple of years, before I move, I come back to my hometown and re-assess. Or, the point would be to re-assess, but what plays out instead is a classic karma/samskara loop. It doesn't matter one bit how much work I've done on myself in my last city, how clear it was becoming to me that I am the center of my own happiness, how healthy I have been eating, none of it matters.

I get home and I start the loop. Go out too often, drink too much, butt-heads with my mom, put off visiting my grandmas, have the impression that someone else is going to be the thing that makes me happy. Over and over. It's like an embarrassing broken record.

And why?

These patterns are down in there deep. The first step to breaking from the norm of your karmic cycle is to recognize that it exists. You have to begin to notice yourself playing out the same situations in a variety of settings.

Examples could be

  1. Your emotional reactions to certain stimuli (are they always the same rise to anger or instant sadness or extreme joy?)
  2. Avoidance of, or head on confrontation to conflict (do you react the same way every time you have a head-to-head?)
  3. Your habits whether they be bad or good (why do you continuously bite your nails or insist on an orderly household or take the same route to work every day?)

It's all about discovering why it is that we do the things we do.

And then maybe you can sit back and watch as, like clockwork, you get back on the same old horse and do it all over again. And perhaps, after you do that fifty or a hundred times, it may become clear that a change is necessary. Changing a habit pattern or a pattern of action is step two. A pretty simple way to approach this step is to try giving up a habit pattern that you know is not in your best interest. And when you find yourself doing it, take a moment of contemplation and try to understand why your habit pattern is getting the best of you. And then maybe you can decide whether or not the habit pattern should continue.

The point is that we have the capability to make changes. But we have to recognize that the process of uncovering our patterns and changing them effectively takes a fair amount of work. And I personally believe that it's worth it.

Next time I go back to my hometown, I can assess all over again.

Yoga in Action: Compassion

I read recently that one of the marks of spiritual progress is an increasing sense of compassion toward other beings. I think it's absolutely true. As I become keenly aware of my own Self and inner light, I become increasingly sensitive to the fact that everyone has the same inner light and potential for living as their full Self.

MT bringing compassion to the table 24-7

Simply put, everyone wants to be happy and no one wants to suffer. But we do suffer, as it is the nature of life. Being alive means that inevitably we will have to experience pain. The intensity to which we experience suffering is based on our past karmas (actions) and samskaras (patterns), yet to some degree we all know what it is to suffer.

This is why it is so important to act with compassion. When I get angry with someone, or perceive some offense, I go out of my way to see things from that person's perspective. Maybe they're having a shitty day, maybe their cat died, maybe their relationship ended, etc. Maybe they are acting like an asshole because they are suffering. With this approach toward other beings, I am able to practice deep compassion, maybe even kindness when someone offends me or they act on some pain they are experiencing.

This guy is pretty solid at compassion.


How can you put this in action? Well, the next time someone offends you, take a second to step away from the situation and assess it objectively. Or the next time you notice someone else acting without compassion, notice how it makes you feel. What would you do differently?

The Ravi Ravindra translation of the Yoga Sutras offer this suggestion in chapter 1, verse 33

maitri-karuna-mudita-upeksanam sukha-duhkha-punya-apunya-visayanam bhavanatas-citta-prasadanam

A clear and tranquil mind results from cultivating friendliness towards those who are happy, compassion towards those who suffer, joy towards the virtuous, and impartiality toward wrong-doers.

So there you have it, folks. Straight from the pen of Patanjail, we should practice compassion toward those who suffer. You can practice this on your cushion too. Here's a link to a step-by-step guide to a metta meditation, which can directly enhance your sense of compassion: Metta Meditation

As you can see, the metta style of meditation begins first and foremost with you, yourself. In order to compassionately view the world, you must first be able to treat yourself with the kindness you'd offer to others. You gotta love you first.