For those who follow the liturgical Christian year, it is now the season of Lent. It's one of my favorite seasons of the year both because it has always seemed to me to be a more honest season about life's hardships and because I appreciate its focus of removing the distractions that keep me from a closer connection with the Divine.
For me, that matters because I am a mystic who longs for a closer relationship with the Divine, and yet I find myself so easily distracted by a hundred other things that keep me from engaging in the kind of activities that nurture my spiritual life.
I realize that not everyone who reads this follows the Christian year or is interested in a relationship with the Divine, but I think there can still be benefit in applying the general idea of this season to other areas of our lives.
We all have parts of our lives where we find ourselves continually not living up to the life we say we want to live.
Maybe we claim that our health is important to us, but we find ourselves lounging on the couch night after night instead of choosing exercise of some kind.
Or perhaps we say that we want to leave our current job and find a new way to make a living, but we don't engage in learning the new skills or developing the connections that would make a new career possible.
Or maybe we say that healing and personal growth are our priority, but we don't do the work necessary for either of those things.
That's where I find the idea of a Lenten season so useful. While New Year's focuses on making resolutions to move toward our goals, Lent takes a slightly different approach and focuses on discovering what is preventing that movement we say we desire so much.
I've discovered that in one way or another it always comes down to a combination of two things that get in my way: inertia and fear.
Samskara is a Sanskrit term we talk about in yoga that describes the habitual conditioning of our minds—and therefore our actions—to follow the same pathways over and over again. Modern neuroscience has confirmed that these habitual ways of thinking acting do cause the equivalent of ruts in our brain that cause us to fall into those comfortable patterns over and over again.
Even ruts that I’ve escaped from before are easy to fall back into because the patterns are so well-worn in my brain. Without constant attention, I easily fall back into these old patterns and find myself stuck again before I know it simply because they are so comfortable and so deeply ingrained in me.
It takes a significant input of energy and a willingness to embrace the discomfort of doing things a new way to escape the inertia of my samskara rut.
I’ve found that how I frame it for myself is crucial to breaking through the inertia. Any change that I try to make myself do because I think I “should” do it or “need” to do it is doomed to failure.
It’s only when I am able to deeply connect with wanting the changed outcome MORE than I want whatever pleasure or comfort my current pattern is providing that I am able to create change.
This requires me to dig deep to really understand what value the change will provide for me and what exactly it is that I’m getting from my current pattern of doing things. Knowing these two things is crucial to designing a way to face the discomfort enough to break through my inertia to make a change.
Intertwined with inertia of my samskara rut is the barrier of fear. Fear of failure if I really give my all to creating change is the biggest one, but I also fear how any given change might affect other parts of my life (including relationships).
It's so much easier to complain about the way things are and live on the fairy tale dream that a given change would solve all of my problems than to take the risk of doing the work to make that change knowing that I might not succeed or that the change might cost me in some way I can't see.
That fear makes the comfort of my samskara rut seem all the more appealing unless I push myself to face the fear and shift whatever beliefs are holding me back.
Let me give you an example of what I mean.
A number of years ago I was in a relationship that had started off being one of the most nurturing and inspiring relationships I had ever hand. For a number of reasons, though, it had eroded over time into one that was quite unhealthy and was doing a significant amount of damage to me (and likely to the other person).
All of my attempts to turn this around and move back toward the healthier relationship it had once been were unsuccessful, and I knew I really needed to end the relationship (or at least distance myself from it), but I found myself consistently unable to do so.
I kept clinging to my memories of what it had once been, found myself continually stuck in old patterns of relating to this person, and was afraid of the loneliness and abandonment that I would experience by ending the relationship.
There finally came a point, though, when my desire to heal and become healthier was greater than any comfort my old habits of relating to or thinking about this relationship were and greater than my fears of what losing that relationship would mean.
My beliefs about my inability to find new relationships and my insistence that no other relationship could possibly fill my emotional needs began shifting to ease my fears, and I discovered that the old patterns that had kept me so trapped no longer seemed so comfortable. I genuinely wanted health and healing more than the old comfort I had clung to for so long.
Once I made that break, it turned out to be much easier than I had feared, and my healing from the hurts that relationship had caused accelerated dramatically faster than anything I would have imagined.
We all have broken places in our lives that seem to keep us stuck, places where some combination of the seductive comfort of inertia and the fear of change work together to keep us from breaking free.
Where are you feeling stuck in your journey toward healing?
How is the inertia of you samskara patterns keeping you there? What habits, beliefs, thought patterns, relationships, or situations are part of that inertia? What comfort are those things providing you? Do you really want that comfort more than you want to heal?
How is fear keeping you from making the changes you want to make? What exactly do you fear will happen if you move toward healing? What do you think it might cost you? What might help you face and address those fears?
I've found that being really clear about what is holding me back from the things I want most is the key to making the deeper changes necessary to allow me to move forward. My wish for you this Lenten season (whether you celebrate it or not) is that you will find those patterns of inertia and fear that are keeping you stuck and shift them to allow you more toward greater healing and life.
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