Holiday Handling Tools
As much as I like to think I can sail through the holidays free of drama, year after year, I am proven wrong. I'm not talking about huge blowups or arguments. My family will, without fail, resurrect some deep-seeded samskaras, which can be described as karmic embedded thought patterns, habits or traits, within me, no matter how much I believed I've worked them out. Because I decided to visit my family before the holidays began this year, the gifts of my samskaras came early for me. Too bad no one wrapped them up in a pretty bow.
You may be one of those folks who thoroughly enjoy time with their immediate family. However, given the fact that most of our unconscious behavior and thought patterning develops in our early years, I'm going to go out on a limb here and say most, if not all of us, carry around samskaras rooted in family, resulting in specific behavior, emotions or habits. The holidays can offer a beautiful opportunity to come to a deeper level of understanding of not only ourselves, but also of those we love.
Not even 48 hours into my visit with my family, my mother made a comment that triggered my false belief patterns, sending me into a tailspin of insecurity, lack and fear. As those old familiar feelings swept over me, I recognized it was my samskaras at work and attempted to stop and take some deep breaths.
This season, if you find yourself experiencing your samskara at work, you should engage Vichara, which is a practice of self inquiry, one that employs the methodical use of logic to arrive at a clear understanding of the truth.
This requires that we separate from the emotion of the situation and view our behavior with sharp and objective discernment. Vi literally translates as "to separate," and Chara translates to "clear about source." There is no better time to put this technique to use than the holidays. When we can objectively view why we behave or feel the way we do, we can then take the steps necessary to resolve the negative emotions, habits or patterning.
How do we do this?
I can offer a simplified version of the Vichara practice that may help nip in the bud any upcoming squabbles, anxiety and snarky behavior before it begins. Begin by practicing meditation or other forms of mindfulness so you can be silent, still and present. Then grab a latte or a cup of tea, a notebook and a pen, and give yourself some time to write.
- Identify any uncomfortable emotion, thought or patterning that seem to arise during the holidays or when around certain family members. Without attempting to predict negative scenarios, simply recognize typical behavior. Also notice if this is a familiar or persistent feeling outside of the season. I can use myself as an example here. My mother's comment made me feel very insecure about my chosen work and my financial security.
- Take time to write one or two sentences about the source of that feeling or emotion. This is typically where the family aspect comes in. For example, if you feel unattractive, it may be because your mother always nagged you about the way you dress or look. Again, remove yourself from the emotion this causes. Just look at it objectively and dig deeper by continuing to ask yourself the question, "Why? Why do I feel this way?"
- Assess how this thought pattern affects your life. Does it prevent you from expressing yourself in a unique way? Does it hold you back from going out and meeting new people? How do you react when someone comments on your appearance, either positively or negatively?
- See if you can trace this behavior to a desire. It is helpful to use the phrase "I want" in front of any other words here. For example, "I want to be accepted." "I want to feel unconditional love." Again, using myself as an example, my root desire is something like, "I want to feel secure."
This last step puts us in touch with our deepest desires. When we know why we suffer, we are that much more empowered to make decisions to decrease or even end our pain. I will discuss steps you can take to change thought patterning in an upcoming article. But the first and most important step is to recognize the triggers and how you react or respond as a result of your beliefs. As you enter the holiday season and end of the year, this is a great technique to have in your toolbox to begin to examine your behavior and move through your life with less suffering and more ease. Even with your family around.
For a more detailed description of a Vichara practice and a more intensive process to uncover your deepest desires, please visit The Four Desires, by Yogarupa Rod Stryker.