Samskaras and Resolutions

This year I made one New Year’s resolution- to omit sugar and road rage from my diet. No one likes to picture her yoga teacher raging at other drivers, but it happens. I began Jan 5th, right after returning from vacation. As I walked into the yoga studio on January 6th, a sweet student offered me a truffle. Walking out another dear student gave me a box of truffles. Before I knew it I was driving through Soho steering with my knee, holding a praline crunch cup between two fingers and using another finger to indicate how I felt about the driver who just tried to cut me off. I broke my resolution after only 15 hours (if you count the hours I was asleep). After cursing myself for failing miserably, I remembered something about compassion and suffering.

In Buddhist practice we learn that suffering comes in the form of two arrows. The first arrow is the inevitable life circumstance- someone cutting you off in traffic or forgetting that you have given up sugar long enough to scarf down a few chocolates. The second arrow comes in the form of judgment of the first arrow. The second arrow is the expletive that flies out of your mouth, like a rabid sparrow, fueled by the nasty thoughts you think about yourself when you “mess up”. The first arrow is a tool for learning. The second is a weapon.

When I take a step back and look at the first arrow I can see that while my intention was to love everyone and save myself from early tooth decay, I hadn’t done much to address the samskaras (habitual patterns) that caused me to react in the moment. Yogis have known for thousands of years what scientists are discovering today. It is incredibly difficult to change our habitual patterns, because they are wired into our brains. BUT it is possible. By practicing Tapas (dedication), Svadyaya (self study) and Ishvara Pranidhana (letting go), over a long period of time we can change our habits.

With these teachings in mind I got curious. I looked in the rearview mirror at the man behind me whom I had not let in. A phrase used by Buddhist Teacher Pema Chodron popped into my head, “Just like me.” Most of the time when someone does something we abhor, if we get really honest we can recall a time when we did the same thing or at least something with the same energy behind it.

“Just like me” opened me up a little.

At the very next light someone else tried to cut me off. Instead of honking and speeding up, I slowed down and waved him in. To my surprise it actually felt good to help him even if he was breaking the rules. Sandwiched between my “just like me’s” I acknowledged that open feels better than shut. Curious feels better than judgmental. Gentle feels better than angry.

Now what about the truffles?

They were given to me as a gift. I told myself gratitude meant eating them. However, as a vegetarian for the past 18 years, if someone gave me bacon truffles as a gift I would not eat them.

What would I do? Share them with a bacon-loving friend.

Last night I enjoyed one more truffle and shared the rest with my bacon-loving husband. I recognized that small amounts of chocolate eaten mindfully works better for me than deprivation. And using the mantra “Just like me” is more useful than “What is wrong with you?!” I also changed my resolution to this:

In 2014 may I deepen my commitment to curiosity and kindness, to recognizing others as “just like me” and to letting go of my secondary archery practice gently, one arrow at a time. May your entire year be filled with rich insights, limitless joy and bacon truffles;) Namaste, Elizabeth

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For 13 years Elizabeth has practiced and taught yoga and meditation around the globe. She is a Senior Teacher and Teacher Trainer at Yoga Works in New York. Elizabeth is also a writer, life coach and mother. She sees life itself as our greatest teacher, especially in New York City. Visit her website at www.ejneuse.com.

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