Habits are a powerful force in human behavior. Eastern literature and scripture talk about them at length and even give them their own name; samskara. This is a word for the things we do habitually. Think about the way you drive to work. If there’s construction and you have to take an alternative route it feels weird.
Samskaras can be so deeply ingrained that we’re not even aware of them. Most often, in fact, we’re not. Samskaras are likened to grooves dug by the repeated track of a wooden wheel. The longer the wheel drives the same course, the harder it is to leave the marked path and take a new way.
As an example, lets say I decide on Sunday night that I’m going to start my day with a large helping of warm water on Monday. I know, I know, this sounds way too exciting for most of you out there, but stay with me. I’m a devoted coffee drinker, and I’m not even talking about replacing the coffee, simple drinking some regular ‘ole water before I drink the coffee – you know, just to get a jump on hydration.
I am very brave the night before anything. If I’m gonna do something tomorrow, I’ll eat lightening and crap thunder! The day of the event is a little bit different, things change and the shift feels weird.
Staying with our example of yours truly drinking a large cup of warm water while the coffee brews, let me tell you how that really goes.
The alarm goes off at the ungodly hour of noon thirty, or somewhere around there. I am torn between two worlds when this happens. Oh, the cool sweet space of my sheets and stuffed animals, the wonderment of the turning fan and the crinkling sound of pages from the open paperback rustling from the breeze. The softly turning long bodies of cats draped over me, the sleep mask that blocks the light from my Scooby-Doo light night. Ah, to sleep, perchance to dream!
The alarm going off is just out of reach. Drat. I pull myself from sanctuary and pile hair on my head, secured with a black clip. The cats and I stumble over each other; them to get to the food bowl, me to get to the coffee pot.
I flip the switch and hear the gurgle of the first spurt of water get sucked into whatever mechanism is in there that both heats the water and turns it into something palatable, like coffee. I just stand there, cracked and burning waiting for the coffee to brew. Sure, there’s that cup I set out the night before near the electric kettle so I can drink my serving of water. This would be the perfect time to throw back that start to a well hydrated day – but no. I wait, and though I feel the nag of my best intentions, I simply wait, and growl.
So there we have it. I fall right back into the same groove I’ve been grooving since I was two. I don’t give it a second thought.
Something I give a second and third thought to is language. Lately I have noticed the way I speak and the samskara of habitual usage. Verbal ticks change from generation to generation. The fill in the silence catch phrases are vastly different today from what they were in the eighties.
Um (“um….A Scooby-Doo night light?”)
Like (“like….I don’t know”)
Yay (don’t know what to say? say “yay!” it works)
Amazing (you ate at the Taste of India buffet and then took a hot yoga class? Amazing.)
Most of the examples that come to mind for me are words that are used when a reply is expected and I don’t know what to say. That’s not to say the use of amazing, literally and like aren’t also valid. Something can literally be like the most amazing thing you have ever seen. I have seen it. So this isn’t a treatise against use of these words.
I have noticed my proclivity to use these words in place of paying attention. Ah! The grooves and habits of personal interaction. I’m guilty of listening to someone and watching my mind disengage. Attention will slip to the right and out the side door. I’ll see myself thinking of that time my mom and I drove to south Florida for Thanksgiving and how much fun we had, even though it was way too warm and felt strange to be away from my sisters for a major holiday. Not that I’m always prone to wandering attention, but when I do it’s amazing.
I’ll suddenly lock eyes with the person I’m supposed to be listening to and pray my eyes have not betrayed me. They are looking at me for a response. Oh hell! They’re done saying what they were gonna say and now I’m supposed to say something back.
My thought process is outrageous. I smile slyly and reply, “Amazing.” They are pleased. It seems whatever they were talking about was the culmination of amazing, and I hit the nail on the head.
Amazing is my go to.
I don’t know when I discovered this. Maybe when working on a story and I saw it appear too much in the dialogue. Right there in black and white. Amazing.
I wonder what other grooves there are in my communication skills, but decide to start small. I recall a passage from The Eleven Karmic Spaces, a book by Ma Jaya Sati Bhagavati, Guru, Teacher and Guide in Kali Natha Yoga – when she talks about changing one thing.
I love this teaching and appreciate it so much because it takes the pressure off to change everything all at once. That’s how I go about things, you know. I’ll identify one small thing (like the need to drink more water) and decide in one grand sweeping gesture I am going to change everything all at the same time (I will drink more water, write a best seller and buy a summer home in Atlanta – tomorrow).
Luckily, application of Yoga’s teachings are infinitely more simple than that. Just change one thing. Changing just the one thing is refreshing, simple and attainable. From this shift, awareness will grow, supporting more growth.
What have I decided to do with my revelations?
I’m going to replace amazing with something even more amazing – er, with a synonym.
Synonyms for amazing include astonishing, astounding, surprising, stunning (I like this one) staggering, stupefying (also a good one) incredible (reminds me of the circus) extraordinary, sensational and stupendous. I like unbelievable, too, but it wouldn’t always fit. In an effort to simply override a verbal tick I want to keep it simple.
I go with stupendous.
I figure when I’m about to say amazing, awareness will kick in and I’ll pause as my mind re-calibrates. Amazing will get kicked out, stupendous will go in its place and in the space between these two words awareness will grow. The cart can change directions, after all, proving we aren’t at the mercy of patterns. This, my friend, is Stupendous.