If you felt a little off this November, you’re not alone. The holiday season can stir up a lot emotionally, good or bad. The experiences we have with our friends and family during the holidays can leave impressions on us for many years. From a yogic perspective, these Impressions are called Samskaras; the mental impressions left by all thoughts, actions and intents that an individual has experienced. They can be thought of as psychological imprints. They are said to be the root of all impulses, and our innate dispositions.
Maybe a relative says something, and suddenly your body tenses up and you feel anger. Or maybe you just feel a general sense of sadness during the holidays. These feelings are not random. As my teacher Vanessa Stone would say, if it’s happening, it is essential for your personal evolution.
If we’re not aware of these patterns, they can run our entire lives.
“Fixing” Was Not Effective
Growing up, the holidays were challenging for me. I remember one year, around age 10, my relatives were so divided that the only reason we got together was to eat, open gifts and get out before it got too tense.
At age 10, there wasn’t much I could do about all the conflict and tension, and I didn’t want to take sides. I felt awkward asking anyone for help, or bringing it up at school, so I didn’t. I just didn’t talk about it. Comparing my family to the stories I heard from other kids made me feel angry, sad and unhappy. This persisted, and over the next few years, the holidays felt increasingly tense and burdensome.
Despite my good intentions, all my attempts at avoiding, rebelling, peacemaking or in any way trying to “fix” the situation were not effective. I became increasingly withdrawn and less expressive.
Becoming Aware is Growth
Then, I learned about meditation. I learned how to observe my reactive thoughts and behaviors, and not react. I learned to release my attachment to how I thought a family “should” be. I accepted that there was conflict and tension in my family, and that is okay. I made peace with this.
So I found creative outlets, friends to share with, projects to immerse in. I didn’t have a picturesque family, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t find ways to be happy, expressive and connected to others.
I still don’t handle the holidays perfectly, nor do I have it all figured out, but I’m not as reactive or hurt as I used to be, and I don’t blame others for how I feel (at least not as automatically!). It takes discipline to do this, but I have seen that it’s worth it. Having discipline in my thoughts and behaviors makes me more creative, more productive, more expressive, more aligned with what is essential to me. There are still samskaras, but now there is awareness too. I consider that spiritual growth.
Looking back on this experience through the lens of my yoga training, I see that there were 3 principles at play. These are principles we can all apply as we reflect on the holiday season, and reflect on the year behind us.
Non grasping - (In Sanskrit: “Aparigraha”) The virtue of non-possessiveness, non-grasping or non-greediness. Letting go of the tendency to fix, grasp, defend or try to figure it all out. Instead focusing on what is necessary or important. —- Is there a relationship or situation where you have been comparing yourself to others or to an ideal image of how you think things should be?
Contentment - (In Sanskrit: “Santosha:) Generally considered to be both an attitude and a state of deep inner peace. Through practicing santosha, the yogi is freed from cravings and desires. When they are free from such influences, they are also free to pursue their own calling without fear or manipulation. —— Have you let extrinsic forces dictate your happiness? How could you shift to a more intrinsic locus of control to chose thoughts and actions that bring you more happiness?
Discipline - (In Sanskrit: “Tapas”) Often translates as 'austerity' or 'discipline'. Derived from the root verb 'tap' which means 'to burn.' Tapas is a sense of 'fiery discipline' or 'passion'. Free of grasping, from a place of contentment, discipline can be in service of your personal growth. —- What thoughts and behaviors have been the most empowering for you this year? How would you like to apply them going into next year?
How can you put this into practice? Awareness is always the first step. Then, embodiment is how you integrate and apply what you’ve learned. This means yoga and meditation. Practice these qualities with the Quietmind Yoga Podcast in these upcoming episodes:
12/2 Non Grasping
12/23 Yoga Nidra
12/30 Live from the New Year Retreat
“We think that the point is to pass the test or overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don't really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It's just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.” - Pema Chodron, When Things Fall Apart