On Psychic Grooves, Balance and Free Will

Sri Dharma Mittra of Dharma Yoga Center, New York, NY in Niralamba Sirsasana (hands-free head stand pose), an expression of perfect balance.

Balance is ultimately a matter of Self-control, a refinement of how we exert our free will through careful consideration of proportion and scale in our behavior and action. Most people live in a well-worn habitual mode of action, using that mode as their regular vehicle as they move through life. Think of all the times you hear people say self-defining things like “I’m so stupid. I’m a pot-stirrer. I’m just lazy. I’m a bull in a china shop. I’m this or I’m that…” and you will understand what this means. In yoga we call these self-defining, habitual modes of thinking and being samskaras. These samskaras can be regarded as psychic grooves, much like the grooves on a vinyl record.  No matter how many times a record is played, we experience the same song over and over again, maybe with a few scratches here and there as the record gets older. As we move through our days, each of us is playing our own record, and our psychic grooves cause us to respond to the world in a habitual way.  We tend to think the same thoughts repetitively, feel the same feelings, and react to circumstances, no matter how novel, in ways based on pre-established memory and presupposition.  We seek recollection of previous experience for ways to comprehend what we have before us, whether the response proves to be balanced or not.

Samskaras are the result of years of conditioning and in cases of particularly unmovable patterns, likely previous karmas that we carry into this life which create preconceived notions that we rely upon to navigate the world. We often find ourselves stuck in repetitive thoughts regardless of our intentions, and recurring memories affect how we proceed with our relationships, often hindering us from seeking better ways of doing things. These are samskaras in action making it difficult to separate what we believe we know from what is there to be known. We all live in our samskaras, and while they are fundamental to consciousness and it is impossible to exist without them, our goal is to change our limiting grooves, realizing where we may go wrong as a result of acting through habit or misconception.  This is why so much attention is paid in spiritual development practices on learning how to disconnect from patterns that may not be to our benefit to follow. Consider yourself as a vehicle with the tires on one side stuck in a rut. Sitting in the vehicle, you find yourself unbalanced, and it is your goal to remove yourself from that rut and set yourself back on a balanced path. This takes a concentrated effort, but is not impossible by any means.

What we spend most of our time thinking about eventually overtakes our personas, and we come to embody our habitual thoughts – a self-fulfilling prophecy is enacted.  This is the principle behind what is commonly known as “The Law of Attraction,” which, while a deceptively simple idea, is usually only half-considered.  One believes that to focus on prosperity and wealth will attract such benefits in our lives, and yet, the psychic hygiene required to maintain positive focus typically falls away through ennui, lack of sufficient evidence of efficacy, or simple distraction, and people resume their immersion in negativity once again.  Habitual thinking leads to habitual behavior, and if the habits are inherently negative and Self-denying, life force, happiness and personal effectiveness are curtailed. To manifest positivity, we must live our lives positively, on a continual basis.  Positivity is not something that we schedule as a point of focus for 15 minutes here or there throughout the day after which we resume bad habits.  A positive, productive and prosperous life is built on establishing a positive overall outlook, and that outlook must be maintained with passion and commitment.   This is a matter of free will and choice.

“Do not grieve over your present state and do not worry. If you refuse to worry, you will remain calm and you will surely find a way of reaching your goal. Remember that every time you worry, you put on a mental brake; and in struggling against that resistance, you place strain on your heart and mind. You wouldn’t try to drive off in your car with the brake on, because you know it would severely damage the mechanism. Worry is the brake on the wheels of your efforts; it brings you to a dead stop. Nothing is impossible, unless you think it is. Worry can convince you that it is impossible to do what you want to do. Worrying wastes time and energy. Use your mind instead to try to make some positive effort.”

Paramahansa Yogananda, The Divine Romance

What about people who have been traumatized, who have suffered terrible violence, are immersed in depression, anxiety, limited circumstances or otherwise compromised?  Do these people have a choice to be positive, or are their negative experiences going to define their lives? Unfortunately, it is true that societal forces have resulted in the destruction of capacities to live good lives for huge swaths of the human population. Ultimately though, the choice with what to do with one’s life, and how to best live that life, is up to the individual.  One only has to reflect on survivors of trauma, of horrors such as war, cultural genocide, Holocaust, slavery, emotional, psychological or sexual abuse and look to the inspiration of stories told by those who overcame their traumas to understand the potential of the human spirit.  We see that positive mental outlook and choice are the forces behind successfully overcoming traumatic pasts.  The human spirit can be unbelievably strong, and it is possible to summon that strength to overcome anything, even when it does not seem immediately possible. Don’t ever let anyone or any circumstance lead you to believe you cannot overcome what you want to overcome. This power is available to every single member of humankind. Have faith in your abilities to find balance and live the life you want to live

Currently we find the world gripped in great tension, with large-scale exertions of individual and collective power, extreme expressions of violent tribalism, and delusive ideological bludgeoning causing mass confusion and uncertainty. Sadly, for many people, this all proves to be too onerous, and we have a burgeoning population of those who suffer, unable to find their way free of the burdens that they bear. But we must remember this: nobody needs to give us permission to choose to live a balanced, positive life. It is within the power of each individual to take the steps forward to find harmony for themselves. When we become imbalanced, we easily succumb to negative states of mind which spiral outward, affecting everything around us, but even one step on the path to balance leads to a sense of inner encouragement, and a person can see their accomplishment and build new foundations. The grooves that we travel in life do not have to be negative, and we do not need to remain stuck in them. We have the power to make new tracks, create new songs, and to seek out positive, creative ways of being. Only in focusing on maintaining balance in our own Self will we find any semblance of balance in the world around us. The more people choose to maintain balance in themselves, the more balanced we will all become, something which is sorely needed in this world today.

“The material and the spiritual are but two parts of one universe and one truth. By overstressing one part or the other, we fail to achieve the balance necessary for harmonious development. Life is expressed in a threefold way: through thoughts, desires and actions. Rightly guide all three forms of expression and they will lead you to a higher state of consciousness. In your activities you are the creator, the preserver, the transformer; your will is the director. Practice the art of living in this world without losing your inner peace of mind. Follow the path of balance to reach the inner wondrous garden of Self-realization.”

Paramahansa Yogananda was a Kriya Yogi and founder of Self-Realization Fellowship

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