A recent product review in Forbes magazine stated, 'The best record players are vintage music machines with modern features'. It got me thinking that we too are a bit like record players.
Being human is amazing. When you think of all that we are capable of as individuals and as a collective, I find it wild that we’ve evolved with such capacity. But sometimes our giant noggins can work against us and take us down some narrow paths of discomfort. As mentioned in the previous blog post, distress, called dhukha by the ancient yogis, is the term used to describe the illusion of separation between self and others, when experiencing the discomforts life can present to us.
To help us survive, we humans evolved and refined inner tools for social and emotional connection. Included in that toolbox though, is an inner mechanism that can sneak into our consciousness and has the potential to undo that sense of connection. Our ancestors were hard-wired with a negativity bias as a reflex to be suspicious of the unknown. For our own safety, this was an obvious and necessary adaptation. The half-hidden stick could be a snake!
This deep-set trait is still within our modern brains today and continues to serve us in our modern world, discerning safety and evaluating risk. While this trait evolved to protect our physical security, nowadays it’s more like a subtle radar, picking up cues and information on the unknown. As an example, even though I knew the fluff in the corner of the room was just that, I still had a second glance, to be sure it wasn’t a big spider. We can also get subtle feelings from strangers that make us feel like we can trust them– or the very opposite. This ancestral quality is helpful for our advancement and it has the potential to work against us.
If we get stuck in the loop of fear and mistrust, the thoughts and feelings associated with our experiences make a deep impression upon our psyches and can become ingrained in our reactions and patterns of behaviour. The ancient yogis call these mind grooves samskaras. The term broadly refers to the total effects of our thoughts, memories, feelings and experiences. Most notably, the yogis were focused on the importance of how our heart-mind registers our life experiences. These impressions settle into our mind, and create patterns of reactivity to bring us closer to either self-awareness or the feeling of separation from others, dhukha.
Samskaras are like the grooves on a vinyl record, only they’re within our consciousness. There is a variance of depth to the impressions and just as a favourite song on a record gets extra playtime, some samskaras keep pulling us back to revisit, deepening the groove.
But, sometimes the ones that pull us back are those that cause us distress and tie us tighter to our ancient brain, where we might feel self-protective, isolated and less likely to be open and present to our experiences. When the record needle gets stuck in a groove, it goes ‘round and around until it gets a lift and is readjusted. We are the same. If stuck in a slump, often our thoughts and feelings negate our reactions, making our samskaras grind into a hefty rut, leaving the impression that we are separate and distant from our place of stable brightness.
The good news is that, like lifting the record needle away from the groove takes only light effort, we too can take light steps to break out of the natural tendency of our ancient brains and create new neural pathways to contentment and connection. Returning to our heart-mind with self- compassion and attentiveness, we make new neural grooves in the direction of self-awareness, expansiveness and a sense of open receptivity to others as well as to what life’s experiences have to offer.
Practicing a few moments of mindfulness, taking a bit of awareness to breath or just sitting quietly with ourselves are all opportunities to gain insight and practice self-compassion, thereby replacing the effects of unpleasant samskaras with new, vibrant ones within our heart-mind. Each time we return to this place within, we allow for greater self-knowledge to come home, settle and open the doors with an invitation for connection to others, replacing the illusion of separation with the reality of connectedness.
With practice, we gain more clarity and agency over our reactions, allowing our heart-mind to be in charge of the record player; lifting the needle and skipping over to the best song on the record and playing it loudly for all to enjoy.
"It's by going into the abyss that we recover the treasures of life. Where you stumble, there lies your treasure."-- Joseph Campbell
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