I took a walk today. It was almost 80 degrees outside. If this was June I would have worn shorts. But, my mind tells me that November is suppose to be cold, so I wore long pants. Our minds have been conditioned to perceive and act a certain way. This mental habit is known in yoga as a samskara. There can be good and bad samskaras. In this particular example, if I had been so conditioned as to go out to take a walk in long pants, a hat, and coat and subject myself to heatstroke that would have been a bad samskara.
Despite evidence to the contrary, I skip over the reality of how warm it is and behave according to my mental conditioning that says November is a cold month so wear long pants. (I did at least wear a short-sleeve shirt.) It is the ability to be self-reflective to even know that I am playing out a samskara. When these mental habits are so entrenched that we do them automatically without thinking, then they are vasanas.
Think of samskaras like a groove in a vinyl record and the same old track gets played over and over. (I don’t think that I am dating myself with this analogy as vinyl records seem to be making a comeback.) Some of the tracks may be good songs and other tracks may play bad songs. Good samskaras have us help uplift one another. Bad samskaras lead us to kick another person to the curb. Bad samskaras reinforce mental agitation. Good samskaras create a mind that is at ease. Yoga is the practice of redirecting the grooves of bad songs into good songs in order to bring about a peaceful flowing mind. Yoga is about raising the mind above the limited worldview that samskaras create.
Tomorrow is election day. Watch for all the samskaras that will be very reactive. There will be predictable media hype. The focus of the media is to highlight the negative and to center around conflict. We are conditioned to be reactive and not reflective. We are conditioned to fight rather than to understand. It will take a self-reflecting, quiet mind to rise above the hype and change the conversation toward healing and a peaceful interaction rather than division.