Developing will power is a challenge for most of us. We know what we want to do that would make our lives happier and healthier. We even make resolutions to change our way of eating or sleeping or watching television or talking to our loved ones, etc. Yet, we often repeat the same old patterns, the same practices that we want changed.
According to the Yoga Sutras, these hard-wired patterns are called samskaras. A samskara is a way of acting that comes from our deep unconscious world that is triggered by an event in the conscious physical or mental world. It is a “knee-jerk” response to an experience, like driving on automatic pilot.
Some people have the habit of getting a cup of coffee and a donut every morning on their way to work. Even though that person may have decided to cut back on the donut or the coffee because of weight or health reasons, as soon as they drive by their favorite coffee shop, the car automatically turns into the parking space. Without thinking the person gets out of the car for the coffee and donut. This is a samskara and these powerful habits are changed only when we do “spiritual push-ups”.
Spiritual push-ups happen when we sit quietly for 5 minutes every day and bring our mind to rest in a mantra. A mantra is a sound that guides the mind to a point of stillness. Every time a person comes back to the sound the will power is strengthened. It is like a physical push-up. Every lift of the barbell strengthens the arm muscles. So too, every time we decide to return to the same sound our will power is strengthened. We get stronger mentally and spiritually.
That stronger will power makes it more possible for us (after much regular practice) to maintain our decision to change the way we wish to eat, or talk or live. It won’t happen all at once, just like we may not be able to lift 200 pounds in a week or month. But we will be advancing and sooner or later, if we are faithful to our meditative practice of listening to a mantra, we will be much stronger and much happier.
A simple mantra in the yoga tradition is listening to the sound of the breath. Every time we inhale we can hear or say quietly to ourselves “So” and when we exhale we can hear or say quietly to ourselves “Hum”. Bringing our mind back from any other thought or idea or image to the “So-hum” is flexing our spiritual muscles.
Have fun strengthening your will power!