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Creatures of Habit

Humans are habitual actors. As Paul of Tarsus wrote, in one of his letters to the early Christians, “I do what I don’t want to do, and I don’t do what I want to do.” With all the greatest intentions we end up following old, long-ingrained patterns of acting. These deep-seated ways of doing things are called “samskaras” in the yoga tradition. These samskaras often need to be changed and replaced with other habits that are more beneficial. These newer, healthier or more helpful habits are also called samskaras.

According to yoga, we are driven by these unconscious actions, which really are habits that we started a long time ago. I have a habit that often gets me in trouble with the people around me. I overplant seeds in the garden. I overplant seeds, period. Because sometimes, my seeds are comments of advice or explanations of things.

For example, when we lived on the Grain of Wheat Community farm in Osceola Township back in the '80s and '90s, I would start more seeds than we could ever plant in the greenhouse. One year I had over 300 tomato seedlings started and planted them all in the farm garden. Needless to say, they all grew quite well and produced more tomatoes than Mary or our community could handle. We stored hundreds, if not thousands, of tomatoes in every way possible that year. Too much work!

Well, Mary thought I had learned my lesson. However, for the past two years, I again put more seeds in our small growing beds here at our home in Fond du Lac than was best for the ground or best for the beans, peas, lettuce, swiss chard, etc. The bigger plants shaded the smaller ones. There weren’t enough nutrients in the soil to nourish this massive growth. Therefore, our vegetable garden became more disappointing than productive. I didn’t learn my lesson again and again. I had a habit of planting more than was “reapable”!

My children even saw this tendency, this samskara pattern, in me when they suggested that I name the book I should write as, “More Than You Ever, Really Wanted to Know.” It seems as though that habit of mine, planting more information than is able to be understood or absorbed, was part of my fathering. I realized that it was also part of my teaching. I always wanted the students to know all the details and the context of the subject matter, professing more than what was needed to get across the point and often more than the students wanted to know.

I still struggle with the samskara and often see myself not even wanting to change it. Again, this is the nature of these patterns and knowing that is important, especially if we wish or need to change them.

And what if we do want to change unhelpful habits? What do we do? That is the subject of my next writing. Meanwhile, you and me both have a time to spend studying ourselves and our samskaras.


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