I don’t know about you, but sometimes I get stuck in certain unhealthy patterns. Like with food: I’ll be good, even great, with healthy eating for a few days, maybe even a week. But then, inevitably, a holiday, event, or even just a bad day will come along. Suddenly, I’m eating oil-laden pastas and potato chips with the fervor of a starving wildebeest. A few extra pounds (or just the ones I had lost), along with an impending sense of guilt and diminished self-esteem.
Or in my relationships with others. Friends will think that I’m great and awesome to be around, but then they’ll discover I’m messy, I misplace things often, and I can completely forget when it comes to certain practical matters. Suddenly, I start to interpret their remarks as negative judgments, and I will start to pull away from them. Then I feel decreased self-esteem and some degree of sadness or loneliness.
Buddhists call these patterns samskaras, emotional or mental patterns.
The word samskara comes from the Sanskrit sam (complete or joined together) and kara (action, cause, or doing). Samskaras are individual mental and emotional impressions, ideas, or actions. Repeating samskaras reinforces them, creating a groove that is difficult to resist. In short, samskaras are negative patterns of conditioning: they keep us stuck, time after time, creating the similar outcomes.
There are many suggestions for changing your negative patterns: People will tell you to meditate, practice yoga, “just do it differently next time,” or see a therapist.
For me, the most valuable advice I have heard is to “change the channel.”
Whether you identify as completely practical or New Age, one thing we can all agree on is that energy is everywhere. Some people just tend to be more high energy — personal trainers, hip-hop dancers, and those people you catch on late-night infomercials all tend to be very high-energy. Words like enthusiasm, pep, joy, excitement, and glee all come to mind. Other people tend to naturally be more low-energy and subdued — think of your friends in college who chilled out all weekend on the sofa, or who are lounging around a lot in general. Its not to say that these people don’t expend energy, but it is less outwardly-focused. Words like subdued, relaxed, chilling, vegging out come to mind.
I bring this up because it is easy to see how different people have different levels of energy. But it is more difficult to see how the same person brings different energy to a situation. Especially when that person is you. But it’s true — you bring different energy states to different situations. One of my favorite examples is after a bad break-up: You might feel lifeless, half-dead, and incapable of doing anything for days. Twinkie wrappers are starting to accumulate. You might need to wash your hair. (Ew). And then he calls. Suddenly, you’re busy, busy, busy, cleaning up, brushing your hair, putting on your cutest outfit to meet him for coffee.
That’s shifting to a different channel.
How to Shift Your Energy In Negative Situations
If you keep encountering the same negative outcome to a situation, you have to bring a different level of energy to it to begin with. Amongst the highest of energies are joy, peace, enthusiasm/excitement, and gratitude.
For instance, if you are having problems sticking to a diet, there are many ways you can bring joy, peace, enthusiasm/excitement, and gratitude to it. Maybe you cook healthy food, and that brings you joy. Maybe once a week you try a new vegan or vegetarian restaurant or dish that excites you. Maybe you make peace with your body, despite all of its flaws. Maybe you make a mental note to tell yourself one thing you like or are grateful for about your body every time you pass a mirror.
If you are having issues in a friendship or relationship, bring joy to it with shared experiences. Make peace by talking about the underlying or lingering issues. Create enthusiasm or excitement. And tell the other person how grateful you are for them and what you appreciate about them — no matter how small or obvious it may seem.
Any situation you want to change, you just have to bring more (or different) energy to it. That’s the only way to change a negative pattern.
As for me, I’m trying to shift to a different channel in my relationship with food and some of my closer relationships. It’s hard, but learning how to respect my body enough to nourish it better on a more consistent basis, and how to love myself enough to not let others’ opinions of me harm my self-esteem, are keys in me living my best life. And it’s going better, in all regards.
What are your samskaras? I’d love to know! Let’s talk in Comments.
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Photos: Me, recently. | Location: South Side. | Top by Express. | Necklace by Lagos. | Heels: Burberry.