Fear, Psychoses, Samskaras and The Ego

What does a person do when faced with extreme situations? Hunker down and face them head-on? Curl up into a fetal ball and hope to weather out whatever is bothering them? A little of both?

Growing up, I have been aware of an ambivalence in me (and sense it in many folks around me as well) — what is the apt reaction to any situation? Should the response be cerebral? Should it be hormone-driven? It’s hard to say…

The fact that events and experiences shape who we are and how we behave is reinforced to me everyday, all the time (both from my introspection into my personal history, as well as upon observing everything that’s happening around me).

Some one I know seems scarred for life, having been picked on and bullied (and sometimes even beaten up) by her elder brother, without any intervention from her parents. That little boy might have had triggers for his bad behavior, but that little girl (now grown up) was afflicted (and affected) for life. 

It takes a hanuman-ine effort to overcome odds that are inflicted on our persons, especially as kids. There is a misconception that children are pliable, they heal faster, they can overcome trauma better than adults. I think that is totally wrong.

Let me give you an example. I am a practitioner of Martial Arts — in that I haven’t  just (still do) trained in the fighting arts and acquired some ability to inflict physical harm onto other; but I also have spent a considerable amount of time and effort working on my mind, conditioning it to think in a certain way, react in a certain way.

For instance, I would read the body language of people around me and try and gauge whether they pose any mortal threat to my person, or whether they might try to harm me in some way. “If they do, this is what I will do. If they do that, I will do this” and so on and so forth. This mental math would ensue at the advent of a possibly threatening figure (in my field of awareness, which when the Vata dosha is aggravated, could be from even the rustling of a leaf).

 In course of my Tai Chi practice (modest and beginner-level), I came to a stage when I started analyzing my motivations. Why do I practice Tai Chi?

Is it the promise of it being the “Supreme Ultimate” fighting style that keeps me going? 

Or perhaps, it’s of it being a wonderful health-preservation and relaxation system? Or is it’s promise of being a Spiritually transformative system that draws me to it…

As I meditate (more so when I introspect), these thoughts gnaw away at my awareness. My attempt to write is motivated by a few different things —

  1. There is some “weight” I need to get off my chest
  2. This is my attempt to retire Rudra, my web persona, who had reasonable success as an internet writer/blogger. I feel Rudra has served his purpose, and though he will remain a part of me, I cannot let Rudra get away with me (or perhaps I’m plain cuckoo)

…………………

 I started learning Goju Ryu karate back in 1995 after an altercation I had with someone I had considered my friend, but was rooted in another incident that haunted me for a long time from around 1993. Those were the days and times of youthful adventurism and braggadocio, and I might have said a few things to instigate what I am going to describe next.

A few of my school companions (in this journey called life), joined a pre-university college, renowned in my hometown for it’s rough-and-tumble ways, rowdyism and cockiness amongst it’s male students (as is apt if the culture of the institution is that of shake-downs and beat-ups). Any how, I however, went to study in a  High-school, steeped in the tradition of extremism (from the other side of the spectrum) in academic excellence (albeit, I must confess, I failed to live up to the mark in that respect) and go-getters.

I don’t remember the exact details (it has been close to a couple of decades now), but in a conversation with one of my PUC friends, I happened to say something about his college, that he took offense to. So, he went back to his cronies and plotted to “shake me up” a bit and “put me in my place”. One fine day, as I was walking back from school (I opted to walk the 4-5 km to and from home, because in my peer-pressured adolescent mind, I couldn’t realize that my father did not want to jeopardize my life with a motorcycle (as was the norm), nor could he afford it at that juncture in his life (supporting two teenagers) and refused to ride my bicycle to school…any how I digress more that I normally do), a group of about fifteen boys (about my age) on motorcycles of various kinds surrounded me in one desolate stretch. I looked around to see some familiar faces and found two or three (two former classmates and one neighbor’s son) and the rest looking rather angry and violent (or maybe it was just my imagination).

 Now I will be very honest about my reaction at that point — I was scared, and started to tremble, with the adrenaline-driven “Fight or Flight response” kicking in (and in this particular case it leaned towards Flight). But yet, I stood my ground and took my assailants threats, insults and intimidation silently. The episode must have lasted about five or ten minutes, but it left a huge mark on my psyche for years to come. My reaction (I still remember it, clear as day) shifted from  fear to humiliation to relief (to have survived the ordeal with my teeth intact) to indignant anger. I seethed deep down, a terrible anger burrowing in my chest, which I internalized and carried on for another year or so. 

 About a year after this, I developed severe asthma and literally lost twenty odd kilograms of weight in a period of less than two months (I settled at around 50 kilos or so). I couldn’t realize the cause of the problem  and my parents went crazy trying to find a cure (my father lugged me around hospitals to homeopathic to ayurvedic doctors) or at least some relief. I finally settled for extreme doses of steroids, broncodialators and ocassional trips to the ER (from respiratory emergencies). 

Now the reader might be wondering, why my sorry story is relevant to the topic of discussion (but do bear with me a little longer and the reason will become self-evident).

By now, I had developed a deep-rooted insecurity about my capabilities as a hunter-provider (I had two shining examples in the form of my Father and Paternal Grandfather, both of whom had the temper and reckless courage typical of the class of landed Gentry that my Grandfather belonged to) and become extremely sensitive to any attacks on my person (usually imagined) which I would mentally rehearse combatting with extreme physical violence. But I still couldn’t muster  up enough wherewithal to broach the topic of Self defense with my parents or myself for that matter. I guess I dealt with it as any other teenager would, bottled it up and masked it beneath the facade of stoic indifference to the goings-on around me and  utter contempt for the rest of the world.

I had a couple more altercations with a college-mate (while studying Engineering), that pushed me full-fledged into the mesmerizing world of the Martial Arts. I have always had this bad habit of voicing my opinion when I saw something happening (which I deemed unjust or wrong). This had gotten me into trouble as a kid, but the last altercation ended up with my antagonist (mentally unstable person) pulling a knife on me. At that point I walked away, because I would probably had gotten stabbed had I continued.

But I found a Karate school near my home which trained some serious looking people (not the usual school of kids of privileged backgrounds), run by a little lady (who also happened to be a lawyer by profession). In this school were some tough ones (a aspiring martial artist who worked as a waiter at a local restaurant, a Gangster who split his time between my hometown and Bangalore and Madras, to name a few). Any way, my teacher asked me why I wanted to learn and I spilt the beans. She told me to start practising and said the next time some one tries to pick on you, give him such a thrashing that they would never dare mess with anyone again.

Being a small city, I guess people found out that I was practising Martial Arts and stopped bothering me (I suspect that  this might be eerily similar to the “I have a black belt…look my belt is black” case…but I like to believe otherwise).

………………… 

Okay, so now that I have bored you with my personal history, let me delve into what it is exactly that I was trying to articulate. The meditation that is part of Tai Chi, starts bringing to the surface issues that need to be resolved, before the practitioner can continue on the Tao way. Taoist Master Bruce Frantzis mentions that the Chinese call these “Inner Demons”(in his book titled “Relaxing into your being” from his Taoist Water Meditation series) and these have to be resolved for a practitioner to move on to the next level of meditation.

These demons are different for different people…behavior patterns and tendency to put ourselves in situations that weirdly seem to repeat themselves in various permutations and combinations, things that affect each and every one of us (at least those of us who aren’t realized masters anyhow), in a very unique way. 

Well what is it that is repeated? The Habits, Attitudes and behaviors. These are known as [[Samskaras]] in Yogic parlance.  When the mind slows down enough, the thoughts themselves become evident, as become their roots and triggers. Observing the mind (which happens with any meditation technique), leads one to come face to face with these Samskaras. That’s when the drama starts!

Something (or someone) starts running off with a thought that might have been triggered by something completely benign, such as a casual comment or  a aural or visual cue.  One thing leads to another and off we go, down the same rabbit hole (or one of several, or perhaps even several at a time), again and again. The mental climate this cycle creates, leads people to turn towards things that desensitize them to the pain and impact of these patterns. And we have nicotine, alcohol, drug dependencies. Or perhaps the person becomes addicted to specific behavior patterns and/or tendencies (derangements of behavior, phobias, manias, etc).  Please note that I am in no position to discuss these topics from a professional capacity. These are my personal observations and inferences based on my discussions with those who are more knowledgeable than me, and by reading books by Masters of Yoga, meditation and Taoism.

 So one of my demons (I think) I realized recently was this little beast, one of the foundational pillars of my Ego-props. The self that was “natural” and uninhibited, became restrained, strained and artificial, at least in part triggered by the incident that happened in my past. And that started a cycle that caused both psychological as well as physiological problems that affected me for a great part of my late-teens and early adult life.

How I came to terms with it? It is an ongoing process, which involves taking the self a little less seriously (at least during practice) and learning to ignore the frenetic attention-seeking tactics of another little player in this game — The [[Ego]].

While we went over the stories, and the description of what happens, there was one common factor that was happening. I was referring to something/someone that lived these experiences. I would not be surprised if you dear reader, read my story and tried to draw parallels to things that might have happened to you in your life.

But who is this “I” that we have encountered here? The wise ones who went before us call it the “I maker” or [[Ahamkara]]. It’s role is to act as a mechanism via which a sentient being can live within a social structure/system without going completely “mad” (or being incarcerated or institutionalized — loony bin)…this is of course my simplistic definition of Ahamkara. See my previous article (The Maya and Karma Conundrum) for details on other aspects of the same thing, such as Maya and Karma.

So, think of the Ego as the programming that keeps running you as you, asserting and reinforcing your identity. The Ego is also the Security guard and keeper of your individuality, which will invoke/evoke any reaction possible (with the constraints of circumstantial criterion) to protect this identity and individuality.

For normal functioning, when not malfunctioning, the Ego keeps us going, makes us tick. For Spiritual pursuits however, it is a hurdle beyond a certain stage. The Ego will try everything in it’s capabilities to prevent one from the ultimate goal of the practice, merging with the Infinite and discovering the Universal unity of all things. Why so? Because this realization (that everything is One), is in complete violation of the self-identity that we live with in our mundane life…

The natural question/reasoning that would follow would go like this — “If that is real (Universal Oneness), then Who/What am I?”

With the splitting of the self into the Observer and Observed, the Experiencer and the objective observer, one thing becomes clear. That who is experiencing is not really that who is observing. Why? Because without that being the case, objectivity would not be possible. 

 So during meditation, when the existence of this Ego is threatened, it will start bringing forth hurdles that prevent you from progessing deeper into meditation, without getting resolved first. Ergo, the Inner Demons. Perhaps it is meant to be that way, to struggle to get beyond one’s personal history and to discard one’s samskaras.

I am still learning…but I thought I’d share it with the Medhavis, and maybe we can swap some stories, share insights.

Humbly yours…

Dwai

 

 

 

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