I’ve always enjoyed reading about Buddhism. I think it’s mainly because underneath all of the complicated terminology, history, and mantra, Buddhism is a philosophy that is built on a series of metaphors, which stack on each other like Russian nesting dolls, revealing a tiny piece of truth at the center that resonates in a very intrinsic place for me. There’s a Buddhist concept I read about a few years ago that has worked it’s way back into my mind and caused me to re-examine the course of my life over the last year. The sanskrit word for the concept is vasana, which in one context can be simply identified as “habit energy”.
Of course, as with any religious or philosophical concoction, there’s a million different flavors of vasana. Some folks believe that the inertia of former lives can influence decisions for better or worse in our current incarnations. Some believe that vibrations of our past, once in motion, will physically force our molecules down a path that can only be overcome through conscious physical effort with an opposing frequency. But this week, as thoughts of habit energy have crossed my mind, I find myself drawn to a more practical, more medically modern interpretation of vasana.
The way I understand the research I’ve read regarding brain structure and function, the human mind physically stores memories much in the way that modern computers do. Our bazillion synapse and neuron interactions form physical pathways as we experience life, and the more we reinforce similar physical pathways through repetition, the more stable and lasting those pathways, and their related memories, become. In a fascinating aside, every time we recall a particular memory, our brains attempt to physically recreate all of the connections that formed the original experience. For each connection the brain gets wrong, our memories actually change. Forever. Freaky, I know.
So to me, that means that our behaviors, habits, and initial impressions are hard wired into the physical structure of our brains. Our daily routines and reactions are dictated by the habit energies we have nurtured and repeated over the course of our lives. We process everything through the physical filter of our past experiences, and the behaviors we repeat are driven by pathways in our minds that while hard-wired and resilient, are also adaptable and fickle. The habit energies we have developed due to the experiences of our lives physically guide our daily behaviors because that is how our brains are wired today.
For me, these thoughts are helpful. Over the last year, I’ve embarked on a journey that has been complicated, maddening, and diverse in its challenges. I feel like I’ve been fortunate to grow, then regress, and then re-examine things in such a way that I will be a better person for the experience. I feel that the energies of my habits have been poked and prodded and stirred in such a way that my senses have once again awakened to the possibilities of a future that is better than the present. Not because the present is necessarily flawed, but because my habit energies are being challenged, and only by pushing my mind to physically recreate itself do I feel truly rewarded and satisfied on a very visceral level.
I feel it’s safe to say that the ancient thinkers that developed the concept of vasanas had some insight into a phenomena that is very real. Whether you believe that a former life as an executioner can influence the guilt you feel today, or simply that the structures of the synapses and neurons that have built up in your brain over a lifetime guide your present actions, the fact is that habits are composed, contained and distributed from a tangible place. There’s no reason to fall into the trap that present habits cannot be changed. The reality is that through conscious, intentional repetition of desired behaviors, the hard wiring of our brains can be changed as we see fit. The habit energies we carry into tomorrow can be coerced and coached and gradually ingrained if we find the right techniques and support structures to simply repeat the behaviors we desire until they embed themselves in our corporeal being.
Like moths to flames, we are wired to chase the sun. Our habits and beliefs and biases are products of the places we are born and the paths we have traversed to get to today. I choose to evaluate the energy with which I embrace each moment, and to adapt as the strength of my body allows. There is no reason that the inertia of the missteps of our pasts, both individually and collectively, cannot be redirected into energies that guide us towards fulfilling futures.