The constructed self is a wonderful thing. If we see it as a house that we built ourselves for ourselves, each time we tear it down, within a week it’s back up again.
But each time we realize one of its design principles, the reincarnation of the house is a shadow of its former self. Instead of being built of stone, it’s built of sand.
And then the next layer of the constructed self comes up. Voila, a new house.
There are also vasanas and there are vasanas. Root vasanas are the behavior patterns that many subsidiary vasanas hang from. The subsidiary vasanas can be thought of as strings of pearls upon the necklace of the root vasana.
In my work to deconstruct the house that Steve built, I’ve come upon a root vasana so subtle that I might never have caught it but for awareness and vigilance.
What I’m about to describe is a root trigger, a trigger that sets off and so leads to everything else, a trigger that takes me out of the blue and into the red, out of trusting and into mistrusting, out of openness and into defenciveness.
Once this trigger goes off, I am on rails, automatic, a robot. I’m a stimulus/response machine after that, no heart, not even a sense of free will.
Here I go. I’m about to say what it is. (Wait for it.)
The root trigger is a startle.
Yes, just an ordinary startle. Something ordinary happened today. It was so ordinary that I didn’t make a note of it. But it startled me and at that moment I also became angry. The two were indelibly linked.
The whole event took a fraction of a millisecond. I would never have seen it unless I knew what I was looking for or what was happening.
I was in the bath, with no computer keyboard in sight, so I recreated and remained with the startle.
And I realized that the memory the startle was linked to revealed a boundary I had created (since all of this is my creation) between my life as Heaven on Earth and my life as Hell.
That startle is connected to the first time my Dad ever struck me.
No, I need to refine that. It’s connected to the first time my Dad hit me and I knew it wasn’t an accident and no one came when I cried and I realized what had happened.
It was on that occasion that my whole worldview came into question. From that initial rupture in the fabric of my reality came, gradually, mistrust, no love, skepticism, cynicism and all the rest.
That startle is the light switch, the activator button for all that follows and all of my subsidiary vasanas are hooked up to it.
The “vasana” connected to the root trigger contains the explosive startle, the ripple of fear, and the residual feelings of forlornness, abandonment, injustice, etc. The conclusions were “You can’t trust anybody” and “nobody cares.” And the decision was to protect myself.
What to do? What to do?
Just be with it. Remain aware of it, Goenka would say, (1) with a calm and quiet mind, a settled and equanimous mind.
Awareness will dissolve it. And love will wash away all traces of it.
When I’m restored to love again, there will be one major, major obstacle that will have been removed.
(1) S.N. Goenka, Vipassana meditation master.