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Dropping the ego-based stories about cause and effect

The darling son Theodore used to wake up around 6:30 each morning. And so I decided to set my alarm at 6. “I’ll have some time to get some hot water together, do a few stretches, meditate…it’ll be great.” 

So I did it. I set my alarm, I woke up at 6, got to do all of these little routines, and baby woke up at 6:35. SUCCESS! I felt so proud of myself and grateful for that time. 

I set my alarm for the next day. 6am. Guess who started to cry at approximately 6:01am? I’ll give you a clue — his name starts with T and rhymes with Rio. 

Frustrating, but OK! I can handle this. The baby isn’t a machine, he’s going to wake up at different times each day. I should probably just set my alarm for 5:30, so if he has an earlier wake up, I still have some time to myself. And if he sleeps until 6:30…it’s just a great bonus! 

So I did it. I set my alarm, I woke up at 5:30, got to do all of these little routines, and then baby woke up around 6:15am. SUCCESS! I beat the system. I created enough of a buffer to ensure I could get my solo time before he woke up. 

I set my alarm for the next day. 5:30am. And the baby started crying at approximately 5:34. Hmm…. 

In that moment, I started to ascribe meaning to his earlier wake-up. 
-I set my alarm, and he wakes up earlier. 
-I set my alarm earlier, and he wakes up even earlier! 
-Obviously, these two things are causally related. 

I took it as a sign that I don’t deserve, need, or have right to that alone time in the morning. Or I thought that I just shouldn’t even set an alarm because for some strange reason he’ll sleep longer if I don’t have one. 

I’ve had many clients express similar fears or concerns. They started doing all of the “right things”, but they haven’t seen any positive results. They’re meditating but still having trouble sleeping, or communicating better but haven’t met someone that’s relationship material. They’re exercising but haven’t seen any muscle growth, or trying to be positive but still finding themselves mired in despair. 

Many of us are familiar with the term karma and use it to explain why good things happen to good people and vice versa. Ayurveda also comes back to this idea of cause and effect frequently as a way that we can determine which habits and routines bring us into balance (or take us away from it).

But so often we get overly simplistic in our understanding of these phenomena. We expect the effect to be immediate and obvious. We want instant gratification. And these stories we create about cause and effect often aren’t rooted in truth – they’re rooted in ego-based stories that can easily be mistaken and misinterpreted.

The Yoga Sūtras talk about 5 different types of thought or knowledge. These vṛttis are right perception, wrong perception, verbal delusion, sleep, and memory (pramāṇa, viparyaya, vikalpa, nidrā, and smṛti.)

So often the stories we’re telling ourselves are based on wrong perception (Theo woke up earlier because I woke up earlier) or verbal delusion (Theo woke up earlier because unseen forces don’t want me to get alone time in the morning). 

As the Yoga Sūtras tell us, these wrong perceptions and verbal delusions can cause pain. Part of our work as humans is to recognize that many of our thoughts are based on wrong perception or verbal delusion and there could be other reasons for what we’re experiencing. When we open ourselves to these other reasons, we can loosen our grip on blame and certainty. When we’re not caught up in blaming ourselves or others, we can dive back into our inner knowing and choose how to proceed.

For my example about morning alarms, if I attribute Theo’s early wake up time to my alarm (knowing that it wasn’t actually hearing my alarm), I create stories about why I shouldn’t try to get that alone time or to go a little *too* enthusiastic and set my alarm to 4am “just in case.” 

If I recognize that those are ego-based stories, I can take a step back and see this situation as simply information. First, it’s a reminder that there is uncertainty in this world, and I can’t control his wake up times. But it also means that if alone time is really important to me, I need to look for other solutions. And so (I’m quite grateful to this) I was able to talk with my husband and set him up to be on wake-up duty, so I could set my alarm and get up, knowing that if Theo cried, we were covered. 

We humans have a lot of capabilities. We manage complex careers, navigate family dynamics, and take care of our own health and well-being (which is no small feat). This can give us a false sense of control as situations and stories unfold in our lives. But karma isn’t always obvious. It isn’t always quick and immediate. And in Patanjali’s Yoga Sūtra system, karmic debts can be paid across lifetimes, so you might not ever “know” exactly why something is happening. 

Our opportunity in these moments is to notice the ego-based stories, ask ourselves if there are other options, and then turn towards what our values are. When we know what it is we want to be and how it is we want to feel, we can choose actions that bring us closer to balance, instead of getting caught in blame and shame.

Can you think of a situation when you attributed a cause and effect that may not have been rooted in fact, but rather in wrong perception or delusion? What alternatives exist? And knowing that, what action could bring you closer to living in your values?  

I’d love to hear your responses to this note. Simply reply to this email to let me know what resonates with you.

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