Who makes your choices?
By Nancy B. Loughlin

Published in News Press on January 26, 2016

I once asked a holistic healer to find the root of my bad decision making.

It wasn’t a big deal. I just wanted to know why I engaged in the same repetitive patterns of emotions, responses and decisions that always blew up in my face.

She produced a crystal pendulum, and I raised an eyebrow.

I had seen simple pendulum dowsing before. Ask a question, and, if the pendulum rotated in a circle, the answer was yes.  If it rocked side to side, it was no.

This was a more sophisticated operation.  The table chart below the swinging stone was a vast matrix of all possible traumatic life experiences, some minor, some apocalyptic.

While the pendulum danced, she spoke to the “channels,” and she thanked the pendulum for revealing the diagnosis.

“In your past lives, you have torture, terror and persecution.”

I gasped.

What was I supposed to do now? Did I need a past-life regression so I could know once and for all what happened?

With a wag of her finger, she told me not to go there.

“Everyone’s got this stuff behind them,” she said. “Just skip the drama because you’ll never know.”

She was right.


We may think our decisions are compelled by rational thought and by weighing the evidence in front of us.

That’s hardly the case. Much of our motivation lurks in the unconscious mind, forever inaccessible to the conscious mind.

In his terrific book “Subliminal,” scientist Dr. Leonard Mlodinow acknowledges it’s difficult to accept we may not be aware of what causes much of our behavior.  In fact, a growing body of scientific research reveals that people are more influenced by unconscious desires and motivations than they realize.

All of our actions and experiences make impressions on us. In the yogic perspective, these impressions are samskaras, the grooves left in our “mindfield,”in the words of Pandit Tigunait, the spiritual head of the Himalayan Institute.

The more we engage in the same behavior and experience, the deeper the samskaras get and dictate likes and dislikes and desires, establishing patterns.

“Samskaras are the lyrical level of what neurologists know on the cellular level,” Dr. Mlodinow said in a telephone interview.

The cycle begins with our earliest life experiences. But, some yogis might argue a child is born with a full karmic slate of samskaras from past lives.

Here is where yogis and researchers agree:  The roots of our choices, whether they are from past lives or “past lives,” are often buried in our unconscious minds, out of consciousness’ reach.

So what do you do?

How do you address a karmic slate of torture, terror and persecution if you don’t know what it is?  The answer is easy.


If you want to delve into the past and probe ancient wounds, far be it from me to dissuade a determined soul from this brutal treasure hunt.  You might unearth some gems and poignant revelatory memories, but there will be nagging questions since an X doesn’t mark the spot in the unconscious.

Therapy, talking about the past, journaling feelings and hypnosis can all yield benefits for the right people.  Just know you don’t have to know how you wound up in the cage before you kick yourself out.

Step One: Calm Down.

When you’re triggered by fear, guilt, shame, grief, dishonesty, self-deception and attachment, when the “Here We Go Again” decision detonates, reboot.

Place one hand on your head and one on your stomach.  Close your eyes, breathe deep and allow your belly to expand.  Open your mouth and release chants of “om” until your mind stills.

Step Two:  Become an observer.

The most difficult task in this meditation is to observe rather than experience the emotion.

Stop equating yourself with your emotional state in your speech.  If you want to say “I am angry” or “I am embarrassed,” greet the emotion as if it’s a visitor instead:  “Here’s fear,” and “Is that insecurity again?”

Start to notice the circumstances of your responses rather than digging for ancient roots of trauma.  Under what circumstances do you flee relationships, envy the good fortune of others, curse out critics?

Step Three:  Create new samskaras.

Once you are aware of the circumstances of your reactions, consciously and with intention, create new, positive samskaras.  If you’re ready to tell that friend who made one mistake to go to blazes, send a forgiveness text and an invitation for a walk.  Send congratulatory cards to everyone who is enjoying good fortune.

And the critic?  “I’m sure you had a personal reason for saying that.  Just know the reason doesn’t matter because it’s probably buried in your unconscious.”