Experiences and impressions stay with us. Some of them come through as distinct visual memories and some are less obvious, but all experiences leave a residue. This residue or feeling that stays with us is called a vāsana.
My mom has been a gardener as long as I remember. In the house I grew up in, there were flowerbeds, 2 feet deep, right along the outside of the house. There was another wider bed that traveled along the edge of the rock wall at the perimeter of the yard. The straight line edges of the flower beds framed the green grass in the middle kind of like those backyards in a David Hockney painting. My mom spent a lot of time planting flowers and other lovely green things in that yard. She watered and pulled weeds and kept all of those plants alive and well for years.
It’s funny what we remember. As I’m thinking about my mom and gardening at that house on the cul-de-sac in El Paso, there’s a particular moment I recall and think of often. I am probably seven years old, and I followed the sidewalk around the side of the house. I find my mom sitting on the narrow cement path with a pile of weeds by her hip and one of those little 6-pack plastic planters of sweet alyssum in her hands. She doesn’t have gloves on and her hands are covered with loamy soil, which is kind of amazing since the whole yard seems to be made up of hard, rocky, lime-rich caliche. Maybe the soil came with the new little plants. As she digs and plants, she says something about how my dad told her that he doesn’t really like this particular flower, so she’s putting it on the side of the house instead of in the back yard.
I thought that was funny because I didn’t know my dad had an opinion on flowers and plants and until that moment, I hadn’t ever considered having an opinion on plants, either. I thought it was nice of my mom to change her plan to accommodate my dad’s preference, even though she clearly loved the hearty plant with tiny white flowers. Maybe most importantly, I felt grown up because she let me in on this adult conversation and gave me a glimpse of what compromise can look like.
Vāsanas can be positive, negative or neutral, but these impressions of our experiences influence how we are in the world. It’s part of what makes up our personality and informs how we respond to things that happen in our lives. Some impressions or vāsanas have been with us so long, that we aren’t even aware of how much they are influencing our behavior and our perception. If we aren’t conscious of what’s going on, it’s really difficult to address necessary issues. It’s too slippery. We start blaming the more obvious stuff and can miss the deeper need.
I’ve been attempting to pay attention to the memories that come to me in a quiet moment and reflect on what vāsanas are there. I try to notice what I think about when I’m not trying to think about anything. Sometimes I succeed and can revisit a memory, like seeing my mom planting things in my childhood backyard. The memory moves into the light and I might gain some insight about why that particular memory has stayed with me so vividly. I find that since I’ve started working with vāsanas and memories in this way, I’m a little surprised by what I find, which is funny because they’ve been there all along.