How to destroy a vasana (example 1): I am a coward

In this article, I’ll describe in detail how I destroyed a vasana which had tormented me for decades.

Vasanas must be destroyed in order to realize the Self.

This particular vasana was painful because it made me hate myself. Painful, self-hating vasanas are especially insidious.

First I’ll tell you how the vasana got created.

When I was nine years old, while playing with other boys at an abandoned construction site, an accident occurred and one of the boys’ legs was nearly severed. Suddenly he was flat on the ground and the long muscles of his thigh lay spilled on the snow like spaghetti in tomato sauce. For a few seconds the other boys and I stood motionless staring at the insides of his body. Then I shouted “I’ll get an ambulance! Somebody go tell his mother!”

I began to run. In those days, long before the invention of mobile phones, police call boxes were installed on poles on sidewalks. These small metal boxes contained telephones that were connected permanently to police headquarters. I had often seen cops use them to communicate with their dispatchers, and I knew — or at least I assumed — that I could use one of these phones to call an ambulance.

But I was afraid an adult might reprimand me or disapprove of me or get angry at me if I used these phones so I ran past about ten of them. I was scared of adults, especially cops.

My fear of adults was stronger than my concern that my friend might be bleeding to death.

I ran until I reached the main part of town where stores were located. I could have gone into any store and asked an adult to call an ambulance, but I was afraid of adults so I didn’t.

I just kept running and running and running past dozens of stores and dozens of adults until I couldn’t run any further. I never called an ambulance. Eventually I went back to the accident site. I thought I might find my friend dead from blood loss but luckily somebody else had called an ambulance and he had been taken to a hospital.

I was so ashamed of myself that a month later I tried to commit suicide by skating off the edge of ice on a pond and drowning. A very brave teenager, 16 or 17 years old, a genuine hero, dashed up to the edge of the ice and pulled me out. Now, nearly 60 years later, I can still see the blades of his hockey skates skidding sideways to a stop inches from my face as I bobbed up and down in the black water.

The contrast between that heroic teenager and me could not have been greater. He risked his life to save mine, but I was so afraid of making an adult angry that I was willing to let my friend bleed to death.

The injured boy and I remained friends. During the following year, while he lay in bed recuperating from numerous surgeries, I visited him often. He had heard me yell, “I’ll get an ambulance”, had assumed I had done so, and had told this to his mother. Every time I went to his house she would hug me and thank me for saving her son’s life. My shame and guilt were off the charts. I despised myself. I never told her the truth. I never told anybody the truth until many years later.

Like I said, those events occurred when I was nine years old. For the next 54 years not a day went by when I didn’t recall those shameful memories and hate myself for what I did. The memory haunted me. Every time the memory rose it brought thoughts like these:

I am a coward.

I almost let somebody die.

I am despicable.

I hate myself.

Over and over and over. I probably thought those thoughts more than a million times during the course of my life. I was usually lost in thought when they occurred and only dimly aware that I was thinking them, but nonetheless they affected my mood. They became a permanent part of my personality and inner world. As the years passed I became an adult and eventually turned into an old man but these thoughts and feelings never weakened and never went away.

How did I deal with those thoughts? In two main ways:

1. I ignored them. In other words, I paid as little attention to them as possible while I was thinking them. This was easy to do since like most people I was usually lost in thought and in that state, I barely knew what I was thinking.

2. I tried to take the sting out of these thoughts by telling myself things like, “For God’s sake, you were only nine years old. You were a little kid. Stop being so hard on yourself.”

Neither of those two strategies made the thoughts go away.

Please note — this is one of the main points of this article — those two strategies don’t work.

Those two strategies are examples of resistance. I tried to resist the thoughts. The opposite of resistance is acceptance. As I will describe below, the vasana finally got destroyed through acceptance of the thoughts.

The main purpose of this article is to tell you how I finally destroyed this vasana. When I say “destroy” I mean that the feelings and self-hating thoughts are gone. They aren’t repressed. They are completely, totally gone. I still have memories of the events of that day but they no longer rise up compulsively and they no longer bother me. I haven’t thought about this event in months and right now, as I think about it in order to write this article, I feel nothing about it.

I’m going to digress a little to explain what brought me to the point of destroying the vasana because some people will find it interesting. The short explanation is that something happened that made me wonder whether I had a karmic scar in my heart chakra. But it doesn’t matter what brought me to that point. It could have been anything and the technique that destroyed the vasana would have been the same. Please feel free to skip the next three paragraphs if you want to focus on the main thread of this article.

For several years before the day on which I destroyed the vasana, I had felt a chronic energetic (i.e. quasi-physical) turbulence in my chest, a sort of bubbling or turmoil. It wasn’t painful or uncomfortable but it seemed undesirable and I wondered what it meant. I also had various chronic health problems including migraines. Shortly before I destroyed the vasana, I happened to see a Batgap interview with an intuitive healer named Eric Isen and the thought popped into my head, “Maybe this man can help me,” so I arranged a one-hour Skype session with him.

Eric told me something like, “You’ve got a huge karmic scar in your heart chakra. I’ve rarely seen anything this extreme. You must have died in a previous life at Nagasaki or something like that to get such a severe scar. Hot energy is pouring out of it and rising to your head, causing the migraines.”

I didn’t know whether Eric was right, and I have never had any conscious memories of a past life, but because of what he said, for the next few weeks I kept trying to find a memory that I could connect to a huge karmic scar in my heart chakra. If such a scar really existed, I assumed it had been caused by something that I didn’t know consciously. Something hidden and unknown that needed to be revealed.

That’s the end of the digression. We’ve now reached the main point of this article and I’ll describe how the vasana got destroyed.

One night I asked the Goddess to show me the event that caused this karmic scar, if in fact the scar was really there. A vivid clear image of two faces appeared in my mind. I didn’t recognize them but they didn’t look like people today from any part of the world, so I thought they may have lived thousands of years ago. I didn’t know who those people were or what they represented.

Then I thought of the day I ran past the police call boxes and I realized, “That was the cause of the karmic scar.”

I said to myself, “Could this familiar, well-known memory of the day I ran past police call boxes really be the cause of a severe karmic scar?”

I answered myself, “Well, I suppose it’s possible because that was probably the most shameful thing I ever did in my 63 years.”

This surprised me a little because it had never occurred to me before that this was the most shameful thing I had ever done in my entire life, including my adult life.

The reason this hadn’t occurred to me was because I hadn’t really thought about the incident since I was nine. Oh sure, thoughts about it had kept rising in my mind for the whole rest of my life, but they were the same thoughts that had first occurred to me at age nine.

Do you see what I mean? For more than 50 years I had kept remembering the thoughts that first occurred to me at age nine, and I had kept trying to ignore them or push them away, but that’s not the same thing as thinking a new thought with my adult mind.

Replaying old thoughts is a very limited form of thinking.

Replaying old thoughts is almost the definition of vasana. Vasana means your brain keeps falling into the same rut over and over.

Spontaneously I wondered — it’s hard to put this in words but it was a natural ordinary thought — “What really should I think about what happened that day? What’s the truth of it?”

In a perfectly natural way, I turned my adult intelligence toward that day and considered what I thought about it now. Not what I had thought at age nine, but what I thought now at age 63.

I did this without flinching. I did this without cringing. I did this without trying to avoid seeing anything.

I did this in a very relaxed way, the way you’d look at something about which you have no strong feelings.

I didn’t do anything fancy. I didn’t do anything that requires yoga or meditation. I just used my ordinary adult mind, my ordinary adult intelligence, my ordinary adult knowledge, to see what I really should think about the events of that day.

The only way anything yogic or spiritual came into this is that my experiences with those sorts of things probably helped me use my adult intelligence in this way without flinching or cringing, because my spiritual experiences had given me a conviction that I am always safe, I am always protected, nothing can hurt me.

Within a few seconds, here’s what I realized:

1. I really was a coward that day, and I really did a very bad thing. I was old enough to know better. The friend really might have died.

2. Nine-year-old Freddie believed those things, and he was right.

3. The reason why the events of that day have always bothered me so much is that in actual fact, I have always been a coward, and that day revealed how extraordinarily cowardly I am.

4. My cowardice has been a life-long trait. It didn’t disappear as I got older.

5. I have always hated the fact that I am a coward.

I realized, “That’s the bottom line. I’m a coward and have always been a coward and I hate that fact. I hate it.”

I looked at that fact: I’m a coward and I hate it.

I thought, “That’s really true. It’s a fact.”

And then I thought, “So what?”

And I realized, “So nothing. I hate something about myself, but nothing has to follow from that. I don’t have to do anything about it. It’s just how things are. It’s just one of the many aspects of the world that I don’t like.”

The world is full of things that I dislike, and the fact that I’m a coward is one of them, and that’s just how it is. So what? I can live with that.

That’s what destroyed the vasana. That thought, that acceptance, that understanding, that realization, destroyed the vasana.

I didn’t cringe or flinch or look away, and I didn’t minimize what I disliked. I fully admitted the truth of what bothered me.

Instantly the vasana got destroyed. I knew it. I felt it happen. Amazingly, there was something like a physical sensation in my brain, a tiny ping! as if a small piece of my brain got cauterized. I could almost see a puff of smoke.

The whole process took only a minute, maybe two minutes at most.

In the weeks and months and years that followed, it turned out that the vasana was really gone. It has never risen up again in the form of bothersome thoughts. I no longer feel anything about the events of that day.

In the thirty-three years since I became a spiritual seeker I’ve had a number of astonishing experiences, but I think this was probably the most astonishing. Thoughts and emotions about this event had tormented me for more than 50 years, and then suddenly, in just a minute or two, in a simple natural way, all these thoughts and emotions got completely destroyed and never bothered me again. And I was perfectly conscious of the process and I watched it happen and I understood completely how it occurred.

If I had to pick one word to summarize what happened, I would say acceptance.

I accepted a very particular thing: my negative judgments about myself: I am a coward, etc.

I accepted them in a very particular way:  by acknowledging that they were true.  (If I had decided they were false there would have been no problem.  They hurt me only because I honestly believed that they were true.)

Since then I’ve seen other vasanas get destroyed both in myself and other people, and I’m going to describe some of those other experiences in future articles.

You may be thinking, what about your fear of adults? Wasn’t that the real vasana, the cause of everything you describe here? Yes, but that vasana is another story.

In case you read the digression above and are wondering whether the energetic turbulence in my chest ended when the vasana died, yes it did but the migraines continued. After I wrote this article last week I talked to Eric Isen again, the spiritual healer, and asked him if he still saw a karmic scar in my heart chakra. He said there was only a trace of it left.

Other posts in this series

How to destroy a vasana (example 2): Julia’s grandmother

How to destroy a vasana (example 3): Julia’s father

18 thoughts to “How to destroy a vasana (example 1): I am a coward”

  1. Great article, I love it!!
    I am in a workshop as a leader and we are trying to get rid of our vasanas.
    One thing we tried yesterday is to visualize the traumatic sight and chant
    AUM or do Kapala Balthi breathing at the same time.
    THis worked. Our image of the sight got changed and also understanding came to some people while understanding is not there for some people, but there was no more bad feeling about the incident all the same. Understanding is the great healer!! Pema Devi

  2. Hi Pema Devi! I’m delighted that you wrote. What a great surprise! This is the article that you and I talked about last year. I was going to send you an email to tell you that I finally got around to writing and publishing it, but you beat me to it. A week or two ago, while I wrote this, I was thinking that to some extent I was writing it for you. 🙂

    A workshop to get rid of vasanas is a great idea

    I agree, understanding is a great healer, but in the episode I describe above, I think acceptance was the major factor. It was an acceptance not of the real-life events but of my thoughts about the events.

    1. Yes, the first thing that has to happen for me is willingness to recognize it is my problem, my vasana therefore I want to do something about it. That concious decision is the most important thing for me.
      Once decision comes, I know various methods to deal with it.
      But how cunning ego is!! Ego is always trying to avoid facing by rationalizing itself by projection.
      Having a spiritual teacher /honest friend who can point out my vasana helps a great deal in facing myself.

  3. I will try it out
    What’s disturbing in these kind of memories is the emotional response they cause, which depends on the meanings we attach to them. Every experience, per se, is emotionally neutral. It’s when we formulate judgements about it that it starts to become either pleasant or painful.
    In your case, as you noted, what caused pain was your thought/self-judgement that you are a coward, rather than the event. This is very clear because in the very moment when you did experience the actual event as a kid, you probably experienced fear, anxiety, etc..but you were not suffering as you did afterwards, because you yet had to deliberate that you had behaved cowardly. Your suffering got even amplified by judging the thought that you are a coward as something unbearable, shameful, unacceptable.
    what you seem to have done is therefore to take away all of these layers of thoughts. In particular, you experienced the thought “I am a coward” as bearable. You “decatastrophize” as it’s said in psychology, you reasoned that even if it were true, your world would not come to an end. So you ceased to experience anxiety and shame about it. I think it can get even deeper by realizing that in that occasion you did behave in a cowardly manner, but that a single behavior, although highly impactful, cannot determine the entire self of a person. Also, in psychology it’s held that people behave in a way that helps them to cope the best they can. Your social anxiety with adults was probably highly threatening to you, so much as to make you irrational and behave against your best judgement, as when we have high anxiety we are naturally driven to avoid the situation causing anxiety.

    In any case, an useful exercise is to try to take our emotions and thoughts, and facts, with as little judgement as possible. Realize that judgements and labels are useful at times but they are always only partially true because there is nothing in actual reality that a judgement directly points to. Being thoughts they always are arbitrary (even if they may have a large social consensus)

    1. In your case, as you noted, what caused pain was your thought/self-judgement that you are a coward, rather than the event.

      Yep. I think that’s one of the main points: my pain was caused by self-judgment (negative thoughts about myself). The event didn’t cause pain but maybe we should say that the the event “raised the volume” of the pain because the friend almost died, making it a very serious matter. There were many other occasions in my life when I was cowardly but they left no impression because they weren’t important. This one left a huge impression because the friend almost died.

      what you seem to have done is therefore to take away all of these layers of thoughts. In particular, you experienced the thought “I am a coward” as bearable. You “decatastrophize” as it’s said in psychology, you reasoned that even if it were true, your world would not come to an end. So you ceased to experience anxiety and shame about it.

      Yep, that’s exactly it except I don’t think there was any “if it’s true.” I accepted that the thoughts ARE true. Full acceptance. Zero resistance.

      It occurs to me now as I write this, that this is the exact opposite of Byron Katie’s “Work” method. She teaches people to recognize that their thoughts are false, but I destroyed this vasana by accepting that the thoughts were true.

      I didn’t know the word “decatastrophize”. Thanks for teaching me.

      I think it can get even deeper by realizing that in that occasion you did behave in a cowardly manner, but that a single behavior, although highly impactful, cannot determine the entire self of a person. Also, in psychology it’s held that people behave in a way that helps them to cope the best they can. Your social anxiety with adults was probably highly threatening to you, so much as to make you irrational and behave against your best judgement, as when we have high anxiety we are naturally driven to avoid the situation causing anxiety.

      I think this is all true even though I’m not an expert about these things. But I want to emphasize for other readers that I destroyed this vasana by focusing on a tiny “point of intervention.” The point of intervention was, “I accept these painful thoughts by recognizing that they are true.”

      In any case, an useful exercise is to try to take our emotions and thoughts, and facts, with as little judgement as possible. Realize that judgements and labels are useful at times but they are always only partially true because there is nothing in actual reality that a judgement directly points to. Being thoughts they always are arbitrary (even if they may have a large social consensus)

      This may be so. This may be excellent advice, and it may help people. But I think it’s the opposite of what I described above. In this case I judged the event; accepted the conclusions as true; and accepted that state of affairs.

      After I did this, I no longer had to worry whether the thoughts are true or not, because I stopped thinking about them. I no longer had to worry about the emotions because they stopped occurring.

      1. I myself apply the methods that I wrote about and they do work in lowering a lot the painful emotions associated with many events. They literally break many mind loops down, and many problems seem to simply disappear.

        I point out the similarities with spiritual work especially because I think that, although Vasanas are a hindrance to spiritual progress, they still seem like the same psychological material which therapist normally deal with (with various degrees of success).

        While I do not argue with your method (especially since it works), I would be careful with taking a judgement as real, since by definition it is arbitrary. It’s also used in psychology (especially third wave Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) to accept emotions and thoughts as they are, but one needs to remember that they still are thoughts. I think it’s great that you stopped suffering for that memory + judgement, but still know that you accepted the thought the thought “I am a coward”, but that doens’t make the “I am a coward” an actual fact of reality.

        This said, I will try your method.
        At the end of the day, it’s the only thing mattering is if it works.

        1. I point out the similarities with spiritual work especially because I think that, although Vasanas are a hindrance to spiritual progress, they still seem like the same psychological material which therapist normally deal with (with various degrees of success).

          I agree. For me “vasana” is pretty much a synonym of “psychological issue.” But as far as I know, the ancient Indian authors who invented the idea of “vasana” seldom talked about the sorts of things that people today deal with in therapy, so I’m not sure this is what they really meant. Maybe we are using the word “vasana” in a new way because Western ideas about therapy are blending with Eastern ideas about enlightenment.

          While I do not argue with your method (especially since it works), I would be careful with taking a judgement as real, since by definition it is arbitrary. It’s also used in psychology (especially third wave Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) to accept emotions and thoughts as they are, but one needs to remember that they still are thoughts. I think it’s great that you stopped suffering for that memory + judgement, but still know that you accepted the thought the thought “I am a coward”, but that doens’t make the “I am a coward” an actual fact of reality.

          I agree, “I am a coward” is only a thought, not a fact of reality.

          I imagine you’re writing this because what I wrote in the article probably sounds like, “I came to the conclusion that I am a coward, and now, for the rest of my life, I will regard myself as a coward.”

          That would be a strengthening of the vasana but that’s not what happened.

          What actually happened is that for two minutes of my life, I thought, “Yes it’s true that I am a coward and I can live with that.”

          And then I never thought about any of it again because the mechanism that created those kinds of thoughts got destroyed.

          If you ask me now, “Are you a coward?” I would probably say, “I have no idea. Can you give me a psychological test to measure?”

          But I would have no interest in the answer because I no longer care.

          Maybe we can interpret my experience like this: For most of my life, I had resisted the thoughts associated with the vasana. But resistance is what preserved and maintained the vasana. By accepting the vasana fully, completely — by thinking, “The thoughts are true” — resistance stopped and the vasana self-destructed.

          This conversation may be approaching the perennial idea that therapy is concerned with making the ego healthier but the quest for enlightenment is concerned with dissolving the ego.

          If we are trying to make the ego healthier, it’s important for it to have true opinions about itself. But if we are trying to dissolve it, we don’t care very much what it thinks about itself. Our primary concern is understanding that its thoughts about itself — true, false, it makes no difference — are a part of the machinery that creates it and sustains it.

          1. I like your article and look forward to reading more on your blog. Thank you for sharing! I consider Ramana to be my main guide, although have a lot of appreciation for Nisargadatta and others.
            Yes no matter what the thought, we only give it Reality if we feed it or resist it. I like to ask myself where am I putting my attention and energies. If I am attaching to my personhood, then I am swallowed up in beliefs and suffering. If my daily practice is to be my higher self, the Beingness, then I have much more peace since there is no attachment to mind, body or world in the Beingness. Any area of suffering, I turn the mind inward and do Inquiry, looking for some hidden belief and then question if it’s really true. I’ve seen no belief to be true but I have to do the inquiry until it’s EXPERIENTIALLY seen that it’s not true. Then the belief and suffering disappear and the peaceful beingness that I really am comes to the foreground. Sometimes inquiry doesn’t work and I have to let go of my thoughts and feelings and read one of the masters. After many years of this practice, if I find myself contracted, I read some really good pointers from Ramana and easily return to peace and equanimity. It seems that as long as I am earnest and willing to surrender my thoughts, and self absorption…and focus on The Reality in any way I can, then the deeper vasana seeds get scorched and more and more freedom comes. I’m so grateful

  4. Also check EMDR out, its a useful novel technique used in to overcome traumatic memories with a lot of recent findings of effectiveness.
    You basically replay the memories with a therapist but neutralize the feelings associated to it by distracting yourself as you do it.
    It can also be self-administered and there are free tools online to do so

    1. I don’t know If my comment got submitter or not, but :
      I will try it out, the only thing that matters is what works

    1. Thanks Rafe. A few years ago this probably would have seemed embarrassing but that barely crossed my mind as I wrote it, so no courage was needed. 🙂

  5. Thanks Freddie. I like your simple common sense approach to these matters. This post really resonated with me as I have done a lot of shameful things in my past which continue to haunt me and seem to be connected with strong kundalini pressure symptoms in the face and constriction in the heart. I tried your method but there were too many incidents to pick any singular more significant one! I realized that all the shameful behavior was ultimately driven by the need to put on a mask and be what I thought other people expected me to be. Then it became obvious that the “mask” of pain in my face was the same mask. This realization led to the facial pressure moving downwards and opening up a connection with the heart chakra last night. This morning I woke up at 5am and relaxed on my back with the kundalini continuing to flow more freely through my body. Eventually I felt so peaceful I turned on my side to drop back to sleep. Suddenly there was a little “pop” just behind the top of my head and it felt like cool air was flowing through. This was the first time I ever felt anything physical near the crown chakra. Now it feels like everything has opened up in my more and there is a general pervasive happiness which I haven’t felt for as long as I can remember. Mild facial pains are still there but it definitely feels like the dam has broken. Thanks again!

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