Patterns of behavior and reactions! We all have them. In my yoga practice, I've discovered that allowing myself to see these patterns and recognize a reaction as just that, let's me shift my attention and escape from the trap. Sometimes I have already stepped in it by the time I see it, but more and more often I can see it, and walk a different way, or at least put my foot some place else. This happens on an intellectual level, an emotional level, and sometimes physically in relation to an action connected to other people. It can often result in using different words, or not speaking, or perhaps doing something differently or feeling a new feeling in a similar situation that would have brought up pain or anger.
Sitting on the mat in a cross-legged position is a simple place to notice that we tend to put one leg under more often and the other over in a certain way. When we shift this, and cross the other way, even a "comfortable" seat can seem strange and awkward. Smile at this as you acknowledge that the first way, that other way, is your dominant tendency. With enough practice you might even get confused as to which was your "normal" way... and actually choose how you cross your legs and be actively aware of the approach you are taking in that moment of "sitting on the mat." A more developed consciousness is not all ethereal! It can be seen and felt just in the action of crossing your legs on the mat!
Tangling ourselves up is a common pattern, and it causes pain (suffering) as well as wastes energy and attention. I know that if I start projecting how something may or may not happen, I can spin wheel upon wheel of what-if constructions until that vehicle has spun out of control and takes me so far from where I am and what I'm doing that I hardly know what's going on. This is a deeply anxious procedure too, using up my attention and my energy on things that may well never even happen. I'm not saying there is no point in planning...When I need to get somewhere I look at the map, but if the road is blocked or the train is not running, well, I remain flexible to change my plan. I can check on some of those aspects first, but not all of them. Things happen. Things change. Especially when there are other people involved, lots of things change. The more rigidly I attach to my version of the plan, the more likely it is that plan will become a trap, with shunted and frustrated expectations, perhaps even judgments about my choices and fears about being judged for being late. It is also possible that I inflate my sense of ego with my success and brilliant thinking should my plan work out well, without realizing or recognizing that the trap has caught me after all. I may be left living in this illusion without acknowledging that it took all the other conditions and people and choices around me to make "my plan" work out. I now know that no one is a solitary operator, in control and fully to blame or to praise for any thing that happens. Step away from the trap!
So I suggest to my students that they acknowledge themselves as having all that they need right where they are, not letting their thoughts drag them too far off into the future or back to the past to tell or retell a story. Watching the way the thoughts spiral and move reveals many things about being human, as we share these attributes with everyone else. The traps raise emotions unrelated to the present, and severely limit a person's ability to experience what is happening in the moment where they do exist, living and breathing. One of my students confided in me that she often seems to put herself in traps like this that spin her off into anxious and frantic patterns, rarely of any use to anyone; exhausting her and causing fear and pain. This acknowledgment is the beginning of awareness that will help her see before she steps. She then shyly asked if that ever still happens to me. It sure does! More often than not, though, I now see the pattern or trap without stepping right into it, knowing that even if I do step there, I can acknowledge it, and turn my attention to be in the moment I am living, rather than giving over my life to the spiraling of my mind or tangling threads of anxiety and reaction.
These are parts of the practice of mindfulness, of being awake, of allowing yourself to be present without judging and without attaching to outcome. Seeing the patterns that have pushed you around can liberate you from them. Each time you notice a reaction rather than confusing your self with the reaction, you have taken a step away from the trap.