"I am here for you"

A colleague lent me a book written by Thich Nhat Hanh called Planting Seeds: Practicing Mindfulness with Children quite long ago. This week, I used one of the sub-sections from the chapter about Strengthening Connections to prepare my Yoga elective at school.

I don’t have the book with me right now, but the main message was how to show love to those who are closest to us. The best gift one can give is to be present. The technique he suggests is to take a deep breath, feel your mind calming down, bring yourself to the present moment and think or say “I am here for you”.

Although Thich Nhat Hanh practices and teaches in the Buddhist tradition, I often find some parallels between the teachings of the Buddha and the teachings of Yoga.

What resonates with me is on one hand the best way to show love by being fully with the people we love. On the other, it is the importance of being there for our loved ones no matter what. This, I connect with the advice that Krisna is constantly giving to Arjuna to control his impulsive need to constantly like or dislike things, situations and people. “I am here for you” even when your behaviour is difficult for me to accept. “I am here for you” even when you are not doing well.

Isn’t this the purest way to love someone? What we call unconditional love? It sounds so pretty, but it is so difficult to practice sometimes. I observe myself that I keep playing the market place with the people I love. I give and give and keep giving as long as it is ‘well-received’, but the minute I sense resistance or rejection, my attitude and behaviour change. It is almost uncontrollable. It comes from fear and insecurity, I think. It is difficult to be kind when it feels like it is not well-received. I don’t know what to do next, and I know that what is required is even more understanding, even more kindness, but I rarely manage to control my impulsive reaction which is to mirror the behaviour, or even get mad.

And, what about “I am here” when you don’t want me to be here? How does this apply? People have different ways of ‘asking’ us to be present. Some want support, someone to talk with or even a hug. Others want space and may look for that space in a way that can be perceived as hurtful. The real art here would be to manage to say ‘I am here for you’ by taking a step back and hoping that the person in question knows that the gesture is out of love and compassion and not indifference or rejection.

My Yoga teacher usually says ‘wear your heart on your sleeve’, I guess because according to the Yoga tradition, we will never run out of love. Love is what we are, we just have to peel off all our fears, all our insecurities and limiting ideas to realise it.

I like this idea.

17 years and counting

Today, is our wedding anniversary. Seventeen years.

What is extraordinary about our relationship? Nothing, I would argue. Like in any marriage, we have had our good times and our bad times. There had been times where we have really considered going each our way.

Why haven’t we done so? Are we better than other couples that decide to split? Of course the answer is no. Ask anyone what marriage is about, and you will get thousands of different answers. I think that explains why some of us stay together no matter what and others make the choice to part.

At one of the most challenging moments in our relationship though, I came to realise that I didn’t have a clue of who I was and what I wanted in life, and this made me doubt if leaving my husband would make me feel better. Splitting our family in two, sending kids back and forward every other week as it is the common solution here seemed too drastic when I didn’t really know what I wanted. My husband has always given me enough space to be, so I knew that if I stayed with him, I could still be able to start working on myself.

My husband is a very open-minded man that sees the human in me (not just ‘the wife’, ‘the possession’) and was able to show compassion and understanding regardless of my hurting behaviour. Maybe he recognised his own confusion in my confusion? We were able to see the good in our relationship beyond the difficult and painful, and we decided to continue walking together.

So here we are, seventeen years and counting, trying to make some sense of who we are as individuals and at the same time living a common life with quite big responsibilities like any other couple with children. We both work hard on ourselves, we both do our best with what we have. There are no guarantees though. We never know what the future may bring, and I keep reminding myself that this is part of living in this world. Experience what life brings in order to learn and grow but be ready to let go when required.

I am thankful for these seventeen years together. I am thankful for the gift of being able to parent our children together. I am thankful for his generous heart, patience and sense of humour (even though I keep pretending I don’t like his jokes). I am thankful for the space he gives me to be, to explore, to try and fail and try again in many different areas. But maybe above all, I am thankful for the opportunity marriage has given me to observe myself and discover my limiting attitudes and beliefs about myself and those around me in order to at least try to become a better version of myself.

What is 'God'?

‘The grandest purpose of life (contrary to the implications of novelists) is not to know human love or to produce children or to win men’s fickle acclaim; man’s sole worthwhile aim is to find the everlasting bliss of God.’ 4:27 Yogananda, Paramahansa. God Talks with Arjuna: The Bhagavad Gita . Self-Realization Fellowship. Kindle Edition.

I like this quote, it gives us a bigger purpose than just chasing or being chased in the external world. I am now studying the fourth chapter in the Bhagavad Gita, and there is a lot of reference to God or the Divine to whom we can fully surrender and to whom we can fully offer all our actions.

The concept of God is somewhat difficult for me since I grew up in a Catholic country in a family that disapproved of the Church as an institution. God wasn’t a topic in my home, and the only idea I have of God is the popular idea: a man somewhere in the sky observing all my actions and taking note of them. Early in life, I decided I didn’t believe in this ‘God’.

Lately, through my studies of Yoga, I am revisiting the idea of God or the Divine. What my teacher says is that the Divine is not something outside ourselves. I think that many religions at their core say the same, but institutions have taken that away from people with the wish to control the masses. God is within us and it is in everything and everyone. He usually defines the Divine as ‘pure potential’. We all have pure potential. We all have a source of love, freedom and bliss inside ourselves, and our job in this world is to keep reaching towards it by slowly letting go the grip of tangible and ever changing things and ideas…

What does the idea of God mean to you? I observe that it is difficult for me to talk about God in most contexts. The moment the word God is mentioned in conversations, people get stiff, as if it was something ‘wrong’. But lately I wonder, if we remove completely the idea of ‘something bigger than what we see’, what remains? What is our bigger purpose in life?

Rejection

About two years ago, I had to take a course for my work and I found that I could take it in Paris. Since I lived in France for a few years when I was a student, it seemed like the perfect excuse to visit the French capital and see friends that I don’t have the opportunity to see often.

One of my closest friends lives in Paris and although we had not seen each other for a long time, we had maintained contact during the years in a slightly irregular way. For some periods, we would talk over the phone almost daily, and sometimes it could be months without we even exchanged a single message.

It had been six months since we last had exchanged messages, but when I knew that I could go to Paris, I sent her a message sure that she would tell me that we could see each other every day after her work.

To my surprise, her answer was rather dry ‘I’m sorry, I don’t have time’. I first asked jokingly if not even for a coffee, but she didn’t seem to like the joke. I wrote to ask if she was angry but the more I tried to find out what was happening, the more it seemed to make her angry. It got to the point that she told me that I was harassing her. Maybe I did insist too much, but I found her behaviour so strange that I even thought maybe she was in some sort of trouble.

I went to Paris and I didn’t see her. I sent her a message to tell her that no matter what, if one day she wanted to be in contact again, I would be happy to do so. But I must confess that her attitude hurt me so much that I erased her from my Facebook friends (hahaha, I know, how old am I?) And I didn’t contact her again…

Until last Christmas when I sent her a message to wish her happy holidays, and then this summer to tell her I was thinking about her, and finally this week, to wish her a merry Christmas.

This time, she answered by saying that she has nothing against me, but that our ‘incident’ two years ago made her realize that her life is better without my friendship.

I am not trying to put her in the ‘bad’ box and myself in the ‘poor martyr’ box, there must be something I did that made her angry, but what is frustrating is not to know what the heck I did. I would have liked her to tell me.

As usual, the most interesting thing in this story is to observe my own reactions. First of all, I felt pain and confusion. Then, I do not deny it, anger because in my expectation of what a friend ‘must do’: misunderstandings are spoken about in order to give the opportunity to repair the damage. Followed by a feeling that she doesn’t really know who I am and what she’s missing, and finally a consuming feeling of self-doubt.

This friend is one of the few who knows everything about me: my achievements and my mistakes, my good sides and my weaknesses. I came to think that maybe she no longer wanted my friendship because of the mistakes I made that made her see me as not worthy anymore. I felt unfairly treated because she didn’t know or seemed interested to find out how these mistakes had made me reflect, and what I learned from them… ‘if she only gave me the opportunity to show her that I’m a better person than I she thinks I am’, I thought. But why would it be so important for me to prove anything to her? Who am I trying to convince? Her or myself?

Finally, yesterday, I started to have some fun observing my thoughts. We all have our weak spots, and I believe that rejection is definitely one of mine . It is as if by rejecting me, people confirm to me what I ‘know’ about myself: that I am not perfect, that I have many flaws, that I am not as good a person as many can think, and so on. How is it possible that from one episode in my life I can waste so much energy on useless and negative thoughts? I do not know.

What is my conclusion? I have to know when to let go. It was a pretty friendship as long as it lasted, but it is over. I am not perfect and I will never be so all I can do is to keep walking, keep learning and try to do less harm than good around me. Accept my mistakes, forgive myself, ask for forgiveness and avoid making the same mistake over and over again. Maybe most importantly, don’t put my self-worth in anybody else’s hands, it will always be flickering and confusing.