Do you have days where you feel you are not ready to face ‘the world’? I sometimes have such days. I feel tired and irritable and feel that I don’t have the energy to face whatever small or bigger challenges the day might bring… I know, it sounds dramatic, and luckily, I don’t have many of those days, but I do have them. Especially after an intense period at work and/or at home.

I try to work with my mindset, and I also try to find out why I feel like that to avoid going into that space. There can be different reasons, but what was overwhelming my mind this morning was the thought of having to ‘deal’ with teenagers the whole day to come home and ‘deal’ with my own teenagers the whole evening.

Neither my students nor my own kids are especially difficult teenagers, but I often have a feeling that as a teacher and as a mum, I am constantly negotiating with them to do what they actually don’t want to do, and trying to explain why they need to do less of what they actually do want to do.

I can go on and on in my mind about why it is so tiring and why I am so worried and wonder also if I am right or if I am exaggerating. This usually makes me feel even more tired and overwhelmed, and I start dreading certain situations that lie ahead in my day: a lesson because I know how certain students are going to behave and I am going to have to deal with it, a situation at home because I will have to be stern and I don’t feel like it.

I was having one of those clairvoyance moments by the kitchen counter this morning when I realized that all I have to do is to do my job. I just have to show up, and if the usual suspects do the usual that require me intervening, I just have to pull them aside and take that conversation all over again. It doesn’t really matter how they react to it. Whether they respond well or not, it is up to them. All I need to do is to stay calm, be clear, maybe even be stern and stop reading people so much. Stop expecting this or that, and most of all, stop dreading uncomfortable situations/conversations. They are what they are, I can make them less uncomfortable by keeping my cool and talking calmly.

I recently read somewhere something like “burnout happens when we have expectations connected to our actions”. Yoga philosophy says something similar without using the word ‘burnout’. We cultivate a peaceful state of mind by doing our best and letting go of the fruits of our actions. I think I get very tired because I am constantly absorbing my students’ and my kids’ reactions to what I say and do.

So, on my way to work today, I kept repeating to myself “be clear, be firm, but don’t get angry. If I get a negative reaction from a student, let it be”. It might sound weird, but I keep telling myself that the less I focus on what other people do or don’t do and the more I focus on what I do and why I do it, the less stressed and tired I will feel. I also think that putting my attention in myself allows me to be more mindful of how I act and why.

It turned out to be a good day at work with the usual challenges, but I think my mindset helped me stay focused and less stressed. I really need to remember this every day.

At home, things are also what they need to be. I keep choosing my battles. and reminding myself to speak calmly but firmly even if it is the millionth time I ask my youngest to pick up her dirty clothes from the bathroom floor.

Can you relax without stimuli?

The other day, I shared a short relaxation session with my colleagues where the main focus was to use the breath. I know that for many, the idea of sitting ‘just’ breathing sounds intimidating and maybe even boring, so I divided the session into three parts. One where we would connect the breath with soft movements (achievable for all kinds of bodies), another with a simple breathing exercise, and the last one with a body scan. The whole session lasted for approximately twenty minutes.

After the session, one of my colleagues told me it was very nice to ‘check in’ with herself. She said that while she was sitting there, she noticed how she was feeling and realized she hadn’t take the time to notice before. This reminded me of something I have been reflecting a lot about lately. It seems to me that most of us rarely take the time to slow down and just be, to check in with ourselves.

It is, of course, understandable that we all have different ways to cultivate our well-being, some choose to go for a run, others to watch a TV show, and although this does allow us to disconnect from everyday tasks, it is not necessarily bring long-lasting well being for our body and mind. During the years I have been practicing Yoga, I have come to the conclusion that there is a difference between sense indulging and self-care. I don’t necessarily think that indulging is wrong, it is nice to sometimes give in to a guilty pleasure, and as mentioned above, it can be part of our toolkit to disconnect from everyday life, but the thing is, I don’t think only indulging is going to bring real peace of mind because the satisfying feeling only lasts for a short period of time. In addition, we might seek activities that stimulate our mind and body like food, alcohol, and even entertainment, which feel good at the moment but do not allow for our nervous system to reset and restore.

I believe self-care requires more work, but less fuss. Self-care might bring some immediate comfort, and at times it can also bring some discomfort. In the long run, however, it brings peace of mind.

I might be biased by my enthusiasm towards the practice of Yoga meditation, but in my view, the only way we can really relax and take care of our well-being is by bringing silence to our body and mind on a regular basis. The challenge is, however, to have the patience to bear the noise our mind makes when we turn off the external noise. This is where the work starts because we need to learn to be with the noise of our mind as if it was background music. It is there, we notice it, but we choose not to do anything about it at that moment. We do not judge, we do not try to change it.

These moments of external silence but internal noise can be precious because like my colleague put it, it is then we have the opportunity to ‘check in’ with ourselves. We create the space to feel and think, we allow our mind to express itself. Sometimes, that is all we need. To give ourselves some ‘self-attention’, sometimes, we need further reflection on what is going on and what we need to do about it.

Making room for moments of silence and softness in our life not only helps us deal with our thoughts better, it also has an effect on our nervous system which in turn influences our state of mind. In addition, when we learn to quiet the mind on a regular basis, we are able to benefit from this practice in moments of intense distress.

To begin with, I recommend a combination of techniques like soft movement with breath for the busy mind. Practices like soft yoga asana, Tai Chi or even Qi Gong, going for a walk but with the awareness of being with yourself, with your breath, and trying to leave other distractions aside. Simple breathing exercises can also be very useful. Some help calm down the body and the mind, others are energizing. Yoga Nidra, is als a very good way to relax, and the fact that you need to focus on different body parts keeps your mind busy. If your mind is very very busy, I recommend writing. Sit in a quiet place for five to ten minutes and let words flow. No structure, no purpose, just write. Avoid reading what you write. Just leave it. This is a very nice way to ’empty’ the mind. Once you have practiced this for a while, you can start journaling. There are different ways to do it. I often like to sit down and write my reflections of the day, often, a specific aspect of it takes more place, and I discover quite a lot about myself and my interactions with the world. I often realize that something that seemed overwhelming when traped in my mind, wasn’t that bad when put into words in my notebook.

Whatever works for you, try to create at least one moment of quiet calmness in your everyday routine. With practice, you will notice the difference it makes in you. You might notice that the urge to indulge will reduce as you create more space for what I like to call ‘real’ self-care.

A long story to get to my reflections this week

I have learned some good lessons this week. My youngest daughter who is 12 years old was invited to take part in a performance directed by an Australian choreographer who lives in Bergen. The piece is called Working With Children. It was the theater that took contact with the school and asked if there were any students in lower middle school who were interested to participate. My daughter and two other classmates decided to give it a try.

Beforehand, parents were contacted by email by the producer with practical information. Parents were also invited on Monday to meet the choreographer and see the place where the children were going to rehearse for five days and perform on Friday and Saturday.

I came to the meeting on Monday with my daughter. Her two classmates were there and the parents to one of them, as well as three other kids from other schools and their parents. We met the choreographer, who briefly presented herself and explained what was going to happen during the week and what the performance was about. She explained that the performance was going to be experienced differently by the children in it and by the audience. The purpose of the performance was to focus on the process and they weren’t going to show a finished, polished piece. This sounded exciting to me. Maybe it also sounded safer to the kids? There was no expectation to perform, to show dancing skills. The expectation was just to take part. To be curious and open-minded and maybe even trusting.

After the meeting, parents left, children stayed. When my daughter came home, she was excited but also slightly puzzled because the choreographer had explained a bit more about what was going to happen during the performance. Apparently, at some point, she was going to run naked on the background, but the kids weren’t going to see her. She had explained to them that this was going to last for just a few seconds. She also explained that during the performance, there was going to be a screen on the background with text. There was going to be some ‘mild swearing’ on the text at some point.

I wasn’t shocked by this. I think kids are exposed to swearing everywhere. I don’t necessarily agree with the need to swear, but I trusted that it was put in the context of the performance and it would make sence for the audience. The kids weren’t going to see the swearing words anyhow. The nakedness didn’t bother me either. She is a contemporary dancer and I chose to believe that there was a reason for this too. There is nothing wrong with showing a naked body, it is more how we choose to see it or in which context that it is shown that can be maybe difficul to digest for a 12 year old, and again, she reassured the kids that they wouldn’t going to see her.

My daughter and I talked about it, she didn’t seem to be bothered by it anymore. Tuesday evening, she came home after the practice. She had been given a lift by the mum who couldn’t make it to the meeting on Monday. Her child and my daughter told her about what they had been doing during the rehearsal, and apparently, when she found out about the ‘naked part’ and the ‘swearing part’, she was distressed. My daughter started doubting. I tried to reassure her again. It is contemporary art, you won’t see any of it. Did you have fun? – Yes, she repiled. They were doing all these ‘weird’ movements. Playing with movement, basically.

The next moring, I woke up to find a message from the mum. She had sent it to me and the parents of the third child from my daughter’s class. She and her husband (who doesn’t live here for the moment) were very worried about this performance. They were shocked by its content, and wante to pull their child out. Until here, all good. As parents, they have the right and obligation to make their own choices for their child.

The challenge is that to me, it seemed like they had made up their mind and wanted to convince us to think and do the same as them. I choose to believe that it was with good intentions. Maybe they thought that we didn’t know about the contents of the performance. However, the other parents and I did go to the meeting and got to get a feeling about the whole setting. This is a professional space. I don’t believe the theater would put the children in a space where they would feel unsafe or humiliated. I had a busy day at work, and didn’t have time to talk with the parents, but kept receiving messages of distress and distrust. At the same time, I was hearing from the school because I work there too.

Sometime in the early afternoon, all parents received an email from the producer of the play, explaining the ‘naked part’ and the ‘swearing part’, and reassuring us again that this was done with care for the children. All this time, I was thinking that I didn’t want my daughter to quit this experience. I thought it was a great experience and I was looking forward to the discussions about the dance (which was also challenging my daughter’s idea of what dance ‘should’ be) and the rest of it.

I finished work, and was ready to have a telephone conference with the other parents. I wanted to let them know that I respected their choice, but that I had decided to let my daughter continue. It seemed to me that the parents of the third child had the same opinion as me. To my big surprise, as I leave work, I get a phone call from my daughter. She had decided to quit. When I asked why, she said she was worried about the content, that her friend had been pulled out. I tried to reassure her, but she had made up her mind, and I felt I couldn’t force her.

I told her she had to call the producer (I didn’t have the choreographer’s number), and explain why she wanted to quit. The producer called me later, and explained that there was nothing to be worried about, but my daughter had decided not to join, and I felt I couldn’t convince her to change her mind. After all, I hadn’t been there during the rehearsals. I couldn’t be a hundred percent sure of my daugher’s experience of it.

The choreographer called me too. I guess she was worried. She had called the mum of my daugher’s friend, but she didn’t take the phone. She explained a bit more about the preformance. I wasn’t worried, I said, but I felt I couldn’t push my daughter more. This was supposed to be a positive experience, and I felt that if I pushed, I would get the opposite effect than what I wished for.

I felt very annoyed, to be honest. Because of many reasons. One, I try my best to teach my children that when they committ to do something, they need to stick to it til the end unless there is something of real importance that hinders them from doing so. From what I knew, my daugher was pulling out just because her friend was pulling out. I hadn’t seen any sign of distress or discomfort in my daugher after the first two days of practice.

I also try to teach my children to be open-minded, ask questions and make their own choices. I was annoyed that my daughter was quitting because her friend was quittting and based on fear from their parents who didn’t even go to the meeting with the choreographer. They never gave her or the theater the chance to explain, to reassure them.

I was also annoyed because I thought this was a great opportunity for my daughter to be part of something different, and learn about the process of being part of something outside the box.

But, I had to let go. When I got home, I talked with my daughter and explained my point of view, and tried to let go.

The third kid from my daugher’s class also pulled out. They didn’t want to be part of it without my daughter and the other classmate. This was sad. Very sad, I thought.

I was unsure on whether I should let the first couple of parents know my opinion. As I have written earlier this week, I often feel it is unecessary to try to convince others of what I believe in. Wednesday evening, however, when I was on my way to teach a yoga class, I received a message from the mum wondering how I felt about the whole situation. I guess I should have called, but I was sitting on the bus. I decided to reply that although I respected their views, I disagreed with them. I had no problem with my daughter being part of this, and that I felt sad and annoyed that she had decided to pull out. I didn’t get a reply.

Friday evening, I got a message from my colleague who is my daughter’s contact teacher. The theater had given the school two tickets to the performance. Do you want to go?, he asked. Of course!, I replied. I wanted to see what the whole fuss was about. I was so convinced that this had been a mess without any real reason, and I wanted to see the performance to have a ‘real’ opionion about it. I also had a bit of doubt, I asked myself, what if you watch it, and realize it was too much for a bunch of 12-year-olds? I just had to see for myself.

It turned out to be a beautiful experience. The choreographer ended up with only three kids for her performance, but she made the best out of it. She had managed to create a safe and trusting atmosphere between her and the kids and they all seemed comfortable on scene. As she had explaned, what we saw, wasn’t a ‘final product’ but part of a process. The text behind was spot on connected to what had happened during the week. The few swearing words were put in context and weren’t more shocking than hearing them on in a movie or sitcom on Netflix. And yes, there was a naked part. But it was beautifully done, and as she said, the kids in the show didn’t see any of it.

What I love about this kind of art is that it awakens the mind. You sit there in awe for the atist, and either relate to what is happening, or you wonder about it. And the thinking doesn’ stop there. The piece stays with you for a while (or even for the rest of your life) and makes you think and reflect.

In retrospective, I think I could have pushed my daughter to finish the week with the choreogrphper. Like the producer explained, there is something called as the artistic process. Not everything is easy in this process. There is always a moment of doubt, there are tough moments too, but artists know that they just have to get passed those moments. That is life too, isn’t it? The sooner we learn perseverance, the better.

On the other side, since this whole piece was seen as a process, I also think that my daughter’s process was the two days she was part of it and the whole mess that happenned afterwards. She is still young, and I wonder what kind of reflections will happen with time.

I am very happy we were invited to watch the performance. It made me remember how we have to have informed opinions. I was convinced there was nothing to fear about it, but my conviction was based on my gut feeling from the whole setting. The communication beforehand, the meeting with the choreographer. Although the gut feeling is something useful, in discussions about what happens around us, we need to stick to the facts and the actual experience of things because I think that sometimes, what we think is a gut feeling is nothing else than fear in disguise.

I have also decided to expose my kids more to art. Challenge their perception and opinion of what is art and what is not.

I had to laugh a bit last night too. My husband and I were watching TV with the grils, and we saw an ad for a show called Mascorama. It was very popular last year, and now there’s a new season. To me, it seems like nonesense, and I said it out loud. My husband then said ‘and your opinion is based on your excperience of the show, because you have watched it, right?’. Oops! I guess the better attitude would be that it doesn’t interest me, but I cannot say it is nonesense since I haven’t watched it…

When to talk? When to change?

A week ago, we had a workshop at school led by one of my colleagues who had been at Utøya for a three-day workshop with some of our students. The workshop was about the importance of doing what we can to preserve democracy. We worked in groups and one of the activities we had was to range cards with different social issues from the most important to the least important for us. The point of the activity was to try to agree on where to place the cards. At the end of the activity, we were invited to reflect on how the communication within our group was. How did we discuss this? How did we come to an agreement?

One of the cards was about animal rights. For me, that would be one of the cards on top of the priority list, and I was surprised to learn that for most of my colleagues it was at the bottom. The thinking behind it was that we need to first make sure other issues that are related to human rights and interactions are taken care of before we think about animals’ well-being.

To begin with, I chose not to be too insisting within my group, because I didn’t feel like starting a big discussion with my colleagues. I think I was also a bit self-conscious of seeming ‘strange’ for being so engaged in the well-being of animals. At some point, however, I decided to cautiously explain why I think we need to take care of animals. My main argument is that they are vulnerable. Nobody else can defend their rights if its not those who have invaded most of their natural habitat and see some species as products instead of living beings. During the last few years, I have learned how in order to produce food faster and more efficiently, we treat certain animals in ways we would never treat our pets or even less human beings. It surprises me that we chose to believe that animals don’t feel. I recently read an article about fish farming. Salmons die because their hearts explode, and researchers want to find out why. When I shared this with a friend, she matter of factly pointed out that this happens with chickens too because they are bred in such a way that they grow too fast and their hearts can’t keep up.

I shared these examples with my colleagues at my table and said that I usually try not to push my opinions on other people. A lot of information is so accessible nowadays that I believe everyone is entitled to make up their own mind. However, one of my colleagues told me that he appreciated I had shared my views and what I know with them because he didn’t know any of this. He still believes human rights should be addressed before animal rights, but his curiosity was awakened.

Another colleague pertinently asked why to choose one before the other. Why not work towards both goals at the same time?

This activity and this discussion kept me thinking about two things. One, the fine line between sharing our views and opinions and pushing our views and opinions on others. I tend to avoid engaging in heated discussions about what I think or what I believe because I don’t see the point. I think that the best I can do is to make more conscious decisions. Try to be aware of how my choices and actions affect others (including animals and the environment) but avoid lecturing others about it. After all, I know very well that I still have a long way to go when it comes to making choices that do not affect others in a negative way. Every once in a while I discover another aspect of my lifestyle that has a dark side for someone or something.

The other thing that I have been reflecting on is how some of the systems we have created to improve our quality of life have also a dark side. It seems to me that there is such a big distance between the source of the products we need to survive and ourselves that we live unaware of what it takes to get them. Who suffers for our benefit? It can be the natural environment and it also can be other human beings. Directly or indirectly. We need to wake up. We need to start consuming more consciously. I know by experience that it is difficult to make drastic changes, but we should at least aim for some. One change at a time. Choose better. Ask questions.