I planted annual flowers
In my precious garden
They have brought me color
They have brought me beauty
They have filled my senses with joy
Before the Winter
I saw them wither
The cold and the darkness came too quick
As Sprig gains ground
She whispers to me
Dare to clean your ground
From what remains of your once beautiful flowers
And the question arises
What kind of flowers will I allow to grow this time?
Somewhere between attachment and aversion
There is this place where I want to be.
Where I will find Love that will set me free
From the pendulum of my mind.
This place is called the heart.
I was talking with some ninth grade students the other day about their experience during work week. Where I live, students in ninth grade (and in some schools in eighth grade too) work for one week during the school year to learn the whole process of writing a curriculum, taking contact with the employer, sometimes even being interviewed, and get the experience of working for a week.
For some students, this is the first time they have a “real” job, and it is always very nice to hear their experiences. It is not surprising that some of them find it more meaningful to be out in the world learning a profession instead of spending their days at school.
We started a nice discussion about how nowadays, the worth of a student is measured mainly by her grades. Furthermore , it is assumed that in order to be successful in life, you have to do well in school and go to university. There are very few professions today that do not require higher education. But this is not the point in this post. The point is that one of the girls I was talking with was telling me that she doesn’t feel like a very intellectual person, she struggles to get what is considered good grades, and this of course affects her self-esteem. We then started talking about what makes a person valuable. This is always a very interesting topic to discuss with teenagers.
I once had a discussion about self-value with another student from tenth grade. For him, what made him a valuable young man was his performance at school and in sports. When I asked what would happen if he had an accident that made him sit in a wheelchair and unable to continue studying, would this mean that he would be less valuable? His answer was, yes, he would be less worth because he would not be able to do anything of ‘value’. I was shocked by his answer, and he was shocked when I challenged this idea. I sincerely believe that we cannot measure our worth by our achievements in the practical world. It is a dangerous thing to do so because when we fail, we loose our ground. So, if our worth is not connected to our achievements , what gives us value as humans?
Some of us, place our worth in comparison with other people. I know that for years, I have been struggling to imprint in my mind the fact that in reality, no one is more or less worth than I am. Nothing that I do or don’t do affect my value as a human.
I don’t know how it is for other people, but now that I am more aware of my thoughts, I have realised since I was a kid I’ve been comparing myself with other people. I often thought other kids my age were cooler, funnier and more exciting to be with; other girls were prettier and more interesting; my brothers were smarter and so on.
The other uglier side of this habit is when I believe that I am ‘better’ than other people by looking at their “flaws” and rejoicing in the fact that at least that, I don’t do. It was honestly embarrassing to discover the boost of self-esteem (fake, I would add) I get from this kind of thinking. Without trying to justify it, it does make sense, doesn’t it? We all suffer from insecurities, we know very well our weaknesses, but we rarely know our strengths. It is then comforting that some mistakes other people make, we don’t make.
But, am I more worth than the people that make the mistakes I haven’t made? Or than the people that behave in what I perceive as inappropriate? What about when I make my own mistakes or behave in inappropriate ways? Does my worth go down then? How do we measure? Who is in charge of measuring? Who has the right to measure?
I think that going around comparing our value with others’ only creates separation. Separation from our deeper self and separation between the me and the other. In my opinion, this is just an illusion.
For years, I knew this person that I perceived as difficult. I would hear stories about this person’s challenging behaviour and think ‘I do better than that’. I kept comparing myself with this person, until one day, I found out that we were going through a similar problem. I then identified myself with the feelings this person was experiencing, and suddenly, the gap between us disappeared. This reminded me that at the end of the day, we all want the same things in life but seek them in different places in different ways.
I think it is important at some point in life to reflect on this. Where do we anchor our self-value? Which criteria do we use to value other people? Can we see the same potential in everyone and accept that we all are limited by our minds in different ways?
These days, I’m savoring the concept of Pure Potential. I’m sure I’ll write a little text about it in the future, but in the meantime you can listen to this lecture from my teacher, Prasad Rangnekar, about it.
Abhyasa and vairagya are two very important principles for the yoga practitioner. Very simplified abhyasa means practice and this encompasses the daily sadhana, but also practicing the teachings of yoga at every moment in the practical life. Vairagya is often translated as detachment. The less we cling to, the less disturbances we create in our mind, the clearer we live our lives and most importantly, the closer we come to the core of who we are.
The principle of detachment really makes sense to me, and therefore during the last five years, I’ve observed myself, and tried to detach from what does not serve me in my spiritual path. I have had to be quite honest with myself and let go of what causes disturbances in my mind. I am constantly looking at what I do, what I want, and what I possess, and I ask myself if this is a priority, or if I can let it go. This can be things, activities, relationships, habits…
The idea of detachment is not that we stop engaging with the world, on the contrary, we engage maybe even more wholeheartedly but with awareness. Without clinging into it.
Recently, I’ve been reflecting on the other face of attachment: aversion, and I have discovered that this one causes maybe even more trouble in my mind and in my practical life. There are different levels of it, the highest probably being hate or resentment. When we go around thinking bad of others, we can physically feel how it affects us, our heartbeat increases, our body feels restless, we feel generally unwell. A dear friend of mine once said in one of her workshops, hate is like eating poison and hoping for the other person to die. It really eats us up.
Luckily for me, I don’t hate anyone, but I do have resentment towards things people have done that have hurt me. I have been aware of that kind of aversion for some time now, and I constantly work with it. It helps me to think that people act out of their own perspectives and needs, just like I do, even if this sometimes means that they hurt others, just like I’ve done.
When it comes to the ‘lower’ degrees of aversion, I know now for a fact that I have a tendency to panic in moments of unpleasantness, either created by my emotions, situations or people around me. This often leads to me acting impulsively to get out of the unpleasant feeling making things worse.
Reacting with aversion to unpleasant situations is, of course, part of our instincts, and it is useful when we are in danger, but let’s be honest, in our everyday life, how many times are we in real danger?
Form now on, I will observe myself in moments where aversion arises and try to work with it by 1) Not reacting impulsively to it 2) Being courageous and sit with the feeling 3) Trying to understand where the aversion comes from and see if I can make some small adjustments in my perceptions and life in general. My yoga teacher often says that it is the people and situations that challenge us that teach us the biggest lessons about ourselves.
To achieve this, abhyasa is a very important element. During my sadhana (=daily practice which for me is sitting with myself), I can practice sitting with the unpleasantness, by using my breath to calm the mind and not feed into the feeling with analyses and judgements. And for the rest of the day, remind my limited mind that it is ok, unpleasantness is not the end of the world, it is trying to tell me something about myself and the way I interact with the world.
A few days ago I wrote about my mental addiction to problems. I discovered that I had been looking for problems to solve for years and I became entangled in too many situations that did not really correspond me.
It’s part of my personality to help, but I decided to change my attitude towards life. Instead of seeing problems and trying at all costs to be the “universal problem solver”, take a step back and see where I can do something useful for the good of all and where it is better not to get involved.
In the end, we must accept that where more than one person interacts, there will always be frictions, misunderstandings, and conflicts. Of course, when I am the source of a problem, I will change my attitude or apologize, and I will go ahead without getting entangled.
I also decided to change my attitude, especially in moments where I often feel uncomfortable and focus on something positive. There is always something positive to recognize! As a teacher I know that the best way to push students up and forward is by focusing my energy on their qualities and the good they do, why not do the same in life in general?
Following this purpose of seeing the positive, the other day I sat down to write in my diary and I challenged myself to write positive things about myself. And what was my surprise when I realized how difficult it is to say good things about myself!
First I thought about writing my qualities, what am I good at? One of the qualities that I thought of first was creative, but I immediately thought that I am not as creative as my colleague who does incredible things, no matter what. Well, then what qualities do I have? Oh, I know! I am caring … But compared to my friend G, I’m not that caring. G is such an empathetic person, and he has so much energy! He is always helping others. I’m disciplined, but maybe also a bit stiff? … It took a while for me to realise what I was doing.
I was either comparing myself with people that I think have the quality in question “better developed than me” or I was finding arguments against the quality that I originally thought I had.
Reflecting a bit, I came to two conclusions. One, it is useless to compare ourselves with other people. We are all unique in our own way and we must truly find our positive sides and help ourselves cultivate and develop them. Not all inner work is about seeing our limits.
Two, if we play a little with the idea that we are all unique and have infinite potential, we then have all the qualities imaginable and unimaginable in the world! The trick is where we focus our attention and energy. Towards our limits or towards our qualities? What qualities do we think would be useful to live a more peaceful and meaningful life? Well, focus on them and stop seeing what others can or cannot do!
So let’s do the experiment of at least once a week to write all the positive things that we do and that we have inside of us. To choose our good sides and develop them to the fullest. Exactly the way a good teacher does with her students. Correct little by little our limiting perceptions, attitudes and actions, but without obsessing with them.
As Krishna says to Arjuna: Let a man lift himself by himself; let him not degrade himself; for the self alone is the friend of the Self and the self alone is the enemy of the Self. Bhagavad Gita Chapter 6 verse 5.