The onion

A very dear friend who lives on the other side of the world recently asked me this question on WatsApp: “How are you on a personal level?” Simple question that has kept me thinking since she asked it.

My immediate answer was “I’m doing good” but I then started wondering what aspect of “me” am I evaluating when I answer this question? I guess it means that I don’t start talking about how I am doing as a mum, or as a teacher, or as a wife, or as a daughter, or as a yoga teacher but just as Vanessa… but who is this Vanessa? Is she separated from all the other roles that she plays every day? Can Vanessa do well when the mum doesn’t do well? Can the mum be ok when Vanessa isn’t doing well?

I know this seems quite silly, but really, what does ‘on the personal level’ mean to you? I would argue that it has different variables for each and everyone of us, but I think it often implies our social and emotional life. It might also have an aspect of what we can call ‘self realisation’ beyond our obligations. Does it then mean that to do well on a personal level, I have to have a successful social life or have a hobby or be in a romantic relationship?

Through the eyes of yoga, I would argue that my social life and my romantic life are also part of the roles I play: the friend and the lover. So, how am I doing beyond that? Well, if I don’t attach to any of the roles I play in life, if I let go of all my expectations, I can then say that I am doing very well. I feel at peace for the moment, I feel balanced and, above everything, I feel thankful. Nothing exciting is happening right now and still, I feel good.

I was recently discussing the concept of equanimity of mind as described in the Bhagavad Gita with a fellow yogini, and she was saying that although she understands the idea, she is not sure of wanting to live a life ‘without emotion’. A life where ‘you don’t feel sad or you don’t feel happy’, where ‘everything seems the same’. I remember thinking the same when I started studying yoga, and although I am not constantly there yet, I do notice that my spectrum of emotions is not as wide as it used to be. There are no super highs and there are no super lows. There isn’t much excitement in my life, but I feel in general calm and this allows me to appreciate the moments of harmony and deal more skilfully with challenging moments. If this resembles equanimity of mind, I am all for it. I hope it also counts as doing well on the personal level.

I know this question was asked with a sincere wish to know how I am doing, and I appreciate my friend asking it. My point here is to invite to reflection. How are you doing on the personal level? What defines your well-being on the personal level? Have you ever thought about it? Is it dependent on external factors or is it something you work with internally?

2 thoughts on “The onion

  1. No, I don’t think your analysing who is the real Vanessa silly at all.

    The question ‘who am I’ has intrigued me and taken up a great deal of my life, private and professional.

    As regards your other question of narrowing down your range of emotions, I am not sure about this. I do not practice yoga but have studied Buddhism and have great respect for much of its teaching.

    But I also think your friend has a point. I think there may well be life (or lives) after death, but I am pretty sure we will never get this one again.

    I think we are something more that all the roles we play (I have written extensively on this) but what that something is… well, I just don’t know. Some people might call it a ‘soul’, others an ‘essence’ or, more recently, simply ‘consciousness’.

    I sometimes think of it like an actor in a play: she plays her part fully and with spirit. She enters into and becomes the role but when the play finishes she (with luck) goes on to play another role in another drama.

    That might be stretching an analogy but there could be something in it. However, the view that we continue to reincarnate until we achieve nirvana,or enlightenment or whatever you want to call it, does make any sense to me.

    I have gone on for a long time but, as I say, this is the sort of thing I think and write about.


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