Lessons from the mountains

I have a tendency to overthink, no doubt about that. However, I find it useful to take the time to reflect when I experience some sort of distress. I need to know where it comes from, if there is something I could have done differently, if there is a lesson to learn. I believe this helps me deal better with similar situations in the future and hopefully avoid making the same mistake.

In a previous post, I wrote about a trip we took with my in-laws to a national park. We hadn’t seen them for three years, and we felt it was a good way to get together. I also wrote about the place where we stayed and how it didn’t meet our expectations. We expected higher standard and better service, but we decided to take it with a smile and enjoy our stay instead of complaining or even more wasting time on finding somewhere else to stay.

However, the most challenging part of the whole situation came when it was time to pay for our stay. I had imagined that we were going to divide the bill fairly: we are five, my in-laws are two, but generous as they are, my husband’s parents insisted on paying for everyone. To be completely honest, to begin with, instead of feeling thankful I felt ashamed because I had booked the place which turned out way too expensive and very low standard.

As I tried to convince them to let us at least pay half the bill, things turned awkward and slightly unpleasant, so I decided to drop it. I explained that it just didn’t feel right that they pay for a stay that wasn’t worth the high price, but that I was thankful for their gesture and I wouldn’t insist anymore.

That day, the weather was lousy so we couldn’t go hiking. This left a lot of time for me to go around and ruminate on the whole situation. Why didn’t I investigate better? Why didn’t I insist on getting a clear price for the meals? Why didn’t I complain from the start?

I then felt bad because I reduced the whole experience to the money spent because I felt it wasn’t worth the service. How much money are the good moments spent worth? There is no price for it really.

The conclusion I came to was the same I come to very often when it comes to human interactions, namely, the importance of clarity. I had written several emails to the place specifying how many meals we were planing to have and the number of people, and I had asked for prices. I never received an answer, and to be honest, I forgot about it. I should have called and agreed on a price before our stay. I also think I should have talked with my in-laws about how we were dividing the bill, and maybe even ask them for a budget if they insisted on paying everything.

I think also I tend to feel responsible for things that are out of my hands, so although I could have planned this better, I am not responsible for other people’s actions. How could I have known that the description of the place does not match reality?

It is also interesting to reflect on what I think could improve the running of the place. I think that the owner also lacks clarity. On one side the place has traditional Norwegian cabins as you find many places with just the essentials to stay comfortably. This kind of cabins are usually used by people who want to hike in the mountains and the tradition is that you bring your own food, sheets and towels and you clean the cabin when you leave. Prices can vary, but they tend to be affordable. The problem is that the place where we stayed has different types of cabins, some more modern than others. The price should be according to what the cabin offers and not a fixed price. The place has also hotel rooms, and apparently, there was a time where the place was known for its good food prepared from local products. Maybe they had more staff? During our stay, the place was run by one man on his own who seemed to struggle to keep track of who the guests were, where they were staying, and what they had ordered- as some people eat meals at the hotel and others don’t. He doesn’t seem to manage the place well anymore but he still wants to charge high prices. He could simplify the running of the place by only renting out the cabins, and by hiring more staff to maintain the place and take care of the logistics. Instead of pretending to serve gourmet food, serve simpler meals to more affordable prices. OR continue charging as much but improve the quality of his services. I guess he’s used to see this place function in a certain way and it is difficult to see that he needs to make some adjustments.

After some time of trying to calm my mind and make some sense of my distress, I decided to let go. I am thankful for my in-laws’ generosity, I am thankful for having spent this time with them, I am thankful for seeing my kids enjoying our stay and being with their grandparents. I will say what I think to the owner in a constructive way and I think because it is not fair for other guests to not know that he advertises with lies.

Luckily, the weather improved during last evening and we went for a nice hike. We enjoyed the landscapes, the fresh air and each other’s company. That is what we came here for.

We all do as good as we can

-and if not, can we understand and forgive each other?

Some days ago, my youngest daughter who is almost twelve was very upset. She felt she had messed up with some of her friends and wanted some advice. She is friends with especially two girls in our neighbourhood. One of them had just gotten a kitten, and the other one was still on vacation with her family. The latter had sent my daughter a message asking her how the new kitten was, and she replied by talking about the kitten but also added her opinion on how the youngest children in the family are behaving around the cat. It wasn’t a nasty message, but seen from the outside, it was an unnecessary comment.

What happened next was that the receiver of the message shared my daughter’s message with the kitten owner, and not surprisingly, she was upset. She then wrote an upset message to my daughter asking her why she was criticising her siblings.

My daughter understood what she had done, and didn’t know how to fix it, so she came to me. Beside repeating to her two golden rules I once read to keep away from drama: 1) Talk with people and not about people and 2) Avoid having a conflict by mail/messaging, I asked my daughter, what the intention of her message was. Was it to gossip? Was it to criticise her friend? She wasn’t sure about her intention, but she acknowledged that it wasn’t kind. So, I told her the easiest thing to do was to then go to our neighbour’s house and apologise directly. She was afraid of meeting her friend’s mum. I told her I understood her fear, and that all she could do was to say ‘I’m sorry’, to take responsibility of what she did and accept that the people involved might be annoyed.

It all turned out well. Her friend accepted her apology, and the next day they were out playing as if nothing had happened. It wasn’t a big ‘crime’ my daughter had committed. However, this episode kept me thinking about two things that I find very important in my interactions with other people:

  1. The importance of being clear about my intention behind my actions
  2. Having the courage to face the consequences of my actions.

The first one, is one of the main principles of Karma Yoga, and I find it so helpful. When I am clear about the intention behind my action, I can be at peace with myself even if the result of the action is unexpected or even unpleasant because ideally, the intention behind my action was thought through. When I however act from impulse, emotion or anger, I can also go back to my intention, acknowledge it and accept the consequences. This can be scary because I don’t like conflict, but if I show up with an attitude of humbleness, I feel I am doing what I can do to straighten things up. All I can do, is learn from the experience and move on.

I know it is not that simple because it requires that the other part has the ability and willingness to show understanding and sometimes even forgive. I know from own experience that it is not always that easy. I have been on the other side too. Feeling frustrated, confused, hurt or even insulted but it is easier if I manage to take a step back and tell to myself that we are all doing as good as we can.

They key is to be a good communicator. I think it is often important to let others know how their actions affect us so we give them the opportunity to reflect. After that, what they choose to do is out of our hands and ideally should be out of our head for our own peace of mind.

We planned to meet my husband’s parents this summer close to a national park called Rondane. We know they are fond of hiking and so are we. I checked possible places to stay, and I chose a place that had good reviews. The description of the cabin I booked seemed just quite right for seven people, and the place had a quality certificate given nationwide for good food. To our big surprise, the cabin was much shabbier than expected and since the place is run by one man alone, things are not always perfect. He does everything! No other staff whatsoever. From day one, we had the impression that something is not quite as it should be. He seems forgetful and a bit lost in space to be honest. In my opinion, something unforeseen must have happened this year or in the last couple of years. When I read his website, it seems like it was a pretty well run and successful place.

Even though the cabin did not meet my expectations, especially thinking about what I had thought would be comfortable for my in-laws, it was still possible to live there and have a good time together. Seeing that my in-laws didn’t really mind the place and seemed more or less comfortable, we decided not to spend time and energy complaining or even trying to find another place to stay in. Since we made that choice, I then decided to show some understanding towards the man. There is no point on staying and be irritated all the time. During our stay, we heard many people complain, a family even left the place before they had planed to and refused to pay for the time they spent there. I totally understand them too. Summer vacation is important for all of us. There is a lot of expectations connected to it. It is a time where we want to relax, have a good time with our family. We save for it, spend money on it, and time to travel where we want to be.

I decided that even if I think the man that runs the place is doing as good as he can, he needs to know how his actions affect others. I decided to not make our stay unpleasant by complaining, but I will write a letter to explain how the place wasn’t as it should be and suggesting he improves. I know that if we come back to this area, we won’t be staying here, and I unfortunately won’t recommend the place either. This is not good for him and the place he runs.

So what is my point here? My point is that it is important to constantly be aware of what the intentions behind our actions are, and to be willing to be held accountable for them. Constantly reflecting on what we do and how we do it gives us the opportunity to also acknowledge that we are all doing as good as we can. This allows us to be less judgemental towards others. But this does not mean that we don’t speak up when other people’s actions affect us in a negative way. To continue cultivating a peaceful state of mind, we can then find a way to express ourselves that invite to reflection and dialogue instead of conflict which brings us back to the principle of intention. When we speak up, what is the intention behind it?

On jogging and life

I love jogging. I have been jogging since I was a teenager. It must be genetic because my grandfather from my dad’s side used to run every morning. I think he was fond of sports all his life. He played baseball and did some boxing when he was younger. My dad told me that when my grandfather was in his sixties, he had a heart attack. After he came home from the hospital, he was so scared that for some weeks, he wouldn’t move from a chair he had placed at a sunny spot in his bedroom. My dad had to have a serious talk with him to get him up from the chair and back to life. After that, he would wake up early every morning and walk to a park called Chapultepec in Mexico City, and run. Afterwards, we would walk back home. He lived until he was around 94.

I haven’t been as disciplined as my grandfather with my jogging during the last two or three years. Partly because I feel I get enough exercise by using my bike and walking as my main means of transportation. However, whenever I have time, I love to go for a run. It is something my husband and I enjoy doing together, so often, during holidays, we make ourselves a little routine. It is a nice way to do something together, and to explore new places. It is also important to stay more or less fit in the slow pace of holidays.

This summer, we’ve been incredibly lucky. Because of the pandemic, we didn’t dare to plan any trip, but we wanted to find a place to enjoy the Norwegian nature. When I shared this wish with a friend, she and her husband offered us to borrow their cabin. My husband and I like to go for hikes, but our youngest and oldest are not as keen as we are, so we have made an agreement with them, we go hiking every other day. On the remaining days, my husband and go jogging.

It’s been a long time since I last jogged, and the path we are running is quite hilly. We started running 3k and decided to add gradually during our stay. There is a long hill on the way out and a steep relatively long one on the way back. I have been playing with my mind when running up these hills, to see what helps me most when I feel like giving up.

I started pep-talking myself, ‘you can do it!’, ‘it will get easier throughout the weeks’, ‘the hill is almost over’. It helped to a certain degree, and I didn’t give up, but it still felt super heavy at some point. I then decided to focus on the benefits I get from running, ‘this his healthy for you’, ‘feel your legs getting stronger’, and the sorts. Still, too heavy and painful. Until I decided to rather focus on my breath and the unpleasant feeling. Not feed into the feeling, not judge the feeling, just feel it. Where do I feel it? How does it feel?

The truth is, nothing makes the hills less unpleasant. Some days, they feel easier, some days, the first one feels easier and halfway through the second I feel like crying, but I keep jogging, and most importantly, I keep breathing. It feels wonderful when we come to the top of the last hill, and I know that the last stretch to the cabin is smooth. I feel strong and powerful. I never regret going out for a run.

As usual, I can’t help but draw parallels with life. When life circumstances feel like a steep long uphill, what do I do? How do I talk to myself? How do I help myself get through the situation? Do I encourage myself and trust in my ability to get through it? Do I tend to overthink? If yes, how about just focusing on my breath to climb the hill?

We can’t always turn an unpleasant situation into a pleasant one no matter how much we try to change our outlook, but they usually have an end. There is no endless uphill. And even if it doesn’t feel like it when we’re struggling, we always come out of it a little bit stronger, a little bit wiser.

The value of contributing

This week, my youngest daughter and I decided to finally renovate her bedroom. She had inherited furniture leftovers from the house throughout the years, and her room wasn’t very functional nor adapted to her taste and needs.

It has been a relatively long and enriching process, I think. First, we had to think of what we had to sell and which pieces of furniture we could keep but use slightly differently. She had to sort all her stuff in three piles: what she wanted to keep, what could be given away/sold, and rubbish. Only this was a good exercise for her. Things that could be given away/sold had to be sorted properly and cleaned for the next owner. She had to reflect about what she has and what she needs as opposed to what she wants. She has a small room, and I think it is important that she keeps things that make her room feel pleasant to be in, not stuff that take space and gather dust. We didn’t always agree on this one so it was also a good exercise for me to let her make her own choices for some of the thing she wanted to keep.

I dismantled her bed, advertised what could be sold further, and followed up with people contacting me to come and pick up furniture and toys. This was good for my daughter to see that we don’t only throw away what we don’t want/need, it can be useful for someone else. It was also good for our project because we ‘earned’ some money to buy the furniture she needed for her room.

Next was to clean the room thoroughly, walls included. Over the years, she had chosen not to listen to our request not to tape things on the wall, and the walls were in quite a bad state. After cleaning them, we painted them. I was very impressed by her perseverance. It took us a couple of days to finish painting, and although I could see she was tired, she didn’t give up. She experienced how, we needed to do the job with care and patience. Mask off the areas we weren’t painting, cover the floors, not spill painting around. Once we were done, she acknowledge the hard work it required and decided that it is a good idea to take care of the new painted walls and hang up things properly.

We looked at furniture online, and she was surprised by how fast we reached a significant amount of money if we bought everything new. So we started looking at second hand furniture ads, and we ended up buying some new and some second hand. When we were at the shop, she chose away some objects because she was concerned about the final amount. This made me feel very proud of our little project as I feel it also taught her that things cost money and therefore we need to take good care of them. It also made her reflect on what we can refrain from buying as it is not really necessary.

After a whole week of hard work from morning to evening, the room is ready. All she needs to do now is to empty the boxes we filled with the things she wanted to keep. She is dreading this task, and I will help her a bit, but I think it is good to for her to reevaluate if she really needs everything she put in those boxes.

This whole experience made me think how important it is that we include our children in everyday chores. Small chores and bigger chores. This not only teaches them the value of work, material objects and time, but also gives them the opportunity to feel useful, the pleasure to start and complete a project.

While we were working on my daughter’s room, a good friend of mine came to visit, and were discussing how, we often chose not to ask our children to help because 1) It takes more time and effort to teach them to do things 2) We feel ‘sorry’ for them because they should be allowed to enjoy their spare time. I think maybe we need to rethink this and find a good balance. I have observed some of my students struggling with motivation and self-esteem because they don’t find school interesting, they don’t have any particular hobbies, and at home they don’t do much other than stay on their electric devices. I believe that even if kids and teenagers find helping at home annoying to begin with, they end up with a good feeling about themselves knowing that they are useful and capable of contributing to their family environment. My kids have had the task to clean their bedrooms for some years now, but I think it is about time that they do a bit more on a daily/weekly basis and contribute to bigger projects.

We have of course, tried to get them to do the minimum like tidying up their things, clearing the table, emptying the dishwasher, etc. But I must confess that I often also do these small things because I don’t feel like nagging. I can find ways to reinforce without getting angry, but I will definitely reinforce.

I think this is good for society too. I am not sure if there is a connection here, but lately, wherever I see young people enjoying some free time, I see a mess left behind. Yesterday, I was very surprised to go into our local shop where there is a small area to sit down, to find empty soda boxes, chocolate wraps and pizza boxes spread all over the floor. This shop is close to a park that is quite popular on sunny summer days for young people to hang out. I see this more and more often. Rubbish left behind after a fun day outdoors. My theory is that youth are not used anymore to help around, to experience the consequences of what they do. We parents tidy up after them both material rubbish and challenges they might face. All this with good intentions. We want to protect them, we want them to enjoy life, we want them to be happy. But I think, we might have misunderstood a bit. I believe we feel happier when we feel we contribute in some way to our surroundings. When we know how to do things, when we feel useful.

I have decided I will give more responsibilities to our kids from now on. Especially the oldest one. He spends way too much time on the computer and his phone, and his explanation is that he has nothing else to do. I have lots of things he can do… 😀