Choices, choices

We are all the time making choices. Even not choosing is a choice. With age, experience and after yoga reached my life, I have learned to understand the importance of being aware of the thinking behind my choices. Am I choosing out of fear? Am I choosing with my heart? Am I avoiding to choose? If yes, why?

With age also, I have gained perspective. I can deal with most of the consequences of the choices I make because I know the intention behind them. Somehow, it is easier to deal with unexpected results when I know that my intention was clear. I always tell myself that I can accept the mistake, or the criticism, say ‘sorry’ and move on.

However, there is an area in my life where I struggle a lot with when it comes to choices, and that is my children’s upbringing. I think many parents can relate to this. I observe other parents, especially those who choose differently than me – us, we are after all two parents – and ask myself, why don’t I do like this? I am sometimes invaded by self-doubt.

Our kids are now less dependent on us, and I have started evaluating many of our choices. I have come to realise that some of these choices were less fortunate than others. For example, we chose to live in a place where we don’t have any family, and even though we managed quite well to get through everyday life without any help, I see now that our kids missed quite a lot that kids who grow up with their grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins have. We don’t have a strong network that can support them. I think more and more about the importance of growing up with different role models. At the start of their lives, my husband and I were our children’s world, but little by little, they affirm more and more their personality and maybe (most probably even) our personality, our views, our way of doing things, might not align with them. If they had other adults to connect with, they would maybe get different ideas, different sources of inspiration. Also, they are getting into the age where they stop believing their parents when they say how fantastic they are, maybe hearing it from other adults that have a connection with them would work better.

We have never wanted to push our kids too much with school work either. In primary school, the most important was that they thrive, that they enjoy learning, and that they like going to school. I personally did expect certain effort, but I rarely sat with them to do homework. My explanation was that they went to an international school where they had longer days than the kids going to public schools, and I felt that they should be allowed to do other things in the evenings. They also were quite active with different after school activities and I wanted them to relax once at home. Once in middle school, I have talked about my expectation of them trying their best at school.

I don’t necessarily regret this choice, but I think that I should have helped them set a routine for homework because they will need it once they are in highschool.

Like this, I have quite a few reflections on what we could have chosen that might have meant something different or better for our children. However, I feel that I have made some important choices that I haven’t regretted at all.

I want my kids to grow up as caring, balanced and resilient people. I know they have come to the world to write their own story, and I will have to accept however they develop, but at least I will not look back and regret not having these values as my core values. Therefore, I have made some choices that sometimes have brought self-doubt in other areas like professional development, or even how our home looks like.

I know that I don’t tackle stress very well. I know that I am not good at doing many things at the same time because I don’t like doing things halfheartedly. It has been a priority for me that my kids feel loved, supported and seen in everyday life. That they feel that we are present. Not only physically but also mentally. Therefore, I have tried to not overload myself. I have a job, I have some hobbies, but I try as much as I can that nothing stands in the way for me showing my care and love to my kids. I haven’t always succeeded at this, and I have also gone through periods where I have had to work more or been away some evenings or even days, but I have been present as much as I can.

I know my resumé would look much better and I would have more job opportunities if I had a Masters degree. But I also know that studying would mean take away time from some area in my life, and most probably it would end up being my family. Our house is functional and pleasant to live in, but if we made an effort we could make many improvements. This would again mean taking away time to spend outdoors, or on sewing projects, or just sit and watch a movie with my kids.

I keep telling myself that I still have many years to study, to renovate, and to set myself goals, but the opportunity to spend time with my family will never come back. This said, I see how much people are able to do, and I sometimes do ask myself if I’m not a bit lazy. If I shouldn’t be doing this or that.

But, in days like today, I feel that I have at least done some good choices. That there is no one right answer on how we should live our lives. That we all have to find our way. Our priorities and try as hard as we can to avoid comparing our life to the life of others.

Why do I talk specifically about today? I will tell you a little story. Our youngest daughter is 12 years old. She just started middle school this Fall. On Thursdays, she has dance classes after school, and it has become our little thing to eat together somewhere in town before we take the bus to the dance studio. We then have a lot of time to talk. It is very nice to hear her experiences and her reflections.

Today, she told me she went to the toilet during one of her lessons and she found a girl from yr4 sitting in a corner crying. She immediately sat beside her and asked her what happened. The girl told her that a boy in her class had said something mean to her, and my daughter said something like ‘he must not feel very good about himself and that is why he is nasty to others, you shouldn’t pay attention to that kind of comments.’. She stayed with her until she was ready to go back to her classroom.

When I praised her for taking the time to talk with her and showing empathy, she said ‘I am now one of the older kids in our school, we have to be good role models. I couldn’t just go in, pee, and go out when someone is crying. I would have felt so bad.’

Anyone who knows our youngest daughter knows that she has many colours. She is not the most responsible always, but can be quite responsible. She enjoys learning, but she can also be quite lazy. She is caring, but can often be selfish. So this action only tells me that she is balanced and caring and that makes me happy.

Maybe, some of the choices I’ve made have helped her develop empathy? I am not saying that it is thanks to me that she is as she is, but at least our way of bringing her up hasn’t killed this in her.

I observe other families around us and I see kids developing the same and other skills. Sometimes I do think, why can’t my son or daughter do like that? What have they lacked in their upbringing that hasn’t inspired to that attitude? But then I think that luckily for the world, we are different, grow up in different settings with parents with different values and views, so we develop different skills and assets. There is no recipe. We just have to make conscious choices out of who we are, who our kids are and within the context we live in, and enjoy when our kids display their best attributes for their own benefit and the benefit of others.

What am I feeling and learning this week?

Since last week, I keep oscillating between overwhelmed, tired and annoyed, and serene and optimistic. One day, it feels like I will never get all my tasks done, and the next one I tell myself that I just need to do one thing at a time and things will fall into place.

One minute I am able to show compassion and understanding to the people I mingle daily with, and the next one, I am acting passive-aggressively because what I see as their shortcomings are ‘unforgivable’.

In between moods, I observe and I reflect. I can’t help but wonder why when I feel stressed and overwhelmed, I get so annoyed at other people? Is it because seeing other people’s flaws moves the attention outwards and gives me ‘good reasons’ to be annoyed? Or is it because I usually let people step over my boundaries too much? Am I keeping the peace usually by not saying anything or am I missing the opportunity to be assertive when things are calm and moving dangerously into conflict when I’m tired and overwhelmed? The problem and advantage at the same time are that I know very well my moods, and I know that going into conflict will make me feel worse, so I keep the frustration in, and instead act passive-aggressively which adds on to the already quite dark mood.

Do I feed into the feeling of being overloaded and overwhelmed with my own expectations? Can I simplify? Can I postpone some things? Can I not do others? Can I focus on one thing at a time and let the rest be? Why do I believe that if I’m not in control of certain things, the world will fall apart? Do I even believe that? Not really, so why not let go of control? Delegate. Ask for help. To ask for help, especially in the house is not to nag. Why do I keep thinking that asking for help will make me sound like a nagging wife? Mum? Maybe because of the tone in which I ask for help and maybe the tone appears when I have waited too long to ask for help…

At the end of the day, I keep coming back to the same teachings from Yoga: take responsibility for my own well-being and let the world be what it needs to be. Do what I can do in the roles I have to play but let go of the need to make everything about me. Stop and take a break when I need it. Say no when needed. Don’t get overwhelmed by my dark mood, because like everything else in life, this too will pass.

Having someone to talk with also helps. I am lucky to have a some good colleagues and friends that are willing to listen, show empathy (maybe the most important when I feel overwhelmed), and give advice. I am thankful for them.

Scenes from a Marriage

I started watching Scenes from a Marriage on HBO last week. While I was watching episode 2, I had so many thoughts and emotions. I know it’s fiction, but I think many couples can identify themselves with parts of the story of this couple. What resonated most with me is Mira’s pain. I have been there too. At a place where I suddenly believed that my life wasn’t as it should be, that my relationship with my partner was partly the problem, and that if I could only get out of it and be with someone different, I would be happy again. I remember how I would oscillate between loathing myself and loathing my partner. I felt that the version of me in the family context was unpleasant, and uninteresting. Just like Mira, I also at some point wanted to get out. It is heartbreaking to see her desperation and the confusion in her mind, and the effect it has on her husband.

While watching the second episode, I also thought, this woman is not mentally healthy. She needs help. I don’t know where the story is going to go, but what I like is that we are not expected to pick a side. Or at least, that is not how it feels for me.

I am grateful that I never made the choice to leave my husband and kids when I was at my worst emotional crisis. I don’t think this would have made me happier, I think it would have made me even more miserable because, let’s face it, who likes to create pain in others? My husband, my kids and my husband through the pain from my kids. I also believe that since I wasn’t in a good space internally, I would most probably be unable to find a good space elsewhere.

This is only one fictional story about confusion and pain, but I think we all at least know someone who at some point in life came to this kind of crossroads where you question the choices you have made and suddenly believe that if only this or that happened, you wouldn’t feel pain, you would be happier. For some, this illusion of happiness comes in the shape of the perfect job, or the perfect house, or the perfect children, just to name some.

Yoga came to my life for good when I was standing at one of these crossroads, and what I liked about it is that we are encouraged to do some serious work of introspection but leave the judgement out. We are encouraged to see ourselves face to face and accept our shortcomings, and at the same time, we are encouraged to cultivate self-love. When we are able to see ourselves with perspective and connect our pain with our views and attitudes instead of pointing fingers at the rest of the world, a completely new world opens up. A world of compassion and understanding but also of self-responsibility.

With time, I have been able to see my own confusion, and my unrealistic expectations towards myself and my husband. I also realised that going through a difficult period with three young children, wasn’t going to last forever. I understood that some of my expectations were the result of limited ideas and perceptions and that I could let go of them. I learned to be more assertive and clear.

Another aspect of Yoga that also has been very useful is the importance of understanding that our value as living beings is beyond our roles and actions. We are encouraged to play our part in life with clear intentions and a positive attitude but not attach our well-being to the results of these actions. This is both difficult to practice but liberating when we manage. Instead of aiming towards perfection and acknowledgement, we aim towards clarity. Why do I do what I do? How does it affect me and others? And when we make mistakes, we accept them, reflect on them but don’t mentally and emotionally beat ourselves down.

I have been reflecting a lot about this lately because I feel that sometimes, my attachment to my idea of who I am creates stress for me and those around me. I am so invested in meeting certain expectations I have of myself that I either end up exhausted or when I do not think or act according to these expectations, I feel awful. I feel like a ‘bad person’. I still need to work on this.

Amazingly enough, the work of self-reflection is very useful when interacting with other people. Personally, it has influenced the way I meet other people. I am less judgemental because I see myself in other people’s shortcomings. Also, when challenged, I can direct my attention inwards and ask myself if the interaction with the other person is the real reason for my distress or if it is something that comes from me (attitude, expectation, perspective, lack of clarity).

Going back to the character in the series, Mira, she has obviously chosen another path than the one I chose some years ago. This doesn’t mean that she is a bad person, or that I am wiser than her. She will get through the pain and experience the consequences of her actions, and it is going to be interesting to see where the author will take her. In real life, all choices we make can lead to growth and take us a step closer to a better inner space if we take the time to reflect and learn. Some paths might be longer because we take quite a few detours, but we will all get there eventually. This is also an important lesson from Yoga, there is no such thing as failure, we don’t win anything with drowning ourselves in regret. All we can do is lift ourselves up and keep walking.

Con respeto a los murciélagos

No tengo nada en contra de los murciélagos
pero una tarde, mientras caminaba con Suzann
me hizo notar que tienen una manera desordenada de volar
O al menos eso nos parece
comparado con el vuelo de los pájaros

Hay veces que mi cabeza
parece estar llena de murciélagos hiperactivos
Pensamientos y emociones revoloteando sin control 
sin razón aparente
Y voy por la vida tratando de encontrar espacio
En esta cabeza mía
Y mientras más lo busco 
Menos lo encuentro
Hasta que me siento, con papel y pluma en mano

Me siento para sentir
los murciélagos revolotear
y mi pluma
deja que vayan aterrizando, uno a uno en el papel
Sin orden
sin filtros
Así voy despejando el espacio en mi cabeza
Espacio para algo más constructivo
O tal vez, simplemente espacio vacío

Lessons from lower back pain, again

Last week, my old friend lower back pain payed me a visit. It was an unexpected visit since we haven’t met each other for a while. The first time was shortly after my younger daughter was born. Since then, we met every once in a while, until I started practicing yoga ‘for real’.

What do I mean by that? Well, to begin with, when I finally took the time to practice regularly. During the last seven years, I practice almost daily, at least ten to twenty minutes a day, sometimes, if I have more time, up to an hour.

Consistency is not enough in itself though. It is good only when it allows for me to get to know my body better and do what I know is good for it. Practicing yoga asana daily could be harmful if I don’t practice mindfully.

So when I say that I started practicing yoga ‘for real’, I mean yoga in the extended sense of the word. Not just yoga as a physical practice, but as a way of living. I have had to accept my body as it is and not want to push it to what I want it to be or do. I know that lower back pain has been an issue for me during the last twelve years, so I take this into consideration during my daily practice. I focus on strengthening exercises and poses several times a week, I try to be mindful of not over doing certain poses like forward bends, and vary the poses I practice in a period of time to avoid injuries.

I believe in the power of simplicity, so I keep my practice to the basic poses, and have let go of the need to do poses that I feel unsure about. If I had the guidance of my yoga teacher on a regular basis, and he would consider it beneficial for my practice to introduce such poses, I would, but to push my body into them just because they look cool, or because that’s what is ‘expected’ from a yoga teacher, is not good enough reason for me.

But back to the lower back pain. Why did it come back? Well, because I ‘forgot’ to listen to my body. Some weeks ago, Isigned up for a series of yoga classes with a teacher that I enjoy, and got carried away by the ‘fun’ of doing poses I usually don’t do. And why do I write about it? Well, there are two main reasons:

  1. I know quite a few people that have gotten injured while practicing yoga asana, and then we tend to believe that yoga is not for everyone, or that yoga can be harmful. What is harmful is the need we have to push our body to do things it is not ready for, or that it doesn’t really need. Yoga asana is a very nice way to keep the body healthy, work with the breath and calm the mind, but it needs to be done mindfully and with respect for our body and its limitations. I honestly believe that one can practice yoga asana every day without getting injured as long as one doesn’t get carried away by ego.
  2. It is so important to learn to know our own body and work with it instead of against it. There is a very fine line between pushing it a bit to get stronger or gain better stamina and pushing it to the point of injury. I believe the practice of yoga is at its best when we create our own practice because we can then listen to our body at all times and create a practice that is suitable for that specific moment. It is of course, important to have a good teacher that can guide us from time to time, someone who we can trust, but most of the work needs to be done by us.

Luckily, I know more or less what I need to do when this good old lower back pain pays me a visit, and I’m already starting to feel better – with a little help from my chiropractor. My reflections about this experience can also be applied everyday life. It is so important to find our own way! Learn to know who we are, accept our shortcomings and know our strengths, identify our values and priorities and live accordingly. There is nothing wrong in observing what other people do, listen to opinions and even learn from others, but avoid doubting ourselves every time someone says or does something differently.