Do I want to take up this fight?

About two weeks ago, one of my daughters and I decided to ride our bikes to a beach close to our place to go for a swim. We packed our things, and off we went taking a path that we have been taking either when walking or by bike during all the years we have been living in this house. It is a street that leads towards a neighbourhood with apartment buildings, and in between two of these buildings, there is a big garden. In the middle of the garden, a path leads towards the shoreline. When I walk or bike towards the sea, I always choose this way because the view from the garden towards the sea is beautiful. In addition, there are almost no cars there, so I think it is safer and more pleasant.

As we were passing one of the buildings heading towards the path in the middle of the garden, we saw an elder man standing outside. I biked passed him, smiled and said ‘hi’. To my surprise he said, ‘you have to turn around and find another way, this is a private street’. I disagreed and pointed out that we have been using this way to go to the shoreline for years without any problem. There are no signs confirming that it is a private street. I also mentioned the Norwegian law that prevents people from blocking the access to public spaces. He suddenly changed his mind, and told me that we shouldn’t ride our bikes there because there is a garage and cars come out sometimes too fast and we can be hurt. I told him that we would be ok, and that I would not find another way today. We continued our way to the beach crossing the path between buildings.

All the way to the beach, I kept wondering though. Who is right? Is this a private street? I was on one side annoyed by the unpleasant moment, and on the other trying to be reasonable about the whole situation. This has been one of my favourite areas in our neighbourhood for years, especially during this time of the year. Am I willing to let go of this area? Shall I keep using this path and be ready to go through several unpleasant situations if I meet the same man?

When I got home, I actually checked the law. I even imagined myself riding my bike alone one day and being stopped by the same man, and suggesting we call the police to help us out. I was sure the police would agree that this is not a private street. But an important question popped in my head, do I really want to waste energy on this?

I tried to see things from his perspective. There is an area near these buildings that has become very popular among teenagers during the hot summer days. They gather to sunbathe, play volleyball and bathe in the sea. Maybe, during these days, there are a lot of people riding their bikes down this path, and I can understand it being disturbing with the noise. It might also be scary with a lot of bikes passing in high speed for those who are walking.

I have been using this path for over seven years, enjoying the view and the nature, but do I want to get into a conflict just because of that? No. Are there alternative ways to the same place? Yes. Can I let go? Yes. I actually got excited with the idea of discovering other ways to get to the same place. Get to know other sides of the same neighbourhood.

About a week after this experience, I went for a hike with a dear friend, and out of the blue, without me mentioning this little incident, she told me about a similar situation she and her neighbours are experiencing but from the side of the elder man. Around eight houses share the same grounds, and some years ago, an entrepreneur built a whole new residential area near these houses. Everyday, people cross their ground to get to and from the bus. This represents noise and a feeling of loosing privacy since people passing by can see directly into the houses. Many of her neighbours are annoyed About a week after this experience, I went for a hike with a dear friend, and out of the blue, without me mentioning this little incident, she told me about a similar situation she and her neighbours are experiencing but from the side of the elder man. Five houses built in the 80s, share a driveway that helps each resident arrive at their home from the main road. Over the past year, a developer has built a whole new residential area adjacent to these houses and driveway. Everyday, people from the new development use their driveway to get to and from the bus, schools and shops in the area though there are other, far less convenient access routes available to them. This increased traffic (not forecasted when my friend bought her house a year ago even though they’d asked the seller about any existing neighbourhood conflicts) represents noise and a loss of privacy since people passing by can see directly into the houses, and sometimes carry on conversations late at night. Daily, there is also an increased safety risk as children and people riding bikes now use this area intended for the car traffic of several homes, not for the dozens of homes using it now as a walkway. My friend’s neighbours are annoyed by this change, and they are trying to discuss how to solve this problem. Although the context of her story is different because it is mainly about poor planning from the developer’s and Kommune’s side, it made me think about my own story. There are always at least two sides to a story, and most of the time, we need to be able to see beyond our own perspective in order to find solutions that do not create more distress and stress.

In many situations in my life, I often end up with the same question: who is right? Most of the time, I realise no one is completely right, it is just a matter of perspectives. The question is, where am I willing to invest my energy? Do I want to be part of the problem or the solution? Sometimes, after weighing all possibilities, we might believe that our perspective is the right one, and we then have to swallow the bitter pill of engaging in a discussion that will be unpleasant. Sometimes, we have to go through the moment(s) of unpleasantness to see a change happen. So it is a constant dance between what we believe in, what we stand for and trying to see things from other perspectives.

In my little story here, it is obviously not worth the bitter pill. I can let go of my favourite path. Who knows? I might discover a new favourite path in the process. 🙂

Be quiet and reset

My Yoga teacher, Prasad, has taught me the importance of cultivating silence.
At least twice I year, I have created the habit of retiring to the guest house in Mariakloster in Tautra. I am so lucky to have such a place so near Trondheim!
When I am silent, I automatically slow down. When I slow down, I am able to observe my thoughts better and let go of the broken record of rumination, worries, regrets, and attachments. It is often after a period of silence that I move from thinking to reflecting, and that is very helpful.

Sometimes, I experience clarity, sometimes the only experience is the experience of being alone, in silence, in a slow tempo with myself for some days.

This time, I bring back from my retreat two things:
1) A quote from Mother Teresa: “Not all of us can do great things, but we can do small things with great love.” A reminder of the importance of putting our heart in everything we do. A reminder of the importance of accepting and embracing what we are put to do in this life. A reminder to not compare ourselves with others and stop blindingly chasing the bigger, faster greater.
2) Thankfulness for having Prasad as my guide. May I remember to be as patient, loving, and compassionate with my students, yoga students, and my own children as he is with me.

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?

Fatigue and humbleness

During the last two or three weeks, as the lockdown was gradually being lifted, I started feeling more and more tired. Monday this week was the worst. I came home from work mentally exhausted. I usually enjoy spending time with my kids after dinner, but I felt I didn’t have the energy to engage in any conversation and even less any activity with anyone. I felt my brain was saturated, and every new piece of information about what needed to be done or any question where a choice needed to be made felt like an insult. This feeling continued throughout the whole week, and I was trying my best to keep up with my days, but by nine o’clock in the evening I was ready to go to bed.

This tiredness was dragging me down into a spiral of negativity with its good old broken record of everything I ‘lack’ and regret playing in the back of my head. Luckily, Thursday, as I was dragging myself through the day, a quote from Darkness by David Whyte came to my mind :”When your eyes are tired, the world is tired also”. So I asked myself : why am I so tired and why am I being so negative…again?

I believe that we have an infinite source of energy and love inside ourselves if we only learn to apply them skilfully. Ever since I have been studying yoga, I try to follow what I see as the main principles of Karma yoga which are acting with clear and pure intentions and let go of any expectation by offering my actions to something bigger than me.

This morning, as I started my sadhana, I asked for guidance. I now have enough introspect to know when I am going down in the spiral of negativity, and I was asking for some support. What came to my mind was the word “humbleness”. Be humble, was the message I heard. I have heard this word from my teacher many times before. Every time I meet him, he encourages us to be humble. I have always interpreted it as in our interactions with other people and other living beings, but today, I found another sense to it.

My mind is always taking over. I am always wondering what I should do next. I am always thinking. But, through my sadhana, I am practicing to gradually tame my mind so I can listen to a deeper voice, the voice that is connected to the bigger picture. This is where the humbleness comes in. If I keep my ego in check, my mind will calm down, and I will be able to listen to what is important. I will be guided. I don’t have to push anything, I don’t have to do anything other than slow down and allow.

I believe that when we manage to listen to this deeper voice, our actions come from a calmer and clearer place and they require less energy. We act out of love and not out of fear or anger. We act out of spontaneity, the spontaneity of the soul. So what do I need to do? I need to keep going. I need to keep doing my sadhana, and keep reminding myself that if I want to achieve real peace and contentment, I need to keep going inwards. I keep staying in the surface, wanting to find answers in the practical world when I know and have experienced over and over again that what I see out there is nothing else than the result of my own perceptions, my own state of mind. If I keep working with my inner world, I will be more skilful and useful in the outer world.

Over and over again, I am so grateful for the teachings of yoga through my guru, Prasad. Over and over, they allow me to drag myself out of the wholes I dig for myself. I can feel my Faith gradually growing. I can feel things changing inside me. Very slowly, and some days, it feels like I take some steps back, but I keep walking, I keep learning.

After my sadhana today, after reflecting over why I have been feeling so tired and finding out that the solution is in my hands, I felt so much better. I spent a lovely Saturday with my girls. I was lighter, I was freer.

About discomfort

Thursday this week, I woke up to the exact same symptoms from two weeks ago. It was frustrating and slightly frightening after feeling quite okay for almost a week. It was a holiday, so all I could do was rest…again. Friday, I woke up feeling pretty much the same, so I decided to call the doctor. To my big disappointment and frustration, I was told that he had taken the long weekend off and that I could call back on Monday if I still felt unwell. This is typically Norway, I thought. You need to be dying for health workers to take you seriously.

After a wave of self-pity, I asked myself, are you seriously ill? Do you need to go to the hospital? Or is it just that it is very unpleasant? According to what my doctor told me two weeks ago, I am most probably suffering of something called vertigo, which is not life threatening. I went online and read about it, again, and the general advice is a good dose of rest and physical activity.

So I went back to bed. While lying in bed, I began to reflect about my ‘condition’. I felt exactly like two weeks ago. It was unpleasant, very unpleasant I have to say, but it wasn’t life threatening. I hadn’t fainted, I didn’t have a fever, I hadn’t gotten worse. I asked myself, what are you afraid of? The discomfort or is it fear of something else? It was just the discomfort the dizziness and nausea that was stopping me from getting out of bed. After resting for a while, I decided to get up, roll out my yoga mat, and try some soft movements paying attention to my breath and pausing long enough to feel how my body was responding. I ended up doing about an hour of soft yoga asana and breathing exercises, and then lied down to rest.

This encouraged me to try going for a walk later the same day. I asked two of my kids to ‘take me for a walk’ and off we went. I wonder if the people we met on our little stroll worried my kids were walking with a drunk woman because I couldn’t keep my walk very steady, but we made it. Half way through our walk, my son asked me, what happens if you stop focusing on the feeling of dizziness and rather focus on what you like so much in nature? Wise words. I tried, but it was very difficult, so I just tried to focus on our conversation and my breath.

I could go on and on on how I gradually and gently pushed myself out of bed and pretty much my comfort zone throughout the day and today, but my point here is actually how important it is to face what is unpleasant, what we don’t like. In this case, I know that what I have is not a serious illness, so it is ok to push my mind and my body to feel better. It was actually recommended to try to do some exercise.

How about other situations in life? I must confess that I try as hard as I can to stay away from unpleasant situations. I don’t like conflict. I don’t like what I see as my challenging emotions. So what do I do? I often try to avoid unpleasant situations, and push my challenging emotions away. Does it help? Well, sometimes for a short period of time, but they do come back. I need to learn to be with what is without necessarily wanting to fix it or push it away. Unpleasant situations can sometimes lead to growth, to a better understanding, or to a breakthrough. My challenging emotions are a reflection of my own perceptions and an invitation to create inner clarity. I need to ask myself if what I feel is really so important for me that need to go through the unpleasant moment to try to do something about what triggered the emotion in the first place, or if I can change my perception and let go of the emotion.

I have now learned that these episodes of severe vertigo don’t last that long, and that I can deal with them quite ok. I will go back to my doctor if they don’t disappear in some weeks, but at least they have given me the opportunity to 1) be thankful for my daily yoga asana practice that is teaching me to trust in my body and use my breath to get through unpleasant moments 2) reflect on how fast I tend to reject discomfort 3) keep adjusting the balance between activity and rest…