Every morning, I sit with myself Breathe in and breathe out my mind full of thoughts Long inhale, full exhale my past Chant om my to-do list Focus on long mmmmm what will happen today? Sit still in silence how will I handle my day? Tomorrow, in faith, I'll meet myself again Because I know Beyond my thoughts I am peace
I just finished reading The Lord of The Flies by William Golding. I guess it belongs to the list of books one should have read at some point in life, but for some reason, I had never taken the courage to do so. I had heard about it as a teenager. A friend of mine had read it and she told me it was horrible. I kept that review in my mind for the rest of my life until this Fall when I started teaching Humanities in yr10 and our first unit is about Governance. The teacher that had created the curriculum for this class had the movie version as a possible way to introduce the unit, so I decided to read the book before eventually showing the movie.
The book is about a group of boys that end up in a deserted island after a plain crash and how they try to survive. The oldest kids are around fourteen, and the youngest are six or even younger. One of the older kids is picked as a leader early on in the story, but soon conflict arises between him and another boy of his same age who sees their survival in the island differently. Things turn quite ugly, and towards the end of the book, we read:
‘Nobody killed, I hope? Any dead bodies?’
‘Only two. And they’ve gone.’
The officer leaned down and looked closely at Ralph.
Ralph nodded again. Behind him, the whole island was shuddering in flame […] For a moment he had a fleeting picture of the strange glaour that had once invested the beaches. But the island was scorched up like dead wood – Simon was dead – and Jack had… The tears began to flow and sobs shook him. He gave himself up to them now for the first time on the island […]
I couldn’t help but make the analogy between the island and the world we live in, between the boys and the whole humanity. Will we, in the near future look back and see the same destruction around us? Is this what is happening to us right now? Have we forgotten that we all are here for the same reason and that we are part of the whole? Are we so busy chasing God-knows-what that we don’t see the consequences of our actions?
I pushed those thoughts away and went for a walk. During my walk, I heard a talk with Dan Goleman on Action for Happiness about Emotional Intelligence, and throughout the walk/talk, I thought that maybe what the boys in the book lacked rather than governance was emotional intelligence. Step number one in emotional intelligence is to take the time to accept and understand our own emotions. This allows us to learn the art of taking a step back before acting out of impulse. If the older boys in the book had been able to take the time to acknowledge that they were scared and tired, they might have acted differently. What happened on the island is what often happens in human interactions, the mental creation of the ‘other’ who becomes such a big enemy that anything to ‘get rid’ of him is valid.
Over and over again, I am more and more convinced that if we are going to be able to make a change in the world, we need to start within ourselves. We have to take time to listen to our emotions, understand them, and change the behaviours that are not helping us to be in harmony with ourselves, the environment and other living beings. Feelings like fear, anger and jealousy are connected to our inner feeling of lack, of void, of insecurity which are very human. Everyone experiences them to some degree, and everyone tries to deal with them in different ways. If we learn to tap into our inner peace to fill in that void, we make the world a big favour. If we acknowledge our weaknesses and inner struggles, we are then able to accept those of the people around us. If we can show self-compassion, we can then show compassion to others.
I started wondering, how do we teach emotional intelligence to those who are not ready for it? I guess that we can start by being the example, but how can we help for example teenagers to be more aware of their feelings without it being so awkward that they push the whole idea away? Can emotional intelligence be taught or can it only be learned by own interest?
“You can rise up through the efforts of your own mind; or in the same manner, draw yourself down, for you are your own friend or enemy.” Bhagavad Gita ch6v5
This quote is from chapter 6 in the Bhagavad Gita where the path of meditation is explained (Yoga Dharana). Krishna, Arjuna’s friend and guide emphasises that we have the power to make our lives good or bad.
Notice how Krishna talks about the ‘efforts of [our] own mind’. The mind is key and the outer circumstances are secondary in this theory of Yoga.
The work of self-observation and self-reflection is crucial in order to decide which aspects of our life and mind we can continue cultivating and which ones we need to change, and more importantly, how.
In the quest towards making choices that will improve your well-being, you can start by avoiding taking your mind and body too seriously. What does this mean? Avoid over-identifying yourself with the shape of your body or the state of your mind. Avoid the extremes of overindulging or neglecting yourself. In both cases, you are feeding into your ego mind which prevents you from reaching deeper into your Higher self which, according to Yoga, is Pure Potential.
What do you associate with overindulging? How do you overindulge? We often think about food and alcohol, but there are other ways to overindulge: sex, work, sleep, social media, reading the news… It is basically any activity we do to stimulate our mind through our senses where we lose control.
Beside the possibility of harming our health, by losing control of our senses, we also lose the opportunity to keep a calm and clear state of mind. Patanjali talks about thoughts that bring pain, and thoughts that bring suffering. Thoughts that bring suffering are selfish thoughts. Whether we like it or not, when we lose control over our senses we are being selfish. We are seeking to feel good through the experience of sense objects. The problem is that, when we seek comfort by satisfying our senses, we end up in a negative spiral. We either experience momentary pleasure in sensual experiences, but the moment the stimulus is over, we start craving for more, or even worse, we don’t experience satisfaction until it is ‘too much’ leaving us feeling overstimulated, and maybe even remorseful for the loss of control over ourselves.
Overindulging often comes from a conscious or unconscious feeling of void. This void is felt in different ways by different people and we often connect it to past experiences or trauma. The truth is that if we all observe our mind, we all experience some sort of emptiness. For some, it is stronger, and for others it is more bearable.
So, what to do?
- Slow down: when we slow down, we are more aware of what we do and why we do it.
- Make sure you rest enough: lack of sleep and rest can lead to overindulgece. The mind seeks stimulation to get out of tiredness or the emotional instability tiredness brings.
- Enjoy life with moderation: we are not encouraged to neglect ourselves. We are encouraged to use our senses to experience the world with its ups and downs but we are warned of the consequences of being controlled by our senses. Instead, we should aim to live a life of discipline, where we control the senses.
- Try not to put your well-being in sensory experiences. Cultivate contentment that is independent of the external world. Contentment is mentioned in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, it is anchored inside ourselves, no matter what is happening outside us.
“By contentment, supreme joy is gained.” Book II sutra 42 Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras.
Swami Satchidananda writes in his commentary on Paranjali’s Yoga Sutras that one must understand the difference between contentment and satisfaction: ‘Contentment means just to be as we are without going to outside things for our happiness. If something comes, we let it come. If not, it doesn’t matter. Contentment means neither to like nor dislike.’
“ The contact of bodily senses with objects and attractions in the world creates feelings like sorrow or happiness, and sensations like heat or cold. But these are impermanent, transitory, coming and going like passing clouds. Just endure them patiently and bravely; learn to be unaffected by them.” Bhagavad Gita ch2 v14
The Bhagavad Gita invites us to live a life of moderation and of constant awareness over and control of the senses. The problem with putting our happiness in sensory experiences is that they do not last. Everything we experience in the outer world is transient. If we want to experience a constant feeling of contentment, we need to put our focus inwards. According to Yoga, all we need is already inside ourselves, beyond our mind and our body. If we take the time to slow down, to make contact with this inner core, we will gradually experience this feeling of contentment that is independent of anything that is happening around us.
- Take time to know yourself in all aspects of your life. Observe what happens when you sleep less, what happens when you sleep more. Try different techniques to improve sleep: reading, light exercise before bedtime, meditation, yoga, staying away from electric devices. Observe what happens with your body and mind when you eat certain food. Be honest with yourself. It might be possible that you feel satisfied after overindulging, but what happens next? Do you experience discomfort? If not, continue as you do. If yes, what can you change? If we take the time to listen to ourselves, to observe how our body and mind react to different stimuli, we find out what best suits us.
- Create habits and stick to them. We are all different, and it is good to listen to advice, but if you keep jumping blindly from one thing to another, you are not listening to yourself. It has taken me many years of either overeating or dieting to finally realize that something in between is what is best for me. I have tried different things and have come to a sustainable diet. Something that I can live with, that doesn’t complicate my life, on the contrary, it makes it easier.
- Be patient. Be consistent. Be kind and compassionate towards yourself.
“I must emphasize that you have to lift yourself by your own efforts! You must not allow yourself to be demeaned by your ego-self. Know that the self can be both friend and foe – a friend when used to conquer the mind, senses and body; a foe, when it drags one into the mind, senses, and the body. True Self (Atma) is the ally; the ego-mind self is the enemy.” Bhagavad Gita ch6 v5-6
Some feed into their ego by overstimulating their senses, some, by self-neglect. Many move from one to the other constantly beating themselves for either overindulging or for not taking care of themselves.
In any case, we are only feeding into our ego mind creating stress and distress for ourselves. Neglect is not only harmful for ourselves because how can we function to our best when we don’t take care of ourselves? How can we show genuine care, compassion and love to others when we don’t do it towards ourselves?
Therefore, the best thing you can do is to find MODERATION in your life.
“It is impossible to practice Yoga effectively if you eat or sleep either too much or too little. But if you are moderate in eating, playing, sleeping, staying awake and avoiding extremes in everything you do, you will see that these Yoga practices eliminate all your pain and suffering.” Bhagavad Gita ch6 v16-17
Note that ‘practice Yoga’ doesn’t mean to do physical exercise (asana), but the practice of cultivating a peaceful and clear state of mind. If what we seek is to live a more peaceful and clear life, we need to start by taking good care of ourselves. Even if we are taught that we are much more than our body and mind, these are the vehicles we have to move around and experience life. Therefore, we need to take care of both. The best way to do so is by living a life of moderation in actions and in thought.
Short version : a lot.
I notice my mind has been all over the place lately. Even at night, I catch myself thinking half asleep. I don’t know why. I guess it’s a phase, so I just partly asume but I am also working on noticing and letting go, when possible. If I wake up in the middle of the night and notice my thoughts, I start repeating a short mantra I have and it always helps me go back to sleep right away.
I have also been reflecting about all the things that affect my mood wondering how I can keep a more stable state of mind, and it all goes back to the idea of grounding myself in my intentions and letting go of the expectations. Which keeps being easier said than done. I am so used to do things with a certain attitude that changing patterns is taking time. But I keep trying, I keep reminding myself, and some days, I manage.
My dad used to call me the satellite dish when I was little, because I was able to notice everything. I guess, in a way it is an asset because I can read people quite fast. I can see when someone is distressed, or sad, or angry often before others notice. If I use this ‘skill’ properly, I can show understanding and compassion and even give a helping hand if necessary. The problem is that, this skill, combined with my need for validation and my fear for doing something ‘wrong’ can be emotionally tiring because I read other people’s emotions as a direct result of my actions. Leading me to feel bad conscience in some cases and being judgemental towards the ‘other’ in others. So, it all ends up being about ‘me’ and not about the situation or the person experiencing a certain emotion in my presence.
An example, I go into the classroom, with my lesson ready but I am received by tired and frustrated students. Some of them can at times be rude. My first reaction is often to become defensive. I want to go through the lesson, I want them to learn, but with that attitude, we won’t get anywhere. I get caught up in my emotion, and by the end of the lesson, I am exhausted because I spent the whole lesson fighting against my own frustration and disappointment to act as a ‘professional teacher’.
What can be done differently here? Change the focus. It is not about me wanting to teach them. It is about the whole experience of being in the classroom, seeing each and every one of them, and letting go of my judgement of their behaviour or the circumstances. It is about putting my whole heart in the situation and forget about my own insecurities.
Don’t misunderstand me, I do care about their learning, but ultimately, I can only come prepared to the classroom with a plan that aims to meet their individual needs but if their minds are elsewhere, if they are experiencing some sort of emotional distress (which is very common for their age), all I can do is meet them with curiosity, with openness and at the same time stand my ground by setting a clear framework for our interactions, without allowing myself to believe that their actions and reactions are in any way a validation or rejection of me as a teacher.
I am also experiencing this in other relationships. I am reminding myself to give space for others to be who they need to be without allowing it to affect my inner peace. I have been observing myself for a while now, and I know that most of the time, my reactions to other people are 99,9% a product of my inner world. So why would I believe that it is different for others? How others behave with me has little to do with me and more with their inner world. So, why judge? Why try to see who I am in the gaze of others? Here too, the key is to meet everyone with an open heart but stand my ground. Know my limits, and remember that we are all doing as good as we can out of our own perceptions and belief systems.
So, to summarise, during the last few weeks, I have noticed how much I still live ‘out there’, and how peaceful I feel when I move my focus to my intentions and my actions and let the reactions be what they need to be. Sometimes I wonder what is the purpose of my life. I wonder if I am living the life I am supposed to live or if I should be doing ‘more’ or ‘bigger’. Lately, I’ve been reminding myself that it is not the size of what we do but with what attitude we do it. How we make people feel. How often we manage to detach from the I in order to create a space for the we to be. Maybe that is my ambition in life for the moment. To be able to meet everyone with an open mind and an open heart and keep my mind at peace.
During the last few years, I have been asking myself why, growing up, and also as a young adult, I have been seeking the perfect person. Not the perfect husband, or the perfect lover, but the perfect person. Someone who is good and nothing else.
The awareness of this need came gradually as I experienced extreme disillusion when I discovered that this one person I thought was flawless suddenly did or said something I would judge as mean or bad. The feeling of disenchantment was such, that I had to completely cut all contact with that person.
I don’t know how many times I experienced this, maybe three or four throughout my life but it makes me think of the collective need we have to find heroes and how difficult it is for a person that has been labelled as such by the public opinion to live up to the ideal we have of pure goodness and flawlessness.
Why would I expect someone to be flawless when I know that I am not? Is it to put myself in his/her hands? Is it to escape from my shortcomings? Is it out of hope that this person somehow will save me from myself? I don’t know. Maybe I don’t need to know, but I think that I make myself and other people a big favor by acknowledging that our mind is characterised by duality. Some of us are able to do more good than harm around us, while some of us are more limited by our mind and do more harm than good. Some people have created a lot of pain and realised it timely to change their ways. There are also examples of people who have done good things for some and really bad things for others.
Maybe this need to believe in heroes comes from our need to connect with our Higher self? Beyond our thoughts, beyond our experiences and actions, this promise that at our core, we are Pure Potential, that we are Love, Freedom and Bliss. So until we touch it, until we realise it, let’s cut ourselves and others some slack. Applaud good actions, support good deeds, be inspired and inspire and remember that what we see is all a product of our mind.