Short reflections

The sweetest victories have been the ones won towards my limited mind.
During the last six months, I have worked on observing my negative thoughts to avoid falling back into old negative patterns of behaviour. When upset, disappointed or frustrated, I have allowed the feeling to come, sat with it, and avoid reacting to it. When I take the time to do so, I realise it is just a matter of the reality not meeting my expectations. I then kindly lead my mind to something else, and continue with my day. It has been so liberating no to engage with nor react to these emotions! The step two of this practice is to work with my way of perceiving myself and the world around me, I basically ask myself two questions: 1) Can I change my attitude towards this? 2) Is this so damaging that I have to move away?(at least mentally and emotionally).

I’d better have a clear mind in my interactions with the world.
If I do not know what I’m doing or why I am doing it, I can’t then act with conviction. I know that my clarity is not absolute, and today’s clarity will change into something else in some time, but I need to anchor myself into something, and that something can only be a product of the practice of reflection at any given moment.

The less we push, the further we get.
Less talk, more listening. Ask useful questions. Show the way towards change even if I don’t agree with that change. Oppose less but draw the line when necessary.

Every single day my kids and my students present me opportunities to be humble, I am learning to grasp them.
Be curious. Be open. Accept my mistakes and apologise. Remember the impact of my words and actions, preferably before I speak or act. Keep building. Avoid breaking. Rebuild when broken. Accept disagreement. Accept negative feedback and attitudes as part of the process. Accept that, like anyone else, I am not to be liked by everyone and that’s ok.

I am one and I am a part of all. I am here and I am beyond. I don’t need to be in opposition.
No need for explanation.

I see your pain, I am with you, but my emotional reaction to it won’t help you.
No need to add on my emotion to situations that already are emotionally difficult. I can show empathy and help without wasting energy in emotion that can be used to be skilful and practical.

It’s unfair!

One thing that frustrates me to tears since I was a little girl is the feeling of being treated unfairly. I purposely say ‘the feeling of being treated unfairly’ because from what I observe in myself, it is often a matter of perception.

As a kid, I might have been scolded at for doing something I didn’t perceive as a fault but for the “scolding” adult, it was. I see that a lot as a teacher of young teenagers, when I correct a behaviour, my student(s) and I often move into a discussion about the unfairness of me pointing out at this action as inappropriate. This then leads to me explaining how the behaviour is against our school’s common agreements, or how it affects negatively the classroom/school’s environment, and the student in question seeing it as unfair because he/she wants or needs something different. There is a conflict between what the student in question wants or needs and what he/she can/should do at that given moment.

So, sometimes unfairness is a matter of perception, but what happens when we experience doing our best in something for then seeing it being taken away from us without clear reason? Some years ago, out of the blue, a friend that I considered as one of my closest friends, suddenly decided that she didn’t want me in her life anymore. When I asked for a reason to at least have the chance to apologise, my friend got even more angry and accused me of harassing her. We don’t live in the same country, so this made things even more difficult. I asked myself several times what was it that I did to be treated like this, and honestly, to the day today I really don’t know. In this friendship of so many years where we never ever had dispute, this really felt unfair.

After some days of reflecting, I decided that all I could do is to respect my friend’s decision. I sent her a message telling her that I love her and that I would be here in case she wanted to reestablish contact, and I let her go. From the yogic perspective, I went into this conflict with the intention to do my part to fix it, I measured my words and tried my best, her reaction to it was completely out of my hands. Why spend more time and energy thinking about the unfairness of the situation? Why make the situation even messier by engaging in negative thoughts and feelings when none of them would solve anything and just add distress for me?

If there is something I am more and more convinced of it’s the fact that even when it seems like people do things to us, it is all about their inner world. Why do I know this? Because I experience it myself. All my interactions with others and the world around me are a result of my way of perceiving myself and the outer world.

I guess at this point you are wondering if I mean that we should then just accept unfairness and let go. Not really, but like with everything, I think we do ourselves a favour when we peel off the layers of emotion in any given situation. I am not saying we shouldn’t experience emotion, but we should try to not feed into negativity and rather approach life in a practical way by seeking clarity in our mind.

I recently had the privilege to learn a big lesson from another friend. She lives abroad, has a child and is divorced. She was facing a trial about the custody of her child, and like in many trials, the lawyer in the opposing party had dug into her personal life to find aspects of her past and personality that could be presented in a bad light. It was very tough for her who has been taking good care of her child and taken every decision thinking of the child’s best, to be depicted in a completely wrong way. After the first emotion of unfairness and frustration had passed, she decided to stay calm throughout the whole process and not even respond to these accusations. She had prepared her case well, she had done all the right things for her child, and didn’t have anything to prove. She even had the compassion to understand the tactic, and let go of it in her mind. This, in my opinion is the big lesson for me to learn here. She let go for her own well-being. Thus, by letting go, she was able to stay calm in court, talk from reason, and go home with peace in her heart. She was, of course, nervous for the outcome but had the wisdom to see that she had done her part and the rest wasn’t in her hands.

This is the very principle of Karma Yoga. In her role as a mum, my friend did her duty by always acting with her child’s best interest in mind, she presented herself to trial well-prepared, the rest is not in her hands.

Does this mean that we shouldn’t fight when we perceive something as unfair? I don’t know for sure, but I think that we would benefit from asking ourselves what is it that we are fighting for and why are we fighting for it? What is required from us in that particular role? How much will this fight cost emotionally? What would happen if we let go?

This morning, I was reading verse 11 from ch2 in the Bhagavad Gita where Sri Krisna says to the warrior Arjuna “The wise lament neither for the living nor for the dead” which for me, in the context of spirituality, is a big statement. We don’t lament our losses, because they are losses in the transient world. The transient world is constantly changing and nothing that we acquire in it is really ours. What is even more important, no matter how much we loose ‘out there’, we don’t loose anything inside ourselves. Sometimes we even need to let go of something in order to learn a lesson, in order to be able to move on and win something that truly benefits us. If we are sure of our integrity, of our attitudes and our actions, no one can take that away from us. We can loose an unfair battle, but we can also rise tall, and move on to the next level.

It is interesting to use the Gita here, since it is a song about the dialogue between Arjuna and Krisna at the battlefield right before a big battle Arjuna needs to fight against, among other things, injustice. But I think the key here is to remember that Arjuna should engage in this fight following his duty as a warrior, and not driven by his own negative emotions…

About cats, cars and life in general

It all started today when while I was waiting for my kids outside school, I saw a message in my neighbourhood’s common message platform that a cat had been run over on one of the streets near our place. My heart stopped as our young cat has just started to dare to be outside during the day while we’re at work and school.

I scrolled down to read the comments to see if more detail was given, and I was relieved to find out that the description of the cat didn’t match our cat, followed by a feeling of remorse for feeling so relieved. I felt sad for the cat and its owners, and I thought about how this kind of painful things seem to often happen to others, until one day, they happen to ourselves.

This incident brought me back to thoughts I’ve been having lately. Death is the most certain thing about life, and it fascinates me how much we try to avoid it until one day, we can’t avoid it anymore. We are so afraid of it, yet, it is the only thing we are guaranteed will happen to each and everyone of us one day.

I personally try not to think much about it, especially when it comes to my loved ones, and I must confess that I just pray that the day it hits me, I will have the strength to see through the darkness of pain and loss.

The good thing about thinking about death is that it really helps us see things with perspective. It reminds us that everything in this world is in constant change, and that we should strive to live a meaningful life, we should strive to see the beauty in every moment and be ready to let go and adapt and adjust and accept change.

With these thoughts in my mind and after eating dinner, I got a backpack ready with my journal, a bottle of water, some extra clothes and my yoga mat. My son has swimming lessons on Fridays, and I had planned to go for a walk in the woods while he swims, find a nice hidden spot, do some yoga asana, and some journaling. I might even lie down and read my book if the weather permits, I thought.

We were half way to the swimming lessons when my car started to complain. It started making weird noises and a warning light symbol started blinking on the dashboard. We were in the middle of the highway, and the car seemed to be doing ok, so we just continued, but right before arriving, my car decided it was enough. We had to stop.

My son walked the last few hundred meters to the swimming pool while I tried to figure out what to do. First of all, it was learning experience to know where to call for help, to look into the car’s manual to understand what this light symbol means, and to google it while I waited for the tow truck.

Then the thoughts started to fly: what are we going to do? It is Friday, we will have to wait until Monday to get the mechanic to see it. We have so many things to do during the weekend! What if it is super expensive to repair? and so on.

The worries didn’t last long, because on a Friday evening, everything seems so easy. Nowhere to hurry to, nothing to have ready for the next morning. My son could get a lift home from one of his swimming peers. I can sit and wait for the tow truck in the car. Luckily, it is not Winter, so we can bike, walk and use public transportation until the car gets fixed… or not.

We’ve been talking for a while about how we could use public transportation more often. Especially the kids and I to get to school. We’ve been also playing with the idea of not owning a car anymore. Or getting a little electric car and use it only for long distances that are too difficult to cover in a practical way in everyday life inside the city. But as with most changes, when you’re in your comfort zone, you don’t really run to make them.

So, what is my point with this text? Not much, only that we can put most of life’s issues in perspective. That what my dad used to say is so true “Everything has a solution except for death”. That it is now we get to live our lives as they are because one day we are here and the next one we are not.

Self-sufficiency – the yoga practice is not always a walk in the park.

An important aspect of the spiritual practice of yoga is the concept of self-sufficiency and self-responsibility. The practice should guide us little by little to the realisation that the source of love, peace and freedom comes from inside ourselves and not from the external world. Once we manage to detach from the idea that the outer world should fulfil these three basic needs, we can reach an independent state of contentment.

Therefore, we are encouraged to make sure that the intention at the base of our actions and interactions is not a need for validation of the ego or to satisfy emotional needs.

During the last six months, I have been more observant of my actions and interactions, and I can honestly say that when I manage to detach from my need of a reward from the outer world, I can act from a place of peace and the end result doesn’t affect me as much as before especially when it is not what I perceive as in my favor. It requires that at every moment, I ask myself what is the nature of the role I am playing and what is required by me in that role.

Needless to say, this is a quite difficult practice, especially when it comes to interpersonal relationships. The unconscious principle of trade is so embedded in me. When I give good, I expect to receive good back. On this note, a fun exercise is to remember that what I perceive as good might not be received or perceived as good on the other end. Or maybe not as good enough.

I recently had an episode with my husband where I went back to the idea that he never actually sees me. The feeling is that I do my part in our partnership, I work with myself to be a positive member of our family by observing my attitudes and trying to adjust them not to add stress and distress to our everyday life. Still, at times, I feel like I am completely invisible, and what is worse, whenever I say something that is perceived as silly or incorrect, I can then be sure to be noticed and not necessarily in a way that I appreciate. The amount of fun my ‘silliness’ can bring to the table is limitless. Joke after joke about what I said. I know there are no bad intentions behind this, but I did notice myself getting upset about it recently.

I am trying to be more assertive and to communicate in a positive way, so I took this up. I explained that in my view, in a relationship, there needs to be a certain balance between positive and negative attention. I can take criticism and even be made fun of at as long as from time to time, I feel appreciated too.

The response from my husband was positive, but this episode stayed in my mind, as it often does when something upsets me. I kept asking myself, am I right? Is it just my perception? Am I being needy?

I don’t have very concrete answers, but I did come to one sort of conclusion. There is of course, no harm on being assertive, but if I really want to be self-sufficient, I could say that sometimes, I attach to my role as a wife and what I believe I am entitled to in that role. If I detach from from it, I would then be ok with what is because 1) I don’t need anyone’s actions to validate me. 2) Maybe I am being appreciated all the time but I don’t see it.

I have another example. As a middle school teacher, I work with teenagers. They are lovely kids, but from time to time, like any teenager, they push the limits. One thing that I have observed really pushes my buttons is respect. Whenever I perceive my students being disrespectful, I struggle to keep my cool, especially if I am tired. After reflecting a lot about this, I came to one way to deal with it. As a teacher, I believe it is my duty to teach my students certain important values that will allow them to live peacefully in any society, and respect is one of them. Whenever they are disrespectful, I can react in a much more skilful way if I detach emotionally from the situation and react only in my role as a guide and mentor. So, it is not my hurt ego responding, or my need to be respected by others. I respond as someone that is supposed to guide them through their years at our school. I must confess that I am still practicing this, but when I manage, I reduce the amount of stress to zero, and I believe it benefits both me and the concerned student(s).

When I started experimenting with these ideas, I had a period where I felt disconnected and maybe even distant from all and everyone. It kind of scared me. Was I becoming like a robot? I felt like I was building a wall between me and the rest of the world.

It is too early to say whether I am or not becoming a robot (he he), but as I continue experimenting with these attitudes towards life, I feel some sort of calmness growing inside me, and at times a stronger feeling of connectedness. I can even say that I feel compassion when I am challenged by someone because I can see where my emotions come from, I can accept them instead of reject them, and I can show understanding for the other person’s behaviour since I know how challenging it can sometimes be to interact with others when we live trapped in our own perceptions, needs and expectations.

What if?

– Dedicated to a dear friend

What if
The very thing
You believe you're missing
The very thing
You keep chasing
The very thing
You believe will make you happy
Is
The very thing
That is holding you back
The very thing
That is draining you from energy
The very thing
That is standing on your way
To
Pure contentment
To
True happiness
Dare
To drop it
That very thing
Let it go
And then
Stand still
Be quiet
You will discover
How complete you are
Without
That very thing