Reflections from a reluctant traveler

It is so easy to trick myself into believing my own limiting stories. One is that I don’t have the extra energy to get out of my comfort zone. I work as a middle school teacher, and even though I have a schedule and a plan for each day, every day brings unforeseen situations and extra tasks. The same at home with three teenage kids, a husband, and a cat. At the same time, I am trying to get my yoga teaching up and going, and it is taking time. So, lately, just the idea of planing anything that requires a bit of effort seems overwhelming.

Thus, last week, when the date for a trip with some of my students was approaching and my to-do list kept growing, I regretted volunteering for this trip. My tired and overwhelmed mind kept going through all the worst-case scenarios that could happen during this trip. Oversleeping and not catching the bus to the airport, the plane being canceled, students getting sick or even worse, hurt…

Sitting in the bus on the way to the airport, I started wondering why I was dreading traveling so much. I used to love to travel, but now, I was filled with anxiety. I think it was partly because I haven’t been traveling since before CORONA.

The trip went smoothly, and just a few hours after the event we joined had started, I realized what a great experience this was for both my students and myself. We spent three days in a camp learning about the importance of democracy. There were students from several schools in Norway, each small group accompained by a teacher. Students and teachers had slightly different programs each day. It was so inspiring in so many ways.

I realized how easy it is to get caught in going around in circles when we stay in the same place without being exposed to different ways of seeing things, and new knowledge. I would argue that it is almost dangerous for our growth and mental health.

During the last day of our camp, while talking with one of the other teachers, we agreed that this trip was worth the effort, and that unfortunately, not all courses or conferences we can attend are as good.

This made me think about the importance of getting out of my comfort zone from time to time to meet new people and learn new things, but it needs to be done with awareness and clarity of mind, not just for entertainment.

According to Yoga philosophy, one can classify our attitude towards life’s experiences into two: one can have the attitude of a bhogi or the attitude of a yogi. A bhogi is someone who seeks experiences for the sake of experiencing, and most of the time the goal is to satisfy the senses. A yogi is someone who uses life’s experiences to reflect on her attitudes and behaviour and improve them. A yogi‘s main goal is to continue transforming herself for the better. To get closer to her Truth. A bhogi can easily fall into indulgence and restlessness, while a yogi has to constantly create inner clarity to be able to discern between acting to please the senses and the mind and acting with awareness for her long-term benefit avoiding harming others.

When the yogi steps out of her comfort zone, it is at a different level than the bhogi. It is not to experience strong emotions, it is to challenge the limitedness of the mind. Emotions do arrise, but the yogi does not get stuck in the emotions, the yogi needs to see past them and learn something about herself and the world around her.

At the stage I am in life and in my willingness to integrate Yoga teachings to my life, I think I am still somewhere between acting like a bhogi and acting like a yogi. I do reflet a lot about my attitudes and behaviors, but I tend to seek what is emotionally safe for me and reject what feels challenging. I get stuck in situations out of fear of letting go and experiencing pain, but oftentimes, when I let go, I experience freedom. Freedom from being attached to something that doesn’t help me develop, that doesn’t allow me to go a bit deeper in my quest for the Self.

This trip made me think of that, and the importance of getting out of negative spirals…

What do you need?

I went for an evening walk with my youngest who is now 13 years old. Together with her friends, she is going through changes, and with those changes seem to come challenges related to friendship. It is interesting to observe that their conflicts are not that different from what we could experience as adults, but with the lack of life experience, these conflicts feel much more dramatic than we might experience them after a few years of life (45, for example).

She started the conversation by telling me everything that frustrates her with her friends, and I tried to patiently listen asking sometimes if it wasn’t her own perspective. It is tricky to try to give advice, but here is what I told her that I think can help even ‘experienced’ adults when in conflict, especially with close friends and/or in a romantic relationship.

  1. Try to always remember that the other person, just like you, has more than enough with their own insecurities, inner struggles, and feeling of lack, so, whatever they do, is 8% about you and 90% about their inner life. So, if a friend suddenly acts cold, ‘ditches’ you for another friend, or doesn’t want to do something you used to do together, before assuming it is about or against you, talk about it. Try to not talk when you are upset. Wait until things are calm and ask. AND, even when it is about you, it is often a matter of perspective. If, however, the other person tells you there is something you have done that has hurt them, be open to reflect and consider saying sorry and avoiding doing the same again.
  2. Avoid talking with your friend by listing what is ‘wrong’ with them, or what they do ‘wrong’ (Very difficult!) Focus rather on expressing how you feel (or felt) in a given situation and wait for a response. Listen with an open heart. Most of the time, the intention behind the action is not to hurt. But when it is, try to find solutions together. I know, this one is difficult for a teenager, but at least expressing how they felt is better than ‘attacking’ the friend.
  3. Say clearly what you need. Write a short list of what you think you need from your friend to feel valued, safe, and included. Try to be as concrete as possible describing actual actions your friend can take.
  4. Listen to what your friend has to say. Consider their point of view.
  5. Consider accepting some of the sides that you see as challenging for the sake of those you value/like. Write a list of the pros and cons of your friendship with this person and decide if you want to continue investing time in it.

As I have been hearing since I started studying Yoga, when we move the focus inwards, when we are aware of how we perceive things, what we need vs what we think we need, and what we can give, it often is easier to communicate with others. It sometimes brings you to a better space in a relationship (although it might take time), and it sometimes might mean you need to let that person go, but at least you don’t feel like you are constantly banging your head on the wall.

Playing with ideas

Passing judgement
just like passing gas
starts by
ingesting something
the [beliefs] system does not tolerate
it -ego - gets bloated
and out comes the stench,
or even worse,
it stays
panifuly rumbling in the mind
Just like with diet
the pain is avoided
by mindfuly choosing
which thoughts we feed us with
Observe the beliefs system at the source of the judgement
and don't allow them to bloat the mind

Weed

Facing the overgrown weed
The task feels overwhelming
Where to start?
Which one to pull out?
Sudden doubt
This weed is actually pretty
And it serves its purpose too
Varied flowers of different colors
Some are edible too

I finally squat
Choosing one to start with
As my hands move carefully
The task gets easier
Almost instinctively
I move to the next one
and the next one after that
Until after a while I look back
And can see the difference

Squatting and kneeling on the ground
Can’t help but think of the mess in my mind
Like the weed, grown uncontrollably
Away from my attention
Sometimes so dense that I feel stuck

With the constant practice
The ability comes
To pull
One by one
From the root
The weed in my head
So when I sit
That seed
That is inside me
Can finally
Breathe