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…

Reflections during my sick leave

A week ago, I woke up to start our day as ‘usual’ since the start of the lockdown. I turned in bed to get ready to get up, and to my big surprise, I became so dizzy that I just couldn’t sit up. Whenever I tried, I would feel so dizzy that I would get nauseous. What to do? Well, as with any other illness, stay in bed.

I spent two whole days in bed, unable to read, or do anything else than keep my eyes closed to avoid getting even more dizzy. Interestingly enough, I wasn’t sleeping that much, so I was awake, in bed, doing nothing. Since I practice Yoga, I thought this would be the ‘perfect’ opportunity to just be. Be with myself, with my thoughts and try to breathe through the whole thing. Some kind of forced silent retreat.

Halfway through the second day, my mind was driving me crazy, so much that I decided I couldn’t just lie down there, so I forced myself to get up, take a shower and try to ‘act normal’. My mind was driving me crazy because of two main reasons: recurrent painful thoughts and the feeling of being useless by just lying there without even having a feber.

My mind was going around and around thoughts of regret, loss, lack and worthlessness. Thoughts that I usually try to tame in my everyday life, but that I had to face when I had nothing to do. I keep noticing that I want to use yoga teachings to become someone else. Someone who doesn’t have these thoughts. Someone who doesn’t ‘need’ anything but unfortunately, given the chance, my mind keeps bringing me back to them. So, I decided to just allow, to allow my mind to go where it wants to go, to accept that this is how I really feel at times. Am I reasonable? Well, what is reasonable? Who gets to decide?

I am now able to sit up and move around, and do stuff almost as usual, but the dizziness keeps coming back so I am in a sick leave for a week. Once I just allowed these thoughts to be, they became less strong and I moved to another kind of thinking. Or is it reflecting? Life is slowly going back to normal here in Norway. Schools are reopening, some people are allowed to go back to work. This is, of course, great news, but I have some resistance to the idea of going ‘back to normal’. Although I think my life isn’t necessarily stressful, it is a busy life. The main activities that occupy my mind and my time are being a yoga student, my work as a teacher, being a mother, and trying to establish myself as a yoga teacher. I want to be good at everything I do and I keep feeling guilty about all other things I don’t do because I don’t have time/energy. For me, doing anything halfheartedly is mentally impossible, I need to put my 100% in everything I do and still, I go around with bad conscience for not doing better.

So, these days, I keep thinking about the importance of silence. Internal silence. According to many traditions, it is in silence that we finally hear our call. That we finally hear what we are here for. I find my three main activities in life very meaningful, but I keep doubting myself. I am tired of running from one thing to another and constantly feeling that I come too short.

There are certain things I feel I cannot let go of. I can’t leave my job because my salary is important for our family budget. I can’t stop being a mum, I don’t want to stop being a mum. Shall I stop teaching yoga? Am I pushing too much? Yoga for me is a personal journey and I started teaching because I want to share what I feel has helped me a lot in my life, but there are hundreds of yoga teachers out there. Does the world ‘need’ me as a yoga teacher? I don’t know.

I also notice that I ‘use’ yoga to put pressure on myself. This sounds very stupid, but I am very honest here. I ask myself? Am I making progress in my spiritual life? Do I need to study more? Am I applying these teachings appropriately? How much do I have to do and how much do I have to let in the hands of the Universe/God/Divine providence/ or whatever you want to call it?

I feel also that I am tired of being part of a system I don’t agree with. I am more and more concerned about the natural world. I feel more and more bad conscience about the way we are destroying it. How we feel entitled to do as we please. I want to be part of a solution and not continue being part of the problem, but to be honest, I have no clue on how or what to change other than the regular small things. I am reading a book by Satish Kumar called You Are Therefor I Am, it i so inspiring. If I could choose, I would take my family and my cat to a place where we can live a simpler life. A life where the important thing is to be in pact with nature and in pact with ourselves, and not to live according to the standards the capitalist society dictates. I keep thinking how important it is to find a passion, a call, but most of our kids are busy doing what we tell them is important to do, and when they have spare time, they are mentally and emotionally numb in front of their electric devices. ‘As long as they do well at school’, we repeat to ourselves. But really? Is that what will bring them peace? Is school giving children a sense of meaningfulness?

So, I am thinking that for the months to come. I will practice more silence. I will do less. I will put my heart in my daily chores. I will be more mindful. I will flow. All this with the hope that clarity will come to me. Where to go? What to do? What to change?

More about parenting

Usually, my reflections are about my interactions with people. I think that is one of the most fascinating aspects of life. For long (and still to some degree) I have been trying to figure out what is the ‘right’ way to relate to others until I started studying yoga and learned that in order to understand why I interact with others as I do, I first need to understand how my mind operates. So, I observe myself act and react, I observe my thoughts and emotions and I try to understand why they are as they are, all this in light of what I have been studying about the human mind according to Yoga.

During the lockdown, my social sphere has been reduced to my family: my husband and my kids. I do reflect often about my role in their lives and their role in my life, but these weeks, I have had the time to observe my behaviour more closely.

One thing that I have observed is how, in situations where I disagree with my kids’ behaviour or attitudes, I automatically change my tone and start scolding them. I have stopped myself a few times lately to ask myself why do I sound so annoyed? What is my purpose right now? How are they reacting to this situation?

When it comes to our youngest daughter she gets so frustrated that she starts crying and stops listening. For our teenage son, this just means that he gives up and accepts whatever I am saying so I stop scolding him ruining the opportunity to invite him to express his own opinions and have an interesting dialogue. For our middle daughter it means that she feels criticised hurting her self-esteem tremendously.

So why do I scold? In some cases, it can be out of frustration. Maybe I have repeated the same many times: “wash your hands when you come into the house after playing outside”, or “pick up your dirty socks”, or “take your used plate into the dishwasher”. There is nothing wrong with showing emotions to our kids, but I sometimes wonder if the emotion shown is proportional to the situation, or if the tone comes out of habit. How would I react if my kids talked like that to me? Isn’t it possible to be kind and ask them to help without the ‘attitude’?

In other cases, it is because of worry or even fear. When our son doesn’t make his homework and we get a note from his teacher or when our youngest acts selfishly in relation with her sister making her feel bad. The problem is, that I think the way I talk with them can have the opposite outcome than the desired one. It must be possible to show concern and be strict without having to make my kids feel guilty. I have actually stopped a couple of times during the lockdown while talking with my son and saying out loud “Wait, why am I using this tone right now? Lets start again.” To then explain that I worry, that I try to pass on what I believe is important values and attitudes, but that I might also be wrong.

It is powerful too. The other day, I asked my youngest daughter to come sit beside me, and asked her how she thought her sister felt when she excluded her from an online meeting with their schoolmates. I wasn’t angry, I was just expressing my concern. She responded much better than when I use ‘the tone’.

My point here is not to go into a guilt trip or to point fingers for ‘using the tone’, it is more a personal reflection about the hows and the whys of parenting. I really think it is important to stop from time to time and ask myself what is the intention behind my actions and consider whether the means of my parenting are the most appropriate for my kids.

I think the lockdown has done something wonderful for us as a family. It has given us time to slow down. To listen better to each other. I notice that I sometimes start getting annoyed by some of my kids’ comments or questions but I can stop myself from reacting in a hurtful way and rather show curiosity or disagree in a respectful way. I don’t want my kids to grow up doubting themselves or feeling constantly guilty for what they think and how they behave. I want them to grow up being reflective but well grounded in themselves. It is tiring to constantly wonder whether we are ‘right ‘ or ‘wrong’ according to other people’s standards.

Patience

Do you ever get caught up in negativity? What happens then? Have you noticed when that happens? Is there a sort of pattern? Since Friday and throughout the weekend, I started noticing that almost everything was creating distress in my mind. Either by mentally rejecting an idea or a task I had to do, by focusing on the negative aspect of a situation or by predicting the worst-case scenario. Through the practice of yoga, -please read in the broader understanding of yoga, not just asana (physical activity)- I am gradually learning to observe my thoughts and not take them that seriously. By this, I mean that even though I notice distress rising internally, I don’t necessarily give in to the emotion. I just observe it. This doesn’t mean either that I can make it go away right away but by giving attention to my states of mind, I seem to be able to let go easier than when I don’t.

As a yogi, it doesn’t stop there, I have to be curious about why I am being so negative. What has changed? What is happening internally that is meeting the external world with a different attitude? I made some discoveries:

1) At the beginning of the lockdown, I was being very good at keeping my sleeping routines as usual making sure I sleep between seven and a half and eight hours per night. During the last two weeks, I’ve been going to bed later sometimes sleeping seven or less hours. I don’t know if it is because of ageing but I know now that for me to be at my best, I need eight hours of sleep. If I sleep under seven, I am more emotional, I have problems concentrating, and by consequence I am less efficient at home and work.

2) This took me a while to realise: I am putting too much pressure on myself during the lockdown. Since I have (or I think I have with full online work, three kids, a husband and a cat) more time, I want to spend that time ‘well’. What does that mean? Well, I want to spend more time with my kids in the afternoons doing fun stuff, I have been wanting to take an extra course in anatomy applied to yoga, so I signed up to an online one, I want to finally develop some ideas I have about yoga teaching, I want to do some home improvements, I want to read books, I want to exercise more, I want to spend more time with my older son in the evenings (that is why I’m going to bed later), and the list goes on and on… In addition, the ne new situation brings new possibilities: online teaching and online yoga teaching. This is lots of fun, and I have many ideas for both, but it requires time to learn new skills, use new tools, and plan differently.

Added to all this crazy mental activity, is the uncertainty of the situation. In Norway, we have come to a point where schools are gradually reopening. We know it will soon be our turn but we don’t know when or how our school is going to choose to meet all the requirements by the government to avoid spreading of the virus. On one side, my brain doesn’t like uncertainty, on the other, this makes planning for my lessons a bit challenging because I don’t know how much time I still have until things are turned upside down again… But mainly, I struggle with uncertainty.

So, once I realised all this, I have come to one big keyword: PATIENCE. Yes, I have maybe more time, and it is nice to have some projects and wanting to improve my online teaching, but not everything needs to happen right now. PATIENCE with myself, when I get anxious about the uncertainty, it is ok to experience these emotions right now. Just keep observing, keep breathing, and the anxiety will eventually go away. PATIENCE with life right now, things are as they are and we all are doing as good as we can with what we have.

I will also sleep more, be more disciplined with how much work I do and read the news only once a day. I really need to stay away from my computer after dinner no matter how many ideas I get. My mind needs to rest. I can just sit down and enjoy a cup of tea without having to do or achieve anything at the same time.

I also have to keep reminding myself that whatever happens, we always get through it. Whatever challenges we meet, we only come a bit wiser a bit stronger out of them. But above all, how important it is to have a stable sadhana. If it wasn’t for my sadhana, I think I would be even more negatively affected by the situation. I am so thankful for my teacher and for the teachings of yoga.

On being a mother: between ego and sacrifice

Among all the roles I play in life, motherhood is the one that keeps me reflecting the most. Where is the line between my responsibility and my kids’ own path in life? Where do my attitudes and behaviours stem from? A genuine wish to guide my children or my ego? How much am I ‘supposed’ to sacrifice in the name of motherhood?

I understand that being a mother is not what defines me. I understand that motherhood is one of the roles I play in life, but who I am is not limited to being a mum. I understand that I would harm myself and my kids if I were too attached to this role because every action then would come from ego. This said, I do believe that of all the roles I play in life, being a mum is the most important right now. My kids came to the world into our family, and at least during their first eighteen years or so, we have the responsibility to create a safe environment for them. Since they are young, they are still creating their own perception of who they are and the world around them. I know that this perception will change through experience, but I feel that I have the responsibility to at least try to help them have a positive experience of these first years.

Still, when I think about myself as a child, I can recognise that already then, I had my own way of perceiving things. Sometimes, no matter what my parents or other adults said. This means that as a mum, my job is to be clear about what my intentions are, but at the end of the day, the way my kids develop will be pretty much out of my hands. I can only guide and live the life I want them to be inspired by, but they will eventually live the life they will choose and learn the lessons they came to learn.

The way I understand it, ego, or ahamkara in sanskrit, is the aspect of our self that limits us. When we let ego guide us, we act in limited ways. Ego feeds itself, among other things from believing that its importance in this world is connected to how much control we have of our surroundings. Ego is the part of us that is attached to the practical world: what we do, the titles we have, the ideas and believes we have, the material possessions we have, our achievements and our defeats. So, as a mum, how can I keep ego in check? By letting go of control? By not being selfish? By sacrificing everything to my children? Maybe, but there is a catch in this idea of sacrifice too.

One of the basic principles in Karma yoga is yadnya which is translated as sacrifice. Anyone that is a parent would say that in order to be a good parent, we need to make some sacrifice. But what does sacrifice really mean? Can our understanding of sacrifice also feed into our ego?

Sacrifice is explained by Krishna to Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita as offering our actions to something bigger than us. So, yes, we play our role of parents as a sacrifice when we keep in check our intentions and avoid acting out of fear, own ambition, or a need to control our children. Sacrifice is by no means a concept of self-neglect because connected to the concept of sacrifice is the idea of sustainability. Can I go on like this for long? Also, because once we put ourself in a role of martyr, it is very easy to feed the ego with it. So, where goes the line between not being selfish and neglecting yourself? From personal experience, I know this line is very thin, and it keeps moving.

I have observed myself rejecting projects or even opportunities using my kids as an excuse. ‘I don’t have time because I want to be present for my kids’. I do want to be present for them, and I think I am, but to be honest, I have, in some occasions asked myself if I wasn’t using my kids as an excuse to not come out of my comfort zone.

This weekend, I signed up to a webinar of an hour and a half each day. In addition, I had some small things I wanted to do that do not include involving the whole family. To begin with, I felt bad conscience, I felt selfish and stressed. Especially towards one of our daughters who needs daily physical activity, and who is quite lonely during the weekends. But I had to let go of my need of always having control over everything. It is ok, from time to time, to dedicate some of our common free time to my own personal and professional growth. I think our daughter has appreciated the opportunity to spend time on her own with her things, and just relax for the weekend. I have made agreements with her, and both yesterday and today she went outside to move either walking or biking. My family do need me, but it doesn’t collapse if I sometimes let go of my need to organise and control everything. This for my own peace of mind, and for my kids to discover that they are completely capable of managing their free time on their own.