Why do I like Marvel movies so much?

Since the start of January, life has been busy. I have been planning a trip to India to study meditation with my teacher, but I made a terrible mistake with the paperwork required for the trip. I have this bad habit of always taking the longest and most complicated path towards a goal. So six weeks before my trip, I was trying to get all my documents in order to be allowed to travel. In addition, my husband and middle daughter left for a planned trip three weeks before my departure.

So here I was, at home with our other two children, with work, after school activities, and the responsibility of the house on my own.

It has been some intense weeks towards this trip. After letting go of my frustration for complicating things, I just did what I felt I could do to get my papers in order, and decided to leave the rest to happen as it had to happen. Luckily, nobody’s life depended on this trip, so if it turned out I couldn’t go, I would have felt very disappointed, but at least I would have learned my lesson.

Like magic, the same week my daughter and husband left for their trip, I received a message that I could pick up my passport in Oslo. That frustration and uncertainty got solved.

Then, there was work. Lots of work. I took on an extra role this Spring semester, and this meant some late evenings in January at work. Again, slightly bad planning from my side knowing that my husband was going to be away and that I had to juggle between my main job as a teacher, my kids’ activities and my yoga classes.

Early on, I had this ‘peptalk’ with myself: what are my main priorities here? How can I organise myself? What can I let go of to make my everyday easier? What can we learn from all this?

My main priority is: stay calm, keep my inner peace. If I mange to do this in the middle of busy periods, I am more focused, I am more creative and more efficient. I am open and present at any moment with my children (who are my priority nr2), with my students (at school and in my yoga classes) and my colleagues.

So, following the teachings of Karma yoga, I tried to keep in mind at all times what my role in each situation was, I did my best, and hoped for the best. I don’t want to sound crazy, but just like magic, things kept falling into place little by little. My kids are now old enough to take some responsibility at home and help, and I think they enjoyed this responsibility. I enjoyed the time I spent with them knowing that otherwise, we were all three going from one thing to another throughout the week.

I did meet some challenges, some ups and some downs, and after a first reaction of frustration, I kept reminding myself to stay focused, stay calm, and here I am two days before my departure and it seems like everything is ready. My lessons are planned, my house is clean, there’s food in the fridge, and my kids are calm. My husband and daughter are soon on their way back home.

Just yesterday, I was watching a Marvel movie with my youngest. We l-o-v-e to watch Marvel movies! And it suddenly hit me why I like these superheroes so much. They just do what they have to do. They get beaten up, they win some battles and they loose others, but they have very clear what their goal and priorities are. They just keep going. That is the life I aspire. Clarity, empowerment, resilience. That is why I work so hard on myself, and I see that the positive results not only benefit myself but also those closer to me. No matter how busy I am, I prioritise my sadhana, at least ten minutes breathing exercises. This helps me reconnect with myself, slow down and set things in perspective. It is self-help at its best.

I am also lucky enough to have supportive and understanding colleagues, some close friends that I know I can count with if things get too crazy and the support of my husband that encourages me to go on trips like this one. There isn’t many people in my life, but the ones that are in it make a big difference, just by their presence, their support and understanding.

May we all have the clarity to keep reminding ourselves to be open, stay calm and focused, and above all trust in ourselves and the process.

Have a good week everyone!

LOVE

Almost a year ago, my teacher gave me the task to write a text about love. Love is something that has occupied my mind a lot, especially during the last five years. Five or six years ago, I experienced something that turned my world upside down, and it made me start questioning the idea I had about love, especially what we tend to call ‘romantic love’.

The last weeks, I have been listening to an audiobook called God Speaks to Each of Us which is a compilation of lectures Thomas Merton had using Rainer Maria Rilke’s texts to talk about different topics related to the meaning of life and how we interact with each other.

One of the last lectures is about what Merton calls human love. In it, he quotes from Rilke’s book called Letters To A Young Poet:

‘For one human being to love another human being: that is perhaps the most difficult task that has been entrusted to us, the ultimate task, the final test and proof, the work for which all other work is merely preparation[…] Loving does not at first mean merging, surrendering, and uniting with another person (for what would a union be of two people who are unclarified, unfinished, and still incoherent?), it is a high inducement for the individual to ripen, to become something in himself, to become world, to become world in himself for the sake of another person; it is a great, demanding claim on him, something that chooses him and calls him to vast distances. Only in this sense, as the task of working on themselves (“to hearken and to hammer day and night”), may young people use the love that is given to them. Merging and surrendering and every kind of communion is not for them (who must still, for a long, long time, save and gather themselves); it is the ultimate, is perhaps that for which human lives are as yet barely large enough.

But this is what young people are so often and so disastrously wrong in doing: they (who by their very nature are impatient) fling themselves at each other when love takes hold of them, they scatter themselves, just as they are, in all their messiness, disorder, bewilderment. And what can happen then? What can life do with this heap of half-broken things that they call their communion and that they would like to call their happiness, if that were possible, and their future? And so each of them loses himself for the sake of the other person, and loses the other, and many others who still wanted to come. And loses the vast distances and possibilities, gives up the approaching and fleeing of gentle, prescient Things in exchange for an unfruitful confusion, out of which nothing more can come; nothing but a bit of disgust, disappointment, and poverty, and the escape into one of the many conventions that have been put up in great numbers like public shelters on this most dangerous road. No area of human experience is so extensively provided with conventions as this one is: there are life-preservers of the most varied invention, boats and water wings; society has been able to create refuges of every sort, for since it preferred to take love life as an amusement, it also had to give it an easy form, cheap, safe, and sure, as public amusements are.

There are many things in this quote that resonate with me. To begin with, the fact that love is hard work. Any love. To love each human being we interact with requires that we are willing to accept the good and the difficult. To love is to observe ourselves reacting and rejecting what we don’t like and be curious enough to discover why we react so strongly. To love is to grow because once we decide we will love, we have to move away from our instinctive way of clinging to what we like and pushing away what we dislike.

We have to accept that our happiness doesn’t come from other people fulfilling our needs, it comes from our ability to see our neediness and work on it. We have to learn to accept the emptiness and fear that come with the realisation that regardless of how much we seek in the other, we are in reality alone. Once we have taken the first step of acceptance, we can gradually feel comfortable in this loneliness and build a relationship of trust with our own self. We are ok on our own. This relationship with the self can then be the bridge between us and the other. We can then see the same vulnerability in the other and show understanding and compassion. That is when the real love happens.

My teacher often says that not all love needs to become a relationship. I think that what we call ‘romantic love’ is a kind relationship and as my teacher defines it, relationship is a contract. We all have our explicit and implicit terms for the different contracts we have with people: mum, teacher, lover, children, etc. There is nothing wrong with it, but we should learn to make the difference between being ‘in a contract ‘ with someone and loving someone from the deepest of our hearts.

I like how Rilke writes that to love is to become world. To me, this means that we become space for the other to be, without judgement and without neediness. It doesn’t mean that we have to put up with whatever the other brings. Some relationships are toxic, some people hurt, and sometimes it is necessary to part, but we can still love without the contract, without the relationship.

Only this kind of love will set us free.

PS He keeps referring to ‘young’ people, I am not in that category anymore, and still, I know that I have a long way to go to be able to fully understand and live up to this kind of love.

Raga/Dvesha

As a student of Yoga, I read, I reflect and I apply what I study to my life. This means that what I retain from my studies is influenced by what is occupying my mind at each moment. My understanding of some of the concepts is influenced by my experiences and observations so most probably, what I think today might change tomorrow because of further studies, new experiences and hopefully deeper understanding.

This week, I have been thinking a lot about the concepts of raga and dvesha. They are both mentioned in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras and in the Bhagavad Gita, and I recently found out that they are two of the three poisons described in Buddhism as well.

Raga is attachment and Dvesha is aversion in Sanskrit. Two faces of the same coin. If you observe your reactions towards everything that happens around you, you either approve (like it), or disapprove of it (dislike it) this leading to you either wanting more or wanting to run away in the oposite direction. Sometimes, we also are indifferent.

This way of ranging things as either good (pleasant) and bad (unpleasant) is most probably part of our survival instinct, and there is nothing intrinsically wrong with it. However, in the Yoga tradition, we are encouraged to move away from these two ‘troubles of the mind’ because they distort our perception and distract or even distress our mind. When we refrain from attaching to what we like or rejecting what we don’t like, our mind is calmer and we might be able to deal with every situation in a more skilful way. You enjoy what is pleasant being able to let go of it when the time comes, and you can deal with what is unpleasant in a way that doesn’t add more distress to the situation. You might also sometimes discover that what you label as bad, is just your own personal perception that doesn’t benefit you and those around you.

I’ve been thinking about it this week because I observe how in the society we live, we are too used to choose what we think is suitable for ourselves, what we like, what we want, what we think is normal, what we think is good, and many of us struggle to come out of our comfort zone even if this would benefit someone else.

Are we becoming a hedonist society? Are we raising up our children to become attached to their comfort zone, to what they like and justify them when they despise what they perceive as unpleasant? If our kids get bored, what do we do? Are we overdoing it in our efforts to give them a good life? What is a good life? A life devoid of pain?

I sometimes wonder if not by being so obsessed with doing, getting and keeping what we like and rejecting so strongly what we dislike we are creating more pain than gain. What we perceive as unpleasant is often what brings us up and forward spiritually because we learn something new about ourselves. If only, that we are resilient.

Sometimes, reaching out towards others who need it demand from us to get out of our comfort zone. It demands that we do things that we maybe don’t feel like doing. I am not sure I am right, but I keep thinking about one of my daughters. She is born with a syndrome that affects among other things her social skills. As she is growing older, she is struggling more and more to be accepted by her classmates. I know she can be challenging because she can have a quite rigid mindset, but she is also a lovely kid with many assets. She has many interests any girl her age has. I am afraid that the adults around her are justifying her isolation with the fact that she is ‘different’ and that her classmates are young and shouldn’t be ‘affected’ by her sometimes challenging behaviour. Shouldn’t we be encouraging already from young age inclusion? What do we do with all the people that do not meet our definition of ‘normal’? Can’t we give them a chance too? They need more guidance, they need to learn how to socialise, and they might not learn all the necessary skills, but they certainly have the same right to be part of society as anyone else. Can we teach kids to be kind, to sometimes even include just to make someone feel good even if this means that they ‘loose’ some time of ‘freedom’ once in a while? Do we always have to accommodate for kids to do what they like and sweep away from their path what they don’t like? What do we teach them then?

I read today that one of the secrets to prosperity is generosity. When we give, we become richer, not because of some miraculous multiplication of what we give but because we discover how much we can give without really loosing anything…but now I am moving towards another topic, the topic of asteya. This can be for another time.

"I am here for you"

A colleague lent me a book written by Thich Nhat Hanh called Planting Seeds: Practicing Mindfulness with Children quite long ago. This week, I used one of the sub-sections from the chapter about Strengthening Connections to prepare my Yoga elective at school.

I don’t have the book with me right now, but the main message was how to show love to those who are closest to us. The best gift one can give is to be present. The technique he suggests is to take a deep breath, feel your mind calming down, bring yourself to the present moment and think or say “I am here for you”.

Although Thich Nhat Hanh practices and teaches in the Buddhist tradition, I often find some parallels between the teachings of the Buddha and the teachings of Yoga.

What resonates with me is on one hand the best way to show love by being fully with the people we love. On the other, it is the importance of being there for our loved ones no matter what. This, I connect with the advice that Krisna is constantly giving to Arjuna to control his impulsive need to constantly like or dislike things, situations and people. “I am here for you” even when your behaviour is difficult for me to accept. “I am here for you” even when you are not doing well.

Isn’t this the purest way to love someone? What we call unconditional love? It sounds so pretty, but it is so difficult to practice sometimes. I observe myself that I keep playing the market place with the people I love. I give and give and keep giving as long as it is ‘well-received’, but the minute I sense resistance or rejection, my attitude and behaviour change. It is almost uncontrollable. It comes from fear and insecurity, I think. It is difficult to be kind when it feels like it is not well-received. I don’t know what to do next, and I know that what is required is even more understanding, even more kindness, but I rarely manage to control my impulsive reaction which is to mirror the behaviour, or even get mad.

And, what about “I am here” when you don’t want me to be here? How does this apply? People have different ways of ‘asking’ us to be present. Some want support, someone to talk with or even a hug. Others want space and may look for that space in a way that can be perceived as hurtful. The real art here would be to manage to say ‘I am here for you’ by taking a step back and hoping that the person in question knows that the gesture is out of love and compassion and not indifference or rejection.

My Yoga teacher usually says ‘wear your heart on your sleeve’, I guess because according to the Yoga tradition, we will never run out of love. Love is what we are, we just have to peel off all our fears, all our insecurities and limiting ideas to realise it.

I like this idea.

17 years and counting

Today, is our wedding anniversary. Seventeen years.

What is extraordinary about our relationship? Nothing, I would argue. Like in any marriage, we have had our good times and our bad times. There had been times where we have really considered going each our way.

Why haven’t we done so? Are we better than other couples that decide to split? Of course the answer is no. Ask anyone what marriage is about, and you will get thousands of different answers. I think that explains why some of us stay together no matter what and others make the choice to part.

At one of the most challenging moments in our relationship though, I came to realise that I didn’t have a clue of who I was and what I wanted in life, and this made me doubt if leaving my husband would make me feel better. Splitting our family in two, sending kids back and forward every other week as it is the common solution here seemed too drastic when I didn’t really know what I wanted. My husband has always given me enough space to be, so I knew that if I stayed with him, I could still be able to start working on myself.

My husband is a very open-minded man that sees the human in me (not just ‘the wife’, ‘the possession’) and was able to show compassion and understanding regardless of my hurting behaviour. Maybe he recognised his own confusion in my confusion? We were able to see the good in our relationship beyond the difficult and painful, and we decided to continue walking together.

So here we are, seventeen years and counting, trying to make some sense of who we are as individuals and at the same time living a common life with quite big responsibilities like any other couple with children. We both work hard on ourselves, we both do our best with what we have. There are no guarantees though. We never know what the future may bring, and I keep reminding myself that this is part of living in this world. Experience what life brings in order to learn and grow but be ready to let go when required.

I am thankful for these seventeen years together. I am thankful for the gift of being able to parent our children together. I am thankful for his generous heart, patience and sense of humour (even though I keep pretending I don’t like his jokes). I am thankful for the space he gives me to be, to explore, to try and fail and try again in many different areas. But maybe above all, I am thankful for the opportunity marriage has given me to observe myself and discover my limiting attitudes and beliefs about myself and those around me in order to at least try to become a better version of myself.