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.

How do you measure your worth?

I was talking with some ninth grade students the other day about their experience during work week. Where I live, students in ninth grade (and in some schools in eighth grade too) work for one week during the school year to learn the whole process of writing a curriculum, taking contact with the employer, sometimes even being interviewed, and get the experience of working for a week.

For some students, this is the first time they have a “real” job, and it is always very nice to hear their experiences. It is not surprising that some of them find it more meaningful to be out in the world learning a profession instead of spending their days at school.

We started a nice discussion about how nowadays, the worth of a student is measured mainly by her grades. Furthermore , it is assumed that in order to be successful in life, you have to do well in school and go to university. There are very few professions today that do not require higher education. But this is not the point in this post. The point is that one of the girls I was talking with was telling me that she doesn’t feel like a very intellectual person, she struggles to get what is considered good grades, and this of course affects her self-esteem. We then started talking about what makes a person valuable. This is always a very interesting topic to discuss with teenagers.

I once had a discussion about self-value with another student from tenth grade. For him, what made him a valuable young man was his performance at school and in sports. When I asked what would happen if he had an accident that made him sit in a wheelchair and unable to continue studying, would this mean that he would be less valuable? His answer was, yes, he would be less worth because he would not be able to do anything of ‘value’. I was shocked by his answer, and he was shocked when I challenged this idea. I sincerely believe that we cannot measure our worth by our achievements in the practical world. It is a dangerous thing to do so because when we fail, we loose our ground. So, if our worth is not connected to our achievements , what gives us value as humans?

Some of us, place our worth in comparison with other people. I know that for years, I have been struggling to imprint in my mind the fact that in reality, no one is more or less worth than I am. Nothing that I do or don’t do affect my value as a human.

I don’t know how it is for other people, but now that I am more aware of my thoughts, I have realised since I was a kid I’ve been comparing myself with other people. I often thought other kids my age were cooler, funnier and more exciting to be with; other girls were prettier and more interesting; my brothers were smarter and so on.

The other uglier side of this habit is when I believe that I am ‘better’ than other people by looking at their “flaws” and rejoicing in the fact that at least that, I don’t do. It was honestly embarrassing to discover the boost of self-esteem (fake, I would add) I get from this kind of thinking. Without trying to justify it, it does make sense, doesn’t it? We all suffer from insecurities, we know very well our weaknesses, but we rarely know our strengths. It is then comforting that some mistakes other people make, we don’t make.

But, am I more worth than the people that make the mistakes I haven’t made? Or than the people that behave in what I perceive as inappropriate? What about when I make my own mistakes or behave in inappropriate ways? Does my worth go down then? How do we measure? Who is in charge of measuring? Who has the right to measure?

I think that going around comparing our value with others’ only creates separation. Separation from our deeper self and separation between the me and the other. In my opinion, this is just an illusion.

For years, I knew this person that I perceived as difficult. I would hear stories about this person’s challenging behaviour and think ‘I do better than that’. I kept comparing myself with this person, until one day, I found out that we were going through a similar problem. I then identified myself with the feelings this person was experiencing, and suddenly, the gap between us disappeared. This reminded me that at the end of the day, we all want the same things in life but seek them in different places in different ways.

I think it is important at some point in life to reflect on this. Where do we anchor our self-value? Which criteria do we use to value other people? Can we see the same potential in everyone and accept that we all are limited by our minds in different ways?

These days, I’m savoring the concept of Pure Potential. I’m sure I’ll write a little text about it in the future, but in the meantime you can listen to this lecture from my teacher, Prasad Rangnekar, about it.

Aversion, the other face of attachment

Abhyasa and vairagya are two very important principles for the yoga practitioner. Very simplified abhyasa means practice and this encompasses the daily sadhana, but also practicing the teachings of yoga at every moment in the practical life. Vairagya is often translated as detachment. The less we cling to, the less disturbances we create in our mind, the clearer we live our lives and most importantly, the closer we come to the core of who we are.

The principle of detachment really makes sense to me, and therefore during the last five years, I’ve observed myself, and tried to detach from what does not serve me in my spiritual path. I have had to be quite honest with myself and let go of what causes disturbances in my mind. I am constantly looking at what I do, what I want, and what I possess, and I ask myself if this is a priority, or if I can let it go. This can be things, activities, relationships, habits…

The idea of detachment is not that we stop engaging with the world, on the contrary, we engage maybe even more wholeheartedly but with awareness. Without clinging into it.

Recently, I’ve been reflecting on the other face of attachment: aversion, and I have discovered that this one causes maybe even more trouble in my mind and in my practical life. There are different levels of it, the highest probably being hate or resentment. When we go around thinking bad of others, we can physically feel how it affects us, our heartbeat increases, our body feels restless, we feel generally unwell. A dear friend of mine once said in one of her workshops, hate is like eating poison and hoping for the other person to die. It really eats us up.

Luckily for me, I don’t hate anyone, but I do have resentment towards things people have done that have hurt me. I have been aware of that kind of aversion for some time now, and I constantly work with it. It helps me to think that people act out of their own perspectives and needs, just like I do, even if this sometimes means that they hurt others, just like I’ve done.

When it comes to the ‘lower’ degrees of aversion, I know now for a fact that I have a tendency to panic in moments of unpleasantness, either created by my emotions, situations or people around me. This often leads to me acting impulsively to get out of the unpleasant feeling making things worse.

Reacting with aversion to unpleasant situations is, of course, part of our instincts, and it is useful when we are in danger, but let’s be honest, in our everyday life, how many times are we in real danger?

Form now on, I will observe myself in moments where aversion arises and try to work with it by 1) Not reacting impulsively to it 2) Being courageous and sit with the feeling 3) Trying to understand where the aversion comes from and see if I can make some small adjustments in my perceptions and life in general. My yoga teacher often says that it is the people and situations that challenge us that teach us the biggest lessons about ourselves.

To achieve this, abhyasa is a very important element. During my sadhana (=daily practice which for me is sitting with myself), I can practice sitting with the unpleasantness, by using my breath to calm the mind and not feed into the feeling with analyses and judgements. And for the rest of the day, remind my limited mind that it is ok, unpleasantness is not the end of the world, it is trying to tell me something about myself and the way I interact with the world.

Can I say good things about myself?

A few days ago I wrote about my mental addiction to problems. I discovered that I had been looking for problems to solve for years and I became entangled in too many situations that did not really correspond me.

It’s part of my personality to help, but I decided to change my attitude towards life. Instead of seeing problems and trying at all costs to be the “universal problem solver”, take a step back and see where I can do something useful for the good of all and where it is better not to get involved.

In the end, we must accept that where more than one person interacts, there will always be frictions, misunderstandings, and conflicts. Of course, when I am the source of a problem, I will change my attitude or apologize, and I will go ahead without getting entangled.

I also decided to change my attitude, especially in moments where I often feel uncomfortable and focus on something positive. There is always something positive to recognize! As a teacher I know that the best way to push students up and forward is by focusing my energy on their qualities and the good they do, why not do the same in life in general?

Following this purpose of seeing the positive, the other day I sat down to write in my diary and I challenged myself to write positive things about myself. And what was my surprise when I realized how difficult it is to say good things about myself!

First I thought about writing my qualities, what am I good at? One of the qualities that I thought of first was creative, but I immediately thought that I am not as creative as my colleague who does incredible things, no matter what. Well, then what qualities do I have? Oh, I know! I am caring … But compared to my friend G, I’m not that caring. G is such an empathetic person, and he has so much energy! He is always helping others. I’m disciplined, but maybe also a bit stiff? … It took a while for me to realise what I was doing.

I was either comparing myself with people that I think have the quality in question “better developed than me” or I was finding arguments against the quality that I originally thought I had.

Reflecting a bit, I came to two conclusions. One, it is useless to compare ourselves with other people. We are all unique in our own way and we must truly find our positive sides and help ourselves cultivate and develop them. Not all inner work is about seeing our limits.

Two, if we play a little with the idea that we are all unique and have infinite potential, we then have all the qualities imaginable and unimaginable in the world! The trick is where we focus our attention and energy. Towards our limits or towards our qualities? What qualities do we think would be useful to live a more peaceful and meaningful life? Well, focus on them and stop seeing what others can or cannot do!

So let’s do the experiment of at least once a week to write all the positive things that we do and that we have inside of us. To choose our good sides and develop them to the fullest. Exactly the way a good teacher does with her students. Correct little by little our limiting perceptions, attitudes and actions, but without obsessing with them.

As Krishna says to Arjuna: Let a man lift himself by himself; let him not degrade himself; for the self alone is the friend of the Self and the self alone is the enemy of the Self. Bhagavad Gita Chapter 6 verse 5.

Busy bee? Not today

I need to start creating moments during the day to take a pause. It doesn’t matter if it is five minutes, ten minutes or a whole hour. I tend to get caught in the misleading idea that every minute of the day needs to be used in a ‘productive’ way. Either at work or at home. Why do I keep falling into this silly pattern? I don’t know.

Sometimes, some extra time falls from heaven like today. Thursday last lesson, I teach yoga as an elective to some students in our school, but I had forgotten that their class was on a trip today. I prepared  myself and the classroom and nobody showed up. It felt so good to then spend the time to do my own asana practice and I even took five minutes to lie down in shavasana. It would have been too time consuming to change back to my regular clothes and tidy up just to try to get some work done before the end of the school day.

Sometimes, I have to create the time for myself like this week. I just didn’t feel like rushing through the house to get it cleaned during a weekday evening, I didn’t feel like hurrying up. Instead, I invited myself for a run by the sea in the gorgeous Spring weather, and left the cleaning for later this week. I genuinely felt revitalised that evening and the next day.

Everyday, I create a space and  time in the early morning to do my sadhana. This is non negotiable, but I keep forgetting that if I need something, the best person to provide it is myself. Never expect anyone to give you what you need, you need to take self-responsibility to take care of yourself. No one is going to ask you to stop spinning around because we live in a society that cultivates and encourages business, and you know what? That is nonsense.