Reflections over a recovering broken arm.

I have three teenage kids…or almost. The youngest is turning thirteen this year, but she surely behaves like a teen already. Since they were toddlers, I have tried as much as possible to explain the whys of my behavior as a mum. Why they have to brush their teeth, why it is important to have healthy eating habits, why it is important to have a sleeping routine, why we wear a hat and mittens when it’s cold outside, and so on.

I am not sure how much they’ve listened, or how clear my explanations were because the older they get, the poorer choices they seem to want to make. Especially our oldest and our youngest. The one in the middle has less liberty because she was born with a syndrome and one of the recommendations with her diagnosis is to have very clear routines, so she knows there is little room for discussion when it comes to food, sleep, and exercise. Otherwise, she is happy to follow instructions when it comes to outdoor clothing.

Our oldest is 15 years old and turning 16 this year. The last year or year and a half, I had started to let him make his own choices more. I had stopped insisting on him wearing a hat, or mittens, or a rain jacket. During weekdays, we still insist on him going to bed as soon as he gets home from his swimming practice, but they sometimes end so late that he goes to bed at midnight. We tried to keep a routine during holidays too, but this Christmas break, we gave in and let him go to bed when he wanted, trusting that it wouldn’t be ‘too late’. It was sometimes at 2am because he was gaming online with his friends.

The struggle with our 12-year-old is food. She has always been picky, but when she was younger, we had at least the authority to make her eat what we considered healthy at each meal. Now, she can refuse to eat breakfast and no matter what we say or do, she won’t listen. She can spend hours in front of her dinner plate until we give up and let her leave the table. But make a batch of brownies and guess who will eat three in no time.

So little by little, I have been giving in to some of my kids’ poor choices explaining why I disapprove of them and why I would rather see them make better choices, but I didn’t fight, I didn’t nag enough.

Until last Saturday when our oldest broke his arm and ended up at the hospital. The whole experience made me reevaluate in many ways how we are parenting our teenagers. While our son was recovering from surgery, I sat by his side feeling overwhelmed by the love I feel for him, and although his life was never in danger this time, thinking about how frail life is. How, in just a little moment, everything can change. Do I know him well? When was the last time I had a long chat with him? Not because I didn’t want to, but because he is always ‘busy’ with something else, and I don’t want to ‘push’ him. He is a lovely kid, kind, very generous with his smiles, and very reserved. When I ask him, how his day was, his answer would always be “okay” or even “I don’t know”. As he grows older, I notice that “I don’t know” has become a standard answer. You might think – as I did – ‘what is wrong with that?’ In reality, there is nothing wrong with that answer, but I feel that it often can be a way to avoid being in contact with what he really thinks or feels because it might be unpleasant, or because he doesn’t want to take a standpoint that might put him in opposition with someone.

I don’t like making people feel uncomfortable, so, throughout the years, I have avoided pushing our son to talk or to give his opinion. Sitting by his side, remembering how stressed he was right before the anesthesia kicked in, and how helpless he seemed, I told myself that I have to push him a bit more. For his own sake. He needs to learn to notice how he feels, what he thinks and be with it. Share it. Find strategies to overcome unpleasant moments. Be brave. Stand up for his thoughts, feelings, and opinions. He will need these skills in life as he grows older and becomes more independent. It is my job to make him a bit uncomfortable from time to time because he is safe with me. He can deal with his mum pushing him, and this will train him to be ready when the world pushes him harder than me, in less safe contexts.

After the operation, and when he was back in his room at the hospital, I allowed him to check his messages on his phone and answer them, but after a little while, I took the mobile away. He was anxious about not being able to sleep and wanted it back, but I stayed firm. He didn’t sleep very well that night, but I told him that it was okay. He would have the chance to rest at home. Once at home, I have been stricter with screen time – wondering at some point if this was the right time since he is after all convalescent – and pushing him to rest and go for short walks with me. Today, during one of our walks, he told me: ‘mum, I think the medicines I got at the hospital finally had an effect on me. I feel relaxed.’ I told him I don’t think it was the effect of the medicines, it’s been already over 24 hours. It’s the effect of resting while awake and sleeping enough hours. The walking must have helped too. Me making him a good breakfast. Drinking enough water…

I have a feeling that in our modern society we tend to forget that everything in the human system is interconnected. How we feel physically, mentally, and emotionally is dependent on everything we do day after day. The quality of the food we eat, the quality of the thoughts we cultivate, the quality of our sleep, how much physical activity we include in our everyday life, how much we allow our mind and body to rest, how well we are connected with our thoughts and emotions, even how much water we drink. When one aspect of our system is out of balance, we need to look into the whole of our everyday life, and often, the solution is most probably in changing more than one habit.

As a teacher, I see the number of students struggling with sleep, motivation, and even depression increase year by year, and I think it is connected with the lack of a holistic approach to their struggles.

I notice it myself, if I am deprived of sleep, I feel more vulnerable. If I eat poorly for a day or two, I feel sad without understanding why. Some people feel irritated, some lethargic.

I will, from now on, push my kids more to face their thoughts and emotions, to go for walks with me, to eat properly, to give me their phones and turn off the computer, to go to bed early even if they dread not falling asleep right away. It doesn’t matter if they get annoyed, it is partly my job to annoy them, as long as I know it is with the intention to take care of their physical and mental health. And I will continue repeating why I do it: because I love them.

Stress, self-inflicted or a result of our environment?…or both?

For the last seven years, ever since I started studying and practicing Yoga through the guidance of my teacher, Prasad Rangnekar, I have been working with myself whenever I experience stress.

I have had the belief that stress is something I experience because of my attitude to what is happening around me and the idea I have of myself, and that if I work with that, I would experience less or no stress.

I recently wrote about an email exchange that affected me emotionally. I was surprised and maybe a bit frustrated with my reaction to the emails I was receiving. I had to deal with my emotions during the whole weekend and to be honest, it was quite tiring. I kept telling myself that the person’s reaction to my first email was not my responsibility and that as long as I was at peace with the intention behind my email, I should be able to stay calm.

Through my studies in Karma Yoga, I have learned that my actions need to come from clear and pure intentions. I have learned too that what should occupy my mind is the why and the how of my actions but I do better by letting go of the results of those actions. Lastly, I have learned that my expectations towards the world around me can be the cause of my own stress and distress.

I use these ideas to try to have a more open relationship with the world. Whenever I experience an emotional reaction towards something that happens around me, I stop and find out which idea in me is causing the emotion. It has helped me calm my mind in many cases. It has helped me accept better what is happening and adapt instead of pushing.

However, during the last two weeks, something happened at work that I am struggling to deal with. I have felt stressed, frustrated, and angry. No matter how much I try to work with my mind, I have been unable to let go. What I am wondering about now is, yes, it is good that I work with my own mindset and try as much as possible to take resposibility for my emotional reactions, however, there are places and situations that generate stress, and maybe my responsibility towards myself is to know when enough is enough. As my teacher often says, taking responsibility for yourself doesn’t mean that you become a doormat. Maybe all the energy I am spending on dealing with my stress could be spent somewhere else in a more constructive way? I find it is important to recognize when accepting, adapting, and accomodating for my own mental health and the benefit of the whole is the most skillful thing to do, and knowing when to be assertive and maybe even leave the stressful situation/place altogether.

Maybe there comes a time in the spiritual development that we can deal with whatever without being affected by it, but I have to recognize that I am not there yet and that I need to stop exposing myself to what is affecting me so much.

What do you think?

Intentions and means of action

This has been a rather intense week. Although I don’t really like this kind of week, I appreciate the opportunity to put into practice what I have been learning the last seven years to try to keep my mind calm and act instead of reacting.

I haven’t always succeeded in keeping my mind calm this week, and as I write this text, I can feel the stress in my whole body but I know, that after some minutes, it will fade away. I am not yet at the level of not allowing situations to affect me emotionally, but I am more able to search for a wider perspective, and it helps.

It helps to always try to understand the mental process behind people’s actions. It doesn’t matter if I agree with this process or not, I can then easier accept and show compassion. This week, I tried to communicate with someone via email. I spent time weighing my words, trying to ‘sound’ as calm and constructive as possible, but I failed. The response was one of [out]rage. I won’t deny that I felt unfairly attacked and frustrated because I was misunderstood. The message that I tried to communicate got lost in the belief of an intention that I didn’t have. However, I think I understand where this person comes from. I think culture has something to do with their strong reaction. Neither this person nor I have English as a mother tongue, and maybe partly because of that, they put other meaning to my words than the intended one. In addition, it is that time of the year where people are stressed, and maybe they receive many emails a day and don’t have time to carefully read them. So, instead of getting angry at them, I just let it go. I didn’t have the intention to attack when I wrote that message, and that, I think is the most important for me: my own intention behind my action. I am at peace with it. I think it is sad my message didn’t pass, but I can’t do much more about it. I don’t have the need to push everyone to believe in what I believe.

I have the values I live up to, and try to act accordingly, if people have other values and misunderstand mine, it would be crazy to spend time and energy trying to change their minds.

However, I have been reflecting on the relationship between intention and means of action/communication. It is also important to pay attention to the means of our actions. Of course, I usually do, but I have to confess that when I sent that message, it was the fastest way to deal with that situation before the weekend. If I had waited until Monday and had a chat with the person involved, I would have avoided the unpleasant response during the weekend. Maybe, I would have had to deal with an unpleasant situation in person, but it would have been easier to explain myself than by exchanging emails. I tried to do this in my answer to their first reply to my email, but their second reply was so harsh that I decided to end the communication by acknowledging that I should have rather asked for a meeting and that I will take their views into consideration in further interactions. I don’t think I need to spend more time trying to correct a misunderstanding that the other party doesn’t seem willingly to correct.

I will never communicate via email with this person again. Rather call and maybe keep my interactions with them to the strict minimum. I will also spend more time reflecting on which way is the most skillful way to act as for what I see good intentions are not always enough. Lastly, I will keep working on letting go of expecting specific outcomes from my actions. I can have good intentions and consider the action chosen as the most skilful and still have a negative reaction, but at least I will be at peace with what came from my side. The rest, is for the other person to deal with.

The egg and the hen of emotions

Last week, while I was eating breakfast with my family, I noticed a weird sensation in my belly. Some sort of anxiety. I sat and wondered where the feeling was coming from. There was nothing to be anxious about. I tried to be with it for a while, but I also had to continue with our morning routine.

Some minutes later, while I was getting dressed, my husband asked if our youngest had already come down to eat breakfast. I went upstairs to find her still in her pajamas and on her mobile. I took her phone exclaiming that it was confiscated for a week.

When I went back down, I found our son on his mobile while eating breakfast. I took it away and started scolding both our son and our youngest daughter for their bad habits. I was quite angry.

When I went back to the bathroom and calmed down, I realized I had been unnecessarily loud and surprisingly angry for such a mundane ‘fault’. It is then I remembered the feeling in my belly earlier and wondered whether my [over]reaction had something to do with it. Most probably.

Over the last few years, I have been fascinated by my emotions. We have a tendency to believe that what we feel is just the of what we experience in the outer world, but the more I observe and reflect on my own emotions, the more I realize that my emotional reaction to what happens outside myself is directly linked to my mental state.

The simplest way to experiment on this is with sleep or lack of sleep. I know that if I don’t sleep enough, I am more vulnerable and can either move into a space of anger or sadness in situations where I later wonder what the big fuss was about.

Another good experiment is in my role as a teacher. If I meet my students with a calm state of mind, the lesson goes smoother almost no matter what happens. If I come in with an impatient and restless mind, I often end up overwhelmed.

When it comes to emotions and feelings, we can really ponder on the egg and the hen. Yes, there are situations that awaken certain feelings in us: fear, sadness, happiness, and even anger. These are mostly impulsive, but I believe more and more that the intensity of these feelings and the way we deal with them are directly linked to our state of mind.

Sometimes, we have this underlying restlessness, sadness, vulnerability, or even dissatisfaction within ourselves that has nothing to do with what is happening outside, and whatever happens, will then trigger a reaction to allow us to vent out the pressure the underlying feeling was causing.

I think this is natural, but not always useful and certainly no fun for those around us. So lately I’ve been thinking that I would like to learn to recognize my inner discomfort and link it to my impulsive mental reaction to the outer world before I act or react in ways that affect others in a negative way.

This is useful for me, because it allows me to take responsibility for my own emotions and stop blaming the world for my inner state of mind, and is useful for my environment because at l do my part to keep some peace.

Easier said than done, I know.

The good news is that the other side of the scale of emotions also applies to this principle. If I make a conscious choice to meet the world with thankfulness, openness, and even playfulness, things seem to go smoother. I experience more positive things and feel more relaxed.

I leave you with a poem from David Whyte called “Sweet Darkness”, I always think of this poem when I am feeling blue:

When your eyes are tired
the world is tired also.

When your vision has gone
no part of the world can find you.

Time to go into the dark
where the night has eyes
to recognize its own.

There you can be sure
you are not beyond love.

The dark will be your womb

The night will give you a horizon
further than you can see.

You must learn one thing.
The world was made to be free in.

Give up all the other worlds
except the one to which you belong.

Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet
confinement of your aloneness
to learn

anything or anyone
that does not bring you alive

is too small for you.

Unskillful with balls

One of my colleagues who is the gym teacher at our school has taken the initiative to invite everyone at work, every Friday evening, to play in the gym. To begin with, I was skeptical since ball games have never been my strength. Mainly because I never played ball games as a child.

However, this year, I have made the resolution to be more social in my spare time, and getting together to do some exercise is in my opinion a nice way to get together.

The first Friday, I arrived ten minutes late on my bike and I saw three of my colleagues and the son of one of them engaged in playing basketball. They were having lots of fun, but the game seemed ‘serious’ to me. I stood outside the gym, in the dark, considering riding my bike back home. I felt intimidated because I would be unable to join a game like that and I didn’t want to ruin their fun. When I was about to turn away to get on my bike, one of my colleagues saw me and opened the door for me. I came in and joined them. It felt uncomfortable, but the gym teacher, who is used to students like me (haha) organized some games where I could join. It was lots of fun. I pretended a couple of times that I was very tired and needed a break, so they could also play some basketball without having to worry about me.

The next Friday, I came home from work, ate dinner with my family, and started doubting whether I should join or not my colleagues in the gym, but I decided to push myself. This time, we were even fewer than last time, the gym teacher, another male colleague, and his son. All three, quite fond of and good at playing basketball. I felt uncomfortable again, but again, the gym teacher found ways to include me in some of the games. I had so much fun, and I think I got a good workout without even thinking about it.

Growing up in a small town in Mexico, I went to a small school too. The gym lessons in primary school weren’t great, and I was not very good at pushing myself out of my comfort zone. I also played sometimes football with my neighbours, but I was very insecure, and very soon I created this idea that I sucked and that nobody wanted me to be in their team. The older I grew, the less I participated in team sports at school and with my friends. I never learned to play any of the common team sports. It was uncomfortable to not be good at something, and I didn’t have the awareness to realize that all I needed was to play and have fun, and with time, I could have maybe gotten a bit better…or not.

Last Friday, when my colleagues and I were in the gym having fun, I started thinking about all the moments I missed out as a child and teenager because I was unable to push myself beyond my comfort zone and because I was too afraid of not being skillful. So sad, I thought.

Even though my dad and some of my friends tried to convince me to be less self-conscious and join the fun, I was unable to do so. I wish our gym teachers were more inclusive, like my colleague. I don’t feel regret, and I have had a good life even if I haven’t participated in any team sports, but my point here is that I believe it is important to understand as early as possible in life that one of the best ways to interact with others is through play. The goal is not to win, nor to prove skills, but to lose yourself in a game, to learn to be part of a team, to have fun. To learn to push yourself beyond your comfort zone, and collect experiences.

Nobody knows for sure what the point of living is, but one of the things I have come to believe makes life meaningful is gathering experiences. Good and bad. Success and failure. Fun and boring. We are not here to prove something to anyone. Not all of us are here to become champions of some sort.