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.

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.

Who do we benefit when we avoid judging?

‘He who is equal-minded among friends, companions, and foes, among those who are neutral and impartial, among those who are hateful and related, among saints and sinners, he excels.’  Bhagavad Gita ch6 v9

Lately, I have been reflecting on the idea of humbleness. This verse in the Gita might not be exactly about humbleness, but I think we need it in order to have the same balanced attitude towards everyone.

I have been asking myself if I am humble. Like anyone, in some aspects I might be humble, but I do observe that in other aspects, I get carried away by my opinions and I create a gap by opposing myself to things as they are compared to what I believe things should be, or to how people behave and how people should behave.

Why do I think about this? Well, I observe how, by going around judging situations and people, I create separation between me and the rest of the world and what is even worse, I create distress in my mind by labeling people and situations with either like or dislike.

My values, attitudes or actions are not “better” than others if they create distress. There is nothing wrong on being anchored in my own values and views but the challenge comes when I use them to place myself above others or to separate myself from others.

I might not like someone’s actions, but according to Yoga and other life philosophies, the action does not define the person. I sincerely believe that I benefit from accepting that someone acts in a way that I perceive as negative out of his/her own needs and perceptions, and then acknowledge that this person, just like me, is just striving towards his/her own well-being. I can also remind myself that just like this person, I have my limited sides and thus I have acted in harmful ways, I have made mistakes, and I will most probably continue doing so.

I once read an article about the gap that separates people with unreconciliable differences, and a way to find common ground can be to agree that they will never agree. I find this a beautiful example of humbleness, difficult to practice sometimes, but beautiful still. Why do we have to make those who disagree with us to our enemies? Can’t we just acknowledge that beyond our differences, we also have a lot in common?

I believe more and more that we waste quite a lot of energy by trying to make people change. The reason why I think this is because the more I look inwards, the more I discover how limited my mind is. I am aware of many of my weaknesses and negative attitudes, and still, I can’t just change them that easily. So if I can’t change myself so easily having access to my mind 24/7, what makes me believe that I can change others?

I also believe that it is natural to operate in this like/dislike realm, but we can try to be more cautious on how this affects us and those around us. What kind of environment do we want to create? If the answer is, a positive environment, then, do our negative attitudes help? We tend to forget that we always sit with the power of being the first one to take a step towards a space of acceptance and maybe even find a compromise.

Sometimes opposition can be a way to make people get together to create a group that feels cohesive and gives a sense of belonging, but how about rather try to create the space to include even those we disagree with? Can we see beyond differences and disagreements and recognize the human in everyone? Are we willing to create an even bigger group by including everyone instead of excluding some?

To achieve this, we need to cultivate values such as humbleness, compassion, empathy, and forgiveness. We also have to be brutally honest with ourselves and recognize the imperfection in our own actions.

Self-compassion

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

Compassion is an important aspect in the practice of Yoga and one of the core values in Buddhism. I recently asked both my adult yoga students and my teenage yoga students what compassion is for them, and their answers inspired me to write this post.

I can start like I did with my students by asking what is compassion for you? Take a moment to think about it before you read further.

The common definition that most of us use is being understanding and kind towards others. The definition in the dictionary is slightly different: sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it.

Very few students include themselves as an important object of compassion when defining the word.  However, according to the Yogic and Buddhist traditions, in order to cultivate compassion towards others, we have to first cultivate compassion towards ourselves. If this is a new idea for you, take some time to reflect on it. Doesn’t it make sense? But what does that mean? How do we show compassion towards ourself?

I asked one of my teenage yoga students how she shows compassion towards herself, and she answered “by eating chocolate”. Eventhoug there is nothing wrong with enjoying something we like,  I think this illustrates how we sometimes tend to misunderstand what self-compassion is, and that is why I opened this post with the quote from chapter 6 in the Bhagavad Gita.

We often think that we are being kind towards ourselves by indulging in something, especially when we experience distress. It can be food, alcohol, TV, social media, you name it. In my perspective, this is only a way of escaping from that distress. We might get the illusion that we are alleviating it, but in reality we are just hiding it or pushing it away. That is not self-compassion.

Self-compassion requires courage, it requires the ability to see beyond our fear. We have to first have the courage to stop running away and face the source of our distress, which we often have the illusion comes from the outside world, but if we look closely, we will discover that it comes from inside us.

So, I wonder, when am I doing something ‘kind’ towards myself that will allow me to continue growing as a spiritual being and what am I using as crutches to avoid the fall, the pain, the distress?

I have already shared in a post the distress I sometimes cause inside myself because I get caught up in thoughts and emotions. I recently realized that I haven’t been showing self-compassion at all. Although it is positive to be aware of one’s flaws, one’s dark sides, it is harming to be judgemental about them. The advice in Yoga is so subtile, I think. We are encouraged to confront our inner darkness but we have to accept it first and then make small adjustments at a time. As a dear friend recently said to me, you need to embrace the monster inside you to move forward.

Only when we decide to live a life of awareness, of rude honesty towards ourselves, will we be able  be compassionate towards ourselves and thus lift ourselves forward.

In the process, compassion towards others starts to come easier and more naturally as we keep discovering our dark sides, our weaknessess and we then can identify with other people’s distress. This allows us to be less judgemental and more understanding, more tolerant, more willing to help.

 

 

A week of turmoil and Bhagavad Gita ch6

Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve had the tendency to get overwhelmed by the world around me. Or maybe it would be more correct to say, overwhelmed by my perception of the world around me. I don’t know why, but I tend to overthink and get carried away by my emotions. My dad used to tell me that I take life too seriously.

During the last five years, I have been studying and practicing Yoga with the hope that this side of me would fade away, but I still have periods where I get overwhelmed by all and everything, and to be honest, there is nothing to be so overwhelmed about. These episodes are maybe even stronger than before because emotions pile up as I want so badly to have control over my thoughts and emotions and I see how they get stronger and stronger until I can’t control them anymore.

I was listening to episode 94 of Secular Buddhism yesterday about The Five Hindrances in the Buddhist tradition: desire, aversion, disinterest, agitation, and indecision. One of the main points in this podcast is that we learn about these hindrances to be aware of them when they arise in our mind and to be curious and mindful but not to try to get rid of them.  I still have a lot to learn about my mind and what I can and cannot do about it.

I discovered that one of my biggest hindrances is that I believe that through the practice of yoga, I will no longer experience challenging thoughts and emotions. When they arise, I push them away, but after some time, they come back even stronger and that is when I lose my patience with myself and the rest of the world around me. Desire to control gets in the way of achieving a calm state of mind. The more I desire to be patient, the less patient I am.

My Yoga teacher encouraged me this week to study chapter 6 in the Bhagavad Gita. I am to savor one verse at a time allowing the message to sink in. So, here’s verse 1:

“Without dependence on fruits of action, he who performs action as duty, he is a Sannyasi and a Yogi. Neither without fire nor without action.”  

In this verse, we are encouraged to engage in the world with a sense of purpose and without any expectation. Everything we do, we do it as our duty, putting our best effort into it, and running away from our roles (like I sometimes really want to do) will not help.

Further, in verse 2 I read: “What they call renunciation, that know to be disciplined activity. O Pandava, for no one becomes a Yogin who has not renounced his (selfish) purpose. No one becomes a Yogin without renouncing expectation.”

The way I understand it we are encouraged to observe what drives us to act and discern between acting out of duty and acting out of need. We should then refrain from acting out of need, or at least be very aware of the motivation behind these kinds of actions and know that the outcome will mess up with our expectations.

So, I will experiment with this. When the need arises, I will sit with it, I will not reject it, but I will not put it into my actions because the outcome most probably will not meet the desired one and I will then again engage in the turmoil of my emotions. I will act out of duty, do my job in this world with my best intentions and efforts, knowing that the result is not in my hands.

I will continue with my daily Sadhana without expecting it to “fix” me. I will remember to be compassionate towards myself.

This is the path of spirituality, isn’t it? One step at a time. Learning, unlearning, adjusting our perceptions. Falling and standing up again. And in the meantime, hoping that those around us have the capacity to forgive our bad moments.

What I wonder about now is what are my real duties in life and what are my perceived duties?