Choices, choices

We are all the time making choices. Even not choosing is a choice. With age, experience and after yoga reached my life, I have learned to understand the importance of being aware of the thinking behind my choices. Am I choosing out of fear? Am I choosing with my heart? Am I avoiding to choose? If yes, why?

With age also, I have gained perspective. I can deal with most of the consequences of the choices I make because I know the intention behind them. Somehow, it is easier to deal with unexpected results when I know that my intention was clear. I always tell myself that I can accept the mistake, or the criticism, say ‘sorry’ and move on.

However, there is an area in my life where I struggle a lot with when it comes to choices, and that is my children’s upbringing. I think many parents can relate to this. I observe other parents, especially those who choose differently than me – us, we are after all two parents – and ask myself, why don’t I do like this? I am sometimes invaded by self-doubt.

Our kids are now less dependent on us, and I have started evaluating many of our choices. I have come to realise that some of these choices were less fortunate than others. For example, we chose to live in a place where we don’t have any family, and even though we managed quite well to get through everyday life without any help, I see now that our kids missed quite a lot that kids who grow up with their grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins have. We don’t have a strong network that can support them. I think more and more about the importance of growing up with different role models. At the start of their lives, my husband and I were our children’s world, but little by little, they affirm more and more their personality and maybe (most probably even) our personality, our views, our way of doing things, might not align with them. If they had other adults to connect with, they would maybe get different ideas, different sources of inspiration. Also, they are getting into the age where they stop believing their parents when they say how fantastic they are, maybe hearing it from other adults that have a connection with them would work better.

We have never wanted to push our kids too much with school work either. In primary school, the most important was that they thrive, that they enjoy learning, and that they like going to school. I personally did expect certain effort, but I rarely sat with them to do homework. My explanation was that they went to an international school where they had longer days than the kids going to public schools, and I felt that they should be allowed to do other things in the evenings. They also were quite active with different after school activities and I wanted them to relax once at home. Once in middle school, I have talked about my expectation of them trying their best at school.

I don’t necessarily regret this choice, but I think that I should have helped them set a routine for homework because they will need it once they are in highschool.

Like this, I have quite a few reflections on what we could have chosen that might have meant something different or better for our children. However, I feel that I have made some important choices that I haven’t regretted at all.

I want my kids to grow up as caring, balanced and resilient people. I know they have come to the world to write their own story, and I will have to accept however they develop, but at least I will not look back and regret not having these values as my core values. Therefore, I have made some choices that sometimes have brought self-doubt in other areas like professional development, or even how our home looks like.

I know that I don’t tackle stress very well. I know that I am not good at doing many things at the same time because I don’t like doing things halfheartedly. It has been a priority for me that my kids feel loved, supported and seen in everyday life. That they feel that we are present. Not only physically but also mentally. Therefore, I have tried to not overload myself. I have a job, I have some hobbies, but I try as much as I can that nothing stands in the way for me showing my care and love to my kids. I haven’t always succeeded at this, and I have also gone through periods where I have had to work more or been away some evenings or even days, but I have been present as much as I can.

I know my resumé would look much better and I would have more job opportunities if I had a Masters degree. But I also know that studying would mean take away time from some area in my life, and most probably it would end up being my family. Our house is functional and pleasant to live in, but if we made an effort we could make many improvements. This would again mean taking away time to spend outdoors, or on sewing projects, or just sit and watch a movie with my kids.

I keep telling myself that I still have many years to study, to renovate, and to set myself goals, but the opportunity to spend time with my family will never come back. This said, I see how much people are able to do, and I sometimes do ask myself if I’m not a bit lazy. If I shouldn’t be doing this or that.

But, in days like today, I feel that I have at least done some good choices. That there is no one right answer on how we should live our lives. That we all have to find our way. Our priorities and try as hard as we can to avoid comparing our life to the life of others.

Why do I talk specifically about today? I will tell you a little story. Our youngest daughter is 12 years old. She just started middle school this Fall. On Thursdays, she has dance classes after school, and it has become our little thing to eat together somewhere in town before we take the bus to the dance studio. We then have a lot of time to talk. It is very nice to hear her experiences and her reflections.

Today, she told me she went to the toilet during one of her lessons and she found a girl from yr4 sitting in a corner crying. She immediately sat beside her and asked her what happened. The girl told her that a boy in her class had said something mean to her, and my daughter said something like ‘he must not feel very good about himself and that is why he is nasty to others, you shouldn’t pay attention to that kind of comments.’. She stayed with her until she was ready to go back to her classroom.

When I praised her for taking the time to talk with her and showing empathy, she said ‘I am now one of the older kids in our school, we have to be good role models. I couldn’t just go in, pee, and go out when someone is crying. I would have felt so bad.’

Anyone who knows our youngest daughter knows that she has many colours. She is not the most responsible always, but can be quite responsible. She enjoys learning, but she can also be quite lazy. She is caring, but can often be selfish. So this action only tells me that she is balanced and caring and that makes me happy.

Maybe, some of the choices I’ve made have helped her develop empathy? I am not saying that it is thanks to me that she is as she is, but at least our way of bringing her up hasn’t killed this in her.

I observe other families around us and I see kids developing the same and other skills. Sometimes I do think, why can’t my son or daughter do like that? What have they lacked in their upbringing that hasn’t inspired to that attitude? But then I think that luckily for the world, we are different, grow up in different settings with parents with different values and views, so we develop different skills and assets. There is no recipe. We just have to make conscious choices out of who we are, who our kids are and within the context we live in, and enjoy when our kids display their best attributes for their own benefit and the benefit of others.

About heart sizes

I consider myself lucky to work with knowledgeable, reflective and inspiring people. I can say that all my colleagues are, each in their own way, a source of inspiration for me. I observe how they work, how they are with each other, and learn. It is very motivating to work with people like them.

Like in any work space, there are some people I work more closely to because of the subjects we teach. During the last five years, I have been working closely with the other language acquisition teacher, and especially during the last year and a half, I have been inspired by the way she approaches challenging and what I see as at times overwhelming tasks. I have never seen her stress or heard her complain or judge others. Instead, she does the best she can do with the circumstances she is in. She doesn’t seem to be interested in playing the super hero, but she always does what I see is the best for her students. She always puts their well-being first. I think she is the perfect example of a yogi even though she doesn’t call herself a yoga practitioner.

To me, it seems like she is always focused on what her intentions are, does her best with the time and resources she has, but is not attached to the result of her actions. She doesn’t seem to be invested in the outcome. Not that she doesn’t care, she does care, a lot, but she seems so centered in her self, that she is not looking for any form for validation in what she does.

The answer according to my understanding of yoga is yes. I believe that when we have a peaceful mind, when we work out of the heart, we are detached from the fruits of our actions, and then work for the benefit of the whole and not just for what we perceive as our individual benefit. Many of us can at times be stuck in the mind which can either lead to acting selfishly to get something in return, like some sort of validation or material benefit, or acting out of fear or judgement.

Unfortunately, this colleague is soon leaving our school as she and her family are moving abroad, and thinking about her and the years we’ve worked together, a phrase came to my mind ‘she has a big heart’. I started playing with the thought. Why do we say that? Are there really people that have bigger hearts than others? Then, I remembered something my yoga teacher often says: do everything from the heart. What does that mean? My colleague is a very responsible, efficient and professional teacher. Are does qualities of the heart?

So, going back to my question, does my colleague has a bigger heart? I don’t think so, what she has is a peaceful mind that allows her to work out of her heart. I believe we all have the same potential as she has. I believe some people wear their heart on the sleeve more easily than others. What can we do then? Continue working on ourselves. For me, the practice of meditation is the way to calm the mind, work on myself and create more clarity in my life. Meditation in the yoga tradition is not ‘only’ to sit down in silence for a certain amount of time every day, it is to strive towards living a conscious life and observe our thinking patterns to then adjust them towards what brings harmony and peace inside and around us. It is to strive towards a living following certain principles, two of the most important being non-attachment and practice. Keep practicing, until it comes naturally.

I strongly believe that if we find the inner source of lasting peace, we can deal with the outer world in a more skilful way that allows us to contribute to the well-being of those around us.

I am thankful for having worked with this colleague for the last few years, I have learned many lessons from her. I will keep her attitude and work in my mind for the rest of my life.

Creating clarity of mind

“If we can understand how our mind and heart works, we have a chance to answer the question, “Why do I keep making the same old mistakes? ”When we ask ourselves, “What am I doing?” and “Why am I doing it?” our minds open.Iyengar, B.K.S.. Light on Life.

In the Yoga tradition, we are encouraged to cultivate clarity of mind. If we are clear about our purpose,  about our actions, and the intention behind them, our mind is calmer. We don’t waste energy in running from one thing to another,  and we don’t get entangled in a spiral of unconscious action.

My first question for you is: where does your clarity come from? Who do you rely on to be clear about what your roles in this life are and how to play these roles? Where do you think you need clarity?

Start by slowing down in everyday life to allow yourself to be aware. Whenever you can, help your mind be in the present moment. Not in the past, not in the future, but in the here and now. Observe yourself moving, acting and doing. What are you doing? Why are you doing that? Why are you doing it the way you do it?

The purpose is not to judge, nor to  label your actions as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. The purpose is to be curious, to be open and to create clarity. You might discover though, that there are things you do on autopilot without even knowing why, that there are things you do out of obligation, that there are things you do out of attachment, and probably, some of these actions are bringing distress and/or stress to your life. This is when you want to consider making the necessary adjustments to change the attitude (from obligation to love), bring awareness (from autopilot to fully engaged), or to let go (when the action is not in agreement with how you see yourself living your life, when the action doesn’t serve a purpose anymore).

We all play different roles in our lives. We are born into a family and become a daughter/son, sister/brother or ‘only child’.  As we grow up and we move in different arenas, we acquire more roles. How many roles do you play? How do you play these roles? How much do you attach to these roles? Can you see yourself as a complete being even if you lose one of these roles? In the Yoga tradition, we are taught that none of the roles we play in life define us. They can’t because they are subject to changing or even disappearing. What defines us is deep inside ourselves, and it is what makes us part of a bigger whole. It is what connects us  to the rest of the world too. The less we attach to these roles, the closer we are to our core. So play your roles, but let go of those that you can let go of, and be ready to let go or acquire other roles throughout life.

Connected to this idea is the importance of always playing our roles with our own personal and unique set of qualities. Although alike at the core and similar when it comes to physiology and personality, each person is unique and is encouraged to see and develop this uniqueness for his/her own benefit and the benefit of others. Be clear about who you are and what you are capable of. Stop comparing yourself with others and play your roles out of your uniqueness. 

All actions have three components: the intention behind the action, the action in itself and a reaction or consequence. This is one of the main principles of Karma Yoga. For the purpose of this session, I want to emphasize the importance of having clear intentions to our actions. This allows us to act more skillfully and also to be ready to let go of the reaction even when it is not as we expected it to be. If we interact with other people from a space of pure and clear intentions, and knowing that their own perception and experience of life influence the way they receive our action, we can then be at peace with ourselves even when things don’t go as we would like them to go. Sometimes, we act wanting to believe that our intention was one, when in reality we had another agenda. Being able to at least acknowledge this and accept the consequences of these actions bring us a step closer to clarity. We are not asked to be perfect beings, just to act in this world with an ever growing awareness and clarity. As we do so, we will be surprised (or not) to discover that our attitudes will gradually change to what is best for us in the long run and the well-being of the whole.