Fatigue and humbleness

During the last two or three weeks, as the lockdown was gradually being lifted, I started feeling more and more tired. Monday this week was the worst. I came home from work mentally exhausted. I usually enjoy spending time with my kids after dinner, but I felt I didn’t have the energy to engage in any conversation and even less any activity with anyone. I felt my brain was saturated, and every new piece of information about what needed to be done or any question where a choice needed to be made felt like an insult. This feeling continued throughout the whole week, and I was trying my best to keep up with my days, but by nine o’clock in the evening I was ready to go to bed.

This tiredness was dragging me down into a spiral of negativity with its good old broken record of everything I ‘lack’ and regret playing in the back of my head. Luckily, Thursday, as I was dragging myself through the day, a quote from Darkness by David Whyte came to my mind :”When your eyes are tired, the world is tired also”. So I asked myself : why am I so tired and why am I being so negative…again?

I believe that we have an infinite source of energy and love inside ourselves if we only learn to apply them skilfully. Ever since I have been studying yoga, I try to follow what I see as the main principles of Karma yoga which are acting with clear and pure intentions and let go of any expectation by offering my actions to something bigger than me.

This morning, as I started my sadhana, I asked for guidance. I now have enough introspect to know when I am going down in the spiral of negativity, and I was asking for some support. What came to my mind was the word “humbleness”. Be humble, was the message I heard. I have heard this word from my teacher many times before. Every time I meet him, he encourages us to be humble. I have always interpreted it as in our interactions with other people and other living beings, but today, I found another sense to it.

My mind is always taking over. I am always wondering what I should do next. I am always thinking. But, through my sadhana, I am practicing to gradually tame my mind so I can listen to a deeper voice, the voice that is connected to the bigger picture. This is where the humbleness comes in. If I keep my ego in check, my mind will calm down, and I will be able to listen to what is important. I will be guided. I don’t have to push anything, I don’t have to do anything other than slow down and allow.

I believe that when we manage to listen to this deeper voice, our actions come from a calmer and clearer place and they require less energy. We act out of love and not out of fear or anger. We act out of spontaneity, the spontaneity of the soul. So what do I need to do? I need to keep going. I need to keep doing my sadhana, and keep reminding myself that if I want to achieve real peace and contentment, I need to keep going inwards. I keep staying in the surface, wanting to find answers in the practical world when I know and have experienced over and over again that what I see out there is nothing else than the result of my own perceptions, my own state of mind. If I keep working with my inner world, I will be more skilful and useful in the outer world.

Over and over again, I am so grateful for the teachings of yoga through my guru, Prasad. Over and over, they allow me to drag myself out of the wholes I dig for myself. I can feel my Faith gradually growing. I can feel things changing inside me. Very slowly, and some days, it feels like I take some steps back, but I keep walking, I keep learning.

After my sadhana today, after reflecting over why I have been feeling so tired and finding out that the solution is in my hands, I felt so much better. I spent a lovely Saturday with my girls. I was lighter, I was freer.

Where do we root our contentment?

Have you ever experienced that you study something and believe you ‘have it’ just to discover that you actually don’t have a clue? That just happened to me last week.

I have been reflection about a few things since the beginning of the lockdown, and as usual, I have been sharing them with my yoga teacher, Prasad. I feel so fortunate to have a teacher that challenges my mind! I often feel that no matter which philosophy you choose to follow, the path of spirituality is like a game. There are levels. Not levels of achievement, but levels of understanding. Not so long ago, I wrote a text about the concepts of raga (attachment) and dvesha (aversion), and I think I have also written about santosha (contentment) before.

Last week, I was thinking about my life situation during the lockdown, and I wrote some lines to my teacher sharing my thoughts feeling that I was ‘content’ with the situation. He encouraged me to observe what I wrote and the thinking behind it, and I discovered that my mind is constantly swinging between attachment and aversion. “I like this, I dislike that, I fear this, I regret that, I want this, I wish that, I don’t wish this, I hope that will go away… ” All the time! There is nothing wrong about that but what a way of wasting mental energy! It took me some days to understand what he meant but suddenly, just like that, it hit me! The more I keep labelling what is around me, even if I believe I am being flexible and adapting, the more I am keeping my mind busy with the external world instead of giving myself the chance to slow down, be quiet and listen to what my inner self has to say. As my teacher pointed out, I will never find contentment in any situation, I have to find the contentment inside me.

So where does the “game” comparison come in here? Well, if you study yoga, you might have come across the concept of santosha. I remember in the beginning of my studies, one of my peers recommended to start by being thankful. There is a little routine one can establish by every day making a list of things we are thankful for. Every day, no matter how challenging it might be, has some elements we can be thankful for. This way, we train the mind to focus on the positive instead of the negative. When we give the mind a rest from the negative, we are able to take a step back from it, be less emotional about it and deal with it in a more skilful and less energy-consuming way. We could then say, this is step one in the process.

Then, comes another aspect of contentment that I have been exploring lately, which is the idea of being okay with anything that happens around me. This is connected to the idea of non-attachment. If I let go of my expectations of how a situation should or shouldn’t be, I will then discover that I can be at peace with what is, and try to work with it. I can then learn a lesson, play my part, or let go and walk away.

The latest aspect I learned this week is the fact that nothing in the outer world will ever bring contentment. Why? Because 1) Everything is constantly changing and I am aware of it. So, consciously or unconsciously I will enjoy it but have some sort of attachment to it “Oh, I wish it will never end!”. Or even be anxious about it ending. 2) My mind is used to think consciously or unconsciously that the grass might be greener on the other side. We are constantly making choices, and we choose according to the information we have at any given time, but, there is always this slight element of doubt. “Did I choose correctly? What would have happen if I had chosen differently? Would I be even more content?”

This last aspect is an invitation to really start digging deeper. Yes, Yoga is a lot about the attitude with which we live our lives, and none of the described understandings of contentment is wrong, but if I want to go deeper, I’d better start believing that real lasting contentment is something that I will only find inside, and for this, I need to continue practicing my sadhana and detach from my limiting ideas whether I perceive them as good or as bad. They are only ideas.

I remember reading this somewhere, we often believe that we achieve some sort of wisdom, just to find out the next minute that we were only at the top of the iceberg…

Santosha or contentment

From contentment and benevolence of consciousness comes supreme happiness’  Iyengar, B. K. S.. Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

Contentment is an important ingredient in the life of a yoga practitioner. In my understanding, we need to keep it in mind at all times during our everyday life in order to channel our energy in the right direction and cultivate a calmer state of mind but it is also something I can notice developing on its own inside me as I walk on the path of Yoga.

The what, the how and the why of contentment we try to generate.

Firs of all, what do I understand by contentment? I tried to find a translation in Spanish for one of my students but all I could find was something that translated back to English is “happy”. In my opinion, it is more nuanced than that. Being content is not necessarily being happy. Being content is more like being ‘okay’ no matter what. Noah Rasheta from Secular Buddhism defines it as ‘okayness’. This means that no matter what life is serving you today, you try to stay balanced. Why? To save energy mainly. Mental energy. If you don’t waste energy in getting all worked up in everything that doesn’t go your way, you can then direct your efforts towards dealing with the situation more appropriately. You avoid reacting out of impulse and you start acting more skilfully.

Contentment is one of the four niyamas in Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga. We are encouraged to practice it together with cleanliness of body and mind, sustained courageous practice, self-study and surrender to the supreme Self or God.

Being content means that when things go the way we wish them to go, we enjoy them and let go when we have to let go of them, and when things don’t go as we want, we focus on what can be done and what can be learned instead of getting lost in negativity. Not because negativity is ‘wrong’ but because most of the time, it won’t lead us towards any constructive action.

As one of my students put it today, if you get lost in negativity, you can’t get the whole picture of what is happening around you which may also include positive things. I loved this reflection!

Another way of cultivating contentment is to be tankful for what we have or for what does go as we wish it to go. It might sound difficult when we are in the middle of a crisis, but if you think about it, we can always be thankful for something: for being strong enough to endure this difficult situation, for the support we receive from others, for the food we get, the clothes we wear or the bed we sleep in.

How does contentment start growing from the inside?

When we constantly practice non-attachment to the results of our actions and at the same time put our best intentions into them.

Detachment brings discernment: seeing each and every thing or being as it is, in its purity, without bias or self-interest. Iyengar, B. K. S.. Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (Kindle Locations 774-775). HarperCollins Publishers.

It requires a lot of practice, but when we manage, the feeling is of pure freedom. When you can tell yourself: I did my part, the rest is out of my hands and you really let go. If the result is the desired one, we are thankful, if not, we try to find the lesson in it, and move on. Done. No need to dwell on it. Freedom and contentment.

When we learn to trust. Trust in ourself, trust in the journey, trust in our guide(s), and/or trust in the Universe/God or however you want to call it. You stand up, brush the dust, and keep walking.

When we understand that our inner peace is independent of external stimuli. When we understand that what lies at the core of our being is independent and unaffected by anything that is external to us.

But the individual who truly loves the soul and is fully satisfied with the soul and finds utter contentment in the soul alone, for him no duty exists.’ Yogananda, Paramahansa. God Talks with Arjuna: The Bhagavad Gita Ch11 v17

The Inner Vacuum

According to the Yoga tradition, everything we need is already inside us but we have somehow lost the connection with what we are at our core. The deepest part of us, our true Self, is complete and unshakable but covering this unshakable Self , are layers of misleading ideas we have about who we are. This is called the lower self.

The bigger the gap between our Self and our self, the more we experience an inner vacuum. This inner vacuum manifests itself in different ways in each person, and this sensation is at the base of all our uncontrolled and unconscious craving for external attention, affirmation and validation.

In my experience, I do see this vacuum at the base of emotions and behaviour that keep bringing pain for myself and others. I have observed that for me, the vacuum manifests itself as a perceived lack of love or attention from those close to me. When I feel the vacuum, I always blame it on what the external world is not doing to fulfill my ‘needs’. It has taken time and patience to accept this, and even more time and patience to convince my mind that I am ok. I still have moments where certain situations become difficult because my mind perceives them as a proof of my ‘unworthiness’, but little by little, it is becoming easier to take myself out of this limiting idea. Because that is what the inner vacuum does, it convinces us that we are lacking something and it is often because we ‘don’t deserve’ it.

Other people try to fill the vacuum with objects, with food, with projects, titles, goals, experiences… I am not saying that any of these things is wrong. There isn’t really an absolute right or wrong way to try to live a fulfilling life, and we all do whatever we can to feel satisfied. However, if you find yourself constantly running after or away from something, constantly stressed about your life, you might want to consider this idea. The typical way to discover if we are being chased by our inner vacuum is if we keep living in the “If…. I will be happy”.

All the external world can offer us are glimpses of moments of fulfilment because everything is in constant change and out of our control. This leaves us mostly unsatisfied, craving for more or disappointed because nothing and no one can measure up to our expectations. This inner vacuum can be at the base of our constant business too.

This does not mean that we should loathe the world or our lower self, what we need to do, is learn to take them for what they are: the self is our vehicle to be and interact in the world and the world is here to give us experiences to learn to know ourself better, first the lower self and its limiting tendencies, and by letting go of each one of these tendencies, we gradually get closer to who we really are, the Self. As Jack Hawley explains in his translation and interpretation of the Bhagavad Gita:

[…]this world is a learning ground, a place to discipline, train, and elevate all beings. If we decline to learn we cannot derive the benefit of the schooling.”
Hawley, Jack. The Bhagavad Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners (ch3 v16, p. 31). New World Library.

The ‘schooling’ is life, and we are here not to get caught up in the self and its limitations but to learn and grow to achieve a lasting inner peace and happiness. This way, we function better in the world and we fulfill our true potential. For our own good and for the good of the whole.

What is it that we need to discipline and train? The mind. To discipline the mind, we need to create the space to get to know our patterns of thought better. This needs to be done without judgement so the first step is acceptance. To accept that a limited view, an expectation, a craving is damaging our inner peace. The next step is curiosity. Ask yourself, why do I think like this? What triggers this or that emotion? And finally, little by little and with a lot of practice, start making small adjustments. Start by trying not to act on or react to the thought or emotion that you know only brings suffering in the long run, this way the mind starts to calm down in that area and eventually, you will manage to let go.

What kind of thoughts do we need to discipline and train our mind to let go of? Basically, all thoughts that lead us to believe that we are what we do and what he have, and by consequence we also are what we don’t do and what we don’t have. By identifying ourself with what we have and or do, we can easily allow sensory indulgences, expectations, and selfish desires to be at the base of my actions. The problem with this is that we never get completely satisfied mainly because the result of our actions is rarely exactly as we expect it to be so we end up frustrated or the feeling of satisfaction lasts just for a short while so we keep wanting more.

Being aware can help us recognise when our motivation to act is the inner vacuum and either refrain from acting or change the intention. A third option is to act to hide the inner vacuum for a while, but be conscious of it.

A quite common place where the inner vacuum messes up for us is in our interactions with other people. Ask yourself, how many times have you done something expecting a specific response in return? And how often have you been frustrated because the response is not the one you were expecting? If we go around believing that the world is there to fill our vacuum, that the world owes us something, we are going to live a quite tiring and frustrating life, not to mention selfish. So step nr1: have your intentions very clear, and try to understand your emotional reactions when the result of your actions isn’t the desired one. Be compassionate towards yourself and the person or people involved. Step nr2: try to move away from acting to fill your vacuum. For this, you need to start cultivating inner contentment and self-sufficiency.

In order to cultivate contentment (santosha) you can start by focusing on what you can be thankful for every day. Some people practice writing three things at the end of each day. No matter how bad your day was, there is always something to be thankful for, if only the practical things that we give for granted: a bed, food, clean clothes, etc. Contentment can then be extended also to the not so pleasant things in your life. As painful as some experiences can be, we can always draw something positive out of them. I remember the feeling of overwhelming thankfulness I have had every time I meet someone that is able to help my daughter who has special needs. I am not thankful that she was born with a syndrome, but I am thankful for the lessons I have learned since she was born, and the opportunity to meet so dedicated and wonderful people. It has also inspired me to be a more understanding and compassionate teacher and mum.

Self-sufficiency is slightly more difficult for some of us (or maybe for most of us), but it is very important. Think a bit about this one, if you were really satisfied with who you are, would you then be craving for someone else’s attention? If you truly respected yourself, would it then be so important to you that other people show respect to you? If you truly loved yourself, would you then need so badly for others to love you? All the things that you need, you can cultivate inside you, and then, you will easily see how much you already get from the outer world. You will also and most importantly be able to give more, and above all, you will be able to show compassion to other people when you recognise that their sometimes challenging behaviour comes from the same space than yours: the inner vacuum.

“Arjuna, those who have found the pure contentment, satisfaction, and peace of the Atma (the True Self Within) are fulfilled. They have nothing more in this world to accomplish, no more obligations to meet. Being in the Atma,these people are beyond karma.
Hawley, Jack. The Bhagavad Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners (ch3 v17 p. 31).

To be self-sufficient requires (again) practice and patience. It requires our full acceptance of who we are, compassion towards ourself, and the willingness to change our mindset from seeking outside to exploring innards.