Changing my prayers

I didn’t grow up in a religious family, but I still have had the habit of praying since I was a kid. I remember talking to ‘someone’ in my head asking for help in a situation or wishing for something to happen. Maybe it is a cultural thing?

Since I started studying Yoga, my concept of God has been gradually changing. I can relate to my teacher’s explanations about what God or Divinity is in some Yoga traditions. He often describes Them as Pure Potential. In my understanding of my teacher’s explanations, God is not a ‘super-being’ outside me but rather something bigger than me and at the same time something I have in me. It is a very nice way to define God because it also reminds me that every single being in the world is part of this same Whole as I am.

In Karma Yoga, we are taught that God has nothing to do with our joys and sorrows. The life we have is a product of our actions in both this life and past lives. Because we have lost contact with this inner-divinity – what in Yoga is called the True Self- we keep searching for lasting love, freedom, and bliss in the outer world oftentimes making mistakes that bound us to the circle of Karma – life and death. God doesn’t ‘punish’ us, we experience the consequences of our actions either here or in our next lives.

Furthermore, we are here to experience the world through our mind and senses but to transcend both the world and our idea of ourselves so we can see this True Self. Therefore, Faith is an important part of the Yoga practitioner. Faith in the process, Faith in the Guru, Faith in Divinity, and Faith in oneself.

I believe that Faith is very important because non-attachment is a very important part of the spiritual path. We are invited to let go of what we don’t need for our spiritual development. The path of Yoga is a path of letting go of the attachments that create pain in our lives. It can be ideas we have of ourselves, it can be material things, and it can also be people. We need to surrender to this idea and have Faith in the process to be able to let go.

Coming back to the title of this post, I am changing my way of seeing life and its challenges. I have always been the cautious type and dread difficult situations. I don’t like the idea of meeting obstacles and challenges. I often worry about the well-being of my family and loved ones. In short, I don’t like suffering.

However, according to the Yoga tradition – and other Indian traditions such as Buddhism- pain can be the path to self-development when approached with the right attitude, and even better, since the nature of the outer world is to be transient, no pain is everlasting.

I have been reflecting on my worries and anxieties during this summer, and realize that they are most of the time (if not all the time) unfounded and they rather limit me. Every time I have encountered a difficult situation, I have been able to get through it, and there is always a lesson to learn at the end of the tunnel. Maybe difficult situations are often invitations to let go of our perception that makes the situation painful?

In any case, we all know well that meeting the world with fear is what brings suffering for us and for others because fear blinds us and hinders us from acting in a skillful way.

So, lately, when I catch myself praying to ask for a problem-free situation, I rather ask for the strength and clarity to better handle the situation no matter what, and I must say that it makes me feel freer and lighter than when I ask “please let this happen like this, or like that.”

I have created the habit to connect with this Divinity or Pure Potential every day and especially before I go to sleep to give thanks. I give thanks for another day here. For the moments experienced and for having a nice and soft bed to rest in until the next day. I think Gratitude is an important part of my prayers that also help me change my mindset from worry to positivity.

Patience

Every morning, after my sadhana, I read a page in Eileen Caddy’s book Opening Doors Within. She has a page for each day of the year with what I see as inspiring and useful reminders to align myself towards a more harmonious life. Towards the path I want follow.

Here’s July 10:

HOW VITALLY IMPORTANT is your right and positive attitude towards today and all that it holds for you! You can make or mar the day for yourself simply by the way you approach it. Your reactions to things as they take place can make all the difference. When your reactions are negative and aggressive, you immediately put up barriers and create opposition, finding fault and blaming everyone else. You are so blind you fail to see that you are the one at fault, and you go around with a chip on your shoulder. When your reactions are positive and constructive, all barriers come tumbling down and you will find you will get help and cooperation from every side. If you have made a mistake, admit it, say you are sorry and move on. Then no precious time is wasted in trying to justify yourself and prove you are right. You have many lessons to learn. Learn them quickly, and try never to make the same mistake twice.

If you have read some of my blog posts this summer you might have noticed that I have been reflecting a lot about the moments where I get carried away by frustration and/or anger.

When I read this page, I thought ‘Yes! That is what I want to strive towards!’ Who doesn’t prefer life to flow instead of creating opposition and conflict? Why is it, then, that I still see myself in certain situations shutting out? In opposition to what is happening?

My Yoga teacher, Prasad, once told me ‘Patience will be your most important asset in life’. He was so right! Lack of patience is often at the source of my unskilled way of dealing with my thoughts and emotions especially in challenging situations.

Does it ever happen to you that you wake up in a weird mood? That from the first moments in the morning you notice some sort of inner discomfort? I am learning to observe this and be with it during my sadhana and remind myself that whatever happens during the day, it is more ‘the mood’ that will throw me off balance than the outer circumstances. This requires patience towards myself, not to try to escape from ‘the mood’ and patience towards what happens during the day.

Unfortunately, I don’t always notice ‘the mood’ or in the haste of everyday life, I forget my morning’s reflection. Too much to do and the wish to things to ‘go my way’, and a feeling of self-righteousness are often the reason why I forget to open up, to listen, to slow down and be constructive. In other words, lack of patience.

What can I do? Keep practicing. Keep giving myself the time to sit in silence in the morning to notice my mood. Keep reminding myself to be mindful. Slow down. Do less at a time. Let go of my perceptions when they are not helping.

I have managed this year to be better at accepting my mistakes. Not to be too afraid to see them, and apologize. Accept that I can’t do everything according to everyone’s expectations, and move on. This has been rather liberating.

Trust

Is it a given or is it earned? Does the responsibility to create trust lies on the one who trusts or the one to be trusted?

Since it is a word, a concept that we have created, I believe there is no absolute answer to my questions. However, it is important to reflect on it and maybe create clarity around it.

There are behaviours and these behaviours, when repeated, turn into patterns. Either in the one who has the behaviour or in the one who experiences the consequences of it. Or both.

Following this line of thought, if you constantly behave in a way that does not match my expectations, I might lose trust in you. If there is a discrepancy between what you say and do, or if I ask for your help and you let me down, or if you lie…

On the other side of trust, there might be people who, because of past experiences, are distrustful. Either generally or towards people in specific roles. One could then say that we have to strive towards gaining the other’s trust.

Last week, I did something that I think cost me the trust of one of my students. It was, of course, a mistake, and I will now have to work next school year towards gaining their trust again. If I am given the opportunity. If this student leaves the school for some reason, they might then decide that teachers are not trustworthy.

I struggled with trusting last week too, and this is partly what led me into a distressed state of mind. I had an overly strong reaction to a change in my roles at work, and I wonder why I am so distrustful. Is my lack of trust directed towards the person? The role that person plays? Or me? Is my lack of trust in reality insecurity in disguise?

In any case, I think that the best I can do is to approach situations with curiosity. Ask the difficult questions both to the other person and also myself. I need to understand where my distrust comes from and work with it because, like in any relationship, it is difficult to have healthy interactions if there is no trust. Can we build that trust together? What is my part to play?

Most importantly, not take my mind so seriously. Take a break from it. Question my perspective before acting. The longer I live, the more surprised I am by my limitedness that, to begin with, seems so ‘real’ and ‘clear’…

Slow progress that often feels like going backwards

First, in January, I wanted to quit my job and do something else. I came to a point where I felt that I had had enough of the high tempo, the stress and the increasing demands of being a teacher. I felt that I wasn’t qualified for these demands and that I probably wasn’t skilled enough to have this job. I started seeking for a new job. I thought I could change professions. Maybe become a baker (I am not kidding), or something “more practical”.

When I calmed down, I realized I do like my job and I wondered if the problem is not the job in itself but the attitude I have towards it. Yes, it is demanding, yes I am often running against the clock, but a lot of the stress comes from my constant worry of not doing things “good enough”, my anxiety of not being “as good as”, and believing that I have to solve all these challenges and problems that my students encounter in and outside school. However, if I tone down the “I”, the job becomes lighter. If I try to see each situation as it is and not as something related to me, it makes it easier to deal with it. It also helps to have a more pragmatic approach to the job. In a day, I have the time I have to do my work, and if the tasks keep piling up all I can do is prioritize and the rest can wait. Maybe most importantly, do my job with the right attitude but avoid putting my worth in my job. Stop worrying about how I am perceived by my students and their parents and rather concentrate on why I do things as I do.

The second semester turned out to be less stressful. I want to believe it was partly because of my change of attitude.

However, shortly after that, my worries about my kids and marriage started. I must say that I have to laugh when I think about it, but I haven’t been laughing much related to that during the last few months. And the same questions kept coming just in another setting, am I doing enough? Have we done enough? We should have this and we should have that. Why don’t we do this? Why don’t we have that? Why is our relationship like this and not like that? Why am I not able to fix all these?

From the self-blame ride, I slowly but steadily move towards the ‘other-is-to-blame’ ride. This other is, of course, my husband, and as usual, when I get caught in this way of thinking the spiral goes downwards.

Luckily for me, I was invited to take part in a group to study the Upanishads through the guidance of my Yoga teacher, Prasad, and with some time, mindful silence and reflection, I managed to remember that I tend to get caught up in a big mental knot. Do you see the same pattern as with the job? I do! Self-doubt, an exagerated sense of responsibility, and what I think is pure and simple a restless mind that for some weird reason likes to invent drama.

To begin with, it annoys me that I still get into this negative spiral and don’t manage to get out of it before I make a big deal about things, but I feel at the same time that these mini-crises have their purpose. They allow me to see better my patterns of thinking and thus adjust my attitudes and actions.

I see that my husband and I dread having “difficult” conversations. I thought it was just him, but I am the same. The minute I sense some resistance from his side, I give up, or I give in. I need to gather the courage to push a bit more, to argue and listen, and maybe the answer is still not the one I want to hear but at least we have a better understanding of what we think or want.

I think we are in a transition period as a family and also as a couple. Our kids are getting older. We need to make some changes in the way we “run” the house, and in the way we see the kids and we see ourselves. We need to accept that they have to make certain choices that we don’t agree with, but we also need to be clearer about what we stand for. I tend to worry that the kids don’t feel like we care enough and maybe sometimes give in to things they ask for that go against what my husband and I believe in or sometimes even can afford. But my husband made me realise today that the most important has been to have a safe home for them to grow up in where we are present. At least we have managed that and the basics like schooling and having healthy routines, the rest, is just a bonus. And let’s face it, they are teens now so no matter what we say and do, they will be in some opposition, it is part of growing up and growing out of our home.

It is nice to know that we both want to live a simpler life. We both find meaning in slowing down, being in contact with nature, staying physically active, eating what we believe is healthy, and otherwise, trying to enjoy life. We both want to be more in contact with friends and family. Each on our side, we have noticed that we have isolated ourselves from people because we have been overwhelmed for years by the day-to-day life, but we believe that one of the points of being here must be to have close relationships that keep teaching us lessons about ourselves and others. To help each other.

So, I still get caught up in the mess of my mind, and keep forgetting to go inward when things feel heavy and overwhelming, but luckily, I do manage to change my perspective and learn from it. For that, I am thankful, and I have to say that this is thanks to the practice and study of Yoga.

Things are not and will never be perfect, everything is in constant change, and I am more and more convinced that the best way to go is towards silence beyond the noise of my mind.

The same but different

You might have heard this quote before:

“Hating someone is like drinking poison and expecting them to die.”

I can’t remember when I heard this quote the first time. I think it was one of my fellow Yoga students during my YTT in 2015 who shared it with us at some point, and I think it is rather paraphrasing something that is often attributed to the Buddha. Regardless of who said it (or not), I have found this quote useful ever since then.

I praise myself lucky because I don’t hate anyone. However, there are of course people that have or still trigger me, and throughout the years I have been practicing and studying Yoga, I have been constantly working with my attitudes towards people around me.

This month, I am studying for the first time the Upanishads through the guidance of my teacher, Prasad Rangnekar, and one of my favorite concepts is the idea that we all are part of the same whole, which in Yoga is often translated to Universal consciousness or Brahman, and that it is through our experience of mind and physical body that we create the illusion of separation, or individuality.

Furthermore, we all have the same need to find lasting peace, love, and freedom, and we seek it in different places and in different ways. Our interactions with the world around us are mainly motivated by an often unconscious seeking to feel ‘whole’ (or loved, or safe, or free) and our actions are tainted by our limited perceptions of who we are and the world around us.

Therefore, I often strive toward removing the I from a situation and focusing on the action itself, trying to understand where it comes from. Try to understand the thinking process that might have been at the source of the action. I often end up feeling some sort of connection with the other person, some sort of understanding. I see myself in them and understand that just like them, I act out of my mind in ways that maybe others don’t understand either.

If you think about it, most of what we do is a result of what we feel and think and has very little to do with the person in front of us. The person just happens to be the receiver of our actions. In the same way, I am receiving something from someone but the I is almost irrelevant. It could have been someone else at my place, but for some reason, fate put us on the same path and I can learn something from it.

The challenge for me is often when I feel people don’t ‘try hard enough’, or when I feel I have done my best, and still the reaction is what I perceive as negative or unfair. But it helps me to remember that my best is not your best and your best is not the neighbour’s best. Also, all I can do is act mindfully and with a clear intention, and the response is out of my hands. This is one of the main principles of Karma Yoga which I really like, and I have already written quite a lot about. What I know about Karma Yoga, I have learned through the studies of the Bhagavad Gita, mainly chapters 2 and 3, but this week, we learned a little bit more through the study of Isha Upanishad, which added a useful tool to guide our actions:

  1. Sattvik Karma (righteous actions): actions that are morally right.
  2. Paropkara Karma (selfless actions): actions that are done selflessly.

No matter how I perceive the actions of others, if I go back to either 1 or 2 for my next step, I will be able to find peace of mind.

When I move my attention inwards, in all situations, I find peace faster. I ask myself questions such as why do I react to this so strongly? Why is this challenging me? How can I identify myself with this person? Where could this action come from? What can I learn from this?

It requires (self-)reminders and practice, but it works, and in all cases, it helps me move emotionally away from the situation and recenter myself… in myself.

And those who see all beings in the Self and the Self in all beings has no hatred by virtue of that realization. – Isha Upanishad shloka 6