Allow and give your mind a break

Whenever I am in a course or retreat with my Yoga teacher, Prasad, he reminds us to use the time we spend at the retreat to reflect about what we are learning, but avoid trying to solve our lives during that time. I have always interpreted this as an invitation to reflection and a warning against over-thinking.

Throughout the years I have been studying with Prasad, I have gradually learned to mentally put my life on hold for some days whenever I am at one of his courses or taking a silence retreat on my own. Surprisingly enough, I manage quite well to stop worrying about the things I usually worry, I don’t make any plans, I avoid ruminating about past events. The only times my everyday life pops up in my mind is through reflection on how I can apply what I learn in the course or retreat to my life to have a positive change.

Because of the pandemic, I haven’t been able to meet my teacher in person for over two years now, and the possibility to take silent retreats has also been limited during this time. I try as much as I can to create space for myself to slow down and reflect in everyday life, but my mind is used to going at a certain pace when I’m at home. It is more difficult to ‘tame’ it here. This means that during the last six months, I have been feeling the need to take a break. It is not a break from anyone or anything else than my own mind, and I have been going around believing that I can only do it if I get out of the daily routine, preferably on my own.

Yesterday, I took our daughter to a meeting with the Norwegian Labor and Welfare Administration (NAV). My husband and I had decided to apply for an assistant that can be with her a few hours a week and take her to one of her after school activities or maybe that can support her if she wants to start going out with people her age. People with PWS usually have such assistants. Some of them start at a young age to release the load from parents, but we had never really felt we needed it. However, our daughter is a teenager now, and we considered it important to start now because she will most probably need an assistant as an adult too.

Right before the meeting, I noticed our daughter getting into a bad mood, and when I asked what was going on, she managed to express her discontent with our plan of getting her an assistant. Once at the NAV office, she was clearly frustrated, and was answering the person who wanted to meet her in short phrases without even looking at her. I tried as much as I could to stay quiet and let them talk since the purpose of the meeting was for my daughter to talk about herself, but as the meeting went on and she clearly expressed she didn’t want to have an assistant, I felt I had to chip in and explain that this was meant as a measure to give her more freedom. But it didn’t help.

Our daughter can be considered as high functioning despite her PWS diagnosis , and this can be a big burden for her because she is aware of her struggles and knows that she’s different. At this age, she’s struggling to accept that she has different needs than her peers, and she has – like many teenagers, I would argue – a slightly distorted idea of what she can achieve independently. Because of her condition, we cannot trust that she won’t seek food when she’s not with someone who knows her. She can also get stuck in situations when something unforeseen happens or when she misunderstands a person or a situation. She can also be quite passive. If no one suggests her something to do, she can sit for a long period of time doing nothing. Especially this last aspect of her condition is what affects me the most as a mum because whenever I prioritise to do something else than to get her engaged in some sort of activity, I feel I am letting her down. Also for all these reasons, we would like her to have an assistant. Unfortunately for her, she cannot see this, and it is difficult to talk about it without making her feel bad.

So, during the meeting, I sat, most of the time, feeling tired, helpless and frustrated because I know that if she refuses to have an assistant, she won’t get it. I felt incapable of dealing with the situation other than stay calm, be quiet and let the person from NAV talk. She decided to finish the meeting saying that if my daughter doesn’t want an assistant, she cannot be forced to have one.

Many thoughts were flying in my head, and I was mainly wondering if it is right to allow a person with special needs to decide something that most probably won’t benefit her. Especially when she’s only 13 years old. But at some point, I told myself what I tell myself with my other two children, she’s an individual and she will have to live her own life. Yes, she’s only 13, and certain things we can still decide for her like her diet, when she goes to bed, how much time she spends on her screens, etc, but certain things she just has to decide herself and live with it. I also realised that maybe she’s happy not doing anything from time to time. Maybe the only one having a problem with that is me.

For the last five minutes or so of the meeting, I told myself ‘allow’. I sat and heard my daughter talk with the woman from NAV, and didn’t intervene, didn’t resist, avoided having an opinion. I had a similar feeling than when at one of my retreats with Prasad. I gave my mind a break. I stopped the movie of the possible future catastrophes that could happen if my daughter doesn’t have an assistant, I stopped the self-pity of how tired I sometimes am of being a mum of a special needs teen, I just simply stopped, listened, observed and accepted.

Ever since that experience, I have been reflecting about how much I feel is my responsibility everywhere. I think that I am responsible for bringing up my kids according to our values, but I am not always responsible of their happiness and enjoyment. As they grow older, I am less responsible of what they choose to eat outside our home, what they think, what they do and do not do. I am not responsible for their choices. I am not responsible for their social interactions. I observe that as they grow older and contest more and more my views, resist my advice, choose to disobey our rules, I grow more and more worried.

I have to stop. My mind needs to stop. I need to allow more. If my youngest doesn’t like that we are concerned about the effect consumerism has on the environment and gets angry because I don’t want to buy her new clothes when she has a closet full, it is okay. She can be frustrated and show it, and I don’t need to do anything about it. If our son chooses to play on the computer instead of doing his homework even though we keep reminding him to do so, it is his choice and he will have to deal with the consequences. Even our daughter with special needs will have to make her own choices and we will have to allow for her to learn from them.

With this in mind, I decided that for the remaining of the Fall break, I will get into ‘retreat’ mood. I am going to give my mind a break. I am with my three kids this week while my husband has to work. We will enjoy. I will try to share my time between doing what they want to do and what I want to do, and give my mind a break. Whenever I start worrying, I will tell myself ‘allow’.

How many choices have I made in my life that weren’t optima?, and still, here I am. I don’t think I would be happier today if I had chosen differently back then. My life might have been different, but not happier. The most important is to have someone who can support you in the ups and downs in life. Someone who can help you reflect when you need it.

This week’s mantra

Sunday evening I often try to spend some time to mentally go through the next week. What can be challenging? How do I want to deal with possible challenges? What attitude do I want to keep?

In the rush of the day, I often forget the conversation I have with myself Sunday evening, so I have to keep reminding myself during my sadhana or before bedtime.

This week, I want to keep verse 10 from Ch6 in the Gita in mind:

“To attain this godly state, Arjuna, you must become fully immersed in the True Self through the process called meditation (dhyana yoga). You have to control your mind, body, and senses and become free of possessions, expectations, desires, and greed. You must live alone, at least internally, in a quiet place. This inner discipline called meditation is imperative because it is the means for achieving lofty and necessary ends.”

I made myself a little mantra ‘I am free from possessions, expectations, desire and greed’.

I like the idea of living ‘alone, at least internally’. In my interpretation, it means to find contentment and peace internally, to stay centered and let the world be what it needs to be and flow with it.

New week, here we go.

The onion

A very dear friend who lives on the other side of the world recently asked me this question on WatsApp: “How are you on a personal level?” Simple question that has kept me thinking since she asked it.

My immediate answer was “I’m doing good” but I then started wondering what aspect of “me” am I evaluating when I answer this question? I guess it means that I don’t start talking about how I am doing as a mum, or as a teacher, or as a wife, or as a daughter, or as a yoga teacher but just as Vanessa… but who is this Vanessa? Is she separated from all the other roles that she plays every day? Can Vanessa do well when the mum doesn’t do well? Can the mum be ok when Vanessa isn’t doing well?

I know this seems quite silly, but really, what does ‘on the personal level’ mean to you? I would argue that it has different variables for each and everyone of us, but I think it often implies our social and emotional life. It might also have an aspect of what we can call ‘self realisation’ beyond our obligations. Does it then mean that to do well on a personal level, I have to have a successful social life or have a hobby or be in a romantic relationship?

Through the eyes of yoga, I would argue that my social life and my romantic life are also part of the roles I play: the friend and the lover. So, how am I doing beyond that? Well, if I don’t attach to any of the roles I play in life, if I let go of all my expectations, I can then say that I am doing very well. I feel at peace for the moment, I feel balanced and, above everything, I feel thankful. Nothing exciting is happening right now and still, I feel good.

I was recently discussing the concept of equanimity of mind as described in the Bhagavad Gita with a fellow yogini, and she was saying that although she understands the idea, she is not sure of wanting to live a life ‘without emotion’. A life where ‘you don’t feel sad or you don’t feel happy’, where ‘everything seems the same’. I remember thinking the same when I started studying yoga, and although I am not constantly there yet, I do notice that my spectrum of emotions is not as wide as it used to be. There are no super highs and there are no super lows. There isn’t much excitement in my life, but I feel in general calm and this allows me to appreciate the moments of harmony and deal more skilfully with challenging moments. If this resembles equanimity of mind, I am all for it. I hope it also counts as doing well on the personal level.

I know this question was asked with a sincere wish to know how I am doing, and I appreciate my friend asking it. My point here is to invite to reflection. How are you doing on the personal level? What defines your well-being on the personal level? Have you ever thought about it? Is it dependent on external factors or is it something you work with internally?

“I am here for you”

A colleague lent me a book written by Thich Nhat Hanh called Planting Seeds: Practicing Mindfulness with Children quite long ago. This week, I used one of the sub-sections from the chapter about Strengthening Connections to prepare my Yoga elective at school.

I don’t have the book with me right now, but the main message was how to show love to those who are closest to us. The best gift one can give is to be present. The technique he suggests is to take a deep breath, feel your mind calming down, bring yourself to the present moment and think or say “I am here for you”.

Although Thich Nhat Hanh practices and teaches in the Buddhist tradition, I often find some parallels between the teachings of the Buddha and the teachings of Yoga.

What resonates with me is on one hand the best way to show love by being fully with the people we love. On the other, it is the importance of being there for our loved ones no matter what. This, I connect with the advice that Krisna is constantly giving to Arjuna to control his impulsive need to constantly like or dislike things, situations and people. “I am here for you” even when your behaviour is difficult for me to accept. “I am here for you” even when you are not doing well.

Isn’t this the purest way to love someone? What we call unconditional love? It sounds so pretty, but it is so difficult to practice sometimes. I observe myself that I keep playing the market place with the people I love. I give and give and keep giving as long as it is ‘well-received’, but the minute I sense resistance or rejection, my attitude and behaviour change. It is almost uncontrollable. It comes from fear and insecurity, I think. It is difficult to be kind when it feels like it is not well-received. I don’t know what to do next, and I know that what is required is even more understanding, even more kindness, but I rarely manage to control my impulsive reaction which is to mirror the behaviour, or even get mad.

And, what about “I am here” when you don’t want me to be here? How does this apply? People have different ways of ‘asking’ us to be present. Some want support, someone to talk with or even a hug. Others want space and may look for that space in a way that can be perceived as hurtful. The real art here would be to manage to say ‘I am here for you’ by taking a step back and hoping that the person in question knows that the gesture is out of love and compassion and not indifference or rejection.

My Yoga teacher usually says ‘wear your heart on your sleeve’, I guess because according to the Yoga tradition, we will never run out of love. Love is what we are, we just have to peel off all our fears, all our insecurities and limiting ideas to realise it.

I like this idea.

What’s up with Fridays? or Friday, My New Teacher

I am trying to live my life following a simple yet sometimes difficult to follow principle: put my energy and creativity to do my part in everything I undertake and let go of the expectation of the result being as I wish it to be. This is a very nice way to focus my mind and energy in doing as good as I can and not wasting it in worrying about the outcome or getting all worked up by perceived failure.

This said, when things do go well or even better than I could imagine them to go, it kind of becomes addictive so when something doesn’t go as smoothly and well as the rest, the fall feels harder. This is quite funny when I think about it, but not that funny when I’m in the middle of it .

The last couple of weeks have been what I would call ‘good weeks’. I feel motivated, inspired and creative at work. My colleagues and I had been working on a couple of projects for our students, and they seem to have worked well. Students had fun, and we believe they also learned something.

I have been offered to teach two groups of ‘corporate yoga’ at a company where I have worked before and people seem to enjoy the classes. I have many ideas for these groups and I am so happy and grateful to get this opportunity.

I will start teaching two other evening yoga classes at a new place where I have been given the freedom to decide what to teach and how to teach it. I also have many ideas for these two classes, and I am super happy that the owners of this place asked me to join their team.

My kids and husband are doing well, everything is running more or less smoothly at home with daily routines, kids’ after school activities, and so on.

Happy days but busy days. So the past two weeks, when Friday comes, I kind of expect it to go as smoothly as the rest of the week only even better because IT IS FRIDAY. Finally the day to ‘relax’ has come.

To my big surprise and frustration, both Fridays have been the most challenging days in both weeks. Just when I am starting to let down my guard, one by one small challenges, like obstacles in a race, start appearing and I notice how little patience I have to deal with them. I experience a combination of frustration and amusement watching myself become more and more angry because the day of the week that should be the ‘best day’, turns out to be the least relaxing.

What happened? Nothing big actually, but combined with my expectations on how things should be, it can feel quite big.

Last week, I struggled to keep my cool when the lady at the drugstore behaved in a way that I perceived as condescending. The frustration was not just because of how I felt I was being treated, it was combined with frustration against the health system because I have been trying to get in contact with one of the specialists that see our daughter to renew a prescription and it felt like Mission Impossible. Then the pharmacist, who of course doesn’t know this, wasn’t being helpful. I was tired after a ‘good’ but busy week, and I noticed myself getting angrier and angrier. My dad has a say ‘el que se enoja pierde‘ , ‘the one who gets angry looses’ (I’m very bad at translating these proverbs, I hope you get the point). So, I lost it, and I just had to get out of the drugstore to not get even more angry and say something that I would regret afterwards. Did the problem get fixed? Nope. So I kind of lost.

This week, the same story repeated itself but instead of a tired pharmacist, I met my tired ten year old Kitchen Aid. I had the ambition of making bread buns for the yearly voluntary work to get the neighbourhood ready for winter tomorrow morning. I wanted to make two batches. It was going to be a ‘cozy moment’ between my oldest daughter and I. Half way through the process of kneading the first dough, the Kitchen Aid said ‘bye bye’ and stopped working, and not only that, I couldn’t get the bowl out of its base to take the dough out. After five minutes of ‘patiently’ wrestling with the machine, my daughter standing by my side looking more and more worried, I just had to stop and observe myself for a minute. The thing is that I wasn’t only frustrated because the machine stopped working, I had already started making many connections in my brain. First, ‘what am I going to do without my Kitchen Aid?’ Followed by, ‘some weeks ago the electric whisk died, then the blender, and now the Kitchen Aid? What is wrong with our house? What am I going to do? I don’t want to knead two doughs tonight. It is going to get late and we won’t have time to watch that series we like to watch all together?, Our youngest daughter is going to be so disappointed?’ , and so on.

I took a deep breath, and went to get a rubber hammer from the basement to ‘gently’ encourage the bowl to let go of the base. My daughter’s eyes were as big as plates but I managed. And we continued our ‘cozy’ evening with me getting some extra arm strength as a bonus.

To be honest, now that I think about it. I am happy these kitchen appliances have been one by one saying goodbye. My kitchen counter has more space, and I can still cook a decent meal without them. I believe in trying to repair things when possible, but these three were old and cranky, so we can say goodbye with good conscience. Plus, my husband had a good time dismantling the whole thing.

I take with me some reflections for next week, and hopefully when Friday comes, I will be ready for its challenges. One: keep my expectations in check to avoid unnecessary waste of energy in frustrations. Two: make sure I take time to rest and do nothing from time to time from Monday through Thursday so when Friday comes, I still have energy to deal with whatever is. Three: keep practicing detachment, especially when it comes to material things. I have so much more than I really need, it is maybe only a gift to be encouraged to live in a simpler way.

Luckily, the buns turned out quite good. My kitchen looks tidier, and I can now go to bed with a smile in my face.