What I think Krishna would say now

“As Krishna watches the once-brave warrior prince plunge into pitiable weakness His normally soft eyes become steely, and He speaks. “Arjuna, where does all this despair come from? This egoistic self-indulgence at a time of crisis is shameful and unworthy of you. You are a highly evolved, cultured man who is supposed to live a truth-based life, a life of dharma. And yet your confused mind is unbalanced and would not know truth if it hit you over the head.”

Hawley, Jack. The Bhagavad Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners (pp. 11-12). New World Library. Kindle Edition.

These are the words spoken by Krishna to the great warrior Arjuna almost right before the battle of his life. Arjuna has lost his center in the tornado of his emotions, and is unable to think clear as he stands in the middle of the battle field.

I think Krishna’s words, although they sound harsh, are very powerful and useful for all of us in any situation where life throws at us challenges. Like the Corona-virus challenge we are in now.

Krishna starts by scolding Arjuna for being selfish and indulging in the emotions created by his own perceptions in a moment where he should be on top of things. What does Krishna mean with egoistic self-indulgence? Have you ever experienced something similar? I can definitely relate to this description. I have experienced that life doesn’t go as I expect it to go. That there is a huge gap between what I want and what reality serves me and I get lost in the dark cloud of emotions. I keep thinking and overthinking and the more I think, the more I feel I am right, or even entitled to feel how I feel, and I keep feeding into these emotions.

Let’s take the Corona-virus situation as an example. I am used to the predictability life in Norway brings, but now, we don’t really know what is going to happen. We don’t know how long we will have to live a quite different life from the one we are used to. It feels like we can’t make projects, we have lost some of our freedom. It can almost feel that we are all put on hold. What can be my natural reaction to this? Anxiety, frustration, fear. Nothing wrong with any of these emotions, they are a natural response to situations like this, but what Krishna is trying to make Arjuna understand is that one thing is to experience these emotions and another is to be stuck in the web of negative emotions and just continue spinning a more and more complex web by feeding into them. Once we notice these emotions, we need to do our best to get out of them because acting out of fear, frustration and anger will not bring us to a good place.

For this, it is important to note what he says next: “[…it] is shameful and unworthy of you. You are a highly evolved, cultured man who is supposed to live a truth-based life”. This is, in my opinion, to help Arjuna find his self-confidence again. He is reminding him of his potential, a potential that we all share with Arjuna. We can read this aloud to ourselves in front of the mirror every time we are taken down by self-doubt. By reminding him what he is made of – pure potential – he reminds him that even in moments of fear and despair, he is capable of dealing with life provided that he doesn’t indulge in the negativity produced by his mind.

We are all able to live a truth-based life. This truth-based life is a life where we first of all are centered in what is stable, and that stability cannot be found in the external world. No matter how hard we try, we will never have full control of the circumstances, but we can have control of our actions and reactions. We are all part of this truth and when we center ourselves in it, we can then skilfully fight any battle, just like Krishna knows Arjuna can because we know what our duty –dharma – is.

I think the concept of dharma is very useful in difficult and uncertain situations. Once the first shock of emotions has passed, we can ask ourselves, what is my role in all this? How can I contribute to both my well-being and the well-being of those around me? What is in my hands and how can I make the best out of this situation? We all have our set of skills and unique talents that make a difference in the big picture. Imagine if all of us always acted with the clear intention to contribute instead of reacting out of fear or frustration!

Sometimes, our dharma is to do something that we might perceive as unpleasant or even scary. Like Arjuna, his dharma is to fight this battle, but we have to keep the big picture in mind. Have our intentions clear. Arjuna has to fight this battle to reestablish the moral order, not out of thirst for power or revenge.

So, in these times of Corona-crisis, once we have gotten over the shock of having to change our way of living for some time or maybe even permanently, let’s spend our energy in finding our center instead of rejecting a situation we cannot change. Let’s spend our energy in doing the best we can do with what we have. So we have to stay home? What can this mean for you other than not being able to do what you want to do? What can you do to make this time a good time for you and those around you? How can you contribute? It can be as simple as staying calm to help your family stay calm. Last but not least, let’s keep our intentions very clear. Are we acting out of fear? Out of selfishness? Are we seeing the whole picture?

One week of home confinement

It’s been ten days since the Norwegian government decided to institute strict restrictions to reduce the rapid spreading of Coronavirus. For my family this means home schooling for my kids, teaching online for me and home office for my husband. In addition, we have decided to avoid social contact, and we only go out to go for walks in nature or skiing during the weekend. I do the groceries.

I have been reflecting a lot about this situation that is gradually affecting the whole world. To begin with, the fact that we have to deal with change. For example, we need to reorganise our everyday life. As a teacher, I went to online teaching from one day to another. Teachers had one planning day where we collaborated as good as we could to create the guidelines for this, and off we went to spend the weekend planning. I am learning how to facilitate for my students online. I spend more time preparing my lessons, and spend more time in front of my computer. It is a big change, a time consuming change. However, like any change, it is a great opportunity to learn, to be creative and challenge myself. To be honest, it is exciting. I am now pushed to try many online resources that I had been wanting to try, but hadn’t ‘had the time’ to try. I see that I often stay in one track just because it is known and safe. I am now being challenged to try and fail more, and I feel it is ‘allowed’ because we are all new in this.

As a mum. I need to use my multitasking skills to both run my lessons and be available for my kids and support them with their school work. I keep thinking about all those parents who have home office now. How are they coping? After all, I am a pedagogue. I think maybe this is easier for me than for many other parents. In days where I have lessons the whole morning, I do get overwhelmed though, but this has reminded me of two very important things: 1) stressing won’t help me nor my kids 2) ask for help. My husband is home too, he can also help the kids with school work when I can’t. Why do I keep feeling that everything is MY responsibility?

This leads me to my second reflection during this week. This time of ‘home confinement’ is the perfect time to go inwards. I see it as a game. The first level is observing our home and how our family functions. What kind of patterns have we established and which ones don’t serve us? Living so close together with the responsibility of both the kids’ schooling and our jobs can bring a lot of stress and distress, but it can also bring growth. I realised this week, that somehow, we have this unspoken clause in our ‘contract’ that I do as much as I can to keep my husband calm and comfortable. He didn’t ask for it, it is a pattern that has been established throughout the years. For him, it is very comfortable, and since I haven’t complained, he is happy unaware of how much stress this sometimes brings to my days. So, last week, trying to be as diplomatic and calm as possible, I talked with him and said that I thought it was unfair that in these ‘home confinement’ days, he had taken over the desk with the PC and closed the door the whole morning, coming out only to eat lunch or get more coffee. I was left alone to work and help the kids in the dinning room. To be honest, I felt very uncomfortable bringing this up because I didn’t want to start a fight, but to my big surprise, he just accepted it and since then, he is trying to step in when he can. Assertiveness is the keyword here.

I read an article in the Norwegian news website NRK at the end of last week that ‘experts’ expect an increase in divorces during the Coronavirus crisis. We are now forced to stay together and it is not even holiday! I can understand this, but what if we rather take this time to reflect on how we act and why we act like we do. A big problem in relationships is that when we disagree, when conflict arises, we keep pointing our finger at the other, but if we start by bringing our attention inwards, we might do some progress. My yoga teacher always says that expectations are the source of anger in relationships. So we can start by asking ourselves: ‘What are my expectations? Are they fair? Are they realistic? Can I give myself what I am expecting from my partner?’. This doesn’t mean that we get rid of all our expectations, but we make a shorter list, a list that is manageable/achievable for the other person.

The second level of this ‘game’ is related to this advice from my teacher, because it can only happen by bringing our attention inwards. Ask yourself: how is my mind reacting to these ‘home confinement’ days? Be open, be curious, be compassionate and patient. Observe. What can I learn about myself, about my inner world when I are forced to slow down? What are my priorities? What is really important?

A big part of the Norwegian people are used to travel quite a lot. Either short distance to their cabin or abroad. Norwegian people love to travel. I have been reading about how challenging for many people it is not to be able to even go to their cabins during the weekend. I can understand this, but I also wonder why can’t they be creative about it and see if they can create the ‘cabin feeling’ at home? I know it is most probably a minority that is reacting so strongly about it, but this is a good reflection for all of us. When we are used to do something some way, it is very difficult to suddenly do something different. Or is it? It might be simpler than we think if we just learn to let go. Let go of what was and open up to what can be. Every moment is so full of potential and we are in reality privileged in this country to have our basic needs met almost no matter what.

One thing that I am doing everyday, and that is helping is to remind myself of being thankful for what I have. I have a family. I have a home. I can feed my kids and myself without any problems. We have the gorgeous nature where we can spend as much time as we want. I have yoga to help me stay calm, and the guidance and support of my teacher.

I don’t know where this will lead to. I just know that I have to move one day at a time, keep my sadhana to stay calm and focused. Trust that whatever comes, it is meant to be like that for me to learn something, to grow.

I know there is a lot of uncertainty for many right now. People without jobs, people loosing their loved ones to the epidemic. I do not trivialise this at all. I do invite all of us to take this chance to slow down internally also, to put things into perspective, and discover the amazing potential we all have inside ourselves.

Take care! 💖

Bikes, Cars and Karma Yoga

Our car broke down some weeks ago, and we decided to try out a life without a car for some time. This means that we are using our feet, our bikes and the public transportation more often than before, and we occasionally rent a car from a car collective we’ve joined.

This is possible because we live in a city where the infrastructure for pedestrians is very good, public transportation is quite efficient, and lately, the authorities have been investing a lot in improving the bike lanes.

However, almost every day, I observe distracted car drivers creating dangerous situations for themselves, pedestrians and cyclists. Needless to say, this really scares me when I’m biking with my kids even though I keep drilling them about predicting possible tricky places where a car can suddenly appear.

Today, I was riding my bike alone so I was going a bit faster than when I am with my kids, when I started approaching a gateway. Luckily for me, I instinctively started slowing down because from behind came a car, and without using his blinkers, it turned just in front of me. I had to stop abruptly, and almost fell off the bike, and the driver never saw me. I wasn’t angry, but this isn’t the first time this happens to me in the last few weeks, and I really considered going in to talk with him but I decided to let it go because I didn’t want to end up in a conflict. I still don’t fully trust myself not to get angry.

I think the key word here is distracted mind. I have been there too as a car driver. Driving my car in a hurry, or with a million things in my head, or trying to find something in my purse on the passenger seat, or all the three above plus more. The more I reflected about it, the more I was making connections with some of the principles of Karma yoga.

We all play different roles throughout the day and in this particular story, the man was the driver. According to Karma yoga, each role has its dharma, it’s nature and purpose. So, let’s say that the dharma of a car driver is to get from A to B, but not only that. According to Karma yoga, he should play this role in a skilful way, and my interpretation of this in this story is basically to find the most effective way to get where he needs to go, get there on time, and stay safe. That, in my head is the dharma of a car driver. The problem is, most of the things we do, most of the roles we play, we don’t really pay attention to them. Maybe because we do so much…too much? Our minds are distracted. Maybe, if we started paying more attention to what we do, and ask ourselves what the purpose of it is, how our different attitudes and actions affect the role we play and those involved, we would avoid scary situations in traffic, or conflicts with people we cross throughout the day.

If, when I decide to sit in my car (when I had one), I spend ten seconds to remind myself of my dharma in that moment: get to where I need to go in an efficient way and stay safe. I might then avoid distractions, drive slower, show consideration to other drivers, pedestrians and cyclists. What if I’m in a hurry because I left home later than I should? I then have to remind myself that rushing, not stopping at intersections, driving on red lights is selfish and does not fulfil my dharma as a car driver.

This is what I love about the teachings of the Gita, it is all so practical! It is all intended to help us live a more skilful life and thus be more peaceful and influence our surroundings in a positive way. Lately, I try this quite often, sometimes to play with my mind, sometimes to come out of challenging situations. I stop and ask myself, what is my role right now? How is the skilful way to play this role without attaching to my ego? I sincerely believe that if we all did this, we would be less stressed.

One thing did come to my mind though, when this man sat in his car, he “became” a car driver, that was his role then, but it doesn’t mean that he stopped being a father, or a husband, or a son, or an employee/employer. Maybe, one or several of his roles was one of the reasons why he was distracted. Maybe he was worried about something, maybe he was rushing because there was some sort of emergency. So, yes, we are constantly juggling all the roles we have, but when all these roles keep us in a state of constant distracted minds, we need to take a step back and reflect on what we are doing and why we are doing it. It might be time to reconsider our priorities. But that, is subject for another post. 😉

It’s unfair!

One thing that frustrates me to tears since I was a little girl is the feeling of being treated unfairly. I purposely say ‘the feeling of being treated unfairly’ because from what I observe in myself, it is often a matter of perception.

As a kid, I might have been scolded at for doing something I didn’t perceive as a fault but for the “scolding” adult, it was. I see that a lot as a teacher of young teenagers, when I correct a behaviour, my student(s) and I often move into a discussion about the unfairness of me pointing out at this action as inappropriate. This then leads to me explaining how the behaviour is against our school’s common agreements, or how it affects negatively the classroom/school’s environment, and the student in question seeing it as unfair because he/she wants or needs something different. There is a conflict between what the student in question wants or needs and what he/she can/should do at that given moment.

So, sometimes unfairness is a matter of perception, but what happens when we experience doing our best in something for then seeing it being taken away from us without clear reason? Some years ago, out of the blue, a friend that I considered as one of my closest friends, suddenly decided that she didn’t want me in her life anymore. When I asked for a reason to at least have the chance to apologise, my friend got even more angry and accused me of harassing her. We don’t live in the same country, so this made things even more difficult. I asked myself several times what was it that I did to be treated like this, and honestly, to the day today I really don’t know. In this friendship of so many years where we never ever had dispute, this really felt unfair.

After some days of reflecting, I decided that all I could do is to respect my friend’s decision. I sent her a message telling her that I love her and that I would be here in case she wanted to reestablish contact, and I let her go. From the yogic perspective, I went into this conflict with the intention to do my part to fix it, I measured my words and tried my best, her reaction to it was completely out of my hands. Why spend more time and energy thinking about the unfairness of the situation? Why make the situation even messier by engaging in negative thoughts and feelings when none of them would solve anything and just add distress for me?

If there is something I am more and more convinced of it’s the fact that even when it seems like people do things to us, it is all about their inner world. Why do I know this? Because I experience it myself. All my interactions with others and the world around me are a result of my way of perceiving myself and the outer world.

I guess at this point you are wondering if I mean that we should then just accept unfairness and let go. Not really, but like with everything, I think we do ourselves a favour when we peel off the layers of emotion in any given situation. I am not saying we shouldn’t experience emotion, but we should try to not feed into negativity and rather approach life in a practical way by seeking clarity in our mind.

I recently had the privilege to learn a big lesson from another friend. She lives abroad, has a child and is divorced. She was facing a trial about the custody of her child, and like in many trials, the lawyer in the opposing party had dug into her personal life to find aspects of her past and personality that could be presented in a bad light. It was very tough for her who has been taking good care of her child and taken every decision thinking of the child’s best, to be depicted in a completely wrong way. After the first emotion of unfairness and frustration had passed, she decided to stay calm throughout the whole process and not even respond to these accusations. She had prepared her case well, she had done all the right things for her child, and didn’t have anything to prove. She even had the compassion to understand the tactic, and let go of it in her mind. This, in my opinion is the big lesson for me to learn here. She let go for her own well-being. Thus, by letting go, she was able to stay calm in court, talk from reason, and go home with peace in her heart. She was, of course, nervous for the outcome but had the wisdom to see that she had done her part and the rest wasn’t in her hands.

This is the very principle of Karma Yoga. In her role as a mum, my friend did her duty by always acting with her child’s best interest in mind, she presented herself to trial well-prepared, the rest is not in her hands.

Does this mean that we shouldn’t fight when we perceive something as unfair? I don’t know for sure, but I think that we would benefit from asking ourselves what is it that we are fighting for and why are we fighting for it? What is required from us in that particular role? How much will this fight cost emotionally? What would happen if we let go?

This morning, I was reading verse 11 from ch2 in the Bhagavad Gita where Sri Krisna says to the warrior Arjuna “The wise lament neither for the living nor for the dead” which for me, in the context of spirituality, is a big statement. We don’t lament our losses, because they are losses in the transient world. The transient world is constantly changing and nothing that we acquire in it is really ours. What is even more important, no matter how much we loose ‘out there’, we don’t loose anything inside ourselves. Sometimes we even need to let go of something in order to learn a lesson, in order to be able to move on and win something that truly benefits us. If we are sure of our integrity, of our attitudes and our actions, no one can take that away from us. We can loose an unfair battle, but we can also rise tall, and move on to the next level.

It is interesting to use the Gita here, since it is a song about the dialogue between Arjuna and Krisna at the battlefield right before a big battle Arjuna needs to fight against, among other things, injustice. But I think the key here is to remember that Arjuna should engage in this fight following his duty as a warrior, and not driven by his own negative emotions…