On being a mother: between ego and sacrifice

Among all the roles I play in life, motherhood is the one that keeps me reflecting the most. Where is the line between my responsibility and my kids’ own path in life? Where do my attitudes and behaviours stem from? A genuine wish to guide my children or my ego? How much am I ‘supposed’ to sacrifice in the name of motherhood?

I understand that being a mother is not what defines me. I understand that motherhood is one of the roles I play in life, but who I am is not limited to being a mum. I understand that I would harm myself and my kids if I were too attached to this role because every action then would come from ego. This said, I do believe that of all the roles I play in life, being a mum is the most important right now. My kids came to the world into our family, and at least during their first eighteen years or so, we have the responsibility to create a safe environment for them. Since they are young, they are still creating their own perception of who they are and the world around them. I know that this perception will change through experience, but I feel that I have the responsibility to at least try to help them have a positive experience of these first years.

Still, when I think about myself as a child, I can recognise that already then, I had my own way of perceiving things. Sometimes, no matter what my parents or other adults said. This means that as a mum, my job is to be clear about what my intentions are, but at the end of the day, the way my kids develop will be pretty much out of my hands. I can only guide and live the life I want them to be inspired by, but they will eventually live the life they will choose and learn the lessons they came to learn.

The way I understand it, ego, or ahamkara in sanskrit, is the aspect of our self that limits us. When we let ego guide us, we act in limited ways. Ego feeds itself, among other things from believing that its importance in this world is connected to how much control we have of our surroundings. Ego is the part of us that is attached to the practical world: what we do, the titles we have, the ideas and believes we have, the material possessions we have, our achievements and our defeats. So, as a mum, how can I keep ego in check? By letting go of control? By not being selfish? By sacrificing everything to my children? Maybe, but there is a catch in this idea of sacrifice too.

One of the basic principles in Karma yoga is yadnya which is translated as sacrifice. Anyone that is a parent would say that in order to be a good parent, we need to make some sacrifice. But what does sacrifice really mean? Can our understanding of sacrifice also feed into our ego?

Sacrifice is explained by Krishna to Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita as offering our actions to something bigger than us. So, yes, we play our role of parents as a sacrifice when we keep in check our intentions and avoid acting out of fear, own ambition, or a need to control our children. Sacrifice is by no means a concept of self-neglect because connected to the concept of sacrifice is the idea of sustainability. Can I go on like this for long? Also, because once we put ourself in a role of martyr, it is very easy to feed the ego with it. So, where goes the line between not being selfish and neglecting yourself? From personal experience, I know this line is very thin, and it keeps moving.

I have observed myself rejecting projects or even opportunities using my kids as an excuse. ‘I don’t have time because I want to be present for my kids’. I do want to be present for them, and I think I am, but to be honest, I have, in some occasions asked myself if I wasn’t using my kids as an excuse to not come out of my comfort zone.

This weekend, I signed up to a webinar of an hour and a half each day. In addition, I had some small things I wanted to do that do not include involving the whole family. To begin with, I felt bad conscience, I felt selfish and stressed. Especially towards one of our daughters who needs daily physical activity, and who is quite lonely during the weekends. But I had to let go of my need of always having control over everything. It is ok, from time to time, to dedicate some of our common free time to my own personal and professional growth. I think our daughter has appreciated the opportunity to spend time on her own with her things, and just relax for the weekend. I have made agreements with her, and both yesterday and today she went outside to move either walking or biking. My family do need me, but it doesn’t collapse if I sometimes let go of my need to organise and control everything. This for my own peace of mind, and for my kids to discover that they are completely capable of managing their free time on their own.

Why do I like Marvel movies so much?

Since the start of January, life has been busy. I have been planning a trip to India to study meditation with my teacher, but I made a terrible mistake with the paperwork required for the trip. I have this bad habit of always taking the longest and most complicated path towards a goal. So six weeks before my trip, I was trying to get all my documents in order to be allowed to travel. In addition, my husband and middle daughter left for a planned trip three weeks before my departure.

So here I was, at home with our other two children, with work, after school activities, and the responsibility of the house on my own.

It has been some intense weeks towards this trip. After letting go of my frustration for complicating things, I just did what I felt I could do to get my papers in order, and decided to leave the rest to happen as it had to happen. Luckily, nobody’s life depended on this trip, so if it turned out I couldn’t go, I would have felt very disappointed, but at least I would have learned my lesson.

Like magic, the same week my daughter and husband left for their trip, I received a message that I could pick up my passport in Oslo. That frustration and uncertainty got solved.

Then, there was work. Lots of work. I took on an extra role this Spring semester, and this meant some late evenings in January at work. Again, slightly bad planning from my side knowing that my husband was going to be away and that I had to juggle between my main job as a teacher, my kids’ activities and my yoga classes.

Early on, I had this ‘peptalk’ with myself: what are my main priorities here? How can I organise myself? What can I let go of to make my everyday easier? What can we learn from all this?

My main priority is: stay calm, keep my inner peace. If I mange to do this in the middle of busy periods, I am more focused, I am more creative and more efficient. I am open and present at any moment with my children (who are my priority nr2), with my students (at school and in my yoga classes) and my colleagues.

So, following the teachings of Karma yoga, I tried to keep in mind at all times what my role in each situation was, I did my best, and hoped for the best. I don’t want to sound crazy, but just like magic, things kept falling into place little by little. My kids are now old enough to take some responsibility at home and help, and I think they enjoyed this responsibility. I enjoyed the time I spent with them knowing that otherwise, we were all three going from one thing to another throughout the week.

I did meet some challenges, some ups and some downs, and after a first reaction of frustration, I kept reminding myself to stay focused, stay calm, and here I am two days before my departure and it seems like everything is ready. My lessons are planned, my house is clean, there’s food in the fridge, and my kids are calm. My husband and daughter are soon on their way back home.

Just yesterday, I was watching a Marvel movie with my youngest. We l-o-v-e to watch Marvel movies! And it suddenly hit me why I like these superheroes so much. They just do what they have to do. They get beaten up, they win some battles and they loose others, but they have very clear what their goal and priorities are. They just keep going. That is the life I aspire. Clarity, empowerment, resilience. That is why I work so hard on myself, and I see that the positive results not only benefit myself but also those closer to me. No matter how busy I am, I prioritise my sadhana, at least ten minutes breathing exercises. This helps me reconnect with myself, slow down and set things in perspective. It is self-help at its best.

I am also lucky enough to have supportive and understanding colleagues, some close friends that I know I can count with if things get too crazy and the support of my husband that encourages me to go on trips like this one. There isn’t many people in my life, but the ones that are in it make a big difference, just by their presence, their support and understanding.

May we all have the clarity to keep reminding ourselves to be open, stay calm and focused, and above all trust in ourselves and the process.

Have a good week everyone!

Yoga es destreza en acción

‘El unido con la Pura Razón se abstrae en este mundo de las buenas y malas acciones. Así pues, aplícate al Yoga, porque el Yoga es la habilidad en la acción.’ Bhagavad Gita, capítulo 2 verso 50.

En el Bhagavad Gita encontramos tres diferentes definiciones de lo que es yoga. En este verso, yoga es el arte de toda actividad realizada con la actitud apropiada. Esta definición guía el camino llamado Karma Yoga.

Al seguir el camino de Karma Yoga, aprendemos a tomar conciencia de todo lo que hacemos y poco a poco ajustamos nuestras actitudes y acciones para armonizar y calmar la mente. Una mente tranquila y en armonía es el vehículo ideal para alcanzar nuestro potencial absoluto. Para la mayoría de nosotros, es un proceso largo que requiere paciencia y mucha práctica. El Gita nos da varias herramientas para desempeñar nuestras actividades cotidianas con destreza y un efecto secundario de seguir este camino es que poco a poco vivimos una vida más clara, más tranquila que nos beneficia personalmente y beneficia a todos los que nos rodean.

Una acción perfecta según la teoría de Karma Yoga es una acción realizada sin apego al resultado. La intención y la acción son nuestra absoluta responsabilidad pero debemos aceptar que no tenemos ningún control sobre el resultado. Si tengo mis intenciones claras, si pongo lo mejor que puedo dar de mí en cada momento, el resto está fuera de mis manos. Así, al actuar en el mundo, si las cosas no salen como yo lo espero, en vez de perder energía en dar rienda suelta a mis emociones de frustración, enojo y/o tristeza puedo ver la situación como es y ya sea encontrar una manera adecuada de lidiar con ella o aprender la lección que hay que aprender y seguir adelante.

No quiere decir que tenemos que suprimir nuestras emociones a toda costa, lo que quiere decir es que podemos reconocer que la frustración, la tristeza y el enojo que surgen no son nada más que el resultado de nuestras expectativas. Al reconocer nuestras expectativas y las emociones que producen cuando las cosas no salen como queremos, podemos intentar no reaccionar de manera emocional. Con práctica, esto nos da tiempo para actuar de manera más positiva al mismo tiempo que nos ayuda a crear un estado mental de calma y armonía.

La teoría del Karma yoga nos invita también actuar con una actitud altruista. Este concepto es un poco más difícil de entender pero pienso que lo importante es que cada persona encuentre la manera de desarrollar esta actitud en su vida según su entendimiento y sus capacidades prácticas. En ningún momento quiere decir que tenemos que descuidarnos, al contrario, para vivir en yoga tenemos que aprender a cuidarnos. Pero tal vez nuestra definición de cuidarnos necesita ajustes.

Para entender un poco mejor el concepto de altruismo en Karma Yoga, es tal vez importante saber que según las enseñanzas del yoga todo lo que necesitamos lo tenemos al interior de nosotros. La felicidad que buscamos en el mundo exterior es parte de nosotros, la libertad y el amor que tanto añoramos, nunca nos han faltado. Lo que necesitamos hacer es dejar de perseguirlas en el mundo exterior, calmar la mente y aprender a dirigir nuestra atención hacia adentro. Al dejar de creer que el mundo exterior tiene todas las respuestas, nos damos cuenta de que podemos soltar mucho de lo que creíamos necesitar: objetos, relaciones, títulos, etc.

Podemos aprender a observar cuándo estamos actuando por una especie de necesidad emocional y cuándo estamos actuando por hacer nuestro deber en cada papel que desempeñamos. Este es otro concepto importante de Karma Yoga. Todos tenemos diferentes papeles que desempeñar en nuestra vida: mamá, esposa, hija, profesional, amiga, etc. Es nuestra responsabilidad entender qué es lo que cada papel requiere de nosotros y cómo mejor podemos actuar en cada papel para el bien de todos, incluyendo nosotros mismos.

Destreza en acción es aprender a actuar con conciencia, aprender a actuar con intenciones puras y claras, aprender a actuar con la meta de ayudarnos a calmar la mente y así poco a poco conocernos mejor. En Karma yoga no es necesario hacer nada especial, solamente hacer lo que ya hacemos con una actitud de desapego, de altruismo y de ‘esfuerzo sin esfuerzo’. Al vivir una vida de claridad y desapego, nos damos cuenta que no hay necesidad de empujar, de presionar. Para esto es importante aprender a tener fe. Fe en nosotros mismos, en lo que hacemos y en lo que la vida nos manda para aprender.

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.


Not perfect but certainly unique

I’ve been living outside my country of birth for over twenty years now. I first moved to France when I was 19 years old, and then to Norway when I was 23. It was especially in Norway that I experienced several times being hesitant between what I felt was the natural thing to do, and what I observed the locals did (or didn’t do). During years, it became a sort of internal battle, and I must confess that my inner impulses often lost because of the fear to not fit in, to be seen as strange (who’s ‘normal’ anyway?). It is as if moving to another country suddenly confirmed all my insecurities and created new ones.

In recent conversations with some other ‘foreigners’, I have discovered that many experience the same. A yoga student was telling me the other day that she dislikes the fact that there is no culture of feedback in the company where she works or at least feedback she feels she can grow professionally from. She would appreciate constructive feedback to improve, but there might be this fear of ‘hurting’ people’s feelings by pointing at what could be better. When I asked why she didn’t bring this up, she seemed unsure. I completely understand her because I can relate to the experience. More often than not, I also choose to go with the flow, but why? In my case, I am afraid of my idea being rejected but if you think about it, if that is the worse that can happen, I might survive no?

A colleague was sharing a similar story. He volunteers as a coach at his kid’s sports club. Here in Norway, it is traditionally parents who organise and coach kids in many sports activities after school. My colleague had observed how the behaviour of the kids sometimes comes in the way for better opportunities for them to learn, and he had some ideas of how to improve this but again, he felt pretty unsure about bringing this up with the other parents. ‘This is maybe the way it is done in Norway’, he said. I think that the sports club is lucky to have him among the volunteering parents, and they would benefit from hearing his ideas, but it seems like he wasn’t completely agreeing with me. And I get it. I know it is easy for me to sit there and listen and want to push him to act when I haven’t done it myself in so many other situations. Of course, this doesn’t only happen with foreigners, it happens to many everywhere.

Coincidentally, I had been reading about svadharma while preparing a workshop about Karma Yoga this week, so I have been thinking a lot about how important it is to be courageous enough to see our uniqueness as an asset, and use it more often to encourage small changes around us…or at least try. Somehow, many of us believe that there is one right way to do things and many other wrong ways. Or, if everybody is doing it the same way, and I see another way, it must be because I am wrong.

It is well-known that the best way to help someone is to focus on his/her qualities, and use them to help him/her grow and develop. Why do we forget to do the same with ourselves? Do you know what you are good at? What comes naturally for you? What do you do that makes you feel a sense of purpose, a sense of meaning? If not, don’t panic, you have it (everybody has it), but it is for some reason hidden from you. Maybe you have been spending too much time putting your attention ‘out there’? Comparing yourself with others? Following other’s path without noticing that it is not yours? Or maybe you have been too busy criticising yourself? Focusing on your less good sides? On your ‘darker’ sides? Have you ever thought about the fact that in order to be light, we need darkness? That we need two sides for a coin to be a coin? So you too have very good and less good aspects in your personality. It is good to try to improve the less good ones, but it is not good that they take all your attention and cloud your good sides.

Here are some challenges for you (and for me). In the weeks to come, start every morning by writing down three things that you see as qualities in you. Don’t allow your mind to play you tricks like saying ‘this is silly’, or that you don’t have any unique qualities, or that yes, maybe but so and so are even better than you. Then, before you go to bed, think about situations during the day where you used these qualities for the benefit of the whole. How did that make you feel? Do you think you need to use them more? Last but not least, is there something you’ve been wanting to suggest at work, in your neighbourhood, at home, or wherever but you haven’t dared? Maybe now is the time! Try, and if your idea isn’t accepted, at least you won’t go around for the rest of your life wondering what would have happened if you had dared to try.