Where did you loose your key?

According to Yoga, we seek happiness and love because that is the natural state of our Higher Self. This Higher Self (Atman) is who we really are. The issue is that most of us don’t have contact with this Higher Self. We live deluded believing that we are our lower self which is our physical body, our thoughts and everything we perceive and identify as ‘me’.

One way to the Higher Self is through meditation which requires practice and non-attachment. This non-attachment is our tool throughout the day and during our practice to reach the state of meditation. Sitting in silence every day is a way to train the mind to slow down and focus which in turn is a tool to gradually detach from what is in our way to see our Higher Self.

The challenge is, that this Higher Self seems so difficult to reach. Most of us are dealing with a very limited mind. So, it is easier to reach towards what we can see in search for happiness and love getting lost in our senses, acting in selfish ways and in worst case scenarios acting in self-destructive ways. Unfortunately, nothing in the tangible world can give us lasting happiness or a lasting feeling of being loved because everything is in constant change including our perceptions and expectations. What made me happy today, might not be enough tomorrow. The most trusted and loved person you have can suddenly change his/her mind and walk away from your life.

Once a seeker in the path of yoga accepts these basic principles, life’s small and bigger challenges take a slightly different form. We are affected by them, but we have the tools to work ourselves out of the negativity that can be created by our emotions, especially those like anger, fear, jealousy, desire and greed.

In the Bhagavad Gita, we meet Arjuna, a great warrior who finds himself paralysed by fear and anxiety right before the battle of his life. The more we study the Gita, the more we can identify ourselves with Arjuna and realise how limited and limiting our mind can be. We learn to observe our attitudes and behaviours, and with practice, discipline and patience, we manage to make adjustments that bring us to a steadier calmer state of mind.

Learning about the limitedness of our minds, and the absurdity of pursuing happiness outside ourselves is also a powerful tool that helps us better interact with other people. When you start observing your mind and realise all the internal work you need to do in order to live a more peaceful life, you are also able to recognise the same struggles in other people. You might be able to forgive easier when you acknowledge the fact that we all are seeking the same but act (out?) in different ways to achieve it.

Think about this next time you have struggles with someone you expect something from. How can you expect the other person to give you what you believe you need, when the other person is busy in his/her own mind? If you are lucky, this person is aware of his/her struggles, but most of us spend a good part of our lives completely oblivious of our own limitations.

My advice is 1) If you are lacking something, see how you can provide it to yourself. If it is love that you are seeking, find this love inside yourself. Or at least be very clear of how this love should look like and give it the same way you expect to receive it without expecting anything in return. 2) Next time someone hurts your feelings, think about the cliché line “It’s not you, it’s me”, and believe in it. Whatever people do is an expression of their own inner world, of their perceptions and expectations. Even when someone acts in response to your actions, they are acting with their mind as the puppeteer. Just observe this in yourself during the next days. People are just people doing their thing but we have decided who we like, who annoys us, who we hate, who we want to have by our side, and who we want to push away. This connects to another way of interpreting the same line, ask yourself why am I reacting like this? In most cases, it is because the other person’s actions did not meet our own expectations.

I once heard a story, I am not sure if it comes from Buddhism or from the Yoga tradition, but I think it fits here. When we keep looking for what we feel we lack in the outer world or in other people, it is as if we had lost the key for our home, and keep searching for it at the wrong place knowing very well that it wasn’t there we lost it.

LOVE

Almost a year ago, my teacher gave me the task to write a text about love. Love is something that has occupied my mind a lot, especially during the last five years. Five or six years ago, I experienced something that turned my world upside down, and it made me start questioning the idea I had about love, especially what we tend to call ‘romantic love’.

The last weeks, I have been listening to an audiobook called God Speaks to Each of Us which is a compilation of lectures Thomas Merton had using Rainer Maria Rilke’s texts to talk about different topics related to the meaning of life and how we interact with each other.

One of the last lectures is about what Merton calls human love. In it, he quotes from Rilke’s book called Letters To A Young Poet:

‘For one human being to love another human being: that is perhaps the most difficult task that has been entrusted to us, the ultimate task, the final test and proof, the work for which all other work is merely preparation[…] Loving does not at first mean merging, surrendering, and uniting with another person (for what would a union be of two people who are unclarified, unfinished, and still incoherent?), it is a high inducement for the individual to ripen, to become something in himself, to become world, to become world in himself for the sake of another person; it is a great, demanding claim on him, something that chooses him and calls him to vast distances. Only in this sense, as the task of working on themselves (“to hearken and to hammer day and night”), may young people use the love that is given to them. Merging and surrendering and every kind of communion is not for them (who must still, for a long, long time, save and gather themselves); it is the ultimate, is perhaps that for which human lives are as yet barely large enough.

But this is what young people are so often and so disastrously wrong in doing: they (who by their very nature are impatient) fling themselves at each other when love takes hold of them, they scatter themselves, just as they are, in all their messiness, disorder, bewilderment. And what can happen then? What can life do with this heap of half-broken things that they call their communion and that they would like to call their happiness, if that were possible, and their future? And so each of them loses himself for the sake of the other person, and loses the other, and many others who still wanted to come. And loses the vast distances and possibilities, gives up the approaching and fleeing of gentle, prescient Things in exchange for an unfruitful confusion, out of which nothing more can come; nothing but a bit of disgust, disappointment, and poverty, and the escape into one of the many conventions that have been put up in great numbers like public shelters on this most dangerous road. No area of human experience is so extensively provided with conventions as this one is: there are life-preservers of the most varied invention, boats and water wings; society has been able to create refuges of every sort, for since it preferred to take love life as an amusement, it also had to give it an easy form, cheap, safe, and sure, as public amusements are.

There are many things in this quote that resonate with me. To begin with, the fact that love is hard work. Any love. To love each human being we interact with requires that we are willing to accept the good and the difficult. To love is to observe ourselves reacting and rejecting what we don’t like and be curious enough to discover why we react so strongly. To love is to grow because once we decide we will love, we have to move away from our instinctive way of clinging to what we like and pushing away what we dislike.

We have to accept that our happiness doesn’t come from other people fulfilling our needs, it comes from our ability to see our neediness and work on it. We have to learn to accept the emptiness and fear that come with the realisation that regardless of how much we seek in the other, we are in reality alone. Once we have taken the first step of acceptance, we can gradually feel comfortable in this loneliness and build a relationship of trust with our own self. We are ok on our own. This relationship with the self can then be the bridge between us and the other. We can then see the same vulnerability in the other and show understanding and compassion. That is when the real love happens.

My teacher often says that not all love needs to become a relationship. I think that what we call ‘romantic love’ is a kind relationship and as my teacher defines it, relationship is a contract. We all have our explicit and implicit terms for the different contracts we have with people: mum, teacher, lover, children, etc. There is nothing wrong with it, but we should learn to make the difference between being ‘in a contract ‘ with someone and loving someone from the deepest of our hearts.

I like how Rilke writes that to love is to become world. To me, this means that we become space for the other to be, without judgement and without neediness. It doesn’t mean that we have to put up with whatever the other brings. Some relationships are toxic, some people hurt, and sometimes it is necessary to part, but we can still love without the contract, without the relationship.

Only this kind of love will set us free.

PS He keeps referring to ‘young’ people, I am not in that category anymore, and still, I know that I have a long way to go to be able to fully understand and live up to this kind of love.

“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.

17 years and counting

Today, is our wedding anniversary. Seventeen years.

What is extraordinary about our relationship? Nothing, I would argue. Like in any marriage, we have had our good times and our bad times. There had been times where we have really considered going each our way.

Why haven’t we done so? Are we better than other couples that decide to split? Of course the answer is no. Ask anyone what marriage is about, and you will get thousands of different answers. I think that explains why some of us stay together no matter what and others make the choice to part.

At one of the most challenging moments in our relationship though, I came to realise that I didn’t have a clue of who I was and what I wanted in life, and this made me doubt if leaving my husband would make me feel better. Splitting our family in two, sending kids back and forward every other week as it is the common solution here seemed too drastic when I didn’t really know what I wanted. My husband has always given me enough space to be, so I knew that if I stayed with him, I could still be able to start working on myself.

My husband is a very open-minded man that sees the human in me (not just ‘the wife’, ‘the possession’) and was able to show compassion and understanding regardless of my hurting behaviour. Maybe he recognised his own confusion in my confusion? We were able to see the good in our relationship beyond the difficult and painful, and we decided to continue walking together.

So here we are, seventeen years and counting, trying to make some sense of who we are as individuals and at the same time living a common life with quite big responsibilities like any other couple with children. We both work hard on ourselves, we both do our best with what we have. There are no guarantees though. We never know what the future may bring, and I keep reminding myself that this is part of living in this world. Experience what life brings in order to learn and grow but be ready to let go when required.

I am thankful for these seventeen years together. I am thankful for the gift of being able to parent our children together. I am thankful for his generous heart, patience and sense of humour (even though I keep pretending I don’t like his jokes). I am thankful for the space he gives me to be, to explore, to try and fail and try again in many different areas. But maybe above all, I am thankful for the opportunity marriage has given me to observe myself and discover my limiting attitudes and beliefs about myself and those around me in order to at least try to become a better version of myself.

My daily practice

The mind spreads like a big blanket throughout the day
Covering all the areas of our life that require our attention
Once a day, morning or evening, I unroll my mat
My mat is my space where I can slowly fold the blanket
My mat is the place where I can get a taste of my inner strength
My mat is the place where I create the space to see
That everything I need is inside me
My mat is the place where I pray to God to give me the courage
To meet the world with the right attitude
Allow me to be brave
Allow me to be kind
Allow me to be curious
Remind me to be and let be

We all live in the practical world where quite a lot is expected from us, both by those around us and mostly by ourselves. We often feel we need to be better, stronger, improve is the mantra we all go around repeating in our heads.

The yoga practice – asana and/or meditation- can be a vacation from this. The yoga practice can be the time of the day where we are more curious than expecting. We observe our body, we observe our breath, and with care and patience, we move for our general well-being. We can strengthen, we can stretch, we can refine, but for the health of the body and mind.

We can learn to be kind to ourselves on the yoga mat, we can learn to see our weaknesses and our strengths. We can practice acceptance of the weaknesses, and patience to refine our strengths.

We can learn to calm our minds, and to connect with our inner love. We can touch the inner peace. With practice, with awareness, and with patience we will little by little take with us small pieces of these states of mind to our practical life. From the yoga mat can all good things grow inside ourselves, and like a tree spreading its branches to give shadow, shelter and its fruits, we will also be able to share in the practical world.