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’…

Yoga and the senses

Most Yoga practitioners are familiar with Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga that, if practiced sincerely, disciplined, and with the right support, will lead us to the liberation of our conditioned mind and thus the realization of who we really are: ‘love, freedom and bliss’ (Prasad Rangnekar 2011)

One of the so-called ‘eight limbs of Yoga is pratyahara or control of the senses.

Withdrawing the senses, the mind and consciousness from contact with external objects, and then drawing them inwards towards the seer is pratyahara.” Yoga Sutras of Patanjali book II, sutra 54.

The goal is to get in touch with that part of ourselves that is beyond our body and mind and the means to achieve this goal is to calm down the mind. Therefore, an important part of our practice towards controlling the mind is the control of the senses.

In the Bhagavad Gita, we learn that we have five senses of perception or jñānendriya: the ears, nose, tongue, eyes and skin; and five organs of action or karmendriya: legs, arms, mouth (for speech), genitalia and anus. It is through the senses and the mind that we experience and take part in the world. We are however warned that what the senses bring to our mind is impermanent and we, therefore, have to learn to seek stability within ourselves.

“[…]the contact between the senses and the sense objects gives rise to fleeting perceptions of happiness and distress. These are non-permanent and come and go like winter and summer seasons […] one must learn to tolerate (endure) them without being disturbed.” Bhagavad Gitra Ch. 2 v.14

If we seek happiness in the outer world, we tend to get attached to the pleasures that the senses bring because these pleasures are short lasting. This kind of attachment is easy to see in our actions and in our mind. I can observe myself thinking about getting home, opening the cookie box and eating a cookie. I can observe myself daydreaming about the cookie. Maybe, the thought of eating that cookie is what helps me get through the day, and what is wrong with that? Nothing is wrong with enjoying a treat after a long day at work. The problem is when my welbeing depends on that treat or any other treat. Here are three main reasons I see why it can be a problem:

  1. The pleasure of eating a cookie lasts for just a short moment which can lead to either overindulging because I want to extend the moment or me seeking the next sensory stimulation to continue feeling ‘good’/’happy’.
  2. My happiness is dependent on something exterior to me but what if I get home and the cookie box is empty? I will then find myself with an unmet expectation. What will my reaction be? How will that make me feel?
  3. All the time and mental energy spent in thinking about the cookie distracts my mind and does not allow me to be present in the moment. It becomes nothing more than a distraction.

“While contemplating on the objects of the senses, one develops attachment to them. Attachment leads to desire and from desire arises anger.” Bhagavad Gita, Ch2 v.62

Pratyahara in the context of meditation is when we sit down with ourselves in our daily practice and start by “turning off” our senses to bring the attention inwards. We aim to let go of the need to register and identify sounds, let go of getting caught up in specific smells and for most of us it is easier to close our eyes to avoid getting distracted by our sight. But the senses don’t necessarily stop when we avoid using them. Thoughts continue to fly in our head, and if we haven’t been practicing non-attachment in our daily life, it is when we sit in silence that all these sensory attachments can become stronger. They way we live our daily life affects our practice and in return, our practice affects our daily life.

Throughout the years I have been studying Yoga, I have come to observe other ways I overindulge my senses that I wasn’t aware of like for example when I sometimes want to know certain things that are unnecessary for me to know. I have sometimes catched myself wondering if so and so has said this or done that just to stop and ask myself, why do I need to know this? Gossip is maybe the right word here. How would my life improve if I know more details about other people’s lives that do not have any direct effect in my own life? It’s just a way to ocupy my mind really. Or how about reading and listening to the news? I think that as a mum and a teacher, I should stay updated about what is happening in the world, but to what degree? How much is too much? How much is necessary and how much is just overinduging?

What I like about Yoga is that it is never dogmatic. We are encouraged to take part in life and enjoy it, but we are warned of getting attached to the external world because as mentionned above it only feeds into the limited idea we have of who we are and most importantly, everything in the exterior world is transcient so we doom ourselves to a life of Sisyphus.

“That person who gives up all material desires and lives free from a sense of greed, proprietorship (I and mine) and egoism, attains peace.” Bhagavad Gita ch2 v71

By controling our senses, we filter what we allow into our mind and by doing this we gradually regulate our reactios to the external world. It is all cyclic. Less sensory innput helps create more inner silence in the long run which allows us to access our inner peace, this in turn results in less seeking of sensory stimuli which leads to a quietter mind. It is not simple, it requires courage, perseverance and a lot of practie. The inner void before the inner peace can be quite scary.

Can you relax without stimuli?

The other day, I shared a short relaxation session with my colleagues where the main focus was to use the breath. I know that for many, the idea of sitting ‘just’ breathing sounds intimidating and maybe even boring, so I divided the session into three parts. One where we would connect the breath with soft movements (achievable for all kinds of bodies), another with a simple breathing exercise, and the last one with a body scan. The whole session lasted for approximately twenty minutes.

After the session, one of my colleagues told me it was very nice to ‘check in’ with herself. She said that while she was sitting there, she noticed how she was feeling and realized she hadn’t take the time to notice before. This reminded me of something I have been reflecting a lot about lately. It seems to me that most of us rarely take the time to slow down and just be, to check in with ourselves.

It is, of course, understandable that we all have different ways to cultivate our well-being, some choose to go for a run, others to watch a TV show, and although this does allow us to disconnect from everyday tasks, it is not necessarily bring long-lasting well being for our body and mind. During the years I have been practicing Yoga, I have come to the conclusion that there is a difference between sense indulging and self-care. I don’t necessarily think that indulging is wrong, it is nice to sometimes give in to a guilty pleasure, and as mentioned above, it can be part of our toolkit to disconnect from everyday life, but the thing is, I don’t think only indulging is going to bring real peace of mind because the satisfying feeling only lasts for a short period of time. In addition, we might seek activities that stimulate our mind and body like food, alcohol, and even entertainment, which feel good at the moment but do not allow for our nervous system to reset and restore.

I believe self-care requires more work, but less fuss. Self-care might bring some immediate comfort, and at times it can also bring some discomfort. In the long run, however, it brings peace of mind.

I might be biased by my enthusiasm towards the practice of Yoga meditation, but in my view, the only way we can really relax and take care of our well-being is by bringing silence to our body and mind on a regular basis. The challenge is, however, to have the patience to bear the noise our mind makes when we turn off the external noise. This is where the work starts because we need to learn to be with the noise of our mind as if it was background music. It is there, we notice it, but we choose not to do anything about it at that moment. We do not judge, we do not try to change it.

These moments of external silence but internal noise can be precious because like my colleague put it, it is then we have the opportunity to ‘check in’ with ourselves. We create the space to feel and think, we allow our mind to express itself. Sometimes, that is all we need. To give ourselves some ‘self-attention’, sometimes, we need further reflection on what is going on and what we need to do about it.

Making room for moments of silence and softness in our life not only helps us deal with our thoughts better, it also has an effect on our nervous system which in turn influences our state of mind. In addition, when we learn to quiet the mind on a regular basis, we are able to benefit from this practice in moments of intense distress.

To begin with, I recommend a combination of techniques like soft movement with breath for the busy mind. Practices like soft yoga asana, Tai Chi or even Qi Gong, going for a walk but with the awareness of being with yourself, with your breath, and trying to leave other distractions aside. Simple breathing exercises can also be very useful. Some help calm down the body and the mind, others are energizing. Yoga Nidra, is als a very good way to relax, and the fact that you need to focus on different body parts keeps your mind busy. If your mind is very very busy, I recommend writing. Sit in a quiet place for five to ten minutes and let words flow. No structure, no purpose, just write. Avoid reading what you write. Just leave it. This is a very nice way to ’empty’ the mind. Once you have practiced this for a while, you can start journaling. There are different ways to do it. I often like to sit down and write my reflections of the day, often, a specific aspect of it takes more place, and I discover quite a lot about myself and my interactions with the world. I often realize that something that seemed overwhelming when traped in my mind, wasn’t that bad when put into words in my notebook.

Whatever works for you, try to create at least one moment of quiet calmness in your everyday routine. With practice, you will notice the difference it makes in you. You might notice that the urge to indulge will reduce as you create more space for what I like to call ‘real’ self-care.

On spirituality, Halloween, Yoga, contentment, less stress and less waste

Human History is marked with quite a few gruesome actions done in the name of religion. I believe, however, that humanity needs spirituality. Spirituality and religion are not the same. In my view, religion is the institutionalizing of spirituality, and if we are not aware of this, we might end up putting our mind and well-being in the hands of someone else, which in turn is the opposite of spirituality.

Living a spiritual life for me means to take responsibility for my thoughts and actions, to do what I need to do to cultivate a calm and content state of mind. This is, of course, beneficial for me, but I believe that through that work, I also benefit my surroundings because I start seeing the connections. I see how my attitudes and actions affect me and the world around me. In addition, when I take my well-being into my own hands, I demand less from the world. Furthermore, when I learn to know myself better, I accept my place in the world and play my roles from a place of giving instead of receiving.

Spirituality can be anchored in different traditions, but for many people, it can be a personal practice without any adherence to any tradition. I know a few people who in my view live a spiritual life without even being aware of it, even less calling themselves spiritual. In my case, spirituality came in the form of Yoga practices. That is why I write about it, but if you find another path that works for you, stick to it.

Contentment is an important aspect of Yoga. I sincerely believe that many of the struggles we experience today would reduce or even disappear if we had a more conscious approach to contentment. Contentment is a state of mind, and it needs to be cultivated inwardly. In order to cultivate contentment, we need to slow down, to let go of the excess of actions and impulses we are used to having in our lives. We need to prioritize. We need to reflect on what can stay and what needs to go. We need to be aware of our impulses and work towards a less dependant relationship to our senses. The more dependent our happiness is on sensory input, the more we want, the more we demand from the world around us. This has a direct impact on the people we mingle with and the environment. Just think about it for a moment, if you manage to cultivate a content inner state, you will consume less, or at least more mindfully, and this will have a direct impact on the environment. If on the contrary, your happiness is dependant on material things, the more you buy, the more you own, the more you want. Happiness from material things lasts for a short period of time. It doesn’t take long after we have acquired something before we want something else.

I believe slowing down and prioritizing are crucial to cultivating contentment. It is difficult to live mindfully unless we slow down. I have Halloween as an example. Our youngest daughter loves Halloween, ever since she was in preschool. She used to say that Halloween was her favorite ‘season’. For her, there was Spring, Summer, Halloween, and Christmas. To begin with, Halloween represented another thing ‘to-do’ in a busy everyday life with three kids. It represented, to be honest, stress. However growing up in Mexico, Halloween and Dia de Muertos kind of merged when I was a child, and it was something I also used to look forward to. So, throughout the years in our home in Norway, we have developed a tradition for Halloween. A more conscious approach to it. Since it is important and fun for our girls, we take the time to prepare for it to make it a fun season and avoid stress and impulsive shopping. The girls and I start planning for their costumes before the Fall Break. They decide what they want to be. During the Fall Break, we go to the second-hand shops to find clothes and accessories to make their costumes and start the process. We then use our spare time to work on the costumes. Some years ago, we found a recipe for ‘spider cookies’ we like to bake every year. The girls usually invite a friend each to join us. To avoid too much waste, we pop popcorn to give away to the kids that come trick-or-treating, and I don’t buy Halloween decorations. We don’t have space to keep them and I don’t want to create waste just for one day. The only decoration is a pumpkin that we carve together. When our son was part of the celebrations, we used to run a competition. Each kid would draw an idea for the pumpkin and my husband would choose the winner. This year, I was made aware of the amount of water and energy that goes to cultivate all the pumpkins we buy for Halloween. So, we made baked pumpkin seeds for snacks and I used the pumpkin ‘meat’ for pancakes. Next year, our goal is to cultivate our own pumpkin! On November 1, I bake Pan de Muerto, the culminating part of our Halloween celebrations.
I think that Halloween is perfect for us living up north. It is the time of the year where we gradually stay indoors more, and we then have handcraft activities to do. It has become a project between the girls and me instead of another stressful thing I have to plan on my own, on the run. And the whole process starts all over again in mid-November to start preparing for Christmas as we now try to handmade presents for family and pick what we think would be useful presents for friends.

I don’t mean to say that this is the perfect way to do things, but I am content with how it has developed so far. I know there is room for improvement when it comes to being environmentally friendly – like the pumpkin – but nothing is ever set in stone, so we learn as we go.

‘Bad’ habits

I once read in one of Mr Iyengar’s book something like this: thoughts become actions and actions become habits. I think my paraphrase is way too short, but that is the part of the quote that stroke me the most. It was in the context of Patanjali’s Yoga sutras and the importance of gaining awareness of our own thinking processes. Ever since then, I try to observe my own habits. It is fascinating to see how many of them are created without intention! Especially the habits that are behind conscious or unconscious ideas of myself and those around me. My behaviour becomes a ‘bad’ habit in certain situations as a result of an idea I have of myself and/or the other person.

Unconscious and bad habits are not always easy to discover, I must confess, and I am always amazed when I do. Like this weekend. My husband and I don’t buy wine very often, but yesterday, we both felt like having some red wine. Here in Norway, you can’t buy wine – or any alcohol except for beer- at the grocery store, you have to go to something called Vinmonopolet (the Wine Monopoly). Therefore, it requires a bit more effort to get it. So Saturday morning, we went downtown to run some errands, and we bought ourselves a bottle of red wine.

We went home. I had some things I wanted to get done, and Arve had his. At some point late in the evening, I was sewing some patches on a blanket when Arve got up from the couch, opened the bottle and served himself a glass of ‘our’ wine. He sat back on the couch with his computer on his lap and the glass of wine in one hand. He looked so content. I felt offended. Trying to be as diplomatic and constructive as I could, I made a remark about it, and he replied something like: well, you seem always so busy, I just didn’t want to bother you. I seem busy?! He has ‘always’ the computer on his lap! Again, I tried my best to find a way to lead this conversation to a space of openness instead of conflict (which is not always my strength, if I am honest).

It turns out, he’s right. Every single evening, I talk about all the things I ‘have to do’. I don’t always end up doing them, but I do talk about them. So, all my husband can do is to grab his computer and do his own thing. So, I have the habit of thinking that he is not interested in spending time with me. That he prefers to do something else.

Added to this ‘bad’ habit of mine is the unconscious expectation that my husband ‘shows interest’ in me, and this has to happen of course as I imagine it. It is as if I kind of expect to get an invitation from him instead of saying clearly that I miss spending time with him and that I would like to enjoy a glass of wine together.

After our chat, he did invite me to watch a movie that he had been wanting to watch. It was nice even though I didn’t make it awake all the way to the end of the movie. Not because of the movie. Certainly not because of my husband. It has just been a hectic week, and with the wine… I am happy I gathered the courage to have this conversation without being confrontational. We had fallen into a habit of thought. I thought my husband was not interested in spending time with me during the evenings because he sits with his laptop on the couch. He thought I was too busy to want to do anything with him. We fell into the habit of believing what the other is thinking instead of talking about both wanting to spend some time together.

A similar eye opener happened some years ago when we were going through a difficult situation. It was tough for both of us, and I started resenting my husband because I felt that he wasn’t giving me much emotional support through this. So, in addition to struggle with the difficult moment, I was being resentful towards him. Acting passive-aggressively. When I finally gathered the courage to have the difficult conversation, it turned out he felt I was pushing him away. I was acting as if I had full control over my emotions and didn’t need his support. It was, of course, a way to keep the pain away because I knew that if I showed vulnerability, I would have to face my own emotions and I wasn’t ready for it. So, the easiest was to keep my attention on something else, namely what I thought was my husband’s inability to show empathy. Sadly, this wasn’t the first time I felt like this, but I had never dared to talk about it with openness. It had always ended up in a bunch of complaints and accusations from my side. We had fallen into a bad habit that none of us had had the ability to see even less break, and I believe this bad habit was the result of my own and my husband’s unaware thinking processes. It is often the idea we have of ourselves and others that stands in the way for our interactions with others.