About heart sizes

I consider myself lucky to work with knowledgeable, reflective and inspiring people. I can say that all my colleagues are, each in their own way, a source of inspiration for me. I observe how they work, how they are with each other, and learn. It is very motivating to work with people like them.

Like in any work space, there are some people I work more closely to because of the subjects we teach. During the last five years, I have been working closely with the other language acquisition teacher, and especially during the last year and a half, I have been inspired by the way she approaches challenging and what I see as at times overwhelming tasks. I have never seen her stress or heard her complain or judge others. Instead, she does the best she can do with the circumstances she is in. She doesn’t seem to be interested in playing the super hero, but she always does what I see is the best for her students. She always puts their well-being first. I think she is the perfect example of a yogi even though she doesn’t call herself a yoga practitioner.

To me, it seems like she is always focused on what her intentions are, does her best with the time and resources she has, but is not attached to the result of her actions. She doesn’t seem to be invested in the outcome. Not that she doesn’t care, she does care, a lot, but she seems so centered in her self, that she is not looking for any form for validation in what she does.

The answer according to my understanding of yoga is yes. I believe that when we have a peaceful mind, when we work out of the heart, we are detached from the fruits of our actions, and then work for the benefit of the whole and not just for what we perceive as our individual benefit. Many of us can at times be stuck in the mind which can either lead to acting selfishly to get something in return, like some sort of validation or material benefit, or acting out of fear or judgement.

Unfortunately, this colleague is soon leaving our school as she and her family are moving abroad, and thinking about her and the years we’ve worked together, a phrase came to my mind ‘she has a big heart’. I started playing with the thought. Why do we say that? Are there really people that have bigger hearts than others? Then, I remembered something my yoga teacher often says: do everything from the heart. What does that mean? My colleague is a very responsible, efficient and professional teacher. Are does qualities of the heart?

So, going back to my question, does my colleague has a bigger heart? I don’t think so, what she has is a peaceful mind that allows her to work out of her heart. I believe we all have the same potential as she has. I believe some people wear their heart on the sleeve more easily than others. What can we do then? Continue working on ourselves. For me, the practice of meditation is the way to calm the mind, work on myself and create more clarity in my life. Meditation in the yoga tradition is not ‘only’ to sit down in silence for a certain amount of time every day, it is to strive towards living a conscious life and observe our thinking patterns to then adjust them towards what brings harmony and peace inside and around us. It is to strive towards a living following certain principles, two of the most important being non-attachment and practice. Keep practicing, until it comes naturally.

I strongly believe that if we find the inner source of lasting peace, we can deal with the outer world in a more skilful way that allows us to contribute to the well-being of those around us.

I am thankful for having worked with this colleague for the last few years, I have learned many lessons from her. I will keep her attitude and work in my mind for the rest of my life.

What’s been on my mind lately

Short version : a lot.

I notice my mind has been all over the place lately. Even at night, I catch myself thinking half asleep. I don’t know why. I guess it’s a phase, so I just partly asume but I am also working on noticing and letting go, when possible. If I wake up in the middle of the night and notice my thoughts, I start repeating a short mantra I have and it always helps me go back to sleep right away.

I have also been reflecting about all the things that affect my mood wondering how I can keep a more stable state of mind, and it all goes back to the idea of grounding myself in my intentions and letting go of the expectations. Which keeps being easier said than done. I am so used to do things with a certain attitude that changing patterns is taking time. But I keep trying, I keep reminding myself, and some days, I manage.

My dad used to call me the satellite dish when I was little, because I was able to notice everything. I guess, in a way it is an asset because I can read people quite fast. I can see when someone is distressed, or sad, or angry often before others notice. If I use this ‘skill’ properly, I can show understanding and compassion and even give a helping hand if necessary. The problem is that, this skill, combined with my need for validation and my fear for doing something ‘wrong’ can be emotionally tiring because I read other people’s emotions as a direct result of my actions. Leading me to feel bad conscience in some cases and being judgemental towards the ‘other’ in others. So, it all ends up being about ‘me’ and not about the situation or the person experiencing a certain emotion in my presence.

An example, I go into the classroom, with my lesson ready but I am received by tired and frustrated students. Some of them can at times be rude. My first reaction is often to become defensive. I want to go through the lesson, I want them to learn, but with that attitude, we won’t get anywhere. I get caught up in my emotion, and by the end of the lesson, I am exhausted because I spent the whole lesson fighting against my own frustration and disappointment to act as a ‘professional teacher’.

What can be done differently here? Change the focus. It is not about me wanting to teach them. It is about the whole experience of being in the classroom, seeing each and every one of them, and letting go of my judgement of their behaviour or the circumstances. It is about putting my whole heart in the situation and forget about my own insecurities.

Don’t misunderstand me, I do care about their learning, but ultimately, I can only come prepared to the classroom with a plan that aims to meet their individual needs but if their minds are elsewhere, if they are experiencing some sort of emotional distress (which is very common for their age), all I can do is meet them with curiosity, with openness and at the same time stand my ground by setting a clear framework for our interactions, without allowing myself to believe that their actions and reactions are in any way a validation or rejection of me as a teacher.

I am also experiencing this in other relationships. I am reminding myself to give space for others to be who they need to be without allowing it to affect my inner peace. I have been observing myself for a while now, and I know that most of the time, my reactions to other people are 99,9% a product of my inner world. So why would I believe that it is different for others? How others behave with me has little to do with me and more with their inner world. So, why judge? Why try to see who I am in the gaze of others? Here too, the key is to meet everyone with an open heart but stand my ground. Know my limits, and remember that we are all doing as good as we can out of our own perceptions and belief systems.

So, to summarise, during the last few weeks, I have noticed how much I still live ‘out there’, and how peaceful I feel when I move my focus to my intentions and my actions and let the reactions be what they need to be. Sometimes I wonder what is the purpose of my life. I wonder if I am living the life I am supposed to live or if I should be doing ‘more’ or ‘bigger’. Lately, I’ve been reminding myself that it is not the size of what we do but with what attitude we do it. How we make people feel. How often we manage to detach from the I in order to create a space for the we to be. Maybe that is my ambition in life for the moment. To be able to meet everyone with an open mind and an open heart and keep my mind at peace.

The magic of self-work!

As a Yoga practitioner, I am a strong believer in the power of meditation as a wholistic approach to life. Through the practice of meditation, I have learned the power of my mind. It is through my mind that I live my life, and it is through the practice of meditation that I can gradually train myself to calm my mind, create space between my thoughts and my actions, and change my perspectives or at least accept that they are just one way of seeing things.

I am learning the power of living life ‘inside out’ as my teacher calls it. I have learned to observe myself in all situations, especially in those that bring stress and distress and ask myself, ‘what can I change in my mind to better deal with this?’ So, every once in a while, reflecting about situations in which I experience stress, I set myself a goal on how I can change the situation by changing my perspective, my attitude or my behaviour.

For a while I have been thinking that if we all were willing to work with ourselves, it would be easier to interact with each other, we would take better care of each other, our environment and all living beings.

This week, during one of my meditation sessions, one of my students shared that she had set herself the goal of being less judgemental of her boss at work. In the past, she had experienced ending up in conflict with her boss, often because she had a negative opinion on certain things her boss did or said. She decided to put her effort in her work and not waste her energy in things out of her control. I asked her how this strategy is working so far, and she said that she had noticed a change of attitude in her boss too, and that they have had some good conversations. Once, her boss answered back in a harsh way and apologised shortly after without it escalating into a conflict.

I couldn’t help but wonder if my student’s boss also had the purpose of changing some attitudes and behaviours towards my student (and maybe all the employees). I really liked this idea. Imagine if we all were constantly reflecting about how we interact with the world around us, and when we notice room for improvement, instead of pointing our fingers at others, we decide to start with our own attitudes.

Patience

Do you ever get caught up in negativity? What happens then? Have you noticed when that happens? Is there a sort of pattern? Since Friday and throughout the weekend, I started noticing that almost everything was creating distress in my mind. Either by mentally rejecting an idea or a task I had to do, by focusing on the negative aspect of a situation or by predicting the worst-case scenario. Through the practice of yoga, -please read in the broader understanding of yoga, not just asana (physical activity)- I am gradually learning to observe my thoughts and not take them that seriously. By this, I mean that even though I notice distress rising internally, I don’t necessarily give in to the emotion. I just observe it. This doesn’t mean either that I can make it go away right away but by giving attention to my states of mind, I seem to be able to let go easier than when I don’t.

As a yogi, it doesn’t stop there, I have to be curious about why I am being so negative. What has changed? What is happening internally that is meeting the external world with a different attitude? I made some discoveries:

1) At the beginning of the lockdown, I was being very good at keeping my sleeping routines as usual making sure I sleep between seven and a half and eight hours per night. During the last two weeks, I’ve been going to bed later sometimes sleeping seven or less hours. I don’t know if it is because of ageing but I know now that for me to be at my best, I need eight hours of sleep. If I sleep under seven, I am more emotional, I have problems concentrating, and by consequence I am less efficient at home and work.

2) This took me a while to realise: I am putting too much pressure on myself during the lockdown. Since I have (or I think I have with full online work, three kids, a husband and a cat) more time, I want to spend that time ‘well’. What does that mean? Well, I want to spend more time with my kids in the afternoons doing fun stuff, I have been wanting to take an extra course in anatomy applied to yoga, so I signed up to an online one, I want to finally develop some ideas I have about yoga teaching, I want to do some home improvements, I want to read books, I want to exercise more, I want to spend more time with my older son in the evenings (that is why I’m going to bed later), and the list goes on and on… In addition, the ne new situation brings new possibilities: online teaching and online yoga teaching. This is lots of fun, and I have many ideas for both, but it requires time to learn new skills, use new tools, and plan differently.

Added to all this crazy mental activity, is the uncertainty of the situation. In Norway, we have come to a point where schools are gradually reopening. We know it will soon be our turn but we don’t know when or how our school is going to choose to meet all the requirements by the government to avoid spreading of the virus. On one side, my brain doesn’t like uncertainty, on the other, this makes planning for my lessons a bit challenging because I don’t know how much time I still have until things are turned upside down again… But mainly, I struggle with uncertainty.

So, once I realised all this, I have come to one big keyword: PATIENCE. Yes, I have maybe more time, and it is nice to have some projects and wanting to improve my online teaching, but not everything needs to happen right now. PATIENCE with myself, when I get anxious about the uncertainty, it is ok to experience these emotions right now. Just keep observing, keep breathing, and the anxiety will eventually go away. PATIENCE with life right now, things are as they are and we all are doing as good as we can with what we have.

I will also sleep more, be more disciplined with how much work I do and read the news only once a day. I really need to stay away from my computer after dinner no matter how many ideas I get. My mind needs to rest. I can just sit down and enjoy a cup of tea without having to do or achieve anything at the same time.

I also have to keep reminding myself that whatever happens, we always get through it. Whatever challenges we meet, we only come a bit wiser a bit stronger out of them. But above all, how important it is to have a stable sadhana. If it wasn’t for my sadhana, I think I would be even more negatively affected by the situation. I am so thankful for my teacher and for the teachings of yoga.

A very simple view on meditation

The practice of meditation in the Yoga tradition is more than sitting in lotus pose to ‘not think about anything’. It is a process that requires constant practice even -or better said especially – when we are not sitting in silence (no need to sit in lotus pose by the way).

Like in all paths of Yoga, the purpose of meditation is to help us come closer and closer to the core of who we really are, and to achieve this, the attitude we have towards our practical life needs to gradually help us cultivate a quieter, calmer state of mind. If our mind is all over the place 24/7, it is very unlikely that we will be able to sit and meditate in silence for some minutes. So it is like a circle, the practice of siting in silence with yourself teaches you to slow down, to calm down the body and the mind, at the same time as applying some basic principles to your everyday life will also help you cultivate this calmer and more harmonious state of mind that in turn will help you in your meditation practice.

This said, the best is to start somewhere, and using apps such as Head Space or Insight Timer can be a good tool to help you establish a regular practice. Both apps offer guided meditations in different styles and with different lengths that can vary from 1 minute to up to one hour or more. Spend some time exploring the different guided meditations they have and either pick a course (a set of guided meditations with a specific topic or purpose) or a couple of meditations that you like, and stick to them. You will need to try quite a few since the voice, pace and music/no music need to be suitable for you.

I recommend that you try avoiding jumping from one guided meditation to another because if you do so, all you are doing is serving your mind with some sort of ‘entertainment’.

I have tried guided meditations using these two apps, and I like using them mostly to take a break during the day, especially when I am tired, like for example those under the categories of Yoga Nidra or Body Scan, but when I want to slow down, to be with my mind, I prefer to sit down in silence and only use the timer from Insight Timer. I usually start with some simple breathing exercises, and then I sit down and focus my attention on my breath. Most of the time I start thinking about what has happened, what will happen, or what should happen, and when I notice this, I move my attention back to my breath. It is like a dance, and so we dance, my mind and I. No judgement, no pushing, just patiently observing.

Whether you choose to use a guided meditation or try sitting in silence, the very first thing you need to do is to convince your mind that you do have the time to sit down every day for at least three minutes, in a quiet space and spend some time on your own. Once you get so far, you need to have the patience and discipline to stay. Thoughts will come and go, especially thoughts about what you should be doing instead of sitting here and doing nothing. This doesn’t mean that you can’t meditate. On the contrary, it is part of the process. So just observe your thoughts come and go, let your mind tell you whatever it wants to tell you, but sit until the timer rings. With practice, it will get easier.

In this kind of practice, as with anything else you engage in, you need to have it very clear for you what it is that you want, what your motivation is. If your motivation is ‘just’ to relax and take a break from everyday life, I then think you can use any of the mentioned apps or you can also find quite a few guided meditations on YouTube. If, on the other hand, you want to cultivate a lasting calmer state of mind, you will need to do a slightly harder work and learn to sit in silence with yourself , and seek for some guidance to learn some of the basic principles of Yoga that complement this practice.