‘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.

Lessons from this week

  1. Sometimes, good intentions are not enough. Discussing a mistake I made this week with a friend, he told me “I always give important decisions a night sleep.” In line with the teachings of Karma Yoga, I strive to create clarity in my mind. This means that I try to always be clear about the intention behind my action. I try not to act impulsively. However, this week, I made a choice with good intentions but after I gained perspective, I realised it wasn’t the best choice for everyone. Which leads to lesson 2:
  2. Running against the clock will often mean trouble. Had I taken the time to reflect on the options, I might have chosen differently, but during the last three weeks, I feel I have been in a constant race against the clock. My mum always says : move slower when you are in a hurry. My friend kindly told me: ‘the choice is made, you cannot change it. You have to put it behind you, but I disagree with your choice this time.’ I agree with him. No point spending time and energy in regretting, but I should learn from this mistake. Which leads me to lesson number 3:
  3. There is a difference between acknowledging our mistakes and shortcomings and torturing ourselves with regret and self-loathe. If we are to grow in this life, if we are to cultivate more peace inside and around ourselves, we need to see the difference between these two. Someone in my sangha wrote a very inspiring experience this week where he describes how, he has come to accept his shortcomings in his interactions with the people he loves, he has seen his part in situations where things haven’t gone the direction he wishes them to go, and he is willing to make adjustments in his attitude and behaviour. He sees it will require practice, patience and time, and he is willing to do so. He is not stuck in regret nor he is running away from the consequences of his actions. I think that what often happens in our relationships is that when we realise where we have been acting unskilfully, we struggle to see that it is just a matter of accepting and adapting. Which leads to point number 4:
  4. I should do my best to live in clarity and with pure intentions, the rest is out of my hands. If I notice I can make a change to improve a situation, I should, but I can’t expect anything in return. We all live inside our heads, and I cannot control how other people react to my actions.
  5. Finally, I should continue simplifying my communication with others. Keep it clear, keep it short and avoid getting tangled in explanations. Sometimes, the best I can do is not to say anything.

Following lesson nr5. I finish this blogpost here hoping you had an enriching week. ❤️

A fight with my husband and a burnt bread

Each Summer, I spend quite a lot of time reflecting about the school year. I reflect about my role as a teacher, but also about my general mental and emotional state because there is a connection. If I am mentally and emotionally in balance, I am able to make better decisions both at work and at home.

This summer, I decided I needed to create better routines for myself when it comes to work and home. I realised that since I became a contact teacher, I felt a big responsibility to deal with student related issues and spent often what I see as family time answering emails, writing reports, worrying about my students or catching up with lesson planning. It wasn’t until about a week after the summer break started that I noticed how stressed and tired I had been.

I want my students to thrive, and I would love to be able to help each and every one of them to develop to their own potential, but I need to remember that I am not a superhero, and that nobody is expecting me to be one. Being a good teacher is to act within the framework that I am given with clear intentions, and with support and in collaboration with parents, the school and support systems when necessary. Not all the responsibility lies on my shoulders.

With these reflections in mind, I decided I was going to find a better balance between work and home. I had made myself a mental schedule for school work.

Then, the school year started. I don’t know how I manage, but every year is the same. Every year, I seem to forget how crazy the first weeks of school are. No matter what I do when I finish the school year, I will always end up feeling that I am drowning in ‘to-do’ lists the first weeks of school.

This year was no exception, and you might have already guessed, as the tasks started to pile up and my days gathered momentum, I forgot my resolutions from the summer to balance work and family better, to avoid stressing, to prioritise better.

Half way through my first week at work, one day, I managed to squeeze too many things into my schedule. After a busy day at school, I came home to a busy evening at home. I had promised my youngest to take her somewhere, at the same time as I wanted to bake bread, wash clothes and tidy up the house. With the extra energy saved during the summer, I felt I could manage. And I did… partly. The problem is that the more I multitask, the more hyper I become, the less patient I am, the more things can go wrong. That day culminated with me losing my patience with my husband and (surprisingly) my husband losing patient with me and we had a huge fight. It was a big shock for me, our kids and for my husband as we almost never yell at each other.

Reflecting about it, I came to the conclusion that the reason why I lost my patience was that I had turned into a human tornado that day. I started the day doing one thing at a time, but as my day advanced, I kept seeing things that needed to be done ‘immediately’. So I kept doing, and doing, and doing, and at some point I was tired but I just couldn’t stop. When this happens, I start resenting my husband because he seems oblivious of what ‘needs to be done’, and I keep hoarding things to do until one little thing goes ‘wrong’ and the whole situation explodes in our faces.

The solution: do less. Leave some work for tomorrow. Sit down. Take a breath. Why do I keep forgetting this simple solutions?

I finished my week with these reflections. All good. Until yesterday.

New week, new pile of things to do. New possibilities for me to create chaos (he he). Yesterday, I forgot again my resolution to not work during ‘family hours’, lost track of time, and managed to forget a loaf of bread I had carefully prepared the day before for almost two hours in the oven. I was so disappointed and frustrated! Baking with sourdough is a long process, and I ruined it because I was multitasking again and even worse, I had not stick to my promise to take a break from work during the evening. But I had to laugh too. Such a good reminder.

My husband has forgiven me for yelling and thinks a bread with a ‘well done’ crust is delicious. I am lucky. I have gained some perspective. I know that stress is a choice. It seems like it’s not, but it really is. I will work on not choosing stress in the future.

Spring reflections

The Spring is here and with it comes the awe of nature waking up to life after a long Winter. I enjoy observing how days are getting longer and longer, feeling the warmth of the sun, the birdsongs, and seeing plants and trees growing leaves and flowers.

Spring always brings me so much joy, but the start of the season is always challenging for me. I don’t know why, but I often feel tired physically, mentally and emotionally, and it takes a lot of inner work to get myself through it without allowing this tiredness to push me into a negative space. It has taken me some years to understand this pattern and even more importantly, to accept it.

My theory is that I spend so much energy keeping up with life during the dark and cold Winter, that when the Spring comes, my body is exhausted. I tried this Winter to follow better the rhythm of the daylight and allow myself to rest more and do more indoor activities that inevitably require less energy such as sewing, knitting, reading, playing board games with my kids and watching movies. Still, the tiredness of the Spring did come along.

Spring is also a quite busy period for me. As a teacher, May is an intense month with many holidays sprinkled throughout the month, and although I do appreciate the breathing pause they bring, they also interrupt the rhythm of school life in what I see as one of the most critical periods of the school year as we should be wrapping up, doing our last assessments to start writing report cards, write the end-of-the-school-year student reports, and prepare for next school year. In addition, all clubs my kids are part of, want to mark the end of the school year with celebrations, and on top of all that we have the Norwegian national day and all the expectations around it. Fighting all this, my desire to be outdoors and enjoy the better weather.

So, even though the light and the milder weather call me to be more active, I am trying this year to work with my expectations and what my different roles require from me. Not an easy task, but I keep learning:

  1. Prioritise: I can’t have a hundred items on top of my priority list. Remind myself of what is important for me and make my list accordingly.
  2. Put some things aside both practically and mentally. I can’t do everything right now. Some things will have to wait. This is very connected to nr1.
  3. Keep my sadhana rock steady. At least twenty minutes of sitting in silence preferably preceded of some yoga asana.
  4. Say no when needed. This one is very though because I don’t want so seem rude nor disappoint anyone, but it is also very necessary.
  5. Good enough is good enough.
  6. Give myself time and space to feel tired, confused and frustrated but do not feed into the emotions. Time and space will always allows me to get some perspective and find a way to get through situations.
  7. Make choices based on what I know and the resources I have with clear intentions and trust that whatever happens will be for the best. I must confess that making choices is one of the most energy-draining activities for me, but I am learning to follow this little formula. Trust is an important ingredient to not spend too much energy on them.
  8. REST. Go to bed early, listen to my body and mind and take a break during the day when I need it. I often eat lunch with my students or in meetings, but when I can, I take a half hour break during my work day and go for a walk in the park, literally. Walking in nature always recenter me. When I get home, if my kids are at their respective activities or with their friends, I take a coffee break to rest my mind and body.
  9. Move outdoors. I have as a goal to walk at least 7km a day, some days I walk more, some days slightly less. The key is in using my legs as my means of transportation. I walk or ride my bike to and from work and to whatever errands I have during the day.