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.

Do I want to take up this fight?

About two weeks ago, one of my daughters and I decided to ride our bikes to a beach close to our place to go for a swim. We packed our things, and off we went taking a path that we have been taking either when walking or by bike during all the years we have been living in this house. It is a street that leads towards a neighbourhood with apartment buildings, and in between two of these buildings, there is a big garden. In the middle of the garden, a path leads towards the shoreline. When I walk or bike towards the sea, I always choose this way because the view from the garden towards the sea is beautiful. In addition, there are almost no cars there, so I think it is safer and more pleasant.

As we were passing one of the buildings heading towards the path in the middle of the garden, we saw an elder man standing outside. I biked passed him, smiled and said ‘hi’. To my surprise he said, ‘you have to turn around and find another way, this is a private street’. I disagreed and pointed out that we have been using this way to go to the shoreline for years without any problem. There are no signs confirming that it is a private street. I also mentioned the Norwegian law that prevents people from blocking the access to public spaces. He suddenly changed his mind, and told me that we shouldn’t ride our bikes there because there is a garage and cars come out sometimes too fast and we can be hurt. I told him that we would be ok, and that I would not find another way today. We continued our way to the beach crossing the path between buildings.

All the way to the beach, I kept wondering though. Who is right? Is this a private street? I was on one side annoyed by the unpleasant moment, and on the other trying to be reasonable about the whole situation. This has been one of my favourite areas in our neighbourhood for years, especially during this time of the year. Am I willing to let go of this area? Shall I keep using this path and be ready to go through several unpleasant situations if I meet the same man?

When I got home, I actually checked the law. I even imagined myself riding my bike alone one day and being stopped by the same man, and suggesting we call the police to help us out. I was sure the police would agree that this is not a private street. But an important question popped in my head, do I really want to waste energy on this?

I tried to see things from his perspective. There is an area near these buildings that has become very popular among teenagers during the hot summer days. They gather to sunbathe, play volleyball and bathe in the sea. Maybe, during these days, there are a lot of people riding their bikes down this path, and I can understand it being disturbing with the noise. It might also be scary with a lot of bikes passing in high speed for those who are walking.

I have been using this path for over seven years, enjoying the view and the nature, but do I want to get into a conflict just because of that? No. Are there alternative ways to the same place? Yes. Can I let go? Yes. I actually got excited with the idea of discovering other ways to get to the same place. Get to know other sides of the same neighbourhood.

About a week after this experience, I went for a hike with a dear friend, and out of the blue, without me mentioning this little incident, she told me about a similar situation she and her neighbours are experiencing but from the side of the elder man. Around eight houses share the same grounds, and some years ago, an entrepreneur built a whole new residential area near these houses. Everyday, people cross their ground to get to and from the bus. This represents noise and a feeling of loosing privacy since people passing by can see directly into the houses. Many of her neighbours are annoyed About a week after this experience, I went for a hike with a dear friend, and out of the blue, without me mentioning this little incident, she told me about a similar situation she and her neighbours are experiencing but from the side of the elder man. Five houses built in the 80s, share a driveway that helps each resident arrive at their home from the main road. Over the past year, a developer has built a whole new residential area adjacent to these houses and driveway. Everyday, people from the new development use their driveway to get to and from the bus, schools and shops in the area though there are other, far less convenient access routes available to them. This increased traffic (not forecasted when my friend bought her house a year ago even though they’d asked the seller about any existing neighbourhood conflicts) represents noise and a loss of privacy since people passing by can see directly into the houses, and sometimes carry on conversations late at night. Daily, there is also an increased safety risk as children and people riding bikes now use this area intended for the car traffic of several homes, not for the dozens of homes using it now as a walkway. My friend’s neighbours are annoyed by this change, and they are trying to discuss how to solve this problem. Although the context of her story is different because it is mainly about poor planning from the developer’s and Kommune’s side, it made me think about my own story. There are always at least two sides to a story, and most of the time, we need to be able to see beyond our own perspective in order to find solutions that do not create more distress and stress.

In many situations in my life, I often end up with the same question: who is right? Most of the time, I realise no one is completely right, it is just a matter of perspectives. The question is, where am I willing to invest my energy? Do I want to be part of the problem or the solution? Sometimes, after weighing all possibilities, we might believe that our perspective is the right one, and we then have to swallow the bitter pill of engaging in a discussion that will be unpleasant. Sometimes, we have to go through the moment(s) of unpleasantness to see a change happen. So it is a constant dance between what we believe in, what we stand for and trying to see things from other perspectives.

In my little story here, it is obviously not worth the bitter pill. I can let go of my favourite path. Who knows? I might discover a new favourite path in the process. 🙂

More about parenting

Usually, my reflections are about my interactions with people. I think that is one of the most fascinating aspects of life. For long (and still to some degree) I have been trying to figure out what is the ‘right’ way to relate to others until I started studying yoga and learned that in order to understand why I interact with others as I do, I first need to understand how my mind operates. So, I observe myself act and react, I observe my thoughts and emotions and I try to understand why they are as they are, all this in light of what I have been studying about the human mind according to Yoga.

During the lockdown, my social sphere has been reduced to my family: my husband and my kids. I do reflect often about my role in their lives and their role in my life, but these weeks, I have had the time to observe my behaviour more closely.

One thing that I have observed is how, in situations where I disagree with my kids’ behaviour or attitudes, I automatically change my tone and start scolding them. I have stopped myself a few times lately to ask myself why do I sound so annoyed? What is my purpose right now? How are they reacting to this situation?

When it comes to our youngest daughter she gets so frustrated that she starts crying and stops listening. For our teenage son, this just means that he gives up and accepts whatever I am saying so I stop scolding him ruining the opportunity to invite him to express his own opinions and have an interesting dialogue. For our middle daughter it means that she feels criticised hurting her self-esteem tremendously.

So why do I scold? In some cases, it can be out of frustration. Maybe I have repeated the same many times: “wash your hands when you come into the house after playing outside”, or “pick up your dirty socks”, or “take your used plate into the dishwasher”. There is nothing wrong with showing emotions to our kids, but I sometimes wonder if the emotion shown is proportional to the situation, or if the tone comes out of habit. How would I react if my kids talked like that to me? Isn’t it possible to be kind and ask them to help without the ‘attitude’?

In other cases, it is because of worry or even fear. When our son doesn’t make his homework and we get a note from his teacher or when our youngest acts selfishly in relation with her sister making her feel bad. The problem is, that I think the way I talk with them can have the opposite outcome than the desired one. It must be possible to show concern and be strict without having to make my kids feel guilty. I have actually stopped a couple of times during the lockdown while talking with my son and saying out loud “Wait, why am I using this tone right now? Lets start again.” To then explain that I worry, that I try to pass on what I believe is important values and attitudes, but that I might also be wrong.

It is powerful too. The other day, I asked my youngest daughter to come sit beside me, and asked her how she thought her sister felt when she excluded her from an online meeting with their schoolmates. I wasn’t angry, I was just expressing my concern. She responded much better than when I use ‘the tone’.

My point here is not to go into a guilt trip or to point fingers for ‘using the tone’, it is more a personal reflection about the hows and the whys of parenting. I really think it is important to stop from time to time and ask myself what is the intention behind my actions and consider whether the means of my parenting are the most appropriate for my kids.

I think the lockdown has done something wonderful for us as a family. It has given us time to slow down. To listen better to each other. I notice that I sometimes start getting annoyed by some of my kids’ comments or questions but I can stop myself from reacting in a hurtful way and rather show curiosity or disagree in a respectful way. I don’t want my kids to grow up doubting themselves or feeling constantly guilty for what they think and how they behave. I want them to grow up being reflective but well grounded in themselves. It is tiring to constantly wonder whether we are ‘right ‘ or ‘wrong’ according to other people’s standards.

Aversion, the other face of attachment

Abhyasa and vairagya are two very important principles for the yoga practitioner. Very simplified abhyasa means practice and this encompasses the daily sadhana, but also practicing the teachings of yoga at every moment in the practical life. Vairagya is often translated as detachment. The less we cling to, the less disturbances we create in our mind, the clearer we live our lives and most importantly, the closer we come to the core of who we are.

The principle of detachment really makes sense to me, and therefore during the last five years, I’ve observed myself, and tried to detach from what does not serve me in my spiritual path. I have had to be quite honest with myself and let go of what causes disturbances in my mind. I am constantly looking at what I do, what I want, and what I possess, and I ask myself if this is a priority, or if I can let it go. This can be things, activities, relationships, habits…

The idea of detachment is not that we stop engaging with the world, on the contrary, we engage maybe even more wholeheartedly but with awareness. Without clinging into it.

Recently, I’ve been reflecting on the other face of attachment: aversion, and I have discovered that this one causes maybe even more trouble in my mind and in my practical life. There are different levels of it, the highest probably being hate or resentment. When we go around thinking bad of others, we can physically feel how it affects us, our heartbeat increases, our body feels restless, we feel generally unwell. A dear friend of mine once said in one of her workshops, hate is like eating poison and hoping for the other person to die. It really eats us up.

Luckily for me, I don’t hate anyone, but I do have resentment towards things people have done that have hurt me. I have been aware of that kind of aversion for some time now, and I constantly work with it. It helps me to think that people act out of their own perspectives and needs, just like I do, even if this sometimes means that they hurt others, just like I’ve done.

When it comes to the ‘lower’ degrees of aversion, I know now for a fact that I have a tendency to panic in moments of unpleasantness, either created by my emotions, situations or people around me. This often leads to me acting impulsively to get out of the unpleasant feeling making things worse.

Reacting with aversion to unpleasant situations is, of course, part of our instincts, and it is useful when we are in danger, but let’s be honest, in our everyday life, how many times are we in real danger?

Form now on, I will observe myself in moments where aversion arises and try to work with it by 1) Not reacting impulsively to it 2) Being courageous and sit with the feeling 3) Trying to understand where the aversion comes from and see if I can make some small adjustments in my perceptions and life in general. My yoga teacher often says that it is the people and situations that challenge us that teach us the biggest lessons about ourselves.

To achieve this, abhyasa is a very important element. During my sadhana (=daily practice which for me is sitting with myself), I can practice sitting with the unpleasantness, by using my breath to calm the mind and not feed into the feeling with analyses and judgements. And for the rest of the day, remind my limited mind that it is ok, unpleasantness is not the end of the world, it is trying to tell me something about myself and the way I interact with the world.