Slow progress that often feels like going backwards

First, in January, I wanted to quit my job and do something else. I came to a point where I felt that I had had enough of the high tempo, the stress and the increasing demands of being a teacher. I felt that I wasn’t qualified for these demands and that I probably wasn’t skilled enough to have this job. I started seeking for a new job. I thought I could change professions. Maybe become a baker (I am not kidding), or something “more practical”.

When I calmed down, I realized I do like my job and I wondered if the problem is not the job in itself but the attitude I have towards it. Yes, it is demanding, yes I am often running against the clock, but a lot of the stress comes from my constant worry of not doing things “good enough”, my anxiety of not being “as good as”, and believing that I have to solve all these challenges and problems that my students encounter in and outside school. However, if I tone down the “I”, the job becomes lighter. If I try to see each situation as it is and not as something related to me, it makes it easier to deal with it. It also helps to have a more pragmatic approach to the job. In a day, I have the time I have to do my work, and if the tasks keep piling up all I can do is prioritize and the rest can wait. Maybe most importantly, do my job with the right attitude but avoid putting my worth in my job. Stop worrying about how I am perceived by my students and their parents and rather concentrate on why I do things as I do.

The second semester turned out to be less stressful. I want to believe it was partly because of my change of attitude.

However, shortly after that, my worries about my kids and marriage started. I must say that I have to laugh when I think about it, but I haven’t been laughing much related to that during the last few months. And the same questions kept coming just in another setting, am I doing enough? Have we done enough? We should have this and we should have that. Why don’t we do this? Why don’t we have that? Why is our relationship like this and not like that? Why am I not able to fix all these?

From the self-blame ride, I slowly but steadily move towards the ‘other-is-to-blame’ ride. This other is, of course, my husband, and as usual, when I get caught in this way of thinking the spiral goes downwards.

Luckily for me, I was invited to take part in a group to study the Upanishads through the guidance of my Yoga teacher, Prasad, and with some time, mindful silence and reflection, I managed to remember that I tend to get caught up in a big mental knot. Do you see the same pattern as with the job? I do! Self-doubt, an exagerated sense of responsibility, and what I think is pure and simple a restless mind that for some weird reason likes to invent drama.

To begin with, it annoys me that I still get into this negative spiral and don’t manage to get out of it before I make a big deal about things, but I feel at the same time that these mini-crises have their purpose. They allow me to see better my patterns of thinking and thus adjust my attitudes and actions.

I see that my husband and I dread having “difficult” conversations. I thought it was just him, but I am the same. The minute I sense some resistance from his side, I give up, or I give in. I need to gather the courage to push a bit more, to argue and listen, and maybe the answer is still not the one I want to hear but at least we have a better understanding of what we think or want.

I think we are in a transition period as a family and also as a couple. Our kids are getting older. We need to make some changes in the way we “run” the house, and in the way we see the kids and we see ourselves. We need to accept that they have to make certain choices that we don’t agree with, but we also need to be clearer about what we stand for. I tend to worry that the kids don’t feel like we care enough and maybe sometimes give in to things they ask for that go against what my husband and I believe in or sometimes even can afford. But my husband made me realise today that the most important has been to have a safe home for them to grow up in where we are present. At least we have managed that and the basics like schooling and having healthy routines, the rest, is just a bonus. And let’s face it, they are teens now so no matter what we say and do, they will be in some opposition, it is part of growing up and growing out of our home.

It is nice to know that we both want to live a simpler life. We both find meaning in slowing down, being in contact with nature, staying physically active, eating what we believe is healthy, and otherwise, trying to enjoy life. We both want to be more in contact with friends and family. Each on our side, we have noticed that we have isolated ourselves from people because we have been overwhelmed for years by the day-to-day life, but we believe that one of the points of being here must be to have close relationships that keep teaching us lessons about ourselves and others. To help each other.

So, I still get caught up in the mess of my mind, and keep forgetting to go inward when things feel heavy and overwhelming, but luckily, I do manage to change my perspective and learn from it. For that, I am thankful, and I have to say that this is thanks to the practice and study of Yoga.

Things are not and will never be perfect, everything is in constant change, and I am more and more convinced that the best way to go is towards silence beyond the noise of my mind.

Transferring skills

I love working with my hands. Ever since I was a kid, I think. The difference is that when I was little, and as a young adult, I had a fixed mindset when it comes to handcraft and art. I somehow believed that either you were born with the talent to do something or you didn’t so I didn’t explore much since I often felt that I wasn’t good enough.

In the last ten or fifteen years, however, I have learned to knit, sew and bake my own bread. Last summer, I started baking with sourdough, and it is by far my favorite way to bake bread. I love how, since I bake every single day, I am starting to ‘understand’ the dough. When it is ‘happy’, when I should let it rest, when it needs more water or more flour. In most handcrafts, with experience, one learns to feel the material one is working with, and how to make the best out of it. It is the same when I sew using old garments. It is a process of exploring the fabric, the shape the garment already has, and figuring out, what is the best way to approach the task. What can this become?

I was talking with a friend about it this week. She’s a great painter, and she was telling me that the work I have been doing on living a more mindful life most probably is benefiting my handcraft skills. Maybe. I have a more relaxed approach to what I make. If it doesn’t work, I will learn something and try again. I do spend time observing and feeling in between my fingers and deciding how is the best way to continue. I am not an excellent seamstress… yet, nor a knitter … yet, and I am still experimenting with my bread, but all these activities bring me calmness and joy, and a feeling of achievement

So I told my friend I wished I had the same feeling when it comes to human interactions. Especially in my role as a teacher. The biggest challenge with human interactions to me is that we talk, and things go way too fast. I have developed the skill to see people and understand their needs, but communication is still tough. I find myself often being misunderstood or wanting to say something and then something else comes out of my mouth. Maybe I don’t have as much patience with people as I have with my dough, and I want to develop it. Maybe, I need to get past the words to feel the other person and myself and act more skillfully. Maybe, just like with any handcrafted project, I need to know when to put it down for a while to let ideas come to me.

This week, as I was about to start a yoga class, this quote popped up on my phone screen when I was searching for soothing music:

“Look past your thoughts, so you may drink the pure nectar of this moment” – Rumi

This is also what we do in yoga, we try to get past our thoughts to be with what is knowing that our deeper self (if I can call it like that) is the same as any other living being’s deeper self. If we manage this, we certainly ‘drink the pure nectar of this moment’.

Intentions and means of action

This has been a rather intense week. Although I don’t really like this kind of week, I appreciate the opportunity to put into practice what I have been learning the last seven years to try to keep my mind calm and act instead of reacting.

I haven’t always succeeded in keeping my mind calm this week, and as I write this text, I can feel the stress in my whole body but I know, that after some minutes, it will fade away. I am not yet at the level of not allowing situations to affect me emotionally, but I am more able to search for a wider perspective, and it helps.

It helps to always try to understand the mental process behind people’s actions. It doesn’t matter if I agree with this process or not, I can then easier accept and show compassion. This week, I tried to communicate with someone via email. I spent time weighing my words, trying to ‘sound’ as calm and constructive as possible, but I failed. The response was one of [out]rage. I won’t deny that I felt unfairly attacked and frustrated because I was misunderstood. The message that I tried to communicate got lost in the belief of an intention that I didn’t have. However, I think I understand where this person comes from. I think culture has something to do with their strong reaction. Neither this person nor I have English as a mother tongue, and maybe partly because of that, they put other meaning to my words than the intended one. In addition, it is that time of the year where people are stressed, and maybe they receive many emails a day and don’t have time to carefully read them. So, instead of getting angry at them, I just let it go. I didn’t have the intention to attack when I wrote that message, and that, I think is the most important for me: my own intention behind my action. I am at peace with it. I think it is sad my message didn’t pass, but I can’t do much more about it. I don’t have the need to push everyone to believe in what I believe.

I have the values I live up to, and try to act accordingly, if people have other values and misunderstand mine, it would be crazy to spend time and energy trying to change their minds.

However, I have been reflecting on the relationship between intention and means of action/communication. It is also important to pay attention to the means of our actions. Of course, I usually do, but I have to confess that when I sent that message, it was the fastest way to deal with that situation before the weekend. If I had waited until Monday and had a chat with the person involved, I would have avoided the unpleasant response during the weekend. Maybe, I would have had to deal with an unpleasant situation in person, but it would have been easier to explain myself than by exchanging emails. I tried to do this in my answer to their first reply to my email, but their second reply was so harsh that I decided to end the communication by acknowledging that I should have rather asked for a meeting and that I will take their views into consideration in further interactions. I don’t think I need to spend more time trying to correct a misunderstanding that the other party doesn’t seem willingly to correct.

I will never communicate via email with this person again. Rather call and maybe keep my interactions with them to the strict minimum. I will also spend more time reflecting on which way is the most skillful way to act as for what I see good intentions are not always enough. Lastly, I will keep working on letting go of expecting specific outcomes from my actions. I can have good intentions and consider the action chosen as the most skilful and still have a negative reaction, but at least I will be at peace with what came from my side. The rest, is for the other person to deal with.

Unskillful with balls

One of my colleagues who is the gym teacher at our school has taken the initiative to invite everyone at work, every Friday evening, to play in the gym. To begin with, I was skeptical since ball games have never been my strength. Mainly because I never played ball games as a child.

However, this year, I have made the resolution to be more social in my spare time, and getting together to do some exercise is in my opinion a nice way to get together.

The first Friday, I arrived ten minutes late on my bike and I saw three of my colleagues and the son of one of them engaged in playing basketball. They were having lots of fun, but the game seemed ‘serious’ to me. I stood outside the gym, in the dark, considering riding my bike back home. I felt intimidated because I would be unable to join a game like that and I didn’t want to ruin their fun. When I was about to turn away to get on my bike, one of my colleagues saw me and opened the door for me. I came in and joined them. It felt uncomfortable, but the gym teacher, who is used to students like me (haha) organized some games where I could join. It was lots of fun. I pretended a couple of times that I was very tired and needed a break, so they could also play some basketball without having to worry about me.

The next Friday, I came home from work, ate dinner with my family, and started doubting whether I should join or not my colleagues in the gym, but I decided to push myself. This time, we were even fewer than last time, the gym teacher, another male colleague, and his son. All three, quite fond of and good at playing basketball. I felt uncomfortable again, but again, the gym teacher found ways to include me in some of the games. I had so much fun, and I think I got a good workout without even thinking about it.

Growing up in a small town in Mexico, I went to a small school too. The gym lessons in primary school weren’t great, and I was not very good at pushing myself out of my comfort zone. I also played sometimes football with my neighbours, but I was very insecure, and very soon I created this idea that I sucked and that nobody wanted me to be in their team. The older I grew, the less I participated in team sports at school and with my friends. I never learned to play any of the common team sports. It was uncomfortable to not be good at something, and I didn’t have the awareness to realize that all I needed was to play and have fun, and with time, I could have maybe gotten a bit better…or not.

Last Friday, when my colleagues and I were in the gym having fun, I started thinking about all the moments I missed out as a child and teenager because I was unable to push myself beyond my comfort zone and because I was too afraid of not being skillful. So sad, I thought.

Even though my dad and some of my friends tried to convince me to be less self-conscious and join the fun, I was unable to do so. I wish our gym teachers were more inclusive, like my colleague. I don’t feel regret, and I have had a good life even if I haven’t participated in any team sports, but my point here is that I believe it is important to understand as early as possible in life that one of the best ways to interact with others is through play. The goal is not to win, nor to prove skills, but to lose yourself in a game, to learn to be part of a team, to have fun. To learn to push yourself beyond your comfort zone, and collect experiences.

Nobody knows for sure what the point of living is, but one of the things I have come to believe makes life meaningful is gathering experiences. Good and bad. Success and failure. Fun and boring. We are not here to prove something to anyone. Not all of us are here to become champions of some sort.

Tired

Do you have days where you feel you are not ready to face ‘the world’? I sometimes have such days. I feel tired and irritable and feel that I don’t have the energy to face whatever small or bigger challenges the day might bring… I know, it sounds dramatic, and luckily, I don’t have many of those days, but I do have them. Especially after an intense period at work and/or at home.

I try to work with my mindset, and I also try to find out why I feel like that to avoid going into that space. There can be different reasons, but what was overwhelming my mind this morning was the thought of having to ‘deal’ with teenagers the whole day to come home and ‘deal’ with my own teenagers the whole evening.

Neither my students nor my own kids are especially difficult teenagers, but I often have a feeling that as a teacher and as a mum, I am constantly negotiating with them to do what they actually don’t want to do, and trying to explain why they need to do less of what they actually do want to do.

I can go on and on in my mind about why it is so tiring and why I am so worried and wonder also if I am right or if I am exaggerating. This usually makes me feel even more tired and overwhelmed, and I start dreading certain situations that lie ahead in my day: a lesson because I know how certain students are going to behave and I am going to have to deal with it, a situation at home because I will have to be stern and I don’t feel like it.

I was having one of those clairvoyance moments by the kitchen counter this morning when I realized that all I have to do is to do my job. I just have to show up, and if the usual suspects do the usual that require me intervening, I just have to pull them aside and take that conversation all over again. It doesn’t really matter how they react to it. Whether they respond well or not, it is up to them. All I need to do is to stay calm, be clear, maybe even be stern and stop reading people so much. Stop expecting this or that, and most of all, stop dreading uncomfortable situations/conversations. They are what they are, I can make them less uncomfortable by keeping my cool and talking calmly.

I recently read somewhere something like “burnout happens when we have expectations connected to our actions”. Yoga philosophy says something similar without using the word ‘burnout’. We cultivate a peaceful state of mind by doing our best and letting go of the fruits of our actions. I think I get very tired because I am constantly absorbing my students’ and my kids’ reactions to what I say and do.

So, on my way to work today, I kept repeating to myself “be clear, be firm, but don’t get angry. If I get a negative reaction from a student, let it be”. It might sound weird, but I keep telling myself that the less I focus on what other people do or don’t do and the more I focus on what I do and why I do it, the less stressed and tired I will feel. I also think that putting my attention in myself allows me to be more mindful of how I act and why.

It turned out to be a good day at work with the usual challenges, but I think my mindset helped me stay focused and less stressed. I really need to remember this every day.

At home, things are also what they need to be. I keep choosing my battles. and reminding myself to speak calmly but firmly even if it is the millionth time I ask my youngest to pick up her dirty clothes from the bathroom floor.