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.

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.

‘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.