What do you see?

When I was in my early twenties, I lived in France in a student city near the northwest coast.  During four years, my main means of transportation was the tramway.

I moved away from France, got married and had children. Some years after my youngest child was born, I took a housewife vacation to visit old friends in France. I remember so well taking the tramway the first day and being puzzled by the number of kids and young couples with strollers in the tram. I did wonder for a little while if the city had changed that much from having many students to having many young couples with small children…what happened?

I had changed! Not the city. I was now mum to three small kids, and my focus in life was completely different from when I used to take the tram back in my uni years. This really amused me back then. There most probably were children and strollers in the tram when I was a student, but I wasn’t paying attention to them. I was living in a completely different world.

Lately, I’ve been reflecting a lot about how we create our reality through our mind. Whatever it is that occupies our mind influences what we see around us.  We tend to see what we are looking for.

Our perceptions can influence the way we experience the world at different levels. My story about France talks about what was occupying my mind at two different stages in my life, but expectations can also affect the way we experience things.

I was born in a big city, and when I was six years old, my parents decided to move to a completely different place by the coast, about 1000km from the city. They had been there two weeks before on a work trip for my dad and fell in love with the place. My brother and I had no idea of where this was and how it looked like. All we could do to get an idea was to listen to my parents talk about it.

From what my mum said, and out of what my imagination was able to produce, for me, it sounded like we were moving to Disneyland – even though I had never been in Disneyland before.

We drove there, it took two days. For a six-year-old, that was a long road trip. In addition, the closer we got to the place, the hotter the weather, so I remember the last hours of the trip as a little torture.

When we finally arrived, I remember so well my mum being super excited in the car, and me being super disappointed. The place was a small town, the vegetation completely different from what I grew up with, and what is worse, it didn’t look like what I had imagined at all! I think I kept my disappointment to myself, but I remember it took a while before I understood why we had left our big beautiful house in the city for this.

My experience in this new place was affected by the idea I had created in my mind. I eventually came over it  because as it turns out, it was a great place to grow up in, but I often remember this episode in my life and I have to laugh because as an adult, I have experienced quite often the same. I create an idea of how things should be and struggle with the disappointment of how things actually are.

There is nothing wrong with dreaming and having objectives, I can almost hear some of you thinking as you read, and I agree, but we might want to be aware of the moments when our experience of reality is muddled by our expectations.

I don’t know how many times I have spoiled an experience for me and those around me because if this. Either because of too high expectations or because of my biased mind.

I once had a boyfriend with whom I was very very in love but I was sure he was going to end up leaving me for someone ‘better’ than me. I had convinced myself that he was with me to pass the time, and as soon as he discovered that I wasn’t that great, he would leave me for someone greater than me. I must specify that at that time, I wasn’t aware of this, this became clear to me later.

So, most of the time I was with him, I was interpreting all his actions and inactions as a sign of him soon dumping me. If he was kind, he was kind out of pity, if he has distant, he was distant because he was tired of me, or even worse, he had a better time with another woman. It was exhausting, mainly for me because I didn’t necessarily share these crazy thoughts with him.

My point here is, how many times I messed up the nice time spent with him because of my inability to be in the moment without interpreting every action, every word, every gesture?  I was so lost in my perceptions that I couldn’t open up to the here and now.

I have been having fun with these memories this week because, I now know how my perception affects what I experience and how I experience it. This can be a useful tool both to show more understanding of other people’s attitudes and actions and also to be more aware of my own attitudes and actions towards the world around me. Especially when experiencing challenges. Maybe the challenge doesn’t really come from the outer world after all!

This has also led to a mind game I’ve been playing recently. Imagine if we could wake up every day to a completely new day! We would never ever need to travel away to find new things because the reality before our own eyes would constantly be offering us the opportunity to be amazed, to be surprised, to see something new and refreshing. All that is required from us is to open our eyes and let the mind rest.

Reflection on death, love and life right now

A very dear friend died this week. He opened the doors of his home when I was a young adult (or an old child), he shared his culture with me, helped me learn the language, and opened my horizons to other ways of seeing the world.

I hadn’t seen him in the last five years since we no longer live in the same country, but we stayed in contact through social media. He would write a message from time to time with a picture from where he was, or what he was doing, and I would do the same.

He was what we could call a dry person, not effusive, but through the years I knew him, I learned to see his way of showing love and care.

From what I observed from the distance, I think that he struggled to see the love in those he loved the most. He had his temper and his very specific way of perceiving the world which at times came in the way between him and those close to him. I think that the last few years had been very difficult for him in this sense, and therefore, today, when I learned about his passing, I started refelcting on one phrase I heard on a podcast earlier this week “we see what we are looking for”.

I can recognize myself in this too. Sometimes, the void inside is so strong, that we can’t manage to see the love around us. I think is sometimes difficult to say where the void comes from, maybe past experiences, ways of percieving life, genetics? The orignie is maybe even irrelevant, what I think is important is to notice the void inside us. To have the courage to see it. Only then, we will be able to heal it, and feel the love. Maybe, if we recognize our inner void, we can acknowledge other people’s void, and then be able to show more empathy, more understanding regardless of their behavior.

I hope from the bottom of my heart that my friend died knowing how much we loved him.

I hope from the bottom of my heart, that we all find the force to clear our vision and see the love in everyone and evertything around us.

Convictions and Perceptions

I cherish those devotees who are ever content; who, through meditation, are steady of mind; who control themselves; whose convictions are consistent and strong; and who offer their hearts and minds to me. The Bhagavad Gita ch12 v.14

Since I work as a teacher, I have breaks throughout the school year at the same time as the students. During the last years, it has become a habit that every time I have a break, I spend some time reflecting on the period between the last break and this break. I reflect on how I felt, how I interacted with everyone, and if there were tensions, conflicts or challenges, I reflect on my part in them and try to make the necessary adjustments. Not only in my work but also in my personal life.

When I am on a break, I also have more time to go back to my Yoga studies, and that is why there have been so many posts this week.

Talking and writing are the ways I internalize things and my intention when I post texts is to share my reflections and even invite to a discussion. It doesn’t necessarily mean that my thoughts are “done”, I am in a way, thinking aloud.

Yesterday, I posted a text about perceptions. I had been trying to organize these ideas for some days now because as I wrote before, I’ve noticed how sometimes I am so convinced about my perceptions that I push too hard, spending unnecessary energy in unnecessary things.  But one thing was bothering me, the word convictions. I was thinking that all the people in the world that have fought for a good cause had the conviction that they were fighting for something important, going often against the mainstream.

Then, this morning, I read the quote that opens this text from the Bhagavad Gita, and if you see, Krishna mentions the word convictions. This text is a further reflection on the topic of convictions and perceptions.

Perhaps we can say that perceptions are a combination of expectations according to what we imagine is “good” or “bad” and opinions that we have forged through experience.

I have an example. During many years, my birthday was a difficult date for me. I often experienced that day as the proof for people around me not caring enough for me. I had a double set of expectations. Negative expectations as  I expected my loved ones to forget or not care, and hopeful expectations as I was hoping to be surprised by the same people with I don’t even know what that would make me feel special and loved. Since I already had a pre-made idea of how everyone was going to behave, whatever happened on that day was a confirmation of the negative expectations and a disappointment related to the blurry hopeful expectations.

Until one day, I decided to stop and reflect a little on this mini-drama. Are things really how I perceive them? What is the real problem here?

If I make a real effort to remember my birthdays as a kid, most of my memories are good. I think that we often went out for dinner somewhere with my family and have a good time. I think I also had some birthday parties like any other kid. Actually, this is even irrelevant, the point is that whatever happened once, or twice in the past is already gone, I have to let go of it.

So perceptions were not allowing me to interact in a skillful way with the practical world since they were distorting my vision of what was happening and how people were showing their care.

The cited verse from the Bhagavad Gita allows me to take this reflection even further. Whose responsibility is how I spend my birthday? I know it’s a pretty banal example, but I’ve realized that my mind operates a lot in this way. At the end of the day, the only person responsible for my well-being is me. Why do I expect others to guess? It is my responsibility to cultivate my own happiness. Ideally, by being satisfied with the fact that I have one more year of life to share with the people I love, and if I really want to feel like a superstar that day, I have no choice but to organize my day and invite the people I love.

Further, Krishna talks about the steadiness of the mind through meditation, and it must not be misunderstood with sitting for some time every day in a specific position and “clearing the mind”. Meditation in the Yoga tradition is much more than that. It is the attitude with which we live our lives, through, among other things, the detachment from fixed and erroneous perceptions.

Then he talks about strong and consistent convictions, but how can I know which convictions I should cultivate? The only answer I can find is those convictions that are based on universal values such as nonviolence, love, and compassion towards every being without exception.

This means that to achieve a steady mind I must make sure that my words, attitudes, and actions are in accordance with these values regardless of how  I perceive the practical world.

I am too used to living in a give-and-take system where if I give this, I should receive that.  Maybe if I leave aside my expectations and opinions of what it is to “receive” something in exchange for my actions, I will see that I receive much more than I imagine when acting according to these convictions. I receive inner peace and spiritual freedom although the practical result of my actions might not be as I expect it to be.

The last lines of this verse are a subject that I know is difficult for many: faith in something bigger than us. Unfortunately, the idea of God has been distorted by institutions throughout history. For some of us it is hard to believe in the God we imagine based on what we learn from certain religions. I still don’t have a clear way to express this but the only thing I can say here is that, when trying to live a life based on universal values such as love, by setting us the goal to give the best of ourselves independently of the result, it is necessary to offer our thoughts and actions towards something greater than ourselves. We do not need to call this something God, but we can call it the well-being of the whole, or universal love. A form for energy that is there for us and that we have to feed into with same energy.

What does good and bad actually mean?

We all have our stories, our dreams and our deep inner landscapes from which our actions and reactions to life arise. By shining the light of conscious awareness onto the deep within, we can begin to evaluate whether our reactions to life are serving us skillfully and, if not, begin to adopt new strategies and cultivate new habitual patterns. It all begins with the stories within: Change the stories or understand them in a new light and we can change what happens on the surface of our personalities.” Bernie Clark in From Gita to the Grail

We all have our stories, dreams and deep inner landscapes that have been formed by experiences and the environment we live in. We all have our own convictions and perspectives that influence our choices, attitudes, and behaviors and thus allow us to function in the external world.

A keyword in this citation is “skillfully”. I think that in the Yoga context, this means that if our actions and reactions to life are skillful, they will bring us closer to who we really are and by that closer to an independent state of inner peace. When we cultivate this inner peace we are then naturally in harmony with the world around us.

I invite you to reflect on your convictions and perceptions and see which ones allow you to act skillfully in the world and which ones represent a challenge.

Perceptions can represent a challenge for our inner peace when we are so attached to them that we are unable to see what is happening around us, when we are unable to adapt, when we keep experiencing the same problems because of these perceptions, when they lead us towards separateness by believing that we are right and others are wrong, or when we try to convince others that our own perception is the correct one.

I was recently listening to one of my teacher’s lectures where he says: the whole distress in the world is just a collision of perceptions. He said this in the context of detachment to find evenness of mind as he was elaborating on the teachings from the Bhagavad Gita.

What does detachment have to do here? Well, the more we are attached to our perceptions, the more difficult it is to interact with the external world because we have a premade image of it in our minds either by expectations or by judgments. The more we are attached to our perceptions, the more we operate in the duality of right and wrong, and the more distress we create in our minds.

I must confess that while reflecting on this, I had to laugh about myself because I realized how sure I often am of my perceptions and how it gets on the way between me and people around me. I have been so sure about me having the right attitude, the right idea, the right perception as opposed to the others who were wrong. But who gets to decide what is right and what is wrong? And even more, who gives me the right to judge?

Certain things that I have done in my life are difficult to understand from where I stand today, but I can see that they are the product of my stories, my dreams, and my deep inner perspectives at that time. This must mean that I will experience the same in some years when I look back at some of my actions from today. This experience can only encourage me to be more tolerant and understanding towards people when they act in ways that I perceive as harmful, hurtful or “wrong”. They too have their own stories and needs that influence the way they perceive the world and they act accordingly.

Another important point when it comes to the topic of perceptions is the perception other people have about us. I know I have struggled with this one, especially because of my sometimes explosive character. I consider myself a kind person with good intentions, but if you push my buttons on a bad day, you will perceive something else. I believe in the importance of apologizing and working with myself so impatience and frustration don’t take over, but I now think that most of the time, the perception others have of me is somewhat independent of me, and I should not spend time and energy trying to change it. What I should be spending my time and energy on is to cultivate a clear and peaceful mind so when I act, I act from a space of harmony. This way I can be at peace with myself regardless of what happens on the outside.

So again, I believe there is nothing wrong with having convictions and perceptions, we need them to function in the world, but if we keep experiencing distress because of them, we might benefit from reflecting on them to see them on another light as Bernie Clark suggests and even change them to make adjustments in our actions and reactions.