On wants and needs

Everything I write is about my own personal experience and reflections, but what I observe in myself, I often observe in others. When I write about it, it is mainly to make some sense of my reflections, but it is also to share and invite you to reflect about it. It might resonate with you, it might not. Either way, it is okay. I do appreciate comments whether you agree or disagree.

So, this week, I have been reflecting especially about the idea of lack. It is something that I have reflected about for a while now because I have noticed how this feeling creates distress in my mind and sometimes has led me to act in ways that haven’t helped at all. I observe how, the wanting of something can often cast a shadow on what I have and the opportunities and choices I have in front of me otherwise. For some people, the pursuit of acquiring something they lack can turn into an obsession.

I wonder why we have this in us. Is it part of our survival instinct? I guess the pursuit of a goal or a need has saved lives and brought what we call progress, but maybe, at some point during our pursuit of this ‘thing’ we lack, we ought to stop, observe, reflect and ask ourselves if the price isn’t too high. Is this pursuit taking all our time and energy? Is it affecting our mental peace? Is it interfering with our ability to see those around us and be present for the people who need us? Even more importantly maybe, is there another possibility? Are we ignoring all the positive aspects of our life because this one thing we believe we need or want so badly? Where does this need come from? Is it a need or is it a want? Can we find the root of it inside ourselves? Can we satisfy this need in another way?

I have experienced and seen many examples of lack: lack of romance, lack of children, lack of money, lack of acknowledgement, lack of respect, just to mention some. Christmas is the time of the year where we hear a lot about people struggling emotionally because they feel alone. Loneliness is apparently getting worse and worse from year to year especially in the Western world. I do believe it is a problem, and I don’t mean to trivialise it, but I wonder if it isn’t yet a state of mind. I know it is easy for me to say when I have a family to take care of, but what if, when we go into the state of lack, instead of focusing on our need or want, on what the outer world ‘should’ do for us, we turn the situation around and focus on what we can do? Maybe we can engage somehow either in an existing group or on our own? Maybe we know about someone who also struggles in one way or another and we can reach out? It doesn’t need to be big things.

One thing that I have observed during this year is the joy it bings to my kids when they can do something for someone else. I think it is a mixture between the joy of feeling useful and the joy of someone being happy because of our own actions. It has been small things like crocheting something for a friend, being kind to a stranger in the street by picking up something they dropped, including a friend during playtime. It can also be picking up rubbish from the park or feeding the birds during Winter. Anything that makes us feel purposeful and implies giving instead of receiving.

So, next time you catch yourself in distress because of something you lack, stop, take a deep breath and:

  1. Acknowledge your need/want and do not judge yourself. Cultivate an inner feeling of self-compassion.
  2. Ask yourself why it is so important for you? Is it really this one thing that will make you feel for ever happy? What will happen if you acquire what you want? What will happen next? Can you do something else to feel happy?
  3. Look around you and see where you are, with whom you are. Are all your basic needs met? Do you have all the resources you need to have a simple yet good life? What is a good life for you? How much is enough? How much is too much?
  4. What can you do for others? Are you seeing and acknowledging those around you? Can you give some of the time and energy you are spending in your pursuit for the benefit of others (be it people or the environment)?

About writing and other reflections

My youngest daughter asked me today if I have a journal to which I replied yes. What do you write in it, se asked. Do you start with ‘dear diary’?

I have been writing a diary for over five years now. It all started when I was living in India, and had recently discovered the mess in my mind. I had just started my Yoga Teacher Training at the Yoga Prasad Institute, and I had a terrible cough. One of my peers recommended me to go see a homeopath. Most homeopaths have a holistic approach to health, so she was not only interested in helping me cure my cough, she also asked me a bunch of questions about my lifestyle and my personal life. I was actually in a quite tricky period in my life with a big mess in my head, and she recommended writing in a diary every morning after my asana practice. She recommended what is called ‘stream of consciousness’ where you sit in a quiet and calm place, set a timer, and write everything that comes to your mind during that set time. You just write, without a purpose, without editing, without even reading what you write. Just to let thoughts flow.

I don’t know how many notebooks I filled with words that many times didn’t make much sense. It was kind of fun sometimes. I would start writing what I was thinking so it had some kind of structure, but then moved to ‘it is hot’, ‘I am hungry’, ‘What’s that noice?’, etc. It was a very soothing experience. It often felt like I was ’emptying’ my mind, and sometimes I would reach a point where I would stop writing because nothing would come to my mind. This would last for a few seconds, but it was a nice feeling.

I don’t remember exactly when, but I was already back in Norway, when my Yoga teacher recommended I start a diary, and this time, he encouraged me to write structured and coherent texts, but allow my mind to express itself freely. I have discovered that writing for me is a very good exercise. It helps me digest what I learn about yoga, and try to apply it to my everyday life. It also helps me digest situations. I consider myself relatively slow when it comes to interactions, so I often see the whole picture better once I have taken some time and distance from the situation and I sit down with my notebook and pen. Writing helps me get to know myself better too although it has taken me some time to be honest in my writing and not write what I want to believe comes honestly out of my mind.

Writing has also taught me to be patient, understanding and compassionate towards myself, because it has become some sort of conversation between me and myself. It sounds a bit scary maybe, like I am slightly crazy, but, who isn’t?…What I mean with me and myself, is between my impulsive mind that functions out of habit, and the more reflective side of me who always tries to find what is beneath my emotions, thoughts and patterns of behaviour.

Writing has also helped me in many situations to detach. I remember once, I sat to write for the umpteenth time about a ‘problem’ I had, and going ‘wait a minute, I’m tired of this. I need to change my perspective, otherwise I will continue filling notebooks with the same old story.’ And I did. I decided that day to write about the same issue from another perspective, and gradually, I managed to detach.

This blog was born out of this habit of writing. I have to confess that it was my Yoga teacher’s idea. The purpose of it is to share my thoughts, share my experiences to whomever it may help or inspire.

So the texts I write here, often start in my diary, and then I feel like sharing them. The funny part is that during the last six months or so, I have been writing more and more in Spanish, which is my mother tongue. It has become more natural, after years and years of writing in English. My writing has become more varied, maybe. I write maybe with less certitude. Lately, I write about my doubts, but I also write a lot about gratitude. I haven’t been feeling that there is any blog material lately, but today I felt like sharing. One thing that I often write about lately is when I experience the magic of taking one step at a time and living in trust.

I was born a doer, I think. Or maybe, I grew up to believe that I ‘have to’ do. Most of what happens around me feels like my responsibility which I know is nonesens. During the last few months, I have been consciously choosing to sometimes not do and see what happens. Not because I don’t care, but because I have come to realise that it is impossible to have everything as a priority. In addition, I am not getting younger, and I honestly notice how I have less energy now than ten years ago, so I am learning to spend my energy wisely. For my own well-being, but also for the well-being of those around me. I am more patient and act from a better space when I feel rested. So, when the to-do list becomes impossibly long with more than one item that needs to be done almost at the same time, I choose what to prioritise, I focus on that and I hope for the best, and you know what? It almost always works like magic! Some of the items are taken care of someone else, or they are removed from the list, or I realise that the world doesn’t go under if I leave some things for later – or for never…

So back to my daughter’s question. No, I don’t start my diary with ‘dear diary’, and I don’t write every day, but I go back to it quite often. What I write varies. I sometimes write a quote and my thoughts around it. I sometimes write what I like to call ‘poems’, because I feel that what I need to express is so personal, so ‘strong’ that it can’t be put in many words. Sometimes, I write long stories, long reflections, and I still go back to stream of consciousness from time to time.

The only way out is through

Over the years, I have come to realise that I dislike emotional pain so much that I try to avoid it as much as I can, often in very stupid ways.

I sometimes ‘predict’ how a situation is going to make me feel so I either go around dreading the moment it is going to happen (which like with most predictions, never happens), or I do something impulsive to avoid the pain making an unnecessary mess.

The source of my distress is in some cases insecurity and fear of being judged or rejected. It comes from my attachment to an image of myself I want so badly to keep and people to have of me. I know what I stand for, I believe it comes from a good space, but I’m afraid of the conflict different opinions can create.

In other cases, the source is the unwillingness to face things as they are because I wish they were different. So I avoid the situation or go ahead and blame. It is funny how we believe blaming helps, but it really doesn’t make us feel better.

Expectations are also a problem. The mind game of expectations is quite refined in my case. I don’t like the gap between what I expect and how things turn out, so I either avoid or expect the worse (haha). So I show up already with a bad attitude, when in reality I don’t know what is going on I happen.

Some weeks ago, I decided to be courageous and:

  1. Stop predicting (duh!)
  2. When in a situation that I perceive as emotionally painful, take a deep breath and just observe the pain. Not run away, not act impulsively.
  3. Understand that the so-called pain comes from the gap between what I expect and what is really happening.

So far, I can say that it is helping. I believe that, the less resistance I make to myself and what is happening around me, the less I struggle.

It sometimes feels liberating, it sometimes sucks big time because I have to face what I don’t want to face.

This said, I believe that I gain a bit more understanding of how my mind works, and it allows me to move a bit up and further…

Rejection

About two years ago, I had to take a course for my work and I found that I could take it in Paris. Since I lived in France for a few years when I was a student, it seemed like the perfect excuse to visit the French capital and see friends that I don’t have the opportunity to see often.

One of my closest friends lives in Paris and although we had not seen each other for a long time, we had maintained contact during the years in a slightly irregular way. For some periods, we would talk over the phone almost daily, and sometimes it could be months without we even exchanged a single message.

It had been six months since we last had exchanged messages, but when I knew that I could go to Paris, I sent her a message sure that she would tell me that we could see each other every day after her work.

To my surprise, her answer was rather dry ‘I’m sorry, I don’t have time’. I first asked jokingly if not even for a coffee, but she didn’t seem to like the joke. I wrote to ask if she was angry but the more I tried to find out what was happening, the more it seemed to make her angry. It got to the point that she told me that I was harassing her. Maybe I did insist too much, but I found her behaviour so strange that I even thought maybe she was in some sort of trouble.

I went to Paris and I didn’t see her. I sent her a message to tell her that no matter what, if one day she wanted to be in contact again, I would be happy to do so. But I must confess that her attitude hurt me so much that I erased her from my Facebook friends (hahaha, I know, how old am I?) And I didn’t contact her again…

Until last Christmas when I sent her a message to wish her happy holidays, and then this summer to tell her I was thinking about her, and finally this week, to wish her a merry Christmas.

This time, she answered by saying that she has nothing against me, but that our ‘incident’ two years ago made her realize that her life is better without my friendship.

I am not trying to put her in the ‘bad’ box and myself in the ‘poor martyr’ box, there must be something I did that made her angry, but what is frustrating is not to know what the heck I did. I would have liked her to tell me.

As usual, the most interesting thing in this story is to observe my own reactions. First of all, I felt pain and confusion. Then, I do not deny it, anger because in my expectation of what a friend ‘must do’: misunderstandings are spoken about in order to give the opportunity to repair the damage. Followed by a feeling that she doesn’t really know who I am and what she’s missing, and finally a consuming feeling of self-doubt.

This friend is one of the few who knows everything about me: my achievements and my mistakes, my good sides and my weaknesses. I came to think that maybe she no longer wanted my friendship because of the mistakes I made that made her see me as not worthy anymore. I felt unfairly treated because she didn’t know or seemed interested to find out how these mistakes had made me reflect, and what I learned from them… ‘if she only gave me the opportunity to show her that I’m a better person than I she thinks I am’, I thought. But why would it be so important for me to prove anything to her? Who am I trying to convince? Her or myself?

Finally, yesterday, I started to have some fun observing my thoughts. We all have our weak spots, and I believe that rejection is definitely one of mine . It is as if by rejecting me, people confirm to me what I ‘know’ about myself: that I am not perfect, that I have many flaws, that I am not as good a person as many can think, and so on. How is it possible that from one episode in my life I can waste so much energy on useless and negative thoughts? I do not know.

What is my conclusion? I have to know when to let go. It was a pretty friendship as long as it lasted, but it is over. I am not perfect and I will never be so all I can do is to keep walking, keep learning and try to do less harm than good around me. Accept my mistakes, forgive myself, ask for forgiveness and avoid making the same mistake over and over again. Maybe most importantly, don’t put my self-worth in anybody else’s hands, it will always be flickering and confusing.

The only way out is through

I’ve learned cross country skiing as an adult, and it has taken me many years to feel more or les confident on the tracks. It is until recent years that I took the courage to try to ski down steep hills (or what I perceive as steep hills) instead of taking my skis off and walking down. I think I started skiing more often more or less at the same time as I started practicing and studying Yoga more seriously. I remember I once was skiing on my own at a place that I didn’t know very well. As I approached a downhill, I felt my body getting stressed, but I decided to give it a try. Half way through it, I started panicking until I remembered this phrase from my Yoga teacher “the only way out is through”. I was already on my way down, there was no way back, it felt like it was going to last forever, but I knew that wasn’t possible, so why not try to relax my body, pay attention to what is happening and trust a bit in myself? And it helped! I couldn’t help but thinking that it is similar to when we experience downhills in life. We panic and want to change direction, but if we remember that the only way out is through, if we spend less energy on wanting to be somewhere else or doing something different, we will feel less stressed and/or distressed, and maybe get through it stronger and wiser.

In life, the most challenging situations offer us opportunities to learn and grow but, most of the time, all we want to do is run away. You might have experienced though, that the more you avoid the challenges that life presents you, the less they disappear. Asana, pranayama and meditation are good tools to get through challenging situations because, when practiced regularly, they help us cultivate a calmer state of mind. They help us create a space to be with ourselves no matter what, and listen to what our body and mind need to tell us.

The Yoga practice is not always necessarily a pleasant one, sometimes, especially when sitting in silence, it will open windows that we would rather keep shut. We need to be brave and patient. We need to see our vulnerability, our weaknesses, our limitations. When we dare to look at things directly in the eye, we give them less power. The whole practice of Yoga is to get to know and accept yourself better. To open up to whatever is happening in your internal world. In Yoga we are encouraged to direct our attention inwards.

An important subject of study in the practice of Yoga are our emotions. Emotions are messengers from our mind. For this reason, we do better by listening to them. Let them come, observe them, take some deep breaths, and when they feel less intense, reflect. Please note that there is a difference between allowing emotions be and feeding into them. When you notice a specific emotion, you can focus on how it feels, where it feels, but avoid analysing it, or trying to change it or even worse trying to justify it. Just observe, note and try to be with it and with your breath.

We have a tendency to believe that emotions are a consequence of what happens ‘out there’ but in reality, they are the result of what in Yoga is called our ‘belief system’. Whether we like it or not, our minds are conditioned by previous experiences, personality and DNA. Every reaction we have to the external world is connected to this ‘belief system’.  More often than not, this belief system limits us. We perceive ourselves and the world out of our likes and dislikes not giving the situation a chance. I invite you to observe your emotional reactions during the coming weeks. Are you, at all times judging a situation out of your own perception? What happens when you detach from that perception? Can you feel any difference? Not that there’s anything ‘wrong’ with your perceptions but if some of them are bringing distress, they are not serving you.

What about the moments in life when we are being really challenged? When life is tough. Yoga invites us to cultivate equanimity of mind. The less energy we spend rejecting a situation, the more energy we can use to take care of ourselves and those around us and act in a skilful way. It is not always easy, especially when we are used to live in a reactive way, but little by little and with patience and practice, it is possible to keep a calmer state of mind, even in difficult situations. For this, we need to be able to see the whole picture and to remind us that this too shall pass. We have to have faith in the process, in ourselves and in the Universe.