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. 🙂

Reflections during my sick leave

A week ago, I woke up to start our day as ‘usual’ since the start of the lockdown. I turned in bed to get ready to get up, and to my big surprise, I became so dizzy that I just couldn’t sit up. Whenever I tried, I would feel so dizzy that I would get nauseous. What to do? Well, as with any other illness, stay in bed.

I spent two whole days in bed, unable to read, or do anything else than keep my eyes closed to avoid getting even more dizzy. Interestingly enough, I wasn’t sleeping that much, so I was awake, in bed, doing nothing. Since I practice Yoga, I thought this would be the ‘perfect’ opportunity to just be. Be with myself, with my thoughts and try to breathe through the whole thing. Some kind of forced silent retreat.

Halfway through the second day, my mind was driving me crazy, so much that I decided I couldn’t just lie down there, so I forced myself to get up, take a shower and try to ‘act normal’. My mind was driving me crazy because of two main reasons: recurrent painful thoughts and the feeling of being useless by just lying there without even having a feber.

My mind was going around and around thoughts of regret, loss, lack and worthlessness. Thoughts that I usually try to tame in my everyday life, but that I had to face when I had nothing to do. I keep noticing that I want to use yoga teachings to become someone else. Someone who doesn’t have these thoughts. Someone who doesn’t ‘need’ anything but unfortunately, given the chance, my mind keeps bringing me back to them. So, I decided to just allow, to allow my mind to go where it wants to go, to accept that this is how I really feel at times. Am I reasonable? Well, what is reasonable? Who gets to decide?

I am now able to sit up and move around, and do stuff almost as usual, but the dizziness keeps coming back so I am in a sick leave for a week. Once I just allowed these thoughts to be, they became less strong and I moved to another kind of thinking. Or is it reflecting? Life is slowly going back to normal here in Norway. Schools are reopening, some people are allowed to go back to work. This is, of course, great news, but I have some resistance to the idea of going ‘back to normal’. Although I think my life isn’t necessarily stressful, it is a busy life. The main activities that occupy my mind and my time are being a yoga student, my work as a teacher, being a mother, and trying to establish myself as a yoga teacher. I want to be good at everything I do and I keep feeling guilty about all other things I don’t do because I don’t have time/energy. For me, doing anything halfheartedly is mentally impossible, I need to put my 100% in everything I do and still, I go around with bad conscience for not doing better.

So, these days, I keep thinking about the importance of silence. Internal silence. According to many traditions, it is in silence that we finally hear our call. That we finally hear what we are here for. I find my three main activities in life very meaningful, but I keep doubting myself. I am tired of running from one thing to another and constantly feeling that I come too short.

There are certain things I feel I cannot let go of. I can’t leave my job because my salary is important for our family budget. I can’t stop being a mum, I don’t want to stop being a mum. Shall I stop teaching yoga? Am I pushing too much? Yoga for me is a personal journey and I started teaching because I want to share what I feel has helped me a lot in my life, but there are hundreds of yoga teachers out there. Does the world ‘need’ me as a yoga teacher? I don’t know.

I also notice that I ‘use’ yoga to put pressure on myself. This sounds very stupid, but I am very honest here. I ask myself? Am I making progress in my spiritual life? Do I need to study more? Am I applying these teachings appropriately? How much do I have to do and how much do I have to let in the hands of the Universe/God/Divine providence/ or whatever you want to call it?

I feel also that I am tired of being part of a system I don’t agree with. I am more and more concerned about the natural world. I feel more and more bad conscience about the way we are destroying it. How we feel entitled to do as we please. I want to be part of a solution and not continue being part of the problem, but to be honest, I have no clue on how or what to change other than the regular small things. I am reading a book by Satish Kumar called You Are Therefor I Am, it i so inspiring. If I could choose, I would take my family and my cat to a place where we can live a simpler life. A life where the important thing is to be in pact with nature and in pact with ourselves, and not to live according to the standards the capitalist society dictates. I keep thinking how important it is to find a passion, a call, but most of our kids are busy doing what we tell them is important to do, and when they have spare time, they are mentally and emotionally numb in front of their electric devices. ‘As long as they do well at school’, we repeat to ourselves. But really? Is that what will bring them peace? Is school giving children a sense of meaningfulness?

So, I am thinking that for the months to come. I will practice more silence. I will do less. I will put my heart in my daily chores. I will be more mindful. I will flow. All this with the hope that clarity will come to me. Where to go? What to do? What to change?

Bikes, Cars and Karma Yoga

Our car broke down some weeks ago, and we decided to try out a life without a car for some time. This means that we are using our feet, our bikes and the public transportation more often than before, and we occasionally rent a car from a car collective we’ve joined.

This is possible because we live in a city where the infrastructure for pedestrians is very good, public transportation is quite efficient, and lately, the authorities have been investing a lot in improving the bike lanes.

However, almost every day, I observe distracted car drivers creating dangerous situations for themselves, pedestrians and cyclists. Needless to say, this really scares me when I’m biking with my kids even though I keep drilling them about predicting possible tricky places where a car can suddenly appear.

Today, I was riding my bike alone so I was going a bit faster than when I am with my kids, when I started approaching a gateway. Luckily for me, I instinctively started slowing down because from behind came a car, and without using his blinkers, it turned just in front of me. I had to stop abruptly, and almost fell off the bike, and the driver never saw me. I wasn’t angry, but this isn’t the first time this happens to me in the last few weeks, and I really considered going in to talk with him but I decided to let it go because I didn’t want to end up in a conflict. I still don’t fully trust myself not to get angry.

I think the key word here is distracted mind. I have been there too as a car driver. Driving my car in a hurry, or with a million things in my head, or trying to find something in my purse on the passenger seat, or all the three above plus more. The more I reflected about it, the more I was making connections with some of the principles of Karma yoga.

We all play different roles throughout the day and in this particular story, the man was the driver. According to Karma yoga, each role has its dharma, it’s nature and purpose. So, let’s say that the dharma of a car driver is to get from A to B, but not only that. According to Karma yoga, he should play this role in a skilful way, and my interpretation of this in this story is basically to find the most effective way to get where he needs to go, get there on time, and stay safe. That, in my head is the dharma of a car driver. The problem is, most of the things we do, most of the roles we play, we don’t really pay attention to them. Maybe because we do so much…too much? Our minds are distracted. Maybe, if we started paying more attention to what we do, and ask ourselves what the purpose of it is, how our different attitudes and actions affect the role we play and those involved, we would avoid scary situations in traffic, or conflicts with people we cross throughout the day.

If, when I decide to sit in my car (when I had one), I spend ten seconds to remind myself of my dharma in that moment: get to where I need to go in an efficient way and stay safe. I might then avoid distractions, drive slower, show consideration to other drivers, pedestrians and cyclists. What if I’m in a hurry because I left home later than I should? I then have to remind myself that rushing, not stopping at intersections, driving on red lights is selfish and does not fulfil my dharma as a car driver.

This is what I love about the teachings of the Gita, it is all so practical! It is all intended to help us live a more skilful life and thus be more peaceful and influence our surroundings in a positive way. Lately, I try this quite often, sometimes to play with my mind, sometimes to come out of challenging situations. I stop and ask myself, what is my role right now? How is the skilful way to play this role without attaching to my ego? I sincerely believe that if we all did this, we would be less stressed.

One thing did come to my mind though, when this man sat in his car, he “became” a car driver, that was his role then, but it doesn’t mean that he stopped being a father, or a husband, or a son, or an employee/employer. Maybe, one or several of his roles was one of the reasons why he was distracted. Maybe he was worried about something, maybe he was rushing because there was some sort of emergency. So, yes, we are constantly juggling all the roles we have, but when all these roles keep us in a state of constant distracted minds, we need to take a step back and reflect on what we are doing and why we are doing it. It might be time to reconsider our priorities. But that, is subject for another post. 😉

It’s unfair!

One thing that frustrates me to tears since I was a little girl is the feeling of being treated unfairly. I purposely say ‘the feeling of being treated unfairly’ because from what I observe in myself, it is often a matter of perception.

As a kid, I might have been scolded at for doing something I didn’t perceive as a fault but for the “scolding” adult, it was. I see that a lot as a teacher of young teenagers, when I correct a behaviour, my student(s) and I often move into a discussion about the unfairness of me pointing out at this action as inappropriate. This then leads to me explaining how the behaviour is against our school’s common agreements, or how it affects negatively the classroom/school’s environment, and the student in question seeing it as unfair because he/she wants or needs something different. There is a conflict between what the student in question wants or needs and what he/she can/should do at that given moment.

So, sometimes unfairness is a matter of perception, but what happens when we experience doing our best in something for then seeing it being taken away from us without clear reason? Some years ago, out of the blue, a friend that I considered as one of my closest friends, suddenly decided that she didn’t want me in her life anymore. When I asked for a reason to at least have the chance to apologise, my friend got even more angry and accused me of harassing her. We don’t live in the same country, so this made things even more difficult. I asked myself several times what was it that I did to be treated like this, and honestly, to the day today I really don’t know. In this friendship of so many years where we never ever had dispute, this really felt unfair.

After some days of reflecting, I decided that all I could do is to respect my friend’s decision. I sent her a message telling her that I love her and that I would be here in case she wanted to reestablish contact, and I let her go. From the yogic perspective, I went into this conflict with the intention to do my part to fix it, I measured my words and tried my best, her reaction to it was completely out of my hands. Why spend more time and energy thinking about the unfairness of the situation? Why make the situation even messier by engaging in negative thoughts and feelings when none of them would solve anything and just add distress for me?

If there is something I am more and more convinced of it’s the fact that even when it seems like people do things to us, it is all about their inner world. Why do I know this? Because I experience it myself. All my interactions with others and the world around me are a result of my way of perceiving myself and the outer world.

I guess at this point you are wondering if I mean that we should then just accept unfairness and let go. Not really, but like with everything, I think we do ourselves a favour when we peel off the layers of emotion in any given situation. I am not saying we shouldn’t experience emotion, but we should try to not feed into negativity and rather approach life in a practical way by seeking clarity in our mind.

I recently had the privilege to learn a big lesson from another friend. She lives abroad, has a child and is divorced. She was facing a trial about the custody of her child, and like in many trials, the lawyer in the opposing party had dug into her personal life to find aspects of her past and personality that could be presented in a bad light. It was very tough for her who has been taking good care of her child and taken every decision thinking of the child’s best, to be depicted in a completely wrong way. After the first emotion of unfairness and frustration had passed, she decided to stay calm throughout the whole process and not even respond to these accusations. She had prepared her case well, she had done all the right things for her child, and didn’t have anything to prove. She even had the compassion to understand the tactic, and let go of it in her mind. This, in my opinion is the big lesson for me to learn here. She let go for her own well-being. Thus, by letting go, she was able to stay calm in court, talk from reason, and go home with peace in her heart. She was, of course, nervous for the outcome but had the wisdom to see that she had done her part and the rest wasn’t in her hands.

This is the very principle of Karma Yoga. In her role as a mum, my friend did her duty by always acting with her child’s best interest in mind, she presented herself to trial well-prepared, the rest is not in her hands.

Does this mean that we shouldn’t fight when we perceive something as unfair? I don’t know for sure, but I think that we would benefit from asking ourselves what is it that we are fighting for and why are we fighting for it? What is required from us in that particular role? How much will this fight cost emotionally? What would happen if we let go?

This morning, I was reading verse 11 from ch2 in the Bhagavad Gita where Sri Krisna says to the warrior Arjuna “The wise lament neither for the living nor for the dead” which for me, in the context of spirituality, is a big statement. We don’t lament our losses, because they are losses in the transient world. The transient world is constantly changing and nothing that we acquire in it is really ours. What is even more important, no matter how much we loose ‘out there’, we don’t loose anything inside ourselves. Sometimes we even need to let go of something in order to learn a lesson, in order to be able to move on and win something that truly benefits us. If we are sure of our integrity, of our attitudes and our actions, no one can take that away from us. We can loose an unfair battle, but we can also rise tall, and move on to the next level.

It is interesting to use the Gita here, since it is a song about the dialogue between Arjuna and Krisna at the battlefield right before a big battle Arjuna needs to fight against, among other things, injustice. But I think the key here is to remember that Arjuna should engage in this fight following his duty as a warrior, and not driven by his own negative emotions…