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)?

Self-compassion

Let a man lift himself by himself; let him not degrade himself; for the Self alone is the friend of the self and the Self alone is the enemy of the self. Bhagavad Gita Chapter 6 verse 5

Compassion is an important aspect in the practice of Yoga and one of the core values in Buddhism. I recently asked both my adult yoga students and my teenage yoga students what compassion is for them, and their answers inspired me to write this post.

I can start like I did with my students by asking what is compassion for you? Take a moment to think about it before you read further.

The common definition that most of us use is being understanding and kind towards others. The definition in the dictionary is slightly different: sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it.

Very few students include themselves as an important object of compassion when defining the word.  However, according to the Yogic and Buddhist traditions, in order to cultivate compassion towards others, we have to first cultivate compassion towards ourselves. If this is a new idea for you, take some time to reflect on it. Doesn’t it make sense? But what does that mean? How do we show compassion towards ourself?

I asked one of my teenage yoga students how she shows compassion towards herself, and she answered “by eating chocolate”. Eventhoug there is nothing wrong with enjoying something we like,  I think this illustrates how we sometimes tend to misunderstand what self-compassion is, and that is why I opened this post with the quote from chapter 6 in the Bhagavad Gita.

We often think that we are being kind towards ourselves by indulging in something, especially when we experience distress. It can be food, alcohol, TV, social media, you name it. In my perspective, this is only a way of escaping from that distress. We might get the illusion that we are alleviating it, but in reality we are just hiding it or pushing it away. That is not self-compassion.

Self-compassion requires courage, it requires the ability to see beyond our fear. We have to first have the courage to stop running away and face the source of our distress, which we often have the illusion comes from the outside world, but if we look closely, we will discover that it comes from inside us.

So, I wonder, when am I doing something ‘kind’ towards myself that will allow me to continue growing as a spiritual being and what am I using as crutches to avoid the fall, the pain, the distress?

I have already shared in a post the distress I sometimes cause inside myself because I get caught up in thoughts and emotions. I recently realized that I haven’t been showing self-compassion at all. Although it is positive to be aware of one’s flaws, one’s dark sides, it is harming to be judgemental about them. The advice in Yoga is so subtile, I think. We are encouraged to confront our inner darkness but we have to accept it first and then make small adjustments at a time. As a dear friend recently said to me, you need to embrace the monster inside you to move forward.

Only when we decide to live a life of awareness, of rude honesty towards ourselves, will we be able  be compassionate towards ourselves and thus lift ourselves forward.

In the process, compassion towards others starts to come easier and more naturally as we keep discovering our dark sides, our weaknessess and we then can identify with other people’s distress. This allows us to be less judgemental and more understanding, more tolerant, more willing to help.

 

 

A week of turmoil and Bhagavad Gita ch6

Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve had the tendency to get overwhelmed by the world around me. Or maybe it would be more correct to say, overwhelmed by my perception of the world around me. I don’t know why, but I tend to overthink and get carried away by my emotions. My dad used to tell me that I take life too seriously.

During the last five years, I have been studying and practicing Yoga with the hope that this side of me would fade away, but I still have periods where I get overwhelmed by all and everything, and to be honest, there is nothing to be so overwhelmed about. These episodes are maybe even stronger than before because emotions pile up as I want so badly to have control over my thoughts and emotions and I see how they get stronger and stronger until I can’t control them anymore.

I was listening to episode 94 of Secular Buddhism yesterday about The Five Hindrances in the Buddhist tradition: desire, aversion, disinterest, agitation, and indecision. One of the main points in this podcast is that we learn about these hindrances to be aware of them when they arise in our mind and to be curious and mindful but not to try to get rid of them.  I still have a lot to learn about my mind and what I can and cannot do about it.

I discovered that one of my biggest hindrances is that I believe that through the practice of yoga, I will no longer experience challenging thoughts and emotions. When they arise, I push them away, but after some time, they come back even stronger and that is when I lose my patience with myself and the rest of the world around me. Desire to control gets in the way of achieving a calm state of mind. The more I desire to be patient, the less patient I am.

My Yoga teacher encouraged me this week to study chapter 6 in the Bhagavad Gita. I am to savor one verse at a time allowing the message to sink in. So, here’s verse 1:

“Without dependence on fruits of action, he who performs action as duty, he is a Sannyasi and a Yogi. Neither without fire nor without action.”  

In this verse, we are encouraged to engage in the world with a sense of purpose and without any expectation. Everything we do, we do it as our duty, putting our best effort into it, and running away from our roles (like I sometimes really want to do) will not help.

Further, in verse 2 I read: “What they call renunciation, that know to be disciplined activity. O Pandava, for no one becomes a Yogin who has not renounced his (selfish) purpose. No one becomes a Yogin without renouncing expectation.”

The way I understand it we are encouraged to observe what drives us to act and discern between acting out of duty and acting out of need. We should then refrain from acting out of need, or at least be very aware of the motivation behind these kinds of actions and know that the outcome will mess up with our expectations.

So, I will experiment with this. When the need arises, I will sit with it, I will not reject it, but I will not put it into my actions because the outcome most probably will not meet the desired one and I will then again engage in the turmoil of my emotions. I will act out of duty, do my job in this world with my best intentions and efforts, knowing that the result is not in my hands.

I will continue with my daily Sadhana without expecting it to “fix” me. I will remember to be compassionate towards myself.

This is the path of spirituality, isn’t it? One step at a time. Learning, unlearning, adjusting our perceptions. Falling and standing up again. And in the meantime, hoping that those around us have the capacity to forgive our bad moments.

What I wonder about now is what are my real duties in life and what are my perceived duties?