What am I feeling and learning this week?

Since last week, I keep oscillating between overwhelmed, tired and annoyed, and serene and optimistic. One day, it feels like I will never get all my tasks done, and the next one I tell myself that I just need to do one thing at a time and things will fall into place.

One minute I am able to show compassion and understanding to the people I mingle daily with, and the next one, I am acting passive-aggressively because what I see as their shortcomings are ‘unforgivable’.

In between moods, I observe and I reflect. I can’t help but wonder why when I feel stressed and overwhelmed, I get so annoyed at other people? Is it because seeing other people’s flaws moves the attention outwards and gives me ‘good reasons’ to be annoyed? Or is it because I usually let people step over my boundaries too much? Am I keeping the peace usually by not saying anything or am I missing the opportunity to be assertive when things are calm and moving dangerously into conflict when I’m tired and overwhelmed? The problem and advantage at the same time are that I know very well my moods, and I know that going into conflict will make me feel worse, so I keep the frustration in, and instead act passive-aggressively which adds on to the already quite dark mood.

Do I feed into the feeling of being overloaded and overwhelmed with my own expectations? Can I simplify? Can I postpone some things? Can I not do others? Can I focus on one thing at a time and let the rest be? Why do I believe that if I’m not in control of certain things, the world will fall apart? Do I even believe that? Not really, so why not let go of control? Delegate. Ask for help. To ask for help, especially in the house is not to nag. Why do I keep thinking that asking for help will make me sound like a nagging wife? Mum? Maybe because of the tone in which I ask for help and maybe the tone appears when I have waited too long to ask for help…

At the end of the day, I keep coming back to the same teachings from Yoga: take responsibility for my own well-being and let the world be what it needs to be. Do what I can do in the roles I have to play but let go of the need to make everything about me. Stop and take a break when I need it. Say no when needed. Don’t get overwhelmed by my dark mood, because like everything else in life, this too will pass.

Having someone to talk with also helps. I am lucky to have a some good colleagues and friends that are willing to listen, show empathy (maybe the most important when I feel overwhelmed), and give advice. I am thankful for them.

Spring reflections

The Spring is here and with it comes the awe of nature waking up to life after a long Winter. I enjoy observing how days are getting longer and longer, feeling the warmth of the sun, the birdsongs, and seeing plants and trees growing leaves and flowers.

Spring always brings me so much joy, but the start of the season is always challenging for me. I don’t know why, but I often feel tired physically, mentally and emotionally, and it takes a lot of inner work to get myself through it without allowing this tiredness to push me into a negative space. It has taken me some years to understand this pattern and even more importantly, to accept it.

My theory is that I spend so much energy keeping up with life during the dark and cold Winter, that when the Spring comes, my body is exhausted. I tried this Winter to follow better the rhythm of the daylight and allow myself to rest more and do more indoor activities that inevitably require less energy such as sewing, knitting, reading, playing board games with my kids and watching movies. Still, the tiredness of the Spring did come along.

Spring is also a quite busy period for me. As a teacher, May is an intense month with many holidays sprinkled throughout the month, and although I do appreciate the breathing pause they bring, they also interrupt the rhythm of school life in what I see as one of the most critical periods of the school year as we should be wrapping up, doing our last assessments to start writing report cards, write the end-of-the-school-year student reports, and prepare for next school year. In addition, all clubs my kids are part of, want to mark the end of the school year with celebrations, and on top of all that we have the Norwegian national day and all the expectations around it. Fighting all this, my desire to be outdoors and enjoy the better weather.

So, even though the light and the milder weather call me to be more active, I am trying this year to work with my expectations and what my different roles require from me. Not an easy task, but I keep learning:

  1. Prioritise: I can’t have a hundred items on top of my priority list. Remind myself of what is important for me and make my list accordingly.
  2. Put some things aside both practically and mentally. I can’t do everything right now. Some things will have to wait. This is very connected to nr1.
  3. Keep my sadhana rock steady. At least twenty minutes of sitting in silence preferably preceded of some yoga asana.
  4. Say no when needed. This one is very though because I don’t want so seem rude nor disappoint anyone, but it is also very necessary.
  5. Good enough is good enough.
  6. Give myself time and space to feel tired, confused and frustrated but do not feed into the emotions. Time and space will always allows me to get some perspective and find a way to get through situations.
  7. Make choices based on what I know and the resources I have with clear intentions and trust that whatever happens will be for the best. I must confess that making choices is one of the most energy-draining activities for me, but I am learning to follow this little formula. Trust is an important ingredient to not spend too much energy on them.
  8. REST. Go to bed early, listen to my body and mind and take a break during the day when I need it. I often eat lunch with my students or in meetings, but when I can, I take a half hour break during my work day and go for a walk in the park, literally. Walking in nature always recenter me. When I get home, if my kids are at their respective activities or with their friends, I take a coffee break to rest my mind and body.
  9. Move outdoors. I have as a goal to walk at least 7km a day, some days I walk more, some days slightly less. The key is in using my legs as my means of transportation. I walk or ride my bike to and from work and to whatever errands I have during the day.

Fishing

Do you ever go ‘fishing’? I sometimes do, and most of the time, I end up feeling bad about myself. Or should I say worse? It has taken me some time to observe myself fishing and to understand why I do it, and I must confess that I usually notice it after I have been fishing.

To be honest, I think I am constantly fishing, but some fish are bigger than other. In some areas, I am less insecure, so whether I catch something or not is not such a big deal. For example at work, I do my best, and I absolutely enjoy it when I get some sort of validation, but if things don’t go as I hoped for, I can quickly get on my feet again and tell myself that I did my best and I can only learn from the experience.

Writing this, I guess this is not real fishing. This is just playing my part, while fishing is when some sort of inner void manifests itself, and to fill it with something, well, I go fishing.

Maybe you are starting to get what I mean by ‘fishing’? Maybe you are starting to get annoyed by me repeating the word so many times. Can you identify yourself with it?

What I call fishing is when I approach someone with the intention of getting some sort of validation. Just like little kids do, you know? You catch a young kid drawing, and you approach her with curiosity, just to hear the kid say “I’m not good at drawing”. What is the most expected reaction? Will you answer “yeah, you suck!”? Or will you say “nonsense, you’re really good at this.”? Rather the latter, isn’t it. That is what I call fishing. It is not negative, there is not bad intention, the kid is just seeking validation. We all seek sometimes validation.

The problem is where are we seeking validation? How much of our self-value are we putting on this validation? What happens when we don’t get the validation we were expecting? Because, let’s face it, even though we get some sort of validation, often, the void is so big, that reality doesn’t match the expectation. I would actually call it the unconscious expectation because at least I am not always aware of it until later. So, when the fishing doesn’t go well, I end up catching nothing else than a confirmation of my worst limiting thoughts about myself.

So what now? To be honest, not much. The void will still manifest itself from time to time, I think. I might then go fishing, but at least now, I notice the pattern before creating a big drama in my head and outside my head because I didn’t catch that impossibly big fish I was expecting. I don’t miss the hope that one day, I will notice the void and be with it without unconsciously going fishing.

Patience

Do you ever get caught up in negativity? What happens then? Have you noticed when that happens? Is there a sort of pattern? Since Friday and throughout the weekend, I started noticing that almost everything was creating distress in my mind. Either by mentally rejecting an idea or a task I had to do, by focusing on the negative aspect of a situation or by predicting the worst-case scenario. Through the practice of yoga, -please read in the broader understanding of yoga, not just asana (physical activity)- I am gradually learning to observe my thoughts and not take them that seriously. By this, I mean that even though I notice distress rising internally, I don’t necessarily give in to the emotion. I just observe it. This doesn’t mean either that I can make it go away right away but by giving attention to my states of mind, I seem to be able to let go easier than when I don’t.

As a yogi, it doesn’t stop there, I have to be curious about why I am being so negative. What has changed? What is happening internally that is meeting the external world with a different attitude? I made some discoveries:

1) At the beginning of the lockdown, I was being very good at keeping my sleeping routines as usual making sure I sleep between seven and a half and eight hours per night. During the last two weeks, I’ve been going to bed later sometimes sleeping seven or less hours. I don’t know if it is because of ageing but I know now that for me to be at my best, I need eight hours of sleep. If I sleep under seven, I am more emotional, I have problems concentrating, and by consequence I am less efficient at home and work.

2) This took me a while to realise: I am putting too much pressure on myself during the lockdown. Since I have (or I think I have with full online work, three kids, a husband and a cat) more time, I want to spend that time ‘well’. What does that mean? Well, I want to spend more time with my kids in the afternoons doing fun stuff, I have been wanting to take an extra course in anatomy applied to yoga, so I signed up to an online one, I want to finally develop some ideas I have about yoga teaching, I want to do some home improvements, I want to read books, I want to exercise more, I want to spend more time with my older son in the evenings (that is why I’m going to bed later), and the list goes on and on… In addition, the ne new situation brings new possibilities: online teaching and online yoga teaching. This is lots of fun, and I have many ideas for both, but it requires time to learn new skills, use new tools, and plan differently.

Added to all this crazy mental activity, is the uncertainty of the situation. In Norway, we have come to a point where schools are gradually reopening. We know it will soon be our turn but we don’t know when or how our school is going to choose to meet all the requirements by the government to avoid spreading of the virus. On one side, my brain doesn’t like uncertainty, on the other, this makes planning for my lessons a bit challenging because I don’t know how much time I still have until things are turned upside down again… But mainly, I struggle with uncertainty.

So, once I realised all this, I have come to one big keyword: PATIENCE. Yes, I have maybe more time, and it is nice to have some projects and wanting to improve my online teaching, but not everything needs to happen right now. PATIENCE with myself, when I get anxious about the uncertainty, it is ok to experience these emotions right now. Just keep observing, keep breathing, and the anxiety will eventually go away. PATIENCE with life right now, things are as they are and we all are doing as good as we can with what we have.

I will also sleep more, be more disciplined with how much work I do and read the news only once a day. I really need to stay away from my computer after dinner no matter how many ideas I get. My mind needs to rest. I can just sit down and enjoy a cup of tea without having to do or achieve anything at the same time.

I also have to keep reminding myself that whatever happens, we always get through it. Whatever challenges we meet, we only come a bit wiser a bit stronger out of them. But above all, how important it is to have a stable sadhana. If it wasn’t for my sadhana, I think I would be even more negatively affected by the situation. I am so thankful for my teacher and for the teachings of yoga.

Performing at 80%?

This school year, I am working 80% at my job as a middle school teacher. I asked for an unpaid leave of 20% to have more for teaching yoga, and to see if this has a positive impact in my family life and mental and emotional health.

Last school year was busy. Work wasn’t necessarily busier than usual, but work combined with family life kept me busy from the moment I woke up to the moment I went to bed. I had to plan my days to the detail and follow this plan in order for things to run smoothly.

I tried my best to take care of myself by doing my daily sadhana, do physical activity, and spend the weekends as much as possible with my family without making any plan but still, I felt quite tired towards the end of the school year and when the calmness of the summer break finally kicked in, I realised how tense I had been the whole year.

Two weeks after going back to work, I definitely notice the difference from working 100%. I feel less tired, more present and much more capable of dealing with whatever happens at work and at home in a more skilful way.

My first thought was, “I’ll never go back to 100%”, followed by “how will this affect us (my family) economically” and “am I being lazy?”, to “all teachers should have less teaching hours”.

When it comes to my family’s economy, I think we’ll manage. I think this change has made me be more mindful of where and when I spend money. This can only be beneficial for our and the world’s well-being. If I cut some expenses here, I can save some money there, and we will be able to spend our money more mindfully. We have always tried to not buy more than we need, but living the privilege life that we live, we definitely have more than we need. Ultimately, the question is simple, what is more worth getting more stuff or living less stressed? I think my kids appreciate more a relaxed mum than anything they wish for that we can’t give immediately.

Am I lazy? I don’t think so. I might have too high expectations for every role I play in life, and maybe I need to work with that, but in order to feel that what I do is meaningful, I need time, space and energy to do things with a sense of purpose. For the time being, my biggest responsibilities are towards myself – if I don’t keep myself physically, emotionally and mentally sane, I can’t engage in a positive way in the practical world; towards my family and towards my students and colleagues. If I have more time to plan my lessons, to reflect on what is happening in the classroom, and choose the way further, I think I will do a much better job than when I am supposed to perform at a 100% feeling constantly drained.

This leads me to my third thought. What is the real meaning of ‘efficiency’? Is it to do as much as possible with an absent mind, or is it to do what we do consciously? How can teachers be present for their students and colleagues, how can we better choose the next step when we are constantly running against the clock? If we are to carry out our real duty as guides, as facilitators, as caring adults, we need the energy and time to be present, reflect and then act in a way that empower our students and ourselves. Why do we believe that the right way to go is to squeeze out until the last drop of people’s energy? Since I can’t change the way society thinks, I can then make the choice to not overload myself and work less.

I will soon start teaching more yoga, and we’ll see how this affects the whole equation. This makes me think of the importance the attitude we bring to everything we do has for our inner peace. I want to teach more yoga because I am noticing the benefits it is bringing to my life and I want to share this with others. I want to teach more yoga because I have noticed that it gives me energy and gives me a sense of purpose but if this doesn’t work, I will have to rethink the whole thing all over again. And this is what we do. We try, we sometimes get it right, sometimes fail and have to try again.