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.

Parenting reflections

I am a mum of three. Needless to say, all three are quite different, so part of my job as a parent is to figure out ways to guide them through life respecting their personality at the same time as I try to teach them the values and attitudes I believe are important in life. That is partly tricky, isn’t it? I get to choose the values and attitudes that I think are important for them. That is why, in this role, I feel that I have to be constantly observing and reflecting and adjusting , at the same time as I have to believe in my instincts, otherwise, both my children and I would be lost in space.

Some days after the summer break had started, I had to take one of those pauses to reflect as I started noticing that I was constantly ending up in quarrels with my youngest daughter about almost anything and everything and nothing at all. My youngest is the one that challenges me the most, and it is most probably because she is so herself. She is pickier than the other two with food, she can often be quite dissatisfied with what I perceive as trivialities, situations with her friends, siblings and us parents turn often into drama, and what challenges me the most is that it is not very easy to have what I perceive as a ‘reasonable’ conversation about all these issues with her. Situations often start with me being very patient, trying to explain, she getting more and more frustrated and either start crying or answer back, to me then loosing my cool and getting all stern and teacherly.

Obviously, my way of approaching challenging situations with her is not working . I do think that my job as her mum is to point out the attitudes that won’t help her in life and encourage her to change them, but the way I do it is not working. If you have been reading my blog, you know by now that I am a student of yoga, so I use what I learn in all possible situations. Reflecting on my daughter and our challenging interactions, here are some points:

I don’t always agree with my daughter’s attitude and/or actions, but judging her won’t help me guide her appropriately. Labelling her, even if it is only in my head, as immature, picky, drama queen, or other is a waste of energy and time. She behaves in ways that don’t always help her or that sometimes create unpleasant moments at school and at home, but it is part of her learning process. When I bring my judgement to the situation, I just add negative emotion to it.

In my studies of the Bhagavad Gita, I have been trying to understand two concepts: swa-dharma and swa-bhava (2:31, 3:35, 18:47). From what I understand, swa-bhava could be translated as each person’s inner nature composed by aptitudes and attitudes, and swa-dharma is each person’s personal duty or purpose in life and it is directly connected to swa-bhava. It is taking for me some time to fully understand these two concepts, but I think that they mean that according to our attitudes and aptitudes, we bring a specific “flavour” to the roles we play in life.

I believe this concepts are taught in the Karma yoga tradition for self-reflection of our role in life, but I think that reflecting in swa-bhava as a mum can be useful too. If I stop and observe my daughter, I can see that she is active, she is social, she is caring and somewhat insecure. She needs a lot of love and attention and can be quite impulsive. I am trying now to keep these and other of her character traits in mind when challenging situations arise, and avoid trying to push her to think like I do and get all frustrated when she doesn’t. I have an example. I want all my three kids to get into the habit of reading. They sometimes read, but it is definitely not an activity they choose above others. We take regular trips to the library, and they always read there, but they don’t always want to bring a book home. The other day, we went into a book store, and I agreed to buy between one and two books to each one of them (they were on sale). She picked four, and I reminded her of my “rule” but she wasn’t satisfied with this rule (of course not). I looked at the books she had chosen and asked if she thought we could find some of them at the public library to borrow. She agreed to leave one, but still wanted three. Since her sister had only found one that she really wanted to read, I agreed to buy the three of them as I know they all end up sharing books. Until then, everything was ok but then, the weirdest (or what I think is the weirdest) thing happened. As I was standing in line to pay for the books, she looked more and more unsatisfied. After I had payed, I asked her, what what was going on? Was it because of the fourth book? I suggested we walk to the library and borrow it, but for my big surprise, she was thinking about something else. She was sulking because her sister had gotten a new bike this summer and not her, and because she wanted a new lock for her bike and she didn’t get one. In addition, her sister keeps borrowing her toys forgetting to return them to her room… To be honest, the first label that came to my mind is “ungrateful”, but I know that spitting out this word, would only make it worse. So, what is my role here? Well, in the old yogic thinking, I think that my role was just to point out how we can, at any situation, focus on what is wrong or choose to focus on what is good. I didn’t get angry, but I just said that I could see how the joy of getting three new books was overshadowed by the thought of not having a new bicycle. She had made that choice, and I could understand her frustration of wanting something new, but I would like her to consider whether she needed it or not. Sometimes we want something that we really don’t need. I told her that I love her, and that I wasn’t angry, and I stopped talking. I don’t know if this made any impact on her, but at least I didn’t get all worked up because of her “ungratefulness”. I just pointed out what I observed can be a bad pattern for herself, and let it marinate in her head. That is my role, I believe.

I must confess that I don’t always know how to react to certain behaviours from my kids but I believe my role in their life is to empower them as they are and maybe help them see the attitudes and behaviours that stand in the way for their thriving, but not to try to make them fit into my box of ideas. It is actually fun to try to be more observant of their different personalities and find ways to harmonise with them instead of keep hitting the wall with my old patterns of behaviour towards them.

I know for example that my son is easily scared when it comes to illnesses and injuries. The other day, we went to this trampoline park and my son was trying a new trick. I was playing with the other two when he suddenly came running towards us with his eyes wide open and fell on the floor beside me. It looked like he couldn’t breathe and I could see he was scared, but we wasn’t pale or blue (as if he wasn’t really breathing). I have to say that the floor disappeared for a moment under my feet and I felt a bit dizzy, but I very fast realised that it wouldn’t help him if I panicked. So I took a deep breath, and asked him to do the same. I asked him to look at me and tell me what he was feeling, but he was unable to respond. So I just continued talking to him as calmly as I could. It turns out, it wasn’t anything serious, but he had fallen hard on his back and experienced a sharp pain in his chest and was afraid he had broken his neck . My role in that moment was to stay calm for him, to try to calm him down. I think my role was to balance the situation by not to making him feel bad because of his reaction but not to scaring him more by over reacting. After a little while, his sisters went back to jumping around and having fun while my son and I sat and chat. When we finally were on our way back home, I did bring up what I observed and said that he has a tendency to let fear take over. I said that it is ok, and I am happy I was there to help him through it, but that he needs to gradually work with it, so fear doesn’t take over when he needs to stay calm. I did say that I was maybe as scared as he was, but I knew I had to stay calm to help him calm down, and that it has required a lot of practice and effort from me manage to do so.

It is curious to think how different we all at the same time as how alike we all are. We go around with different attitudes and aptitudes, different perceptions, different patterns of behaviour, but in the end, we all want the same. We want to be seen, we want to be appreciated and we want to feel safe and free. I think, some of us need more of one or another, but we all need all of them.

I think that we do ourselves and the people around us a favour by acknowledging that we all have different personalities and try to work around them instead of getting all frustrated because we don’t act and react the same way. I think that the idea of learning about swa-bhava is merely to encourage us to get to know ourselves well so we know how we act and react at all times, but also to help us decide where we need to make some adjustments to live a more skilful and peaceful life. We all know that we cannot change others but we can try to understand others better, and when it comes to our kids, we do have the opportunity to at least help them see which aspects of their personality aren’t helping them, but at the end of the day, it will be their choice to change them or not.

Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately?), there is no perfect parent, but we can at least be conscious parents by being clear about what our role in the life of our kids is (and this clarity is different from parent to parent) and try to act accordingly. I have many fears related to this huge role, probably the most important role I have in life, but I can’t let my fears dominate me, right? So I learn as I go, and in the meantime, I hope I don’t make too much damage.

Every year, I set myself as a goal, to let the overflow of energy during the summer break help me correct some of the useless patterns of attitudes and behaviours I have towards my kids. It does help, but I need to keep reminding myself, and when I’m tired, it is very easy to fall back to the old again. So another lesson to learn? Make sure to rest enough and have enough energy everyday to be a good version of myself when I am with them.

How do you measure your worth?

I was talking with some ninth grade students the other day about their experience during work week. Where I live, students in ninth grade (and in some schools in eighth grade too) work for one week during the school year to learn the whole process of writing a curriculum, taking contact with the employer, sometimes even being interviewed, and get the experience of working for a week.

For some students, this is the first time they have a “real” job, and it is always very nice to hear their experiences. It is not surprising that some of them find it more meaningful to be out in the world learning a profession instead of spending their days at school.

We started a nice discussion about how nowadays, the worth of a student is measured mainly by her grades. Furthermore , it is assumed that in order to be successful in life, you have to do well in school and go to university. There are very few professions today that do not require higher education. But this is not the point in this post. The point is that one of the girls I was talking with was telling me that she doesn’t feel like a very intellectual person, she struggles to get what is considered good grades, and this of course affects her self-esteem. We then started talking about what makes a person valuable. This is always a very interesting topic to discuss with teenagers.

I once had a discussion about self-value with another student from tenth grade. For him, what made him a valuable young man was his performance at school and in sports. When I asked what would happen if he had an accident that made him sit in a wheelchair and unable to continue studying, would this mean that he would be less valuable? His answer was, yes, he would be less worth because he would not be able to do anything of ‘value’. I was shocked by his answer, and he was shocked when I challenged this idea. I sincerely believe that we cannot measure our worth by our achievements in the practical world. It is a dangerous thing to do so because when we fail, we loose our ground. So, if our worth is not connected to our achievements , what gives us value as humans?

Some of us, place our worth in comparison with other people. I know that for years, I have been struggling to imprint in my mind the fact that in reality, no one is more or less worth than I am. Nothing that I do or don’t do affect my value as a human.

I don’t know how it is for other people, but now that I am more aware of my thoughts, I have realised since I was a kid I’ve been comparing myself with other people. I often thought other kids my age were cooler, funnier and more exciting to be with; other girls were prettier and more interesting; my brothers were smarter and so on.

The other uglier side of this habit is when I believe that I am ‘better’ than other people by looking at their “flaws” and rejoicing in the fact that at least that, I don’t do. It was honestly embarrassing to discover the boost of self-esteem (fake, I would add) I get from this kind of thinking. Without trying to justify it, it does make sense, doesn’t it? We all suffer from insecurities, we know very well our weaknesses, but we rarely know our strengths. It is then comforting that some mistakes other people make, we don’t make.

But, am I more worth than the people that make the mistakes I haven’t made? Or than the people that behave in what I perceive as inappropriate? What about when I make my own mistakes or behave in inappropriate ways? Does my worth go down then? How do we measure? Who is in charge of measuring? Who has the right to measure?

I think that going around comparing our value with others’ only creates separation. Separation from our deeper self and separation between the me and the other. In my opinion, this is just an illusion.

For years, I knew this person that I perceived as difficult. I would hear stories about this person’s challenging behaviour and think ‘I do better than that’. I kept comparing myself with this person, until one day, I found out that we were going through a similar problem. I then identified myself with the feelings this person was experiencing, and suddenly, the gap between us disappeared. This reminded me that at the end of the day, we all want the same things in life but seek them in different places in different ways.

I think it is important at some point in life to reflect on this. Where do we anchor our self-value? Which criteria do we use to value other people? Can we see the same potential in everyone and accept that we all are limited by our minds in different ways?

These days, I’m savoring the concept of Pure Potential. I’m sure I’ll write a little text about it in the future, but in the meantime you can listen to this lecture from my teacher, Prasad Rangnekar, about it.