The onion

A very dear friend who lives on the other side of the world recently asked me this question on WatsApp: “How are you on a personal level?” Simple question that has kept me thinking since she asked it.

My immediate answer was “I’m doing good” but I then started wondering what aspect of “me” am I evaluating when I answer this question? I guess it means that I don’t start talking about how I am doing as a mum, or as a teacher, or as a wife, or as a daughter, or as a yoga teacher but just as Vanessa… but who is this Vanessa? Is she separated from all the other roles that she plays every day? Can Vanessa do well when the mum doesn’t do well? Can the mum be ok when Vanessa isn’t doing well?

I know this seems quite silly, but really, what does ‘on the personal level’ mean to you? I would argue that it has different variables for each and everyone of us, but I think it often implies our social and emotional life. It might also have an aspect of what we can call ‘self realisation’ beyond our obligations. Does it then mean that to do well on a personal level, I have to have a successful social life or have a hobby or be in a romantic relationship?

Through the eyes of yoga, I would argue that my social life and my romantic life are also part of the roles I play: the friend and the lover. So, how am I doing beyond that? Well, if I don’t attach to any of the roles I play in life, if I let go of all my expectations, I can then say that I am doing very well. I feel at peace for the moment, I feel balanced and, above everything, I feel thankful. Nothing exciting is happening right now and still, I feel good.

I was recently discussing the concept of equanimity of mind as described in the Bhagavad Gita with a fellow yogini, and she was saying that although she understands the idea, she is not sure of wanting to live a life ‘without emotion’. A life where ‘you don’t feel sad or you don’t feel happy’, where ‘everything seems the same’. I remember thinking the same when I started studying yoga, and although I am not constantly there yet, I do notice that my spectrum of emotions is not as wide as it used to be. There are no super highs and there are no super lows. There isn’t much excitement in my life, but I feel in general calm and this allows me to appreciate the moments of harmony and deal more skilfully with challenging moments. If this resembles equanimity of mind, I am all for it. I hope it also counts as doing well on the personal level.

I know this question was asked with a sincere wish to know how I am doing, and I appreciate my friend asking it. My point here is to invite to reflection. How are you doing on the personal level? What defines your well-being on the personal level? Have you ever thought about it? Is it dependent on external factors or is it something you work with internally?

Late Friday reflections

When things don’t go as I wish them to go, my mind has a tendency to seek a culprit. Sometimes it is me, sometimes it is someone else. But, what do I win by blaming and criticising? I only feed on my distress and limit my perception. This, in turn, can have a negative impact on the way I deal with the situation. Things go as they go and we all have to reflect on the what, why and how of our actions, and I am starting to believe that we waste time by trying to guess or judge the intention other people put in their actions. We can communicate in a constructive way how their actions affect us and try to find solutions together, but blaming and criticising only shuts doors.

I had my yoga elective with yr6 and 7 today, and I chose to talk about the concept of light. Our mind has both a light and a dark side and they complement each other. Without darkness, we wouldn’t appreciate the light, and vice versa. Still, I believe that although we need to accept both our light and dark sides, we can learn to reach in for the light and choose away the dark in any given situation if we practice enough. In my interactions with other people, I can choose to act out of light instead of darkness no matter what the other person does.

One student asked, but what if the other person is evil? In this case, we can apply a deeper definition of the concept of light. According to the Yoga tradition, our heart is a cave in which burns the light of our soul. What we call soul in English is called atma in Sanskrit. This is our deepest and purest essence. This light or atma is equally bright and pure in each human being.

Then my student asked, but how can the soul of an evil person be equally light as the soul of a kind person? To this question, I love the answer from the Gita, we all have a pure soul, but not all of us are aware of this. Since we have lost contact with it, we feel some sort of vacuum, and so we go around trying to fill this vacuum with what we believe will make us feel complete again. This means that we sometimes behave in undesirable ways. So a person that does evil actions is not evil. Or better said, his/her atma is not evil, just the action and this action comes from ignorance.

My yoga teacher recommends us to 1. live with the heart on our sleeve (= live in love) and 2. try to always see or at least accept the pure potential in every being. I like these two principles, and I constantly have to remind myself to go back to them.

This week challenged me a bit more than previous weeks. It is the end of the first semester and, as always it is hectic and slightly chaotic. The Winter and the darkness have taken over in Trondheim making it difficult sometimes to stay awake. And then some dilemmas in my working space and family life arose. I felt like I didn’t have energy to deal with them. I felt overwhelmed. Until a dear colleague reminded me of the gift challenges represent in the spiritual path. I loved the analogy she made “they are the dead mice that your cat brings in to your house”. This helped me remember that yes, I can deal with this and more if I only remember to trust in myself, trust in the process and use the tools I have been learning to use in the past five years.

Today, I am so grateful to be surrounded by so wonderful women in my life. Most of them in my working space. How lucky can one be by having such resourceful, inspiring, caring and fun colleagues!