Coffee or early morning yoga practice? The dilemmas of a mum on vacation and my understanding of the idea of pleasure in the Bhagavad Gita.

“Al que madruga, Dios lo ayuda”, we say in Spanish. Basically, if you wake up early, you get a helping hand from God. For me this means that if you put all your effort towards your goals, you’ll get some help from the Universe. I thought of this recently while debating with myself on whether get out of bed and do my daily yoga practice or stay a bit longer in bed and then enjoy a cup of coffee on the couch.

I don’t always feel like getting out of bed early to do my asana and sadhana, especially when on vacation, but I know what a difference it makes in my day. Asana helps me get the energy in my body moving so I feel less lethargic and more motivated. Sadhana helps me cultivate a calmer clearer mind. Yesterday, I even got what feels like the only rays of sunlight available in days before it continued raining… the whole day…

This reminded me that it is important to keep on doing things that benefit me longterm even though it is not always things I want to do. When on vacation, a good cup of coffee while sitting on the couch is often more appealing than following the discipline of sitting in silence followed by yoga asana. The coffee on the couch requires less effort, but I know the benefits from keeping up with my practice so, most of the time (but not always), this argument wins over the pleasure of not doing anything.

I have been reflecting lately a lot about the principles I am studying while reading the Gita. Krisna is constantly advising Arjuna to cultivate a steady mind through, among other things, refraining from seeking pleasure and personal rewards through his actions. This is part of what is called Karma Yoga. I must confess that it has taken some time to understand the sense of this. It is not dogma. It is not because it is a “sin” in the way we understand the word in the Christian tradition. Seeking pleasure in the sensory world is normal because it makes us feel good, but it is not something that will bring us lasting peace of mind and happiness.

Sometimes, we believe we do something “good” for ourselves by giving in to indulgences. We even find some good explanations like feeling restless, stressed, sad, tired or bored, just to mention some. Yoga is not encouraging us to live an ascetic life, but it warns us from fooling ourselves to believe that sensory pleasures will bring lasting peace of mind and contentment.

Giving in to indulgences, especially when we loose control, can often end up on making us feel even worse than before. I have experienced to sit down for a cup of coffee with a chocolate square after dinner, and then have one square more, and one more “because it was a busy day at work” or whatever, and then end up eating the whole tablet. After the first feeling of pleasure, I feel almost nauseous and have bad conscience for not stopping after one or two squares. So the pleasure turn into a moment of discomfort.

Or sometimes I get so attached that I believe I can’t be happy without them. Because sensory pleasures have only a short lasting effect on us, we tend to seek them over and over again. Or we move from one to the next one, to the next one never being completely satisfied. It has happened (and still happens more often than not) with social media. I am tired, I know I would benefit from a good and long night sleep, but I check my mobile “one last time”. After verifying there are no important messages, I then pay a visit to Instagram, and I just keep scrolling , and then Facebook, scroll, scroll, scroll and before I know it, I will only get six hours sleep, again! What good did I get from it? Just instant reward of the senses. I’m not even sure what kind of reward though.

We are so lucky to live in abundance on this side of the world, most of us have all our basic needs covered, and we can have almost anything what we want. Still, most of us aren’t quite satisfied. We are running from one thing to another, we are tired, we are stressed. Often, because we want to make enough money to get more things, to experience more, to keep going, and we keep the circle going.

Yoga encourages us to work on building a sense of inner okayness called contentment which is independent of external influences. This requires practice and patience. Practice in the form of sadhana but also practice in every moment of our day by keeping certain principles in mind. Patience because the feeling of okayness is not going to come right away, finding pleasure in a quiet mind is not as straight forward as enjoying a chocolate, but the more we practice, the more we see the results, and these results are more stable and long lasting than the enjoyment of a chocolate.

The idea is not to stop eating chocolate or enjoying my cup of coffee in the morning, but to keep in mind that these are temporary pleasures, and the more I get, the more I want. So I need to create a very conscious approach to them. If I get my coffee, great! I enjoy it. If not, well, I can drink tea or water (haha). But first and foremost, avoid allowing the cup of coffee coming in the way for my more fruitful and balancing practice of yoga that brings more longterm effects.

At the end of the day, it all falls back to the same: I and only I am responsible of my own well-being, and I have to be very clear about what brings real well-being and what brings temporary well-being. This doesn’t mean that enjoying the pleasures of life is wrong. But if what I want is real contentment, real peace of mind, I might have to give up certain pleasures in life to work hard on a more longterm and lasting goal. It is said that those that have understood this principle enjoy the world more than anyone else precisely because they know very well the difference between temporary pleasures of the external world and the steady and balanced contentment of the self-cultivated inner peace.

Ultimately, when we read verses like this

One whose mind remains undisturbed amidst misery, who does not crave for pleasure, and who is free from attachment, fear, and anger, is called a sage of steady wisdom. (Bhagavad Gita Ch2 v56).

It is not because otherwise some superpower will punish us. It is because any of these states of mind only create distress and is needless for someone that is trying to cultivate a steady mind.

The whole art in here, is to find the right balance, and that is a constant work in progress. In the meantime, after I publish this post, I will reward myself with a good cup of coffee ;)… if I have any left.

Self-sufficiency – the yoga practice is not always a walk in the park.

An important aspect of the spiritual practice of yoga is the concept of self-sufficiency and self-responsibility. The practice should guide us little by little to the realisation that the source of love, peace and freedom comes from inside ourselves and not from the external world. Once we manage to detach from the idea that the outer world should fulfil these three basic needs, we can reach an independent state of contentment.

Therefore, we are encouraged to make sure that the intention at the base of our actions and interactions is not a need for validation of the ego or to satisfy emotional needs.

During the last six months, I have been more observant of my actions and interactions, and I can honestly say that when I manage to detach from my need of a reward from the outer world, I can act from a place of peace and the end result doesn’t affect me as much as before especially when it is not what I perceive as in my favor. It requires that at every moment, I ask myself what is the nature of the role I am playing and what is required by me in that role.

Needless to say, this is a quite difficult practice, especially when it comes to interpersonal relationships. The unconscious principle of trade is so embedded in me. When I give good, I expect to receive good back. On this note, a fun exercise is to remember that what I perceive as good might not be received or perceived as good on the other end. Or maybe not as good enough.

I recently had an episode with my husband where I went back to the idea that he never actually sees me. The feeling is that I do my part in our partnership, I work with myself to be a positive member of our family by observing my attitudes and trying to adjust them not to add stress and distress to our everyday life. Still, at times, I feel like I am completely invisible, and what is worse, whenever I say something that is perceived as silly or incorrect, I can then be sure to be noticed and not necessarily in a way that I appreciate. The amount of fun my ‘silliness’ can bring to the table is limitless. Joke after joke about what I said. I know there are no bad intentions behind this, but I did notice myself getting upset about it recently.

I am trying to be more assertive and to communicate in a positive way, so I took this up. I explained that in my view, in a relationship, there needs to be a certain balance between positive and negative attention. I can take criticism and even be made fun of at as long as from time to time, I feel appreciated too.

The response from my husband was positive, but this episode stayed in my mind, as it often does when something upsets me. I kept asking myself, am I right? Is it just my perception? Am I being needy?

I don’t have very concrete answers, but I did come to one sort of conclusion. There is of course, no harm on being assertive, but if I really want to be self-sufficient, I could say that sometimes, I attach to my role as a wife and what I believe I am entitled to in that role. If I detach from from it, I would then be ok with what is because 1) I don’t need anyone’s actions to validate me. 2) Maybe I am being appreciated all the time but I don’t see it.

I have another example. As a middle school teacher, I work with teenagers. They are lovely kids, but from time to time, like any teenager, they push the limits. One thing that I have observed really pushes my buttons is respect. Whenever I perceive my students being disrespectful, I struggle to keep my cool, especially if I am tired. After reflecting a lot about this, I came to one way to deal with it. As a teacher, I believe it is my duty to teach my students certain important values that will allow them to live peacefully in any society, and respect is one of them. Whenever they are disrespectful, I can react in a much more skilful way if I detach emotionally from the situation and react only in my role as a guide and mentor. So, it is not my hurt ego responding, or my need to be respected by others. I respond as someone that is supposed to guide them through their years at our school. I must confess that I am still practicing this, but when I manage, I reduce the amount of stress to zero, and I believe it benefits both me and the concerned student(s).

When I started experimenting with these ideas, I had a period where I felt disconnected and maybe even distant from all and everyone. It kind of scared me. Was I becoming like a robot? I felt like I was building a wall between me and the rest of the world.

It is too early to say whether I am or not becoming a robot (he he), but as I continue experimenting with these attitudes towards life, I feel some sort of calmness growing inside me, and at times a stronger feeling of connectedness. I can even say that I feel compassion when I am challenged by someone because I can see where my emotions come from, I can accept them instead of reject them, and I can show understanding for the other person’s behaviour since I know how challenging it can sometimes be to interact with others when we live trapped in our own perceptions, needs and expectations.

Busy bee? Not today

I need to start creating moments during the day to take a pause. It doesn’t matter if it is five minutes, ten minutes or a whole hour. I tend to get caught in the misleading idea that every minute of the day needs to be used in a ‘productive’ way. Either at work or at home. Why do I keep falling into this silly pattern? I don’t know.

Sometimes, some extra time falls from heaven like today. Thursday last lesson, I teach yoga as an elective to some students in our school, but I had forgotten that their class was on a trip today. I prepared  myself and the classroom and nobody showed up. It felt so good to then spend the time to do my own asana practice and I even took five minutes to lie down in shavasana. It would have been too time consuming to change back to my regular clothes and tidy up just to try to get some work done before the end of the school day.

Sometimes, I have to create the time for myself like this week. I just didn’t feel like rushing through the house to get it cleaned during a weekday evening, I didn’t feel like hurrying up. Instead, I invited myself for a run by the sea in the gorgeous Spring weather, and left the cleaning for later this week. I genuinely felt revitalised that evening and the next day.

Everyday, I create a space and  time in the early morning to do my sadhana. This is non negotiable, but I keep forgetting that if I need something, the best person to provide it is myself. Never expect anyone to give you what you need, you need to take self-responsibility to take care of yourself. No one is going to ask you to stop spinning around because we live in a society that cultivates and encourages business, and you know what? That is nonsense.

Stormy weather and refining the mind

Early one morning
feeling the storm coming
I went for a walk
I reached the shore promenade
the mood in nature was in sync with my heart
When the storm hits my heart
I believe in the stories my mind serves me
These storms form somewhere deep inside me
So I walk, and I kindly ask my mind to cease
For I won't blame it on the world I perceive
I keep walking, until I stop to observe
The sea is moving with the wind
A bird in the sky is flying in the wind
The trees are moving with the wind
For what I see no one blames, no one feels guilt
The storm is just here doing its thing
Has the storm in my heart a function?
Why the need to blame or regret?
I don't know why this storm comes
but no matter how much I reject it, it keeps coming back
Today, I'll be like the sea, the bird and the trees
I'll allow the storm to be
Maybe one day, I'll let go enough
To allow the storm be the guide towards the place it needs to take me.

We all suffer from mood swings, I presume. I think I have already talked about mine in other post. I have periods where I feel overwhelmed by everything and everyone. I have periods in my life where I feel alone.

My mind serves me with a bunch of thoughts to engage with that will feed into these challenging moods. All from analysis to justifications of why I feel how I feel. So lately, I try to observe my thoughts and tell myself that I am getting entangled in my stories again . I let go of the stories so I stop blaming everything and everyone for my mood.

What I discovered today is the level of self-loathe that I experience now when this emptiness hits me. I feel guilty for going back to that space. I feel helpless as it seems like I can’t get myself out of it so easily. But what if I just accept that I have these stormy days? What if I allow the storms to come instead of try to run away from them?

I know about these moods, and I am working on refining my perceptions. I obviously can’t stop these moods from coming yet. Can I accept that? Maybe these storms just need to happen, and the less importance I give them, the less damage they make.

Interestingly enough, after acknowledging that, I felt some relief.

I recently heard on a podcast that mindful living is a full time job. Refining the mind is so too. When we think we’ve got it, we discover it is just the tip of the iceberg. It might help to think that we are explorers in unknown lands, and approach the mind with the enthusiasm an explorer has. 🙂

On self-responsibility and the climate change

A concept in the yoga practice that I find most appealing is self-responsibility.  In order to improve our well-being, we need to stop pointing our finger at the world and take a look at what is happening inside us. The fact that life is tough at times is not denied, but precisely because life can be tough because life is unpredictable, we need to learn to stand our ground and do our best through storms.

I am a mum and a teacher, and I have been reflecting a lot about the youth movement that is going on to save the environment. I think it is great that a young girl has taken the initiative to bring awareness among children and adolescents about the challenges our natural environment is facing because of years and years of unconscious use and misuse of resources and uncontrolled development of cities and industry.

What worries me, is kids and adolescents learning to point their fingers by blindly going out on the streets, especially in countries like Norway without even knowing who the ‘bad guy’ is.

I know many countries in the world need to put the conservation of the environment higher in their priority list, I know the Norwegian government could do much better than they already do. I think marching and protesting is good, but I don’t think it is good enough.

As a teacher, I think that I can support students striking and going out on the streets to protest only if they are knowledgeable, and see the whole picture. They need to set this movement in context and know exactly what they are asking for. I cannot accept empty words like “We are marching for the environment”. How does the environment benefit from my students and my kids skipping school and going out on the streets and yell words they don’t even understand?

Consumerism is a known word in rich countries like Norway. Almost everybody nowadays has to have a certain amount of things. As a mum, I am often trying to find the right balance between educating conscious kids by reflecting on what they want and what they actually need, and not raising super alternative kids that don’t fit in. I have heard so many times parents say they just have to give in because everybody has this or has that. I admire those parents that don’t give in. I have some students in middle school that don’t have a smartphone, and even though I know they do think it sucks, they still have friends and live a meaningful life. The smartphone is just an example, but maybe we can spend more time with our kids reflecting before buying.

We adults get carried away too. We want the house, and the cabin (and maybe even two cabins), and the car(s), and the boat, the trips to faraway places at least twice a year, the clothes, the full equipment for every little hobby we start, etc, etc. Maybe we too need to reflect on how much we want and how much we actually need.

Going back to the idea of self-responsibility, yes, let’s demand from our authorities to have better policies to protect the environment, but in addition to going out there and point our fingers, let’s take a close look at our lifestyle and start making some changes. Let’s get a bit uncomfortable, eat less (or no) meat, buy less, teach our children to need less. Look at what we buy, where it comes from and investigate the impact its production has on the environment. Take our family out to nature and teach them to respect it.

Let’s allow this youth movement to open our eyes to what we do and reflect on the changes we can make to contribute to save the environment. Don’t allow this movement to become another way to escape from our responsibility.