Lost and found

I went for a hike in the forest with two colleagues the other day. Both of them grew up experiencing nature like we do in Norway, hiking, camping, sometimes walking in the mountains for days. At some point during our hike, one of them said that she finds it exciting to sometimes get lost in nature to then find the way back. She told a story from her childhood where she and her family were hiking somewhere in Mali and got lost. They had to walk in the dark back to the cabin they were staying at. My colleague’s mum had to focus on her white shoes to not stumble as she had bad sight. It was fun, she said. In Mali. A family of five, lost in the mountains.

Her story inspired me because I don’t think I would remember as fun getting lost in nature as a kid, maybe not even now as an adult. I can imagine me getting scared, worried and maybe even angry and blaming it on my husband, as I often do. My kids complaining and blaming it on both of us.

Maybe I’m exaggerating or maybe not, but I found this story inspiring because my colleague’s family chose to have an attitude of adventure and playfulness in a moment that I most probably would have perceived as annoying and even dangerous. It brought me back to a reflection that has been coming and going in the last few years about the power of staying calm in all situations. This ability to stay calm comes with being able to take a step back from a situation and see solutions, but I also think it has to do with faith.

Observing my mind and my actions, I have noticed that I have had a tendency to get overwhelmed and almost panic in situations where things don’t go as expected. I have been afraid of challenges, problems and conflicts with people. Partly because I dread the unpleasant moments, but partly because I am worried about my ability to deal with difficulty. I don’t really trust myself. So I often have chosen to stay in my comfort zone, or to escape from the discomfort often making things worse because I don’t necessarily physically run away, I try to escape by acting impulsively, out of fear turing the situation messier than it originally was.

Since I became aware of this, I have been trying to work with it. I am trying to calm my mind down in moments of stress, distress or emotional pain, and instead of reacting impulsively, I try to take a mental step back and observe. It is an interesting exercise, to learn to give myself the space to feel scared, hurt or annoyed but not feed into the emotion. Take a deep breath and see possibilities, see options, and act -or not- from a space of calmness. Stay with the feeling without fighting it.

Life is like that, it has its ups and its downs. We instinctively seek for the ups and dread the downs. That is our nature, but lately, I have been reflecting in the beauty of going through the downs with a calm mind too. Experiencing whatever life is offering with an attitude of faith in ourselves, the process and the teachings they bring. Get lost, and find myself again. I believe that when we find our way back, we often continue slightly changed, mostly for the better.

The truth is that we all are born with this immense strength, we can overcome anything because that is our instinct. The key is the mental attitude. The teachings we draw from each situation. The energy we spend on them. The way we take care of ourselves and others in the process.

I share here one of my favourite poems from David Wagoner that I feel talk about what I just wrote.

Lost by David Wagoner

Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you.
If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you.

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.

This week’s mantra

Sunday evening I often try to spend some time to mentally go through the next week. What can be challenging? How do I want to deal with possible challenges? What attitude do I want to keep?

In the rush of the day, I often forget the conversation I have with myself Sunday evening, so I have to keep reminding myself during my sadhana or before bedtime.

This week, I want to keep verse 10 from Ch6 in the Gita in mind:

“To attain this godly state, Arjuna, you must become fully immersed in the True Self through the process called meditation (dhyana yoga). You have to control your mind, body, and senses and become free of possessions, expectations, desires, and greed. You must live alone, at least internally, in a quiet place. This inner discipline called meditation is imperative because it is the means for achieving lofty and necessary ends.”

I made myself a little mantra ‘I am free from possessions, expectations, desire and greed’.

I like the idea of living ‘alone, at least internally’. In my interpretation, it means to find contentment and peace internally, to stay centered and let the world be what it needs to be and flow with it.

New week, here we go.

Reflecting but not Writing or How Time Flies!

It’s been some weeks since I last wrote in here. I can’t believe we are approaching the end of February already! Ever since school started after the Christmas break, it feels like every week I’m having ‘exceptionally’ busy days at work. I don’t complain, I’m back to a full-time position, and I must say that I enjoy being a contact teacher. It gives an extra sense of purpose. In addition, I signed up for an online eight week course with my Yoga teacher, Prasad Rangnekar, to study Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. This helps me keep searching for the balance between practicality and spirituality.

From what I know so far about Yoga, Raja Yoga, or Dhyana Yoga as it is called in the Gita, is the path that resonates the most with me. I do apply the principles of Karma Yoga to my life, and I feel inspired by the devotion of Bhakti Yogis, but learning to better understand my mind and how to work with it to cultivate a calmer inner state is motivating and fascinating to me. I also notice that it helps me to improve my interactions with people since I recognise myself in their behaviour. Although we are different and we behave differently, it seems to me (and according to Raja Yoga) that the root of your behaviour is always the same.

One thing that has been a lot in my mind during the last few weeks is my wish to stay calm, to keep a somewhat stable inner peace. For this, I keep reminding myself to do my part and avoid wasting energy on external factors that are out of my control. Every time I catch myself judging or resisting a situation, I take a deep breath and ask myself what I can do to get through it. Is it necessary to be assertive, or should I just play my part and let go of my need of ‘fixing’ everything? Is the fact that I am adding my judgement to the situation or behaviour making it more stressful for me? This was actually one of my New Year’s resolutions: ‘less judgement’. I must say that it is difficult, I have an opinion about everything! I either like or dislike. But reminding me of letting go of the judgement and just doing my part allows me to be more clear about what my role is and where the part that is out of my hands starts. It requires a lot of practice, but it is liberating when I remember.

Knowing that January was going to be busy, I have made it a golden rule to prioritise sleep. I don’t go to bed later than ten thirty on week days. When I sleep well and enough, my mind is clearer and I am much more in control of my emotions. I think this is a big present for myself and those around me. My teacher said it the other day and I totally agree, contentment starts with a good night sleep.

In order to sleep well, it is important to balance the day by trying to live through the principle of moderation. Yes, I have a lot of work, but there are certain things that are less urgent than others. I am learning to prioritise better so even if I have been having longer days at work, I can still dedicate time to my kids when I get home, do some physical activity every day and have some time to do what I enjoy. The key is to adjust everything to the time and resources I have. For example, instead of aiming to running or go skiing in weekdays, I walk or ride my bike to work to get some exercise. I could also run, but I have a heavy backpack and I don’t want to run with it.

It might sound like mission impossible, but it isn’t. It just requires rude honesty and the willingness to let go of the need to do everything perfectly and instantly. Some things can wait. Some things can be delegated (hey, my husband can also cook dinner!) Some things can stay undone and the world will still turn.

Something that has also helped me a lot lately is to accept that all I can do at all times is try my best with the best intention. It sounds silly, but when I manage to really live up to this principle, I relax because I know that if I make a mistake, or if someone perceive one of my actions in a negative way, I can just say sorry and try something different next time. No need to be defensive, no need to be afraid because I know that I did what I could given the circumstances. That puts a lot of pressure off my shoulders.

Lastly, I have been thinking a lot about the fact that we sometimes mess up. Sometimes we’re not feeling great. Sometimes we struggle, and that is okay too. No need to add distress to the difficult situations. All we can do is accept the bad taste of the situation, try our best and remember that ‘the only way out is through’ (Prasad). There is always something to learn out of every situation, and often, the most challenging ones are the most enriching ones when it comes to personal growth.

And gratitude. Gratitude to be able to be part of the whole. Gratitude to be able to observe, reflect and hopefully learn. Gratitude to the beautiful people that cross my path, inspire me and teach me lessons. Gratitude to have all my basic needs met and more.

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)?