17 years and counting

Today, is our wedding anniversary. Seventeen years.

What is extraordinary about our relationship? Nothing, I would argue. Like in any marriage, we have had our good times and our bad times. There had been times where we have really considered going each our way.

Why haven’t we done so? Are we better than other couples that decide to split? Of course the answer is no. Ask anyone what marriage is about, and you will get thousands of different answers. I think that explains why some of us stay together no matter what and others make the choice to part.

At one of the most challenging moments in our relationship though, I came to realise that I didn’t have a clue of who I was and what I wanted in life, and this made me doubt if leaving my husband would make me feel better. Splitting our family in two, sending kids back and forward every other week as it is the common solution here seemed too drastic when I didn’t really know what I wanted. My husband has always given me enough space to be, so I knew that if I stayed with him, I could still be able to start working on myself.

My husband is a very open-minded man that sees the human in me (not just ‘the wife’, ‘the possession’) and was able to show compassion and understanding regardless of my hurting behaviour. Maybe he recognised his own confusion in my confusion? We were able to see the good in our relationship beyond the difficult and painful, and we decided to continue walking together.

So here we are, seventeen years and counting, trying to make some sense of who we are as individuals and at the same time living a common life with quite big responsibilities like any other couple with children. We both work hard on ourselves, we both do our best with what we have. There are no guarantees though. We never know what the future may bring, and I keep reminding myself that this is part of living in this world. Experience what life brings in order to learn and grow but be ready to let go when required.

I am thankful for these seventeen years together. I am thankful for the gift of being able to parent our children together. I am thankful for his generous heart, patience and sense of humour (even though I keep pretending I don’t like his jokes). I am thankful for the space he gives me to be, to explore, to try and fail and try again in many different areas. But maybe above all, I am thankful for the opportunity marriage has given me to observe myself and discover my limiting attitudes and beliefs about myself and those around me in order to at least try to become a better version of myself.

Rejection

About two years ago, I had to take a course for my work and I found that I could take it in Paris. Since I lived in France for a few years when I was a student, it seemed like the perfect excuse to visit the French capital and see friends that I don’t have the opportunity to see often.

One of my closest friends lives in Paris and although we had not seen each other for a long time, we had maintained contact during the years in a slightly irregular way. For some periods, we would talk over the phone almost daily, and sometimes it could be months without we even exchanged a single message.

It had been six months since we last had exchanged messages, but when I knew that I could go to Paris, I sent her a message sure that she would tell me that we could see each other every day after her work.

To my surprise, her answer was rather dry ‘I’m sorry, I don’t have time’. I first asked jokingly if not even for a coffee, but she didn’t seem to like the joke. I wrote to ask if she was angry but the more I tried to find out what was happening, the more it seemed to make her angry. It got to the point that she told me that I was harassing her. Maybe I did insist too much, but I found her behaviour so strange that I even thought maybe she was in some sort of trouble.

I went to Paris and I didn’t see her. I sent her a message to tell her that no matter what, if one day she wanted to be in contact again, I would be happy to do so. But I must confess that her attitude hurt me so much that I erased her from my Facebook friends (hahaha, I know, how old am I?) And I didn’t contact her again…

Until last Christmas when I sent her a message to wish her happy holidays, and then this summer to tell her I was thinking about her, and finally this week, to wish her a merry Christmas.

This time, she answered by saying that she has nothing against me, but that our ‘incident’ two years ago made her realize that her life is better without my friendship.

I am not trying to put her in the ‘bad’ box and myself in the ‘poor martyr’ box, there must be something I did that made her angry, but what is frustrating is not to know what the heck I did. I would have liked her to tell me.

As usual, the most interesting thing in this story is to observe my own reactions. First of all, I felt pain and confusion. Then, I do not deny it, anger because in my expectation of what a friend ‘must do’: misunderstandings are spoken about in order to give the opportunity to repair the damage. Followed by a feeling that she doesn’t really know who I am and what she’s missing, and finally a consuming feeling of self-doubt.

This friend is one of the few who knows everything about me: my achievements and my mistakes, my good sides and my weaknesses. I came to think that maybe she no longer wanted my friendship because of the mistakes I made that made her see me as not worthy anymore. I felt unfairly treated because she didn’t know or seemed interested to find out how these mistakes had made me reflect, and what I learned from them… ‘if she only gave me the opportunity to show her that I’m a better person than I she thinks I am’, I thought. But why would it be so important for me to prove anything to her? Who am I trying to convince? Her or myself?

Finally, yesterday, I started to have some fun observing my thoughts. We all have our weak spots, and I believe that rejection is definitely one of mine . It is as if by rejecting me, people confirm to me what I ‘know’ about myself: that I am not perfect, that I have many flaws, that I am not as good a person as many can think, and so on. How is it possible that from one episode in my life I can waste so much energy on useless and negative thoughts? I do not know.

What is my conclusion? I have to know when to let go. It was a pretty friendship as long as it lasted, but it is over. I am not perfect and I will never be so all I can do is to keep walking, keep learning and try to do less harm than good around me. Accept my mistakes, forgive myself, ask for forgiveness and avoid making the same mistake over and over again. Maybe most importantly, don’t put my self-worth in anybody else’s hands, it will always be flickering and confusing.

What my Yoga practice does and doesn't do.

Practicing yoga doesn’t stop me from getting frustrated. Practicing yoga doesn’t stop me from getting angry. Practicing yoga doesn’t stop me from feeling blue. But it helps me accept my frustration, my anger and my sadness. It helps me create a space between my emotions and my reactions. It makes me question my perspective. So I get out of my spiral of negativity faster. Yoga has taught me to find my balance over and over again. Therefore, study, practice and use what you learn on yourself. Fail, fall and get up again and learn. That is all we can do.

Yoga: from doing to living (session 1)

If you’re reading this post it is either because you already are a yoga practitioner or because you are curious about the practice. Take a minute to close your eyes, feel your breath, and ask yourself, what is my motivation to practice yoga? Why am I interested in yoga?

For some, yoga is associated with physical activity. Practicing yoga means to move the body, to strengthen and/or improve flexibility, maybe also to have a time in the day or week to unwind and simply spend some well-deserved self-time. There might even be the wish to slow down and reduce stress.

The physical activity that we call yoga in this side of the world is called asana in the Yoga tradition and it can be part of the practice of yoga, but it is not THE practice of Yoga. Practicing asana can be a very good way to start bringing our attention inwards by paying attention to our body and our breath. In order to achieve this, we benefit from approaching the asana practice with an open mind towards ourselves, with curiosity and without judgement. By paying attention, we will discover what are our strengths – physically, mentally and maybe even emotionally- and what are our challenges and limitations.

For the asana practice to really benefit us, it is imperative to accept our body where it is, and learn to practice – preferably with guidance – the movements and poses that benefit our body and not our expectations towards our body or our ego. It is absolutely not necessary to do extremely complicated and/or physically challenging poses to be an ‘advanced’ yoga asana practitioner. I would even say, on the contrary, if the yoga asana practice becomes another pursuit in our life, something else to ‘achieve’ to the point that we even harm ourselves, we are not practicing it to its purpose. If we practice asana blinded by our expectations and desires on how our body should be like, we are missing the opportunity to get to know ourself better.

Not all yoga practitioners do asana, and personally, I use my asana practice to slow down, to reconnect with my body and to keep it healthy, but the most important aspect of my practice is my daily sadhana. Sadhana is defined as the daily spiritual practice. The word spirituality can make some eyebrows rise since it is often associated to some sort of mysticism difficult to grasp, but in the context of this text and my own practice, it is first and foremost the attitude of constantly improving ourself in order to reach a calm and centered state of mind (Prasad Rangnekar). So sadhana, is the time we spend daily for this purpose. For some, it is a combination of breathing exercises and sitting in silence/meditation, for others it also includes chanting, and for those that want to go deeper in the understanding of oneself through the study of yoga, it also includes the study of yoga scriptures. The one scripture that is most accessible for most of us living in the practical world is the Bhagavad Gita. It contains the essence of the teachings of yoga, the theory as well as the techniques to achieve steady and long lasting inner peace. The study of the Gita is not to be used as some sort of dogma, but to understand our own thoughts, emotions and behaviours in light its teachings. The theory of yoga, if directed as some sort of light towards our inner world, can help us understand why we think and behave as we do, and then, start making some adjustments to live a more skilful and purposeful life. One must apply these teachings to one’s own life and observe what happens. Learning in the yoga tradition is very empirical.

As one advances in the path of Yoga, the line between practical life and the practice of sadhana begins to vanish. On one side, the habit of observing our own thoughts achieved through meditation can be used in everyday life to slow down, to start living life through action and not reaction. As we continue doing breathing exercises, our breath improves and we learn to slow down our mind using our breath. Finally, through the study of oneself in light of the theory of yoga, we learn to accept who we are, see our limitations, and gradually make the adjustments that are necessary to live a more peaceful inner life and thus interact with the external world better following some basic principles.

The study and practice of Yoga is not always a walk in the park, and is definitely no quick fix to all our troubles, but with patience and dedication, I sincerely can say that you start noticing slight changes in your inner world that have enormous positive consequences in the way you interact with the outer world. My advice to finish this post is, keep it simple, keep it clear. Stick to one practice, don’t jump from one thing to another to please the restless mind. Give it time. You don’t need to make any complicated pose, you don’t need any specific object, all you need is the sincere wish to go deeper, patience and guidance.

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.