‘Bad’ habits

I once read in one of Mr Iyengar’s book something like this: thoughts become actions and actions become habits. I think my paraphrase is way too short, but that is the part of the quote that stroke me the most. It was in the context of Patanjali’s Yoga sutras and the importance of gaining awareness of our own thinking processes. Ever since then, I try to observe my own habits. It is fascinating to see how many of them are created without intention! Especially the habits that are behind conscious or unconscious ideas of myself and those around me. My behaviour becomes a ‘bad’ habit in certain situations as a result of an idea I have of myself and/or the other person.

Unconscious and bad habits are not always easy to discover, I must confess, and I am always amazed when I do. Like this weekend. My husband and I don’t buy wine very often, but yesterday, we both felt like having some red wine. Here in Norway, you can’t buy wine – or any alcohol except for beer- at the grocery store, you have to go to something called Vinmonopolet (the Wine Monopoly). Therefore, it requires a bit more effort to get it. So Saturday morning, we went downtown to run some errands, and we bought ourselves a bottle of red wine.

We went home. I had some things I wanted to get done, and Arve had his. At some point late in the evening, I was sewing some patches on a blanket when Arve got up from the couch, opened the bottle and served himself a glass of ‘our’ wine. He sat back on the couch with his computer on his lap and the glass of wine in one hand. He looked so content. I felt offended. Trying to be as diplomatic and constructive as I could, I made a remark about it, and he replied something like: well, you seem always so busy, I just didn’t want to bother you. I seem busy?! He has ‘always’ the computer on his lap! Again, I tried my best to find a way to lead this conversation to a space of openness instead of conflict (which is not always my strength, if I am honest).

It turns out, he’s right. Every single evening, I talk about all the things I ‘have to do’. I don’t always end up doing them, but I do talk about them. So, all my husband can do is to grab his computer and do his own thing. So, I have the habit of thinking that he is not interested in spending time with me. That he prefers to do something else.

Added to this ‘bad’ habit of mine is the unconscious expectation that my husband ‘shows interest’ in me, and this has to happen of course as I imagine it. It is as if I kind of expect to get an invitation from him instead of saying clearly that I miss spending time with him and that I would like to enjoy a glass of wine together.

After our chat, he did invite me to watch a movie that he had been wanting to watch. It was nice even though I didn’t make it awake all the way to the end of the movie. Not because of the movie. Certainly not because of my husband. It has just been a hectic week, and with the wine… I am happy I gathered the courage to have this conversation without being confrontational. We had fallen into a habit of thought. I thought my husband was not interested in spending time with me during the evenings because he sits with his laptop on the couch. He thought I was too busy to want to do anything with him. We fell into the habit of believing what the other is thinking instead of talking about both wanting to spend some time together.

A similar eye opener happened some years ago when we were going through a difficult situation. It was tough for both of us, and I started resenting my husband because I felt that he wasn’t giving me much emotional support through this. So, in addition to struggle with the difficult moment, I was being resentful towards him. Acting passive-aggressively. When I finally gathered the courage to have the difficult conversation, it turned out he felt I was pushing him away. I was acting as if I had full control over my emotions and didn’t need his support. It was, of course, a way to keep the pain away because I knew that if I showed vulnerability, I would have to face my own emotions and I wasn’t ready for it. So, the easiest was to keep my attention on something else, namely what I thought was my husband’s inability to show empathy. Sadly, this wasn’t the first time I felt like this, but I had never dared to talk about it with openness. It had always ended up in a bunch of complaints and accusations from my side. We had fallen into a bad habit that none of us had had the ability to see even less break, and I believe this bad habit was the result of my own and my husband’s unaware thinking processes. It is often the idea we have of ourselves and others that stands in the way for our interactions with others.

What am I feeling and learning this week?

Since last week, I keep oscillating between overwhelmed, tired and annoyed, and serene and optimistic. One day, it feels like I will never get all my tasks done, and the next one I tell myself that I just need to do one thing at a time and things will fall into place.

One minute I am able to show compassion and understanding to the people I mingle daily with, and the next one, I am acting passive-aggressively because what I see as their shortcomings are ‘unforgivable’.

In between moods, I observe and I reflect. I can’t help but wonder why when I feel stressed and overwhelmed, I get so annoyed at other people? Is it because seeing other people’s flaws moves the attention outwards and gives me ‘good reasons’ to be annoyed? Or is it because I usually let people step over my boundaries too much? Am I keeping the peace usually by not saying anything or am I missing the opportunity to be assertive when things are calm and moving dangerously into conflict when I’m tired and overwhelmed? The problem and advantage at the same time are that I know very well my moods, and I know that going into conflict will make me feel worse, so I keep the frustration in, and instead act passive-aggressively which adds on to the already quite dark mood.

Do I feed into the feeling of being overloaded and overwhelmed with my own expectations? Can I simplify? Can I postpone some things? Can I not do others? Can I focus on one thing at a time and let the rest be? Why do I believe that if I’m not in control of certain things, the world will fall apart? Do I even believe that? Not really, so why not let go of control? Delegate. Ask for help. To ask for help, especially in the house is not to nag. Why do I keep thinking that asking for help will make me sound like a nagging wife? Mum? Maybe because of the tone in which I ask for help and maybe the tone appears when I have waited too long to ask for help…

At the end of the day, I keep coming back to the same teachings from Yoga: take responsibility for my own well-being and let the world be what it needs to be. Do what I can do in the roles I have to play but let go of the need to make everything about me. Stop and take a break when I need it. Say no when needed. Don’t get overwhelmed by my dark mood, because like everything else in life, this too will pass.

Having someone to talk with also helps. I am lucky to have a some good colleagues and friends that are willing to listen, show empathy (maybe the most important when I feel overwhelmed), and give advice. I am thankful for them.

Lessons from lower back pain, again

Last week, my old friend lower back pain payed me a visit. It was an unexpected visit since we haven’t met each other for a while. The first time was shortly after my younger daughter was born. Since then, we met every once in a while, until I started practicing yoga ‘for real’.

What do I mean by that? Well, to begin with, when I finally took the time to practice regularly. During the last seven years, I practice almost daily, at least ten to twenty minutes a day, sometimes, if I have more time, up to an hour.

Consistency is not enough in itself though. It is good only when it allows for me to get to know my body better and do what I know is good for it. Practicing yoga asana daily could be harmful if I don’t practice mindfully.

So when I say that I started practicing yoga ‘for real’, I mean yoga in the extended sense of the word. Not just yoga as a physical practice, but as a way of living. I have had to accept my body as it is and not want to push it to what I want it to be or do. I know that lower back pain has been an issue for me during the last twelve years, so I take this into consideration during my daily practice. I focus on strengthening exercises and poses several times a week, I try to be mindful of not over doing certain poses like forward bends, and vary the poses I practice in a period of time to avoid injuries.

I believe in the power of simplicity, so I keep my practice to the basic poses, and have let go of the need to do poses that I feel unsure about. If I had the guidance of my yoga teacher on a regular basis, and he would consider it beneficial for my practice to introduce such poses, I would, but to push my body into them just because they look cool, or because that’s what is ‘expected’ from a yoga teacher, is not good enough reason for me.

But back to the lower back pain. Why did it come back? Well, because I ‘forgot’ to listen to my body. Some weeks ago, Isigned up for a series of yoga classes with a teacher that I enjoy, and got carried away by the ‘fun’ of doing poses I usually don’t do. And why do I write about it? Well, there are two main reasons:

  1. I know quite a few people that have gotten injured while practicing yoga asana, and then we tend to believe that yoga is not for everyone, or that yoga can be harmful. What is harmful is the need we have to push our body to do things it is not ready for, or that it doesn’t really need. Yoga asana is a very nice way to keep the body healthy, work with the breath and calm the mind, but it needs to be done mindfully and with respect for our body and its limitations. I honestly believe that one can practice yoga asana every day without getting injured as long as one doesn’t get carried away by ego.
  2. It is so important to learn to know our own body and work with it instead of against it. There is a very fine line between pushing it a bit to get stronger or gain better stamina and pushing it to the point of injury. I believe the practice of yoga is at its best when we create our own practice because we can then listen to our body at all times and create a practice that is suitable for that specific moment. It is of course, important to have a good teacher that can guide us from time to time, someone who we can trust, but most of the work needs to be done by us.

Luckily, I know more or less what I need to do when this good old lower back pain pays me a visit, and I’m already starting to feel better – with a little help from my chiropractor. My reflections about this experience can also be applied everyday life. It is so important to find our own way! Learn to know who we are, accept our shortcomings and know our strengths, identify our values and priorities and live accordingly. There is nothing wrong in observing what other people do, listen to opinions and even learn from others, but avoid doubting ourselves every time someone says or does something differently.

Lessons from this week

  1. Sometimes, good intentions are not enough. Discussing a mistake I made this week with a friend, he told me “I always give important decisions a night sleep.” In line with the teachings of Karma Yoga, I strive to create clarity in my mind. This means that I try to always be clear about the intention behind my action. I try not to act impulsively. However, this week, I made a choice with good intentions but after I gained perspective, I realised it wasn’t the best choice for everyone. Which leads to lesson 2:
  2. Running against the clock will often mean trouble. Had I taken the time to reflect on the options, I might have chosen differently, but during the last three weeks, I feel I have been in a constant race against the clock. My mum always says : move slower when you are in a hurry. My friend kindly told me: ‘the choice is made, you cannot change it. You have to put it behind you, but I disagree with your choice this time.’ I agree with him. No point spending time and energy in regretting, but I should learn from this mistake. Which leads me to lesson number 3:
  3. There is a difference between acknowledging our mistakes and shortcomings and torturing ourselves with regret and self-loathe. If we are to grow in this life, if we are to cultivate more peace inside and around ourselves, we need to see the difference between these two. Someone in my sangha wrote a very inspiring experience this week where he describes how, he has come to accept his shortcomings in his interactions with the people he loves, he has seen his part in situations where things haven’t gone the direction he wishes them to go, and he is willing to make adjustments in his attitude and behaviour. He sees it will require practice, patience and time, and he is willing to do so. He is not stuck in regret nor he is running away from the consequences of his actions. I think that what often happens in our relationships is that when we realise where we have been acting unskilfully, we struggle to see that it is just a matter of accepting and adapting. Which leads to point number 4:
  4. I should do my best to live in clarity and with pure intentions, the rest is out of my hands. If I notice I can make a change to improve a situation, I should, but I can’t expect anything in return. We all live inside our heads, and I cannot control how other people react to my actions.
  5. Finally, I should continue simplifying my communication with others. Keep it clear, keep it short and avoid getting tangled in explanations. Sometimes, the best I can do is not to say anything.

Following lesson nr5. I finish this blogpost here hoping you had an enriching week. ❤️

A fight with my husband and a burnt bread

Each Summer, I spend quite a lot of time reflecting about the school year. I reflect about my role as a teacher, but also about my general mental and emotional state because there is a connection. If I am mentally and emotionally in balance, I am able to make better decisions both at work and at home.

This summer, I decided I needed to create better routines for myself when it comes to work and home. I realised that since I became a contact teacher, I felt a big responsibility to deal with student related issues and spent often what I see as family time answering emails, writing reports, worrying about my students or catching up with lesson planning. It wasn’t until about a week after the summer break started that I noticed how stressed and tired I had been.

I want my students to thrive, and I would love to be able to help each and every one of them to develop to their own potential, but I need to remember that I am not a superhero, and that nobody is expecting me to be one. Being a good teacher is to act within the framework that I am given with clear intentions, and with support and in collaboration with parents, the school and support systems when necessary. Not all the responsibility lies on my shoulders.

With these reflections in mind, I decided I was going to find a better balance between work and home. I had made myself a mental schedule for school work.

Then, the school year started. I don’t know how I manage, but every year is the same. Every year, I seem to forget how crazy the first weeks of school are. No matter what I do when I finish the school year, I will always end up feeling that I am drowning in ‘to-do’ lists the first weeks of school.

This year was no exception, and you might have already guessed, as the tasks started to pile up and my days gathered momentum, I forgot my resolutions from the summer to balance work and family better, to avoid stressing, to prioritise better.

Half way through my first week at work, one day, I managed to squeeze too many things into my schedule. After a busy day at school, I came home to a busy evening at home. I had promised my youngest to take her somewhere, at the same time as I wanted to bake bread, wash clothes and tidy up the house. With the extra energy saved during the summer, I felt I could manage. And I did… partly. The problem is that the more I multitask, the more hyper I become, the less patient I am, the more things can go wrong. That day culminated with me losing my patience with my husband and (surprisingly) my husband losing patient with me and we had a huge fight. It was a big shock for me, our kids and for my husband as we almost never yell at each other.

Reflecting about it, I came to the conclusion that the reason why I lost my patience was that I had turned into a human tornado that day. I started the day doing one thing at a time, but as my day advanced, I kept seeing things that needed to be done ‘immediately’. So I kept doing, and doing, and doing, and at some point I was tired but I just couldn’t stop. When this happens, I start resenting my husband because he seems oblivious of what ‘needs to be done’, and I keep hoarding things to do until one little thing goes ‘wrong’ and the whole situation explodes in our faces.

The solution: do less. Leave some work for tomorrow. Sit down. Take a breath. Why do I keep forgetting this simple solutions?

I finished my week with these reflections. All good. Until yesterday.

New week, new pile of things to do. New possibilities for me to create chaos (he he). Yesterday, I forgot again my resolution to not work during ‘family hours’, lost track of time, and managed to forget a loaf of bread I had carefully prepared the day before for almost two hours in the oven. I was so disappointed and frustrated! Baking with sourdough is a long process, and I ruined it because I was multitasking again and even worse, I had not stick to my promise to take a break from work during the evening. But I had to laugh too. Such a good reminder.

My husband has forgiven me for yelling and thinks a bread with a ‘well done’ crust is delicious. I am lucky. I have gained some perspective. I know that stress is a choice. It seems like it’s not, but it really is. I will work on not choosing stress in the future.