The Truth

My cousin recommended me some months ago to follow an account on Instagram called Yo Soy Fermentista (I am ‘fermenter” – someone who ferments) owned by a woman who calls herself Katita. I think she’s American but she mostly posts in Spanish. I don’t agree with everything she says and don’t find everything she does related to what I am interested in, but last week, she posted a video that caught my attention. She explained that she was low in energy and that she was eating raw chicken hearts to feel better. I didn’t really bother to watch the whole video. Still, I did hope that Mexicans following her were cautious with raw chicken meat since it can easily be contaminated with Salmonella.

Some days later, she posted another video saying that she had received a lot of criticism for the video about chicken hearts. One of the comments she got was that she was being irresponsible for encouraging people to do something that can put their lives in danger to which she responded that when she talks about what works for her, she expects people to do their research and make choices that are right for them.

I connected this to my studies in the Yoga Sutras this Summer. I have been thinking about the Yama Satya translated to Truthfulness. Its first meaning is connected to the truth that is based on facts, but it is also an encouragement to live our own truth. This is easier said than done and very important in order to cultivate a calmer state of mind. It requires that we spend some time reflecting on what is important to us and try to live a life in line with our chosen values and priorities. By choosing our core values, we avoid acting in ways that harm us and/or others, and by choosing our priorities, we avoid feeling that we are constantly missing out on something or that we are not doing the ‘right’ thing or even worse, that we are not doing ‘enough’. Thirdly, we choose a lifestyle based on these values, priorities and knowledge we gather about our body, mind and what helps them thrive. What to eat and how much, sleep higiene, exercise, rest and activities that feed us in a constructive way.

I think, however, that every once in a while we need to question and evaluate our truths as objectively as possible and adjust if necessary but avoid jumping from one idea to another without thorough reflection. We live in a world with an overload of information, thousands of ‘influencers’ and ‘experts’ willing to tell us how is a ‘better’ way to live our lives, but at the end of the day, we need to develop enough insight to know what makes sense for us.

Lastly, and maybe most importantly, the truths that we create in our minds, are not absolute truths. My truth is not necessarily your truth, so why not let people choose their own truths? According to Yoga, there is one Truth that can only be accessed once we manage to liberate our mind from its limitations, and the more in opposition we are with the world around us, the more ripples of distress, restlessness, and stress we create in our own minds moving thus further away from the Truth that we might want to reach.

Yamas and Niyamas

During this Summer, I have been spending my mornings revising the notes we got for an online course I took in 2021 with my Yoga teacher, Prasad Rangnekar, about The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. I wasn’t completely unfamiliar with the Yoga Sutras since they were part of the syllabus during my YTT in 2015, but this time, we spent eight weeks going a bit deeper.

Ever since 2015, it has resonated with me that one of the best ways to reduce suffering is to get to know my mind better and thus work with the modalities Patanjali offers to gradually change the aspects of it that create stress and distress. The goal of Raja Yoga, as it is called, is “to bring the seeker from a restless state of mind to a completely regulated state of mind.” (Prasad Rangnekar, 2021) However, the Yoga Sutras seemed a bit dry to me back then, and shortly after, in 2016, I started studying the Bhagavad Gita through Prasad’s guidance. Back then, the teachings in the Gita felt more accessible and easier to grasp, and I focused all my attention on them. This said, out of the little I know about the Gita, the chapter that is closest to my heart and that oftentimes has taken me out of moments of distress is chapter 6 called Dhyana Yoga, which Jack Hawley translates as Taming the Mind and the Senses.

Now, going back to the Sutras after several years of focusing mainly on the teachings of the Gita, I feel that I am getting more out of my studies, and I feel the motivation to approach the teachings in a more systematic way.

In the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali with commentary from Bhashya, it is explained where human suffering comes from, and a model called Ashtanga Yoga is given to calm the mind and thus stop the suffering. This model has eight components, and the two first ones are Yamas and Niyamas which can be seen as values and observances that the practitioner should follow at every moment in thought and in action. In the mentioned course, Prasad explained that by living an ethical life following the Yamas and Niyamas we refrain from doing actions that cause harm to others and simultaneously create mental disturbances in us that can generate suffering and keep us in the ignorance of Self. It is important to clarify here that the end goal of all Yoga traditions is to unite us with this Self with a capital ‘s’. This Self is pure, and independent from anything that happens in the mind and physical world. It is said, that once we get in contact with this Self, we will realize that we don’t need anything else. It is called Self-realization. This end goal seems a bit too high for me, so at this stage in my life, I am content with creating clarity, harmony, and peace of mind. Anyhow, back to the Yamas and Niyamas.

The Yamas are called ‘the great vows’ and they are Ahimsa or Non-harming, which is considered the most important value, Satya or Truthfulness, Asteya or Abstinence from Stealing, Brahmacarya or Continence/Moderation, and Aparigraha or Abstinence from Covetousness (for a more in-depth explanation of each of the Yamas and Niyamas, please consult one of the many translations and commentaries on The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali in book 2. I like especially, Swami Satchidananda’s, but there are also some resources online).

The Niyamas are often described as observances, and they are Sauca or Purity, Santosa or Contentment, Tapas or Zeal/Penance/Austerity, Svadhyaya or Study of the Sacred Scriptures for Self understanding, and Isvarapranidhanani or worship/faith in something bigger than us, often translated as God.

They seem simple, but, I believe they are difficult to follow at all times, so I have decided to be more systematic about how I try to apply them to my life. I started by writing in my journal how I will apply each Yama and Niyama in my life as I am right now, and I will revise them regularly to remind myself and also to decide if I need to be more precise or if I have to change them.

I wanted also to find a way to be reminded as I go about in my everyday life. First, I thought about getting a tattoo, but that seemed a bit too drastic and expensive, I then checked online if there are bracelets that have some sort of image that symbolises the Yamas and Niyamas, but I landed on making my own bracelets. One with the word ahimsa, one with ASABA (Yamas) and one with SSTSI (Niyamas).

The first day wearing the bracelets, we went for a hike in the forest. We have three teenagers in the house, and our oldest and youngest aren’t very keen anymore to join us on our hikes. However, 1) they spend way too much time sitting in front of screens during the Summer break 2) we like spending time with them. So, my husband and I decided to gently force them to join every other day we go for a hike this Summer. A way to motivate them this time was by planning a stop at a cabin to get a sweet treat during our hike. Halfway through it, however, we realized that we weren’t going to make it to the cabin before closing time. This didn’t help for motivation, and especially our youngest started showing very clearly her discontent. I noticed how this was affecting me. I was getting stressed by her discontent, and somehow it started creating a feeling of annoyance in me.

I decided to quietly stay in the back as we walked to observe my emotions and thoughts for a while. I started to feel guilty for pushing them on this hike, for not bringing an extra snack, I asked myself -should we make it shorter than planned? I then realised that I am often stressed when our three kids join us for a hike, or when they don’t because ‘maybe we should have pushed them to come instead of allowing them to stay in the whole day with their phones’. Either way, my mind creates stress for me. So, what am I going to do? While lost in my rumination, I got a glimpse of my left wrist, and I read ASABA, where the S stands for Satya, truthfulness. What do I believe in? I believe in my kids benefiting from being physically active, I believe in my kids being in contact with nature, and I believe in my kids spending time with us. They might not always like it, but this is being true to my beliefs as a mother, and thus, I should stick to it and get through their discontent without making a big fuss. It felt like removing a heavy weight from my shoulders. Unsurprisingly enough, after a few minutes, the frustration from our youngest was gone, and she and I had a very nice chat on our way back. I didn’t react to her discontent and even better, I noticed my unnecessary stress. I used one of the Yamas to help me accept my choice and the consequences it brought.

I am very curious what the next days of using my bracelets will bring. I am sure there will be plenty of opportunities daily. 😀

Patience, Work in Progress

A few days ago, my husband took the initiative to do some home improvements. He decided to build a library in our living room. He didn’t take this task lightly and researched online for a day or two to find out the best way to approach the task. He finally decided to recycle a couple of shelves we had on the ground floor and add some more elements he bought at IKEA. To begin with, it was his project, but once the shelves were done, I started helping sort out books.

We moved into our current house almost ten years ago when our kids were aged 6, 5, and 3. We chose to buy a new house so we didn’t have to spend time renovating it in order to spend our spare time with the kids. We couldn’t afford to furnish it fully from the moment we moved in, which we thought was also an advantage since we felt we needed to get to know the house first and then decide how we were going to use the space.

Throughout the years, we’ve changed how we use some of the rooms, often ending up with a bit of a patchwork. The kids were young, we were tired between work and everyday life, and didn’t want to spend much of our spare time in the house since we enjoy being outdoors.

So, when we started searching for all the books we had in the house, we realized they were everywhere, and the moment I entered a room and started sorting ‘my’ books, I realized there were other things that needed to be sorted into three categories: to keep, to give away, to throw away.

Initially, I approached the task with enthusiasm, but towards the end of the second day of sorting and tidying, I started getting frustrated. We will never finish! , was my dominant thought. Then, I remembered that one of my goals for the rest of 2022 (and the rest of my life!) is to develop patience. What a great opportunity to work with my goal!

So far, the shelves have the books we want to keep, we have two boxes with books we would like to give away/sell, and are working on it, and we have thrown away old papers and other rubbish that we had accumulated during the last ten years or even longer.

This little project of ours has reminded us of other things we have been wanting to change in the house but haven’t taken the time to do. Again, I had to accept that we can’t do everything during our summer break because we want to do other things, and we can’t spend all our holiday money on changing the furniture and lighting in the house.

So, for the moment, things are good enough with potential for improvement, which reminded me again of my goal to be patient. If ten years of living in the house and adding things sometimes without thorough planning will take a while to declutter and change, imagine attitudes and patterns of thought that have developed for over forty years!- if we only count this life. During the last seven years, I keep studying Yoga, reminding myself to work with what I consider most important, but I keep discovering new ways I limit myself through my mind. I am a work in progress, and I need to be patient, kind, and compassionate towards myself.

I have discovered that a great way to work with my patience is during my asana practice too. I stay longer in poses or do more repetitions of the same exercise. I try to keep my daily practice even simpler than before to discipline my restless mind. When I sit in meditation, I stay a bit longer after my bell rings, just to let go of the impulse of ‘finishing’ and moving on to the next thing.

I am also trying to remind myself to take a pause before I speak while in a conversation (not being very good at this yet), maybe to realize I don’t need to say anything at all.

It is going to be interesting to observe myself go back to everyday life. Will I remember to work towards my goal? I certainly hope so.

Patience

Every morning, after my sadhana, I read a page in Eileen Caddy’s book Opening Doors Within. She has a page for each day of the year with what I see as inspiring and useful reminders to align myself towards a more harmonious life. Towards the path I want follow.

Here’s July 10:

HOW VITALLY IMPORTANT is your right and positive attitude towards today and all that it holds for you! You can make or mar the day for yourself simply by the way you approach it. Your reactions to things as they take place can make all the difference. When your reactions are negative and aggressive, you immediately put up barriers and create opposition, finding fault and blaming everyone else. You are so blind you fail to see that you are the one at fault, and you go around with a chip on your shoulder. When your reactions are positive and constructive, all barriers come tumbling down and you will find you will get help and cooperation from every side. If you have made a mistake, admit it, say you are sorry and move on. Then no precious time is wasted in trying to justify yourself and prove you are right. You have many lessons to learn. Learn them quickly, and try never to make the same mistake twice.

If you have read some of my blog posts this summer you might have noticed that I have been reflecting a lot about the moments where I get carried away by frustration and/or anger.

When I read this page, I thought ‘Yes! That is what I want to strive towards!’ Who doesn’t prefer life to flow instead of creating opposition and conflict? Why is it, then, that I still see myself in certain situations shutting out? In opposition to what is happening?

My Yoga teacher, Prasad, once told me ‘Patience will be your most important asset in life’. He was so right! Lack of patience is often at the source of my unskilled way of dealing with my thoughts and emotions especially in challenging situations.

Does it ever happen to you that you wake up in a weird mood? That from the first moments in the morning you notice some sort of inner discomfort? I am learning to observe this and be with it during my sadhana and remind myself that whatever happens during the day, it is more ‘the mood’ that will throw me off balance than the outer circumstances. This requires patience towards myself, not to try to escape from ‘the mood’ and patience towards what happens during the day.

Unfortunately, I don’t always notice ‘the mood’ or in the haste of everyday life, I forget my morning’s reflection. Too much to do and the wish to things to ‘go my way’, and a feeling of self-righteousness are often the reason why I forget to open up, to listen, to slow down and be constructive. In other words, lack of patience.

What can I do? Keep practicing. Keep giving myself the time to sit in silence in the morning to notice my mood. Keep reminding myself to be mindful. Slow down. Do less at a time. Let go of my perceptions when they are not helping.

I have managed this year to be better at accepting my mistakes. Not to be too afraid to see them, and apologize. Accept that I can’t do everything according to everyone’s expectations, and move on. This has been rather liberating.

Trust

Is it a given or is it earned? Does the responsibility to create trust lies on the one who trusts or the one to be trusted?

Since it is a word, a concept that we have created, I believe there is no absolute answer to my questions. However, it is important to reflect on it and maybe create clarity around it.

There are behaviours and these behaviours, when repeated, turn into patterns. Either in the one who has the behaviour or in the one who experiences the consequences of it. Or both.

Following this line of thought, if you constantly behave in a way that does not match my expectations, I might lose trust in you. If there is a discrepancy between what you say and do, or if I ask for your help and you let me down, or if you lie…

On the other side of trust, there might be people who, because of past experiences, are distrustful. Either generally or towards people in specific roles. One could then say that we have to strive towards gaining the other’s trust.

Last week, I did something that I think cost me the trust of one of my students. It was, of course, a mistake, and I will now have to work next school year towards gaining their trust again. If I am given the opportunity. If this student leaves the school for some reason, they might then decide that teachers are not trustworthy.

I struggled with trusting last week too, and this is partly what led me into a distressed state of mind. I had an overly strong reaction to a change in my roles at work, and I wonder why I am so distrustful. Is my lack of trust directed towards the person? The role that person plays? Or me? Is my lack of trust in reality insecurity in disguise?

In any case, I think that the best I can do is to approach situations with curiosity. Ask the difficult questions both to the other person and also myself. I need to understand where my distrust comes from and work with it because, like in any relationship, it is difficult to have healthy interactions if there is no trust. Can we build that trust together? What is my part to play?

Most importantly, not take my mind so seriously. Take a break from it. Question my perspective before acting. The longer I live, the more surprised I am by my limitedness that, to begin with, seems so ‘real’ and ‘clear’…