You CAN make time for yourself

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about the concept of balance between responsibilities towards the outer world and towards myself. It seems like, a lot of people struggle to find this balance. I know that I am constantly trying to find the right balance between responsibilities and myself. Sometimes, I am good at it, sometimes my responsibilities take over, sometimes I exaggerate on what I want for me. I have come up with some points with suggestions that might help you if you feel that you aren’t good at balancing between you and the rest of the world.

  1. Make choices with a clear mind and try to be at peace with what they bring by accepting, adapting and letting go of what you can let go of. One example is motherhood. I wanted to have kids but I didn’t know what I was signing up for until, in the lapse of three years, I was suddenly standing there with three kids aged 0, 1 and a half, and 3 years old. It was hectic, it was tiring, and it was amazing at the same time. We didn’t plan to have them so close to each other, but we were actually told we couldn’t have children in the first place, so we were happy to prove the doctors wrong. Having three young kids meant that we had to think differently, at least for some time. The main focus became to take care of and enjoy them as much as we could. I am not saying that this should be everybody’s main focus in life, but I do believe we need to be clear about our priorities so we don’t get overwhelmed. I stayed home for five years from the day our oldest was born and until our youngest was two to avoid the stress for us and for the kids of everyday life. This meant less income, and therefore we had to change our lifestyle. This meant balance for us back then. But I do remember that in several occasions, I had to remind myself of the choices we had made and their consequences. I remember so well the year we decided to sell our apartment to buy a house. It was the same year I went back to work . I dreamed of a big house which we obviously couldn’t afford because of our reduced income the last five years. I was frustrated, and I was angry at ourselves for some days until I reminded myself why we had made the choices we had made and what they had meant for us and the kids.
  2. Be brutally honest with yourself: the world will not go under without you, especially if you are only taking two minutes to drink water. You think I’m exaggerating? I’m not! Some years ago, I read an article about an American mum of three that had to be hospitalised because she forgot to eat and drink during two days because she was too busy taking care of her kids. This is, of course, an extreme case, but I know by own experience that I believe I need to do everything around the house so my family can thrive. The truth is that they enjoy the freedom of being left to their own devices from time to time, and most of the time, I am the one putting pressure on myself. This applies to work, extended family and friends too. It is not possible to be at my 100% all the time everywhere.
  3. Ask yourself, what is the priority now? And let me drop a bomb on you, you can’t prioritise everything if you don’t want to end up exhausted. I have (or hopefully I can say ‘I have had’…) fixed ideas of how my house should look like, so for some strange reason, I have always had the habit of tidying up before I leave the house. Maybe for the mice to have a cosy time while we’re away? I clean the kitchen, I arrange the pillows on the couch, take dirty clothes to the washing room, make beds, open curtains, and if I have time, clean the bathroom sink and mirror and sweep the floor under the dining table and in the kitchen… All this until this summer. When I’m alone with the kids during the summer, I plan some sort of outing with them everyday but since we all like taking it easy in the morning, I spend a good amount of time doing things that I enjoy and I allow my kids to do the same. We then eat breakfast fairly late so if we want to get somewhere, we need to be efficient after breakfast. This means leaving the house in what I see as a mess. It is a good compromise with myself in order to be able to spend time doing something that I enjoy, that gives me energy and that gives me the feeling that this is my vacation too. I would lie if I said that the outings with my kids are some sort of sacrifice, but it is slightly different because I am ‘on duty’ then. The aim is to have a good time, but the focus is them.
  4. Make your well-being a priority above all priorities. If you aren’t doing well, if you are ill, or if you are struggling in any way, you need to take care of yourself first. Actually, I believe you need to take care of yourself no matter what, but especially when you’re not doing well. A very important thing in this point is that you need to be very honest about what is good for your well-being. You might need more physical activity and a walk would benefit you more than going on social media before bedtime, or you might need to spend some time in silence for your peace of mind instead of going to a party. I remember some years ago, a friend of mine was having problems in her marriage. The good news was that she and her husband agreed on what the source of their struggles was, the bad news was that none of them knew how to get out of the hole. When I asked if they had considered therapy, she said yes, but that they didn’t have time for it. What can be more important at that moment in their life than saving their marriage? I hear things like this all the time. A friend that is stressed and would benefit from doing some sort of physical activity, but she ‘doesn’t have time for it’. A friend that has a pain somewhere but he never takes the time to find a good doctor. I don’t know why we do this. For some, it might be cultural. You feel that you are selfish when you let go of some obligations in order to do something good for you. For some it might be frightening to take care of themselves. Others might have become consciously or unconsciously accustomed to the role of victim and can’t get out of it. Whatever your reason is, try to find it, don’t judge yourself, and change this negative pattern of thinking.
  5. Organise your time. It might be a good exercise to spend some days, at the end of your day, writing down everything you did that day. Not in detail, but for example: waking up at 7am and describe your morning routine: breakfast, shower… Work from 8 to 4:30, lunch from 11:30 to 12, what you did after work, what you did during the evening. Do it for at least three days, and look for things you spend time on that are not your priority, that are stealing your time and you can let go of, that you do but could ask someone else to do, that you do and don’t even know why, etc. This will allow you to make some time for yourself. For example: instead of going to bed at 12 because you were watching a TV show, go to bed at 11 so you can wake up earlier to go for a short walk before your morning routine, or meditate, or read, or whatever you know would help you feel better. If you are not a morning person, use your evenings instead. Talk with people around you to support you. You need to be systematic and disciplined to manage this, but you also need to show yourself compassion when you skip out. Try to set yourself small goals instead of big goals. For example, if you want to start running, start with 15-20 minutes two or three times a week instead of dreaming of running for “at least” half an hour five days a week. When life is very hectic at home, I sometimes eat lunch while working, and then take a 10 minute pause to meditate, or to go for a short walk. This really helps me rebalance. But it requires some planning, some discipline and the mindset of doing something good for me is not selfish.

I hope this helps.

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. 🙂