What do you see?

When I was in my early twenties, I lived in France in a student city near the northwest coast.  During four years, my main means of transportation was the tramway.

I moved away from France, got married and had children. Some years after my youngest child was born, I took a housewife vacation to visit old friends in France. I remember so well taking the tramway the first day and being puzzled by the number of kids and young couples with strollers in the tram. I did wonder for a little while if the city had changed that much from having many students to having many young couples with small children…what happened?

I had changed! Not the city. I was now mum to three small kids, and my focus in life was completely different from when I used to take the tram back in my uni years. This really amused me back then. There most probably were children and strollers in the tram when I was a student, but I wasn’t paying attention to them. I was living in a completely different world.

Lately, I’ve been reflecting a lot about how we create our reality through our mind. Whatever it is that occupies our mind influences what we see around us.  We tend to see what we are looking for.

Our perceptions can influence the way we experience the world at different levels. My story about France talks about what was occupying my mind at two different stages in my life, but expectations can also affect the way we experience things.

I was born in a big city, and when I was six years old, my parents decided to move to a completely different place by the coast, about 1000km from the city. They had been there two weeks before on a work trip for my dad and fell in love with the place. My brother and I had no idea of where this was and how it looked like. All we could do to get an idea was to listen to my parents talk about it.

From what my mum said, and out of what my imagination was able to produce, for me, it sounded like we were moving to Disneyland – even though I had never been in Disneyland before.

We drove there, it took two days. For a six-year-old, that was a long road trip. In addition, the closer we got to the place, the hotter the weather, so I remember the last hours of the trip as a little torture.

When we finally arrived, I remember so well my mum being super excited in the car, and me being super disappointed. The place was a small town, the vegetation completely different from what I grew up with, and what is worse, it didn’t look like what I had imagined at all! I think I kept my disappointment to myself, but I remember it took a while before I understood why we had left our big beautiful house in the city for this.

My experience in this new place was affected by the idea I had created in my mind. I eventually came over it  because as it turns out, it was a great place to grow up in, but I often remember this episode in my life and I have to laugh because as an adult, I have experienced quite often the same. I create an idea of how things should be and struggle with the disappointment of how things actually are.

There is nothing wrong with dreaming and having objectives, I can almost hear some of you thinking as you read, and I agree, but we might want to be aware of the moments when our experience of reality is muddled by our expectations.

I don’t know how many times I have spoiled an experience for me and those around me because if this. Either because of too high expectations or because of my biased mind.

I once had a boyfriend with whom I was very very in love but I was sure he was going to end up leaving me for someone ‘better’ than me. I had convinced myself that he was with me to pass the time, and as soon as he discovered that I wasn’t that great, he would leave me for someone greater than me. I must specify that at that time, I wasn’t aware of this, this became clear to me later.

So, most of the time I was with him, I was interpreting all his actions and inactions as a sign of him soon dumping me. If he was kind, he was kind out of pity, if he has distant, he was distant because he was tired of me, or even worse, he had a better time with another woman. It was exhausting, mainly for me because I didn’t necessarily share these crazy thoughts with him.

My point here is, how many times I messed up the nice time spent with him because of my inability to be in the moment without interpreting every action, every word, every gesture?  I was so lost in my perceptions that I couldn’t open up to the here and now.

I have been having fun with these memories this week because, I now know how my perception affects what I experience and how I experience it. This can be a useful tool both to show more understanding of other people’s attitudes and actions and also to be more aware of my own attitudes and actions towards the world around me. Especially when experiencing challenges. Maybe the challenge doesn’t really come from the outer world after all!

This has also led to a mind game I’ve been playing recently. Imagine if we could wake up every day to a completely new day! We would never ever need to travel away to find new things because the reality before our own eyes would constantly be offering us the opportunity to be amazed, to be surprised, to see something new and refreshing. All that is required from us is to open our eyes and let the mind rest.

Self-centered

The other day, I dreamed that someone called me self-centered. I can’t remember how I reacted to it, but it stayed in my mind beause, from time to time, I do ask myself if I am self-centered.  If I play a bit with the idea, I have to say, that yes, I am self-centered. The world around me unfolds itself through the lens of my mind. This lens is tinted with my own perceptions. Thus, every experience is a self-centered experience.

I am also self-centered in my practice of Yoga because I want to improve my interactions with the world around me and the only way I see to achieve this is by directing my vision inwards. I believe that spending my energy on getting to know, accept and refine my thoughts and perceptions is a better investment than trying to change the world to make it fit my expectations.

I also believe that through this inner work, it will become clearer for me how to invest my energy in the world in a more positive and meaningful way instead of blindly engaging in everything with unconscious and sometimes conscious expectation that the world around me will fulfill my deeper needs such as love, peace and happiness.

Through my study of the Yoga philosophy, I have learned that we all have something called svadharma. Svadharma is our individual duty in the world and it is connected to our capabilities. For what I understand, it has an element of service for the benefit of the whole.

The challenge for some of us is to find out what our svadharma is since from birth, we play many different roles in life (i.e. son/daughter, student, friend, boyfriend/girlfriend, employer/employee, etc). An interesting idea to reflect over is that none of these roles can define who we are.  Each role has its own sort of “job description” and we put our own personal touch to it, but if we were to stop playing any of these roles, we would still be who we are. These roles are here to help us realize ourselves as we learn something new at each experience.

Some of us play many roles, some of them by obligation, and there is nothing wrong with that as long as it doesn’t become a struggle for us. But I believe that the thiner we spread ourselves in the practical world, the less we have to give, and evenmore, we might end up loosing ourselves in these roles without knowing who we are and what our capabilities really are.

Therefore, I think I benefit from prioritizing the roles I believe are important, and letting go of those that I can let go of. I want to give my best in my roles and still have energy for myself. So, yes, I am often self-centered but my theory is that at the start of the inner journey we need to let go of a lot that we are not. Such as things we do and roles we have out of habit or social expectations. Then, as we start feeling more confident and comfortable with who we are, the opportunities to engage positively and meaningfully in the world will present themselves to us.

And then, these roles will be played more naturally, with what in Yoga is called “effortless effort”.