Save the world, and save ourselves…where to start?

My yoga teacher keeps repeating to us every time we meet him, ‘slow down and simplify your life’. I think that if we are going to succeed in reducing the amount of pollution we create, we need to follow this advice. I keep observing my life, and the life we collectively live and I must confess that it feels like this big knot that I don’t really know where to start unknotting. I want to use less my car, but I pack my days with so many things ‘to do’ that this is going to be almost impossible during the winter months (it is quite difficult to achieve already now, but I’m still managing…almost every day). I want to produce less waste, but I do buy food that helps me cook faster: pre-cooked pulses in tetra pack, vegetables at the local supermarket that come packed in plastic because the option to buy at the Asian shops downtown seem too time consuming for the moment, cereal for the kids for breakfast, etc… Why? Because I don’t have time during the week to spend that much time cooking, and I still want to give my kids a varied diet (exclude the cereal in this statement).

I could continue writing about how I am NOT contributing to stop global warming and waste production, but I think you get my point. My point is not to go on a self-blame ride either, I am just observing, and hopefully, will find better ways to really simplify my life so I have time to make choices that don’t affect the environment in a negative way.

I see this happening at the bigger scale too. I was lucky enough to be among the teachers at our school that took the middle school students to an interdisciplinary day about biodiversity some days ago. One of the highlights of the day was a political debate led by a couple of our students where local politicians were confronted with questions about the environment written by our students or asked ‘live’ by the audience during the debate. All politicians in the panel seemed to agree on the fact that we need to take care of the environment to take care of biodiversity, but their answers were for me quite wishy washy. One of the questions was about protecting the bumblebees. All the politicians in the panel agreed that keeping or increasing green spaces in our city was the way to go, as well as encouraging people to grow grass on their roofs, and many other very innovative and positive ideas.

Our school is by a big public park . It has mainly trees and grass, and some weed does grow like dandelions, and other wild flowers. During the last four or five years however, the municipality (or whoever owns the park) has started to rent (or lend?) the park to different instances to run festivals. There is a kids festival in the Spring, a “neighbourhood festival” at the end of the summer with concerts, this weekend was another kind of festival. I understand the motivation and the thinking behind it: to bring people together and promote culture, but here we are again wanting too much at the same time. Every time these festivals are finished and the organisers take their stuff away, the grass is damaged by the amount of people tramping on it in the lapse of some few days/hours, the equipment they bring, the cars/trucks they need to use to transport all the stuff they need for the festivals. This is what I see, but what about the insects and birds that live in the park? How are they affected by this? So what is the priority here? Protecting the park to protect biodiversity or to use the park as a festival arena? Can we have both? Do we need to prioritise something?

This brings me to another advise I have been hearing from my Yoga teacher the last five years: prioritise and live with clarity. What is your clarity now? Is it to experience this and that, to not miss out, to do this and do that, to get this and get that, or is it really to take care of the environment? If we take this seriously, we need to start making some serious changes. Changes that I feel need to be made both individually and collectively in order for them to make an impact.

I have started to think that to simplify our lives is not what we have grown to believe is to simplify our lives. To buy fast food because we don’t have time to cook, is not to simplify our lives. To use the car instead of public transportation because we don’t have time is a sign that we don’t have a simple life.

I am trying to take small steps, but I must confess that I still feel that it is not enough. I am much more conscious of what I buy and where I buy it, I have stopped eating meat, and serve less meat to my family. I am trying to encourage my kids to reflect on what the want and what they really need. I am avoiding using the car as much as I can except when I have to drive to the other side of town to take my girls to swimming on weekdays. This makes me wonder, should we give up swimming just because of that? Should we change clubs to the one that is at the swimming pool on this side of town? Oh, but we like that other club so much better! That is one of the dilemmas we’re in for the moment.

So what is my point? My point is that I think that in order to be able to start taking more care of nature, we need to start slowing down, look at our lives and prioritise what really matters and let go of what we can let go of. We have to create some clarity, what is it that really matters right now? We need to live closer to nature too. How can we respect something that we have become disconnected from? We certainly don’t need to panic or loose motivation when we look at the challenge we have before ourselves, but we need to take it seriously and reevaluate what we think is simplifying our lives because I believe a lot of it is simplifying it short term, but not longterm.

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.