Stress, self-inflicted or a result of our environment?…or both?

For the last seven years, ever since I started studying and practicing Yoga through the guidance of my teacher, Prasad Rangnekar, I have been working with myself whenever I experience stress.

I have had the belief that stress is something I experience because of my attitude to what is happening around me and the idea I have of myself, and that if I work with that, I would experience less or no stress.

I recently wrote about an email exchange that affected me emotionally. I was surprised and maybe a bit frustrated with my reaction to the emails I was receiving. I had to deal with my emotions during the whole weekend and to be honest, it was quite tiring. I kept telling myself that the person’s reaction to my first email was not my responsibility and that as long as I was at peace with the intention behind my email, I should be able to stay calm.

Through my studies in Karma Yoga, I have learned that my actions need to come from clear and pure intentions. I have learned too that what should occupy my mind is the why and the how of my actions but I do better by letting go of the results of those actions. Lastly, I have learned that my expectations towards the world around me can be the cause of my own stress and distress.

I use these ideas to try to have a more open relationship with the world. Whenever I experience an emotional reaction towards something that happens around me, I stop and find out which idea in me is causing the emotion. It has helped me calm my mind in many cases. It has helped me accept better what is happening and adapt instead of pushing.

However, during the last two weeks, something happened at work that I am struggling to deal with. I have felt stressed, frustrated, and angry. No matter how much I try to work with my mind, I have been unable to let go. What I am wondering about now is, yes, it is good that I work with my own mindset and try as much as possible to take resposibility for my emotional reactions, however, there are places and situations that generate stress, and maybe my responsibility towards myself is to know when enough is enough. As my teacher often says, taking responsibility for yourself doesn’t mean that you become a doormat. Maybe all the energy I am spending on dealing with my stress could be spent somewhere else in a more constructive way? I find it is important to recognize when accepting, adapting, and accomodating for my own mental health and the benefit of the whole is the most skillful thing to do, and knowing when to be assertive and maybe even leave the stressful situation/place altogether.

Maybe there comes a time in the spiritual development that we can deal with whatever without being affected by it, but I have to recognize that I am not there yet and that I need to stop exposing myself to what is affecting me so much.

What do you think?

Intentions and means of action

This has been a rather intense week. Although I don’t really like this kind of week, I appreciate the opportunity to put into practice what I have been learning the last seven years to try to keep my mind calm and act instead of reacting.

I haven’t always succeeded in keeping my mind calm this week, and as I write this text, I can feel the stress in my whole body but I know, that after some minutes, it will fade away. I am not yet at the level of not allowing situations to affect me emotionally, but I am more able to search for a wider perspective, and it helps.

It helps to always try to understand the mental process behind people’s actions. It doesn’t matter if I agree with this process or not, I can then easier accept and show compassion. This week, I tried to communicate with someone via email. I spent time weighing my words, trying to ‘sound’ as calm and constructive as possible, but I failed. The response was one of [out]rage. I won’t deny that I felt unfairly attacked and frustrated because I was misunderstood. The message that I tried to communicate got lost in the belief of an intention that I didn’t have. However, I think I understand where this person comes from. I think culture has something to do with their strong reaction. Neither this person nor I have English as a mother tongue, and maybe partly because of that, they put other meaning to my words than the intended one. In addition, it is that time of the year where people are stressed, and maybe they receive many emails a day and don’t have time to carefully read them. So, instead of getting angry at them, I just let it go. I didn’t have the intention to attack when I wrote that message, and that, I think is the most important for me: my own intention behind my action. I am at peace with it. I think it is sad my message didn’t pass, but I can’t do much more about it. I don’t have the need to push everyone to believe in what I believe.

I have the values I live up to, and try to act accordingly, if people have other values and misunderstand mine, it would be crazy to spend time and energy trying to change their minds.

However, I have been reflecting on the relationship between intention and means of action/communication. It is also important to pay attention to the means of our actions. Of course, I usually do, but I have to confess that when I sent that message, it was the fastest way to deal with that situation before the weekend. If I had waited until Monday and had a chat with the person involved, I would have avoided the unpleasant response during the weekend. Maybe, I would have had to deal with an unpleasant situation in person, but it would have been easier to explain myself than by exchanging emails. I tried to do this in my answer to their first reply to my email, but their second reply was so harsh that I decided to end the communication by acknowledging that I should have rather asked for a meeting and that I will take their views into consideration in further interactions. I don’t think I need to spend more time trying to correct a misunderstanding that the other party doesn’t seem willingly to correct.

I will never communicate via email with this person again. Rather call and maybe keep my interactions with them to the strict minimum. I will also spend more time reflecting on which way is the most skillful way to act as for what I see good intentions are not always enough. Lastly, I will keep working on letting go of expecting specific outcomes from my actions. I can have good intentions and consider the action chosen as the most skilful and still have a negative reaction, but at least I will be at peace with what came from my side. The rest, is for the other person to deal with.

On spirituality, Halloween, Yoga, contentment, less stress and less waste

Human History is marked with quite a few gruesome actions done in the name of religion. I believe, however, that humanity needs spirituality. Spirituality and religion are not the same. In my view, religion is the institutionalizing of spirituality, and if we are not aware of this, we might end up putting our mind and well-being in the hands of someone else, which in turn is the opposite of spirituality.

Living a spiritual life for me means to take responsibility for my thoughts and actions, to do what I need to do to cultivate a calm and content state of mind. This is, of course, beneficial for me, but I believe that through that work, I also benefit my surroundings because I start seeing the connections. I see how my attitudes and actions affect me and the world around me. In addition, when I take my well-being into my own hands, I demand less from the world. Furthermore, when I learn to know myself better, I accept my place in the world and play my roles from a place of giving instead of receiving.

Spirituality can be anchored in different traditions, but for many people, it can be a personal practice without any adherence to any tradition. I know a few people who in my view live a spiritual life without even being aware of it, even less calling themselves spiritual. In my case, spirituality came in the form of Yoga practices. That is why I write about it, but if you find another path that works for you, stick to it.

Contentment is an important aspect of Yoga. I sincerely believe that many of the struggles we experience today would reduce or even disappear if we had a more conscious approach to contentment. Contentment is a state of mind, and it needs to be cultivated inwardly. In order to cultivate contentment, we need to slow down, to let go of the excess of actions and impulses we are used to having in our lives. We need to prioritize. We need to reflect on what can stay and what needs to go. We need to be aware of our impulses and work towards a less dependant relationship to our senses. The more dependent our happiness is on sensory input, the more we want, the more we demand from the world around us. This has a direct impact on the people we mingle with and the environment. Just think about it for a moment, if you manage to cultivate a content inner state, you will consume less, or at least more mindfully, and this will have a direct impact on the environment. If on the contrary, your happiness is dependant on material things, the more you buy, the more you own, the more you want. Happiness from material things lasts for a short period of time. It doesn’t take long after we have acquired something before we want something else.

I believe slowing down and prioritizing are crucial to cultivating contentment. It is difficult to live mindfully unless we slow down. I have Halloween as an example. Our youngest daughter loves Halloween, ever since she was in preschool. She used to say that Halloween was her favorite ‘season’. For her, there was Spring, Summer, Halloween, and Christmas. To begin with, Halloween represented another thing ‘to-do’ in a busy everyday life with three kids. It represented, to be honest, stress. However growing up in Mexico, Halloween and Dia de Muertos kind of merged when I was a child, and it was something I also used to look forward to. So, throughout the years in our home in Norway, we have developed a tradition for Halloween. A more conscious approach to it. Since it is important and fun for our girls, we take the time to prepare for it to make it a fun season and avoid stress and impulsive shopping. The girls and I start planning for their costumes before the Fall Break. They decide what they want to be. During the Fall Break, we go to the second-hand shops to find clothes and accessories to make their costumes and start the process. We then use our spare time to work on the costumes. Some years ago, we found a recipe for ‘spider cookies’ we like to bake every year. The girls usually invite a friend each to join us. To avoid too much waste, we pop popcorn to give away to the kids that come trick-or-treating, and I don’t buy Halloween decorations. We don’t have space to keep them and I don’t want to create waste just for one day. The only decoration is a pumpkin that we carve together. When our son was part of the celebrations, we used to run a competition. Each kid would draw an idea for the pumpkin and my husband would choose the winner. This year, I was made aware of the amount of water and energy that goes to cultivate all the pumpkins we buy for Halloween. So, we made baked pumpkin seeds for snacks and I used the pumpkin ‘meat’ for pancakes. Next year, our goal is to cultivate our own pumpkin! On November 1, I bake Pan de Muerto, the culminating part of our Halloween celebrations.
I think that Halloween is perfect for us living up north. It is the time of the year where we gradually stay indoors more, and we then have handcraft activities to do. It has become a project between the girls and me instead of another stressful thing I have to plan on my own, on the run. And the whole process starts all over again in mid-November to start preparing for Christmas as we now try to handmade presents for family and pick what we think would be useful presents for friends.

I don’t mean to say that this is the perfect way to do things, but I am content with how it has developed so far. I know there is room for improvement when it comes to being environmentally friendly – like the pumpkin – but nothing is ever set in stone, so we learn as we go.

This week’s mantra

Sunday evening I often try to spend some time to mentally go through the next week. What can be challenging? How do I want to deal with possible challenges? What attitude do I want to keep?

In the rush of the day, I often forget the conversation I have with myself Sunday evening, so I have to keep reminding myself during my sadhana or before bedtime.

This week, I want to keep verse 10 from Ch6 in the Gita in mind:

“To attain this godly state, Arjuna, you must become fully immersed in the True Self through the process called meditation (dhyana yoga). You have to control your mind, body, and senses and become free of possessions, expectations, desires, and greed. You must live alone, at least internally, in a quiet place. This inner discipline called meditation is imperative because it is the means for achieving lofty and necessary ends.”

I made myself a little mantra ‘I am free from possessions, expectations, desire and greed’.

I like the idea of living ‘alone, at least internally’. In my interpretation, it means to find contentment and peace internally, to stay centered and let the world be what it needs to be and flow with it.

New week, here we go.