About writing and other reflections

My youngest daughter asked me today if I have a journal to which I replied yes. What do you write in it, se asked. Do you start with ‘dear diary’?

I have been writing a diary for over five years now. It all started when I was living in India, and had recently discovered the mess in my mind. I had just started my Yoga Teacher Training at the Yoga Prasad Institute, and I had a terrible cough. One of my peers recommended me to go see a homeopath. Most homeopaths have a holistic approach to health, so she was not only interested in helping me cure my cough, she also asked me a bunch of questions about my lifestyle and my personal life. I was actually in a quite tricky period in my life with a big mess in my head, and she recommended writing in a diary every morning after my asana practice. She recommended what is called ‘stream of consciousness’ where you sit in a quiet and calm place, set a timer, and write everything that comes to your mind during that set time. You just write, without a purpose, without editing, without even reading what you write. Just to let thoughts flow.

I don’t know how many notebooks I filled with words that many times didn’t make much sense. It was kind of fun sometimes. I would start writing what I was thinking so it had some kind of structure, but then moved to ‘it is hot’, ‘I am hungry’, ‘What’s that noice?’, etc. It was a very soothing experience. It often felt like I was ’emptying’ my mind, and sometimes I would reach a point where I would stop writing because nothing would come to my mind. This would last for a few seconds, but it was a nice feeling.

I don’t remember exactly when, but I was already back in Norway, when my Yoga teacher recommended I start a diary, and this time, he encouraged me to write structured and coherent texts, but allow my mind to express itself freely. I have discovered that writing for me is a very good exercise. It helps me digest what I learn about yoga, and try to apply it to my everyday life. It also helps me digest situations. I consider myself relatively slow when it comes to interactions, so I often see the whole picture better once I have taken some time and distance from the situation and I sit down with my notebook and pen. Writing helps me get to know myself better too although it has taken me some time to be honest in my writing and not write what I want to believe comes honestly out of my mind.

Writing has also taught me to be patient, understanding and compassionate towards myself, because it has become some sort of conversation between me and myself. It sounds a bit scary maybe, like I am slightly crazy, but, who isn’t?…What I mean with me and myself, is between my impulsive mind that functions out of habit, and the more reflective side of me who always tries to find what is beneath my emotions, thoughts and patterns of behaviour.

Writing has also helped me in many situations to detach. I remember once, I sat to write for the umpteenth time about a ‘problem’ I had, and going ‘wait a minute, I’m tired of this. I need to change my perspective, otherwise I will continue filling notebooks with the same old story.’ And I did. I decided that day to write about the same issue from another perspective, and gradually, I managed to detach.

This blog was born out of this habit of writing. I have to confess that it was my Yoga teacher’s idea. The purpose of it is to share my thoughts, share my experiences to whomever it may help or inspire.

So the texts I write here, often start in my diary, and then I feel like sharing them. The funny part is that during the last six months or so, I have been writing more and more in Spanish, which is my mother tongue. It has become more natural, after years and years of writing in English. My writing has become more varied, maybe. I write maybe with less certitude. Lately, I write about my doubts, but I also write a lot about gratitude. I haven’t been feeling that there is any blog material lately, but today I felt like sharing. One thing that I often write about lately is when I experience the magic of taking one step at a time and living in trust.

I was born a doer, I think. Or maybe, I grew up to believe that I ‘have to’ do. Most of what happens around me feels like my responsibility which I know is nonesens. During the last few months, I have been consciously choosing to sometimes not do and see what happens. Not because I don’t care, but because I have come to realise that it is impossible to have everything as a priority. In addition, I am not getting younger, and I honestly notice how I have less energy now than ten years ago, so I am learning to spend my energy wisely. For my own well-being, but also for the well-being of those around me. I am more patient and act from a better space when I feel rested. So, when the to-do list becomes impossibly long with more than one item that needs to be done almost at the same time, I choose what to prioritise, I focus on that and I hope for the best, and you know what? It almost always works like magic! Some of the items are taken care of someone else, or they are removed from the list, or I realise that the world doesn’t go under if I leave some things for later – or for never…

So back to my daughter’s question. No, I don’t start my diary with ‘dear diary’, and I don’t write every day, but I go back to it quite often. What I write varies. I sometimes write a quote and my thoughts around it. I sometimes write what I like to call ‘poems’, because I feel that what I need to express is so personal, so ‘strong’ that it can’t be put in many words. Sometimes, I write long stories, long reflections, and I still go back to stream of consciousness from time to time.

Less judgement, more magic

My yoga teacher recently advised me to to take the process of preparing for and running my yoga classes as an opportunity to learn and develop. This, with the purpose of detaching from ‘ego’. He also advised not to be fixated with the idea that ‘I want to teach’.

This resonated with me, also when it comes to reducing stress. The process would then go like this: I get an idea, I plan a layout, I advertise, and I run my classes with a clear intention. The rest is out of my hands, and therefore, I don’t need to worry about it. If the idea works, if people sign up and get something out of my classes, I feel humbly happy, if not, I’ll try something different next time, or try again. I don’t know how this idea transferred into my ‘other job’ in a slightly different manner, but it is still helping me a lot this first days of the Fall semester.

Usually, the start of the school year is quite stressing for me (and for many other teachers, I guess). I have tried in the past to take it easy, but it has been as if my nervous system has a life of its own.

So, this year, I decided to take a different mental approach: 1) Prepare as well as I can in the circumstances I have (time, resources, space, etc) with the intention of receiving my students with awareness and respect. 2) Refrain from having a personal opinion on everything that happens in a school day. Unpredictable things happen, changes happen, mistakes happen, and they sometimes feel like obstacles in the course I had in mind when I planned my lessons, but the less time and energy I spend rejecting these obstacles and getting all emotional about them, the more present I can be to grasp the situation and turn it into a learning experience for my students and myself.

This is, in a way, one of the main principles of Karma Yoga. Do your thing without attaching to the action or the fruits of the action.

I saw the magic of this attitude happen today. Since we started with our new schedules today, one of my colleagues made a mistake, and sent her students into my classroom before our lesson was over. When she realised this, we agreed that it would take too much time for her students to move back to her classroom, so they could stay and continue working silently on a task she had prepared but had thought they didn’t have time to do before she sent them up to my classroom.

Instead of getting caught up in the frustration of having to deal with an unforeseen change, and feeding into the emotion with the whys and the hows of this mistake, I first tried to see if I could tweak my lesson plan. I was attaching to ‘my plan’. I gave my students ten minutes to revise some vocabulary, and while they did this, I realised how great the idea of my colleague was.

After my students were done revising, I decided to let them do the same reading activity their peers were doing, with some adjustments. The last 20 minutes of the lesson went smoothly. I walked around to see what my students were reading, ask and answer questions. Thanks to this little mistake, I have a new idea in my lesson repertoire. No stress. No attitude from me towards my colleague. I just allowed myself to go with the flow.

I don’t know what this school year will bring. Every year brings its challenges, and we also have the pandemic adding uncertainty to the whole equation. I only hope, I will remember the advise from my teacher. I hope I’ll remember to be present, be humble, learn, and continue flowing. When I let go of judgement, stress, and worry, magic happens.

Where did you loose your key?

According to Yoga, we seek happiness and love because that is the natural state of our Higher Self. This Higher Self (Atman) is who we really are. The issue is that most of us don’t have contact with this Higher Self. We live deluded believing that we are our lower self which is our physical body, our thoughts and everything we perceive and identify as ‘me’.

One way to the Higher Self is through meditation which requires practice and non-attachment. This non-attachment is our tool throughout the day and during our practice to reach the state of meditation. Sitting in silence every day is a way to train the mind to slow down and focus which in turn is a tool to gradually detach from what is in our way to see our Higher Self.

The challenge is, that this Higher Self seems so difficult to reach. Most of us are dealing with a very limited mind. So, it is easier to reach towards what we can see in search for happiness and love getting lost in our senses, acting in selfish ways and in worst case scenarios acting in self-destructive ways. Unfortunately, nothing in the tangible world can give us lasting happiness or a lasting feeling of being loved because everything is in constant change including our perceptions and expectations. What made me happy today, might not be enough tomorrow. The most trusted and loved person you have can suddenly change his/her mind and walk away from your life.

Once a seeker in the path of yoga accepts these basic principles, life’s small and bigger challenges take a slightly different form. We are affected by them, but we have the tools to work ourselves out of the negativity that can be created by our emotions, especially those like anger, fear, jealousy, desire and greed.

In the Bhagavad Gita, we meet Arjuna, a great warrior who finds himself paralysed by fear and anxiety right before the battle of his life. The more we study the Gita, the more we can identify ourselves with Arjuna and realise how limited and limiting our mind can be. We learn to observe our attitudes and behaviours, and with practice, discipline and patience, we manage to make adjustments that bring us to a steadier calmer state of mind.

Learning about the limitedness of our minds, and the absurdity of pursuing happiness outside ourselves is also a powerful tool that helps us better interact with other people. When you start observing your mind and realise all the internal work you need to do in order to live a more peaceful life, you are also able to recognise the same struggles in other people. You might be able to forgive easier when you acknowledge the fact that we all are seeking the same but act (out?) in different ways to achieve it.

Think about this next time you have struggles with someone you expect something from. How can you expect the other person to give you what you believe you need, when the other person is busy in his/her own mind? If you are lucky, this person is aware of his/her struggles, but most of us spend a good part of our lives completely oblivious of our own limitations.

My advice is 1) If you are lacking something, see how you can provide it to yourself. If it is love that you are seeking, find this love inside yourself. Or at least be very clear of how this love should look like and give it the same way you expect to receive it without expecting anything in return. 2) Next time someone hurts your feelings, think about the cliché line “It’s not you, it’s me”, and believe in it. Whatever people do is an expression of their own inner world, of their perceptions and expectations. Even when someone acts in response to your actions, they are acting with their mind as the puppeteer. Just observe this in yourself during the next days. People are just people doing their thing but we have decided who we like, who annoys us, who we hate, who we want to have by our side, and who we want to push away. This connects to another way of interpreting the same line, ask yourself why am I reacting like this? In most cases, it is because the other person’s actions did not meet our own expectations.

I once heard a story, I am not sure if it comes from Buddhism or from the Yoga tradition, but I think it fits here. When we keep looking for what we feel we lack in the outer world or in other people, it is as if we had lost the key for our home, and keep searching for it at the wrong place knowing very well that it wasn’t there we lost it.

One week of home confinement

It’s been ten days since the Norwegian government decided to institute strict restrictions to reduce the rapid spreading of Coronavirus. For my family this means home schooling for my kids, teaching online for me and home office for my husband. In addition, we have decided to avoid social contact, and we only go out to go for walks in nature or skiing during the weekend. I do the groceries.

I have been reflecting a lot about this situation that is gradually affecting the whole world. To begin with, the fact that we have to deal with change. For example, we need to reorganise our everyday life. As a teacher, I went to online teaching from one day to another. Teachers had one planning day where we collaborated as good as we could to create the guidelines for this, and off we went to spend the weekend planning. I am learning how to facilitate for my students online. I spend more time preparing my lessons, and spend more time in front of my computer. It is a big change, a time consuming change. However, like any change, it is a great opportunity to learn, to be creative and challenge myself. To be honest, it is exciting. I am now pushed to try many online resources that I had been wanting to try, but hadn’t ‘had the time’ to try. I see that I often stay in one track just because it is known and safe. I am now being challenged to try and fail more, and I feel it is ‘allowed’ because we are all new in this.

As a mum. I need to use my multitasking skills to both run my lessons and be available for my kids and support them with their school work. I keep thinking about all those parents who have home office now. How are they coping? After all, I am a pedagogue. I think maybe this is easier for me than for many other parents. In days where I have lessons the whole morning, I do get overwhelmed though, but this has reminded me of two very important things: 1) stressing won’t help me nor my kids 2) ask for help. My husband is home too, he can also help the kids with school work when I can’t. Why do I keep feeling that everything is MY responsibility?

This leads me to my second reflection during this week. This time of ‘home confinement’ is the perfect time to go inwards. I see it as a game. The first level is observing our home and how our family functions. What kind of patterns have we established and which ones don’t serve us? Living so close together with the responsibility of both the kids’ schooling and our jobs can bring a lot of stress and distress, but it can also bring growth. I realised this week, that somehow, we have this unspoken clause in our ‘contract’ that I do as much as I can to keep my husband calm and comfortable. He didn’t ask for it, it is a pattern that has been established throughout the years. For him, it is very comfortable, and since I haven’t complained, he is happy unaware of how much stress this sometimes brings to my days. So, last week, trying to be as diplomatic and calm as possible, I talked with him and said that I thought it was unfair that in these ‘home confinement’ days, he had taken over the desk with the PC and closed the door the whole morning, coming out only to eat lunch or get more coffee. I was left alone to work and help the kids in the dinning room. To be honest, I felt very uncomfortable bringing this up because I didn’t want to start a fight, but to my big surprise, he just accepted it and since then, he is trying to step in when he can. Assertiveness is the keyword here.

I read an article in the Norwegian news website NRK at the end of last week that ‘experts’ expect an increase in divorces during the Coronavirus crisis. We are now forced to stay together and it is not even holiday! I can understand this, but what if we rather take this time to reflect on how we act and why we act like we do. A big problem in relationships is that when we disagree, when conflict arises, we keep pointing our finger at the other, but if we start by bringing our attention inwards, we might do some progress. My yoga teacher always says that expectations are the source of anger in relationships. So we can start by asking ourselves: ‘What are my expectations? Are they fair? Are they realistic? Can I give myself what I am expecting from my partner?’. This doesn’t mean that we get rid of all our expectations, but we make a shorter list, a list that is manageable/achievable for the other person.

The second level of this ‘game’ is related to this advice from my teacher, because it can only happen by bringing our attention inwards. Ask yourself: how is my mind reacting to these ‘home confinement’ days? Be open, be curious, be compassionate and patient. Observe. What can I learn about myself, about my inner world when I are forced to slow down? What are my priorities? What is really important?

A big part of the Norwegian people are used to travel quite a lot. Either short distance to their cabin or abroad. Norwegian people love to travel. I have been reading about how challenging for many people it is not to be able to even go to their cabins during the weekend. I can understand this, but I also wonder why can’t they be creative about it and see if they can create the ‘cabin feeling’ at home? I know it is most probably a minority that is reacting so strongly about it, but this is a good reflection for all of us. When we are used to do something some way, it is very difficult to suddenly do something different. Or is it? It might be simpler than we think if we just learn to let go. Let go of what was and open up to what can be. Every moment is so full of potential and we are in reality privileged in this country to have our basic needs met almost no matter what.

One thing that I am doing everyday, and that is helping is to remind myself of being thankful for what I have. I have a family. I have a home. I can feed my kids and myself without any problems. We have the gorgeous nature where we can spend as much time as we want. I have yoga to help me stay calm, and the guidance and support of my teacher.

I don’t know where this will lead to. I just know that I have to move one day at a time, keep my sadhana to stay calm and focused. Trust that whatever comes, it is meant to be like that for me to learn something, to grow.

I know there is a lot of uncertainty for many right now. People without jobs, people loosing their loved ones to the epidemic. I do not trivialise this at all. I do invite all of us to take this chance to slow down internally also, to put things into perspective, and discover the amazing potential we all have inside ourselves.

Take care! 💖

Santosha or contentment

From contentment and benevolence of consciousness comes supreme happiness’  Iyengar, B. K. S.. Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

Contentment is an important ingredient in the life of a yoga practitioner. In my understanding, we need to keep it in mind at all times during our everyday life in order to channel our energy in the right direction and cultivate a calmer state of mind but it is also something I can notice developing on its own inside me as I walk on the path of Yoga.

The what, the how and the why of contentment we try to generate.

Firs of all, what do I understand by contentment? I tried to find a translation in Spanish for one of my students but all I could find was something that translated back to English is “happy”. In my opinion, it is more nuanced than that. Being content is not necessarily being happy. Being content is more like being ‘okay’ no matter what. Noah Rasheta from Secular Buddhism defines it as ‘okayness’. This means that no matter what life is serving you today, you try to stay balanced. Why? To save energy mainly. Mental energy. If you don’t waste energy in getting all worked up in everything that doesn’t go your way, you can then direct your efforts towards dealing with the situation more appropriately. You avoid reacting out of impulse and you start acting more skilfully.

Contentment is one of the four niyamas in Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga. We are encouraged to practice it together with cleanliness of body and mind, sustained courageous practice, self-study and surrender to the supreme Self or God.

Being content means that when things go the way we wish them to go, we enjoy them and let go when we have to let go of them, and when things don’t go as we want, we focus on what can be done and what can be learned instead of getting lost in negativity. Not because negativity is ‘wrong’ but because most of the time, it won’t lead us towards any constructive action.

As one of my students put it today, if you get lost in negativity, you can’t get the whole picture of what is happening around you which may also include positive things. I loved this reflection!

Another way of cultivating contentment is to be tankful for what we have or for what does go as we wish it to go. It might sound difficult when we are in the middle of a crisis, but if you think about it, we can always be thankful for something: for being strong enough to endure this difficult situation, for the support we receive from others, for the food we get, the clothes we wear or the bed we sleep in.

How does contentment start growing from the inside?

When we constantly practice non-attachment to the results of our actions and at the same time put our best intentions into them.

Detachment brings discernment: seeing each and every thing or being as it is, in its purity, without bias or self-interest. Iyengar, B. K. S.. Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (Kindle Locations 774-775). HarperCollins Publishers.

It requires a lot of practice, but when we manage, the feeling is of pure freedom. When you can tell yourself: I did my part, the rest is out of my hands and you really let go. If the result is the desired one, we are thankful, if not, we try to find the lesson in it, and move on. Done. No need to dwell on it. Freedom and contentment.

When we learn to trust. Trust in ourself, trust in the journey, trust in our guide(s), and/or trust in the Universe/God or however you want to call it. You stand up, brush the dust, and keep walking.

When we understand that our inner peace is independent of external stimuli. When we understand that what lies at the core of our being is independent and unaffected by anything that is external to us.

But the individual who truly loves the soul and is fully satisfied with the soul and finds utter contentment in the soul alone, for him no duty exists.’ Yogananda, Paramahansa. God Talks with Arjuna: The Bhagavad Gita Ch11 v17