Love, again

I have never managed to think of my work as “just” work. It is almost impossible for me to go to school, teach, and then go home and let go of my day. I believe this is both because of my personality but also because of the nature of my work. I am always surrounded by people. My work is with and for people and we are constantly communicating and exchanging what I would like to call energy. We come to school with our mindset – the one we have that day, and the one we have formed throughout the years – and out of it, we mingle. Students, colleagues, and parents.

That is one of the things I like most about my job because I feel that I am constantly learning about human interactions and about my own mindset and attitudes. At the same time, when I forget to be mindful, it is one of the most exhausting parts of my job because I put myself in the position of “manager of emotions”. My students, their parents, and my own emotions… usually, I have enough with mine!

I sometimes observe in myself an inclination to mentally and emotionally oppose moments of tension. When there is a disagreement, when someone is experiencing distress and several people are involved, if I stop and observe myself, I feel resistance, especially if I feel one side is being more “reasonable” than the other, or when the distress is created by an experience of a situation that I feel is exaggerated, limited or even erroneous. However, once I have taken the time to take a step back and gain some perspective, I know that my rigidity doesn’t help because I end up being dragged into an emotion that is not mine and add to my frustration and judgment.

This month, my sangha chose as the topic of our gathering “love”. We decided on the topic at our last meeting, and we will all come to our gathering next week with our reflections, questions, and quotes to share. I have been reflecting on the topic of love through the lens of my understanding of the teachings in the Bhagavad Gita. The first thing I can say is that love in the context of the Gita is not limited to romantic love. It is bigger than that. Still, I find it difficult to define it. So I can do as when trying to describe Atman, by negation. Love is not a transaction, love is not conditional and it is not the result of an intellectual process.

I have been thinking that we often mix “love” with “like”. In French, we use the same word for both, “aimer”. However, we can say that love is something that unites us, that is bigger than us and at the same time part of us, so it cannot be subject to our judgment which comes from our limited mind. In the context of the Gita, we learn that we are love. We don’t need to search for it outside ourselves, we have it and we just have to move our attention inwards to see it, touch it, and show it.

If we think of love as some sort of power we have in ourselves, we then can use this love in different situations. We can put love at the base of all our actions. I do my work with love, I talk to others with love, and I navigate through difficult situations using love as a compass. It can sound like a cliché, but it isn’t.

So, when once again this week, I suddenly felt I had the responsibility to manage a situation where students were each other at their mental “corner”, acting out of their minds, opposing each other, with emotions all over the place, I reminded myself of the power of love. Somehow, this reminder allowed me to slow down and let go of the opposition. I stopped and thought, how can I create a space for both of them? Their emotions feel very real right now, both need acknowledgment but they also need to see each other. I don’t know how, but it worked. I managed to open my perspective and create space for everyone and I think everyone felt seen and heard. Furthermore, one of my students approached me with very nice reflections that I think will help them in the future. Because that is what it is all about, isn’t it? Not necessarily about solving conflicts, but helping my students find a way to navigate through human interactions in a constructive way, in a way that respects their individuality but at the same time respects other people’s individuality too, creating a space for everyone to thrive.

I didn’t give any answer because, like most of the time, I don’t have one (which often is a source of stress and distress for me), I just invited them to ask questions that can bring us closer together. I have written this many times, but I will write it again, we all live out of our minds and this is bound to create a conflict unless we accept this fact and put love in between each other to create some sort of consensus. The challenge is to be constantly mindful of this simple principle.

I am very excited to hear what my sangha has to say on the topic. I will maybe share in an other post.

Kudos to my kid

I had been dreading the yearly school skiing trip ever since I checked the weather forecast and saw it was going to rain a couple of days before the trip and then the temperature was going to drop below zero degrees centigrades. This meant icy conditions. This surely meant me being on my bum (or worse) quite often.

Every year, in February, before the Winter break, we take our middle school students on a skiing trip. Every year, we go to the same place, and students get two options: downhill or cross country. I am in the cross-country group. It is usually a very pleasant trip except for the last two kilometers which are only downhill. During the 23 years I’ve been living in Norway, I have been trying to improve my skiing skills, and I am much better than when I started, but I still dread steep downhills, especially when it is icy.

I KNEW it was going to be icy this year, and I had two fears: 1) to fall and hurt myself or break a bone 2) to be so afraid of my own downhill that I was going to be unable to help the students who aren’t very experienced in skiing. Every year, we have students who either have never skied before, or ski only on the yearly Ski Day. In that order. I know, I should be ashamed of myself, but that’s how it is.

A couple of days before the trip, I made an agreement with myself, to go with the flow. Stop dreading how it was going to be, and solve the possible challenges once there, in front of the steep downhill. Worst case scenario, I could take my skis off and walk the last two kilometers.

Usually, we get to the last part of the trip quite fast and give students two options, to go downhill and meet the rest of the school at the Alpine skiing center, or go for an extra loop with some of the teachers. I like skiing so much that I usually join the extra loop. Oftentimes, all students choose to go back to their peers together with a couple of teachers, so some teachers end up in a solo trip for about an hour or so.

This year, one of my colleagues suggested she and I do the extra loop and then just take our skis off and walk the hill down. I was so grateful for her suggestion, but when we got back to the crossing where we had to go downhill, she changed her mind and suggested that we try skiing down through the forest (!!!). She must have seen the surprise in my face because she smiled and said it is often better when it is so icy on the tracks. She seemed so confident, and I know she does this quite a lot with her family, that I decided to give it a try. It wasn’t easy, but boy it was fun! It wasn’t that hard either. We used more time than we thought, but we got back on time to help the other teachers organise the students to get the bus back to school.

Being such a cautious person usually (to not say a wuss), I was so excited when we finally got back. Thanks to my colleague, who by the way, I think is super cool, I got myself out of my comfort zone, and experienced something new. At some points, we did have to take the skis off because there were patches of bare forest, or because there were too many trees. We also fell – me more than my colleague, but that was fine too.

I kept thinking. on the bus ride back something that I have been thinking about lately. Why is it that I always want things to go “smoothly”? Why do I always dread challenges? Isn’t life more fun when we get to learn something new? When we use our problem-solving skills? I am trying to change my mindset in this regard, and I am also trying to apply this in my parenting as my kids grow older. I am trying to transfer this to them.

Today, our youngest daughter (13) took the train alone for the first time. All the way from Trondheim to a place called Porsgrunn in the south of Norway. The whole trip takes nine hours. She had to change trains in Oslo. Instead of hoping for the trip to go problem-free, I hoped she would encounter challenges with a problem-solving attitude- which by the way I know she usually has. Of course, I prayed for safe travels, but I hoped more for her to be able to tap into her own strength. And guess what? Challenges did come. Her train to Oslo was delayed and she lost her train to Porsgrunn, but she managed to find the ticket office and was directed to the next train. She called me a bit stressed but happy from the train track and texted me from the train. I think this is a very good experience for her because she realized she can do this.

In the last year and a half, she has been challenged. She has experienced challenging friendships, her best friend of years made new friends, and she changed schools. Past the immediate distress and sadness, I have seen her grow, and I see her become more confident. I believe that partly unconsciously, she knows she can deal with challenges.

I am being more aware of what I say to her when she experiences a challenge now. I always tell her, you can do this. You have the skills, and you know we support you.


Is it a given or is it earned? Does the responsibility to create trust lies on the one who trusts or the one to be trusted?

Since it is a word, a concept that we have created, I believe there is no absolute answer to my questions. However, it is important to reflect on it and maybe create clarity around it.

There are behaviours and these behaviours, when repeated, turn into patterns. Either in the one who has the behaviour or in the one who experiences the consequences of it. Or both.

Following this line of thought, if you constantly behave in a way that does not match my expectations, I might lose trust in you. If there is a discrepancy between what you say and do, or if I ask for your help and you let me down, or if you lie…

On the other side of trust, there might be people who, because of past experiences, are distrustful. Either generally or towards people in specific roles. One could then say that we have to strive towards gaining the other’s trust.

Last week, I did something that I think cost me the trust of one of my students. It was, of course, a mistake, and I will now have to work next school year towards gaining their trust again. If I am given the opportunity. If this student leaves the school for some reason, they might then decide that teachers are not trustworthy.

I struggled with trusting last week too, and this is partly what led me into a distressed state of mind. I had an overly strong reaction to a change in my roles at work, and I wonder why I am so distrustful. Is my lack of trust directed towards the person? The role that person plays? Or me? Is my lack of trust in reality insecurity in disguise?

In any case, I think that the best I can do is to approach situations with curiosity. Ask the difficult questions both to the other person and also myself. I need to understand where my distrust comes from and work with it because, like in any relationship, it is difficult to have healthy interactions if there is no trust. Can we build that trust together? What is my part to play?

Most importantly, not take my mind so seriously. Take a break from it. Question my perspective before acting. The longer I live, the more surprised I am by my limitedness that, to begin with, seems so ‘real’ and ‘clear’…

Grading life

I recently sat with some colleagues at the end-of-the-school-year lunch and asked one of them “So, how is life?” He was surprised and amused by my question, and chose to answer by giving his life a grade out of ten. We asked him if he was pleased with the grade he gave to his life, and he replied, yes. Sooner than later we all started asking each other to grade our lives.

As an IB teacher, I started playing with the idea of “the criteria” to set a grade: marriage, kids, work, material comfort, and so on. I asked myself, what are the strands? Many of us were struggling to set a grade. What does a 10 mean? Can anyone reach a 10? Is my 10 the same as your 10? Many agreed that we all had our basic needs met and more.

Playing with this question during the last few days, I have come to the conclusion that no matter what is happening in my life, no matter what I have and don’t have, the best way to grade my life is on how I feel inside. My inner peace, my attitudes, and my general flow of thoughts.

Yoga teaches us that the world around us is transient, and that how we perceive this world is a result of our minds. Each mind has its own perceptions and limitations, so my 10 is of course not your 10. Furthermore, since the world is impermanent and ever-changing, if I put my well-being in what the external world can offer, I most probably will never be fully satisfied. Once I acquire something, I will discover that there is something else to acquire, or I will eventually have to go through the painful process of experiencing losing it.

We can agree that setting a grade to life is a silly exercise, but it is also a good way to reflect on what really matters. Maybe a 10 is not necessarily the goal. To me, what makes the most sense right now is to continue working with my inner world to better function in the outer world. It seems like a safer investment in this unstable and fluctuating world.

This reminds me of an important concept in Yoga that we find both in the Bhagavad Gita and Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras: santosha or contentment. Contentment is developed inside out and it is directly dependent on our attitude towards life. Cultivate contentment, and the rest will just flow.

A little theory of mine

On my way home on Friday, I heard on a French radio station a program about the increasing use of laughing gas among teenagers all the way down to 14 years old and its consequences. It reminded me that not so long ago, I read in the newspaper that in certain cities in Norway, the use of cocaine and hash has become as common as alcohol among high school students. A friend of mine back in Mexico told me recently that the use of drugs among teenagers has increased in the last few years too.

I can’t help but wonder if this is not partly a result of the way my generation is bringing up our kids in what we call the “Western world”. One thing that I think kids in France, Norway, and among the middle and upper classes in Mexico have in common is easy access to what brings sensory pleasure.

We can start with food. Many kids nowadays can eat sweets and drink sugary drinks daily if they want to. What in some cultures used to be limited to special occasions or at least the weekends, has become part of everyday life. Whenever a kid feels the need to be rewarded somehow, they can do it through the sense of taste.

Another way to get an immediate reward is by buying things. It is enough for a kid to express their wish for something to get it almost right away. It can be toys at a young age, clothes, makeup, and devices. What used to be left for birthdays and Christmas, is now part of everyday life. So, when special occasions come, we tend to give more than our kids need.

Lastly, we have the immediate reward electric devices give. Either through social media or gaming.

So, my theory is that we have created a generation of pleasure seekers. Kids nowadays are used to satisfying their senses almost constantly. It is not enough to go for a holiday by the beach, there is the pressure to make it exciting for the kids. So we book activities, or rent or buy equipment so the kids do not get “bored”.

As we all know, the more we get, the more we want. There is always something more exciting to experience, something bigger, better, or tastier.

Added to this is our well-intentioned need to protect our kids. Whenever they experience something unpleasant, especially socially, we intervene. We solve the problem for them. We remove them from the situation. We demand others to solve our kid’s problems. Leaving them incapable of dealing with disappointment, sadness, or pain. We do this to protect them, but we forget that the muscle of resilience needs to be trained.

My point here is not to criticize. I belong to this generation and I have observed in myself and my husband many of the behaviors I describe here, and I wonder if we are not doing more harm than good in some cases. Wouldn’t our kids benefit from having to strive a bit more to get what they want? Wouldn’t they benefit from learning to live simple lives? Wouldn’t they benefit from learning to be satisfied inside out instead of believing that the world around them owes them and that their happiness is in how much they get and how much they experience? Wouldn’t they grow for experiencing difficult situations and getting through them?

I know that the curiosity to drink alcohol and use drugs is not new. I know that the problem of substance abuse can have many reasons, but I wonder if the unlimited and often unconscious access to sensory pleasure is not also contributing to this tendency.

It is great that we have enough to give our kids everything they need and more, but maybe we sometimes need to stop and wonder where happiness really comes from.