Busy bee? Not today

I need to start creating moments during the day to take a pause. It doesn’t matter if it is five minutes, ten minutes or a whole hour. I tend to get caught in the misleading idea that every minute of the day needs to be used in a ‘productive’ way. Either at work or at home. Why do I keep falling into this silly pattern? I don’t know.

Sometimes, some extra time falls from heaven like today. Thursday last lesson, I teach yoga as an elective to some students in our school, but I had forgotten that their class was on a trip today. I prepared  myself and the classroom and nobody showed up. It felt so good to then spend the time to do my own asana practice and I even took five minutes to lie down in shavasana. It would have been too time consuming to change back to my regular clothes and tidy up just to try to get some work done before the end of the school day.

Sometimes, I have to create the time for myself like this week. I just didn’t feel like rushing through the house to get it cleaned during a weekday evening, I didn’t feel like hurrying up. Instead, I invited myself for a run by the sea in the gorgeous Spring weather, and left the cleaning for later this week. I genuinely felt revitalised that evening and the next day.

Everyday, I create a space and  time in the early morning to do my sadhana. This is non negotiable, but I keep forgetting that if I need something, the best person to provide it is myself. Never expect anyone to give you what you need, you need to take self-responsibility to take care of yourself. No one is going to ask you to stop spinning around because we live in a society that cultivates and encourages business, and you know what? That is nonsense.

Self-compassion

Let a man lift himself by himself; let him not degrade himself; for the Self alone is the friend of the self and the Self alone is the enemy of the self. Bhagavad Gita Chapter 6 verse 5

Compassion is an important aspect in the practice of Yoga and one of the core values in Buddhism. I recently asked both my adult yoga students and my teenage yoga students what compassion is for them, and their answers inspired me to write this post.

I can start like I did with my students by asking what is compassion for you? Take a moment to think about it before you read further.

The common definition that most of us use is being understanding and kind towards others. The definition in the dictionary is slightly different: sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it.

Very few students include themselves as an important object of compassion when defining the word.  However, according to the Yogic and Buddhist traditions, in order to cultivate compassion towards others, we have to first cultivate compassion towards ourselves. If this is a new idea for you, take some time to reflect on it. Doesn’t it make sense? But what does that mean? How do we show compassion towards ourself?

I asked one of my teenage yoga students how she shows compassion towards herself, and she answered “by eating chocolate”. Eventhoug there is nothing wrong with enjoying something we like,  I think this illustrates how we sometimes tend to misunderstand what self-compassion is, and that is why I opened this post with the quote from chapter 6 in the Bhagavad Gita.

We often think that we are being kind towards ourselves by indulging in something, especially when we experience distress. It can be food, alcohol, TV, social media, you name it. In my perspective, this is only a way of escaping from that distress. We might get the illusion that we are alleviating it, but in reality we are just hiding it or pushing it away. That is not self-compassion.

Self-compassion requires courage, it requires the ability to see beyond our fear. We have to first have the courage to stop running away and face the source of our distress, which we often have the illusion comes from the outside world, but if we look closely, we will discover that it comes from inside us.

So, I wonder, when am I doing something ‘kind’ towards myself that will allow me to continue growing as a spiritual being and what am I using as crutches to avoid the fall, the pain, the distress?

I have already shared in a post the distress I sometimes cause inside myself because I get caught up in thoughts and emotions. I recently realized that I haven’t been showing self-compassion at all. Although it is positive to be aware of one’s flaws, one’s dark sides, it is harming to be judgemental about them. The advice in Yoga is so subtile, I think. We are encouraged to confront our inner darkness but we have to accept it first and then make small adjustments at a time. As a dear friend recently said to me, you need to embrace the monster inside you to move forward.

Only when we decide to live a life of awareness, of rude honesty towards ourselves, will we be able  be compassionate towards ourselves and thus lift ourselves forward.

In the process, compassion towards others starts to come easier and more naturally as we keep discovering our dark sides, our weaknessess and we then can identify with other people’s distress. This allows us to be less judgemental and more understanding, more tolerant, more willing to help.

 

 

Stormy weather and refining the mind

Early one morning
feeling the storm coming
I went for a walk
I reached the shore promenade
the mood in nature was in sync with my heart
When the storm hits my heart
I no longer believe in the stories my mind serves me
These storms form somewhere deep inside me
So I walk, and I kindly ask my mind to cease
For I won't blame it on the world I perceive
I keep walking, until I stop to observe
The sea is moving with the wind
A bird in the sky is flying in the wind
The trees are moving with the wind
For what I see no one blames, no one feels guilt
The storm is just here doing its thing
Has the storm in my heart a function?
Why the need to blame or regret?
I don't know why this storm comes
but no matter how much I reject it, it keeps coming back
Today, I'll be like the sea, the bird and the trees
I'll allow the storm to be
Maybe one day, I'll let go enough
To allow the storm be the guide towards the place it needs to take me.

We all suffer from mood swings, I presume. I think I have already talked about mine in other post. I have periods where I feel overwhelmed by everything and everyone. I have periods in my life where I feel alone.

My mind serves me with a bunch of thoughts to engage with that will feed into these challenging moods. All from analysis to justifications of why I feel how I feel. So lately, I try to observe my thoughts and tell myself that I am getting entangled in my stories again . I let go of the stories so I stop blaming everything and everyone for my mood.

What I discovered today is the level of self-loathe that I experience now when this emptiness hits me. I feel guilty for going back to that space. I feel helpless as it seems like I can’t get myself out of it so easily. But what if I just accept that I have these stormy days? What if I allow the storms to come instead of try to run away from them?

I know about these moods, and I am working on refining my perceptions. I obviously can’t stop these moods from coming yet. Can I accept that? Maybe these storms just need to happen, and the less importance I give them, the less damage they make.

Interestingly enough, after acknowledging that, I felt some relief.

I recently heard on a podcast that mindful living is a full time job. Refining the mind is so too. When we think we’ve got it, we discover it is just the tip of the iceberg. It might help to think that we are explorers in unknown lands, and approach the mind with the enthusiasm an explorer has. 🙂

On acceptance and its benefits

I was recently listening to one of my teacher’s lectures on his YouTube channel called 10 ways to live effortlessly through Yoga where the first point is acceptance.

Have you ever experienced investing effort and time into something with a feeling that you are pushing, fighting, getting exhausted and after a while realise that you are still standing at the same point? I have experienced it in many times and every time I try to remember one of my first experiences as a mum.

When our first child was born, I wanted to be ‘ready’, so I read books about pregnancy and birth. Then, when our son was born, I read books about the “normal” development of a baby and a toddler. When our son was maybe a year or a year and a half old, according to what I read and advice from others, it was time to start potty training. I bought a pot and tried different ways to get my son to sit on it and do his job. After some days of trial, we realised he wasn’t interested at all. Swallowing our frustration, we understood he wasn’t ready yet and that we would do things worse if we chose to push him. We waited despite what the books, parenting forums and some opinions from experts or experienced parents had. When he was a bit over two, we tried again, and in a week or so, he was nappy-free during daytime and some months later in the night also. I was so amazed over how easy this was! There weren’t any tears, and there were very few accidents. This taught me a big lesson that I have tried to apply throughout my children’s upbringing. There are some milestones they have to go through to develop, but there is no point on pushing them. I think acceptance is key here. I accepted that my son wasn’t ready, but I didn’t necessarily give up, I just needed to back off, and try a bit later.

Sometimes, we have a goal, an idea, but it is so big, so overwhelming that we don’t even know where to start. This applies also to challenges and problems. Acceptance can also be a good tool in this cases. We need to accept first the situation and then see which small steps we can take to achieve the goal or to improve the situation that eventually will help us solve the problem. We accept that we have to take small steps.

The example that comes to my mind is the challenge we face today with pollution. I have long had bad conscience because I wanted to do something big for the environment, but it felt overwhelming until I decided to take small steps. The first step was to observe my lifestyle and accept that I have some habits that aren’t healthy for the environment. I have made some changes that have demanded changes in attitudes and perceptions and still felt achievable, while other changes are so big that I have to wait a bit. This doesn’t mean that I will settle for doing the minimum but I have to take it step by step to not overwhelm myself or my family. This might not be the way for everyone, but for me, it is either small steps or no steps at all.

The other day, I was talking with a yoga teacher that works also as a life coach. She was telling me about how, for people that experience chronic pain, it can be helpful to learn to accept the pain. Pain is something that scares us, it is part of our survival instinct, but sometimes we need to accept it to tolerate it. I have done the experiment sometimes when I experience a sharp pain, to relax the rest of my body and focus my breath into the pain. It doesn’t take the pain away, but it does help me deal with it better. If I reject the pain, if I start to make a thousand stories in my mind about the pain, I just get more stressed and my experience of the pain is more intense.

It is almost needless to say that acceptance is also a very powerful took when it comes to relationships. All kind of relationships. Accepting others as they are is the obvious one, but also accepting that sometimes things between us and others get stuck, and remembering that nothing lasts forever. We benefit from giving us some space to let things cool down, and then try again. Accepting also that sometimes, there is no solution, things are as they are and we have to learn to live around them.

Lastly, I have already written about strong emotions and how acceptance can help deal with them. Often, we have a tendency of rejecting, hiding or pushing away emotions such as anger or sadness. We don’t want to feel angry or sad because we should constantly feel happy and satisfied. Unfortunately, the emotion doesn’t disappear just because we don’t want it, and we end up with a pile of emotions such as frustration and regret on top of the ‘original’ emotion. Accepting the emotion without feeding into it can take us a step further. When I am sad, I can accept that I am sad and even give myself the space to feel the sadness, slow down, be kind to myself without making a thousand stories in my mind on why I have the ‘right to be sad’. Let the emotion be what it is, and when the sensation is less strong, try to understand where it comes from and see if there is anything I can do to help myself.

Acceptance is not resignation, but it is a tool that can help us save energy that we can canalise in a more constructive way than when we use it to reject, run away from or fight blindly.

Human interactions

“The reality comes into being through interaction” Emilie Levine 2018

I recently watched a TED talk with Emilie Levine called “How I made friends with reality”. This talk is beautiful in many ways, but this quote moved me the most.

I reflect often about human interactions. I observe how important they are for us, and how difficult they can be at times. I must confess that I am not very good at them in general. I expect too much from the people that are close to me, I am bad at small talk, and patience hasn’t been my strongest skill.

Ever since I was in high school, I have been quite reserved socially. I am friendly, and I actually like to interact with people, but I don’t like to come too close because I know I often end up making a mess. I can maybe say that I don’t trust myself much when it comes to human interactions. I have few close friends, and those that I have, I am so grateful for because I know that they have taken the time to know me, accept and understand my weirdness.

I also work as a teacher, so I am in constant contact with people. My students and my colleagues. As a teacher, I have an idea of what my role is, and of course, everyday, this idea is challenged by my students. It is getting better, but I also feel I use a lot of energy avoiding getting into negative situations with my students.

I can honestly say that part of my dedication in the study and practice of yoga is with the intention of improving my way to interact with others because it came to a point where I understood that the change needed to come from me. I have spent too much energy being frustrated, sad, angry and then regretting because of the gap between my perception of things and reality.

I liked this quote particularly good because I feel that it is so true. We create our reality by interacting with the world around us, not only with other humans but with everything that surrounds us. This is a powerful quote because it means that we can always choose what kind of reality we want to create by interacting with others.

It is not always that easy because most of us are used to the idea that we need to get something in return for what we give. When we have the impression that we only give, we get frustrated or loose interest.

In Spanish we have a say cada cabeza es un mundo: “Every head is a world” or “There is a whole world in each head”, and I believe this is true. What if we keep this in mind when we interact with others? We don’t know what kind of impressions they have in their minds, we don’t know what their expectations are, nor do we know how they perceive the world.

One of the most known and general definitions of yoga is that it is a science for self-liberation. In addition different traditions can have different definitions. I recently read a definition that I think is very nice to apply in our interactions with others: “Yoga is to create space”. I believe this was said in the context of pranayama, but if we think about the basic principles of yoga: detachment and practice, space is an important aspect too.

I have been wondering a lot lately, am I able to live in love? Can I, at every situation, choose to interact from a selfless space? Can I, give space to the people around me to be and at the same time allow myself to be too? I must confess that it seems quite difficult to achieve, but I think it is worth a try. Not only in my close relationships but everywhere. 

If we create reality by interacting with others, wouldn’t we want to create a reality where we all thrive? Are we able to show unconditional understanding, compassion give each other space to grow? Can we meet others with humbleness? Nobody’s perfect, and nobody will ever be perfect in this world, but we need each other.