Lack of governance or lack emotional intelligence?

I just finished reading The Lord of The Flies by William Golding. I guess it belongs to the list of books one should have read at some point in life, but for some reason, I had never taken the courage to do so. I had heard about it as a teenager. A friend of mine had read it and she told me it was horrible. I kept that review in my mind for the rest of my life until this Fall when I started teaching Humanities in yr10 and our first unit is about Governance. The teacher that had created the curriculum for this class had the movie version as a possible way to introduce the unit, so I decided to read the book before eventually showing the movie.

The book is about a group of boys that end up in a deserted island after a plain crash and how they try to survive. The oldest kids are around fourteen, and the youngest are six or even younger. One of the older kids is picked as a leader early on in the story, but soon conflict arises between him and another boy of his same age who sees their survival in the island differently. Things turn quite ugly, and towards the end of the book, we read:

‘Nobody killed, I hope? Any dead bodies?’

‘Only two. And they’ve gone.’

The officer leaned down and looked closely at Ralph.

‘Two? Killed?’

Ralph nodded again. Behind him, the whole island was shuddering in flame […] For a moment he had a fleeting picture of the strange glaour that had once invested the beaches. But the island was scorched up like dead wood – Simon was dead – and Jack had… The tears began to flow and sobs shook him. He gave himself up to them now for the first time on the island […]

I couldn’t help but make the analogy between the island and the world we live in, between the boys and the whole humanity. Will we, in the near future look back and see the same destruction around us? Is this what is happening to us right now? Have we forgotten that we all are here for the same reason and that we are part of the whole? Are we so busy chasing God-knows-what that we don’t see the consequences of our actions?

I pushed those thoughts away and went for a walk. During my walk, I heard a talk with Dan Goleman on Action for Happiness about Emotional Intelligence, and throughout the walk/talk, I thought that maybe what the boys in the book lacked rather than governance was emotional intelligence. Step number one in emotional intelligence is to take the time to accept and understand our own emotions. This allows us to learn the art of taking a step back before acting out of impulse. If the older boys in the book had been able to take the time to acknowledge that they were scared and tired, they might have acted differently. What happened on the island is what often happens in human interactions, the mental creation of the ‘other’ who becomes such a big enemy that anything to ‘get rid’ of him is valid.

Over and over again, I am more and more convinced that if we are going to be able to make a change in the world, we need to start within ourselves. We have to take time to listen to our emotions, understand them, and change the behaviours that are not helping us to be in harmony with ourselves, the environment and other living beings. Feelings like fear, anger and jealousy are connected to our inner feeling of lack, of void, of insecurity which are very human. Everyone experiences them to some degree, and everyone tries to deal with them in different ways. If we learn to tap into our inner peace to fill in that void, we make the world a big favour. If we acknowledge our weaknesses and inner struggles, we are then able to accept those of the people around us. If we can show self-compassion, we can then show compassion to others.

I started wondering, how do we teach emotional intelligence to those who are not ready for it? I guess that we can start by being the example, but how can we help for example teenagers to be more aware of their feelings without it being so awkward that they push the whole idea away? Can emotional intelligence be taught or can it only be learned by own interest?

Who knows what is best for you?

“You can rise up through the efforts of your own mind; or in the same manner, draw yourself down, for you are your own friend or enemy.” Bhagavad Gita ch6v5

This quote is from chapter 6 in the Bhagavad Gita where the path of meditation is explained (Yoga Dharana). Krishna, Arjuna’s friend and guide emphasises that we have the power to make our lives good or bad.

Notice how Krishna talks about the ‘efforts of [our] own mind’.  The mind is key and the outer circumstances are secondary in this theory of Yoga.
The work of self-observation and self-reflection is crucial in order to decide which aspects of our life and mind we can continue cultivating and which ones we need to change, and more importantly, how.

In the quest towards making choices that will improve your well-being, you can start by avoiding taking your mind and body too seriously. What does this mean? Avoid over-identifying yourself with the shape of your body or the state of your mind. Avoid the extremes of overindulging or neglecting yourself. In both cases, you are feeding into your ego mind which prevents you from reaching deeper into your Higher self which, according to Yoga, is Pure Potential.

Overindulging 

What do you associate with overindulging? How do you overindulge? We often think about food and alcohol, but there are other ways to overindulge: sex, work, sleep, social media, reading the news… It is basically any activity we do to stimulate our mind through our senses where we lose control.

Beside the possibility of harming our health, by losing control of our senses, we also lose the opportunity to keep a calm and clear state of mind. Patanjali talks about thoughts that bring pain, and thoughts that bring suffering. Thoughts that bring suffering are selfish thoughts. Whether we like it or not, when we lose control over our senses we are being selfish. We are seeking to feel good through the experience of sense objects. The problem is that, when we seek comfort by satisfying our senses, we end up in a negative spiral. We either experience momentary pleasure in sensual experiences, but the moment the stimulus is over, we start craving for more, or even worse, we don’t experience satisfaction until it is ‘too much’ leaving us feeling overstimulated, and maybe even remorseful for the loss of control over ourselves.

Overindulging often comes from a conscious or unconscious feeling of void. This void is felt in different ways by different people and we often connect it to past experiences or trauma. The truth is that if we all observe our mind, we all experience some sort of emptiness. For some, it is stronger, and for others it is more bearable. 

So, what to do?

  1. Slow down: when we slow down, we are more aware of what we do and why we do it.
  2. Make sure you rest enough: lack of sleep and rest can lead to overindulgece. The mind seeks stimulation to get out of tiredness or the emotional instability tiredness brings.
  3. Enjoy life with moderation: we are not encouraged to neglect ourselves. We are encouraged to use our senses to experience the world with its ups and downs but we are warned of the consequences of being controlled by our senses. Instead, we should aim to live a life of discipline, where we control the senses.
  4. Try not to put your well-being in sensory experiences. Cultivate contentment that is independent of the external world. Contentment is mentioned in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, it is anchored inside ourselves, no matter what is happening outside us.

By contentment, supreme joy is gained.” Book II sutra 42 Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras.

Swami Satchidananda writes in his commentary on Paranjali’s Yoga Sutras that one must understand the difference between contentment and satisfaction: ‘Contentment means just to be as we are without going to outside things for our happiness. If something comes, we let it come. If not, it doesn’t matter. Contentment means neither to like nor dislike.’

“ The contact of bodily senses with objects and attractions in the world creates feelings like sorrow or happiness, and sensations like heat or cold. But these are impermanent, transitory, coming and going like passing clouds. Just endure them patiently and bravely; learn to be unaffected by them.” Bhagavad Gita ch2 v14

The Bhagavad Gita invites us to live a life of moderation and of constant awareness over and control of the senses. The problem with putting our happiness in sensory experiences is that they do not last. Everything we experience in the outer world is transient. If we want to experience a constant feeling of contentment, we need to put our focus inwards. According to Yoga, all we need is already inside ourselves, beyond our mind and our body. If we take the time to slow down, to make contact with this inner core, we will gradually experience this feeling of contentment that is independent of anything that is happening around us.

  1. Take time to know yourself in all aspects of your life. Observe what happens when you sleep less, what happens when you sleep more. Try different techniques to improve sleep: reading, light exercise before bedtime, meditation, yoga, staying away from electric devices. Observe what happens with your body and mind when you eat certain food. Be honest with yourself. It might be possible that you feel satisfied after overindulging, but what happens next? Do you experience discomfort? If not, continue as you do. If yes, what can you change? If we take the time to listen to ourselves, to observe how our body and mind react to different stimuli, we find out what best suits us.
  2. Create habits and stick to them. We are all different, and it is good to listen to advice, but if you keep jumping blindly from one thing to another, you are not listening to yourself. It has taken me many years of either overeating or dieting to finally realize that something in between is what is best for me. I have tried different things and have come to a sustainable diet. Something that I can live with, that doesn’t complicate my life, on the contrary, it makes it easier.
  3. Be patient. Be consistent. Be kind and compassionate towards yourself. 

Self-neglect

“I must emphasize that you have to lift yourself by your own efforts! You must not allow yourself to be demeaned by your ego-self. Know that the self can be both friend and foe – a friend when used to conquer the mind, senses and body; a foe, when it drags one into the mind, senses, and the body. True Self (Atma) is the ally; the ego-mind self is the enemy.” Bhagavad Gita ch6 v5-6

Some feed into their ego by overstimulating their senses, some, by self-neglect. Many move from one to the other constantly beating themselves for either overindulging or for not taking care of themselves.

In any case, we are only feeding into our ego mind creating stress and distress for ourselves. Neglect is not only harmful for ourselves because how can we function to our best when we don’t take care of ourselves? How can we show genuine care, compassion and love to others when we don’t do it towards ourselves?

Therefore, the best thing you can do is to find MODERATION in your life.

“It is impossible to practice Yoga effectively if you eat or sleep either too much or too little. But if you are moderate in eating, playing, sleeping, staying awake and avoiding extremes in everything you do, you will see that these Yoga practices eliminate all your pain and suffering.” Bhagavad Gita ch6 v16-17

Note that ‘practice Yoga’ doesn’t mean to do physical exercise (asana), but the practice of cultivating a peaceful and clear state of mind. If what we seek is to live a more peaceful and clear life, we need to start by taking good care of ourselves. Even if we are taught that we are much more than our body and mind, these are the vehicles we have to move around and experience life. Therefore, we need to take care of both. The best way to do so is by living a life of moderation in actions and in thought.

What’s been on my mind lately

Short version : a lot.

I notice my mind has been all over the place lately. Even at night, I catch myself thinking half asleep. I don’t know why. I guess it’s a phase, so I just partly asume but I am also working on noticing and letting go, when possible. If I wake up in the middle of the night and notice my thoughts, I start repeating a short mantra I have and it always helps me go back to sleep right away.

I have also been reflecting about all the things that affect my mood wondering how I can keep a more stable state of mind, and it all goes back to the idea of grounding myself in my intentions and letting go of the expectations. Which keeps being easier said than done. I am so used to do things with a certain attitude that changing patterns is taking time. But I keep trying, I keep reminding myself, and some days, I manage.

My dad used to call me the satellite dish when I was little, because I was able to notice everything. I guess, in a way it is an asset because I can read people quite fast. I can see when someone is distressed, or sad, or angry often before others notice. If I use this ‘skill’ properly, I can show understanding and compassion and even give a helping hand if necessary. The problem is that, this skill, combined with my need for validation and my fear for doing something ‘wrong’ can be emotionally tiring because I read other people’s emotions as a direct result of my actions. Leading me to feel bad conscience in some cases and being judgemental towards the ‘other’ in others. So, it all ends up being about ‘me’ and not about the situation or the person experiencing a certain emotion in my presence.

An example, I go into the classroom, with my lesson ready but I am received by tired and frustrated students. Some of them can at times be rude. My first reaction is often to become defensive. I want to go through the lesson, I want them to learn, but with that attitude, we won’t get anywhere. I get caught up in my emotion, and by the end of the lesson, I am exhausted because I spent the whole lesson fighting against my own frustration and disappointment to act as a ‘professional teacher’.

What can be done differently here? Change the focus. It is not about me wanting to teach them. It is about the whole experience of being in the classroom, seeing each and every one of them, and letting go of my judgement of their behaviour or the circumstances. It is about putting my whole heart in the situation and forget about my own insecurities.

Don’t misunderstand me, I do care about their learning, but ultimately, I can only come prepared to the classroom with a plan that aims to meet their individual needs but if their minds are elsewhere, if they are experiencing some sort of emotional distress (which is very common for their age), all I can do is meet them with curiosity, with openness and at the same time stand my ground by setting a clear framework for our interactions, without allowing myself to believe that their actions and reactions are in any way a validation or rejection of me as a teacher.

I am also experiencing this in other relationships. I am reminding myself to give space for others to be who they need to be without allowing it to affect my inner peace. I have been observing myself for a while now, and I know that most of the time, my reactions to other people are 99,9% a product of my inner world. So why would I believe that it is different for others? How others behave with me has little to do with me and more with their inner world. So, why judge? Why try to see who I am in the gaze of others? Here too, the key is to meet everyone with an open heart but stand my ground. Know my limits, and remember that we are all doing as good as we can out of our own perceptions and belief systems.

So, to summarise, during the last few weeks, I have noticed how much I still live ‘out there’, and how peaceful I feel when I move my focus to my intentions and my actions and let the reactions be what they need to be. Sometimes I wonder what is the purpose of my life. I wonder if I am living the life I am supposed to live or if I should be doing ‘more’ or ‘bigger’. Lately, I’ve been reminding myself that it is not the size of what we do but with what attitude we do it. How we make people feel. How often we manage to detach from the I in order to create a space for the we to be. Maybe that is my ambition in life for the moment. To be able to meet everyone with an open mind and an open heart and keep my mind at peace.

Who will you spend the rest of your life with?

Have you ever asked yourself that question? What is the obvious answer?…You!

You might spend a lot of time and energy trying to make sense of your relationships with other people. You might invite people to your life and say good bye to others often connected to what they bring to your life, but how much time do you spend trying to figure out the person who will be with you until your last breath, namely you?

If I ask you how well do you know yourself? What would be your answer? Hopefully, you know your likes and dislikes, and you know your strengths and weaknesses. Often, however, our introspection stops there. We know how we think, how we feel and how we act in different situations, and we limit ourselves to believe that there is nothing we can do about it believing that that’s just how we are.

Yoga teaches us that there is more to ourselves than what we usually think, and taking the time to get to know ourselves better can help us:

  1. Accept ourselves better
  2. Gradually let go of the aspects of our mind that bring suffering to bring lasting peace of mind
  3. Cultivate the qualities that bring inner peace

Rude honesty, acceptance and refinement

The work of introspection starts with self-observation, honesty and acceptance. Observe your behaviour, thoughts and attitudes, and find what doesn’t help you cultivate inner peace, what creates distress, what hurts others and yourself. Honest reflection is required here but do this with the same kindness you would use to rise your own child. Do this with acceptance and without judgement, because if you don’t accept yourself, the work of refining your thoughts will be very difficult. Being judgemental towards yourself will mislead you and you will get stuck in the negative emotion created by your judgement missing the opportunity to go deeper.

Let us say that you have a tendency to get very angry and you don’t like how you behave when you do so. Every time you get very angry you end up doing and saying things that you know hurt others. After an outburst of anger, you then end up feeling frustrated and angry towards yourself regretting the whole situation for hours or even for days. Ruminating, blaming yourself for not being patient, blaming others for their behaviour, blaming the world for being as it is.

Do you see how much time and energy is invested in a pile of emotions that are not helping you? What we learn through the study and practice of yoga is to first and foremost accept that you experience anger but you are not anger. Anger is an emotion that comes to you as some sort of messenger, and you are invited to listen to this emotion, figure out why you get angry. The tough part is that you need to look inside yourself to find the answer instead of pointing your finger toward other people, or the circumstances that make you angry.

In yoga psychology, we learn that anger is often connected to our expectations or to fear. If we manage to recognise the source of the emotion, we then are able to do the work by asking ourselves if we can change or let go of the expectation or if our fear is unfounded. This kind of process requires patience, time and a lot of practice. Awareness is the first step, acceptance is the next one and then we can start the work of refining our perception in order to change the behaviour.

That is where the regular practice of meditation comes in handy. When we sit in silence with ourselves, we learn breathing techniques that help us slow down and relax. We learn to observe our thoughts as if they were some sort of movie playing on the screen of our mind. When we sit in meditation we do not act. We just observe. With practice, we can bring some of the elements of meditation to our everyday life. When I notice that I am angry, I can take some deep breaths to calm myself and create some space between the emotion and the reaction. I can observe my thoughts and allow them to stay as thoughts and not as actions. I can then remind myself where this emotion comes from, and choose the best way to deal with the situation without hurting myself or others in the process.

Another useful practice is to start noticing your self-talk as you go about throughout the day. Whenever you catch yourself being nasty towards yourself, stop, and try to change it to constructive self-talk. It is okey to be critical, to want to improve, but it is not okey if you are constantly putting yourself down.

Cultivate qualities that bring inner peace

The work of introspection is not easy, and it can leave us feeling vulnerable. It is not easy to see with full honesty into the limiting ideas we have about ourselves and those around us. It can be tough at times. That is why, we need to see ourselves as our most important ally in life. We need to accept, love and show compassion towards the aspect of ourselves that we do not like, and keep cultivating the aspects of ourselves that we know bring peace to our mind.

Both in the Bhagavad Gita and in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, we are encouraged to replace limiting thoughts that bring pain to ourselves and others with thoughts, attitudes and actions that bring inner peace and by consequence peace around us.

There are several ways to do this, but I want to highlight three:

  1. Decide which values you want to live up to, write them down somewhere. They shouldn’t be more than five. You can maybe range them from your topmost important. Every morning, read your values, and either choose to live consciously by applying them every moment of the day, or choose one for a period of time. Whenever you are in a situation where you need to make a choice on how to behave, go back to your value and reflect how you are applying it in the situation. It might happen that you sometimes go back to acting in a reactive way without reflecting, and realise that you went the completely opposite direction than the one shown by the chosen value. This is completely okay. Practice is one of the main principles in the yoga tradition, and it is not by chance. Every deep change needs practice. So, forgive yourself, learn the lesson, and keep trying.

In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, we find some guidance if we were unsure on what to choose, in Chapter 2, sutras 29-32, he talks about the Yamas or great vows, and Niyamas or observances. The Yamas are non-violence, truthfulness, non-stealing, continence and non-greed, and the Niyamas are purity, contentment, accepting but not causing pain, study of spiritual books, and self-surrender or worship to God (the Divine).

Furthermore, in chapter 1, Sutra 33, he gives practical advice on what kind of attitudes we can cultivate towards other people in order to cultivate inner peace:

‘By cultivating attitudes of friendliness towards the happy, compassion for the unhappy, delight in the virtuous, and disregard toward the wicked, the mind-stuff retains its undisturbed calmness.’

In the Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 16 verses 1-3, we find many uplifting values and attitudes that can help us:

‘(1) Fearlessness, purity of heart, perseverance in acquiring wisdom and in practicing yoga, charity, subjugation of the senses, performance of holy rites, study of the scriptures, self-discipline, straightforwardness;

(2) Noninjury, truthfulness, freedom from wrath, renunciation, peacefulness, nonslanderousness, compassion for all creatures, absence of greed, gentleness, modesty, lack of restlessness;

(3) Radiance of character, forgiveness, patience, cleanness, freedom from hate, absence of conceit—these qualities are the wealth of a divinely inclined person, O Descendant of Bharata.’

2. Whenever you catch yourself having thoughts that limit yourself. Thoughts that bring distress, stress and/or pain, acknowledge them, accept them, and remind yourself what you want to replace them with. Let’s say I want to live in Trust instead of Fear. Whenever I am worried about an uncertain situation in the near or far future, I can remind myself to trust I will be able to deal with it, and that I will get through whatever life brings.

‘When disturbed by negative thoughts, opposite [positive] ones should be thought of. This is pratipaksha bhavana.’ Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras translated by Swami Satchidananda

3. Create yourself an affirmation. If you know in which area of your life you struggle the most, for example, having a feeling of unworthiness, or feeling a lack of love, or feeling unsafe, create an affirmation for yourself: ‘I am enough’, ‘I am loved and protected’… During the day, whenever you remember, repeat your affirmation in your head, and especially in moments of distress.

You are much more than what you believe

Lastly, in the yoga tradition, we are constantly reminded that our body and our mind are only the vehicle through which we experience life, but we are much more than that. Every sentient being is at their core what in Sanskrit is called Atma. My favourite translation to English is Pure Potential. We all are this Pure Potential which is source of infinite love, creativity and happiness. That is why we keep seeking love and happiness throughout our lives! The challenge is that throughout our life (and lives, if you can accept the idea of reincarnation), our mind has been shaped by experiences, and this Pure Potential is covered with layares and layers of limiting ideas that do not allow us to see our real nature.

Our job is then to peel off the layers of limited thoughts to come closer to our core. We start by replacing our thoughts and behaviours that cause pain with what doesn’t cause pain, and little by little we are able to let go of everything that limits us to finally see the infinite goodness in ourselves and others.

Whether you believe in this or not, you should at least know that we all are capable of much more than we limit ourselves to believe. We all have the ability to change our mindset. It is not easy, it won’t happen in a day or two, but with practice and perseverance, you will notice the gradual changes.

Tiempo robado

Esta frase vino a mi mente un día en el que, a media tarde y entre semana, me tomé la libertad de sentarme un momento a no hacer nada. Por alguna razón, me sentí incómoda. Como si estuviera haciendo algo malo. Lo primero que pensé fue: ‘¿no tengo nada que hacer? Y obviamente que la respuesta era ‘sí’. Como ama de casa y maestra de secundaria, siempre tengo algo que hacer. Pero no tenía nada urgente que hacer. Mis clases del día siguiente estaban listas, no tenía tiempo tanto tiempo como para ponerme a limpiar la casa y no había tanta ropa sucia, además teníamos comida para los próximos días en el refri. Aún así, me senté con la sensación de que si alguien me viera, me juzgaría.

Desde hace dos o tres años, mi marido y yo estamos tratando de simplificar nuestra vida lo más que se pueda. La razón principal es que queremos pasar tiempo en familia. Tenemos tres hijos de 14, 12 y 11 años, y vemos con cierto horror lo rápido que el tiempo ha pasado desde que nuestro hijo mayor nació. No queremos un día ver atrás y darnos cuenta de que pasamos el tiempo que nuestros hijos estaban a nuestro cuidado corriendo de un lado a otro o exhaustos después de largos días llenos al tope de actividades. Este año, parece que al fin lo estamos logrando. Tiene que ver que nuestros hijos son más independientes ahora, pero también que hemos tomado decisiones con este objetivo en mente.

También me doy cuenta de que aunque todavía soy relativamente joven (43 años), mi nivel de energía no es el mismo que hace diez años. Mi actitud también tal vez ha cambiado. Después de varios años de practicar meditación, de ir a retiros de silencio y sentir lo que es tener la mente y el cuerpo tranquilos, no se me da la gana conscientemente llenar mis días tanto que por más que intente evitarlo, mis niveles de estrés regresen a lo que eran hace unos años.

La práctica de meditación y de vivir una vida consciente ayudan a mantener un estado mental más tranquilo, pero tampoco es magia. Si uno no hace mas que correr de un lado al otro, el sistema nervioso simpático es activado y cuando se vuelve algo crónico acaba uno agotado.

¿Tal vez el proceso de simplificar la vida es en cierta manera un efecto del trabajo de vivir una vida consciente? Cuando sabe uno cómo se siente vivir estresado, cuando sabe uno cómo quiere sentirse, no queda más que tener sus prioridades bien claras.

Pero regresando a la idea del ‘tiempo robado’, aunque tengo como objetivo en mi vida simplificar y correr menos, tengo bien anclado en mi inconsciente que cada minuto de mi día, especialmente entre semana, tiene que ser utilizado en hacer algo ‘productivo’ o algo para mi familia. Pero, ¿a quién pertenece el tiempo? ¿quién decide qué debo hacer con ‘mi’ tiempo?

Cada quién vive su vida como mejor puede, y últimamente pienso que si hago mi trabajo consciente de cuál es mi responsabilidad y poniendo mi mejor esfuerzo, puedo al mismo tiempo buscar el equilibrio entre el tiempo que paso haciendo mi trabajo y el tiempo que me doy para descansar o hacer algo que me ayude a desconectar mi menter por un rato. Lo mismo aplica para mis otras responsabilidades.

Tal vez parte de la ecuación es encontrar qué es lo que yo aporto en cada lugar en donde tengo responsabilidad. Esto me ayuda a tener más claro qué es suficiente, qué es lo mejor que puedo hacer bajo las circunstancias que tengo (tiempo y recursos) en vez de estarme comparando con otras personas o con un ideal inalcanzable.

Así que la próxima vez que me salga a caminar durante mi trabajo para airear mis pensamientos, o me siente a tomar un té un martes por la tarde, si las palabras ‘tiempo robado’ vienen a mi mente trataré de recordar que nadie es dueño de mi tiempo ni del tiempo de nadie. El tiempo es una herramienta que inventamos en un principio, seguramente para facilitarnos la vida, pero se ha vuelto un concepto que trae mucho estrés para la mayoría de la gente.