My Yoga Journal: Zen And The Art Of Christmas Holiday Navigation

And….BREATHE. Phew! That’s over for another year. It’s taken me a few years to work this out, having coped each subsequent year a little better than the previous, but I have learnt some things about myself over this last holiday period.

I need order.

I’m at the eleventh hour of the school holidays and its beginning to feel I imagine how a hostage situation might. My two captors have little or no regard for my health or well being nor the squalid conditions they prefer to keep me in with little or no contact with the outside world. Self preservation feels like Stockholm syndrome where I have taken quite a shine to my captors and insist on feeding, cleaning up after and entertaining them every day. Really, I just want someone to give them whatever it is they are asking for and get me THE HELL OUT OF HERE.

By order, I mean MY order.

Here’s how I like to roll on a “normal” day:

5:30 Get up and get into the shower
5:45 Put deodorant on, put hair up, brush teeth, moisturise face, get dressed – in that order
6:00 Turn the coffee machine on, fill the kettle, drink a glass of water, then meditate (for 5-10 minutes if I am driving to my friend’s house to walk; for 15 minutes if she is coming to me)
6:15 Put shoes on and go for a walk
7:15 have breakfast (always blueberries + sunflower, pumpkin & chia seeds + nuts + whole milk natural yoghurt + cinnamon + English Breakfast tea – white, no sugar), check my diary and write the day’s To Do list.

After this the kids get up and everything becomes a variable…but sort of goes:

7:45 Get the kids under the shower and dressed
8:00 Give the kids breakfast and make their lunches
8:15 Aim to calmly oversee the kids pack their school bags, make their beds and tidy their rooms – but inevitably end up shrieking half sentences like “GET OUT OF -”, “COULD YOU JUST -”, “WHERE IS YOUR -”, “HOW LONG DOES IT -”,”HOW MANY TIMES DO I -”.
8:30 Drop the kids to school on time, but always 5-8 minutes later than planned.
8:45 Exhale…

This ritualistic start to the day – especially up to the breakfast and To Do list part is the foundation upon which my mind, body and spirit flourishes or shrivels throughout the remainder of the day. Come holiday season with an additional parent in the house, operating on an entirely different agenda, or staying with other people – all of whom operate on a different platform – my mind, body and spirit quickly goes to hell in a hand basket.

Apart from immediate family chaos there is also extended family overload. Like a lab rat that just refuses to learn to avoid the cheese hooked up to the electric charge, every year I walk into family holidays expecting to be loved and appreciated for the fabulous person I am. That, after almost 15 years I can relax amongst friends, drink wine, blather on laugh, cajole, be me. WRONG! Spending the holidays with your in-laws is like being on holiday with Greg Evans and Dexter. I am not being unconditionally LOVED here, I am being constantly ASSESSED as to my compatibility scoring with My Husband – The Eldest Son and Cherished Big Brother. Sometimes I feel like (and have on occasion actually done) hiding in the bathroom and crying…then calling my Mum.

I used to go out with an engineer in my early 20s whose need for order and routine used to drive me loco. He had an innate need for order, routine and ritual. I completely understand this NOW but the problem on holidays, is that living according to someone else’s order feels like being in a perpetual state of trampoline “double bounce”. Trying to do the right thing at the right time, but never quite sure where to stand. Like dancing with a more experienced partner, I constantly step on toes.

I once discussed this need for order, my daily “clean slate” from which I could create my day, with Annemaree. I assumed it was aligned with my perfectionist control freak streak, so was chuffed when Annemaree told me that keeping an orderly space is “totally Yogic”. Like meditation stills the ripples in the mind, living in an ordered space provides a platform for creativity.

My challenge is striking that balance between my need for order, letting go of my attachment to it amidst the seemingly eternal holiday state of flux, and accommodating others’ need for either their own order or a preference for utter chaos.

I recognise that i absolutely require my own world order – now, if only I could stop feeling the need to apologise for it…

Until next time we meet,

Om & Out

AQAxxx

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Losing My Way

I have been struggling recently to stay the course.  Overall, I have managed to keep myself Cool, Calm & Collected. Apart from a school holiday disruption I have maintained my yoga and meditation practise and managed to emotionally negotiate a sudden job change for my husband. I have picked up a couple of new clients myself and everything is swimming along nicely.  My children are fed, healthy and on time for all of their various appointments. Our family schedule is brimming, but we make time for quality time with our expanding extended family. We would like more time to spend with our friends – but everyone’s in the same boat.

The struggle I am having right now is with handling judgement and OPOs.  OPOs?  Other People’s Opinions. I have been on the receiving end of OPOs recently and I have not handled them well. The Yogi in me knows that opinions are like belly buttons – everyone has them. The Zen part of me understands that opinions are a reflection of the holder of the opinion rather than the recipient of it. My Buddha nature knows to smile, be tolerant and accepting of all opinions and recognise the Buddha nature in everyone else. But when I am facing OPOs “in the moment”, my Yogi, Zen and Buddha nature leave the building.

I take full responsibility for my role in losing my banana. Both of the recent, most painful occasions were over the dinner table after sharing much wine – but when Person A told me that staying home with the kids full time and not contributing financially to the household was copping out, well I nearly leapt over the table and pulled his throat out. In this moment I discovered that I, in fact, had not fully come to terms with my domestic situation and he had clearly hit a very raw nerve. Buddha was nowhere to be seen, but Ego was right on my shoulder screaming “ATTACK!” I was deeply humiliated and offended by the comment and deeply embarrassed and ashamed of the way in which I responded.

I talked it through with Annemaree Rowley when I returned from holidays. She reminded me that when we are angry with others it is always a reflection of what we do not like about ourselves. This is a phenomenon known as “projection”. After more talking I came to realize that it wasn’t the CONTENT of what he said, it was the JUDGEMENT. If I look back to all of the major conflicts and arguments I have been involved in – those ones that still make me wince when I recall them – it is when I have felt judged. Judged, or offered mostly unhelpful, unproductive OPOs about parenting, my children, my intelligence, my family, my financial status and on and on. When OPOs don’t match my version of reality, conflict arises. This is where it starts to get interesting.

This is the playground of the ego. This is where being right becomes more important than being happy (kudos to Dr. Phil for that one). In “biting back” to an uninvited, unhelpful OPO is in itself an expression of judgement thereby perpetuating the violence of judgement. This is the sort of stuff that the Dalai Lama has internalized completely so if he had been at the dinner table he would have giggled – which would have made me want to rip his throat out too. But I think you know what I’m getting at here.

It is mind-bending stuff really. My intolerance of intolerance is itself intolerant, so I am what I loathe. I told you.  Mind-bending. Whilst I may not always have the ability to take on this concept in a cool and calm manner, being aware of it means I can recognize it arising. This is mindfulness. So my second encounter with another unhelpful, uninvited OPO last week – whilst not handled perfectly, was recognized as it arose and handled…. better. Mindfully.

I came across a quote by Alain de Botton quote recently  which helped me identify the conflict:

“A snob is anybody who takes a small part of you and uses that to come to a complete vision of who you are.”

This defines the turmoil I have found myself in because not only is this what hurts me the most, it is the way in which I have both knowingly and unknowingly inflicted the most harm. I have raised snobbery to a high art form at times! I can be extremely judgmental – it’s an acquired skill as a marketer! You have to make broad assumptions about sweeping chunks of the population based on piecemeal evidence in order to generate profits. This concept, whether in the personal or professional realm, panders to our egos by creating a feeling of inclusion or exclusion. If you’re in you’re in, if you’re out you’re out – like those horrible days in the playground.

As if by magic, I was lying on the floor of Annemaree’s deep relaxation class and she read the following from a meditation she had written herself:

Judgment of yourself holds hands with unrelenting fear you know.

Judgment of others stops you from attending to yourself!

 Of course, when we succumb to this form of behaviour, we then project onto others.  We seek fault in others and criticize so that we don’t have to look at ourselves.  We fill in the gap in our hearts with judgment, often being so totally self-absorbed that we don’t understand just how detrimental unkindness can be to another.

 Often it comes in the form of ‘ribbing’ or ‘teasing’ with an insidious camouflage of mate ship or friendship.  Often it is recited in little quips across a dinner table which although delivered under the guise of humour often humiliates and undermines the receiver. 

 Or judgment may be delivered in the form of a compliment with a ‘but’ beginning the next sentence!

 We become critical of everyone and everything, never realising for one moment that everyone around us need kindness and compassion too.

Having felt that I have lost my Yogic way recently, that I disappoint other people, that I do not live up to their expectations, that I disappointed myself, I gave myself an hour this morning to sit down and eat some worms about it all. Then I gave myself permission to just drop it and move on.

So I return to my breath, I live in this moment and – without taking it all too seriously – I will TRY to be the best version of myself within each moment and speak only with kindness – and not rip the throats out of ignorant sods.

Until next time we meet,

Om & out

AQAxxx

This article has been contributed by Cool, Calm & Collected’s student, writer & eternal work-in-progress, Anita Quigley Atherton.