Be the change you'd like to see in the world
The moon has been up to her tricks again. With the rare second full moon in Libra last week, a major rebalancing has been taking place, which has been building for months now.
Change has been in the air and after Friday’s full moon, a couple of my friends remarked on how they were finally feeling more like themselves again. I can relate to this.
It’s like the balance has been reset, the pendulum has stopped its swinging and has found its new balance, having had its foundation shaken by the the shifting energy of the eclipses, ushering in change.
The idea of ‘being the change you’d like to see in the world’, that Gandhi is quoted as saying (although there is some question as to whether he actually said this) is something that I have been working with for 9 months or so now and this certainly been supported by the moon energy.
It became clear to me back then, that the way I was living my life was not sustainable, nor bringing me the peace of mind and joy that I sought. This is not to say that there was anything massively wrong with my life per se, I am grateful because I have a very blessed life. But nonetheless I was aware that there were imbalances and that these imbalances were affecting my health and wellbeing and having a knock on effect on the family.
In short, I was stressed. It seems ironic to think that a yoga teacher can be stressed, but I wasn’t just a yoga teacher at that time. I was also working as a part-time company secretary for a wealth management company in the Guernsey offshore finance industry, on a self-employed basis. I had also just started my Ayurvedic and Sanskrit studies and I was in the process of publishing my book, Namaste.
Furthermore, I had a sense that my own stresses were just a reflections of the stresses in the bigger world out there – after all, we are a microcosm of the macrocosm, so what is happening outside of us will be happening within each of us in some way. The world had become a stressful place in which to live!
But how to ease the stress? How to make the changes?
Well it has to start with us doesn’t it. We can’t just look to others to make the changes to society, or to make the changes within us, we have to take responsibility for making those changes ourselves.
This is the tricky bit. After all, for me, it had taken 43 years to cultivate my life to that point, with all those ingrained habits and conditioning. Sure, I’ve spent a good few years trying to unravel some of this, but in the process I have no doubt I’ve laid down new pathways, new behaviour patterns and thought processes that were no longer serving me either - us yoga teachers are human too, more fool anyone who puts us up on a pedestal!
It was probably visiting the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides that was the tipping point for me. I was a little bit stressed before going, making sure that I was on top of the finance job and the studying, and all the other balls that I was juggling at the time. There were far too many when I think back, but sometimes we don’t recognise when we’ve taken on too much until it’s too late.
We arrived at our cottage out on the Uig peninsular far away from civilisation (or so it felt), to find that Wi-Fi was intermittent and offered poor connection. Initially irritating, this turned out to be a blessing because it gave me the chance to truly switch off and retreat from the rest of the world. I couldn’t answer work emails, check Facebook or do any of the online studying as I had intended - I felt liberated, as if I could breathe more fully again.
It was then that I recognised how much my phone and the internet were the cause of much of my underlying stress – I could never switch off.
But it was more than that. I started to question the need for all the working, this being an ingrained behaviour pattern all of its own. What was my motivation? Why did I always have to be achieving? And to what gain?
These were awkward questions to answer. I had to stop lying to myself and making excuses for maintaining the status quo. I needed to be honest if I ever stood a chance of making the changes I knew needed to be made.
The pace of life on Lewis was much slower than in Guernsey, and we could go a whole day with only seeing a handful of people, which I relished. I am a loner at heart and thrive on anonymity, peace and solitude, and with Elijah now at school, the school run is a stressor in itself! The landscape in the Outer Hebrides is raw and wild and my soul was nourished by the visit.
Returning home, I couldn’t let go of the idea of returning, and there followed days of checking and pricing flights and accommodation. However, the Isle of Lewis is not the easiest place to access and the air travel costs a small fortune. Could we really justify a return trip, and would it live up to our first experience?
It then crossed my mind, that it wasn’t necessarily the Isle of Lewis that I most craved, although it is a truly beautiful place, but it was the lifestyle that we had enjoyed while we were there and the quality family time without me being distracted by my phone. Which made me reflect on how I was living and what was wrong with this to cause me to want to be somewhere else in the first place.
It’s so easy to just accept that this is how we are and this is our life, forgetting that we have a choice in how we live, and that how we live, or might want to live, changes over time. It is easy to get stuck. Why had my life become the way it has become, filled with rushing and doing and achieving? Was it about parental expectation (no), or the expectation I had put on myself (maybe), or was it because this has just become the way (partly)?
These are also difficult questions to answer because we are so caught up in the busyness of our lives that we can’t always see what motivates us to live the way that we do. But I can guarantee that there will be other people in our lives who are our our mirrors, reflecting back to us that which we most need to look at it in ourselves. I was aware of this, and I began to notice other friends in a similar situation to me and I noticed the manner in which their work had become of a priority to them than spending time with their children, and the manner in which they tried to justified this.
This bothered me. Not that they made that choice to constantly work – that is theirs to make. But that I too was always putting work before my children and that my life was frenetic as a result. The irony was, that I had spent so many years desperately wanting children and had gone through so much heartache (see my book Dancing with the Moon) to conceive and birth them and yet here I was, always working.
It wasn’t that it was even conscious. That’s the bit that threw me the most and sent me into a bit of a spin. Why was I working so much? What was my motivation? Why was I doing 3 different jobs? Was it for financial security (partly)? Was it for the love of it (yes to yoga and Reiki, no to finance), Was it to help others (yes for yoga and Reiki, no to finance), or was it just because that is what I’d always done (yes!)?
I realised that I hadn’t consciously chosen to be away from my children, I mean yes, they can be hard work all in themselves, but I really do enjoy my time with them, it was more so that I have always had a very strong work ethic and have always felt guilty not working.
I started to pay more attention to how my ‘work’ was making me feel.
I noticed that while teaching yoga and Reiki invigorated me, I felt heavy hearted cycling into the office to do the finance job each day and that I would frequently sigh with the sheer frustration of it. Why was I doing a job that was not making me feel joyous and that was taking me away from my children? There were many reasons – on some level I was emotionally attached having helped to set up the company, and there was the security it provided, it was my safety net.
But I quickly recognised that it had to go. I needed to make the change. I was lucky in many respects because this was only a part-time and very flexible job, and I was already teaching yoga and Reiki part-time too, so the transition was not perhaps as challenging as it might otherwise have been.
But nonetheless, there was a leap of faith involved in the process. While the heart may well guide us and make the path ahead clear, the mind and the ego like some assurance and certainty that all will be well. The mind likes to analyse and evaluate, running through various scenarios, considering the ‘what if’s’ and all the while the ego is trying to maintain the status quo, fearful of change and anything that might compromise its false sense of control.
Even once the decision has been made, there is always that period of second questioning, of ‘the grass is always greener’ and the ‘well maybe it wasn’t so bad after all’ thinking. But that’s just fear and half the battle in making the change, is overcoming this.
Needless to say leaving the finance world was liberating and it ushered in the potential for a new way of being. But I noticed that habits and tendencies die hard and still my stress levels needed reducing to restore my overall sense of wellbeing.
Stress is a tricky one, it becomes such a part of us, that we don’t even realise that there can be any other way. I lost count of the number of times I caught myself saying, “I’m tired”, “I’m stressed”, until I suddenly thought, “oh my goodness, I go on and on about how tired and stressed I am that it has become a self-fulfilling prophesy and I have become so identified with it that it has become who I am, Emma = stressed and tired.
This acknowledgment was the push I needed to truly try to implement further change. I didn’t want to spend my life being stressed and tired and being defined by this. I didn’t want to keep repeating bad habits over and over again.
I see and hear it frequently. The new year is a good example of this. People want to change. They’ve acknowledged that they drink too much alcohol, they eat too much of the wrong foods, they stay up too late at night, they spend too much time on Facebook and social media, their job stresses them out, they smoke too many cigarettes, they don’t exercise enough, they buy too much stuff they don’t really need, they don’t see as much of their children as they would like to see.
They try to make changes. They come to yoga hoping that this will solve their problems. And it can, over time. But because the change is not instantaneous, because they don’t suddenly lose their craving for chocolate, alcohol, shopping,(xxx fill in the blank), then they stop coming. Give up. Head in sand. We’ll worry about the changes that need to be made another time. Maybe tomorrow. Or the next day.
But when does tomorrow or the next day ever arrive? How much of our lives are lived on the thought of the life we might live in the future if only we can finally implement the changes?
My favourite all time quote is, “If you always do what you’ve always done, then you’ll always get, what you always got”.
I knew without doubt that changes had to be made and they had to be made now. There is only now!
But how to make the changes? Ayurveda encourages the ‘little by little approach’ so that you don’t become overwhelmed. This is not to say that BIG changes can’t be made, but sometimes the idea of this can freak us out before we’ve even gotten going.
Ayurveda and my study of it (not forgetting Sanskrit) has helped hugely in ushering in change simply because it is transformative by its very nature. The Scaravelli-inspired approach to yoga came into my life at just the right time, creating changes in my yoga practice – this approach being all about resting into the spine and into the earth and allowing the undoing. Allowing the undoing! What a shift in perspective! Yoga Nidra, Vedic chanting, Reiki and the ongoing shadow work that I do with Jo de Diepold continues to support the process (I call it CPD for the soul!).
So the truth is, I haven’t really had to do anything to create change. Instead, I have just had to allow the undoing. Of undoing the doing. Of noticing the aspects of my life, and life generally that are stressing me, and slowly letting them go.
For example, I deleted my personal Facebook account because I recognised that going on Facebook was making me feel stressed. I noticed that I was taking photos simply to share on Instagram and I questioned the purpose. Why did I feel the need to share my life with others? What was the motivator? Was it the ego? Was it to be someone? I couldn’t be sure, so out went Instagram.
Initially it felt odd, but the there was a sense of relief. I had managed to retreat from the world, without having to leave it. I didn’t need to move to the Outer Hebrides to experience this, I just needed to come off social media and reduce the time that I spent on my phone! So simple!
There were other changes; the tightening of boundaries, not saying yes when I meant to say no, not care-taking as I had done previously, not having a glass of wine or two to relieve my stress, going to bed much earlier, being more discerning, shifting my perspective on work, questioning the underlying motivation for whatever it is I’m doing and being aware of whether it is stressing me, and of course prioritising my beautiful children, and E, so that we spend more quality family time out in the raw and wild landscape of Guernsey! Sadly, I can’t do much about the school run, at least not for now!
I know that there’s still some way to go to make the changes that need to be made. I am not perfect and nor do I ever want to give the impression that I am.
I was putting the washing out at sunrise the other morning and I noticed four planes high in the sky overhead. I thought to myself that this too has to change. Then I read that Greta Thunberg, the Swedish schoolgirl climate activist, has not travelled by plane since 2015. She is being the change that she would like to see in the world and I admire her for this. Maybe planes will be next for me too, I’ve floated the idea past Ewan so let’s see!
The truth is, that since making some of the changes, my stress levels have reduced significantly. Furthermore, time has slowed down a little bit, so that it doesn’t feel as if there is so much rushing going on, life is no longer frenetic. We are the micro of the macro, as we change ourselves so the outer world changes too.
This is what motivates me to continue to practice and teach yoga. At its core, yoga is about ceasing the fluctuations on the mind so that we may experience peace. The more we can cultivate a peaceful mind-set within ourselves, the more the outer world will be peaceful. It has to start with us. We have to take responsibility. No one else can do it for us. Maybe it’s not the only way, but it’s a way that seems to works for me and for that I’m very grateful.