I have mixed feelings about social media photo challenges. I appreciate the connection the person who tags me is making, and the challenges are a creative way to step out of the mundaneness of daily… More
A few years back, a colleague and I were asked by our director to write material for a potential teacher-training course. It was going to take a lot of our time and energy, but we were excited about what we could come up with. At one point I mentioned we should credit it, “created and developed by Josette and (insert colleague’s name).” He winced and said something along the lines that he wasn’t in it for the recognition.
I get it. The ego is a strange beast. But at what point are you standing up for your voice, — for your good work — and at what point are you stroking your ego’s pride? What I heard my colleague say is that there is a link between putting our names on our work and being egotistical; I heard that playing big and celebrating my voice is something to wince at; I also heard that it’s more acceptable to make myself small, or better yet, invisible.
Two questions came out of this: don’t we risk giving away our confidence, power, and self-trust by making ourselves small? And, why is recognition a bad thing anyway?
Making myself small
This has always been a challenging topic for me because there are so many mixed messages about what’s considered positive behavior around putting ourselves out there. It’s more acceptable for me to be modest, but if I’m too modest how am I going to stand out? It’s less egotistical to let someone else praise my work because if I talk about myself then I’m full of myself. So what if no one ever talks about my work? Am I just going to wait in the shade until that happens?
When I gave the first draft of my chapter to our editor (and prolific writer in her field), she sent it back saying I was giving too much credit to one of my references. She told me to rewrite a whole section by owning the work I had done with his work and by taking him out of that part of the equation. He wasn’t the one in my classroom experimenting with his ideas: I was. At that point, his work had become mine.
I was confused about how much credit I could take because I believed it wasn’t acceptable to shine. I thought it wasn’t my work to celebrate. The line between his work and mine was so blurred I couldn’t even see myself. It took longer than it probably should have because my confidence was put to the test, but I finally balanced out that equation.
Recognition vs. celebration
I understand why people cringe at the idea of recognition. I think it has to do with the intention behind it. Do I want to be recognized because I want to take a step up the ladder, not caring about what others think? Or would I like recognition (acknowledgment, appreciation) because I value connection and learning with others, especially in relation to my soul’s work?
One way I make sense of this idea of giving and taking credit is by putting myself in the position of the person who created the technique/activity/research I’m using. I imagine the hours they experimented, observed, and assessed their area of interest. I ask myself, “how would they feel if they read my work, saw themselves in it, but didn’t see any reference to themselves?” I imagine they would feel hurt and disappointed.
Maybe I’m influenced by Byongchan‘s work. When I see him labouring emotionally, creatively, and physically over his art so he can come up with a signature piece, I imagine the joy he might feel when it’s seen and celebrated for its beauty. I can’t speak for him, but I know I feel quite happy when others acknowledge his work.
You can substitute his work as an artist with any other creative endeavor, which I clearly connect to teaching. The joy of my craft comes from the process of creating what I feel called to and then sharing that creation. And while my sharing doesn’t guarantee it will be acknowledged — and I don’t do only to be acknowledged — there is a sense of encouragement that comes when my work is celebrated. It gives me the courage and energy to keep doing the work. Looking at it this way, it’s helpful to substitute recognition with celebration.
I understood my colleague’s intentions on that day. And maybe my ego was more in control than my gentle inner artist/teacher. Maybe that’s what he sensed. But as I look back on this moment, I now understand I’m not interested in lowering my voice or the voice of others for fear of being seen as egotistical. I want to celebrate the good work I do, as well as the good work I see around me. This is part of the way the world keeps evolving in a positive forward motion. As long as I’m in the business of creating and collaborating, I plan to give credit to the voices of my community. I’ll gladly take that credit as well.
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Turns out 2017 may have been just as magical as 1977. I was born in 1977, and in a way, I was reborn in 2017. This is evident from the list you’ll see below. This is also the year our first child will be born. Like I said, pretty magical.
I’d love to know which listed lesson stood out for you, so please leave me a comment. It would be fun to write a full blog post on that particular topic. These were hard to boil down to only a few sentences!
A large portion of what I’ve learned this year comes from the alchemy of the Ayurveda Yoga Teacher Training (Leadership) course; the Emerge mentorship program with Elizabeth DiAlto and 21 other women; and Terri Cole‘s Real Love Revolution course. I’ve also learned a great deal from my baby-to-be. There’s nothing like a body forming in your womb for you to gain perspective. Talk about alchemy.
In no particular order (except that the first one pretty much encompasses them all), here we go!
1. Everything I’ve ever needed has always been inside of me.
2. Being part of a community who is on the same page is necessary for me to live the abundant life I want. Without the supportive and loving women and men I’ve surrounded myself with this year, I never could have become the person I am now.
3. Asking for help is helpful! That’s why this world is full of people with their own unique strengths: to help each other.
4. Having an accountability partner who helps keep my spiritual, emotional, and professional goals in check is conducive to success. I’m so grateful for mine, April Monique. Check out the important work she’s doing with helping people live whole, brave, and loving lives.
5. When I put myself out there, I get positive results. Sure, I may get negative reactions, but it’s by expressing myself and connecting with others that life emerges. It’s exciting stuff! It’s good to dream, but I also have to do.
6. Witnessing someone’s suffering is more helpful than saying “the right thing”. Hearing “I witness your suffering,” or “I witness you during this challenging time,” does something pretty miraculous to the heart.
7. Healthy boundaries are incredibly important and necessary in order to live a calm and content life.
8. Codependency ruins relationships. It’s a common, and often accepted, way to function, but it doesn’t have to be that way. You also don’t have to be in a relationship with someone who is an alcoholic, a drug addict, or who is highly neglectful for you exhibit codependent behaviour.
9. It’s helpful to know the difference between discernment and judgment. Judgment puts power outside of me. Discernment puts power within me.
10. There are topics I can talk about with some people but not with others. Knowing the difference saves me energy.
11. Letting people have their own experience, and relinquishing control over others or outcomes, keeps me from feeling stressed and anxious.
12. Confidence comes from evidence.
13. I don’t need to be an expert. I can own what I know now and even teach from this place. A fifth grader can teach a fourth grader.
14. There’s power in the pause.
15. When I do things that don’t resonate with my heart, I end up feeling resentful. I know I’m feeling resentful when I blame others or I complain about the environment I’m in. Whenever I feel resentful about a person or project, it’s a good sign I need to get out of the situation or relationship, or at least change my approach to it.
16. Perfectionism is a sign I’m not dealing with my uncomfortable feelings.
17. I have more to learn about surrendering to and receiving the natural flow of the Universe, but it’s one of my most intriguing points of growth.
18. When I speak my truth and I don’t fear what others will say, I feel so much more energized and ready to do more work than if I have to conform to what I think others want me to do. Doesn’t that sound so convoluted? That’s because it is. Just be you.
19. If I’m worried about how much people are judging me, it usually means I’m judging others as much.
20. Being able to clearly articulate my values has helped me put in perspective concepts that have challenged me, and helps me make better decisions about my life.
21. Life is full of paradoxes and the more I accept this, the happier I am.
22. When I let go of trying to control the outcome, I allow miracles to happen.
23. It’s okay for me to change my mind if the decision I made doesn’t feel right. It doesn’t mean I’m not reliable. It means I know myself, and I’m evolving.
24. All I need to do to make a decision is listen to my intuition, but this listening takes practice.
25. Grounding myself in my body is essential to my mental health. It helps me tune into my intuition so I can make decisions I can stand by.
26. It’s important to have people in my life to honestly and openly talk about my problems, but true answers come from within.
27. The opinion of others can derail me quickly, so it’s really not helpful to ask for it.
28. We project of our feelings and experiences onto other people, and it’s important to check in to see if the story we tell ourselves is actually true. Our imaginations can get us into trouble.
29. While culture brings so much beauty and diversity to the world, and it should be respected in many ways, it isn’t something we need to put on a pedestal. It can brainwash us into believing certain things about ourselves that probably aren’t true.
30. I can’t get over the ridiculous idea that’s been perpetuated in most cultures for years: that women are weak. Women’s bodies are the embodiment of strength an resiliency. We go through menstrual cycles (not to mention everything that goes along with this), pregnancy, and birth, and come back from all this kicking more ass. How is this weak?
31. I’m in awe of the female body. It’s an example of the ultimate surrender. I’m not doing anything except eating, resting, and exercising, and my body is creating a human.
32. It’s taken pregnancy to help me understand that my body is pivotal to my self-development.
33. Working with my body improves my mental health. Doing a daily breathing and movement practice makes me feel calmer, more relaxed, and more present.
34. Baby moons are a thing, and I’m glad we learned about this as a way to transition into parenthood. Life will never be the same, and it was important to honour that.
35. The menstrual cycle is a superpower, and I’m grateful I can experience its wisdom.
36. It’s okay, and healthy, to cry. I still struggle with this — I still apologize when I cry — but I hold back less than I did. Feeling shame for crying is not helpful for anyone.
37. When I don’t allow myself to feel feelings, most importantly the “ugly” ones, they control me.
38. Looking at the dark spots in my life is the only way to make room for lighter moments. It’s worth honestly looking at mistakes I’ve made or pain I may have caused. Having this witnessed by someone I trust helps make that light come in more clearly. It removes blocks I didn’t even know existed.
39. I have a lot to learn about equality, diversity, and inclusivity.
40. Forty feels fabulous.
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I’m a white, Acadian-Canadian woman, raised Catholic in a predominantly white community, currently living in South Korea. I could easily say that what happened in Charlottesville isn’t my story. But having had a geographical closeness to North Korea and USA’s bids for superiority during the decade I’ve lived here, I’ve learned that what happens in the USA affects much more than the USA.
I write this from my experience, and I’ll probably do a messy job of it. I’ve accepted that. What I write might make people uncomfortable. I accept this too. I’m not looking to explain, debate, or justify anything I share, and this isn’t a time for comfort.
I do hope, however, that by writing this I spark something sacred and courageous within you. I hope my sharing empowers you to shine your own light.
Darkness can’t remain dark once you shine a light on it. What happened in Charlottesville is an example of how the darkness has strived. I’m committed to doing my part in making sure it doesn’t envelope more than it already has. As Peggy McIntosh writes in her article White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack:
“To redesign social systems, we need first to acknowledge their colossal unseen dimensions.”
So to do this, I’m writing about ways I think I’ve contributed to racism and how I think I’ve benefited from white privilege. I understood why it was important to share my story after watching Brené Brown’s Facebook live video. And I found the resolve to write this after watching Vice’s documentary on the Charlottesville protests. As I’ve written about before, this documentary is something I normally would have avoided, but avoidance is what got us into this mess, and again, this isn’t a time for comfort.
Ways I’ve contributed to racism
Last week I posted this image of overt and covert white supremacy on my Facebook page. This encouraged a short discussion about the term “white supremacy” and the need to unpack the terms listed under “covert white supremacy”. My intention in posting the pyramid was to raise awareness regarding how white people might secretly, if not unknowingly, be contributing to racism. Then I suggested that we may need to create a more precise pyramid to make sure the concepts weren’t misleading.
Although I’d like to do this, and hope someone does, I’ve decided my time is better spent doing my own messy and imperfect unpacking. So here goes:
- I’ve been teaching English as a foreign language from a mostly euro-centric curriculum in South Korea for the past 12 years. I can refute linguistic imperialism, and work on promoting English as a global language, but I can’t deny that my job was built on the shoulders of white Europeans who colonized Asian, African, American, and Oceanic countries.
- I’ve used racist terminology. This was when I was much younger, but regardless, I did it.
- I’ve remained quiet while others made racist jokes. This was also in my younger days. I’m not justifying having done this. I’m just providing a timeline because I’ve changed.
- I’ve remained quiet as older people belittled the economic reality of people of color, especially that of African-Americans and First Nations people in Canada. I didn’t know how to speak up to these people I’m supposed to respect.
I may be in denial of a few more. I’m not sure. That’s the sneaky thing about racism, or maybe implicit bias; we can sometimes be unaware of our racial conditioning. But the more I unpack, and shine a light, the more aware I’ll become. And in this awareness, change becomes possible.
But there’s a bit more unpacking to do.
Ways I’m benefiting from my white privilege
In her Facebook live video, Brené Brown explains that, “privilege is not about how much you work; it’s about unearned access and authority,” and that “privilege when it comes to race is about unearned rights.” So because I’m a white, English-speaking woman from North America with a Catholic upbringing, I have many unearned rights.
My unearned access and rights have served me well in Korea. I can complain all I want about being stared at, and about being treated differently because I’m not Korean [i.e. microagressions (but also nothing like the microagressions many others experience)], but the underlying reality is I’m benefiting from my white privilege, especially as it pertains to my income and social status. Things have changed in recent years, but there is still a widely held preference in private and public schools to hire white teachers, preferably from North America, Australia, or England. I’ve never had to worry about my white skin or blue eyes being grounds for scrutiny. There’s something unjust about this.
I know there are many other ways I’m benefiting without merit, and I think that just by unpacking what I shared about my career as a teacher could reveal a lot more, but this post is long enough.
I’m still not sure what will come from telling this story. I sense it has something to do with spiritual activism. I also know I’m tired of being controlled by darkness, and maybe by sharing my story with you, you’ll come to terms with how tired you are too. If that’s the case, please know you aren’t alone. There are safe spaces for you to share your truth, and to let your light shine. This blog is a place to start.
- Elizabeth DiAlto – For White People Asking, “What Can I Do?” After Charlottesville
- John Pavlovitz – Yes, This is Racism
- Layla Saad – I need to talk to spiritual white women about white supremacy (Part One)
- The Culture Inside episode by the producers of Invisibilia podcast – in the second half of the episode, the interviewees explore their implicit bias toward race. One man’s account is particularly heart-wrenching as he is a white man with an adopted African-American daughter.
- Discussions about our collective shadow between Tami Simon of Sounds true, and the mystical scholars, Andrew Harvey and Caroline Myss.
Resources for healing and action:
- Consider your position on using language that shames people who don’t share your position by watching Brené Brown’s video at 20:50. She starts off with,”Shame is not a motivator for better behaviour. Shame ignites two things: rationalization, blame.” She then continues to explain how you can speak to people with different beliefs without shaming them.
- Marianne Williamson’s talk after Charlottesville where she encourages American citizens to learn more about their history and strategies for non-violent resistance.
- 198 Methods of Nonviolent Action – I recommend choosing one item from this list, and cut and pasting it to Google. Here you’ll find examples of what that action looks like, and how you might carry it out.
- Non-Violent Resistance (Satyagraha) by Mahatma Gandhi
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Frameworks, formulas, modalities, systems. They serve us well. Whether it’s a lesson planning framework you use to teach a language skill, or the set of rules you follow within your religion, systems help tame the chaos of daily living. But in this taming, don’t we risk losing our creative freedom of self-expression?
My framework geek-out story
If you’ve been in one of my classes, if you’ve seen me present, if you’ve been in one of the self-development groups I facilitated, or if you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ll know that I’ve been a fan of certain learning frameworks. You might even say that I was a framework crusader. The two main frameworks I’ve preached are the “observation, feelings, needs, request” communicative framework of Nonviolent Communication (NVC) and the Experiential Learning Cycle (ELC) which is a reflective practice framework used for personal and professional development. The combination of these frameworks was even the central theme of a chapter I wrote for a book that was published last year.
My framework shame story
But what I couldn’t articulate for a long time was how I often felt constrained by these frameworks. It was Jadah Sellner’s interview with Elizabeth DiAlto on the Untamed the Wild Soul Podcast that helped me pinpoint the dissonance I felt. In the interview, Elizabeth gives a brilliant explanation (at 28:14) of why people might feel as I do:
There is a lot of danger with frameworks and formulas because they will work for some people. Some people are built to follow them. So many are not. And the people who aren’t rarely go, “Oh, that wasn’t the framework for me.” They’re usually like, “What’s wrong with me? I’m the worst.” They compare themselves to all the people it does work for, when it’s just (…) you’re a uniquely designed person. You’ve got to figure out your own way.
This! A version of this inner dialogue had been going on for years. I especially felt it in relation to NVC. The story was usually along the lines of me not being compassionate enough, not enough of a good listener, or that I didn’t use the framework well enough. At some points I even considered myself a fraud for writing or talking about NVC. Who was I to promote NVC when I felt challenged in using the framework in personal relationships?
When I first learned about the ELC, and during the first four years of this blog, I used it anytime I faced a challenge in my teaching. It was super helpful. But after a while, I started to doubt myself and avoided using it to reflect on my teaching. Then I judged myself for not using it, and eventually the inner dialogue was that I wasn’t a good teacher.
My NEW story
Now that I’ve stepped back from both, and took some time to follow my own creative flow, I can see how I didn’t feel free to fully express myself within these frameworks . At first, they were exactly what I needed. They helped me navigate unfamiliar territory, and helped me out of some challenging situations. But as my self-awareness grew, and as I made my own path, the frameworks felt constrictive. I felt like a snake who was choosing to remain in its old skin.
Of course this was all self-inflicted. I didn’t have to follow these frameworks. I chose to because of an older story: others know better than me. I was looking outside myself for a way to live a good life, a better life, when the truth is everything I’ve ever needed has always been inside of me (as Elizabeth always says), and the life that I have now is good as it is.
Frameworks can provide a solid foundation for those who are starting a new career or who are exploring new concepts. This is how they helped me. However, it’s important to remember that I can take what I want from these frameworks, and I can leave behind what doesn’t work. In doing this, I create my own framework: the framework of my own wildly unique life.
Do you have a similar story with frameworks, formulas, modalities, or systems? Which story are you in right now: the geek-out, the shame, or the new story?
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“No! Why don’t YOU stop? We’re just trying to get in this car!” I shout to the cyclist at the top of my lungs.
“Christ. What was that at all about?” I ask the Uber driver as I finally get in.
A woman zooming through the city streets on her bike had just yelled at my sister and I to get out of the way. The driver admitted he shouldn’t have picked us up in the bike lane. This is when I realized Toronto has bike lanes. Oops.
Although I value kindness and compassion, I slip up and lose it sometimes. I get impatient, frustrated, and angry. Instead of pausing before I react, I react.
I share this to be clear with you: I’m not perfect. I’m not enlightened. I’m not mindful a hundred percent of the time. Heck, I don’t think I’m mindful twenty percent of the time. When someone or something pushes the right button, mindfulness goes out the door.
But you know what? I’m able to pause much more than I did before. My reaction time is getting longer, and I sometimes don’t react at all. Some things that used to drive me crazy don’t faze me one bit now.
And when I do go overboard, like I did on the streets of Toronto, I don’t blame myself as much as I used to. I don’t waste my energy and mind space beating myself up for being a fraud. The old inner dialogue used to be quite nasty, and used to go on for hours, if not days.
“Who do you think you are, Josette? Preaching compassion, mindfulness, and nonviolent communication all over your social media. You’re one to talk. Those yoga and meditation retreats are working wonders, eh? Wow. You are the embodiment of a Zen monk. I think you need to do a bit more work on yourself before you start preaching again.”
Thankfully, my inner dialogue is much gentler now. Now it involves me acknowledging the embarrassment, guilt, annoyance, or anxiety that come when I react in a way that isn’t congruous with my values. Then I might run through the scenario a few times trying to describe what happened. After that, I consider why things may have happened the way they did, looking at it through lens of the other person, and through the lens of my emotions or experience. Essentially, I pause. There’s a lot of power in the pause.
I credit this shift to my daily meditation practice (sometimes it’s just 5 minutes a day), consistent contemplation (journaling, blogging, talking with like-minded friends, counselling…), and various movement practices (see my last post). But this shift took a some time. It wasn’t overnight, and it’s still a work in process. And truthfully, I may never get there… where ever “there” is really.
I’m so glad I’ve come down from my pedestal of perfection. I’ve learned the hard way — almost a 40 year practice — that perfection is a painful goal to strive for (click to tweet). It just sets me up for failure, anxiety, and overwhelm. To avoid all that, I’ll take a few non-Zenlike outbursts any day.
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