Opening Doors to Mindful Self-Compassion in Korea

Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors for you where there were only walls. ― Joseph Campbell

You’ve heard this before. It’s one of the most beloved quotes of our time. You may understand it on an intellectual level, and you’ve seen glimpses of its truth, but there’s only so much one can risk, right? I mean I shouldn’t risk security in order to follow an ambiguous dream, right?

I’m not so sure anymore because the doors have started to open… wide.

For the longest while now, I’ve been feeling an urge to take a different path in life. A voice from deep within has been asking me to start focusing more on healing and transformation work, namely around teaching self-compassion. As the years pass, the voice keeps getting louder. It seems the universe has been hearing this voice as well, and it’s done being subtle with it all.

In September 2015, when the voice was basically screaming at me, I emailed the Centre for Mindful Self-compassion asking where I’d need to go to receive training to become a Mindful Self-compassion (MSC) teacher. I was willing to go wherever I needed to go as long as it matched my schedule. I knew they offered courses in the US, Australia and Germany, but I was holding on to the hope that they’d offer a course somewhere in Asia.

The response I received back was an unexpected surprise. Apparently there was a trainer in Korea who could offer a course!

I quickly emailed this trainer, SeoGwang Snim, and after a few exchanges, I discovered how much I was really starting to align with the universe. She said that if I started the MSC learning process, I’d most likely be able to attend the teacher training course scheduled for August 2016, a week before my semester starts. Talk about excellent timing!

The first step toward applying for the August teacher training would be to do the eight-week introductory course. The only catch is that we’d need at least eight participants. I quickly wrote this message on my Facebook page.

September 24, 2015

Dear friends,
I am working on gathering people who would be interested taking an introductory course in Mindful Self-compassion (4 Saturdays in Seoul). This is a program based on the work of Christopher K. Germer, PhD — The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion and Self-Compassion by Kristin Neff, Ph.D. The trainer who would deliver this course, SeoGwang Sunim,  http://www.centerformsc.org/user/434, said she would offer a program for English speakers if I can gather enough people. I am very excited about this and motivated to get this organized. If any of you are interested, or know anyone who might be, please contact me and/or pass this along. My intention in taking it is to move forward into becoming an MSC trainer (teacher). If this sounds like something you would be interested in as well, I would enjoy taking this journey with you. Here are details on MSC: http://www.centerformsc.org/Training Thank you for your time!

The response was overwhelming. I couldn’t have imagined how much interest was out there. Unfortunately, not everyone was able to attend, but we had ten beautiful souls to get started.

October 28, 2015

A month ago I put out a call for people interested in taking an introductory course in Mindful Self-compassion in Seoul. I’m excited to share that the course will start this Sunday (Nov. 1). For me, this has been an inspiring example of what we can accomplish when we follow our dreams (a.k.a. inner teacher <3 ). If anyone else would like to join, there is still time to sign up. Send me your email address and I’ll send you the details.

And so in November 2015 we embarked on the eight week journey (we combined the eight weeks into four) at the Institute of Korean Meditation and Psychotherapy in Seoul.

MSC November 2015 8 week

Last August, just a week ago, three of the ten pictured above joined forty-six new participants to finish the first MSC teacher training course in Asia. We are all now officially an MSC teachers (in training)!

Doors open!
Doors open!

And the doors keep opening.

When I emailed the MSC Centre last September, I was focused on getting this certificate, this training. But after accomplishing this goal, I realized the universe had something else in mind. This relates to one of the most important teachings I learned last week:

“Love reveals everything unlike itself.”

Our precious MSC sangha revealed so much more than I could have dreamed of. Together we revealed and healed. Through the kind, wise guidance of our teachers, Christopher Germer, Steven Hickman, SeoGwang Snim, and Gwon Seona, I gained a deeper understanding of how compassion truly works in this world, within me. And with the loving acceptance of my dear MSC sangha (see pictures below), I entered a safe space where I was able to stop intellectualizing compassion and instead resonate with the loving connected presence we all share.

In the end, what I truly learned is that when you love yourself, so much more is available to you. This is the true bliss. This is how the doors start opening.

* The next door to open includes the community Brian Somers, Nina Iscovitz, Tosca Braun and I are building where we will offer the 8-week MSC course in English in Korea. We have started the Mindful Self-compassion Korea Facebook Group and a MeetUp Group where you’ll be able to find out where our courses, either in English and Korean, will be held.

(from top center) Christopher Germer, Nina Iscovitz, Brian Somers, Seona Gwon, Steven Hickman, SeoGwang Snim, me, and Tosca Braun

Mine the Gap

During my recent trip to Australia, I traveled on the train quite often between Mittagong (where Byongchan is doing a three-month residency) and Sydney. This poem was inspired by my time on those platforms. I was struck by the different speeds at which people walked, the choice of winter or summer clothing people wore, and the various languages people spoke. Amidst all the differences, life seemed to flow smoothly. I feel lucky to take part in such flow.

Mittagong Station, Australia

We walk at our own pace.

We find comfort in our own climates.

We see through our own lenses.

We travel on our own tracks.

 

To join you on your track,

I must not only mind the gap,

I must mine it.

 

We mine the gap of our relations.

 

In the gap, our paces merge;

Our climates combine;

Our lenses blend.

 

When I mine the gap,

For even just a moment,

I walk at your pace;

I feel your climate;

I see through your lens.

 

We mine the gap for gems of understanding,

Crystals of clarity,

Minerals of truth.

 

With my mined treasure,

I walk at a slightly different pace;

I appreciate another climate;

I see a new tint through my lens.

 

I travel more lightly on my track.

Central Station, Sydney, Australia

 

Dear people of the world who are scared

Dear people of the world who are scared of other people of the world,

I get it. It’s weird. It doesn’t make much sense. Why don’t they hold the door open for you? Why do they sit on the floor instead of on the couch? Why don’t they clean their homes the same way? Why don’t they laugh at your jokes? Why do they behave so differently? Why do they believe something you’ve never heard of? Why do they say this instead of that?

It’s weird. I get it.

I get how much you want to feel safe. I get how much you want to be part of a community that understands who you are and why you do the things you do. It’s understandable. It’s uncomfortable to have to do things differently.

You want to wake up in the morning, have your cup of coffee or tea – the way you like it – and enjoy the day as it unfolds. You hope people will hold the door open for you. You hope people will feel comfortable in your home. You hope people will laugh at your jokes. You hope people will behave the same way and share the same ideals.

I get it.

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The thing is, everyone in the world wants this. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from living in another country it’s that we all want to be understood.

I’ve also learned there are others who wonder why you hold the door open. They wonder why you can’t sit on the floor. They wonder why you clean your home the way you do. They wonder why you don’t laugh at their jokes. They wonder why you don’t believe what they believe. They wonder why you behave so differently. They wonder why you say that instead of this.

It’s weird. I get it.

We all want people to treat us in a way that’s normal. We all want to live in familiar surroundings. It just feels safer, and so much more comfortable. There’s no denying this. And there’s no shame in this either.

But here’s a question: how do you feel when you don’t think people get you? I’ll tell you what happens to me. When I feel like others don’t get me, I don’t feel safe. And when I don’t feel safe, I get defensive. And when I get defensive, I make bad decisions. I say and do things, that in hindsight, I’m not proud of.

You know what? I get why I react this way.

But you know what else? That doesn’t make it right.

We’re human. We make bad decisions everyday. But when we constantly judge someone for reacting exactly the same way we would, it’s time to check in with ourselves.

Because now I understand why we hold the door and they don’t. Now, I sometimes prefer to sit on the floor instead of on the couch. Now, I wonder why I used to clean my home the way I did. And now, I wonder why I used to laugh at those jokes.

But I still wonder about our collective beliefs. I still wonder about our collective behaviour. I still wonder why we both say this and that.

And now I almost get it: the “we” and the “they” are not so weird after all.

All good people agree,
And all good people say,
All nice people, like us, are We
And everyone else is They:
But if you cross over the sea,
Instead of over the way,
You may end by looking on We
As only a sort of They!

-Rudyard Kipling, “We and They”

We/They aren’t weird at all. In fact, we/they are all just living the life we/they know how to live, hoping that someone will understand us/them so that we/they can feel safe.


To read more on this topic, I highly recommend Tara Brach’s Trance of ‘Unreal Other’.

The morning Kali bit me

I wondered how long she was coiled up under my pillow waiting to bite.

She had an important message that morning, but I’ve only recently started to understand it.

Last summer, we had been seeing these critters scurrying across our floors more often than usual. Bugs are something you learn to live with in the Korean countryside. I must say, however, I never worried that this black armoured creature with her blood-red pinchers would ever find her way into our bed. But last July, I learned that from now on, we’ll need to shake out our sheets and flip our pillows before attempts at summer slumber.

Before getting out of bed to start my work week, I turned on my side to rest for a few more moments. I felt something hard and cold on my shoulder, but figured it was a pillow zipper. When I stirred again, I learned I was wrong. A sharp, swift pinch caught my shoulder! I quickly sat up, pulled back the pillow, and there she was: the familiar centipede with her recently triggered pinchers.

Luckily we learned this variety of centipede isn’t poisonous.  All I’d have to worry about would be a strong itch and swelling around the tiny vampire-like bite marks. Of course, I’d also have to worry about going to bed at night. But something else played on my mind: what was the meaning behind this?

When animals make sudden or unexpected appearances in my life, I enjoy learning more about their spiritual meaning. By doing a quick Google search of the animal + totem animal (or spirit animal), interpretations are easy to find. Of course there is greater depth to this concept than just a Google search, but I like using such spiritual modalities to help me understand the greater meaning that life is presenting at the moment.

But unlike animals such as the fox, bear, or crow, there wasn’t much on the obscure centipede. What I did find, didn’t speak to me at that time.

It wasn’t until I finally opened my new Shakti Coloring Book a few days before the eve of 2016 that I was able to make sense of my summer morning encounter. As I was skimming the explanations and Hindu goddess illustrations of Ekabhumi Charles Ellik, the word  “centipede” jumped out at me. I learned that each Hindu god or goddess has a vehicle (vahana), and that this vehicle is usually an animal. Ekabhumi writes:

Animals help both to identify a goddess and to give insight into how her power is expressed.

Okay. Interesting. So what was the expression of this particular power?

Centipede: poison, hatred, fear, darkness

Okay. Not so cool.

Skimming all the other vehicles listed, I didn’t see words that felt quite as menacing as the one’s which belonged to the goddess who desperately wanted to be identified. Hopeful words such as abundance, protection, playfulness, or immortality defined the other 23 listed vehicles. I guess I was in for quite a ride!

So who was this centipede carrying anyway?

Kali's centipede - The Shakti Coloring Book

According to Ekabhumi’s research, the centipede was considered to be one of Goddess Kali’s vehicles.

Who is Kali and what does she want from me?

The way we see Kali at any given moment has everything to do with where we are in our own journey. Whether Kali seems terrifying, fascinating, or loving depends on our state of consciousness and our level of both emotional and spiritual development. But she always invites us to a radical form of ego-transcendence (Kempton, p. 122).

It was starting to make sense. The week she bit me was halfway through the first (and now only) launching of the TESOL course I had put together (see the previous post Connecting, Reconnecting, and Disconnecting in 2015 for a bit of history on this). Many forms of doubt had slowly started to creep in. My confidence and even my joy was starting to wane. My ego was on high alert for sure: the perfect moment for Kali to present herself. It was time for an ego eradication, but I wasn’t ready to listen.

What did that mean for me? It meant my doubt, my need to be perfect, my fear of making mistakes, my desire to be liked — my ego — dug its teeth into me and didn’t let go. It dimmed my light and led me into the fog. The fog followed me into my first semester in the Department of English Education, a department I would have been happy to teach for in years past. And although I was grateful for this new position, I had an overpowering sense that the darkness was taking over.

She is a massive love-force that is literally death to the ego. When she erupts in your life, Kali will cut away whatever is extraneous, whatever is indulgent. She is especially hard on arrogance, including the arrogance that makes us believe prematurely that we are outside the rules, before our earned wisdom has legitimately  given us the right to set aside rules in the service of higher values (Kempton, p. 124).

Now that it’s winter vacation, and I have time to look back and make sense of how I was feeling, I see how I was easily led by my bad habits: perfectionism and the disease to please. I understand what Kali was warning me about that morning. She wanted me to look into my fears, my habits, rather than push them away. Although it’s hard to admit it, that’s what I did. I did my best to ignore my fears because facing them was too scary.

The biggest experience of Kali’s love always accompanies those moments when we have allowed ourselves to let go of our egoic agendas. As she sweeps away a layer of ego, the depth of care is revealed (Kempton, p. 126).

I haven’t let go of all my agendas or fears. I know I have a lot of work to do. But I’m starting to see the light of Kali’s care beaming through the fog. I see her vehicle coming down my path, and I’m ready to hitch a ride.

Shout-outs

  • to Anna Loseva for turning me on to the meditative world of colouring and for inspiring me (perhaps unknowingly) to finally buy The Shakti Coloring Book I’d been eyeing.
  • to Elizabeth Duvivier for organizing and facilitating The Goddess Book Club. Although I participate at my own slow pace, it’s so much fun to explore the Goddesses through her videos and questions.
  • to Sirja Bessero for telling me about Sally Kempton’s, Awakening Shakti: The Transformative Power of the Goddesses of Yoga, and for leading me to Elizabeth’s book club. Most importantly, thank you for writing The Year I Almost Turned My Back on Teaching English and for helping me remember that the fog follows us all.

 

Connecting, Reconnecting, and Disconnecting in 2015

2015 was the year I learned that the path I have taken so far is leading me in a new direction. The fog is still too thick to see where it leads, but I’m directed by the voice I hear beyond it all. I’m working on trusting this voice, and I realize that to trust it, I need to understand its language. It is a language I once knew but set aside to make room for languages that offered safer passages. This voice is my Soul, my Inner Teacher, my True Self.

My desire to follow this path is very strong, and so I’ll use Throwing Back Tokens to light the way. This means I’ll write about topics that may seem unrelated to teaching. But as a wise friend told me recently, everything that is important to a teacher influences her teaching. If something feeds your heart and mind, it feeds what you do.

But before I start moving forward, my first entry of 2016 will be about looking back on the first part of 2015 to see where the path began to veer.

Connecting in the Beginning

The beginning of 2015 was all about connection, reconnection, and disconnection: connection and reconnection with friends and family, and disconnection with the work I had done for the previous 5 years.

After 6 years of being married, and never having had a wedding, Byongchan and I decided it was time to celebrate our connection by taking wedding pictures. It was fun to be glamorous for a day, and to share this joy with Byongchan and our family.

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Another significant moment included reconnecting with Kristina Eisenhower (a.k.a. the fabulous Krisellaneous), which now looking back, was probably when the path started appearing. This is bound to happen when you spend the night dreaming about what lights you up. Kristina is the queen of manifesting such dreams. Have you checked out her Experience Expedition yet? If not, please do.

This was also when I finally met Juan Alberto Lopez Uribe and Buddy the Frog for the first time. Juan’s enthusiasm for teaching from his heart to the heart of his students is contagious. He sparked within me a desire to keep teaching with meaning and love at the forefront.

What I didn’t know then was that the group of teachers Juan and Buddy met would be the last group in our teacher-training program. A few weeks later, during my visit home to Nova Scotia, I found out the Department of Education pulled funding, and that on my return, I’d have to create a new program. But before all this, it was time to play.

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The first stop during my visit back to Nova Scotia for the first in three years involved a Vanity Fair Hollywood cover shoot of the Thériault ladies. Ahh, it felt good to be back to the familiar silliness. We missed my sister, Louisette, but she was off accomplishing the exciting task of becoming a West Jet flight attendant. Go Lou!

IMG_1639I reconnected with dear old friends and and met their new additions (new to me at least). There’s no way I could have prepared for the heart jolt I’d get when their little faces greeted me at the door. Love is a wonderful mystery.

IMG_1790My visit home offered many types of soul food, one being pape’s famous seafood chowder. Yum! What was most fun about this was that pape could enjoy it with us without worrying about an allergic reaction. Lobster for everyone!

IMG_1714The other type of soul food of course was rappie pie. This picture recalls the last one I shared with n’oncle Gilles, my father’s brother. I feel very grateful this was the year I went home as we never could have predicted that a few months later he would pass away.

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And finally a road trip to Florida with my parents marked the end of my visit before my return to a new unknown in Korea. Seeing my parents’ youthful side come out as we danced the night away, traveled to manatee reserves, and relaxed on the beach is a memory I’ll always cherish.

Back to Korea

Once back to Korea, my colleague and I brainstormed ways we could develop a teacher-training program for pre-service teachers at Keimyung. After a few weeks of negotiating with the awesome folks at SIT Graduate Institute and World Learning (thank you Kevin and Lois!), we had the beginnings of what we’d call the KMU-SIT Professional TESOL Certificate.

From March until July, I worked on developing the program. While I learned a lot about what goes into creating such a course, I look back and see this as the time my soul started to speak up. My interests started to shift, or perhaps, amplify. Not being in the classroom during these months, I had the space to explore other avenues that light me up while listening to the podcasts of entrepreneurs I admire, reading the work of inspiring spiritual teachers, as well as engaging in soulful contemplation and creative expression. The series “Teachers Talking About Self-compassion” was born out of this space.

This time was also a sweet opportunity to reconnect with Byongchan and my home life.

So when we ran our the first TESOL certificate course from July to August, I sensed something was different. I wasn’t the same person who had started the creative process back in March.

The course, although small with only 6 participants, was a success. Everyone, trainers (thank you Robb and Jon!) and participants alike, learned a great deal about what it means to teach and learn and grow.  We were all intellectually, experientially, and skillfully stretched that summer.

But then things changed once again.

I’ll end my reflection for now. I’m way over my preferred word limit, and my inner critic is starting to make fun of my self-involvement.

As I write, I also notice many new insights arising. I need a little space to digest it all. I am grateful for this chance to throw back a few tokens once again. I forget how blogging offers refuge.

I want to tell them

I want to tell them that this semester is about me finding my footing.

I want to tell them I’m sorry for all the experiments.

I want to tell them this all feels so unfamiliar.

I want to tell them thank you for trusting me.

I want to tell them I’m starting to trust myself more everyday.

I want to tell them, but I can’t.

And so I tell myself. And you.

*this was a light night experiment of impromptu poetry/blogging. Thank you for reading

Listening to the Inner Teacher: The (R)evolution of #RedThumbForLove

When the universe calls your name, it’s important to make sure your inner teacher (a.k.a. gut feeling, inner truth, etc.) is ready to listen. The universe speaks in mysterious ways.

This is how I’ve been feeling as of late. It first started when I got the idea to ask teachers to share how they offer themselves self-care and self-compassion, and why they do so. I really had no idea what the response would be. To my delight, 99% of the teachers I asked have said yes, and they continue to say yes. Some have even volunteered! Click here, Teachers Talking About Self-compassion, to read their stories.

Then today in the series, I share an interview of an empowering woman/teacher, Rupa Mehta, I saw speak at one of the festivals I’ve been following in YouTube for the past year, Wanderlust — highly recommended for all soul seekers. In this post, Emotional & Physical Fitness, you can read about how my inner teacher led me to asking Rupa to share her experience with self-care and self-compassion.

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I can’t end this post about paying attention to the universe’s subtle winks to #RedThumbForLove without sharing the most inspiring detail of all. This coming weekend, I’ll be doing a workshop with Chuck Sandy at the KOTESOL International Conference where we’ll be talking about listening to the teacher within. But this, although very cool, isn’t the amazing part. The amazing part is that the #RedThumbForLove blog/movement/project/revolution was a result of me listening to my inner teacher. My inner teacher knew how important it was to pay attention to Chuck’s Facebook status on that faithful day in 2014.

It’s all lining up, coming full circle, and evolving beautifully.

And so dear Readers, thank you so much for celebrating this mystery of life with me. But more importantly, I hope this was the message your inner teacher needed to hear today.