Although the school year starts in March here in Korea, September will forever mark the new year for me. It could be the fact that my birthday coincides with the first days of school back… More
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.
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’.
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?
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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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!
I 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.
My 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!
The 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.
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 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
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.
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.
The truth is, I was really worried about walking into this classroom. You see, I haven’t strictly taught a conversation based class in six years. More importantly, I haven’t taught a beginner class in that time either.
To top it off, I didn’t have fond memories of this particular classroom. When I taught beginner conversation classes six years ago, it’s in this classroom I recalled my biggest challenges: building rapport with quiet students whose interest in learning to speak English either didn’t exist or slowly dissipated as the semester went on. I remembered how much I had dreaded walking into this classroom back then. Looking back, perhaps my students’ motivation was a reflection of my apprehension.
Then on Friday, after all that worrying, this happened.
This was my second class with this group of freshman. During the first class we did an icebreaker activity which involved finding out how old I was (age is an important factor in how relationships are built in Korea). Some students remembered that our Friday class together would be my 38th birthday. I never thought they would remember let alone go as far as buying a cake!
And just like that, my fears went out the door. We had a small celebration together which included one of the best rapport builders I know in Korea: group pictures.
During the rest of the class students shared their own birth dates. Some students discovered they were born on the same day. Then some learned the were from the same city; then the same majors.
Sometimes we can plan ways to build rapport with our students, but most of the time it’s just about being open to genuine moments of connection.
To learn more about building rapport with your language students, join #KELTchat tonight (September 9) from 8 to 9pm (Korea time) on Twitter.
Last Thursday, I had the privilege of teaching my first webinar thanks to the encouraging support of International Teacher Development Institute and Gallery Languages Ltd. The enthusiastic interaction and input from the participants, as well as the fabulous dance party, made this is an experience I look forward to reliving very soon.
(Note to self: always include a dance party in future webinars.)
I presented the idea of teachers dreaming big, and accomplishing big goals, by first taking small steps. To encourage this path, I offered the acronym: SMILE. We make our goals SMILE so that we can play big, and playing big means transforming lives: the lives of teachers and learners.
Now it’s time for you to SMILE! Share your SMILE goals via your blogs, Facebook, or Twitter by using the hashtag #SMILEgoal. Follow the prompts below for support or watch a recording of the talk, as well as inspiring talks from amazing educators from around the world, by signing up at the iTDi website.
Here are mine:
- Before I eat lunch today, I will give written feedback on the Reading Skills lesson plans the course participants wrote so that they have a chance to review and edit their lessons before they teach tomorrow.
- Before dinner today, I will have written a sample listening skills lesson plan so the participants have a model they can refer to when they plan their listening lesson next week.
- EDIT #1 for a smaller SMILE: I will scan John Fields’ “Listening in the Language Classroom” for inspiration for about 20 minutes.
- EDIT #2 for a smaller SMILE: I will edit the lesson plan I already have to match the needs of the course and use this plan for the sample lesson.
- I will publish a new story for the “Teachers Talking About Self-Compassion” series before I settled down for the night.
The first two SMILE goals will help me meet my larger goal of developing a positive learning and growing experience for our KMU-SIT Professional TESOL Course participants. The third one helps me meet my goal of developing a database of healing stories and strategies for teachers.
My ‘E’ for “Enjoy” will involve taking a moment to pause… ahhh…smile, and let the satisfaction sink in.
Are you ready to SMILE?