What the 7-day black and white photo challenge was really about

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 life. But they’re also a bit off-putting. I don’t like bothering people by tagging them, and I also have a hard time following the rules that usually come along with each challenge. It’s definitely an odd social phenomenon: creating connection and yet, creating a slight-annoyance.

I decided to take part in the 7-day black and white photo challenge (no words. no explanations… this is what irked my inner rebel) for two reasons: I think black and white photography is a worthy challenge (you need to find the right color contrast or the shot won’t have much impact), and the particular seven days this challenge fell on marked a major transition in my life that I wanted to chronicle.

A transition happens when one experience ends and another begins. It can be an exciting time, but it can also be intimidating or overwhelming. Transitions of varying degrees happen many times over the course of our lives. They can mark events such as a birth or death, and they can also mark events such as changing classrooms or educational communities – a topic I’ve written about in the past (see: transitions and group dynamics).  Of course, the magnitude of the impact isn’t determined by the event itself but by the person experiencing it. There is really no big or small transition. They are all worthy of acknowledgement and honoring. By honoring the transition we create space for the possibilities ahead, and we send appreciation to the experience we are letting go of.

At the end of these seven days, my transition point would look like this: I’d have started maternity leave knowing I wouldn’t return to the university I’d been teaching at for the past eight years; I’d have moved out of the apartment that saved me from commuting from our home in the countryside; and of course what would eventually greet me on the other end of all this is the uncharted world of parenthood.

So abiding by the rebel within, and my everlasting appreciation for transitions, here is my explanation of the pictures I took during those seven days.

Day 1 – Mother Nature Soothes

I took this picture at the end of our Sunday walk. At the start of the walk, I’d been feeling overwhelmed thinking of everything ahead. I had midterms to correct, final classes to teach, professors to guide as they took over my classes, a doctor’s appointment to go to, an apartment to move out of, a big baby bump to carry… While I knew it wasn’t true, it felt like I had to take care of it all then and there. But there’s nothing like a walk with Samsoon in the fresh autumn air to bust that all out of my head.

Since I’ve been pregnant, Samsoon seems to look back at me more often when she’s walking ahead. Maybe she feels my increasingly slower pace. She seems to show a loving concern for me that I never noticed before. She recently heard me slip on the gravel — thankfully I didn’t fall — and then rushed over, looked at me, and licked my hand. The combination of this sweetness and the sun shining on the falling leaves shifts my mood at the end of those walks.

Day 2 – The Waiting Room

I took this in the doctor’s waiting room during one of our now weekly Monday visits. It’s crunch time. The baby is shortly on its way, and doctor’s visits are becoming a bit tenser.

Day 3 – My Last Office Lunch

This was the last time I bought my office lunch chamchi (tuna) kimbap at my usual kimbap place. The owner always greeted me with a smile. The same goes for the owner of the Paris Baguette where I got my morning coffee. I’d like for them to know how they always set a positive tone for my day.

Day 4 – Student Appreciation

During the final moments of my last class, I received this “rolling paper” from my students. It was filled with words of support for the coming birth, and appreciation for the two years I had been their professor. They even gave me suggestions for naming the baby (still don’t have a name yet). It was hard to hold back the tears. So I didn’t. I couldn’t have finished my time at the university on a more positive note.

Day 5 – End of an Era

No more walking up and down these ramps to get to and from class.

Day 6 – Silent Celebration

The midterms are corrected and handed in. I’ve passed the baton to the professors who will replace me during my maternity leave. I’ve said goodbye to my students. We’ve moved out of my apartment. It’s been a full week to add on to my full belly. It’s time to rest.

Day 7 – On the Last Day the Dream Begins

Ceramic whales by Seo Byongchan

And like that, I take the first steps into a new life. A life that was first hinted to me nine months ago in a taemong (태몽) / conception dream. Many Koreans believe that before a woman becomes pregnant, she, or someone close to her, will have a vivid dream of either an animal, fruit, or other significant objects. The subject of the dream is supposed to predict the personality or the gender — or rather, genitalia — of the baby.

Since this isn’t part of my culture, I wasn’t really looking for a taemong, but one morning I remembered the comforting dream I had of a blue whale. I was on the deck of a large ship, enjoying the salty air and wind in my hair. Then all of a sudden half the body of a huge blue whale emerges, turned so that it’s looking at me with its one eye. We gaze at each other and have a gentle yet silent exchange. Nothing is said, but all is known. And then it submerges quietly into the depths of the ocean.

This was our baby’s taemong. We have yet to know what this will mean for our child’s personality, but the whale seems to be connected to wisdom, strength, and peaceful communication. Sounds good to me!

What transitions have you gone through lately and how have you honored them? Share your experience in the comments below, or send me an email by subscribing HERE.

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We deserve to see you smile

My initial thought when I looked at this selfie was, “Wow. I look like a bitch. I should have smiled. I really should delete this.”

Then I wondered, “What’s wrong with not smiling?” and thought of all the posts I’d noticed in the last few years about how most societies (often instigated by the request of a man) expect women to smile in order to make them feel better (see links below for videos and articles on this topic).

This train of thought led me to recall how I’ve often wanted Byongchan to smile when I’m pretty sure he’d rather not. Maybe we’re at the dinner table after a long day of me teaching and him making in his studio. He’s quietly eating, and I look at him with a smile. He smiles back. Faintly. Then I wonder, “He seems annoyed. Did I do something wrong?”

And when I thought of this, I remembered the time when I was a teenager and my mother asked me why I rarely smiled. What teenager does, really? I was totally invoking my inner Darlene Connor.

Then that made me think of the talk, Speaking with Authenticity, where Kim Eng starts by telling a story of how as a little girl she was often told to smile because if she didn’t smile, she looked sad. This caused her to fake smile through a lot of her life.

“We take on these roles because people may have said something. Then, when I take on that role, I actually lose that authentic self of me that might be this person that just looks sad but I’m not sad. I was trying to please somebody else — make somebody else comfortable because they told me it wasn’t nice. They weren’t feeling good because I looked the way that I looked, which it appeared in their mind — in their interpretation — that I was sad. So I learned to keep smiling. (…) Wow. We just got to be ourselves.”

And that’s the point, isn’t it? There’s some notion behind this idea that we deserve to see others smile. As if we have some inherent claim to their inner lives, or that they owe us something. When I looked at my thought patterns, I noticed I wanted Byongchan to smile to make me feel more at ease. I interpreted his non-smiling face as a projection of his experience of me. If he could only smile, I would know that I was okay. If he could just smile, I would know he was happy with me.

I realized something similar about how I used to observe my students. If I didn’t see my students engaging in a certain way, I got down on myself. I’d try to control the situation to create a certain outcome. I’d fixate my energy on the student who wasn’t behaving how I wanted them to be, and if they didn’t change, I’d blame myself for not doing a better job, or I’d blame them for not trying.

In my post, 40 things I learned this year, one thing I learned was:

11. Letting people have their own experience, and relinquishing control over others or outcomes, keeps me from feeling stressed and anxious.

But it’s not only about me. It’s also about them. Sure, it’s important to let go of expectations for my own wellbeing, but what about theirs? Why shouldn’t they be allowed to experience life the way they want to?

How have you projected your expectations on to others? Would you like to change this perspective? If so, leave a comment below or send me a message. Let’s work on this together.

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Articles and videos about the expecting Women to Smile

Dear people who voted for Trump:

This message isn’t to those of you who feel proud or satisfied with the outcome of your vote. If you feel this way, then you can stop reading now. I’m not here to change your mind.

This message is for people who may now feel regret, shame, or guilt for having supported Trump. There may be days when these feelings are just a passing sensation or thought. Maybe you hear a family member mocking him, and the image of a different ballot card crosses your mind. And there may be other times, perhaps during one of his tweeting rampages, that these feelings plague you for days. If you fall in any degree of these categories, this message is for you.

This isn’t to shame you. It’s to give your permission to the feel regret, shame, or guilt that’s been showing up in your life if that’s something you need.

There’s a lot of voter bashing happening on social media. It’s understandable. This US administration is putting lives at risk, and people are scared and angry. I speak as a Canadian person who’s been living in Korea for twelve years. In those twelve years, I’ve gone through varying degrees of emotions related to our neighbors to the north. For the first few years, I’d call myself stupid for choosing to live next to a country whose president launches some form of weapon each spring.

Then, as time passed, I adopted the South Korean sentiment: it’s always been this way, and it won’t change, but we aren’t really at risk. Now, I’m less nervous about North Korea, and more worried about the United States. Kim Jong-un almost seems sensible compared to Trump. Almost. And I’m not the only one who feels this way.

But I’ve gone off track a bit. Back to my point about giving you permission to feel what you’re feeling.

It may be hard to hear people insulting you or even threatening you. You may feel angry or ashamed when you hear all this. You may even feel afraid for your life. It’s my sense that this isn’t encouraging you to speak out against Trump. Maybe you feel safer to defend yourself or to remain quiet. It makes sense. Why would you say or do something if you feel this way?

It seems like there’s no way out of it for you, right? So why am I writing this?

For two reasons: people make mistakes. Or it might be better to say, people make emotional, uninformed, or spontaneous decisions. I’ve made some, and I’m sure many people have too. Voting for Trump may be one of these.

The second reason for writing this is because I don’t believe putting people on the defensive is particularly useful. I also don’t think people who behave in defensive ways contribute to the healing of a society. And while I think it’s important to have the freedom to express anger we have about societal problems, it can’t stop there.

There’s a point where the anger has to transform into action. Otherwise, the person who is expressing anger is also contributing to the problem.

So what do I mean by behaving in defensive ways? Here’s a personal story. I realize this example doesn’t have the same gravity as putting a president in office. My intention isn’t to make light of the seriousness of the political situation the world is facing due to Trump. I’ll get to that later. But I think my experience will help clarify why I’m even bothering to write this message.

For years I was ashamed of myself for not speaking Korean. This internal shame was brought on by years of hearing people — often strangers or acquaintances (ie: bank tellers, teachers I worked with, distant family members…) — say things that varied from, “Oh wow, really? Don’t you think that’s disrespectful to your family?” or “You ought to be ashamed of yourself.” So my internal defense mechanism sounded like this, “Yeah, you’re right. I should be ashamed. What kind of person am I? Worse yet, what kind of wife am I? I clearly don’t have my priorities straight. I should have tried harder to learn Korean. I’m so uncaring. I’m one of those ignorant foreigners.” Then I’d burn myself out by adding Korean lessons to my already heavy schedule.

Other times, when I was tired or annoyed, I’d say something like, “Don’t blame me. Blame my husband. He never speaks to me in Korean. But HIS English has improved a lot since we’ve been together. If he had more patience, maybe I’d be speaking Korean just as well by now.” Then I’d look over at him, and he’d be looking at his feet. By blaming him, I had just shamed him.

None of these defense strategies were helpful. My relationships suffered because of my blame and shame lens on life.

The shame would often consume me. It was underlying all my interactions: at work, at home, with friends. I often second guessed myself with people, and it definitely didn’t encourage me to learn Korean.

As much as we think shame will motivate someone into action, it has the opposite effect: it encourages us to defend or to retreat. None of these approaches contribute to expanding understanding and growth within a community.

When someone says something hurtful, we have three response options: to blame or shame ourselves; to blame or shame others; or to respond compassionately to others and ourselves. In my example, there was a lot of blaming and shaming. So what would a compassionate response look like? The first step might be to create the space to listen to you, Trump supporter, without judgment.

It doesn’t mean you’re off the hook for having done what you did. Like in my case, I realize that not learning Korean has caused my Korean family some hardship. I know it’s uncomfortable for them to interact with me. I know that me not being more fluent could be a safety issue somewhere down the line. I’m accountable for this.

But when someone acknowledges my struggle, I’m more able to listen to their worries. When I feel someone is showing me compassion, I’m more willing to take the steps to change. It could be the same for you.

When someone offers me a compassionate response, I feel a sense of expansion. More is possible. I’m more able to remember a Korean term, and I’m more willing to practice speaking with a stranger. When someone blames or shames me, I contract. I lash out or hide.

All this points to the difference between expansion and contraction.

By offering you permission to feel regret, shame, or guilt, I hope I’m offering you the space to expand. Maybe I can offer you an opportunity to create positive change in your community. I know many people would love this change very much.

Find someone safe to share your feelings with. Find someone who will allow you to expand into something new. And if you can’t find that person, send me a message by clicking here.

Sincerely,

Josette

Everyone has their place in this world and everyone has their process

It’s rare to see mushrooms in the forest behind our house. But during a week this past summer, they were everywhere… and so many different types! Tiny and pancake sized ones; tight clusters and spread out villages; yellow, white, red, brown, and blue ones; some that looked like freshly baked buns; old ones; dying ones; freshly popped out ones; some with thin stems and others with thick ones.

All these varieties were just waiting for the right conditions so they could emerge. They needed rain, heat, plus the right type of soil to expand into their uniqueness.


I think that’s what we do too. We need the right environment to flourish into our true selves.

South Korea has done that for me. There’s something about this land, the people I’ve met, and the circumstances I’ve encountered that have helped me get back to my center. It’s not easy to explain why.

Since moving to Korea twelve years ago, people have often asked me when I’m going to move back to Canada. I understand that my family and friends back home care about me, and want me closer. And it’s not like I don’t want to be close to them. It’s also not like my proximity means I love them less. 

In Korea, people ask me how long I plan to stay here. I understand. It makes sense to assume that the land where we grew up would be the land we are meant to live our adult lives (assuming we aren’t forced to move due to war or an environmental tragedy). 

There seems to be something almost illogical, if not inherently wrong about choosing to live in another country. At least that’s the feeling I get when I hear these questions. 

I’ve often wondered if I’d get the same questions if I were living in a European country or Australia. I’m not so sure. I can understand why friends and family might be concerned that I’m living in South Korea. It’s not like the peninsula gets the most positive international news coverage. I also understand why my Korean friends wonder why I live here when life in Canada is often idealized.

But there’s nothing illogical or wrong about it. There’s no justification or explanation necessary. Like those mushrooms, we all have our own unique place in the world to emerge into.


I used to try to make sense of why I choose to live here. It’s not like it’s been perfect. There are many things I don’t agree with that happen in this country. I’ve also struggled with adapting to certain parts of the culture. But I have a feeling this happens to everyone, no matter where they choose to live. 

I’ve stopped trying to explain myself. All I know is that it feels right. It felt right the first time I set foot here. I felt free. I felt at peace. I felt at home. 

Each place we choose to live in is part of our process. It’s a manifestation of what we need to learn. I now know I had to come to Korea to learn some very important lessons. So why question this? We don’t know what another person needs to learn in this lifetime. 

If you’re curious to learn what lessons a certain place could have in store for you, you might enjoy this discovery. I recently learned about astrocartography, which basically charts how different places on earth could affect you based on your astrological reading.

Because I use astrology to gain insight, not to predict my future or explain my past, when I read what South Korea meant for me astrologically, I was pleasantly surprised. It made so much sense and reflected a lot of my experience.

The MC line represents the realisation of lifetime goals and the safeguarding of important social standing. Connection with planet Chiron leads to fundamental changes of your personal views regarding these. Traditional value systems lose their meaning, your ideals dissolve and your ideas of success or a career start to transform.

This change is mainly due to some deep personal crises whose origin lies in connection with professional disappointments. A feeling of not being able to complete your tasks can add to your insecurity.

You query the sense and purpose of your previous activities. You feel manipulated and rebel against all expectations in search of your own destiny.

Far from all convention, you enter a new field. You gain insights from humanistic and psychological teaching as well as esoteric understandings. Your personal wishes and egotistically motivated interests become less important. That is why these regions are particularly suited to the healing professions. You experience an increase in energy as well as recognition and acceptance.

Note: You can get your reading for free here: AstroClick Travel Horoscope.

But you don’t need to have your charts done in order to know where you need to be. Take a deep breath. Let it out slowly. Then, take a few moments with these questions:

  • In what environment do you feel most at ease?
  • Where do you shine the most? 
  • What does your body tell you about where you are now?
  • Where do you feel free, or at peace, or at home?

You might realize you’re already in the mushroom cluster that was meant for you, or maybe you’ll understand it’s time to find the village you’ve always been curious about.

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Giving and TAKING credit where credit’s due

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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