Tearing down my own big picture – #MatMoments

Your life should reach to others. Your blissfulness, your benediction, your ecstasy should not be contained within you like a seed. It should open like a flower and spread its fragrance to all and sundry–not only to the friends but to the strangers too. This is real compassion, this is real love: sharing your enlightenment, sharing your dance of the beyond. – Osho

A few Saturdays ago, I realized again, as if for the first time, that my blissfulness revolves around contemplating and dwelling in the big picture. And then on Sunday morning the “Flowering” tarot card reminded me why this is an important truth to honour.

When I’m contemplating life’s big questions — What is the authentic self? How does this impact the world around me? How can we have a more positive impact, and what can I create to help others see they can also have a positive impact? — I’m in flow; I’m dancing. And when I’m dancing, I know I’m spreading seeds joy instead of fear. But for some reason, I judge this part of myself. (For more on the inner life of big picture thinkers, check out 15 Struggles Only Big-Picture Thinkers Will Understand)

Then on that Saturday, I realized why.

Saturdays are devoted to a yoga leadership course at the Ayurveda Yoga Academy in Daegu, South Korea. Morning sessions are focused on learning and practicing various types of healing therapies, and afternoon sessions are focused on yoga philosophy and practice. In between sessions, a few of us yogis drove off for a rare South East Asian lunch, where we had a short, yet impactful conversation that would set the tone for the next twenty-four hours.

While waiting for phở to be delivered, we discussed our interest in practicing Family Constellations Therapy during a morning session. I mentioned my curiosity in using it to heal the polarizing pain that is being caused by the political climate, particularly in the United States and South Korea. I realize that this modality is related to healing personal wounds, but with all the turmoil I noticed in my Korean friends, and of course all the trepidation I see on social media around the Trump presidency, it seemed that many individuals in our group could use an intervention of sorts.

At this point my lunch partners noted how they saw me as someone who seems to be quite concerned with the world at large, or in other words, someone who sees the big picture first. My initial reaction was to get defensive — “Of course I’m concerned with what’s going on in the world! It’s horrible. We all need to do what we can to heal this.”– but I didn’t say anything. I decided to wait and listen to what else they had to say.

I expected to hear a “yeah but…”. I expected them to tell me to get real. I thought they were going to tell me I was wrong for wanting so much.  But that didn’t happen. Instead, they reflected the light they saw shining within me. They encouraged me to honour this truth that is bubbling up and see where it takes me.

I was relieved, and grateful to hear this. My shoulders relaxed, I smiled, thanked them for seeing my truth, and took another bite of my pad thai.

Then back at the yoga studio, during the afternoon demo-class, it hit me: the only “yeah buts” that were stopping me were my own. I’ve defended my big picture thinking many times in my past. I’ve been told I’m a dreamer and an optimist, and these never felt like compliments. I’ve been told to come down from the clouds and get back to reality. The thing is, I don’t connect having a sense of hope as being a Pollyanna. I actually believe, and feel in my gut, that this is the most realistic perspective we can hold.

But what I realized on my yoga mat that afternoon is that although those judgments may have come from other people, they were actually beliefs I held. I was buying into those opinions. Deep down I thought there was something wrong with my hopeful outlook. I thought I should tone it down, and only share it with people who can handle it. Otherwise, I’d have to put my “yeah but” defence gear, which includes an ability to tolerate cynicism and a heavy dose of doubt.

Maybe this is the case for all big picture thinkers. Perhaps the fear of being ridiculed and misunderstood for seeing things as they could be and not as they are holds many of us back. The sad thing is that when we worry about judgments, and fear not being taken seriously, we dim the light within.

But thanks to my dear friends, and my practice, I am starting to see there is nothing to fix; there is nothing to change; there is nothing to defend.

Being true to this part of myself is a constant practice. It requires honouring what helps me connect the dots to the larger picture: yoga, tarot, noticing beauty, noting synchronicities, and my studies of A Course in Miracles.

These practices help me paint my own big picture, and keep me from tearing it down.


You can find the #Truthbomb Card Deck pictures above at www.daniellelaporte.com.

Choosing Happiness?

“How can we be happy?” asked Wonjangnim.

“When we’re in the moment,” I responded. But that was only after I had processed a silent emotional roller coaster ride on my yoga mat.

Not long before he had asked this, I desperately raised my hand, wanting an answer no matter how silly my question sounded.

“How do we know we’re happy?”

“You just know. You’re either happy or you’re not. You just choose in the moment.”

A wave of sadness came over me. Tears started to well.

If he had asked me how I felt at the beginning of class, when he was asking everyone else, I would have replied, “Happily relaxed.”

But now the realization hit me in the heart: I so often seem to choose anxiety and disappointment.

Then, came grief. All the time I’ve wasted. All those moments I chose to over-analyze every.little.thing. All those moments: gone.

But then again, what was he talking about? Choosing happiness didn’t feel like a choice at all! How annoying that he thinks we can choose! Come on. Really?

And as that angry thought was crossing my mind, he asked, “How can we be happy?”

It was clear as day.

I raised my hand again, “When we’re in the moment.”

The sadness was gone. The grief was gone. The anger was gone. I came back to a relaxed, happy state.

“That’s right. You have to choose. You have to answer like that,” Wonjangnim remarked.

And this is why we come to yoga. This is why we do things we love: because before a certain, point we don’t really have a choice. We are led and directed by habit and conditioning. We can’t help it.

But that doesn’t mean it can’t be different.

Keep feeling. Keep watching. Keep letting go. Come back. Choose happiness.


*I dedicate this post to my dear friend and yogini sister, Michelle D’Almeida. Not only is she a good friend, but she’s also a precious teacher. On this Friday I learned a lot about the power of feeling your feelings through her courage to feel, watch, let go, and come back. Thank you for being real and raw, my dear. Your courage is contagious. Never forget this.

*Also, a big thank you to HK Ku for translating during this Friday’s class at Ayurveda Yoga. These insights couldn’t have happened without you.

Making the mundane magical

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 in Canada, or it could be something about the cool autumn air cleaning away the heavy summer humidity. There’s something about September that sets the tone for the twelve months ahead.

I’m grateful for this because the tone of the last twelve months seemed to have been tuned to a low resonance with overwhelming treble. Last year, and probably for more years than I wish to admit, life was all about angst. Everything was all so serious. And I seem to slip into seriousness like a cold hand slips into warm winter mitts. It’s just too easy.

That’s why I need to be proactive instead of retroactive, or reactive, for that matter. I need to be proactive about bringing joy, play, and fun into my work, which the majority of time involves planning lessons, or giving written feedback to students. But considering the fact that this work sees me sitting at a desk in front of my computer, how can I be proactive in this way?

One of the ways I do this:

It’s all about making the mundane magical. (click to tweet)

Here are my favorite ways to bring magic to my work:

  • Taking a screen break by gazing at my favourite flowers or picture.

pink-roses

  • Typing away with my favourite snack by my side.
  • Slowly sipping a good cup of coffee, or if needed, a glass of wine (in moderation of course).

Cookies and Coffee

  • Bringing in color pens, candles, or crystals to add beauty to my process.

blown-out-candle

  • Pulling a tarot or oracle card to see what my next step could be.

perspective-card

After a while you’ll discover there’s nothing mundane about the cover of your spiral notebook, the cool breeze coming through the window, or the wisps of nag champa (or your favourite incense) circling your office chair.  There’s nothing mundane about the good work you are doing.

It’s all magic.

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.

IMG_6200

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.