Highly sensitive or an empath? Not sure, but I can’t watch that show

Are you an empath or a highly sensitive person?

When I first saw this question popping up all over the internet, I was thrilled. Finally, I’d be able to label myself and make sense of it all. Finally, I could figure out why some things bother me so much. Why can’t I watch popular shows like Breaking Bad or The Wire, or documentaries like India’s Daughter? Why do I avoid watching the evening news?

But with each blog post I read, I couldn’t it figure out. I’m pretty sure I’m not an empath because although I’m affected by how others feel, I don’t take on their emotions or pain. I’m pretty sure I can distinguish what’s theirs and what’s mine. I also don’t think I can make that distinction because I’m an evolved empath.

So does that mean I’m a highly sensitive person, or am I just a human who cares?

As I keep considering the lists of characteristics, I’ve come to the conclusion that it doesn’t matter. What matters is that I know what I can and can’t handle. And one thing I can’t handle, that I’ve never been able to handle, are specific types of media.

Of course the media reel has has changed over time. When Michael Jackson’s iconic Thriller video came out, I was five years old. I was so in love with Michael Jackson that there was no way I wasn’t going to watch it. But once I did, I couldn’t unwatch it. The dark haunted house, the zombie dancers, and Vincent Price’s cackle plagued me. Saying I lost years of sleep due to this video, isn’t an exaggeration. Couple this with the 80s horror movies we were obsessed with — does Nightmare on Elm Street revive any memories? — my nighttime experience was ripe for a gruesome invasion.

But as I got older, the disturbing images that painted themselves in my mind got more realistic

In my childhood home, the 5 o’clock news and the 10pm evening news were always on. As a teenager, I remember complaining how there only seemed to be was bad news. It bothered me to see the injustice and the suffering. I just couldn’t understand why people would subject themselves to this information on a daily basis, so I avoided it.

But then when I’d have a question about the current events and politics, my father would say, “Watch the news.” It didn’t persuade me. I hear a version of this from my husband too. He loves watching the evening news, and his mornings are spent scrolling through news sites. He says it’s how he stays in tune with society, and helps him stay connected with others during conversations.

I’ve admired my father’s pulse on Canadian politics, and I also admire my husband’s knowledge of Korean current affairs. However, I know myself. The more I pay attention to the news, the darker I get. I’ve learned that the information I need to know finds its way to me somehow. I don’t need to be hooked in daily.

Some might call me naive, and that I live in a bubble. But my avoidance doesn’t mean I’m ignorant. I know what’s going on in the world. The images that do find their way to me stay with me, and those images are a huge reason why I want to do my best to be a positive influence. I’ve learned that not watching certain things helps me stay calm and happy. When I’m calm and happy, I’m of much better service to myself and others.

This doesn’t mean I don’t watch disturbing or violent shows. I’m a big fan of David Lynch, and I love a good Quentin Tarantino movie. Don’t even get me started on Game of Thrones (is it July 16 yet?). But somehow these don’t affect me like the other shows I mentioned. Maybe it’s because they offer an element of fantasy that allows me to differentiate their stories from reality.

So according to those blog posts I mentioned before, because I enjoy watching Jon Snow on the battlefield, this means I’m neither an empath or a highly sensitive person. But it doesn’t matter anymore. I know I need to be careful with my media intake so that I have the energy to live the life I want. (click to tweet)  I don’t need a label to know this about myself.

How about you? Do you consciously avoid certain media in order to protect your energy?

Brainwashing or mind-training: take your pick

Over the last few months, I’ve been digging up different ways I’ve been brainwashed. The most significant connections I’ve made are with the beauty industry. Last week I finally watched Embrace (highly recommended), and while I was aware of how society forces women into a warped sense of beauty, this movie had me in tears of despair. It’s so sad what women go through.

However, it also awakened a sense of justice I hadn’t felt in a long time. I felt resolved to stop giving into the body shaming industry, and to embrace my power as a woman, especially as a white English-speaking Canadian woman. I know there is so much more I can do on this planet than worry about my love-handles. I refuse to believe I’m less than. Deep down I know I’m so much more than the dark circles under my eyes, or blotchy skin.

But how? This industry is an all-encompassing force! It has its tentacles in so many areas: social media; the music industry; the film industry; the fashion industry; the health industry; the medical industry; the pharmaceutical industry…

Meditation, or mind-training, is a suggestion that Guru Jagat makes during her talk “Take Back Our Sovereignty” at the 2016 Wanderlust Festival.

“It’s not a luxury anymore for us to be participating in some aspect of mind-training (…speaks about how the following is the base of her Kundalini lineage…) If you know how to hypnotize yourself, which is meditation — self-hypnosis is meditation — if you know how to hypnotize yourself, then no one can ever hypnotize you. That’s power. That’s sovereignty.” (starts at 2:30)

As she says this she’s pointing to the screen, reminding the audience of the Jay-Z/Beyonce video she had just played which was full of fast-paced intermittent shots of booties, boobs, and guns. This is the hypnosis we’re subject to each day. This is the brainwashing that makes me believe I need a tight tummy with super curves, while also being incredibly ruthless in my behaviour.

“Your reality is a trance of your own making, or someone else’s making. Someone who doesn’t have your greatest good in mind. So any type of meditation, any type of contemplative practice (…) is going to give you an ability to start to take that sovereignty of thought choice back.” (starts at 16:00)

She speaks about how thought forms come from our lineage, and a deeply engrained cultural and religious belief, whether we are religious or not, that we are sinners (this is especially relevant to Western cultures). For me this would be the lineage of the Acadian people, who faced expulsion from their land in the 1700s, which of course was not really their land since they came to Canada to settle from France. And in the not so distant past, they lived in a political atmosphere which pushed English linguistic and cultural assimilation.

Then, there is the cultural religion in which I was born into, Catholicism: a religion built on a celibate patriarchy, and founded on the belief that God can save us from out innate sins.

So, based on my DNA, these are the thoughts that are spinning around in the back of my mind:

  • “I don’t belong here.”
  • “My language, culture, and personhood are not worthy.”
  • “Men have all the power in our society, so as a woman I am less worthy.”
  • “I am a sinner.”

Then, there are the ideas I have surely absorbed from living in Korea for the last twelve years: bbali-bbali (fast-fast) lifestyle; high stakes competitions; materialism; or most of all, body shame.

So now that I’m aware of what I’m contending with, I can make a choice. But the choice to not succumb to brainwashing will be difficult without mind-training. Guru Jagat ends her talk with the idea that this type of training empowers us to choose happiness. It helps us sift through our conditioned thoughts and choose another path. It is my hope that the more I practice, the more I’ll able to choose self-acceptance…

…because for me, self-acceptance is happiness. – click to tweet

You’re so full of yourself!

“You’re so full of yourself!”

Could you imagine yourself saying “thank you” to this comment?

I’d like to offer up the idea that it’s okay to be full of yourself.

It’s definitely not an easy idea to accept. Most would cringe knowing others see them this way. I know I would. Although I try to put myself out there professionally, as a woman I’ve learned it’s safer to play small. I sometimes worry that I said or did something that came off as conceited: “Was it really necessary to write that comment about myself in my presentation bio?”,”Maybe I should have kept that Facebook post to myself?”

As a long term expat in Korea, I’ve observed how modesty and humility are highly valued. There is a general discomfort that seems to spread across a group of friends when someone talks about their success. It’s much safer to downplay your achievements.

In both these cultures, you won’t make it easy on yourself by acting superior. But what if it isn’t about superiority? What if it’s simply about honoring your gifts in way that you aren’t wasting your energy worrying about what others think? Imagine the ease you would feel if you could just fully be yourself. (click to tweet)

Imagine the space that would clear up if all you had to focus on was expressing your skills and knowledge without fear of judgment. My mind goes to exciting places when I consider this freedom. I imagine myself creating projects and sharing them with people in ways, well, Oprah might.

In Brené Brown’s first interview of her *Living Brave video series, she speaks to Oprah who shares how she used to be worried about being told she was full of herself. But Oprah, being Oprah, found a way to repurpose that judgment:

“Now I work at being full. I want to be so full that I’m overflowing. So when you see me coming, it ought to make you proud, to borrow a line from Maya Angelou’s Phenomenal Woman. When you see me coming it ought to make you proud, and what you see is a woman so full I’m overflowing with enough to share with everybody else. I’m going to own the fullness without ego, without arrogance, but with an amazing sense of gratitude that I’ve been born at a time where I am female on the planet, and I have the great pleasure and freedom to fill myself up.” (see poem below)

*Note: Brené and Oprah’s conversation on fullness starts at 12:05.

This. Overflowing. I imagine myself with a perpetually full tank of gas. Think of the places I could go and the people I could see! It’s impossible to get to these places with half a tank. But this is what happens when I try to make myself smaller in order to fit in. This is what happens when I try not to offend anyone.

This fullness isn’t about flaunting my gifts. It’s not about bragging about what I’ve done just to make myself look bigger and you smaller. To honour my gifts without ego or arrogance requires me to be appreciative of the experience I’ve gained, and the skills and knowledge that come along with it. When I’m grateful, I honour everyone and everything that helped me succeed. I fill myself up with this greatness, and in return, I take myself places I could never have imagined. (click to tweet)

What does your fullness look like?

________________________

Phenomenal Woman

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
I say,
It’s in the reach of my arms,
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.
I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please,
And to a man,
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees.
Then they swarm around me,
A hive of honey bees.
I say,
It’s the fire in my eyes,
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing in my waist,
And the joy in my feet.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.
Men themselves have wondered
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can’t touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them,
They say they still can’t see.
I say,
It’s in the arch of my back,
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.
Now you understand
Just why my head’s not bowed.
I don’t shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing,
It ought to make you proud.
I say,
It’s in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
the palm of my hand,
The need for my care.
’Cause I’m a woman
Phenomenally.
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

Reflective Practice Group: A Facilitator’s Guide

Last September I decided to step away from the reflective practice group I had been organizing since 2012. It was time to focus my energy elsewhere. In order to help my colleagues take over, I created this guide. I thought it might also be helpful to others as well. Enjoy!

____________________________________

Below you will find helpful information for coordinating and facilitating a reflective practice group meeting. If this is your first time coordinating or facilitating, I recommend reading the listed blog posts:

When leading a session, there are few elements to be aware of:

  • Participants and prospective participants
  • Facilitating the meeting from the beginning to the end of the meeting
  • Choosing and facilitating the topic of the meeting
  • Advertising each meeting
  • Location
  • Sharing and recording what has been discussed at the meeting

You will find more details about each element below.

Participants and prospective participants

As this is an open group, new members may attend. This is why we usually start a session with an icebreaker. In order to help them feel welcome to the group, it can be helpful to explain the aim of the group, and maybe just have a brief chat about what a typical meeting looks like. Anything you can do to help newcomers feel welcome and at ease will be great. The idea is that we want to make them feel included. Since many members have been attending for quite a while, a newcomer may feel out of place. Helping ease this sense will support them in coming back.

Here are a few things to consider prior to a meeting in case a new participant attends:

  • What will you share about the group?
  • What will you say to help them familiarize themselves?
  • What will you ask from them? (why are they here, what they would like?)
  • Asking for their contact information so you can share information about future meetings
  • Helping them access the Facebook group
Facilitating from the beginning to the end of the meeting

The most important role of the facilitator is to help keep the discussion going. In order to do this, here are a few points to keep in mind:

  • Remember your goal, but remain open – What do you want members to leave the meeting with? A skill? Knowledge?  Stay focused on your goal. If you notice the meeting is going in another direction, try to bring it back. However, don’t be so strict that you ignore valuable learning moments. A good RP meeting is one that helps people think and grow, and sometimes that means throwing away your plan.
  • Getting the meeting started –
    • It’s easy for members to get wrapped up in small talk at the beginning of a meeting. Remember that they came to talk about the topic you planned. Be gently assertive and start the meeting. Everyone is with you. Some language to help them get started might be:
      • If everyone is here, let’s get started.  
      • Feel free to come and go to get your drink (coffee/tea) or to get settled. We will begin introductions now….
    • Ice breaker and names – a simple ice-breaker that doesn’t take much time is to ask members to share their favorite (choose a topic). For example, you may ask them to share their favorite drink or animal… Don’t spend too much time on the icebreaker because the content of the meeting is the juicy part.
    • Presenting the agenda
    • Dealing with goals – you may want members to share how they did with the goals they set during the last meeting. However, you may want to wait until the end of the meeting to discuss this as well.
  • Grouping – Depending on the size of the group, this may involve creating small groups, or pairing off people. If the group is large, you may want to opt out of joining discussion groups so you can take notes and focus on how the discussions are going.
  • Stopping discussions – It can be hard to stop a juicy discussion, but discussions have to stop at some point. Before starting discussions, it can be helpful to inform members how you will ask them to stop talking. This can be especially helpful if you have a larger group. You may want to raise your hand, clap, or remind everyone they have a minute to wrap up.
  • Asking people to share what they discussed in groups or not (you may not have time to share with the large group) – After small group discussions, you may want to get a summary of what each group discussed so ideas can be shared with the large group. This is a good way to bring everyone together, and increase insight and understanding
  • Watching the clock – make sure you have enough time to do everything you planned. This includes the icebreaker, discussions, and the wrap-up at the end.
  • Ending the meeting – Here are a few things to consider for the end of the meeting
    • Asking members to share their RP goals. This may be new goals or you may want them to share progress on old one.
    • open a request for facilitators for future meetings
    • Talk about date of the next meeting
Choosing the topic of the meeting

It can be helpful to have the topic of the next meeting already decided so that you can share it at the end of the meeting. This will help members work on and think about the topic during the weeks in between meetings.

Advertising each meeting

Send a group email (remember to BCC the list) to members at least a week before the meeting. It’s a good idea to create a Facebook group, and to create an event within the group for each meeting as this sends a direct message to group members.

Information to be included:

  • Date
  • Hours
  • Location and directions to the location
  • A brief abstract of the topic and what you expect members to do before or during the meeting
  • Your contact information in case people can’t find the location on the day of the meeting
Location

A quiet space at a central location is preferable. It can also be helpful to have a space with a white board and larger tables. Privacy is also ideal.

Sharing and recording what has been discussed at the meeting

How do we share and record what we do?

It is a good idea to share as a way of keeping the community connected throughout the month, but this is up to you.

Links I have found useful along the way

Below are links to resources that have helped me in teaching English as a second language, and in teaching teachers. I hope they are of service to you too.

If you have any suggestions for links to add to categories that exist, or don’t yet, please comment below.


*Topics are in alphabetical order.

Adult Learning Theory

Assessment

Body Language

Teacher burnout (2015)

Job Satisfaction

Cognates

Cognitive skills

Communication

Nonverbal

Miscommunication

Community (dynamics and rhythms)

Classroom Community

Communities of Practice

“…communities of practice are everywhere. They are a familiar experience, so familiar perhaps that it often escapes our attention. Yet when it is given a name and brought into focus, it becomes a perspective that can help us understand our world better. In particular, it allows us to see past more obvious formal structures such as organizations, classrooms, or nations, and perceive the structures defined by engagement in practice and the informal learning that comes with it.”

“The term community of practice was coined to refer to the community that acts as a living curriculum for the apprentice.”

Competence

Complexity Theory

Corpus

Critical Incidents

Critical reading and thinking

Cuisenaire Rods

Culture

Crosscultural Misunderstandings

Deductive learning (see Inductive learning)

Discussions (facilitating discussions)

Ecological Approach

Emotions

Emotional intelligence

Emotions and language

Neuroscience

Empowerment

English (lingua franca, international, dialects…)

Experiential Learning Cycle

Feedback

Writing

Fluency and Coherence (Speaking)

Focus on form

Goals

Grammar (with bonus humor because we all need to lighten up about grammar)

Adverbs

Adjectives

Complement

Function words

Object

Direct

Object Complement

Operators (do, do, do…because we always need a little back-up when being negative, inquisitive, or emphatic)

Particles (pesky little things)

Phrasal verbs (all of them…the ones that love splitting too)

Predicate (no use in denying this part of this sentence. It’s affirmed and here to stay)

Prepositional phrase (wordy adjectives or adverbs)

Sentences

Speaking

Symbols

Verbs

Ice-breakers

Inductive and deductive learning

Integrated skills

Learning-centered education

Learning Challenges (Disabilities)

Learning Modalities

Lexical Approach

Lexis

Listening

Listening (Good listeners)

Phonology and phonetics

Presentation Skills

Correlations

General

Informal and formal (politeness)

Interviews

Phrases

Questions

Surveys

Survey results

Pronunciation

Reading Skills

Receptive skills (Listening & reading)

Reflective Practice

Self and others

By telling others how we feel and other information about ourselves we reduce the hidden area, and increase the open area, which enables better understanding, cooperation, trust, team-working effectiveness and productivity. Reducing hidden areas also reduces the potential for confusion, misunderstanding, poor communication, etc, which all distract from and undermine team effectiveness.

Organizational culture and working atmosphere have a major influence on group members’ preparedness to disclose their hidden selves. Most people fear judgement or vulnerability and therefore hold back hidden information and feelings, etc, that if moved into the open area, ie known by the group as well, would enhance mutual understanding, and thereby improve group awareness, enabling better individual performance and group effectiveness.”

As with feedback, some people are more resilient than others – care needs to be taken to avoid causing emotional upset.”

*I can see this as a useful tool for trainers to use when considering the progress of a course, and the various group dynamics at play.

Social Change/Justice

 

Task-based Language Teaching (Dogme?)

Team-building

Young Learners

 

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.