Taking that leap

Tara Mohr meets Chuck Sandy
Tara Mohr meets Chuck Sandy

I finally took the leap. I took the leap from playing small and took some steps towards playing big. (click here to tweet) You see, since I began training teachers, I’ve dreamed of facilitating sessions on the concept of compassionate communication, where I’d ask the teachers in our program to delve more deeply into empathy for the self and others. But instead of doing this, I listened to my inner critic. My inner critic’s favourite story has been that I am not qualified enough to do such a thing, and that the teachers probably wouldn’t want to participate. And, who am I to push this concept on them anyway? Then walks in Tara Mohr. I first heard her speak with Tami Simon on the Insights at the Edge podcast about how common it is for women to stay small mostly due to the voice of this inner critic. Playing big, as Tara explains in her book, is about:

“learning how to use your voice to change those systems. It’s not about “opting in” or “opting out” according to our society’s current thinking (…) It’s about turning away from those labels, refocusing your attention and longings and dreams, and playing big in going for them.”

One way she suggests doing this is by taking a leap. What she said got my psyched, so guess what I did? Below are six criteria that Tara suggests for taking a leap. I’ll explain my leap while looking back on what happened in relation to these six.

1. It gets you playing bigger now, according to what playing bigger means to you.

Playing big for me means helping teachers deal with teacher burnout via healing strategies such as of self-compassion, and empathic listening within a community.

2. It can be finished within one to two weeks.

The discussion group ended in less than five months. But to be fair, our meetings were quite spread out. We met a total of 5 times over 5 months.

3. It’s simple: an action that you could describe in a short phrase.

My phrase was – to facilitate a bi-weekly discussion group.

4. It gets your adrenaline flowing because a leap stretches you out of your comfort zone.

Yes! Although I was comfortable with facilitating a group of this nature, I was going out of my comfort zone offering this idea to the teachers in our program. I started out by giving an introduction to everyone in the course (16 in-service teachers) about the concept of compassionate communication — basically helping them develop their literacy of feelings and needs. I also lead a session where we read the article on teacher burnout and self-compassion. With this basic foundation, I felt comfortable about telling them about my ideas of starting a discussion group. 10 teachers volunteered, and about 8 stayed until the end. My adrenaline has definitely been flowing.

5. A leap puts you in contact with the audience you want to reach or influence.

I have learned so much from these teachers: about how my approach has influenced them and could also influence them in the future. I have recorded each session and I am currently waiting for individual feedback. But that being said, I already received the best feedback I could ever ask for during our last session. On the last day our group met (December 23, 2014), I asked the teachers to share what needs were fulfilled by their final discussion. I’ll save the details for another post, but let me just say I felt incredibly touched and connected. At the end session, I gave each teacher one of these magnets below, and encouraged them to use it as a reminder to not to give up on themselves. There wasn’t a dry eye in the room. I feel pretty confident there’s no playing small anymore. don't give up #redthumbforlove *Cynthia Gray is the artist behind the “Don’t Give Up” magnet project. *I also want to thank Chuck Sandy who inspired me to take my first leap at the beginning of this year. Chuck inspired me in creating the #redthumbforlove Self-Compassion for Teachers project. This first leap gave me great strength to try this new leap.  This is what Chuck does. He inspires people into faith (a nod to the picture at the top of this post), and I am ever grateful to him for helping me find faith in myself. My inner critic will forever be annoyed with this little glitch in its storyline. ;)

Interrupted Meridians: Korea in Mourning

For three weeks now I’ve been getting acupuncture for a wrist injury. As is standard in Eastern medicine, the doctor checked my tongue to learn more about my overall health. He discovered that my qi (natural energy) is very low. In order to balance my qi, he suggested that I “take it easy and eat a low fat diet. No fatty meats and no sweet bread.” That meant giving up one of my favourite Friday night traditions: barbecuing samgyeopsal 삼겹살 with Byongchan while listening to our favourite Korean radio host Bae Chul Soo play classic rock and the top American Billboard hits — his show is a little piece of home.

This diagnosis got me wondering about communication. In order to regulate my qi, the doctor stuck two needles at different points in my foot. In order to rework the enflamed ligaments in my right wrist, he put two needles in my left foot, three needles in my right hand, and one needle in my right arm. These points were all communicating to each other via the meridians in my body. The wrist is healing quite well, but it will take time and effort for my qi to restore itself.

acupuncture under a heat lamp
acupuncture under a heat lamp

Why will it take so much time?

Because my habits get in the way of the meridians. I like pies and pastries. I like beer and chicken. I like samgyeopsal. In order to heal my body, my mind has to get out of the way. I need to give up my bad habits to make room for those points in my body to communicate with each other and do their job. In essence, I need to listen to the messages that my body is sending me.

You may wonder how all this relates to Korea in mourning. As you have surely heard, a ferry full of high school students and their teachers has sunk and there is very little doubt as to the fate of the souls that remain on board. And why do they remain on board? Because the meridians of communication were interrupted. Interrupted by ego, by pride, by fear, by confusion, by upbringing, by habit. From one point to the other, messages were not transmitted. Whether it was the lack of a message from the captain, or whether it was not being able to listen to their own hearts, now we all mourn these students and grieve for the loss their families are suffering. Poor communication came at a high cost.

And last night, I did not stop our Friday night ritual. Once again, I interrupted the healing communication in my body. Interrupted by ego, by desire, by upbringing, by habit.

But last night Bae Chul Soo didn’t share his usual repertoire. No top ten hits and no classics to groove to. He only played melancholy songs. Korea is in mourning.

The Courage of Self-Compassion – Compassion Training 5

Straddling the line between light and dark
Straddling the line between light and dark

I feel compelled to write some kind of disclaimer here. (I think this will be the end of disclaimers for a while. And maybe my last “Compassion Training” post for a while also.) I’m writing about compassion (see other posts in my Compassion Training series) not because I’m any kind of expert, but because I’m trying to figure out what compassion is and how I can bring more of it into my life. It’s something I feel compelled to learn about, especially as a teacher. I figure that by writing about my experiences I may meet other teachers who feel the same, and together we can discover where compassion fits into the art of teaching.

The following post is about my messy path toward greater compassion.

One of the interesting, and sometimes disconcerting, side effects about my meditation practice so far is that the more I meditate, the more I recall moments in my life where I was far from being compassionate. Moments of selfishness, judgment, and mindless reaction. I recall awful (truly hurtful) things I said or did when I was a teenager, a young adult, and not so long ago. I am comforted by the fact that according to Mark Coleman (and apparently many holy people and mystics) this is normal, and actually maybe something to aim for. Mark shared this quote during one of his webcasts that helped me connect to this concept:

As the light increases, we see ourselves to be worse than we thought. We are amazed at our former blindness as we see issuing forth from the depths of our heart a whole swarm of shameful feelings, like filthy reptiles crawling from a hidden cave. We never could have believed that we had harbored such things, and we stand aghast as we watch them gradually appear. But while our faults diminish, the light by which we see them waxes brighter, and we are filled with horror. Bear in mind, for your comfort, that we only perceive our malady when the cure begins. – Francois Fénelon

And it’s true. I can feel a shift already. Those ugly thoughts don’t visit even half as often as they used to. It’s as if sitting down with them, and giving them the attention and care they needed helped them find relief. They seem to have moved along. This is the power of empathy and compassion. But it’s not easy.

It takes courage to be self-compassionate. – Mark Coleman

Do we usually choose to have dinner with a person who is selfish, judgmental, and reactionary? Maybe we do, but do we sit with that person with an open heart? It’s not easy, and most often, we probably want to avoid this scenario. It’s the same thing. Why would anyone want to take a hard look at all those messy moments from your past? The only answer I can come up with is: because I don’t want them to happen again. I don’t want to be that person. I also don’t want to encourage that behaviour in others. This is what I risk doing as a teacher. So for now, and probably for a long time to come, I’ll sit with the mess. I’ll muster up the courage to do so because I’d rather see the light than be kept away in a cave. If you connect to this topic, and would like to continue getting weekly inspirations, join the Facebook group Self Compassion for Teachers #redthumbforlove.

Self-Empathy & Self-Compassion – Compassion Training 4

Self-empathy. Self-compassion. What’s the difference between these terms? I’ve been curious about this, and so it’s time to explore.

I first heard of the concept of self-empathy when I went to my first Nonviolent Communication (NVC) workshop in Seoul. At that time, even the term empathy was foreign to me, let alone the concept of self-empathy. Sure, I had felt and offered empathy at points in my life, but I don’t think I had a word for it.

That’s the power of words. They can help you see things for the first time. That being said, words are also precarious things. When used as labels, they are limiting. They shade the truth and the essence of who and what things truly are. But as a language teacher and learner, I appreciate the depth of understanding a word provides. Interestingly, it seems that not too long ago, the English language went on a search for this word. English users had a sense of empathy, but didn’t have a word for it until 1909 when it was coined by the American psychologist, Robert Titchener. I wonder if the fact that the culture now has a word for empathy that we can start understanding and feeling it a bit more. Something to ponder.

But back to self-empathy. I was intrigued by this concept the moment I heard about it. The idea that I could be there for myself during hard times without needing the support of anyone else was a huge relief. The way I understood self-empathy through NVC was that when felt conflicted, all I had to do was acknowledge the feelings that were coming up, and connect them to needs that weren’t being met at the moment. This simple awareness was enough to remove a few bricks from my shoulders. Bricks I had been carrying for quite some time.

Giving up bricks #redthumbforlove
Giving up my bricks #redthumbforlove

As Mark Coleman describes self-empathy, it’s as if you are receiving empathy from someone, except you are that other person.

“Put yourself in their shoes offering that to you. Imagine you’re like a third person viewing yourself from that distance.”

These days, however, thanks to the work of Kristin Neff and other emotion researchers, the term self-compassion is being used in psychology literature and media. To understand the difference between self-empathy and self-compassion, it’s helpful to understand the contrast between their roots, and another close friend: sympathy. I’m only bringing him in because when I present the idea of compassionate communication to teachers, they often raise this question: what’s the difference between empathy, sympathy, and compassion? I love this question because the difference is very important to make. For clarity on compassion and empathy, I refer to the excellent reports by The Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley:

Compassion – Compassion literally means “to suffer together.” Among emotion researchers, it is defined as the feeling that arises when you are confronted with another’s suffering and feel motivated to relieve that suffering.

Empathy – Emotion researchers generally define empathy as the ability to sense other people’s emotions, coupled with the ability to imagine what someone else might be thinking or feeling.

To help clarify the difference between empathy and sympathy, I highly recommend this short piece by RSA Shorts and Brené Brown.

Considering these definitions, I think the difference is that self-empathy helps me tune in to what I am feeling, and if I extend it to NVC terms, what I am needing. These can be positive or *negative experiences. When in self-empathy, I am simply aware of what’s going on inside me.

Empathy is a component of compassion, but what differentiates compassion is the desire to do something about the suffering. When my empathy is extended into action, I’m now feeling compassion. This then would mean that when I’m in self-compassion, I’m taking active steps to relieve my suffering.

With all this in mind, I’m not sure how these two are different. I think the act of acknowledging ones feelings and needs is in itself an act of compassion. Maybe these terms aren’t different at all. Perhaps this whole exploration is simply a matter of semantics. Another example of why it’s important to look beyond words. Because when we really tune in, it’s the silence and stillness that truly connects. Words are no longer needed.

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  • If you are a teacher curious about self-compassion, or want to learn more about how self-compassion relates to you, please “like” our Self-Compassion for Teachers Facebook page for information and inspiration. You’ll also get an explanation about the red thumb you see holding the brick in the picture.
  • This post is a continuation of my blog Compassion Training blog series. Although this post doesn’t talk about the impact of compassion on teaching, the intention of the series is to make this connection.
  • For self-compassion practices online, please check out Kristin Neff’s exercises and guided meditations, as well as the resources offered at Center for Mindful Self-Compassion.

*  The more intimate we are with our emotions, the more adept we’ll be in both containing and expressing them, so that their presence serves rather than hinders us and those with whom we’re in contact. In this sense, there are no unwholesome or negative emotions—only unwholesome or negative things we do with them. Emotional intimacy allows us to make the best possible use of all our emotions—and it enhances relationship. – Robert Augustus Masters, Emotional Intimacy (scroll down to “Introduction: Into theHeart of Emotion”)

Teacher Self-Compassion #RedThumbForLove – Compassion Training 3

I want to propose an idea to all teachers: be kind to yourself no matter what happens. No matter what. If your lessons flops, it flops. If you couldn’t answer a student’s grammar question, it happened. If you couldn’t finish correcting homework on time, so be it. If that little voice in your head creeps up and says, “you’re stupid, incompetent, and lazy,” respond to it with love. How? I will propose a strategy, but first let me tell you how I discovered it.

(Feel free to scroll down to A Visual Reminder of Self-Compasssion – #RedThumbForLove if you’d rather learn the strategy right away.)

Lovingkindness Practice – Opening to Self-compassion

During the second week of Compassion Training with Mark Coleman (see my previous posts on this topic) we transitioned from mindfulness practice to loving-kindness practice. Sharon Salzberg defines loving-kindness as follows:

“Loving kindness is a form of love that truly is an ability, and, as research scientists have show, it can be learned. It is the ability to take some risks with our awareness – to look at ourselves and others with kindness instead of reflexive criticism; to include in our concern those to whom we normally pay no attention; to care for ourselves unconditionally instead of thinking, “I will love myself as long as I never make a mistake.” It is the ability to gather our attention and really listen to others, even those we’ve written off as not worth our time. It is the ability to see the humanity in people we don’t know and the pain in people we find difficult.” – from Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation

And how do we see this humanity, how can we look at others with kindness when we can’t do it for ourselves? Here’s an idea from Mark Coleman,

“The primary abandonment we do is with ourselves. The most healing thing we can do is to not leave ourselves; not to abandon ourselves. This practice of self-metta (self-lovingkindness) allows us to hold ourselves, to stay with ourselves, to befriend ourselves, to love ourselves.”

This practice of self-lovingkindness has a long history, and the premise is simple: send yourself loving thoughts and from here you will open yourself to loving others more easily. First, it starts with yourself. Then, you move on to people who are easy love, and from there you move on to more distant and challenging people. During my first week I found it hard to extend my thoughts to others. I would lose focus, and my mind would drift off towards more enticing ideas. After talking this through with Mark, I learned that maybe I just needed to focus on myself for a while. It seemed that I needed the most care at that moment. Trusting that this was not a selfish act ,but something that would actually help me connect more to others in the end, I kept sending myself thoughts of lovingkindness, or another way to look at it, self-compassion.

Loving myself - a work in progress
Loving myself – a work in progress

Lovingkindness starts at home and our relationship with ourselves. – Mark Coleman

But this isn’t the strategy I want to propose to teachers — though, I still recommend it. The strategy first came to me after Mark asked the question, “What are one or two ways that you could realistically and practically begin to practice more kindness towards yourself?”, and then after seeing Chuck Sandy‘s Facebook post where he shared:

How often do we poison our own spirit with negative thoughts about ourselves? That’s why I painted my thumb red today – to remind myself to push away unloving thoughts about myself & to practice love for others more.

A Visual Reminder of Self-Compasssion – #RedThumbForLove

From Chuck’s red thumb sprang more colourful pictures of teachers’ nails. And so this is what I propose to you: paint your thumbnail red or any colour of the rainbow so that each time you see it you are reminded to be kinder, gentler, and more compassionate with yourself.

Teaching can be a lonely profession. Often, we don’t have anyone to turn to who understands the challenges we face. Self-care may be the only strategy we can turn to when the job gets too hard. When you feel overwhelmed, this little self-compassion reminder may just be the thing to bring you a little ease. Each time you look at your coloured nail, check your state of mind to see if you’re in your old pattern of blame or shame, and remember that you are doing the best you can at that moment. Acknowledge what you are feeling: don’t push it away and don’t dwell in it. Just feel it.

A Community of Self-Compassionate Teachers

Post your picture, and a story of how your nail helped you, on the Self Compassion for Teachers #redthumbforlove Facebook page. You can also send the picture directly to me via Twitter @josettelb or tag me on Instagram @josettelb. If you use Tumblr use the #redthumbforlove hashtag and I’ll load it up on our blog redthumbforlove.tumblr.com.  Use the #redthumbforlove hashtag anytime you post a picture. By doing this, we can help each other stay motivated in being self-compassionate.

The more I teach and work with teachers, the more I realize how important self-compassion is. If you connect to this idea too, I look forward to seeing your loving colours shine.

For more about self-compassion, I recommend visiting:

For more about “whole” teaching, please visit:

And for more about Lovingkindness:

Reflective Practice Challenge 2: Grammar, Tech, Feelings and Needs

Reflective Practice (RP) Challenge 2

<—————————————————————————————-—————->

strongly disagree               disagree                      agree                   strongly agree

For John Pfordresher’s 2nd RP challenge (and his response), he asks us to share our opinions on the three statements below in relation to the scale above. I’ve done my best to respond to all three, but have weighed in most heavily on number three since it is my biggest area of interest.  If you haven’t joined the challenge, feel free to jump in here, or join the latest challenge, rpc 3: description.

1) Teachers must teach grammar explicitly if learners are to acquire language effectively.

I tend to approach teaching grammar more inductively, and I think that has a lot to do with the people I teach: English teachers in Korea. They do explicit grammar very well (I’m not sure what that would look like on a sliding scale of English teachers in the world ;) ), and I just don’t think it’s my place to stay on the path when they come our course. I want to help them see there is another way to approach learning English. When there is a need for more explicit explorations, we go there. I think a balance between both is important for my learners, and how the scales tip often depends on who is in the class.

I don’t feel I can add much more to the discussion that hasn’t already been eloquently stated by my colleagues who have completed this part of the challenge. Anne Hendler offers a list of questions that I think are important to ask before jumping to any section of the scale. David Harbinson offers a great explanation of why he strongly disagrees with this statement that I also connect to. As with all absolutes though, it’s easy to see there is a lot of grey area.

2) Teachers who don’t utilize technology in class are doing a disservice to their students.

I want to dive into statement #3, so I’ll cheat a bit and defer to the questions Anne offers in her response, the thoughts David shares in his, the sci-fi inspired exploration John reflects on in, #edtech, star trek and the matrix, and Hana Ticha’s link to his thoughts in Reflective Practice Mission Statement 2.

This list was created by Mary Scholl at Centro Espiral Mana, and you can find it here http://www.espiralmana.org/resources.html
This list was created by Mary Scholl at Centro Espiral Mana, and you can find it here http://www.espiralmana.org/resources.html

3) Teachers have to understand the correlation between student feelings and student needs to be effective.

My understanding of this statement is that at any given moment, a student will behave a certain way, and this reaction is married to a need they have at that moment. For example, if a student is sleeping in class, he probably has a need for sleep. Pretty simple.

But what about a reaction that doesn’t demonstrate the need so clearly? What if a student is not participating in a mingle activity, and is just standing alone in a space that offers more privacy than is required at that moment? What need is he trying to meet by reacting this way? This requires a bit of guesswork, and it can begin at the feelings level. Maybe the student feels nervous to talk to others. Maybe he feels confused about the task. Maybe he feels cautious. Depending on the feeling, we have a clue into the need this student is trying to satisfy.

If he is feeling nervous, then maybe he needs companionship. He could do the task with much more ease if he knew at least one person in class. In relation to confusion, maybe he needs clarity about what it means to mingle. The concept of mingling might not be something he knows how to do. And if he feels cautious, maybe he just needs space or a bit more time to get started. Maybe he needs a bit of consideration for his process. These are the needs that Anne pointed to in her post and that list of these needs can be found here. I am also reposting the quote Anne found because I think it really helps formulate what I am trying to get to (thank you Anne!):

“Needs are more than the things we can’t live without.  They represent our values, wants, desires and preferences for a happier and/or more meaningful experience as a human.  Although we have different needs in differing amounts at different times, they are universal in all of us.  When they are unmet, we experience feelings… when they are met, we experience feelings.”

Now back to the original statement. Do teachers need to be able to make these connections to be effective teachers? It depends on your beliefs about effectiveness. In a classroom environment, I believe we learn better when we feel a sense of safety and community. Depending on the composition of your class (amount of students, scheduling, age group…) this will be more or less challenging to foster. If effectiveness comes from this perspective, I think when it comes to building a sense community (trying to develop rapport between the students as well as between the teacher and students), having the awareness of the feeling/need relationship can be quite beneficial. I’m not sure teachers need to be able to make it as a explicit as I did above, but I have a sense that a teacher who is able to tune in to what students are feeling and needing will be able to provide a more fruitful learning environment.  When I read Juan Uribe’s blog, and especially his recent post on the iTDi blog, I imagine he is a teacher who is aware of this relationship. I have a feeling that many teachers out there already are but may not describe it this way.

I’m curious to know what you think about my take on no. 3. Does it resonate with your understanding of the statement? How would you describe your understanding of the statement?

*I’m currently writing an article on the subject of learning English via compassionate communication, and feelings and needs recognition is one of the tasks, so the process of writing this post has been very helpful. Thank you for giving me the space to dig in and to motivate myself to keep writing.

Compassion Training 2: Mindful or Mindless?

In my last post, Compassion Training: Trying not to fall in the hole, I described the eight-week online compassion/mindfulness course I’m taking. Each week we have meditative tasks to practice and reflect on. My hope is to write a bit about something from each week that has had an impact on me, and how it relates to teacher/learning. Below is something that struck me during week 1.

*Reflections

What causes you to lose contact with mindfulness in your day? What are the situations in your life / experience in which you find it most difficult to be mindful? What would support you in bringing mindfulness into these parts of your life?

As I was typing the question above, I felt a desire to click on Facebook and my hand reached out to click the new fitness app I downloaded on my iPhone. Clearly, social networks are external stimuli that keep me from being mindful. They chop up the moment, making it necessary for me to put pieces of that moment together again. It feels like I’m starting from the beginning every time. Not an easy task. I know paying attention to the moment creates satisfying results, but I just can’t resist the click!

Click!!!

*Practices

Continue to meditate every day, perhaps expanding the time from 20 to 30 minutes, cultivating mindfulness of the breath. Take time in the week, both in formal sitting practice and at other times, to notice when you are feeling uncomfortable, either in your mind, body or heart.

After writing the answer above, I had a strong urge to stop thinking about all this. I felt uncomfortable and I could hear myself thinking I needed to be doing something else, so I decided this might be the perfect moment to work on the following task:

Notice how you are relating to the uncomfortable experience – with care or reaction?

Reaction! Here were my thoughts at that moment:

I want to check Twitter; Byongchan is doing things in the kitchen so I should help him; my stomach is grumbling so I want to get a snack; I should bring Samsoon (our dog) for a walk so I need to get ready; my butt is asleep so I should get off it!

It was very hard not to do at least one of these things, but I sat with the discomfort. I just sat and allowed all my thoughts to happen: not judging, just watching. It took a while, but all those “shoulds” turned into curiosity. How could I worry about all those things at once? I wonder how often that happens during my day? How does it impact my ability to focus on what is happening around me?

Choosing this small moment of inner turmoil gave me a lot of insight into the power of patience and observation. By watching the feelings that were passing through me, they eventually moved along, and then I was able to make a decision that was more grounded. If I had chosen my regular pattern, reaction to any or all of those thoughts, I may have gone through the rest of the day in a frantic manner.

I know all the options I mentioned above weren’t decisions that were serious, but that is the power of that moment. It gave me something to weigh up against heavier moments. Like moments at school that require that extra bit of attention. The time when you have to plan a class, finish up paperwork, and your boss knocks on the door. That moment when a student tells you something he has been too afraid to tell anyone else. Those times when you wonder how your class could have taken such a wrong turn. All these moments might not be as intimidating from a mindful place. The only way I can test this is to keep aiming for mindfulness rather than my old mindless reactions.  Practice sitting rather than clicking. We’ll see how that goes. Six more weeks to go.

For more about mindfulness, I recommend visiting:

*The Reflection and Practices questions were provided by Mark Coleman, the teacher of the Compassion Training course.