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
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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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40 things I learned this year

Turns out 2017 may have been just as magical as 1977. I was born in 1977, and in a way, I was reborn in 2017. This is evident from the list you’ll see below. This is also the year our first child will be born. Like I said, pretty magical.

I’d love to know which listed lesson stood out for you, so please leave me a comment. It would be fun to write a full blog post on that particular topic. These were hard to boil down to only a few sentences!

A large portion of what I’ve learned this year comes from the alchemy of the Ayurveda Yoga Teacher Training (Leadership) course; the Emerge mentorship program with Elizabeth DiAlto and 21 other women; and Terri Cole‘s Real Love Revolution course. I’ve also learned a great deal from my baby-to-be. There’s nothing like a body forming in your womb for you to gain perspective. Talk about alchemy.

In no particular order (except that the first one pretty much encompasses them all), here we go!

1. Everything I’ve ever needed has always been inside of me.

2. Being part of a community who is on the same page is necessary for me to live the abundant life I want. Without the supportive and loving women and men I’ve surrounded myself with this year, I never could have become the person I am now.

3. Asking for help is helpful! That’s why this world is full of people with their own unique strengths: to help each other.

4. Having an accountability partner who helps keep my spiritual, emotional, and professional goals in check is conducive to success. I’m so grateful for mine, April Monique. Check out the important work she’s doing with helping people live whole, brave, and loving lives.

5. When I put myself out there, I get positive results. Sure, I may get negative reactions, but it’s by expressing myself and connecting with others that life emerges. It’s exciting stuff! It’s good to dream, but I also have to do.

6. Witnessing someone’s suffering is more helpful than saying “the right thing”. Hearing “I witness your suffering,” or “I witness you during this challenging time,” does something pretty miraculous to the heart.

7. Healthy boundaries are incredibly important and necessary in order to live a calm and content life.

8. Codependency ruins relationships. It’s a common, and often accepted, way to function, but it doesn’t have to be that way. You also don’t have to be in a relationship with someone who is an alcoholic, a drug addict, or who is highly neglectful for you exhibit codependent behaviour.

9. It’s helpful to know the difference between discernment and judgment. Judgment puts power outside of me. Discernment puts power within me.

10. There are topics I can talk about with some people but not with others. Knowing the difference saves me energy.

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

12. Confidence comes from evidence.

13. I don’t need to be an expert. I can own what I know now and even teach from this place. A fifth grader can teach a fourth grader.

14. There’s power in the pause.

15. When I do things that don’t resonate with my heart, I end up feeling resentful. I know I’m feeling resentful when I blame others or I complain about the environment I’m in. Whenever I feel resentful about a person or project, it’s a good sign I need to get out of the situation or relationship, or at least change my approach to it.

16. Perfectionism is a sign I’m not dealing with my uncomfortable feelings.

17. I have more to learn about surrendering to and receiving the natural flow of the Universe, but it’s one of my most intriguing points of growth.

18. When I speak my truth and I don’t fear what others will say, I feel so much more energized and ready to do more work than if I have to conform to what I think others want me to do. Doesn’t that sound so convoluted? That’s because it is. Just be you.

19. If I’m worried about how much people are judging me, it usually means I’m judging others as much.

20. Being able to clearly articulate my values has helped me put in perspective concepts that have challenged me, and helps me make better decisions about my life.

21. Life is full of paradoxes and the more I accept this, the happier I am.

22. When I let go of trying to control the outcome, I allow miracles to happen.

23. It’s okay for me to change my mind if the decision I made doesn’t feel right. It doesn’t mean I’m not reliable. It means I know myself, and I’m evolving.

24. All I need to do to make a decision is listen to my intuition, but this listening takes practice.

25. Grounding myself in my body is essential to my mental health. It helps me tune into my intuition so I can make decisions I can stand by.

26. It’s important to have people in my life to honestly and openly talk about my problems, but true answers come from within.

27. The opinion of others can derail me quickly, so it’s really not helpful to ask for it.

28. We project of our feelings and experiences onto other people, and it’s important to check in to see if the story we tell ourselves is actually true. Our imaginations can get us into trouble.

29. While culture brings so much beauty and diversity to the world, and it should be respected in many ways, it isn’t something we need to put on a pedestal. It can brainwash us into believing certain things about ourselves that probably aren’t true.

30. I can’t get over the ridiculous idea that’s been perpetuated in most cultures for years: that women are weak. Women’s bodies are the embodiment of strength an resiliency. We go through menstrual cycles (not to mention everything that goes along with this), pregnancy, and birth, and come back from all this kicking more ass. How is this weak?

31. I’m in awe of the female body. It’s an example of the ultimate surrender. I’m not doing anything except eating, resting, and exercising, and my body is creating a human.

32. It’s taken pregnancy to help me understand that my body is pivotal to my self-development.

33. Working with my body improves my mental health. Doing a daily breathing and movement practice makes me feel calmer, more relaxed, and more present.

34. Baby moons are a thing, and I’m glad we learned about this as a way to transition into parenthood. Life will never be the same, and it was important to honour that.

Guam – August 2017
35. The menstrual cycle is a superpower, and I’m grateful I can experience its wisdom.

36. It’s okay, and healthy, to cry. I still struggle with this — I still apologize when I cry — but I hold back less than I did. Feeling shame for crying is not helpful for anyone.

37. When I don’t allow myself to feel feelings, most importantly the “ugly” ones, they control me.

38. Looking at the dark spots in my life is the only way to make room for lighter moments. It’s worth honestly looking at mistakes I’ve made or pain I may have caused. Having this witnessed by someone I trust helps make that light come in more clearly. It removes blocks I didn’t even know existed.

39. I have a lot to learn about equality, diversity, and inclusivity.

40. Forty feels fabulous.

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Listening to the Inner Teacher: The (R)evolution of #RedThumbForLove

When the universe calls your name, it’s important to make sure your inner teacher (a.k.a. gut feeling, inner truth, etc.) is ready to listen. The universe speaks in mysterious ways.

This is how I’ve been feeling as of late. It first started when I got the idea to ask teachers to share how they offer themselves self-care and self-compassion, and why they do so. I really had no idea what the response would be. To my delight, 99% of the teachers I asked have said yes, and they continue to say yes. Some have even volunteered! Click here, Teachers Talking About Self-compassion, to read their stories.

Then today in the series, I share an interview of an empowering woman/teacher, Rupa Mehta, I saw speak at one of the festivals I’ve been following in YouTube for the past year, Wanderlust — highly recommended for all soul seekers. In this post, Emotional & Physical Fitness, you can read about how my inner teacher led me to asking Rupa to share her experience with self-care and self-compassion.

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I can’t end this post about paying attention to the universe’s subtle winks to #RedThumbForLove without sharing the most inspiring detail of all. This coming weekend, I’ll be doing a workshop with Chuck Sandy at the KOTESOL International Conference where we’ll be talking about listening to the teacher within. But this, although very cool, isn’t the amazing part. The amazing part is that the #RedThumbForLove blog/movement/project/revolution was a result of me listening to my inner teacher. My inner teacher knew how important it was to pay attention to Chuck’s Facebook status on that faithful day in 2014.

It’s all lining up, coming full circle, and evolving beautifully.

And so dear Readers, thank you so much for celebrating this mystery of life with me. But more importantly, I hope this was the message your inner teacher needed to hear today.