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

Advertisements

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.

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.

Compassion Training: Trying not to fall in the hole

I think I’m between chapter  2 and 3. It all depends on the circumstances.

An Autobiography in Five Short Chapters
by Portia Nelson (excerpt from her book “There’s a Hole in My Sidewalk: The Romance of Self-Discovery“)

Chapter 1
I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I fall in. I am lost….I am helpless.
It isn’t my fault.
It takes forever to find a way out.

walking down the sidewalk

Chapter 2
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the side walk.
I pretend I don’t see it. I fall in again.
I can’t believe I am in the same place.
But it isn’t my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.

Chapter 3
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it is there.
I fall in….it’s a habit…but my eyes are open.
I know where I am. It is my fault.
I get out immediately.

Chapter 4
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.

Chapter 5
I walk down a different street.

This is why I’ve decided to take this course: Compassion Training with Mark Coleman (you can listen to the podcasts here). I made this decision after recently noticing myself being less than compassionate with someone and myself. Something which should have been simple to deal with left me thinking, “Wow, I am really a bitch.” Now, that is not the type of language I want fermenting in my mind, and my behaviour is not the kind I want to continue cycling; because looking back, it is a reaction (both the action and the thought) that continually reemerges.

So why am I writing about this on my teaching blog and not my personal blog? Because as you’ll see from the tagline under my blog’s title, I am passionate about compassionate communication. I think the world needs a lot more compassion and as a teacher of language, I think I’m in a position to make this happen. As language teachers, we are all in this position. I’ve always thought that the first step in creating this change should come from me (see a post on this by my friend and fellow teacher: In Order to Change the World). But I didn’t truly understand what that meant.

I think I’m closer to understanding it. My understanding is I can’t teach kindness if I’m not kind with myself. I can’t be compassionate with students and other teachers if I’m not compassionate with myself. Once I do that for myself, I’ll be ready for the world.

Awareness is the foundation of kindness. Kindness is the expression of awareness. – Buddhist verse

So for now I’ll sit and do my best to be mindful of what arises because that is the kindest thing I can do.

*I’d also like to take this chance to let my dear readers know that I am starting the WordPress “Post a Week” blog challenge. The fancy new badge you see on the right makes this official. I took this challenge back in 2011 (check out my “Post a Week 2011” posts) and I really enjoyed it. I learned a lot about myself, my teaching, and my learners. I hope to gain similar positive results. And it wouldn’t be a real challenge without challenge without challenging you too! Are you up for it?

Thank you for reading and your continued support,

Josette

The ‘Don’t Know Mind’ and Teaching

Seven days at a Buddhist temple, forty-one hours of sitting meditation, two personal interviews with Zen Masters, one Dharma talk, and many hours of silence can have a great impact on one’s mind. The greatest impact for me was the realization that I have very little, if any, control over my mind. One of my favorite quotes from my week at Musangsa – International Zen Center, related to the idea of control, comes from one of the monks. As we hid away in the storage room for a chat over coffee on the last day, she shared:

“One of the greatest delusions we have, is the delusion that we think we make decisions.”

What she essentially was saying is that we have no control over the outcome of any event. We may have plans, we may have expectations, but in reality, what happens doesn’t always match up. No matter how often I ask the barista and think I’ve made myself clear, I may decide to have a cappuccino, but may only receive a cafe latte. I may decide to move to Ottawa to continue my French studies but may end up teaching English in Korea instead. I may decide to arrive at work at 8:30am, and I may arrive at 8:30am. Life unravels as it will.

What does this mean for the ultimate control freaks: teachers? We are trained to create SMART objectives, to plan minute-by-minute lesson plans, and to “manage” our students’ behavior. Teachers need control!

Our obsession with control is connected to our attachment to outcomes. We use the textbook, we plan a few speaking activities so students can practice the past tense, and of course, we expect our students to be able to use it. To our surprise, the reality is usually very different. The reality is we don’t really know what our students took away from this experience.

What if we went into the classroom knowing that we just don’t know? What if we entered the classroom with the “don’t know mind” I heard so much about during the retreat?

“Not-knowing means not being limited by what we know, holding what we know lightly so that we are ready for it to be different. Maybe things are this way. But maybe they are not.”

“An expert may know a subject deeply, yet be blinded to new possibilities by his or her preconceived ideas. In contrast, a beginner may see with fresh, unbiased eyes. The practice of beginner’s mind is to cultivate an ability to meet life without preconceived ideas, interpretations, or judgments.”

Gil Fronsdal

If educators could see with unbiased eyes, maybe they would see that Jong Won doesn’t want to talk about what Mary and John did during their summer vacation in Paris. Maybe he wants to talk about the girl he met at the PC room. With a beginner’s mind, maybe Sun Hye’s teacher wouldn’t laugh and tell her she is wrong when she tells the class “I always fly.” In truth, she does fly: each night in her dreams.

I think a teacher with the “don’t know mind” would have lessons such as the ones Scott Thornbury describes in Teaching Unplugged (Or That’s Dogme with an E):

Think about it: how many of your best lessons just happened? For example, a really good discussion cropped up, and you let it run. And run. Or something that had happened to a student in the weekend became the basis of the whole lesson. Or, because you missed the bus, or because the photocopier wasn’t working, you had to go in unprepared. But the lesson really took off.

During my retreat, I realized it’s very hard to let go of my attachments. I realized that I don’t have the “don’t know mind”. Despite this, I’m glad to say I realize the its power. From what I’ve learned and experienced, this mind offers more peace and spaciousness. I think it’s from this space that deep learning can come… or not. I really don’t know.