Not Mindful. Not Perfect. Just Me.

“No! Why don’t YOU stop? We’re just trying to get in this car!” I shout to the cyclist at the top of my lungs.

“Christ. What was that at all about?” I ask the Uber driver as I finally get in.

A woman zooming through the city streets on her bike had just yelled at my sister and I to get out of the way. The driver admitted he shouldn’t have picked us up in the bike lane. This is when I realized Toronto has bike lanes. Oops.

Although I value kindness and compassion, I slip up and lose it sometimes. I get impatient, frustrated, and angry. Instead of pausing before I react, I react.

I share this to be clear with you: I’m not perfect. I’m not enlightened. I’m not mindful a hundred percent of the time. Heck, I don’t think I’m mindful twenty percent of the time. When someone or something pushes the right button, mindfulness goes out the door.

But you know what? I’m able to pause much more than I did before. My reaction time is getting longer, and I sometimes don’t react at all. Some things that used to drive me crazy don’t faze me one bit now.

And when I do go overboard, like I did on the streets of Toronto, I don’t blame myself as much as I used to. I don’t waste my energy and mind space beating myself up for being a fraud. The old inner dialogue used to be quite nasty, and used to go on for hours, if not days.

“Who do you think you are, Josette? Preaching compassion, mindfulness, and nonviolent communication all over your social media. You’re one to talk. Those yoga and meditation retreats are working wonders, eh? Wow. You are the embodiment of a Zen monk. I think you need to do a bit more work on yourself before you start preaching again.”

Helpful, right?

Thankfully, my inner dialogue is much gentler now. Now it involves me acknowledging the embarrassment, guilt, annoyance, or anxiety that come when I react in a way that isn’t congruous with my values. Then I might run through the scenario a few times trying to describe what happened. After that, I consider why things may have happened the way they did, looking at it through lens of the other person, and through the lens of my emotions or experience. Essentially, I pause. There’s a lot of power in the pause.

I credit this shift to my daily meditation practice (sometimes it’s just 5 minutes a day), consistent contemplation (journaling, blogging, talking with like-minded friends, counselling…), and various movement practices (see my last post). But this shift took a some time. It wasn’t overnight, and it’s still a work in process. And truthfully, I may never get there… where ever “there” is really.

I’m so glad I’ve come down from my pedestal of perfection. I’ve learned the hard way — almost a 40 year practice — that perfection is a painful goal to strive for (click to tweet). It just sets me up for failure, anxiety, and overwhelm. To avoid all that, I’ll take a few non-Zenlike outbursts any day.


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Opening Doors to Mindful Self-Compassion in Korea

Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors for you where there were only walls. ― Joseph Campbell

You’ve heard this before. It’s one of the most beloved quotes of our time. You may understand it on an intellectual level, and you’ve seen glimpses of its truth, but there’s only so much one can risk, right? I mean I shouldn’t risk security in order to follow an ambiguous dream, right?

I’m not so sure anymore because the doors have started to open… wide.

For the longest while now, I’ve been feeling an urge to take a different path in life. A voice from deep within has been asking me to start focusing more on healing and transformation work, namely around teaching self-compassion. As the years pass, the voice keeps getting louder. It seems the universe has been hearing this voice as well, and it’s done being subtle with it all.

In September 2015, when the voice was basically screaming at me, I emailed the Centre for Mindful Self-compassion asking where I’d need to go to receive training to become a Mindful Self-compassion (MSC) teacher. I was willing to go wherever I needed to go as long as it matched my schedule. I knew they offered courses in the US, Australia and Germany, but I was holding on to the hope that they’d offer a course somewhere in Asia.

The response I received back was an unexpected surprise. Apparently there was a trainer in Korea who could offer a course!

I quickly emailed this trainer, SeoGwang Snim, and after a few exchanges, I discovered how much I was really starting to align with the universe. She said that if I started the MSC learning process, I’d most likely be able to attend the teacher training course scheduled for August 2016, a week before my semester starts. Talk about excellent timing!

The first step toward applying for the August teacher training would be to do the eight-week introductory course. The only catch is that we’d need at least eight participants. I quickly wrote this message on my Facebook page.

September 24, 2015

Dear friends,
I am working on gathering people who would be interested taking an introductory course in Mindful Self-compassion (4 Saturdays in Seoul). This is a program based on the work of Christopher K. Germer, PhD — The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion and Self-Compassion by Kristin Neff, Ph.D. The trainer who would deliver this course, SeoGwang Sunim,  http://www.centerformsc.org/user/434, said she would offer a program for English speakers if I can gather enough people. I am very excited about this and motivated to get this organized. If any of you are interested, or know anyone who might be, please contact me and/or pass this along. My intention in taking it is to move forward into becoming an MSC trainer (teacher). If this sounds like something you would be interested in as well, I would enjoy taking this journey with you. Here are details on MSC: http://www.centerformsc.org/Training Thank you for your time!

The response was overwhelming. I couldn’t have imagined how much interest was out there. Unfortunately, not everyone was able to attend, but we had ten beautiful souls to get started.

October 28, 2015

A month ago I put out a call for people interested in taking an introductory course in Mindful Self-compassion in Seoul. I’m excited to share that the course will start this Sunday (Nov. 1). For me, this has been an inspiring example of what we can accomplish when we follow our dreams (a.k.a. inner teacher <3 ). If anyone else would like to join, there is still time to sign up. Send me your email address and I’ll send you the details.

And so in November 2015 we embarked on the eight week journey (we combined the eight weeks into four) at the Institute of Korean Meditation and Psychotherapy in Seoul.

MSC November 2015 8 week

Last August, just a week ago, three of the ten pictured above joined forty-six new participants to finish the first MSC teacher training course in Asia. We are all now officially an MSC teachers (in training)!

Doors open!
Doors open!

And the doors keep opening.

When I emailed the MSC Centre last September, I was focused on getting this certificate, this training. But after accomplishing this goal, I realized the universe had something else in mind. This relates to one of the most important teachings I learned last week:

“Love reveals everything unlike itself.”

Our precious MSC sangha revealed so much more than I could have dreamed of. Together we revealed and healed. Through the kind, wise guidance of our teachers, Christopher Germer, Steven Hickman, SeoGwang Snim, and Gwon Seona, I gained a deeper understanding of how compassion truly works in this world, within me. And with the loving acceptance of my dear MSC sangha (see pictures below), I entered a safe space where I was able to stop intellectualizing compassion and instead resonate with the loving connected presence we all share.

In the end, what I truly learned is that when you love yourself, so much more is available to you. This is the true bliss. This is how the doors start opening.

* The next door to open includes the community Brian Somers, Nina Iscovitz, Tosca Braun and I are building where we will offer the 8-week MSC course in English in Korea. We have started the Mindful Self-compassion Korea Facebook Group and a MeetUp Group where you’ll be able to find out where our courses, either in English and Korean, will be held.

(from top center) Christopher Germer, Nina Iscovitz, Brian Somers, Seona Gwon, Steven Hickman, SeoGwang Snim, me, and Tosca Braun

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.