What the 7-day black and white photo challenge was really about

I have mixed feelings about social media photo challenges. I appreciate the connection the person who tags me is making, and the challenges are a creative way to step out of the mundaneness of daily life. But they’re also a bit off-putting. I don’t like bothering people by tagging them, and I also have a hard time following the rules that usually come along with each challenge. It’s definitely an odd social phenomenon: creating connection and yet, creating a slight-annoyance.

I decided to take part in the 7-day black and white photo challenge (no words. no explanations… this is what irked my inner rebel) for two reasons: I think black and white photography is a worthy challenge (you need to find the right color contrast or the shot won’t have much impact), and the particular seven days this challenge fell on marked a major transition in my life that I wanted to chronicle.

A transition happens when one experience ends and another begins. It can be an exciting time, but it can also be intimidating or overwhelming. Transitions of varying degrees happen many times over the course of our lives. They can mark events such as a birth or death, and they can also mark events such as changing classrooms or educational communities – a topic I’ve written about in the past (see: transitions and group dynamics).  Of course, the magnitude of the impact isn’t determined by the event itself but by the person experiencing it. There is really no big or small transition. They are all worthy of acknowledgement and honoring. By honoring the transition we create space for the possibilities ahead, and we send appreciation to the experience we are letting go of.

At the end of these seven days, my transition point would look like this: I’d have started maternity leave knowing I wouldn’t return to the university I’d been teaching at for the past eight years; I’d have moved out of the apartment that saved me from commuting from our home in the countryside; and of course what would eventually greet me on the other end of all this is the uncharted world of parenthood.

So abiding by the rebel within, and my everlasting appreciation for transitions, here is my explanation of the pictures I took during those seven days.

Day 1 – Mother Nature Soothes

I took this picture at the end of our Sunday walk. At the start of the walk, I’d been feeling overwhelmed thinking of everything ahead. I had midterms to correct, final classes to teach, professors to guide as they took over my classes, a doctor’s appointment to go to, an apartment to move out of, a big baby bump to carry… While I knew it wasn’t true, it felt like I had to take care of it all then and there. But there’s nothing like a walk with Samsoon in the fresh autumn air to bust that all out of my head.

Since I’ve been pregnant, Samsoon seems to look back at me more often when she’s walking ahead. Maybe she feels my increasingly slower pace. She seems to show a loving concern for me that I never noticed before. She recently heard me slip on the gravel — thankfully I didn’t fall — and then rushed over, looked at me, and licked my hand. The combination of this sweetness and the sun shining on the falling leaves shifts my mood at the end of those walks.

Day 2 – The Waiting Room

I took this in the doctor’s waiting room during one of our now weekly Monday visits. It’s crunch time. The baby is shortly on its way, and doctor’s visits are becoming a bit tenser.

Day 3 – My Last Office Lunch

This was the last time I bought my office lunch chamchi (tuna) kimbap at my usual kimbap place. The owner always greeted me with a smile. The same goes for the owner of the Paris Baguette where I got my morning coffee. I’d like for them to know how they always set a positive tone for my day.

Day 4 – Student Appreciation

During the final moments of my last class, I received this “rolling paper” from my students. It was filled with words of support for the coming birth, and appreciation for the two years I had been their professor. They even gave me suggestions for naming the baby (still don’t have a name yet). It was hard to hold back the tears. So I didn’t. I couldn’t have finished my time at the university on a more positive note.

Day 5 – End of an Era

No more walking up and down these ramps to get to and from class.

Day 6 – Silent Celebration

The midterms are corrected and handed in. I’ve passed the baton to the professors who will replace me during my maternity leave. I’ve said goodbye to my students. We’ve moved out of my apartment. It’s been a full week to add on to my full belly. It’s time to rest.

Day 7 – On the Last Day the Dream Begins

Ceramic whales by Seo Byongchan

And like that, I take the first steps into a new life. A life that was first hinted to me nine months ago in a taemong (태몽) / conception dream. Many Koreans believe that before a woman becomes pregnant, she, or someone close to her, will have a vivid dream of either an animal, fruit, or other significant objects. The subject of the dream is supposed to predict the personality or the gender — or rather, genitalia — of the baby.

Since this isn’t part of my culture, I wasn’t really looking for a taemong, but one morning I remembered the comforting dream I had of a blue whale. I was on the deck of a large ship, enjoying the salty air and wind in my hair. Then all of a sudden half the body of a huge blue whale emerges, turned so that it’s looking at me with its one eye. We gaze at each other and have a gentle yet silent exchange. Nothing is said, but all is known. And then it submerges quietly into the depths of the ocean.

This was our baby’s taemong. We have yet to know what this will mean for our child’s personality, but the whale seems to be connected to wisdom, strength, and peaceful communication. Sounds good to me!

What transitions have you gone through lately and how have you honored them? Share your experience in the comments below, or send me an email by subscribing HERE.

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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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