Sunday, 28 August 2011

re-minders, re-learning the lessons.

This weekend, I took to doing something with this dumpy attitude I've been reveling in. Instead of repeating moments of weakness, I simply changed my process and my idea about it.
There's nothing like a massage, a yoga class, taking a bus which you're not sure where it goes, and going with your whim instead of sticking to the concept of a plan. That's what I did this weekend, and it did wonders for my morale, and helped me to feel more human, and more like Lachelle.

I checked out a Jimjilbang (which is basically a bathhouse--only not creepy like in the west) for the first time on Saturday. This one was a 5 story wonderland of R and R: sauna rooms, hot tubs (the women's one had large penis fountains spraying water into the pools. Ha!) aromatherapy steam rooms, massage tables, large areas with floor pads for you to lay around and relax, huge comfy massage chairs,  a little restaurant, and sleeping pods, just to scratch the surface. At a Jimjilbang, you don't pay for anything in the moment, you just scan your wrist band and enjoy floating from each experience without worry about fumbling with money or whatever else. They give you a change of what look like gym clothes, though in the saunas and pools, clothes are not permitted. Those that know me, know that I'm pretty comfortable with the openness and freedom of clotheslessness, and so this was a welcomed atmosphere for me to just relax and let go. You pay the equvialent to 8 dollars to get admission to a Jimjilbang, and you are permitted to stay for about 12 hours or so. This is a common thing in Korea; friends or family come and hang out at the Jimjilbang to enjoy some quality time with each other, or people just come there to stay after the metro has closed down (midnight) and they'd rather not pay a cab. It's like a glorified hostel of extreme indulgence!

You can also pay a little extra to get a variety of massages (I got a sports massage, but there are aromatherapy oil massages, reflexology foot massages, thai massages, etc.) or a body scrub (after being in the sauna, your body naturally wants to shed the dead layer of skin (yum!), and there will be a korean staff member on it in no time!  I asked for a therepudic body massage to work out the tightness and stress that my body accumulated, and I would say it was the best massage experience I've ever had. This big Korean dude knew his stuff, and when asked "Soft-u or Hard-ee?" (as in pressure for the massage), you know I asked for more rigorous version.  Often I've been a bit let down by the hard version of a massage by some massuses, but this guy was top notch! I even got a bit of a stuffy nose during and after the massage, proving that he totally worked through my lymphatic system, clearing some accumulated gunk and stress out of my system. It's amazing how much this 1.5 hour body experience flipped my perspective on what I've been going through here.  Your body knows when you're ignoring it, and responds accordingly when it's treated nicely!

I also made a pact with myself that I was going to do a yoga class today, even though it's quite an expensive endeavor here. I paid the equivalent to 30 dollars for a 1.5 hour class. However, it was like taking the stopper out of a plugged drain, and totally rekindled inspiration, body awareness, and an upturned mind at the world. I was reminded of that blissful feeling after a rigorous yoga class as a student, completely able to let go and give in to the teacher's lead. To be a student is such a gift. I love that experience. I walked home lightly on my feet, with a clear mind and a supple body. THAT is what life is about. That feeling, of following and indulging in what makes YOUR life yours. A welcomed reminder from the universe!

This weekend provided an clear opportunity to acknowledge the juxtaposition between rough waters and smooth sailing. They both have their purpose, and without one, you can't have the other. So thank everything under the sky that this weekend, I was treated with the opportunity to do these things. It was a glimmer of light through the skylights of the tunnel that I'm travelling through.

Man, I've been nothing but introspective since I've been here. I guess that's the way it's supossed to be for now. Here's a little somethin' somethin' to lighten the material a bit. Ha.

And here's something (kind of long winded, but let it serve as a reminder for the future) I read today that resonated pretty fantastically-- from Pema Chodron's Taking the Leap:

"When we begin to see clearly what we do, how we get hooked and swept away by old habits and thoughts, our usualy tendency is to use that as a reason to get discouraged, a reason to feel really bad about ourselves. Instead, we could realize how remarkable it is that we actually have the pacacity to see ourwelves honestly and that doing this takes courage... This involves, fundamentally, learning to stay present, but learning to stay with a sense of humor, learning to stay with loving-kindness toward ourselves and with the outer situation, learning to take joy in the magic ingredient of honest self-reflection.

Learning to stay is the basis for connecting with natural warmth; it's the basis for loving ourselves and also for compassion. The more you stay present with yourself, the more you realize what all of us are up against. Just like me, other people feel pain and want it to go away. Just like me, they go about this in a way that only makes matters worse.
Being able to acknowledge when we get stuck (in an unconstructive habit of thinking), this is the basis of freedom. Just being able to recognize what's happening without denial--We can rejoice in that! The, if we can take the next step and refrain from going down the same old road, which sometimes we'll be able to do and sometime we won't, we can rejoice that sometimes we do have the ability to interrupt the momentum. That sometimes is major progress.
We can rejoice when we're able to acknowledge and refrain, and we should also expect relapses. Sometimes it's one step forward, one step back. Then maybe one step forward, half a step back.... It's like that when we work with our firmly entrenched habits (or ones that resurface). We include the compassionate realization that people have relapses (including ourselves). Chogyam Trungpa said that if we had nothing but smooth sailing, if our habitual patterns just dropped away, continually, week after week, we would have no empathy for those people who get hooked and act out.

The ideal spiritual (or general life) journey needs the balance of "gloriousness" and "wretchedness" If it were all glory, just one success after another, we'd get extremely arrogant and completely out of touch with human suffering. On the other hand, if it were all wretchedness, and we never had any insights, and never experienced any joy or inspiration, then we'd get so discouraged that we'd give up. What's needed is balance, but as a species we tend to overemphasize the wretchedness."

This speaks directly to what I've been experiencing for this past month. It's been a rough, but I'm now able to pick up my multi-tool, and instead of using it like a hammer (survival mode), I am actually beginning to use a few of the tools for their intended functions.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

I feel like two-face: a bunch of jumbled thoughts

I'm still in a bit of a whirlwind here. Apologies for those that have been trying to get a hold of me.

I think this adjustment will take longer for me than most. I generally take longer to absorb things, I've noticed. My (sometimes naive) emotional honesty has been guiding me for so long, and I think that my situation here calls for finding a new method: Blending my inclination toward the outright validity of my sentiments with a thicker skin. This is a big lesson that I'm here to learn.

I've been solely following my sentiments for so long. Now, I am finding that it's crucial to develop a balance in my situation here; to be able to control when these sentiments take me over, to watch myself and guide myself through my feelings, not be pulled around by the feelings.

I don't know if I'm fully ready to relay my experience from these past few weeks. It's been tumultuous, exciting, emotional, heart-wrenching, heart-swelling, confusing, and flabbergasting all at the same time. The practice will be to find a common thread between all these things. What is the common undertone in me for each one of these states? Where is my mind? Where are my emotions? And why are they leading me as if I am wearing a workhorse harness, following the lead of my thoughts and ideas?

What comes to mind is the realization that I don't need to be taken away with whatever stream I'm lead to. Finding a way to let go, and not invest my heart so deeply into things... This is so opposite of what I've been doing. I am so used to immersing my heart fearlessly and fully into all things, but this can lead to severe heart break, insurmountable expectations, and vulnerability.

I feel confused as to which is the path that will serve me the most, which is the path towards growth. I have heard (and felt) numerous times that the way to a passionate and fruitful life is to live with depth of feeling, to be unabashed and honest with feeling, to be vulnerable, dive deeply into life, love deeply and hurt deeply, to try and fall (hard), and heal deeply...

(something inside of me says that with large ups come large downs. The key is not to be thrown so high into the air and catapulted high speed back toward the ground with the ups and downs, but to take a step back from them and choose which waves to ride, and when to get off. Conscious propelling. )

With this 'teaching kindergarten for the first time' thing, I feel like it will be next to impossible to keep sanity if I wear my heart on my sleeve like I've been working toward most of my adult life.

Maybe this is the lesson, of growing up, gaining maturity, wisdom...
Living passionately but wisely, so as to minimize the vulnerable underbelly showing, to only show it when it is valid and purposeful, to be able to control my intention with doing it, rather than to spew emotions in every moment of high intensity, to shed the ultra-sensitivity to life.

Is this deadening my sense of feeling?
I am afraid of that, but, deep down, I don't think that's the case. It's probably just a big dose of "It's time to grow up, Lachelle."

I think the key is to balance between acknowledging this deeper, sensitive part of myself, but not getting to lost in that. shed that skin once in a while, and just relax, enjoy, care-less, have fun.

I think back home,  I was on to something with this. I felt like I was on a fruitful path with friends, with my personality development, my spiritual development, social development, and just cutting loose and having a good time, not feeling the need to control things, finding a peace in being pulled by the flow, having the time and emotional capacity to follow my creative passions.

Here, I am endowed with this whole new responsibility of teaching a bunch of 4 year olds how to immerse themselves into a school environment which I have not even immersed myself into yet. The culture in school is totally different here; these kids are spoiled (rightfully so, I am teaching in the richest part of Seoul). We had a birthday party for 2 of the kids on Tuesday and the parents decorated the whole room with elaborate things, balloons, sprinkled with gifts, party favors, everything, 2 huge 3D cakes, and camera flashes, posing their child in a mound of gifts. It was all a big show. I mean, yes, birthday parties are important, but this was just an overwhelming dose of what it is to be teaching here in Korea, I think. They are 4. And they need to be running around with their fingers up their nose and singing songs and peeing themselves right now, not sitting down to learn phonics and complete math booklets.

The good parts of my day, (the times that I believe that I do a great job teaching the kids in a fun way and it is noticeable) I am so exhausted. It's like, the input for about 5 minutes of "awesome ecstasy learning" equates with 8 hours of trial and error,  mental and emotional stamina, bumps and bruises from falling off the wagon countless times, and my voice going hoarse from talking too much.

Maybe I'm doing something wrong. Actually, there is no doubt that I am. (And what's so wrong with that, Lachelle??? --oh, just the fact that you're half way insane right about now!!)

I often think that I'm not sure if I'm cut out to teach in this situation. These are the thoughts that rise up in my mind. I don't know if I have the skills to transfer the knowledge of how to write and sound out the letters of the alphabet using the means that I have. I am not sure how to make it fun and palatable for 4 year olds. I don't know if I have the patience to work with their short attention spans. I am not sure I have the energy to keep up with them, and to fuel a day full of high intensity learning!

A little part deep down inside me is yelling "You don't need to! They have the energy! You can just channel it!" But... this is where I get stumped and overwhelmed. These little bodies are so precious, but they switched into high gear. The high intensity is both alarming and inspiring at the same time.

Perhaps it's my standard, my idea of what education looks like, which is what's getting in the way.
I still have a lot of thinking to do about this, and about everything.
I feel a bit frozen in my experience; even though the world is going on around me, and it never stops, I feel like I haven't had a chance to chew what has been thrown at me. I come home from each day and buzz out listening to music and laying on the couch. Mentally exhausted, with no desire to even go out or speak with anybody, because I don't even think I can form the words to explain everything I'm feeling all at once.

With this new responsibility and learning curve, I haven't felt like I've had the time or the mental or emotional energy to pursue the things which feed me, that I was able to back home (my documentary project, yoga, art, exploration, etc.)
Is this what growing up is about? To become a selfless servant for a large chunk of the day?
What a skill, to be able to balance a meaningful, exhausting full time position with your own life's passions. I guess this is the challenge of all working class adults.

It's strange, because back at home, I worked 3 part time jobs and was able to find a lot of time between them to pursue the things that I thought were key to my developmental path. Here, I have one full time job, but it is completely foreign territory, literally and figuratively. Granted, it's much more involved and intense than working at a kennel, delivering pizza, and substitute teaching.

Regardless, I feel like if I can't find the time to fill my own well, I'm not sure how I'll be able to survive. I can only hope that within a month, hopefully earlier, that I will feel stable enough in my situation and what I'm doing that I'll be able to find guiltless, free time for these passions of mine.

I am so bent up with the responsibility to do my best job for these kids, that I would give up my own personal endeavors for their cause. Obviously this is not the best path, I know this logically, but I don't know another way, I don't know when to say "enough is enough". As most people probably know by now, I have perfectionistic qualities. I don't like to admit it, but they are there. I have got to shed these somehow, for the life of me! But how? It's not as easy as it sounds. I guess, "practise makes perfect"! ha ha.

Any advice, common relations, observations, or comments would be highly appreciated!

I'm so back and forth about this whole thing.

I know this circumstance has the capacity to change me wholly forever, but I am not sure if I'm mature enough to take it on. Maybe I bit off a bit more than I could chew with this situation. Maybe not.
Leaving the situation is not the answer, and I would regret it in the long run. The thought of going home now doesn't solve the puzzle....

To speculate isn't really useful. It is what it is, I guess, and each day is a new one, to boil it down simply.

One day at a time.

Friday, 5 August 2011


Here I am in Seoul. It's been quite a journey these past few days. I've made it to the weekend and now I've got a little bit of spare time.

A few tid bits about what my life entailed up to this point.
-Met an awesome young couple with 2 kids on the plane to Korea who were on their way to Hong Kong to teach. They had been to Korea several years ago and they said that they really enjoyed their experience. They were also teachers from Sherwood Park (what are the chances that I'd sit right next to them??) and they explained that it was a great experience to save money and live in a new culture, but the teaching was 100% different. I kind of knew that, but obviously not to the extent that I would learn it.

-I arrived on Wednesday night around 8pm. A man was at the arrivals gate with my name on a big piece of paper. I felt so important. ha. We jumped in this luxury van cab, and we lugged my three huge suitcases for about 45 minutes into the heart of Seoul, to my school, in Apgujeong (A very rich and well to do area of Seoul). The side streets are winding, skinny, and all look the same and different all at the same time. My director was waiting at the school for me, along with who I would learn to be the guy who runs around like a chicken with his head cut off fixing, doing things, setting things up, for everyone. Koreans work very hard at what they do, but it's very difficult to communicate things between. I tried making small talk with the cab driver, and with John (the hard working set up guy) as he hustled me to my apartment at 9pm, but no small talk is needed. I noted this pretty quickly. They don't really understand and they just say yes or nod to everything you say, as if to just appease you. They seem very concerned with appearing very agreeable when faced with anyone speaking english to them, even though they are not even answering the question with a "yes". So, I figured quickly I need to be careful about how I suspect people are understanding me. Just because they nod "yes" or "no", doesn't mean I'm being understood. Something I'm not accustomed to, until I experience it first hand. I read about this before I left, but it's something else when faced many things you need attended to with your apartment, and the person on the other end can't understand what you're saying.
-My apartment is not that bad (not as bad as I've seen from one of the other foreign teachers...) But it was quite filthy. Just like mama taught me, First thing I did that night was find a grocery store, bought a mop and cleaning supplies, and went to work. I'm not that picky about tidiness, as most people could attest to whom know me... but cleanliness? standards of clean? caked on food on the grill, hair all over the floor, fruit flies everywhere? Nope. Not going to fly. (ha, pun!) so I spent my jet lagged hours rockin' the mop for a few hours. I'm glad that I did it then. I went to bed around 11 or 12 (15 hours ahead of home, so whatever that would be) and was up around 5 (I was off to the school for 9 for an 'orientation')

-Got up, and got lost trying to get to the school in the morning. I was so jet lagged and disoriented the night before, and the streets all look the same but different, and lead to totally different areas. I stopped at some corner store and showed the people there the business card that my director oh-so-wisely gave me before I left her presence. He called a menangerie of back up. They were all so helpful in trying to figure out where my school was, but really could only point me literally in a direction, because they couldn't communicate with me. So, luckly, with my innate sense of direction and intuition, I found my school the very long way. Every day since then it's been getting easier and easier, but I still get semi-lost on the way to and from school. It's amazing how landmarks with English words stick in the mind much better than miles and miles of foreign symbols. Who would have thought? ha.
-My room at the school had absolutely nothing done. It was a pile of boxes. and they expected me to decorate the thing with amazing felt displays, a calander, time table, reward system, vocabulary board, colours, numbers, letters, orgainzation, everything, in a day. Talk about overwhelming.  I don't want to come across like I am complaining, but I am genuinely just reflecting my sense of confusion, slight frustration, and awe about how this culture functions. Again, everyone works to the bone here. This school charges about 3,000 a month tuition for each child, so they expect us to bend over backward to portray an amazing beautiful surface experience for the parents. It's all about image. Smoke and mirrors, as another foreign teacher explained it to me. I feel really disillusioned trying my concept within this situation. It's not what they want from me. It's just.... there are no words for it right now.

But for the past two days (thursday and friday, I got here wednesday night at 9pm jetlagged to the nines) I worked hard to decorate this room to the best of my ability. A few of the korean co-teachers helped me one evening, and did 10 things for the 1 that I did. But this is just their nature, and what they've been doing for their whole work lives. Their productivity with perfection and grace is astounding. Each foreign teacher has a korean co-teacher who acts as a communication board between parents, other korean staff at the school, and is supossed to help with decoration, print outs, etc. My korean co-teacher is just as new as I am, so she doesn't yet know how to do the things that need to be done to start a class. I'm basically starting a brand new year (in the middle of a semester) with brand new 5's (meaning "5 year old students"... but that only means their "intelligence level" is at a 5 year old level, but some of these kids are 3 years old or 4 years old. Babies still... Babies that need to learn math, and phonics and do reports and not pee themselves in class. )

These kids know nothing about routine, about school, about cleanliness, about manners, about being social, and their parents spoil them to the brim, so often they are already "entitled". Watching and seeing how some of the other teachers work with their children is amazing, confusing, disorienting, everything to watch. (The kids, though, have these amazing, graceful moments of cuteness that I can see growing on me very quickly) I am starting my new class with an orientation with the parents on Monday. I made a weekly lesson plan, a monthly news letter, a power point for orientation, and I need to write a letter of introduction about myself to go to these parents who kind of speak english, but are mostly just going to be judging the way I look, the way my room looks, and what I'm about. In my power point I put pictures of me doing the things that I love (ringette, ukulele, art, a picture of my family) and really, my vice principal, and the other foreign teachers say that basically, that's all that they're interested in. They just want to see what I'm about. They don't care about the curriculum, they don't care about the books (although I'm getting some mixed messages about this, because I've been asked to catch up with the rest of the 5's somehow, whom are half way done all of their books). I really just need to let go of trying to figure things out, and just go with the flow. I notice the innate drive inside myself to work my hardest to do the best job that I can do. I would stay late into the night to work on these walls if I had to, I would work all weekend on my powerpoint and lessons to make them wonderful. But everyone, even the director of the school, keeps telling me to leave it all behind at 530pm. Just leave. Don't take anything home. Just come in monday. But these are mixed messages, with the importance they are placing on the way everything looks, and how perfect everything needs to be for these parents and kids! I must admit, I burst into tears in Jennifer's class next to mine (a really amazing and wonderful foreign teacher that helped me do my weekly lesson plan and monthly letter. She basically did it for me. I am so grateful). She said that after the first week, once everything is settled, I'll be laughing, and it'll be cake. But she said she totally knows where I'm coming from, because she started in the middle of the year with 5's too, last year. She said it's not fair how they load all of this responsibility onto the teacher's shoulders within just a few days (she said she had a whole week of prep time before thte kids came, though). Honestly, without the support from all the rest of the foreign teachers, I would be on a plane home right now. It was like planning to go on an adventure walk up a mountain (with a path, that you thought you knew) and coming up to a completely verticle, unclimbable wall with no climbing gear at all, and you have to climb it to find a way out.  I know this sounds all so negative, but really, in my mind, it's not negative. It's just noticing the frustration, confusion, and acknowledging it. Acknowledging what I've been going through, for what it is. I'm trying very hard not to internalize negativity. I'm trying very hard to keep a piece of my self alive and well through all of this. I can see how easy it is to be sucked away from that. This is what I came here for, I think... to find situations to be true to myself, while bending and swaying with the circumstances that I find myself in. Flexibility, but stability. Yin and Yang. Everything is a balance.

-Last night I went to Jennier's apartment for some wine with the girls from the school. It was so nice to be with these people, even though I didn't say much. It was just so nice to be supported and invited and understood in this vulnerable state. They must 100% understand. I don't think I've been in a situation where, even though I'm being an overwhelmed baby at times, and ask questions 4 or 5 times, and repeat myself 10 times because I just can't find any other words to explain myself, they continually give unlimited reassurance and support, and have shown no sign of frustration or annoyance with me. God, I am so thankful for this. I have this idea of myself as this strong, independent person who can pull it together, who has a sense of perspective, who knows that whatever is right now, is not all that there is, but there are moments where I have totally just given into that, just because of the lack of control I have with my surroundings, and just went with it. I feel embarrased about it, but I know that I am a human after all, and there is no reason to be embarrassed about being emotionally tumultous and flawed at this time. In all actuality, it's really a place of bonding, a sign that I am a real person, to myself and to others.

This lesson I've been learning for a while, but I'm humbled by how it's been spatula-ed out of me in such a short container of time. Such a high concentration of it, too.

It is what it is.

-So here I am, Saturday morning. haven't yet explored the subway by myself (went to Itaewon with another Canadian teacher and an American teacher to the Rocky Mountain Bar on Thursday night (the Canadian bar). Need to find groceries (I haven't ate much in the past 4 or 5 days... I bought some overpriced bananas at a grocery store on thursday, and have been eating those slowly. Luckily my school provides lunches for students and staff every day . How amazing is that? Usually very korean lunches too. I've been able to try some food that I might try to emulate.) Need to find plates and forks and maybe a power transformer. There are a lot of things I need to get and do today. It will also be nice to just explore and get lost. I'll take my apartment address with me and cab it home if need be.
I am excited and nervous for Monday. I don't want to place a bunch of importance on a small amount of time, but I'm really banking on how this next week will go. If the support isn't coming from the school, and the expectation is unrealistic, I'm not sure what I'll do. I don't want to lose myself, and burn myself out over this. That wasn't the point of doing this. But I guess, each trial is a stepping stone. A stepping stone I can look around from. Don't need to run away from it, but can't linger for too long on it.

I want to clarify again that I am not complaining about anything. I am so lucky and grateful to have the opportunity to be here, to interrupt my Canadian life, into a new culture, in an amazing school that has high standards. But I am definitely venting. I want that to be clear. I haven't yet had a chance to really delve into the culture, the world around me, even travel beyond my area. I've been thrown a whole bunch of curve balls all at once, and I'm just now starting to pick up the bat and swing. It's not in my personality profile to up and leave in an overwhelming and difficult circumstance. I know I've got to try this thing. I am finding that I need to find a way to let go of this slightly "perfectionistic" attitiude I have hidden within myself.

I also really really want to do my yoga here. I haven't felt like I have had a chance to do much of anything. But I need to take care of myself. I talked with the director about offering some Hatha classes to the staff. Perhaps in the next couple of weeks, if and when things settle in, I will organize that. I really want to use these skills, I don't want to lose them.

I love you all so much, and thanks for reading. I have some videos that I'll maybe try to post tonight of my apartment and some of the things to see around the city.

Love Love Love.
This is a part of it, this is a part of it, this is a part of it.