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Reflections

29 Apr

It’s a quiet Saturday morning in Asheville.  I am enjoying a morning of just feeling more at ease and good in my bones and can’t help but think of the long journey that brought me here.

I have to say, it is good to be in the United States for now and in some ways I am starting to feel at home and appreciating the many fortunate simple things I presently have in my life.  But I am also aware that it was my epic journey around the globe that brought me to this point.

I have always loved travel and been drawn to it.  A child of the midwest in a community with little interest in international exploration, looking beyond our borders and having an adventure were always things that excited me.  If you’ve followed my blog you may know that my 20s brought some unexpected challenges my way and I ended up on the anti-depressant Paxil for over ten years.  When I went off of it the withdrawal/discontinuation symptoms nearly flattened me and it took me years to get some small semblance of “I’m alright.”

A few years after this when I began my international journey,  I was thrilled to consider something that brought excitement back into my life and truly lit me up and inspired me.  At the same time, I was still just a shell of myself and experienced many persistent issues that made daily living and “normal life” hard for me.

So here comes the benefit of my journey.  While traveling – my unexpected epic five-year adventure to Germany, France South Korea, Austria & Thailand – lit me up and brought me to life in ways I can hardly express, it was also extremely challenging for me.  Daily I was pushed in small and large ways.  The beauty of this journey and experience is it forced me to grow and develop in ways that I NEEDED to do to begin to get my life back after the impact of Paxil and also the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. The scared, limited, wounded shadow person that I was after the impact of Paxil withdrawal and other life challenges slowly began to chisel away, shift, develop and take new shape.

And so with my gratitude for a bit of ease and restoration on “home” territory also comes my appreciation for all the excitement, struggles and challenges along the way that brought me to where I am now.  A new plateau.  I am aware that while I still have my challenges, my abilities and capacities that are serving me now are the fruit of my journey.  This growth could have only happened in foreign territory.  A life abroad helped me to drop my “regular” paradigm and demanded that I adapt and grow to new ways of being. This ultimately brought me some freedom and allowed me to drop some of the limiting patterns and behaviors locked into and stuck in my more familiar environment.

So if you are someone who wants to travel, should travel, needs to travel but hasn’t for a whole assortment of reasons… just know that it’s possible to travel, no matter what your circumstances.  Surround yourself with good grounded people who will support you in this idea.  And know that challenges don’t mean travel (or whatever it is you want) is not for you, it just means that overcoming those challenges will be part of the equation.  And that’s okay.

Not long before I left on my epic journey I had just begun chanting with the Buddhist organization SGI.  I was chanting for true change and growth in my life and that is exactly what I got. Through the excitement and inspiration of my travels as well as facing and working through the MANY challenges I experienced daily, I grew.

Admittedly, I am still under development and my life is still a work in progress.  But I am aware that I am in a better place today as a result of my journey.

I appreciate my current location and being back in the US, but I also look forward to cultivating a life where adventure and international life are again a part of the landscape… in my own time, in my own way.

So for today, I am just feeling grateful for and acknowledging the ride, the challenges and journey that brought me to where I am now.

Why I Chant

23 Apr

A little over 6 years ago I was introduced to the Nichiren Buddhist organization Soka Gakkai International and chanting Nam Myoho Renge Kyo. When I lived in New Orleans I was first invited to come to a meeting by a member of my Reiki community. After attending a meeting, I wasn’t exactly sure what to think… but I walked away feeling the powerful presence of the chanting practice.

Not long after I attended an SGI New Years Day meeting and celebration in New Orleans.  It was here that a trusted friend shared that they had a major breakthrough in their life after becoming an SGI member and chanting.  As I was in the midst of some of my own challenges and had been moving through some thick life issues for some time, I wanted that too… so I took a leap and decided to become a member.

That was over 6 years ago and through the course of that time and living in many countries abroad, my practice and my life have continued to develop and grow.

Why do I chant?  Well, I imagine it’s an accumulation of many small and large reasons and experiences.  Here are some of them.

  1.  When I chant for something, sometimes things that seem “miraculous” happen.  I have a list of many small and large things that have worked out in amazing ways from chanting.  When I first started to chant I was selling shiitake mushrooms at the local farmers market.  The friend who introduced me to the practice suggested that I chant for my mushroom sales.  I did and without doing anything else differently, my mushroom sales doubled. When I was preparing for the first step of my international journey, going to Germany, I had purchased a ticket at a great price from US to London. It was important to me to have a place to stay in London for a day or two before flying on to Germany to give my mind and body a little time to rest and adjust before continuing.  As I was taking this journey with a great leap of faith but little money, it was necessary that I had a free or nearly free place to stay in London as hotels are quite expensive.  So I chanted fervently for a free place to stay in London. Amazingly, a few weeks before my departure I was at a local group I attend which had an out-of-town visitor. A friend who knew my London agenda said to me regarding our out-of-town guest “You know, his mom lives in London and sometimes she hosts guests.” She then proceeded to introduce the idea to him and after working out a few details, I had a free place to stay in London!
    This list goes on and on.  Often it’s simple things. For instance not long ago I was chanting for help voting in the past presidential election.  I had newly arrived in North Carolina, was not registered to vote in the state, had been out of the country for five years and wasn’t sure what I needed to do.  I chanted about it and shortly after I noticed a sign in a field near where I would go hiking that said “Do you need help voting?”  I laughed and thought… yes, as a matter of fact I do!  I called the number, the man was very helpful and with his recommendation I was able to register for early voting and easily voted in the last election.
  2. Chanting feels good.  This is pretty simple, I feel better when I chant.  Just the experience of chanting Nam Myoho Renge Kyo is a positive thing for me and I walk away in a better space than when I started.  I remember one time when I was in South Korea, I met some SGI members at one of the SGI centers in Seoul.  We chanted together for hours.  When I left, everything looked shiny. Everything – the buildings, the cement, the trees.  It was like I was looking at life through a lighter, sparkly lens.
  3. Chanting with others and attending SGI meetings often shifts my mood and experience.  On more than one occasion, I have gone to a meeting in a certain place… maybe I feel anxious or overwhelmed or sad.  Often when I leave it’s like my plate has been polished and I just feel different in relationship to my life and life circumstances.  For example, not long ago I went to a meeting and I felt like I was in a “bad place.”  I had just started a new job and felt stressed out and overworked.  Plus the night before I had a “bad evening” and had gotten virtually no sleep.  So I showed up at the meeting stressed out and a bit freaked out from no sleep.  Plus I still had about four hours of work to do that day, a Sunday.  At the meeting I chanted to have the patience, ease and clarity to complete my work without struggle.  Amazingly, that afternoon I was able to stay in a good place and easily get all my work done feeling clear and alert.  A major shift for me and honestly a bit of a miracle as I am someone who easily gets overwhelmed and doesn’t do well without sleep.
  4. SGI is a great way to connect with others.  As much as I’ve traveled around and moved, SGI has been a great way to meet and connect with others. And not just any “others,” but people who are working to overcome their own obstacles and support “not giving up” and “anything is possible.” This is a good space to be in! And it’s helped me a lot in making new, positive and supportive connections out and about in the world and at home.

If you are curious about changing Nam Myoho Renge Kyo, SGI has some simple, helpful videos and are a great place to start exploring chanting.

Chanting Nam Myoho Renge Kyo.  This is a short video that shows you how to chant and teaches chanting Nam Myoho Renge Kyo.

Chanting excerpts from the Lotus Sutra.  Part of the daily practice of SGI is chanting excerpts from the Lotus Sutra.  This practice is called Gongyo.  This video is “karaoke-style” and takes you slowly through the practice.

Typically, SGI members do Gongyo and chant Nam Myoho Renge Kyo in the morning and evening.  There is no right or wrong way to try it.  If you like, you can experiment with chanting 15 minutes in the morning and 15 minutes in the evening.

If you are curious about SGI or want to know more, feel free to reach out.  It’s really been a positive, growth supportive practice for me.  It supports me overcoming obstacles and not giving up in my life and often brings unexpected benefits and solutions to my life.  I am glad to have this practice in my spiritual tool box as I go along for this ride of life.

 

 

Traveling the World with Anxiety

1 Jun

No, Anxiety is not the name of my spouse, best friend or significant other.  This is not the story of how Anxiety and I quit our corporate jobs and headed off happily into the sunset to see the world together.  But, in its own way, Anxiety has been a faithful companion.  When I first shared the idea of traveling the world, Anxiety was… well…hesitant to say the least.  Nevertheless, I put a few belonging in storage, packed up my bags, and Anxiety and I began an adventure together.

“Free spirits” come in all shapes, sizes and colors.  For me, my desire to have adventures and see the world is saddled with my own challenges with anxiety.  At its worst it’s been paralyzing, but in the daily rhythm and play of life it typically ranges from light to moderate.  Frequently present.  Notably there.  Anxiety.

The point is Anxiety (or fill in the blank with your personal flavor of challenge) doesn’t have to be the death sentence or curtain call on a life of travel and adventure.  I am not your typical traveler and I have learned to more peacefully make my way as I weave my life with new experiences, cultures, people, surroundings.  I take things more slowly, I plan things more carefully, and I allow plenty of time to be on my own.  I also make things like spiritual practice and healthy eating a priority no matter where I am in the world.

In truth takings risks and having experiences in new cultures is in itself an antidote for anxiety.  There is something healing about getting out of familiar waters and swimming in a world with a different syncopation from your own.  New and more liberating patterns begin to develop. The more I stretch myself, the more healthy risks I take and new successful experiences I have, the more peaceful this life with Anxiety becomes.

I can still remember my first major breakthrough I had traveling with Anxiety.  I was working and living at a seminar house in Germany.  Every weekend the house was filled with participants attending the workshop of the week.  Being surrounded by so many people on a daily basis sent Anxiety shooting through my spine.  Just the sound of their voices in the morning typically sent my body into intense nervous positioning.  Until one day.  One day I was lying in bed and when I heard the voices of the participants coming down the stairs, rather than be tangled with Anxiety I found I was… excited to hear them.  Glad they were there.  And so began the unfolding of transforming my life traveling with Anxiety.

Still today, four years later, Anxiety and I haven’t yet parted ways.  Anxiety hasn’t willfully gone its own way, packing its bags and going off to India or perhaps returning to the States. It’s still there, sharing my morning cup of tea, questioning my decision-making, planning the events for the week.  Undoubtedly our relationship has softened.  Life with Anxiety is easier, way easier than when we first left the States together four years ago.

There are some things I have learned to count on to soften the daily cry of Anxiety while I am roaming the world.  They are the first things that I pack and have become some of my new companions, ushering in more peace and comfort no matter where I am in the world.

1.  Reiki.  Reiki is one of my daily spiritual practices.  It is something I first discovered over ten years ago on a flier at a yoga studio in New Orleans.  Reiki is a very simple practice of connecting with a healing energy that is deeply relaxing and healing.  I am so grateful that after a nervous or challenging day or moment, I can simply lay my hands on myself and receive Reiki and much of that nervousness is just washed away.  If you’d like to know more about Reiki, you can visit my Reiki page or feel free to contact me.

2.  Art of Living Practices.  Ten years ago in New Orleans I took a class from an organization called the Art of Living founded by Indian Guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.  The organization came to New Orleans to assist the people with getting back to life after the impact of Hurricane Katrina.  I learned their foundational spiritual tool, the Sudarshan Kriya.  This is now a daily practice and how I nearly always start my day.  It melts away pain, discomfort and anxiety and puts me in a softer, better place.  Recently I attended their second course, The Art of Silence.  The course deepened my understanding and appreciation of their practices and also deepened my own spiritual reservoir creating a space for greater inner, unshakable peace.

3.  Healthy Eating.  It is a priority for me to eat healthy and balanced meals no matter where I am in the world.  I have learned that for me life with Anxiety is exponentially better WITHOUT SUGAR AND CAFFEINE.  Additionally, I find I feel better without eating any added preservatives or chemicals.  I also eat Gluten Free.  This is not easy on the international road, but it makes a big difference and truly is part of what makes this international life “doable” for me.  When arriving to a new country, I do my best to get the lowdown on the food contents there, to sniff out a few healthy restaurants and groceries where I can shop, and then begin to build a healthy food base for myself.

4.  Taking time for myself.  There is so much pressure in life to go, go, go.  But the truth is I feel so much better when I have time for myself.  So I do my best to create and allow for generous portions of time on my own without much on the agenda.

5. Yoga.  I first began practicing yoga in New Orleans almost 15 years ago.  It was my first step in using spiritual practices to soften and heal my personal and physical challenges.  It is something I have taken on the road and try to work into my daily life.  Even just ten or 15 minutes on the mat makes a difference.  Whether I am doing yoga in the fields of France, or in my room in Thailand, yoga is a constant companion and a place I can always come home to. Yoga classes have not always been available on my journey, so I have relied on my own personal yoga practice.  I check out local studios when available.  From time to time, I have also done a yoga class on the web from sites like doyogawithme.com.  My friend Miss Amanda at Inner Lift Yoga also has a great online video.

6.  Chanting with SGI Buddhism.  I began chanting with SGI Buddhism about four years ago.  I was invited to a meeting and couldn’t help but notice the powerful current generated from their chanting.  I was encouraged to try chanting for myself and chant for things I wanted in my life.  Surprisingly they easily flowed into being.  I began a regular chanting practice and it’s as if the current of my life is flowing more abundantly and heartily.  My daily chanting practice brings positive attention to those thing that are on my mind or that I am concerned about.  It softens the edges of my fears and anxiety.  And often it connects me with powerful community as SGI Buddhism meets all over the world.  Whether I am living in Vienna, Austria or visiting family in small town Missouri, I have access to the much appreciated community and support of SGI Buddhism.

7.  Supporting Others.  Finally, I have learned that it’s healthy to take time daily to focus my attention on others.  I mostly do this through my spiritual practices including sending Reiki to others needs or chanting for others.  I also enjoy taking action to support friends and acquaintances on their own personal journeys and adventures in ways that work in my life.  Supporting others rounds out the well-being of my life.

Anxiety and I, we’re not perfect.  We still have our challenges and ups and downs.  But I am so grateful that I “took the leap” and was willing to say “yes” to my sense of adventure rather than just “yes” to Anxiety.  With the support of family, friends and mentors, I followed my delight and inspiration.  It’s not always the easy road.  Often the challenging road.  But traveling the world with Anxiety…well… it has made all the difference.

 

 

KSGI Escapade

10 Jul

They picked me up at 7:10 in the evening – just outside English Village in front of the giant Stonehenge replica, still an unexpected sight in the quiet hills of South Korea.  They opened their car door and ushered me towards them with a friendly wave. I hopped in and we were off!

Where were we going, you may ask?  To the local Paju City meeting of my buddhist group, Soka Gakkai International.  I am grateful for my English-speaking connections and SGI friends in Seoul.  But from time to time… I get invited to a local meeting in Paju and it is always an adventure.

When they pick me up, I am never quite sure where we are going… it is a simple act of trust really.  We make an agreement to meet at a certain time and then they take me… wherever it is we need to go… wherever the meeting is.  I get a small glimpse of feeling a bit more “normal” in Paju, traveling by car through the regular roads and life of local folks. On the way there we pick up one, no two more people, and now there are five of us tucked into the back seat like a bunch of teenagers out for the evening.

A kind face turns to me and offers some friendly words in Korean.  After a years and a half submerged in the all English world of English Village, I have nothing to offer her.  I smile.  I shrug my shoulders.  She talks more slowly and uses her hands.  While well intentioned, it doesn’t help. I still don’t understand Korean.

In no time we arrive at the meeting and I follow the rush of bodies loading into the elevator.  We find our way to a member’s apartment where most guests are seated on the floor, Korean style.  Koreans know that foreigners don’t do the floor very well and I am no exception. I am escorted to a prime seat on the couch and me, my knees and my back are grateful.

Mostly, no one speaks English at the meeting.  So I sit and smile and look and listen.  I watch with admiration as the meeting is run so efficiently, packed with information, intent and interest and not a moment wasted.  People stand, share and everyone laughs.  I turn to ask, “what did she say?” and realize there is no one there who can answer this.

A near-by member, also on the couch, offers an olive branch.  There is a small paragraph written in English that summarizes the reading for the evening.  He shares it with me, smiles and says, “understand.”  I nod and am grateful for his English word.

The message of the reading is a reminder to “pray as earnestly as though to produce fire from damp wood.”  I love it and have some inspiration to take home to my daily practice.

As the meeting neatly comes to an end, just a well-packed hour later, everyone stands and prepares to leave.  I am met by wonderful faces and smiles.  The leaders greet me with their kind eyes and tug onto my hand as we share in our own language our wish to communicate.  But still, in earnest, it is nice to communicate in other ways too… the silent ways of smiles and eyes and kind touch.

As we prepare to leave, my couch mate offers his friendly smile and we take a picture together.  Without hesitation, he zips it off to my phone electronically.  But there is no time to wait as my escort is shuffling me towards the door and I feel I must keep up or lose my ride.  And so, I keep my eyes on them like a hawk as they lead me out and to their car amidst the many bodies departing.

A few minutes and a comfortable ride later I am home after my brief immersion into K-SGI.  I offer thank you in Korean, among the few simple words that I know.  I depart and they are off… almost as quickly as they came.

I check my phone to find a copy of the picture from the evening sent via text.  I respond a quick, “thanks!” to which I receive the reply, “No problem.  We are friends.  We are SGI members.”

And so is the beauty of community.  Anywhere in the world.  Whether we do or don’t speak the same language.  While I am someone with hermit-like tendencies and often happy with huge helpings of autonomy, I am also grateful for these snippets of connection and community.  Like a warm light in the night-time sky.

I returned to my apartment… happy to be home but also altered in a small way after my interlude in connection and the shared joy and power of the people and practice of Korea Soka Gakkai International.

Thanks for reading!  … and feel free to drop me a line… it’s always good to hear from you!

 

Featured photo:  Enjoying a quiet moment before class surrounded by the morning light and summer green of the surrounding hillside.

Cultivating Happiness

3 Apr

It is a grayish Thursday today at Gyeonggi English Village.  I am not working as my days off have shifted to Wednesday and Thursday.  Much to my relief, Spring is making herself known in more clear displays lately.  It makes a big difference to walk out to a fresh, warmish sometimes sunny day.

Here are some sure signs of Spring I captured in Paju and English Village!

This past weekend I took the day off on Sunday and traveled to Seoul to visit with my Soka Gakkai Buddhist friends. With the preceding cold winter months plus my weekends occupied by work, it has been a while since we have connected.  In their typical generous form, they set aside a portion of their day and we met in a member’s home to study, share and chant.  It never fails that our time together serves as an attitude shift and a wake-up call for me.  I arrived a little down and left feeling changed somehow.

My biggest insight of the day was when one of the members offered this perspective.  He said sometimes when a fellow SGI member hears you are going through a challenge or a hard-time their response may be, “Congratulations!”  Sound strange?  The teachings of SGI invite me to consider that challenges are truly the key to happiness.  They bring us new opportunities for growth and lessons. Additionally, they provide the circumstances to practice staying in the space of optimism, joy and persistence and build an unshakable foundation of happiness.  “Congratulations!” is a great reminder to me to shift my attitude, to not be faltered by whatever challenge or disappointment I might be facing, and to continue courageously on my journey.

My past three years as a member of SGI and particularly my time with my group in Seoul has helped me to reframe my ideas about happiness. While many good things have come my way, I have also faced and continue to face many challenges.  SGI helps me to have a grateful attitude regarding challenges and to consider within this pursuit is… happiness.

Are you facing some challenges in your life right now?  If so, congratulations!  Feel better?  I did.  Just this simple response helped me to shift the space from being a victim to someone who could handle whatever was presenting itself.  It helped me to feel my power.  And of course, chanting “nam myoho renge kyo” helps too!  Are you curious about chanting?  If so, check out this video that briefly introduces how to chant Nam Myoho Renge Kyo.

This past week we saw once again the big energy and more hectic Spring pace at GEV. We continue to receive busloads of students for their brief 2 night 3 day escapade in the land of English.  We also explore the balance of creating a fun and engaging environment for kids with the limitations of our current curriculum and program structure.

As Spring shows her face and life wakes up after the cold, quiet days of winter, it seems well-suited to continue to explore the Reiki Precepts.  As I introduced in last week’s blog, Reiki is a healing art that originated in Japan and has been a big part of my life for the past ten years.  There are Five Precepts in Reiki that are simply guidelines for happy living.  If you are curious about last week’s blog, you can visit it here. This week we will explore the second precept.

Do Not Anger

Just for today to not anger.

This one has always been a doozie for me.  Historically, anger has been my right hand man and a habit that can be easily triggered in myself and my life.  I think the message of this precept is to bring some mindfulness to our tendencies with anger. When I pay attention to this precept in my life, I can notice my inclination to turn to my friend anger in situations that may be frustrating or challenging and simply choose not to go there.  When I am mindful I am aware that I am the one brewing up the fire of anger in me.  I can turn up the heat and I can turn it off too.  This one is not easy for me, but like Reiki, it is simply a practice.  I may succeed one moment and fail another.  The gift is to continue to practice and do my best not to judge.

I think for a long time I thought that I needed anger to be safe and protect myself.  This precept is a gentle reminder that “do not anger” is earnestly for our own happiness and that as we continue to cultivate this awareness, it is our own selves who benefit most.

(A side note… While finishing this blog I got an interesting workout with this precept with a finicky internet connection and quirky blog program…)

The artwork above is one in a series I created on all five of the precepts.  If you would like to view them all or even purchase a print or card for yourself, please visit fineartamerica.com/profiles/nancie-teresa-biver.html.

My mid-week-weekend is winding down.  I went to Seoul today for my first dental visit in Korea.  Overall, it was a mostly non-traumatic experience.  The dentist spoke English.  The office was posh and inviting.  I was a little shocked when the hygienist threw something on my face that covered everything but my mouth during the cleaning… but ultimately, I recovered.  Just a restful evening ahead before I roll into a new week.

How are things in your world?  It is always good to hear from you!

Don’t Worry About a Thing!

10 Feb

It’s a bright Monday morning at English Village, the second day of my weekend. There is a pleasing blanket of snow on the ground and sunny blue skies with a cool crisp air. I have to confess, at nearly mid-day… I am still in my pajamas.

The Making of White Bean Vegetable Extravaganza!

It is a typical day in many ways.  I began the morning with chanting, the foundation of my SGI Buddhist practice.  The morning has easily drifted into noon and I am enjoying some homemade soup for lunch.  It is delicious and just what the doctor ordered.  It was inspired by a recent Pinterest pin, Tuscan Vegetable Soup. But as I have been grocery-challenged lately, it really should be called “whatever I had left in the refrigerator” soup… or as I continued to add random this and that, “White Bean and Vegetable Extravaganza!”… you know how it goes.

Mmm!  Hot Steamy Soup!

Mmm! Hot Steamy Soup!

I have had some bad grocery mojo over the last three weeks.  With the Lunar New Year holiday, I forgot to order my weekly dose of organic veggies, dairy and poultry from veggiehill.com. Coupled with that is the mysterious closing of two major stores that I count on for groceries, Home Plus and Costco.  I am sure it isn’t as mysterious as it appears to me…but twice now I have made shopping attempts, once the Sunday before the lunar holiday and once yesterday. Both times, the stores and their surroundings were eerily quiet. It seems that everyone knew the stores were closed…. except for me. One of the challenges of being an expat in Korea – finding myself “out of the loop” about such things…

Yesterday was a great day for me.  I began the day early as I needed to make my way to Seoul for an 11am SGI World Peace Meeting.  This is a regular monthly meeting of my English-speaking chapter in Korea of the international buddhist organization.  At each meeting a member shares their experience of how chanting and SGI has benefitted their life and this month I was invited to share. It was a great exercise to revisit my journey in SGI over the past three years paralleled with my gypsy adventure and just take note of how amazing it has all been. Writing the story of the fulfillment of so many large and small unexpected gifts almost felt like telling a story seen in a movie or read in a book. I had to remind myself, no really, it all happened.  And it happened to me!

The basic understanding of SGI Buddhism is that we are operating within a world of cause and effect.  That is a cause (word, action, thought) creates the effects in our lives.  This is Karma.  And so truly, we are not victims in our lives but instead living out the effects of our past causes.  With this in mind, SGI Buddhism offers the opportunity for liberation from past causes through chanting “”Nam-myoho-renge-kyo,” which, as identified by the 13th-century Japanese priest Nichiren, is the key to developing the Buddha nature.  As it says on the SGI website, “chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo enables people to unleash their hidden potential and unlock the courage and compassion to transform their lives and create positive value in their family, community and society.” I think of chanting like putting the most powerful pristine cause into creating a new effect in my life.  Or, in other words, changing my Karma.

I have only been practicing for three years now, but I have to acknowledge the very specific things I have chanted for on my journey that have found their way into my life in distinct and unpredictable ways.  I see my chanting practice as a tool for opening the door of the impossible and letting the possible in.

Sharing my experience to the group was really great for me.  It felt good to say out loud what I had accomplished and to take note of the many ways that chanting and SGI have been a pivotal part of my journey.  Additionally, it is said in the practice that any time you participate in an SGI activity or share your experience, it is another way of creating a powerful cause in your life (which brings a positive effect).  And I noticed that after sharing my experience to the group I felt transformed.  I spent the rest of the day feeling like I was in a sweet little slot of life.  It was as if my being just bypassed all the negative trappings of daily living and stayed for a bit in a crisp cool place.

And so, I continue the simplicity of my day.  As I find the considerations about “what’s next for me?” beginning to dance in my head, I will leave you with the message channeling through my mac speakers courtesy of Pandora.com… “Don’t worry about a thing.  Cause every little thing is gonna be alright!”  Have a great day!  And don’t forget to write, it’s always good to hear from you!

Image above, the  snowy greeting outside my front door on a wintery Sunday morning.

Happy New Ear!

3 Jan

Well it seems all too easily 2013 has slipped away with the arrival of 2014.  As is typical here at English Village, we worked right through the holidays.  And so I shared my New Years with a very young assembly of party-goers, our students.  As I did my best in class to communicate about the New Year in very simple English, two of my youngest students liked saying “Happy New Ear”… instead of “Happy New Year”… and so, I pass their amusement on to you.

It continues to be a quiet winter season.  The snow is periodically melting giving way to dirty streets and icy patches.  English Village is currently entertaining a group of month-long visitors for a program called VIP.  This student body is generally around 11 – 14 years old.  The month of January is a winter holiday for Korean students.  As learning English and studying is a high priority here, around 200 lucky students are spending their winter holiday here.  I am not teaching these students as I am teaching the youngest students at English Village, a program where we read books, do simple english activities, play games and do crafts.  Truly a world apart from the busy adolescent body of VIP.

I continue to be aware of what an odd life I lead here in English Village.  Recently a friend from Germany wished me well in my current adventures in the UK.  “I am not in the UK…” I had to distinguish to him.  “I am at a place called English Village… it’s in South Korea.” True, the architecture of English Village is hardly reminiscent of South Korea… and it’s not intended to be.  This is a place where South Koreans can be immersed in the English language and something like western life… without leaving their country.  It’s the only place where I can feel like a rock stock just for smiling, saying hello and speaking English.

Despite the strangeness of life in English Village, there are many things that I cannot help but be grateful for.  In the simplest of terms it has afforded me a safe and mostly gentle respite in life where I can live, develop and grow.  It is nestled in the un-busy hills of Paju City that always feels like a relief to me after returning home from a day in Seoul.  There are many friendly English-speaking faces here and a whole network of resources for surviving and navigating life in South Korea.  Plus, there is a whole world to discover not far outside our door and easy access to Seoul.

Recently I took myself on a little pre-New Years celebration/adventure to a traditional Korean bath, known as a jjimjibang.  I went to a bath in Seoul called Dragon Hill known for its friendliness and accessibility to foreigners (that’s me…).  It was only my second visit since arriving in Korea.  I have to admit it still takes a little “somethin'” for me to go to a public place where I will be walking around naked in front of strangers.  While it might seem unusual to some Americans, the practice is quite common in Korea. At the Dragon Hill spa, you take the elevator to the women’s sauna floor, find your locker, take off your clothes and you’re on your way!

The sauna itself is filled with a myriad of inviting, warm, herbal baths.  Ah, so nice and invigorating.  It’s sort of fun for me to go there as a foreigner who doesn’t speak or understand Korean.  In some ways I get to be almost invisible as I glide in and out of the tubs surrounded by many Korean faces and bodies.  It’s also a joy to share the innocence of unspoken communication… the simple things that are done to acknowledge someone else in a friendly way – a laugh, a smile when there is something to be said but no words to use.

While at Dragon Hill I gave myself a special New Years treat and signed up for a massage.  This was, as it turns out, no ordinary massage… but 90 minutes of full body acupressure, thai massage, foot massage, facial acupressure, head massage and facial treatment… whew!  Are you feeling relaxed yet?  It was, in fact, one of the most kind and loving things I have ever done for myself.  At one point I just laughed out loud in sheer joy as I had some sort of facial treatment on my face (that felt really cool and refreshing) while my body continued to be coaxed into release and relaxation.  Granted, it wasn’t quite the personal “massage therapist” experience you might have back in the States.  At one point I heard someone call the name of the man who was giving me my message. He responded to the call immediately and just dropped my leg on the table in mid-massage.  Nonetheless, he was very good at what he did and I was grateful.

As this year has come to an end, myself and others are looking to the New Year with some sort of intention or fresh energy. In honor of that I thought I would share a few of the things that really make a difference in my life.  If you know me or read my blog, you are already aware that Reiki and SGI Buddhism are both spiritual pillars in my life.  But here are a few others that I seldom mention that would enhance any New Year.  Enjoy!

  1. Dan Millman’s 4 Minute Workout
    You many know Dan Millman, the well-loved guru whose story is told in the movie Peaceful Warrior. I learned this sweet little workout during a cold, quiet winter in Germany.  It’s great because it moves and addresses every part of the body in only 4 minutes.  It’s a perfect way to bring some movement into your life on daily basis.
  2. Art of Living Sudarshan Kriya
    I stumbled upon the Art of Living in post-hurricane Katrina New Orleans.  Their was something about the organizational name that caught my attention.  I attended an informational session and felt inspired to take their first course which teaches the Sudharshan Kriya.  The Kriya is a simple sequence of breathing and movements.  I have done it regularly for about 7 years now. It’s something I can count on to ease stress, reduce anxiety, bring me back to my body, and help release any physical pains or discomforts.  Click here for more information and to find a course near you.
  3. Radiant Recovery
    Many of us know… on some level… you are what you eat.  For many people, myself included, eating a heathy and appropriate diet is the difference between day and night in health and feeling good.  A friend referred me to this program of eating.  It’s signature book is “Potatoes not Prozac” as part of the ensemble of new eating habits is eating a potato before bed.  It is targeted for people who are “sugar sensitive” and gently unfolds a program backed by science to support health and well-being. Do you think you might be sugar sensitive?  Read here to learn more!

How about you?  What are your plans and inspirations for the New Year?  Any cherished goodies to share to help launch me and others into the New Year?

Wishing you a powerful, happy and transformative New Year!  And as always, thanks for reading!

Photo on top, in class with the little ones we made party hats for our New Years celebration!

Looking Back

19 Dec

It’s hard to believe it… but its been a year since I first arrived at Gyeonggi English Village!  It was July of 2012 when I first saw the posting for the job on Dave’s ESL Cafe.  I was in France at the time doing a work exchange at a bed and breakfast.  I knew that I wanted to keep traveling. A friend encouraged me to explore jobs teaching ESL (English as a Second Language).  I perused many jobs on the internet and I applied for one. The job here at English Village.  And here I am.

After I applied, it was a month or so until I heard from them.  I happily had a brief Skype interview at 4am my time. Shortly after I was offered the job and then began the quick rearranging of my world and life in the direction of South Korea.  This needed to include a return to the States for the lengthy Korean visa process. I quickly needed a new place to go as my current arrangement in France was nearing the end.  Thankfully and luckily, I made plans to do a work exchange with a family in the States through the website helpx.net.  I booked a cheap last minute flight with a German airline called Condor and within what seemed like the blink of an eye I was back in the States.  And so began the process of getting a Korean visa, which took me in total nearly 4 months.

When the visa finally came through it was almost a shock… so many months of preparation and planning and then… suddenly… I actually needed to BOOK a ticket to Korea!  I was exhilarated and nervous all at the same time!  As some friends and family know, I am not one of those laid back, calm, cool and collected travelers.  I get nervous. Really nervous.  And while my heart, mind and spirit truly love the excitement, adventure and experience of going to new places… the journey for me often comes with good helping of anxiety.

I can still remember the night before I was to leave for Korea.  I was at my parent’s house where I had been visiting for a few days prior to my departure.  Suddenly I had this thought that going to Korea was just a crazy notion.  I called my friend, Reiki teacher and often co-pilot on this journey and asked… “am I crazy?  Is this a crazy idea?” Her response, as it often is, was, “what does you gut say” and truth be told… my gut was really okay with it.  And so the next day I got on a plane and flew to Korea.

When I arrived I was also really nervous.  Happily for me the school arranged for me to be picked up by taxi at the airport to drive me the hour or so journey to English Village in Paju City.  At the airport the taxi driver held a sign with my name on it and took my hand as he led me to the taxi.  He was a friendly older man and I was grateful for his parent-like support.

My beginning at English Village was cold and  a little rocky.  My first day of work there was a major ice storm and I spent my day carefully walking up and down icy steps waiting for the HR staff to return to the office and direct me where to go.  But in time, slowly, I began to find my way and collect the people, places and things I needed to be warmer and more at home.

As I began teaching in the classroom I was also… really nervous.  With a background in higher education and professional experience leading students and workshops, I knew I was a good teacher.  But it had been over ten years since I had done that.  In the wake of that was a decade of personal challenges that had my confidence and nerves more than a little shaky.  In the beginning I did my best, I showed up, and I did the work even though I was scared.

In a short amount of time my confidence increased and I felt more satisfied and capable in the classroom.  I did my best to pay attention to the teachers I thought were good and adapted my technique accordingly.  In time I took on some additional projects creating curriculum for the program and continued to develop myself personally and professionally.

This past year has also been a big year for me in my spiritual development.  About three years ago I became a member of a Buddhist organization called SGI (Soka Gakkai International).  I discovered the practice when I still lived in New Orleans.  A Buddhist friend there introduced me to the practice and suggested that I explore chanting “nam myoho renge kyo” for things that I wanted.  Surprisingly, as I began to chant I found the things I was chanting for gently appeared in my life.  When I became a member, my life began to change quickly and within a few months I left New Orleans and had a ticket to Europe. I took this new practice with me on the road living in Germany and France.  I connected with a few local SGI groups while in Europe, but it wasn’t until I came to South Korea that I found an SGI group where I became a regular member.

With the support of English-speaking expat leaders in South Korea, I have learned a great deal more about the practice and about myself.  I have been inspired to increase my regular chanting, the foundation of the practice.  I see now more clearly that regular chanting is a bedrock I can rest on to continue to meet and overcome challenges in my life and to usher in new and good things for myself.  In my life as it is, with so much opportunity but also challenges and uncertainty, the foundation of a good spiritual practice makes all the difference in the world.  It makes the impossible… possible.

Here are a few photos from the year:

And so, a year has come and gone.  And now the question that beckons is… what’s next?  Well, as you can see, I am still at English Village!  I have learned on this journey that it is best to be open to and take action for new possibilities and then be prepared… for the unexpected.  Sometimes things stay the same but sometimes when you least expect it they have a way of changing on a dime.

Thanks for being a part of this journey in whatever way you may be… a friend or a family member, a curious reader or fellow traveler.

I am writing from my cold office in English Village, hesitant to take off my gloves to type on the keys as there is an icy cold lingering in the room. The snowy weather has quieted down the campus with fewer teachers, fewer students and less activity.  As the holidays grow closer, they will nearly be missed at English Village.  We will be working through it all.

Good bye for now from the cold and frozen land of Paju English Village.  Sending warm holiday thoughts your way!

Featured image at top, a snowy bouquet of flowers outside a Seoul subway station.

Happy Birthday and Other Stories

25 Nov

It’s early evening on a Monday night at English Village.  Monday is basically my “Sunday” as I work Saturdays and am off Sunday and Monday.  There is a new crop of students bustling through English Village this week.  I can hear their enthusiasm and giggles outside my window.  They are likely shopping at the EV Mart located just below my new apartment.

It’s been a simple yet satisfying Monday.  It’s already dark outside and the day has turned into night… and I am still in my pajamas.  It’s been one of those kind of days.  A day where playing around in the kitchen led to cleaning the kitchen which led to making some lentils which led to working on my computer.  This led to chatting with a friend on Facebook which led to a string of many other miscellaneous activities, interests and obligations.  Starring just me… in my pajamas.  In my new apartment.  A while ago my sister saw a skit by a comedian who was cleaning up his office.  This simple act led to a barrage of fun and exciting games in his comic skit, playfully discovering new things in the process.  She said that he reminded her of me as when I was a child cleaning out my closet turned into a playful adventure of discovery and a day long event!  It’s been one of those kind of days.

The weather is turning colder and we are all taking refuge in our warmer coats and scarves.  We even had a few snow flurries earlier this week.  With the cold weather brings fewer little students braving the cold and attending the bookclub program that I teach.  Those that do arrive have cold bodies and runny noses.

This week with the itty bitties has been pretty basic as we investigate the world of reading in English.  I continue to explore new ways to engage them as their energetic bodies enter the classroom not quite yet ready to be seated and listen and read.  Sometimes I play with them a little bit with yoga having some physical fun until they can slowly come to a place of a bit… more… focus.

I tried playing Mad Libs with some of my older students this week.  You remember that, right?  You make a random list of nouns, adjectives and words and then fill in the blanks to reveal your silly story.  At first as we approached this in class, it was an adventure in clarifying what exactly is a verb, and adverb, and adjective.  And once we had traversed that landscape, it was their turn to make their list.  And then, at last when we filled in the words for their silly story, the response was a little bit… unexpected.  While they did chuckle a bit, they were not totally delighted.  In some ways there was some embarrassment and a desire to change the words to make it fit better in the story.  Not quite the Mad Lib joy I remembered.

Sunday I congregated with some friends in my Buddhist SGI group in Seoul.  We met at a local Korean chapter meetings as we were one of the featured entertainers at their annual meeting.  It was quite a hoot as we did a simple Zumba dance with flashing lights making us look fancier than we really were.  Despite my resistance to the whole things it was indeed… fun!

Afterward we were treated to a Korean style pork dinner known as Samgyeopsal.  It is a local favorite and pretty simple really. Tables receive uncooked cuts of pork that you cook on the barbecue on your table.  It’s served with an assortment of sides, most of which were off-limits to me with my sensitivity to sugar, a staple additive to most Korean dishes. Before the meal we were all offered a large plastic bag to put our coats and belongings in.  I was told the purpose of the bags  is to keep your coat and personal items from smelling from the thick aroma of  barbecue.  How is that for service? As the meal arrived, everyone busily prepared the food and cut… using kitchen scissors as it the custom in Korea.  No knives here!  And before you know it, our food was ready to eat.

At the end of the meal was a little  celebration to honor my birthday courtesy of the lovely people in my Seoul SGI district.  The night before I received a cryptic text message asking (knowing that I can’t eat refined sugar)… can I eat honey?  What about maple syrup?… “not really, I replied.”  Alas I dampened an earnest attempt to bake a cake for my birthday I could actually eat.  And so, defeated, they presented me with an ordinary birthday cake, beautiful  in style and intact with a candle to blow out.  It was a lovely gesture even though… I couldn’t eat it…  So I took it in visually, cut it up equally and distributed it to the guests.  And I didn’t even lick the icing off my fingers.

When it was time to leave the weather outside had turned to wind and rain.  As this was unexpected, none of us were armed with an umbrella.  In elegant SGI style, the Korean woman’s district leader who was dining with us had someone go out and fetch umbrellas for all of the over a dozen guests.  Happily we received our new umbrellas and headed out into the rain content to be dry.  Soon after I made my return to Paju.

The weekend is coming to a close and I have a few more hours of play before night turns to day and a new week begin.  Please write if you like and tell me what is up in your world.  It’s always good to hear from you!

New Nest

14 Nov

It’s a chilly day in Paju, South Korea.  I am taking a little break hovered around the electric heater like a campfire.  While true, it is not yet winter, the icy cool Paju weather has begun to make an appearance. The long cold winter is just around the corner.

My big English Village news this week is that I have moved into a larger apartment.  This is not a small event for me.  As someone who has been traveling for the past three years, often living in the grace and space of other people’s homes in a variety of situations (the most unexpected of which was a mattress lovingly placed on top of a table in an extra storage room)… my two-room apartment (an upgrade from my one-room space of the last ten months) feels like a castle.  I could hardly hide my joy as I was moving in.  So much room.

I have a tub in my new apartment.  It is a most loved addition as it seems I am part fish and need a regular immersion in water.  This is, however, no ordinary tub.  It is a Korean size tub.  Quite simply it means… it is small. No room for long “western” sized legs.  No room to expand and relax or even move side to side.  But it does have a cumfy built-in head rest. The best part is that it holds hot water just the same and, thankfully, at least I can fit in.

I continue to teach, entertain and negotiate my relationships with my new young students. Mostly… they are so cute.  This week I explored doing a little yoga with them to try to focus some of their endless spritely energy.  Their willing nimble bodies moved and grooved happily into a variety of child-friendly yoga poses.

One student who I teach one-on-one I am learning is a bit of a joker and likes to play games with me.  She will often say a different name from what something actually is in the spirit of her own little fun.  The other day she decided when reading a book about a variety of creatures, that I was the octopus and she was, of course, the princess.  Alas, who can argue with that!

One of my student’s loves to play the game hangman.  You know how it goes – you guess a letter and if that letter is not in the word you get a body part drawn on the classic hangman post resembling the number 7. When she plays she adds her own twist.  She draws the hangman in typical Korean cute fashion –  a delicate girl head and body, with fancy hair,  bow and dress.  Too funny. Another student recently showed up for class in a sweatshirt with a Ninja face hood complete with see through eyes on the hood.  I was pretty impressed and very cool as far as kids things go.  And still, another student when drawing a picture of a turtle had to include the much loved Korean ponytail often drawn by little girls in pictures and drawings.

Earlier this week I attended the local Korean chapter of my Buddhist group, Soka Gakkai International.  It is quite a system we have established to negotiate connecting with our obvious language barriers.  There is one young member who went to college in the United States and speaks excellent English.  We begin the journey with her contacting me via text. She lets me know when the meeting is and what time to be ready.  Then a different Korean member picks me up at English Village and takes me to the meeting.  The ride is friendly but often quiet with little to communicate.  A few stops are made along the way, picking up other women SGI members.

Arriving at the meeting, its always a joy to experience the excitement and love I feel from this group even though we can’t communicate.  Often young members are excited to see me and I wonder if some of them have ever seen someone who isn’t Korean before.  And so I listen to the meeting, with the help of my friendly translator who meets me there.  In no time at all the meeting is over and once again I am whisked back safely to English Village.

As the weather turns cooler and with my new big apartment, I find myself more inclined to nesting and staying warm at home. Cooking soups.  Feeling somehow like I want to prepare myself for the winter.

But for now, it’s an afternoon of classes.  It’s just another day at English Village.

Photo: The bright Fall lights on the English Village Campus.

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