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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.

 

 

Reiki Break

16 Jan

It’s a quiet day at English Village.  Winter is here, but it’s not making a big fuss. Sure, it’s blowing around some icy cold air. Whispering, “you might want to think twice about that walk outside.”  Overall, it’s being generally well-behaved….but still winter, nonetheless.

The program I have been teaching these past couple of months at English Village is nearing an end.  It’s a book club targeted to blossoming English readers as young as 3 to as old as 8 or 9.  The students are grouped into small classes by age and reading ability and spend some of their time here reading different character stories including Clifford, Nate the Great and Arthur.  There are weekday and Saturday classes but after January 24, the weekday classes will exist no more.  My book club co-teacher and I will likely be relocated to new (or old) pastures, teaching somewhere else in the Gyeonggi English Village landscape.

With the polite, but still cold weather my motivation for venturing out and about continues to slide.  Lately I am doing my best to engage and entertain myself mostly at the home front.  I have started training once a week at the on-campus weight room with one of our English teachers who is also an experienced trainer.  As it’s been perhaps 20 years since I have been in a weight room, mostly occupied with the gentle work of yoga in the interim, it is a bit of an adjustment to my mind, body and being.  While reacquainting myself with the various exercises, I do my best to maintain the balanced attitude and physical stature of yoga while still responding adequately to the heavy (to me!) weights descending upon my body. The intention is to build some strength… but my desire is to do so in a moderate way.

I continue to lead a weekly yoga class for interested teachers at English Village.  This week there was a little twist in the routine as I led a yoga class for elementary and middle school students studying and living here for a month-long program.  Leading yoga for younger people continues to be a new experience for me.  I am still finding my feet or perhaps my wings when teaching yoga to kids. Overall, the class went really well.  While they weren’t exactly hoisting me onto their shoulders and chanting “yoga!  yoga!” when it was finished, I would call it a success.  There were 31 pre-adolescent Korean girls tightly packed in a very cold room at 4pm in the afternoon. They were generally quiet and mostly engaged throughout the entire class.  I say, “Bravo!”

Recently I began offering Reiki treatments to teachers here at English Village. Reiki, as you may know, is a spiritual practice of mine for nearly ten years.  It is a simple but powerful spiritual tool and healing art that originated in Japan.  An intrigued collection of teachers have responded to the call and received a hands on Reiki-treatment.  For some, they share it is their first time trying something “like this…”  It seems their reasons to try Reiki are many – curiosity, health and healing, a need for restoration and relaxation.  I am really grateful to be able to offer to those who are interested here.  Often there is nothing like a Reiki treatment to turn over a new leaf, get past a cold, regain some balance, or just really let go if even for a little bit.

I have heard my Reiki teacher compare taking a Reiki class, typically a two or three-day commitment, to going on a Hawaiian vacation. Indeed, it is truly a restorative break to bask extensively in the practice and energy of Reiki.

I can recall, over 5 years ago, when I traveled to an annual Reiki gathering at a retreat center in the pristine forests of Oregon. Collectively as Reiki students, practitioners and teachers, we spent the whole weekend giving each other Reiki treatments, sharing, and listening to stories from some of the leaders of our Reiki tradition.  After that time away from the city and dipping in Reiki for days, I was amazed to see that a problem that was persistently on my mind prior to the gathering was completely resolved within me.  I felt at ease and wholeheartedly clear as to what I needed to do.  I returned to New Orleans, my home at the time, and fearlessly and easily took action on that insight. Good things naturally flowed afterwards. Self-Reiki-Badge

While I am here with quiet time at English Village, my Reiki practice is one of the things I lean on.  At the foundation of my practice is daily self-treatments.  Part of the beauty of Reiki is that you can easily give it to yourself.  We are taught in classes that Reiki is for self first.  After nearly ten years of practice, daily self-treatments are almost like breathing to me. It’s hard to imagine a day without them.  Reiki Master Pamela Miles has created a badge to bring to light and honor the importance of daily Reiki self-treatments.  Click on the red badge to learn more.

In addition to self-treatment and giving hands-on treatments to people here,  I also send Reiki daily to friends and family all over the world.  As a second degree practitioner, I can do what is known as a distance Reiki treatment and send Reiki to people, places and situations anywhere and at any point in time. An interesting benefit of Reiki is that sending it to others it is actually a way to care for myself. As I send daily to the needs and requests of others, I just feel better.  It’s amazing how while sending Reiki the thoughts and entanglements of the day begin to dismantle.

As a traveler, how lucky I am that no matter where I am in the world, I have Reiki with me.  All I need to do is give myself a treatment to begin to melt away whatever it is… a cold or flu, anxiety, fatigue.

Are you curious about Reiki or perhaps a Reiki practitioner yourself?  Do you have your own Reiki story to share? It would be fun to hear from you!  I am also happy to answer any questions about Reiki.  Ask away. If you’d like to experience Reiki for yourself, you can always request a distant Reiki treatment.  If you are in South Korea, a hands-on treatment may also be an option.  Visit my Services page to learn more.

Here is a simple video introducing Reiki presented by Reiki Master Pamela Miles.  If you would like to learn Reiki for yourself, there are teachers all over the world!  Here is a database of teachers and classes in the Usui Shiki Ryoho system, the traditional system that I know and trust.  I can also recommend my teacher, Elizabeth Ohmer Pellegrin, located in New Orleans but willing to travel for classes anywhere on the planet.

Thanks for reading!  And remember, it’s always great to hear from you!

Winter Fun

12 Dec

Well, it seems winter has come to Paju.  And I have to say, I find myself greeting it with a bit of child-like enthusiasm.  For the most part, I am prepared for the winter.  I have warm clothes.  My refrigerator and freezer and filled with food.  I have delicious herbal teas, some good movies, a book or two, and a strange life living and working at English Village that is (mostly) easily sustained even in the midst of the winter snow and cold.  As I, and all foreign teachers, live right here on the English Village campus, even with a few inches of snow… it’s an easy commute to work.

Paju is in a strange pocket of weather in South Korea.  With a full spectrum of four seasons, it is known for having a surprising dive into seasonal extremes.  It is unexpectedly hot and humid in the summer (but in truth it ain’t got nothin’ on New Orleans!) and the winters are long…long… and cold.  The winters here are cold even compared to our neighbor just an hour to the South, the grand city of Seoul.  Paju has a biting humidity with a cold winter wind that can chill you to the bones and an exorbitant amount of snow.

So today, with a healthy blanket of snow already on the ground and a fresh batch of snow scattering in the skies, I am staying inside.  I am already well-underway with my winter hibernation activities.  I have been busy cooking healthy, yummy food, practicing yoga and reiki, reading books and watching movies.  I have even broken out the watercolors and started a little light painting.  Winter fun.  What more could a girl ask for?

Alas, this is just the beginning of the winter season.  It is possible my lighthearted winter attitude will fade as winter and the snow drifts grow deeper.  The winters here are extraordinarily long.  Last December when I first arrived here in Paju and South Korea, my first day of life and work was met with a was a terrible ice storm.  I wore my long down coat doing my best to keep my frozen New Orleans body warm, still in shock from the cold weather.  I didn’t take that coat off again until April…. we will see how I and the weather fair this year.

This past weekend I made two very yummy dishes that helped keep me warm, happy and satisfied.  The first was spinach polenta lasagna.  I followed a very simple recipe I found online, modified it a bit to suit my tastes and cupboard, and easily assembled layers of gooey wonderfulness.  What a treat it was.  It tasted delicious and is an easy way to eat Lasagna gluten free!  I also made some carrot soup.  I basically followed a recipe from the foodnetwork.  It is a very easy carrot soup enhanced with fresh chopped onions, garlic and I added some fresh ginger.  It is sautéed in a curry paste and then cooked up with some stock with a hint of cayenne pepper.  About an hour later with a little help from my immersion blender and a dollop of greek yogurt on top, it was a smooth and satisfying winter treat.  Delicious!

I continue to lead a weekly yoga class for interested teachers at English Village.  The winter weather provides a few challenges as we begin our yoga class in the early evening bundled up and huddled up feeling at first unable to move.  We practice in a nice size room with a heater that doesn’t come close to heating the room.  I begin the practice with my wool scarf tied around my neck, in layers and two pairs of wool socks on.  Slowly as we warm up it gets a little bit easier… and in truth I get so interested in the yoga I forget that I am cold.  But it is still cold nonetheless.  At any rate, it is a really nice mid-week diversion particularly as we are coming into the sometimes isolating land of English Village in winter.

I sang Christmas carols with my students this week.  It wasn’t a planned thing.  But in one of my younger classes a few of the girls started singing the carols they knew.  So I jumped on the boat, wrote the words on the board to perhaps help them with their English, and we sang a few songs.  In truth I find I like singing with the students.  I like it perhaps… more than they do…  Lately I have had some fun teaching my youngest students songs from my (and most americans’) childhood.  My repertoire includes the hokey pokey, the itsy-bitsy spider, and of course… “head and shoulders, knees and toes (knees and toes…)”… you know the one.

I suppose Christmas is just around the corner now.  Even though there is a bit of Christmas energy on the EV campus, its easy to forget being here in South Korea.  As best as I can tell, many people in South Korea celebrate Christmas but it’s not the all-encompassing seasonal experience it can be in the States.  I am told that many folks in South Korea simply go out to dinner to celebrate, much like we would on New Years Eve.

Good-bye for now from the newly frozen and snow-covered land of English Village in Paju City South Korea.  Doing my best to keep it simple and stay warm!

Sunny Fall Days

12 Oct

Another week has passed here in the quiet mid-west.  My home-town St. Louis Cardinals baseball team are competing to be National League champions.  The US government has been shut down now for nearly two weeks.  And despite a hint or two of cooler weather,  it continues to linger in warmish great big sun shiny days.

It’s Saturday and I am grateful to prepare for a little outing with my sister and a few members of her family.  Her oldest boy has a double-header baseball game and I will take a break from time and life with my parents to hang with them.  The weather couldn’t be better with bright clear blue skies, sunshine and an expected high in the low 70s F.

This past week has continued much of the regular syncopation of life here.  There were some health challenges with family to be present to and tend to.  There was the occasional (and sometimes more that occasional…) viewing of HGTV.  I can’t forget my favorite escape of late, attending classes at the wellness center at my parents church just down the street. These classes have really been a breath of fresh air for me.  I attend yoga on Mondays and Fridays and strength training classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  At the center I am surrounded by kind and friendly faces.  While, yes, I am usually the youngest face in the room, I am certainly in good company.

Earlier this week, a friend of my mom’s was generous enough to invite me on an outing.  Currently without a vehicle and in a town with no public transportation, some good company and new scenery are more than welcome.  I joined her and her daughter as well as another friend of theirs at the local arboretum and botanical gardens.  I couldn’t have picked a better spot!

The weather that day continued its spectacular streak of perfect fall weather.  We were greeted with blue skies and sun as we meandered through the gardens and tree-covered pathways.  There were so many blooms and colors even in mid-October in the area called Monet’s Garden.  As we wandered through the trails nestled in the trees, we did our best not to get lost.  When day was done we departed to a near-bye restaurant for lunch.  Returning to my parents home,  I felt happy and refreshed.

I now have just a little over a week left in the States before returning to work and life in South Korea.  The time has slipped away leisurely but also quickly.  I am really grateful that I had a chance to come home and visit with family.  I am also glad for a break, some time to take it easy and indulge in some cushy conveniences of American life.

But for now, off for the day.  Good-bye for now from the still neighborhoods and stunning fall weather of the mid-west United States.

Update from the Heartland

7 Oct

It’s a quiet Sunday afternoon in small town mid-west USA.  All is good.  The air is fresh and  crisp.  The scene is quiet.  There is a hint of Fall color in the trees and Halloween is not far around the corner.

As you may know, I am immersed in an unexpected detour from my life in South Korea, now in the mid-west USA where my family resides. I learned recently of some serious health challenges of a family member and since have ridden the wave that landed me back home in the States for a visit. When I say home, I suppose I say that loosely.  I grew up in St. Louis, Missouri but haven’t lived there for nearly 20 years. I spent my last thirteen years in the States living in New Orleans. Almost ten years ago, my parents left St. Louis and diverted to a different neck of the woods to be close to family and grandchildren.  So my visit home, while surrounded by family and a place I have visited, is in many ways unfamiliar to me.

Daily life here is simple but not without some much-needed joy and exploration.  How fortunate I am, particularly without a vehicle, that my parent’s church just down the street offers a yoga class three days a week!  I have also connected with local members of my SGI Buddhist organization.  They have been so friendly and supportive. One member even picked me up this morning to attend the monthly World Peace Gathering. It did me a world of good to spend a little time out in life connecting with new people and chanting as well.

It continues to be an easy breeze being back in the States.  My body and being are more than grateful for a big helping of cushy conveniences and American luxuries.  That said, there is certainly a part of me that now feels in some way at “home” in South Korea.  I noticed this when an SGI member today bowed and said “annyeonghaseyo” which is Korean for hello.  My heart leapt and my eyes lit up in recognition.

I was seriously tickled the other night by my youngest nephew, now 7 years old.  We were playing a game of charades of sorts.  He would act something out and I had to guess what it was.  One time he did a dance… and I was thinking… there is no way I am going to recognize this dance.  I am so out of touch with young American culture.  I asked him to hum the song and still didn’t recognize it.  “Okay I give up!” I said. ” What is it?”  It was none other than “Gangnam Style” the mega-hit by Korean pop star Psy.  “That song is from South Korea!” I told him.   “Did you know that?”  His eyes lit up and he took off in excitement to tell his brothers.

Life here has been good but also challenging.  There are the basics challenges of the health issues that are facing my family right now.  Additionally are the challenges (and blessings) of three adults (that would be my parents and myself) living together when we haven’t done so since they were the parents and I was the child. While we have had a few ups and downs in our adventure of co-habitation, it is still certainly worthwhile to be here at this important time.

And so with that I will depart from my nearly weekly update of my gypsy life, looking less gypsy-like nested comfortably in the heartland of the States. Please feel free to write and share what is up in your life.  It’s always good to hear from you!

Cool Change

2 Sep

It’s a cool Monday morning here at English Village.  A little unexpected, I find myself relaxed and free in the mid-afternoon on a Monday. Why is that you say?  Is English Village closed today?  Have the hundreds of adolescent Korean students lost their way to English Village and we have the day off?  The answer to both of those questions is no.  The reason is quite simple.  Starting tomorrow, Tuesday, I will wear a new “hat” at English Village.  My new responsibilities come with a new schedule.  I will work from Tuesday to Saturday.  So today as I transition to the new schedule I have an extra day of respite.  Hooray!

What sort of hat will I be wearing you ask?  Well, beginning tomorrow I will be one of two teachers at English Village who will teach a regular afternoon book club/ school for young Korean students.  The teacher who had taught the program for the past year is moving on and as she prepares to leave I am stepping into her spot.  The job it seems is pretty simple and autonomous.  I will have mornings to prepare and afternoons of five 50 minutes classes with small collections of students mostly age 5 and 6.  We will read books, practice basic English and what else I suppose… remains to be seen.

I was asked just a few days ago if I would like to take the position.  In truth the offer came at a pretty good time.  Although there are many things that I like about the teaching I was doing – my co-teachers, some of the lessons, the joy of a good class, and the variety of students taught – in truth my mind, body and being were needing a break of some sort.  It was stressful for me and sometimes felt like a crazy ride that just wasn’t that fun anymore.  And so, while in truth there are things I was hesitant to leave… I am grateful for the opportunity for a change.

And so is my body.  By the end of last week my back and my neck… just didn’t work so well anymore.  When I went to my regular chiropractor appointment on Saturday, where he regularly works on my injured ankle, I sheepishly admitted that I could barely move my back and my neck.  As I laid there, I felt like a wounded soldier.  He flipped me over, took a look at my back and said in true form to his joking demeanor, “You need to find a rich husband.”  Translation, my back had been over stressed and I really needed to take it easy.  His suggestion for the week, wear a back support brace.  The rest, we will revisit on the next appointment.

Since then I have been doing plenty of yoga, Reiki and swimming and my back and neck are softening up a bit.  But still ultimately, my body is in need of some continued tender-loving-care.

I had a great time this weekend with a relaxing day in Seoul on Saturday.  I spent the night in Seoul at the home of friends from my Buddhist group.  Then Sunday morning we went together to our monthly world peace meeting.  This meeting is a gathering of members throughout our English-speaking chapter in Korea.  It was great to see some familiar faces that I haven’t seen in a while.  Afterwards a small group of us went to grab some wonderful tacos at my favorite local taco joint.  Yes I know when you think Seoul – you don’t think tacos… but there are some great tacos to be found. We went to Gusto Taco‘s newly opened second restaurant.  Great homemade tacos and burritos made with fresh ingredients and personal service.  We all ate to our hearts content and then continued on with our Sunday.

The weather in Korea it seems has made the tilt away from Summer and is now heading towards Fall.  It is unmistakable in the air and we are all enjoying the freshness of the changing of seasons.

Today I made a quick, okay not so quick, sojourn to the local Pharmacy to buy a back support for my poor aching back.  This was my first time going to the pharmacy and finding it wasn’t quite as direct as it looked on the map.  The journey there required a lot of asking directions on my part and the humbling experience of trying to express my needs when I cannot speak the local language.  With some good fortune and basic hand pointing I was successful on my journey.  On my way home I passed these lovely gardens.  Here are a few photos to share.

So for now I will continue my bonus Monday as I indulge in the cool change in the weather and the gentle shift in my work responsibilities. Ah, a good day to relax my body and mind and prepare for my first day of new work tomorrow.

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

Photo on top, a quick snapshot of pretty little flowers in a garden I discovered just around the corner from English Village in Paju South Korea.

Joyous

25 Aug

It’s a Sunday morning here at English Village.  I am listening to Krishna Das on Pandora.com trying my best to sooth my soul.  The sun is shining outside and it is a warm summer day.

This Friday was a benchmark of sorts at English Village.  It was the end of our month of special programming.  The end of the month-long program for middle school students, the end of the visiting programs from Japan and Russia, and the end of the two-week program I was teaching, the Global Leadership Program.

While it was the end of some things, for now there is no break for weary English Village teachers.  In past years we are told there has been a break or slow week following this busy month of special programming.  But not this year.  We return to work on Monday,  the wheels of English Village returning to full spin as we usher in a total of about 500 new students in a handful of different programs.  Recently, we have had a hearty handful of teachers leaving English Village for new opportunities or to return home.  As our staff is depleting, so far our workload is not.

So mostly what it seems I can do for now do is ride this crazy English Village ride and try my best not to lose my balance in the process. Even better, perhaps there is a place to be joyous.  There was a quote I liked on the Art of Living facebook page today.  It said, “Just wake up and see that you are beautiful. The innocence in you is so beautiful.”  What a good reminder! This isn’t a fake pretend to be happy when you’re really upset with the world kind of beauty and joy, but a truth that radiates from within.  I know that place.   It is something that is never lost, but sometimes just needs some extra attention.

The truth is there are many things about English Village that are really great and make it a good place to work.  We teach non-traditional subjects (cooking, media and entertainment, arts and culture) and often create our own content that we teach.  We see a variety of students which keeps things interesting – students from Russia, Japan, Thailand, and all over Korea.  Mostly we teach middle school students, but sometimes we teach elementary students, high school students, university students and even adults.  The variety is appealing to me as I see benefits to teaching all of these age groups.  We have a lot of flexibility and autonomy in the classroom. We don’t have papers to grade.  We don’t have daily lesson plans to create. But sometimes, after a week upon week of riding the English Village wave…truthfully I feel dizzy and I just want to get off.  As said by one of the more senior and respected members of our staff, “You just need a break from those crazy kids.”

The Global Leadership Program that I just completed had its highlights and challenges.  Overall a good group of kids.  They ranged from about age 9 to age 13 with English-speaking skills spanning from virtually no English to good basic English communication.  I worked with three other teachers and we taught curriculum that we outlined and created ourselves. With my interest and experience, I was teaching lessons like leadership, yoga and meditation.  But after last weeks yoga class (see last weeks blog for more about this!), I decided meditation may not be the right thing for this group at the end of a long busy day.  We opted for frisbee instead.  A good choice.

I did teach them a relaxation breathing technique in homeroom class the other day.  Its called alternate nostril breathing.  And that is essentially what it is… using your fingers to cover up alternate nostrils to breath and relax the body and mind.  It’s a great technique and works well.  I am still growing in my confidence in teaching these types of things to moderately interested children and adolescents.  Many of these techniques look a bit strange and I am sure they think I am at least a little weird for teaching them.  I told them this was good to use when you were nervous as they were all going to give a presentation on stage for their parents later that day.  That afternoon when they were standing in line a few of them tried out the breathing technique which makes me think perhaps the lesson wasn’t totally lost. In the end of GLP, one of the students looked up at me wide-eyed and said “Oh, teacher I am sad.  It is the end.  I am sad to leave.  I will come back again next year.”  Little jewels like this help to balance things out.

And for now my Sunday continues.  My plan for the day is to do my best to rest on my own and recharge my batteries before we start rolling for a new week.  And tune into and explore within me that which is joyous.

It seems that summer may be winding down as the day is more often greeted with a cool breeze in the air.  While it is still a bit hot, I am grateful for the heat of the sun penetrating through my body.  Perhaps it comes from all those years spent in the balmy lands of New Orleans.  I am not ready for summer to slip away too soon.

And so with that I will say good-bye for now.  If you like, please share how the final weeks of your summer are rolling.  It’s always good to hear from you!

Image at top, a beautiful bouquet of flowers gifted to me by one of the students (courtesy of their parents) from the Global Leadership Program this week.

Trust in the Flame

18 Aug

It’s a sleepy Sunday morning.  I already went to the pool, conveniently located on the English Village campus, to get a little exercise.  As I jumped into the refreshing water, I was greeted by the cutest little Korean girls eager to test their English skills.  They looked at me with their full attention like I was a combination between a diamond and a creature from another planet.  “Hello” they exploded exuberantly while they kicked and splashed in the water.  Within seconds they offered me their names — their English names that is.  It is not that unusual in Korea to have a traditional Korean name and an English name like Mike or Sarah.  We happily conversed for a few minutes until, alas, it was time for me to begin my morning swim.

While last week was a traditional summer break for much of South Korea, English Village was in full swing with a multitude of English programs for students.  Yes in South Korea, even during the summer holiday, it is a time for learning and a time to study English.

Two weeks ago I finished up my final week of teaching a special program for elementary and middle school Korean, Japanese and Russian students.  Teaching at English Village is not a typical classroom experience.  As we have many students at one time here for the short-term, we lead a variety of classes comprised of many new faces.  In these circumstances,  I have tried to dance the dance of creating some discipline while still having fun and learning, all within a very limited time frame.  Sometimes, admittedly, the strategy is “let’s get through this class” as the room is filled with boisterous yet tired, hungry, homesick young students who have been in classes all day in a language mostly foreign to them.  Not always easy – for the teacher or the students!

I had to laugh last week when I was in the final class of a week-long program with a group of elementary aged students literally bursting with energy.  We were completing one final activity before the class and the week-long program was complete – filling out a simple survey.  As the students often don’t have their own pencils, we do our best to keep a healthy supply in the classrooms to hand out when needed.  When the students realized they needed a pencil for this last activity, they started calling out desperately to me for pencils like animals in the wild, like starved souls in the desert reaching for salvation.  “Pencil teacher, pencil!”  they cried with urgency on their faces and in their eyes.  With my modest supply of pencils, I did my best to ease the masses and hand out pencils as they swarmed around me like locusts, hands reaching in the air.

Shortly after that, while I was answering a question for one student, I felt another young student tug on my arm.  I couldn’t tend to her just yet, but put my hand on her arm to acknowledge her and let her know she had my attention.  While I was still talking with the first student, the other student went behind me, reached her arms way up high (as she was quite little compared to me) and gave me a gentle massage precisely on the spot on my shoulders where I had locked in my stress like a stone.  She did it for just a minute and after that I heaved a big sigh of relief and for that afternoon I felt… better.

Admittedly, I am feeling stressed lately. I am doing my best to relax and take it easy when I can.  But the truth is,  I need a vacation. Yesterday at my chiropractor appointment when he finally got to my neck he made his typical comments of “oh my God.  So tight.” I felt the urgency in his words mirror my experience.  “Help!” I said, “I need your help” as I feel myself holding on tightly and can’t always find a way to let go and relax. He did his best to work a few kinks out in the last few minutes of my appointment and then I was off.

While this work and the recent persistent schedule has been challenging for me, there are benefits in the challenges as well.  Working with kids challenges me to be the best person I can be.  Sometimes the kids I work with bring out the good in me.  And sometimes they push me to my limits – forcing me to practice negotiating that space with loving kindness, not always easy for me.  This past Thursday I made my first attempt to teach a yoga class to kids.  It was the 28 kids in our Global Leadership Program, the current two-week program that I am now teaching. While perhaps a more mature topic, the participants are certainly all kid with ages ranging from about 9 years old to perhaps 13. Attempting to teach them yoga was no easy feat for me.  We did our best, me and my co-teacher for the hour, to transform the classroom into a yoga studio while the kids ran around feverishly on their break, then introduce them to some yoga postures, only to return the classroom to its original states, all within a 50 minute time frame.  This was their last hour of a long day and their spirits were perhaps ready to go wild.  I did my best to rope in their wild energy, played some soothing yoga music overhead, relied on the poses that had appealing “kid friendly” names such as cat stretch, cobra, downward facing dog.  In the end, some played along.  But some continued in the spirit of their wild nature.  They are not to be blamed for their child-like exuberance, but it was challenging for me.  And while some students earnestly attempted the poses I led, it was a far cry from the beautiful, peaceful gift of yoga I know and depend on.  Perhaps I need to see a new face of yoga when teaching kids.

Yesterday at my SGI Buddhist meeting in Seoul I read the introduction to the meeting.  As I started to read the words I had to fight back tears as I was reading.  It began ” ‘The flame in a child will be like a great sun in the future’ so declared the great French writer Victor Hugo. Our responsibility is to trust in the flame of home that burns in the hearts of the young, to foster it and enable it to shine its brightest.” And continued later “A child who is giving you problems now is helping you become a Buddha.”  Another member in the meeting, also an ESL teacher in Korea, called out for me to repeat the last sentence… a big lesson indeed.

Our SGI meeting this week, our district typically comprised of English-speaking foreigners from the US, Canada, Japan, and Korean-Americans, welcomed a few new guests this week – three members from the young men’s division of Korea’s SGI Group.  It was really a treat to have them there.  Their spirits were so earnestly participating in the English discussion and their enthusiasm for connecting with us in English was touching.  The foreign/English-speaking chapter of SGI in Korea is currently making an effort to more seamlessly connect with the Korean members of SGI (KSGI)… despite the sometimes challenges of a language barrier.

Earlier this week I attended my first KSGI meeting in the Paju area where I live.  There is a hearty and healthy Korean SGI chapter right in my town with a substantial community center and regular meetings.  The local members were so lovely to me and assisted me in attending my first meeting.  They came to pick me up at English Village and invited a local member who spoke excellent English to assist me in understanding the meeting.  They asked me questions at the meeting through the aid of translation and also had me read a small segment of the weeks lesson in English for the group.

SGI Center near my home in Paju, South Korea.

SGI Center near my home in Paju, South Korea.

As SGI District meetings are traditionally held in members homes, it was a great experience to be in a Korean home and feel a part of their more intimate space.  Additionally, at the SGI meeting in Seoul on Saturday, I felt really satisfied to be connected to and be a part of the world.

And then, when it was all done, I was also grateful to depart on my own and return to a little peace and tranquility in my little home in Paju. Grateful to have some time connecting with others – but also needing time on my own… to just tend to the little things in my life.  Visiting Seoul helps me appreciate the gift of Paju with its wide open spaces, fresh air, rolling hills and green trees and land.

As I prepare for a new work week, I will be keeping in mind what my intuition whispered to me a few days ago in the midst of my own overwhelm and fatigue. “Persevere,” it declared.  Indeed.  I will also keep in my heart the message from the meeting this week of trusting the flame in the children. And so I prepare for another week at English Village, myself and other teachers tired and worn out from the work and the heat of the sun.   But ultimately, a loving time of transformation.

Image at top, a sunflower beaten by the heat and the sun with shadows of English Village Students playing in the background.

Taking Time to Smell the Flowers

13 Apr

Its been another full week of teaching here at English Village in South Korea. Once again we have hosted hundreds of middle school S. Korean students. Once again we have spun in a maze of  English classes ranging from “Survival English” to Badminton (a favorite with Korean girl students, but not so much English taught here) to classes about Movies, Science, Drama, Culture.  I have handed out more stickers (a tool we use to increase student participation) than I can count.  And now it’s the weekend.

Teaching at English Village is a good challenge for me with the practice of being a good, interesting and compassionate teacher in the face of  many and varied new Korean students.  Some days, some classes I think… I am a pretty good teacher… and other classes with more challenging behavior… I feel less confident.

The volume dial of our work week has been turned up with the steady flow of hundreds of South Korean students. Generally we receive groups of good kids here at English Village but the fact remains that they are young adolescents (a phenomenon that has no cultural boundaries), they outnumber the teachers, we don’t speak the same language, and they are here at English Village as a field trip to have some fun… which is sometimes fun for the teachers, sometimes not.

As Friday drops in I find myself depleted from the week.  Once again, I find myself receiving the thank-you letters from the students at the end of the week which automatically lifts my spirits.  In the spin of so many students and the mixed behavior and challenges throughout the week, it makes a difference to be acknowledged and to be seen by the students as a “good and kind teacher.”

In the midst of the blessings and challenges of this week, I find it is important to return to the basics and take time to smell the metaphorical flowers.  For me that begins with gratitude. As I write from the chilly Winter-like Spring of Paju, South Korea pretty darn close to N. Korea, here is my ode to gratitude… and the simple things in life that I will now give my attention and thanks…  I am grateful for…

1.  Chocolate “pudding” made with greek yogurt.  This may sound a bit callous and overly simply, but as someone who is sensitive to sugar and must stay away from it, chocolate has typically been something I have to go without. Lately I have been purchasing homemade Greek yogurt from a local business in Seoul.  Their website is medfoodinkorea.com.  I recently acquired a new treasure from the local “foreigners” market… unsweetened Hershey’s cocoa for the bargain price of about 7.50 USD. The other night relaxing after work a new idea popped in… Greek yogurt, Hershey’s cocoa… Greek yogurt, Hershey’s cocoa… is it possible there is a place where the two can come harmoniously together?  And so I googled… and found a simple recipe of just Greek yogurt, cocoa, and a little natural sweetener (I used just a touch of honey).  Without hesitation, I went for it and easily created a simple and satisfying chocolate snack.  Did I mention I added fresh strawberries?  Ah, delish!

2.  Veggiehill.com.  I have mentioned them in my blog before.  They are a recent find that sources organic foods grown not far outside of Seoul.  What a treat it is to easily order my food online and have it shipped to my door.  Not only does this free up a little more time in my life, but it provides me with chemical-free vegetables that you just can’t find in the grocery store. The vegetables I receive look ten times better than what I see in the stores and taste great.  Hooray!!

3.  Quiet Relaxing Evenings.  I’m a sensitive soul and after the big energy of teaching dynamic middle school kids during the day it is highly needed and satisfying to have some quiet and private down time in the evenings.  I often treat myself to a good meal, an extended Reiki treatment, a little yoga.  Ah, just what the doctor ordered!  And before I go to bed?  Usually, a little shameless video watching… my recent pleasure is watching old episodes of House then some chanting before bed.  How grateful I am for this time and my spiritual practices to balance my being and my day and prepare me for the day to come.

4.  I am teaching a yoga class!  Wow, it is amazing to me that I am teaching a yoga class at English Village.  As someone who has practiced yoga for over 8 years, relying on it as a spiritual tool to move my body, mind and spirit through many challenging circumstances, it is a real treat to share it with others.  The situation sort of found me…it began with one of the head teachers at English Village asking if I would teach one yoga classes during the work week for teachers.  After that many teachers asked when the next yoga class would be… so we planned it.  Our first weekly yoga class was this past Monday evening.  We had a great turnout!  So many teachers were there that we almost need a bigger room.  Fabulous.

5.  I am at home.  This may sound overly simple, and isn’t necessarily referring to S. Korea or English Village… but it’s a growing sense in me that no matter where I am or what I am doing, I am at home.  Not that I don’t sometimes feel “homesick” or  long for a life that might be more rooted…  But the challenges and blessings of life – losing all of my belongings to Hurricane Katrina, being dramatically uprooted, deciding to travel and the challenges and blessings of that life, have supported the development of my home within. It’s a spiritual place really and even thought I still feel and experiences successes and challenges daily, it is ever apparent in my life.

And with that… gratitude in the midst of challenges, growth and new opportunities in South Korea, I will say good bye for now.

In the meantime I am curious, what are you grateful for in your life?  I’d love to hear from you!

Photo above is a snapshot taken in Seoul of a road barrier… that has planters on it  filled with flowers.  Finding beauty in the most unexpected of places.

My Crazy Life in Korea

7 Apr

It is a quiet cool Sunday evening at English Village.  I recently returned from Seoul where I spent the day at the SGI Buddhism World Peace Chanting followed by a little lunch.  I also did some simple grocery shopping in Seoul at one of my favorite foreign food marts, High Street Market. I am now ready for a peaceful evening before beginning a new work week.

This past week I was thickly immersed in the life of teaching at English Village.  I transitioned off of a weekend shift to a regular Monday – Friday shift and just completed a “long haul” of working 8 days in a row.  We were brimming to the edges with Korean middle school students this past week.  We had one group of about two-hundred students for the first half of the week and a group of about 500 the second half.  Our job as English Village teachers is to ride the wave of the ebb and flow of students and do our best to be kind effective communicators and teachers while still offering a fun time.

Thursday night as I was walking a group of 76 student to the English Village Concert Hall, I couldn’t help but think what a crazy English Village Korean life I am leading right now.  My current “neighborhood” is no ordinary scene.  It is a “mock” English Village in South Korea constructed to host not only English-speaking teachers but students of all ages mostly from Korea, but also sometimes from Japan, Thailand, and Russia.  Who are my neighbors?  Mostly “20 somethings” from English-speaking countries around the world – South Africa, New Zealand, Canada, Australia, Ireland, and of course… the USA.  When English Village is in full bloom, it is not unexpected to see a flood of Korean faces, often middle school students, waking up the otherwise quiet streets.  There is likely to be giggling.

For students who participate in our regular weekly programs, the area I am currently working in, their journey begins at Immigration.  It can’t be missed.  When you arrive at English Village you are greeted by the unmistakable yet unexpected replica of Stonehenge.  The students enter through the doors of English Village Immigration and are immediately transported to a land in the midst of Korea where, for the most part, everyone speaks English.  They are met by sometimes enthusiastic sometimes weary English teachers holding their classroom number sign as we begin to organize, receive and make way for the hundreds of students arriving for their stay at English Village.

The journey regularly begins with enthusiastic conversation often from Korean girl students.  Teachers are met with bursts of English phrases that often include “How are you?  I am fine, thank you! ” followed by much laughing and giggling.  The very nature that I and other English-speaking teachers speak English is indeed entertaining and sometimes hilarious to the Korean students.  And so our journey begins.

I have spent my past week practicing being an enthusiastic, compassionate, firm and fun teacher in the throes of teaching hundreds of new Korean faces… some excited to be here, some not.  This balance of attributes is a new game for me as I find ways to keep order in the classrooms with many new faces while still being a fun and kind English-speaking face.  As English Village is an English-only experience, it is not always easy to communicate with our Korean students.  Some students are quite good English speakers and listeners while others are not.  It is not unusual to have a few strong English-speaking students in the class who can translate for other students when needed.  I do my best to simplify my language and clarify my expression in the easiest of terms.

It has been a busy and challenging week for me. I had to laugh Thursday night as I was in my room trying to relax and wind down from the day with some Reiki and yoga.  In the quietness of my room all I could hear were the voices in my own mind of the students calling out  “Teacher, Teacher” — my new name at English Village.

As Friday came to a close I found myself and my energy depleted.  I sat in the teacher “ready room”  about to collapse on my computer after a challenging morning of classes.  At that moment a teacher handed me a few thank-you post cards from students from the week.  After each session our students have the opportunity to write thank-you notes to teachers before leaving English Village.  Here is what  a few of mine said, “I liked you because you like sunshine. You’re kind. Thank you” and “I liked you because you like my mom, warm and you’re angel.”  Reading these words literally lifted my load from the week and had me thinking… maybe it wasn’t so bad…

It’s Sunday night and the new work-week will soon begin.  I’m doing my best to enjoy the extended winter, sort of like spring weather before the impending heat of summer arrives.  I have been at English Village now for almost 4 months.  It’s hard to believe!   I am grateful for the vigor and challenges here as I continue to grow as a person and teacher. But what I want most now is a little more R&R before Monday arrives as I prepare for a new week in my crazy life in Korea.

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