Tag Archives: Spiritual Development and Healing

Inner Voice – Never Leave Home Without It

17 Sep

In the world of travel and conquering the great unknown, there is an abundance of information available to assist us on our way. Where to go, what to do, what to pack.  But one important yet seldom discussed item essential for any international escapade or other noble descent into uncertainty is… your inner voice.

You know what I am talking about.  It’s that voice… that one Kermit the frog (and Jason Mraz!) sing about in the Rainbow Connection. We have all experienced it.  That moment or moments when we KNEW that something was true but we had no logical explanation for how we knew that. Perhaps it was something simple like thinking of someone we haven’t spoken to in years just before we ran into them in a shopping mall.  Or maybe it was just a gut feeling that something wasn’t right for us… and we passed on it only to learn later it was a disaster. Whatever your inner voice moment(s) may be, it’s a handy companion to have on any journey.

In my life of uncertainty, staying tuned to my inner voice has served me well.  It has directed me towards concrete ways to immediately bring in money in times of emergency.  It has gently nudged me in new directions or connections that were of benefit to me.  It has encouraged me to take fruitful leaps that my intellect wanted to discard.

Whether you are roaming the globe or facing your own flavor of uncertainty, it is helpful to nurture and cultivate your inner voice. Here are a few tips to begin to add your inner voice to your repertoire.

Tips for Tuning into Your Inner Voice

1.  Take time to be quiet and explore stillness. It’s hard to listen to your inner voice when there is a barrage of noise and distractions around you or in your own head.  You don’t have to sell all of your personal belongings and sit on a mountain to begin to cultivate some quiet in your life.  If you don’t already, find simple ways to bring some quiet and joy into your life on a daily basis.  Maybe it’s a quiet walk in the park, or finding a serene spot outside to just sit and breath.  You could walk barefoot in your back yard or listen to a meditation CD.  Take a bath. Little steps every day to find quiet help cultivate a fertile ground where our inner voice can “show up.”

2.  Take your inner voice out for a test drive.  The best way to explore listening to your inner voice is to simply try it.  Pay attention to your inner world a bit and see what you notice.  Now don’t be confused, this isn’t the worrying voice in your head that starts shouting out distractions or going through your “to do list” for the day. It is a quieter voice.  Sometimes it’s like a whisper or a thought that enters your head, except it’s not your thought. You could start by trying something simple like asking your inner voice, what should I eat for dinner?  And see if you get a reply… a thought or idea that pops into your head.  If you get an answer and it isn’t something that sound totally awful, give it a try and see what happens.

3.  Inner Voice Discernment.  Even for experienced inner voice listeners, it is not always clear what is the wisdom of your inner voice and what is… something else.  So here is my general rule in negotiating the landscape of inner voice wisdom.  If you believe your inner voice is telling you something but you are not 100% sure, and it’s innocent with no negative impact if you try it, give it a whirl.  Perhaps it is reaching out to an old friend, pursuing a new job lead, or even simply trying a new restaurant.  Often, simply trying out innocent instincts can help to validate your inner voice. If, however, your inner voice is serving up life altering advice, seek outside guidance before proceeding.  Whether it’s your mom’s best friend who always has a good sense about things or a professional intuitive, it never hurts to get a second opinion.

Do You Want to Dig Deeper?

In my experience, the more we cultivate the quietness within the easier it is to hear and discern our inner voice. There are many spiritual practices that support this well and perhaps there are one or two that you’d like to explore. Here are a few suggestions and some of my favorites.

1.  Get a Reiki Treatment or Take a Reiki Class.  Reiki is a gentle Japanese healing art and does wonders for quieting the mind and easing the spirit.  It is also a great way to support and nurture listening to your inner voice.  After practicing reiki for over ten years, there are countless times where reiki has ushered in a strong knowing about something specific and useful, sometimes life altering, in my life.

If I am in your area, I am happy to be of service with a hands on reiki treatment.  I can also send long-distance reiki from anywhere in the world.  If you’d like to know more about reiki, visit the services section of my blog.  I am also happy to assist you in finding a qualified reiki practitioner in your area.  Simply write me through my contact page.

2.  Dive Deep Into Silence.  Vipassana is one of India’s oldest techniques of meditation.  Ten day silent Vipassana retreats are offered at no cost to participants all over the world.  These simple yet powerful retreats’ intent is simply to teach and offer practice in this style of meditation.  While not for the faint of heart, it’s a compelling journey into the silence and great support for your inner voice.  To learn more, visit their website at www.dhamma.org.

3.  Take a Yoga Class!  When I first began yoga, my mat was like a refuge.  It was a place where I could dive and surrender into something glorious and peaceful within myself.  It was also a tranquil treat for my inner voice.  Whether you are new or experienced in yoga, classes ranging from gentle to more vigorous flow await.

Do you have any tips or inner voice stories to share?  Perhaps a travel story or other time when listening to your inner voice really paid off?  Or maybe a time you were surprised by an inner voice encounter.  Feel free to write and share!  It’s always good to hear from you.

In the meantime, happy adventures into the unknown… whatever and wherever that may be for you!

Departures

7 Aug

It wasn’t easy leaving.  But I did it…in record time.  I was on the phone with my family in the US at 2am Korea time.  After that phone call, I was clear. I needed to get home and no time was to be wasted.

We had known for some time that my dad was sick.  More recently, I knew I had to be on the alert for a possible quick departure.  I had made arrangements with my employer to leave Korea in two weeks.  But after that phone call I was clear… two weeks was too long and I had to leave right away.

At 2 o’clock in the morning, I called the airline and began searching for a flight leaving the following day.  There was one that left at 5:15pm from Korea with only two seats left.  If I wanted to see my father again, I had no choice but to book that flight.  I was taking a risk in doing so as I made this change at a time when I was unable to consult first with my employer.  But I took a leap of faith hoping they would understand the circumstances.

After that I started to pack, wrapping up my year and half of life in Korea in the early morning hours. I was intently focused and by noon I had minimized the expansiveness of my personal belongings down to two suitcases, a backpack, and one box to be shipped to the States.

I quickly made my rounds at work, doing my best to smooth over in person the quick changes I had made in the night.  I cleaned my apartment and completed the sale of a few household items to other teachers. Next, without time to spare, I took a cab to the airport.

The flights passed quickly and I soon found myself landing around midnight at an airport in the midwest. My sister picked me up and we went directly to the hospice where my father was being cared for.

When I saw him he smiled and I am grateful for that recognition.  Later in that day he called me by name a few times.  I cherish those moments that I would not have had if I waited even a day longer to leave. What unfolded next was the witnessing and ushering in of my father’s passing.

My mom, my sister and her family, and I were constantly at his side.  Even during the night my sister and I took turns sleeping on the couch in his room.  He was receiving impeccable care from the nurses at his hospice, but we wanted to be there nonetheless.

As the days went by the nurses continued to share the signs that let us know he was getting closer to his end.  We watched daily until the nurses with precision suggested that he had just a few hours left.  We all gathered around and were present as he simply just stopped breathing.

It is quite something to see a parent go and the swarm of emotions that follow.  Feeling strong one moment and being swept away by a surge of tears the next.  When my father passed away I felt honored for having been there for his last days. Strangely, it felt like we had accomplished something in being there for him every step of the way.  In some ways no different from birth and ushering in a life, we participated in the important process of being with someone, comforting, keeping and caring for them as they make their departure.

For now I am riding the quiet waves of grief in the strange space of his absence as my family and I prepare for his memorial service.  As my family migrated a few hours west of our home town, we are grateful to receive family and friends arriving from out-of-town for the service.

As life carries on… I am noticing all the little spaces that are now empty since my dad’s departure.  The thoughts of him that are now memories and the commonly spoken phrases that are no longer true. I am grateful that my dad and I did our best to stay connected with one another during this last year of his life and the journey of his illness.

And so, this journey of mine is detoured in the quiet lands of the midwest, stopped for now at this important family passage.

 

Featured photo – This quote was featured on the wall of the hospice where my dad spent his final days.

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.

Business as Usual

15 May

Well, it seems like it is back to business as usual here at Gyeonggi English Village.  Except that, for the most part… there is no business.  In the past weeks we have waded through questions of teachers going on paid or unpaid leave and the future of English Village. And now things have emerged with no major change… except that, for the most part, we don’t have students to teach.

While we whittle away our days away with no students, for the most part teachers are expected to spend their time preparing their lessons for August programs.  Additionally, there is a new emphasis on weekend programming for English Village visitors more in the vein of entertainment.  New responsibilities have a fun flavor and include things like face painting, mask making and English focused games.  Lately we find ourselves scheduled to work a few hours at our front gate welcoming visitors to English Village that are sometimes there… and sometimes not. Life is undoubtably strange… or stranger than usual as we adjust to new programming and dance an odd dance with our administration struggling to keep us busy during this mostly non-busy time.

This past week we had our first student programs in quite a while.  We hosted a group of university students visiting from Japan as well as an adult program.  While it was nice to have a little “life” here, this modest program hardly put a dent in our weekly schedule. In future weeks more students will arrive…. a group of Russian students here for 6 weeks among them.  As required by the local government, Korean students will not take student trips until after this semester ends which is in early July.  Even after that we are not quite sure if Korean students will return to their regular class trips at English Village.

Meandering in Seoul

This week during my regular week-day weekend I headed to Seoul for the day for a bit of an escape.  While I appreciate my home at English Village, the fresh air and quiet surrounding hills, it felt really great to get away.  I spent my day doing a little shopping, meandering the streets of a favorite neighborhood, and also getting a message.  At the end of the day I met up for the first time with the Seoul chapter of a spiritual group called The Art of Living.

I have been connected with the Art of Living since I took their first course in New Orleans about 8 years ago.  Led by Indian guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, the group was in New Orleans to be of service to the community in the wake of the challenges from Hurricane Katrina.  As an organization they are committed to spiritual health, well-being and harmony through a unique set of practices and tools. They are also committed to being of service to humanity through good deeds and projects.  Their main teaching is something called the Sudarshan Kriya and is learned in the first course.  It is a series of hand movements and breathing techniques that support the mind and body in reducing stress, detoxing, and being more balanced. As an organization I have found them to be nothing short of lovely and inspiring and have benefitted from the continued use of their practices.

It was a real treat to connect with the group, meet some new people and take some time out for spiritual practice in community.  An Art of Living teacher was visiting Seoul this week, so she led the group in the Kriya as well as some yoga and chanting.  I came away from the evening with a renewed interest in my own practice and reminder of the simple joy that can be cultivated from the inside out.

As the sun begins to set and my weekend begins to wind down, I prepare for a new work week.  Returning to a new irregularity but still somehow business as usual here at Gyeonggi English Village.

Earn Your Living Honestly

30 Apr

The strange days of Gyeonggi English Village continue.  Quiet campus.  No classes.  It is clear that, at least for the short-term, Korean students will not be taking class trips anywhere as mandated by the local government after the Ferry tragedy.  How long will this continue?  We don’t yet know.  For now we plan lessons for programs that may not happen.  And we wait for our administration to formally announce their decisions regarding how they will handle this situation.

I am learning that life at English Village is never dull.  In the year I have been here I have seen financial challenges, shortened teacher contracts followed by mass teacher exodus, questioning if English Village would shut down, and now this.  Recently I asked a teacher how he was doing in the face of the current circumstances.  He just kind of laughed and smiled… and said, essentially, just another day in the life at English Village.  When he first arrived here a few years ago, there was an outbreak of swine flu.  For at least a month, teachers at EV were quarantined to their homes and no students could come.  And while this current chapter has its own complexities and is burdened with tragic events, it is possible it is just another dip in the bumpy history of English Village.

We hear news of possibilities developing… 6 week international programs in the summer, perhaps more international and military students coming soon.  But for now there are big gaps in the English Village calendar and a fairly large staff of teachers with no one to teach.  We hear our administration will likely offer leave to some teachers to soften the financial blow of paying teachers with no programs.  But that full story is yet to be revealed.

In the meantime, this seems like a great time to explore the 5th Reiki precept in my Reiki Precept blog series.  As I have mentioned, Reiki is a gentle but powerful healing and spiritual practice that has been part of my life for over ten years.  The 5 Precepts are simple guidelines to assist us on our path of life.  I explored the first four Precepts in earlier blogs.  They are:

1.  Just for Today Do Not Worry.

2.  Just for Today Do Not Anger.

3. Honor your Parents Teachers and Elders.

4.  Show Gratitude to Every Living Thing.

The fifth and final Precept  is Earn Your Living Honestly.Earn Your Living Honestly

I have always appreciated this precept and attempted to use it as a beacon when exploring how I earn my living.  For me, earning your living honestly isn’t about not lying and cheating.  It is about being honest with yourself and seeking to be in integrity with yourself and the world around you when it comes to earning your living.  In my life this has included seeking work that truly feels aligned with who I am and what I want.  At times it has meant simply stepping up and taking some action to support myself… even if the work at hand didn’t fit my ideas of what I wanted to do.  It has meant practicing being present and simply tackling the task at hand, whatever it may be…. when I was in Germany it was often cleaning up rooms for guests or tackling a mountain of dishes after a busy meal.  Somehow it seems like it is about seeing the truth in yourself and others and having the work you do be a reflection of that truth.

As my current work is bending and stretching in unexpected ways,this precept seems like a good place to land. Somehow there is comfort and strength in its message that can be like a fortress in the midst of a storm.

For this week, I will continue to lean on the spirit of this precept and see what wisdom it has to offer me. I invite you to do this same if you are inspired.  What does this precept mean for you?

Good-bye for now from the hushed campus of Gyeoggi English Village.

 

Featured photo on top from a favorite near-by walking path in Paju just outside Gyeonggi English Village.

It’s Alright

17 Apr

It’s a cool and grey day at English Village and the last day of my mid-week weekend.  I am at home listening to music, in part to drown out the English Village music leaking persistently through my windows. The music is featured songs from English Village Musicals and there are speakers all over campus.  While I appreciate the creativity and effort of these original songs, we hear them all day over and over again.   With lyrics like “being a hero takes HARD WORK!” and “you can beat the monster….” it can be a bit… haunting… to say the least.  If you work at English Village, feel free to sing along.  You know the words.

It has been an average week for me filled with the typical ups and downs of life teaching Korean adolescents.  Many of the students this week were truly great.  With varying levels of English ability, I met many students with kind attitudes and welcoming spirits in the classroom.  Inevitably there are also students who just wouldn’t respond not matter what I said.  This includes simple discipline requests… asking a student not to do something and they just stare at me and continue to do it or wait one second for me to leave and do it anyway.  I am practicing cultivating my more laid back attitude, aspiring to be of service and be a good teacher but also… to just not sweat it, whatever it is.

Middle school is known for being a time when many things are of the utmost importance, including physical appearance.  While this is an issue to many a young teen across the globe, it seems to be of particular importance here in Korea.  It is common place and often a distraction in the classroom to see young Korean girls with their own personal mirror looking at their face or placing their hair just so.  At first I thought this was very strange but now it is just part of regular life.  This focus on physical appearance, however, also extends towards the teachers.  Some students get surprisingly excited by attractive men or women teachers sometimes following after them like they are celebrities.  This lends itself to flattering comments to teachers when they like their appearance but also less kind comments when they think the opposite. Some days this feeds well on the ego with comments like “pretty teacher.”  Other days it can be a bit of a challenge when a less kind comment is said or over heard.  I have had my share of both experiences.  This week, however, on a day that I was feeling “less than beautiful” a student said something to me perhaps not intended to be mean, but truly less than kind and something I did not need to hear. Teaching in Korea at times… is not for the faint of heart.

As you may have noticed by now, this international escapade is not just my story of seeing the world.  It is really a spiritual adventure. I do my best to pay attention, learn and grow from the challenges I meet day-to-day.  I am currently practicing reducing my stress level in part through reducing my reaction to what is happening around me.  With this perspective I am considering how I may respond to ups and downs of life more like an wise observer.   This lighter hold on life creates the freedom to choose what to respond to and what to simply let be.  This is of course a practice. Some moments it seems available… and other times I find I am riddled and wrought in reaction.

This space that I explore is nicely echoed in a tune playing right now on Pandora.com.  It is a little Louisiana delight by Curley Taylor and the Zydeco Trouble as they simply coo “It’s Alright“.  Nothing like some Louisiana tunes to sooth my soul… and inspire my mind. Incidentally, the name of their album is Free Your Mind.  And so it seems perhaps that is what I am up to… little by little… step by step….

As I have done these past few weeks, I would like to continue my visitation of the 5 Precepts of Reiki . It has been good for me to review them and have them more active and present in my life.  They are good reminders that I can simply choose to not worry and not anger… and if I miss the mark, it’s okay.  I can try again in the next moment.  It’s not a rule, only a practice.

The next precept to explore is “Honor Your Parents Teachers and Elders“. Honor

I love this precept but I am earnestly still getting to know the truth of its message.  For me, the first step is to distinguish that honor is not the same as obey.  To honor one’s parents or teachers does not mean simply that you do what they say or wish.  It is perhaps more like an acknowledgment that values both parties. A healing-arts practitioner I visited with not long ago offered that the best way you can honor your parents is to be true to yourself.  To me honor feels like a loving gentle bow sending appreciation their way, appreciating them for who they truly are, and also doing your best to reflect the best things in them through your own actions.

Do you have any insight or experience to share about honor?  What does it mean to truly honor someone? And how is that distinct in your life?

My own music has quieted down and the English Village music is sneakily invading my apartment.  And so continues a day in the life at English Village.  The words of the song outside shout “Hard work”… but instead I will leave you with the cool easy message of the Zydeco Trouble… “It’s Alright!”

Featured photo, the gentle blossoms of Spring at English Village.

The Students are Coming!

10 Apr

It was a warmish Spring Monday at English Village.  The air was fresh and clean. It felt great to be outside for a bit before our busy day began.  I was lined up with around thirty of my fellow teachers awaiting the arrival of our newest group of students. Finally, there they were, coming down main street and around the bend.  The street filled with adolescent Korean bodies diminishing in the distance into tiny beings. As we watched them descend towards us, they kept coming and coming…as if an endless assembly of students, until, at last, they had all arrived.

Later that day when students were dressed in their informal attire, I couldn’t help but notice that many of them were wearing the same shirt.  It said… “The Sexy Face” in logo fashion similar to “The North Face,” a brand very popular in Korea.  “It’s a class t-shirt,” an English Village teacher informed me.  “Surprising,” I thought.  How strange it seemed for middle school students, boys and girls, to have a class shirt with that message.

“Sexy” easily drips out of the mouths of Korean middle-school students. It helps to consider, as I am told, that the word “sexy” has a bit of a different meaning in Korea than it does in the United States and standard English.  As I understand it, in Korea it means more like pretty with perhaps less of an emphasis on the “sex” part.  Even so, when I was teaching a smallish class of girls only and removed my clumpy brown coat revealing a more form-fitting sweater underneath, the response from the students was “teacher sexy.”  Such is life in Korea.

Perhaps “sexy” in Korea fits into a category of words known as Konglish.  Simply put these are English or English sounding words that have a different meaning here in Korea.  Many of these words, commonly spoken in Korea, would likely be misunderstood by most English speakers.  Here are some examples.  “Eye shopping” is Konglish for window shopping.  “Oil” is Konglish for gas.  And “cunning” is Konglish for cheating.  Here is a more complete list of Konglish words if you are curious.

In previous posts I have been revisiting the 5 precepts of Reiki, a spiritual practice that has been a part of my world for over ten years. The precepts can be thought of as guidelines to cultivate a higher quality of life and happiness. I brought them up because, in truth, I have felt stressed at work lately. Reminding myself of these precepts is a way to re-center myself and to keep my focus on a healthy and balanced path.  The first precept is “Just for Today Do Not Worry.”  The second is “Just for Today do Not Anger“.  Here is the third precept:Gratitude

Show Gratitude to Every Living Thing.
Ah, this one is a great reminder!  Particularly when one is faced with large groups of adolescent children who mostly just want to go wild in the classroom.  Like the other precepts, I see this as a call to be more mindful and refocus attention to showing gratitude to all living things in my life.  People, animals, plants.  It helps to restore an attitude of reverence and also helps me to take it slow and appreciate the beauty and simplicity of life.

For the coming week, I will be intentional about calling my attention to this precept.  Would you like to join me?

This week I am also revisiting creativity a bit.  With my regular pattern of busy days of teaching and my desire to just take it easy when I am not, I have found my creative life has gone to the wayside.  What is creativity for you?  For me it is writing, drawing, painting, poetry, playing and writing simple songs.  When I feel connected to my creativity, it seems these things just flow like a river.  I simply dip my toe in and there it is.  But lately, it has felt dry and my desire and willingness to visit the flow has been… slim… to none.  I read a post recently by writer Elizabeth Gilbert (author Eat, Pray, Love) offering the suggestion of spending just 30 minutes a day on whatever your creative project is.  This was a big help for me as it gives me a tangible and doable way to pick up the creative path in the midst of being exhausted or busy. When I am so tired and don’t want to do anything, I can say to myself “hey, it’s only 30 minutes!”  This simple strategy has already helped me pick up a painting I started months ago but have just been staring at for weeks.  30 minutes.  Very doable!

How about you and your life?  Any gratitude to share?  Creative yearnings or frustrations to express?  It’s always good to hear from you!  Bye for now from my regular irregular life at Gyeonggi English Village!

 

Featured photo, “The students are coming!  The students are coming!”  Hundreds of students arrive for their time at Gyeonggi English Village.

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!

Just for Today

25 Mar

It’s a Monday morning at English Village in Paju, South Korea.  My work week is complete and I have a few days break before it starts all over again.

This past week was bursting with middle school students and a few extra surprises.  On Thursday morning I walked out my door to find a parade of serious looking Korean men wearing black suits and ties.  I didn’t think too much of it as I have learned to expect the unexpected here.  As I walked further into campus it was soon clear that something out of the ordinary was happening.  English Village is often a hot spot for an assortment of activity – wedding photo shoots, movies and television shows, commercial shootings.  What was the excitement today?  None other that EXO.

EXO

Who is EXO you may say?  In the land of Korean K-pop, in the company of top stars like Psy and his world-famous “Gagnam Style“, is EXO.  I know of EXO mostly by way of their doting fans, our adolescent Korean students, mostly girls.  On more than one occasion a student’s art project of the day has been dedicated to EXO.  From time to time as they map out their future life for a class assignment it includes a marriage to one of EXO’s members.  And there they were… at English Village.

The guys in the ties and black suits were security.  It was a good thing too as I am sure you can imagine what happened.  Many of our Korean girl students have a tendency towards high-pitched screaming  and excitability.  It was not uncommon throughout the day to hear bursts of girls screaming in enthusiasm as they leaned their bodies at the edge of the security barricade trying to get just a little closer.  During class break, and sometimes during classes, you could see their faces glued to the windows just hoping for a glance.

EXO was at English Village for two full days until at last… they left….returning to our regular irregularity. That is until two of the students were diagnosed with the swine flu.  This required a quick health check-up for the entire visiting student body.  Then mostly healthy and drama free, it was time to go home.

As I have mentioned in previous posts, it is an adjustment for me to return to the bustling world of our mostly adolescent young learners program after my brief hiatus in the more serene world of Book Club.  I am doing my best to have a relaxed attitude with myself and the students and classes but sometimes I find this challenging.

We have had to adjust our attitudes towards programs at English Village as they have morphed and changed over the past year.  What originally was a one-week program that was fun spirited but still had some academic intent has shifted into a two-night three-day program with more of a fun camp-like feeling. It was a necessary shift.  Our students arrived expecting and being sold a fun class trip. They were ready for a few days of fun and good times – not to study English. Also our students are tired and overworked from the rigors of school and academic expectations in South Korea.

It is easy to have compassion for our busy overworked students. As you may know, life for a student in Korea is very challenging. They are in school during what I would consider regular school hours.  Most students, however, also have a busy “after school” school life when they study English and possibly other disciplines.  They attend an after school, have dinner there, and stay well into the evening.  I have heard stories of parents typically picking up their child at the Library at midnight… on a “school night.”

When they come to English Village ready to have some fun, however, this is not always fun for the teacher.

This past week I had a group of students who were very challenging for me.  They pretended they didn’t understand or speak any English when I know for a fact that they did. They wouldn’t respond to even simple requests like stand up… and acted like they didn’t know what I was talking about and continued on with their own personal parties.  They wouldn’t answer questions. Didn’t participate. Not all classes are like this.  But it wasn’t the first time, and it won’t be the last.

And so continues the busy spring world of teaching at Gyeonggi English Village.  It seems like a good time to visit some tools that I find useful to ease the mind with the ups and downs of regular life. They are the Reiki Precepts.

Reiki as some of you may know is a Japanese healing art and a practice that I have participated in for about ten years.  Once one attends a Reiki class and is initiated, what follows is a simple but powerful practice of laying ones’ hands on yourself or another and allowing the healing energy to flow through.  The precepts are sort of guidelines, or friendly reminders that support a life of happiness, well-being and balance.  It’s always good to revisit them.

I like to consider them one at a time, reintroducing them into my mind and life as a daily reminder.  Here is the first Reiki Precept.

do not worry

Just for today do no worry.
This is a great one.  Simple and true.  I often forget to be mindful of this basic but powerful precept as I go about my worrying ways.  Sometimes when I feel that my life is out of my control, I think I actually worry to give myself something “to do” about it.  Recalling this precept is a good reminder to let it go and just practice… just for today… do not worry.

I created original images for each of the five precepts. The image you see here is from that series. If you’d like to view them all and possibly purchase a print or card for yourself, you can visit my on-line gallery.

How about you?  What do you think of this precept?  Do you have any experience or related insight that would be fruitful to share?  If so, please do.  It’s always good to hear from you.

While it’s a day off for me, it is also the start of a new week at English Village and the next crew of students is arriving.  I can hear the wheels of their suitcases and happy voices rolling down the street outside my window.  And so begins another week at English Village.

 

Featured photo, a day off in Seoul strolling down a quiet street in Itaewon.

Path of Forgiveness

25 Feb

Good morning to you!  Wherever you are in the world!  It is a quiet Tuesday morning at Gyeonggi English Village and the second day of my “weekend”.  While I regularly teach the young readers of Book Club on Saturdays, on Sundays I now seem to be a “free agent” of sorts for weekend programming.  I never know what I might end up teaching!

This past Sunday was launched with a three and a half hour class teaching cooking to a room of about 30 Korean elementary school students.  And while, for the most part, they were a good bunch… I couldn’t help but think that this situation would be suitable for Jedi training.  You know, learning to keep one’s cool and center in the midst of a great deal of activity, distraction and sometimes… chaos.  It was nothing out of hand… the expected repertoire of elementary classroom behavior.  There was some hair pulling, a little physical fighting, crying… and we can’t forget the ceaseless cries out for “Teacher, teacher, teacher, teacher…”  Yes, that would be me.  And luckily, also the name of my competent co-teacher for the day.

We made cinnamon rolls.  First, we organized the students into tables and gave each student a number.  When their number was called they came up front to get their designated ingredients.  In the spirit of practicing English, each student has to ask for the ingredient in English before we hand it over.  For some students, this is a walk in the park. For these young students, sweet as many of them were, the basics of English were still very new to them.  As I was handing out ingredients, I had to laugh at my reverent nature and bend towards the serious… with the echo of my Catholic upbringing and twelve years of Catholic school.  When I met each student solemnly one by one, I felt like I was giving out communion.

This past week continues to be a defrosting of sorts as winter, while still a bit of a nag, is starting to back off.  I can’t help but notice the sweet return of the birds consoling us that, yes, it is still cold out but it is almost over… we hope! With the thaw out comes the personal desire to lighten up and shed some metaphorical skin!  And so I have been doing a bit of reading.

The book at hand is  The Forgiveness Habit.  It is written by a friend of mine from the Landmark Education community, Jo Anne Rotermund, and has been on my radar for years.  It was only recently, at the suggestion of the friend, that I made the extra effort to download the book and began to take a read.  Now two-thirds into it, I am impressed by its fresh, simple and practical approach to the much traveled topic of forgiveness.ForgivenessHabit

The book begins with a survey of the forgiveness landscape.  What is it that keeps us locked in anger and makes it so darn difficult to simply forgive?  She offers a smart analysis of the paradigms of external and internal power. When we swim in the paradigm of external power, she says, we are locked in the pattern that someone outside of ourselves controls our happiness. She invites us to take note of sneaky little habits like “blaming” and “being right” and to simply notice them.  I couldn’t help but see how these habits perpetuate the dynamic of external power which leaves me feeling… powerless. When we are blaming or being right, we are operating in the paradigm of external power which denies ourselves access to our true strength – internal power. In truth, after years of spiritual reading and exploration, it was the first time I really “got” how these habits perpetuated feeling like a victim.  It is only once we begin to dance in the construct of internal power that God’s grace can take a hand!

As the journey continues, she introduces lovely new habits including gratitude and reverence.  Anyone who has explored their own healing and spiritual journey has likely knocked on the door of gratitude before.  It was a true pleasure to find it again here… in the context of forgiveness.  It was a good reminder to restore an old habit for the benefit of cultivating forgiveness.  Additionally, she introduced the habit of reverence, which she suggests is most easily accessible through quiet daily time with nature and the outdoors.  This was a welcome invitation to come out of my winter hibernation and begin to reconnect with nature again if even for a few minutes a day. These two simple tools feel like stepping-stones that can lead one through any challenge, burden or bitter past.

Jo Anne offered so many rich explanations of the cultural context of forgiveness.  It was truly liberating to read and filled me with a whole mess of “aha!” moments. This book is just one element of the World Forgiveness Initiative supported in part by Reverend Desmond Tutu.  Worth checking out!

As my weekend has already leaked into Tuesday, I look forward to a quiet day of tending to things at home and around Paju before returning to work tomorrow.  Good-bye for now!  Wishing you a warm and wonderful day!

Featured image, the frozen waters and quiet pathways on the grounds of Gyeonggi English Village.

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