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It’s easy to live safely. The recipe is simple: Put your heart someplace safe. Protect it from harm. Hold it, swaddle it, put it gently into a cocoon with multiple layers of padding + intensive wrapping.
But if you want anything from life, you must be stretched.
And if you want any part of connection, you must set your heart free.
If you want to connect, you must figure out a way to forgive.
Imperfectly, messily. With a hunger for life and reaching out again for the next, “What’s next?”
It’s a funny, tender tightrope, this whole “being human” thing. A heart is also a curious entity, designed to be so utterly tender, yet courageous and able to stretch with the happenings of life. Strong, yet surprisingly supple. Sensitive. Yet limitless in its ability to accommodate the stretching of life, of grief, of ache, of disarray.
Let it, oh! Let it, please.
Otherwise, the edges will curl and go brittle.
You won’t know what it’s like to take too many breaths before going underwater, or. be wondering if the pulse in your ears is from fear, or being so alive you feel electric.
Stretch with all the joy and grief that life offers, and every colour in between.
You are supposed to be a little un-nerved, a little too alive, a little off-centre, and a little buzzing from the business of living.
Forgive. You need this to connect, to love, and to live.
Day 14: Charlottetown
“A moment to nestle with the heart”.
Today marks exactly halfway in my travels; I have 28 days on the road. And while I am so incredibly excited to be travelling, today’s post is a tender one. Travel is hard. Travel is not just tiring, it is exhausting in a way that you feel in your bones. While you can rest physically, the soul is always thinking, wondering, and on the go, and you are always trying to stay awake and alert to the places and people around you, because you want to take it all in, and because you want to be safe.
In addition to all of this, I have only been sleeping 5-6 hours a night since I have started travelling. I have been very gentle on myself and tried to rest in the middle of each day, but today, I am feeling the sort of in-the-bones tired that warrants a day of just “nestling with the heart”.
To be able to find that quiet still place inside you, despite the tiredness, despite the noise, despite the excitement, despite the joy; this has been my greatest challenge while I’ve been travelling. I want to enjoy and be present for every moment, but I don’t want to come home exhausted. I wanted to come home expanded, changed, and affected. To do this, you have to have access to that wonderful still place inside of you. Especially when your heart and mind are racing over what you should be doing in your free half an hour, and all the while your heart is yelling, “YOU NEED TO EFFING BE HERE TO ENJOY EVERY MOMENT OF THIS!”
I have also been keeping alert to all my Year 12s, returning emails and answering questions; and I KNOW that a holiday is not supposed to be about this, but it actually soothes me a little to commit to half an hour a day, just to make sense and order out of things. It’s what gives me peace and joy, so I do it. But actually getting into the zone for that half an hour has been the most challenging and gruelling request I have made of myself, and resulted in my feeling worn-out, down, anxious, unsettled, resentful, and a whole mixture of other things I do no normally feel at home when I tackle work. Solving problems whilst on the road is so much harder than when you don’t have “your people” around you. Problems and doubt are magnified, and solutions are harder to reach.
And in the haze of being semi-exhausted, I find that concentrating for any period of time can put me close to tears of stress. It’s such an unusual feeling for me.
I have had to practise working and being gentle upon myself in these last 2 weeks. I have taken one step at a time; reading a brief or an email, jotting down notes in my journal over coffee for a lesson plan, writing down dots points as to which 3 drafts I will edit and whose work I will put notes on in Sibelius, and even where I will go for lunch, to help look after myself. This sort of work + holiday combination takes the utmost of care and determination, but I know that after being on the road for a month, I will figure it out. This is just the very exhausting and emotionally demanding part of it, and I have to be gentle on myself and have faith. I have to also find new ways to energise myself, like taking a walk, or figuring out which places I’d like to explore while I am trying to get this balance right, and what I will eat whilst trying to enjoy all the local specialties.
I was in tears of joy and relief last night when I sent off my first draft-return to one of my students. It seemed in surmountable, but I just took one step at a time. And I guess the human spirit is far stronger than you realise; even when there is doubt and exhaustion, if you keep walking, one foot in front of the other, and gently, quietly, and simply get very clear over what you need to do, you can do it. Even if it drives you to tears.
So here I stand, very tired + tender, walking one step in front of the other. So utterly exhausted today, but so mindful of how very lucky I am to be here, travelling, being a teacher, and figuring out this working balance.
Let me be determined. Let me be gentle, but quietly determined.
Today was one of those days where I was right IN the whole problem-solving, behaviour management, motivating, and beating kids back into shape. I knew it was coming, and I knew this week would be the week for Grammarphones, Senior Concert Band, and my senior kiddies. The week where I would hunt them all down and have The Conversation, in whatever incarnation was required.
I hate it and love it. They see and hear the care from me, but also the fire in the belly for excellence, for them and myself, in EVERY capacity. Not just academically, but personally. I want the complete package: great people who strive for their best. 🌟
Even though I KNOW that I have done the best that I can, I can’t help but replay conversations, and wonder if I have done enough, and with the right words + weight.
And when it’s Music kiddies it becomes all the more connected and personal because of what they give to you on a daily basis. The conversations inevitably become even more emotionally-charged because you love your kiddies + because of the relationship you have with them. 💛
But I got one tiny little gem back today; walking out of the Music Centre into the Centre for Senior Learning, newly beat-up Sir Year 11 went one way and I went the other.
But not far enough that I couldn’t hear this:
Sir Year 11: “Hey, where were you? We’ve been waiting for ages!”
Mangled Sir Year 11: “Ms Kwok wanted speak with me about Grammarphones. She was disappointed in me.”
Sir Year 11: “Oh shit.”
“…but you persist in playing the greatest hits like some passive-aggressive Spotify playlist!” has to be one of the GREATEST quotes ever!
I clicked on this out of pure curiosity. I’m glad I did, as I came away with lots of snippets of information, having enjoyed it much more than I expected.
How is it that when we are ripped raw, made vulnerable, and torn open by life, we are more tender? We are so much more alive to love, aware of kindness, and so much more willing to be all the things that we want on a day-to-day basis.
When you are “full” and when life is going well, it is so easy just to walk on by, figuratively and emotionally. So easy to not notice the tender little moments that we would be so utterly aware of and open to when we are in struggle.
Strong back, tender heart.
Be courageous, my little heart, that you may see all the tenderness in the world when you are full.
Fears will rise up, but they will fall away as well. I am standing straighter, stronger, and taller. And while things shake me – as they should if I am any ounce of a human being – I am less afraid of being shaken. Not because I am cast iron or Teflon-coated, no. I have a very great desire NEVER to be either of those and in fact, I think I am softer and more supple than ever before, with a heart that rises up so easily with joy, emotion, and gratitude. I just know that I will make it through all that which shakes and unsettles me, because I can cry and seek help, I can listen and reflect, I can lean into the discomfort, I can examine and pull back, I can hug and laugh, and I can practise courage of the highest sort.
I have all the tools I need to walk through whatever adversity is presented, knowing full well that I do not have to solve anything straight away, but that I have the capacity to solve it. And if I don’t? All I need to do is reach out and ask for help. Oh, the delicious joy of reaching out in humanness and brave need. Because I am all human, feeling and thinking, doing and being.
Why should I be in fear, when I need to walk through adversity and struggle anyway? Look struggle face on. What do you see? Pain, problem-solving, and strength unmeasured and untapped.
Walk into all of this with strong backbone, but open heart.
Stay open, stay open, stay in the heart, stay open. Even if it is by millimetres, stay open.
Don’t numb the journey if you can take one more step.
The most amazing learning happens when you sit side by side with the impossible, and ask it questions. Quietly, audaciously, whatever your take on adversity and problem-solving entail.
And I always am moved with sheer wonder at how my heart finds its equilibrium.
And that, actually, I need to step up and challenge the challenge right back.
Above all else, I will take care of my heart.
That it beats fully and wholly, with pulse and life.
The thing is, there will always be struggle. But you can rise above that. You can travel through. It will be hard, but you will survive.
But if a heart closes over, if words lose meaning, if emotions are stifled, if life is turned down and muted in colour; then there is no point.
Because there will always be adversity to get through. And it will hurt. But I would much rather hurt at full volume, than to save myself the struggle and feel lukewarm joy. I want every ounce of light and fire of being alive, so very essential, real and complete.
And you know what else?
I look at all the strong and courageous people I admire, all those who work in tandem with their hearts and their values, and all the while, do you know the thing I MOST want to say to them?
You do not have to do this alone.
And incredibly, it’s the thing that I know to be true for myself, and I do for myself, but I do not instinctively turn to as a first point, a first port of call. Why not?
To the beautiful and courageous leaders, the “extraordinary ordinary” people I know, your authenticity and character are unmistakeable. I know that you will walk back into whatever story you are travelling, and keep doing your work. But I reach out so readily to help you feel joy and give light + compassion, support and love, so that you might have the tools to travel and face what you need to. I cannot live your life for you, only you can do that. But I can walk beside you, holding a beacon of light.
So why should I be any different?
Let me ask for help much more freely and readily. Let me tell the story of myself with all my heart. Let me not back away from the details that I cannot articulate, but try harder to find the nuances, the words, and where my true heart lies. Let me check my compass every day.
Let me go against the tide, over and over, for the truth, the very resonance of who I am.
And let me practise this every day, that my heart will become supple with the ability to yearn and reach for love and support in times of adversity.
Because my life, my spirit, and my well-being depend upon it.
Remember this please; above all, keep my heart so brilliantly and wholly alive.
How does she hold it all on her delicate shoulders?
She mustn’t receive a lot of unfettered, unattached, no-strings kindness at all. She must spend her time wondering why she’s received certain comments, attentions, emails, presents, and it must corrode her soul, no matter how much integrity she holds her heart to. The challenge must be intense, and heart-breaking.
I wonder how she stays connected and open. I wonder how she walks into each day, knowing the battles she must face, but living for the minute, the moment, and the hour, still being present, even though it costs her so much some days?
It must cut so deeply, all those careless words swirling around her, like shards of glass and just as ragged and dangerous to her spirit. And she walks through this shit-storm with grace.
I do not always agree with her. But fear must cut a path that dictates some of her most challenging decisions. Imagine having to work from a place of compassion, surrounded by fear? I couldn’t do it. It would break me. How does she stay whole?
She is a mother. To see that beautiful picture of her at the formal with her son, both arms around him with an open smile, was poignant. How does he walk through each day? How he must be challenged too, with the responsibilities he faces, despite being told to just be normal. There will be fears, compassion, anger, resentments, and maturity above his years from holding this role with his Mum. And she is just a Mum. Yet she cannot be “just a Mum”, with the bad days, and the bad hair, and needing too much coffee. She has to be superhuman. All the time.
She is just a Mum, wife, daughter, woman, sister, friend, who happens to be in an excruciating and gruelling job, which does not offer much forgiveness.
I wonder where she goes when she has a bad day, who she checks in with? I wonder if she socialises with anyone at work? How hard it must be to want to connect, and yet, you are an island. Everyone else is allowed that one human ounce of integrity and humanity, and she is not. How must it feel when the people around you are angry and resentful when she is sick or away, or distant or preoccupied, rather than forgiving and compassionate. What made her so different that we lock her away in an ivory tower? I am grateful that when I am sick, I am allowed to be human. She is only human, please let her be.
She must tell her story over and over, she has to make clear her intent every day with courage because people don’t believe her immediately. How much that must cost. She cannot rely on previous work; the time is always changing around her. How do you even begin to navigate this?
That smile is all the more heartbreaking, because she has to guard herself all the time.
I wish her joy and connection, and a pathway to her heart.
I remind myself that I need to walk that path regularly for myself. I am so grateful that I know my heart.
How is it that some people can walk into a room, and somehow the room feels safer and warmer? Or lit up from their very selves?
And you feel warmer and somehow more for being in their presence? That you can share an idea or experience, and it will multiply in feeling and joy?
And how is it that other people, no matter how “correct or fitting” their words, no matter how properly they dot their “i’s” and cross their “t’s” just make you want to subtly cross your arms to protect yourself? And that when they are near, you cocoon yourself a little more, verbally or physically?
It’s not that they are blatantly hurtful or negative; there is just something about them and how they talk where you can feel the life leave you, slowly, imperceptibly, drop by drop.
How is that so?
It MUST be to do with character and authenticity. It’s in all the words that are unspoken, it’s in the space between words + noise which builds connection, or keeps you on guard.
Being aware of it is a curious thing. When you’re in the middle of a busy week, especially in teaching, it’s so easy just to hear words. It’s easy enough just to work hard and get the job done.
But then, as today, an errant email about work comes through with just logistics, and I can feel my skin curl just a little because the oasis of calm and safety has been broken and I know I have to step into that world again soon. Not that it’s like going into battle; it’s just an “on guardness” that keeps you a little secure and boundaried, where your full sensitivity and light can’t shine through safely.
And then, there’s the truly beautiful people. When these people walk through the room, your heart expands. Everything relaxes. You might not talk to them, but knowing they are there in the room makes the room lighter, warmer, and safer. A rather wonderful joy and integrity shines from them. Quietly, loudly, playfully, it doesn’t matter. These sorts of people radiate goodness in their own style. They make the time and space around them make sense. They may be the most conventionally ordinary people; nothing fancy, bright, or attention-seeking about them. But everything about them is extraordinary, lit with integrity, warmth, and authenticity. Even on a bad day, you still feel safe within their presence.
Let me endeavour to be one of those people, who change the momentum of the world around me for the better.
I hope that I am the authentic guide, the sort of person who makes people feel safe and secure.
I have a fear of being too much trouble, being annoying, or asking too much. This fear has been well-hidden for ages, and mostly doesn’t bother me, but when I really look and dig deep, it’s right there.
I’ve recently come back from an extraordinary Gwinganna retreat in the Gold Coast which was NOTHING of what I expected, but gave me so many little starting points in how to improve my health, my well-being, my thinking, and in embracing life. Now I think I’m reasonably healthy in many things, and I think my strength is my emotional well-being, but this realisation with lingering fear surprised me.
I’m able to ask for what I need in my professional and personal life with consideration and generosity. I’m fair and thoughtful in my dealings, and always try to be compassionate and put things into perspective. But I realised there is another fear beyond all this…it’s the fear of pushing boundaries when things get really uncomfortable. When this happens, I quietly abort mission and make sure everyone around me has their feathers smoothed, their favourite blanket, and a nice hot drink, metaphorically speaking. Or, if I do not respect the person, that they leave with their sense of self intact, EVEN IF I DO NOT RESPECT THEM!
I realised that I am uncomfortable with discomfort!
So when life is going well, and everyone is reasonably happy and calm, my requests and boundary-setting all work perfectly. I don’t mind being “audacious” then, because no-one’s back is up. But what about when it really counts? When the turmoil hits? When there is deep stress that needs navigating?
I realise I am afraid.
And this fear is something I’d like to challenge, and something I’d like to patiently sit with and develop stronger navigating skills for. Already this year, I have had a few moments where I’ve had to step in and be the captain of some of these intensely stressful moments, where emotions are high and there is tension in the air that I can almost tangibly feel. I REALLY don’t like these situations; for one, I’m intensely introverted, and secondly, I go into life wanting to engage with people from a place of joy + energy! I don’t handle grinding, harsh confrontation very well. This is different from conversation and discourse, where there is a sharing of different opinions, information and ideas, and where both sides are deeply valued from the onset; THAT is invigorating for me. But those times where I stand to be unreasonably annihilated by someone who is just on a verbal rampage…well, those situations affect me deeply, and I admire those people who know how to navigate those times.
And it manifests in other ways. Sometimes, but not all the time, I will reuse a mug rather than getting a beautiful new one, order a meal that’s easier to prepare, agree to something because it puts less pressure on the person being requested of. Or even when I’m in disagreement with someone and in line to receive an apology, I will make it as kind and easy for that person to apologise as possible. So while I take care to have the boundaries that look after me, sometimes it still comes at my cost, when it should be the quiet strength and fairness of the situation that should win out.
Sometimes, I deliberate between compassion, fairness, and forgiveness, and which is actually at play. But THIS FEAR; fear of walking into a storm and avoiding those intensely difficult situations, is something I’d like to get better at. Even though it is exhausting, even though it takes a lot out of me and I don’t want to do it on a regular basis, I’d like to know that I could be the captain of that ship.
And in my heart of hearts, I know – I deeply know – that I can do it.
So here’s my little “imperfect” challenge to myself, to start facing this fear. I’ve been given a Country Road voucher as a thank you present, and rather than spending it on something practical, useful, or something people “expect” me to wear so that they feel safe, I am so going to consciously spend it on something that is different, something a little whimsical, a different style to what I would normally wear, and something that will take a little more care and time to wear properly, not just something I can put on for practicality’s sake. Because as colourful and vibrant as my outfits are, they are also embedded in practicality. I’d like to practise the “imperfect” challenge but wearing something a little frivolous, whimsical, and different. Wearing it strongly, and embracing a different aspect of me.
And I have a new mug lined up for my tea. 😉