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I have been sitting on an email for a week. It’s been utterly ridiculous. It’s been a mixture of admiration, respect, and wanting to connect that I’ve gone back and forth on the draft for the last 6 days, polling myself and every decision-making cell in me as to whether I should send it.
It was a complimentary and joyful email; if I were the recipient, it would honestly make me smile, and probably make my day. But for some reason I found myself completely stuck, unable to send this one off. Why? Part of it was not wanting to get it wrong, part of it was pride, my own and the other person’s, that I didn’t want it misinterpreted and did I even have a right to send such a joyful, carefree email to someone I wanted to connect with?
But mostly it was fear.
And I thought to myself, Why am I so afraid?
This is one snapshot in my entire life, 11 seconds of my day. What am I afraid of? Rejection? Contempt? An answer? Not getting what I want? A throw-away response that cheapened my effort?
The curious thing was, I really didn’t know. Normally I am totally on the pulse with my own reactions and emotional compass. But where something really matters and I have a great deal invested, it becomes so much harder. I ended up, embarrassingly, doing three mental “pro-con” lists over the course of the week. I wanted a secure response, something that would indicate that I wouldn’t look like a total fool sending this, be misunderstood, and that it would be taken in exactly the right frame of mind.
The other extraordinary thing? I am never this indecisive in my professional and other parts of my personal life. I am usually optimistically realistic about things; you have to get yourself in there, stand your ground, say your piece, and be ready to invite conversation and interaction.
This morning, I woke up with a thought on the tip of my tongue, Maybe you’re afraid of getting what you want.
I’ve actually never really understood that phrase. Whenever I hear someone else say it, I think, My GOD! I would be thrilled to get what I want! Give me that sort of reliability any day and I’ll roll with it! Put in effort, get a result, I like it!
But this morning, I got just the tiniest understanding of that phrase. If I got exactly the outcome I wanted, WHERE TO NEXT?
Would I have the confidence to navigate the next step, to invite this idea and interaction into my life, and have the courage to invest of myself?
But that’s what life is, isn’t it? A series of tiny little moments where you play. There is a tiny invitation which makes your stomach flip, and then you respond. In friendship, in taking a leap of faith, in making the first connection to someone who catches you unawares, in giving a compliment, in going after something, in creating and living.
I sent the email.
I dared to play.
And do you know what the extraordinary thing was?
The moment I sent it, despite how scary it was, I felt as light and as illuminated as I could possibly feel.
And I knew that not sending it, and not daring to play with the greater universe, is far scarier than daring to play.
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.
Darling Girl, who aches with hope, here is what I say to you:
Fill the room with all of you. Not pretentiously, but with fullness, authenticity, and the very resonance of you. Stand still and sacred, without aggression, but without apology. Just simply being.
Speak with every ounce of who you are. All of your words in your own simple breath, not just the ones that are curated, consciously or unconsciously.
Be haphazardly joyful, silly, and playful, because your soul needs to breathe.
Fill every space of every moment.
Live, without excess, but fully.
Don’t make space for something that is not there; your heart and soul will stretch when it becomes part of your life, when you need it, or indeed, when there is loss. You will stretch for both joy and pain. You will be okay.
Travel. My God, travel if you can and fill your mind and heart with new understandings which stretch you and embed you with life’s breath and fresh wisdom.
Travel, that you may experience a new angle of gratitude.
Travel, because this learning is embedded in the human spirit. The rushing need to be free, to live, to feel, to embrace.
With every ounce of your heart, your flesh, your body. Do not hold back because you don’t feel you have earned the right, you beautiful, beautiful dear girl. Life will keep moving and you need to be a part of that. You can laugh and cry, shriek and run, without any fear that you will need to be a little more refined and quiet because you haven’t earned the right. You have.
Being human IS your birthright. Not selfish. Human.
Don’t let that gloriously beating heart harden.
Work hard to undo, unfurl, simplify, let go, de-clutter, and set free.
The emotional knots may be many and tightly done-up, but have faith and patience. With time and love, care and unfailing gentleness, deep compassion and courage, you will undo them all.
And your beautiful heart will keep beating freely.
Cry your tears. Feel you grief. Feed your soul. Walk, and keep walking, each step, knowing every crevice of your heart with authenticity and ownership. The shadows of your grief will never leave you. But nor will the absolute, unquenchable desire to live.
Make new meaning every day.
Change as a part of life is like pennies to the dollar, and possible every minute you breathe.
There is no other way.
There is only love.
And my Darling Girl, I love you more than you know.
Day 10: Montreal
And I continue to digress from my little journalling formula, but I was inspired to write this post today.
The Gratitude In Travel
We are so lucky in life, the travellers. To be able to travel purely to reconnect, discover, or learn is such a privilege, the thought of which has overwhelmed me in unexpected moments over the last few days. We get on a plane, somehow we fly thousands of miles and we appear on the other side of the world because we have the means, the technology, and the inclination. Me, as a first generation Chinese-Vietnamese Australian living in “country Adelaide”; I have access to the whole world. I am allowed to see all of this. And I am overwhelmed with gratitude. I feel like a tiny star in a constellation, moving around in this extraordinary expanse of universe.
What is it about us humans that makes us long to discover? Where does this need to find out, to follow, to figure out, and to be free come from? It’s so much easier to be safe and small. But left to our own devices, we rarely choose it. We keep wanting more. And once we find out “more”, we keep longing for a “new type of more”.
I am overwhelmed with gratitude for my health, because to travel you need to be healthy. To be able to be tired and sore at the end of the day, smelly and sweaty with blisters and aching body is a sign that you have embraced all that a city or place has to offer. That your body and health have afforded you the strength and mobility to see all that you wanted is a blessing. That you had a chance to choose where you went during a day, and how much time you wanted to spend there. And for no other reason other than to experience it. No escape, no pain, no hunger, no war. This gives me pangs of both overwhelming gratitude and compassion for those who do not have what I am allowed to have.
I am overwhelmed with gratitude for my work, which gives me a daily mirror and moral compass to be the best person that I am able. When you’re a teacher of teenagers, you have a mirror held up to you EVERY DAY. Good or bad, it’s all right in your face. You will KNOW if you’re working with integrity, because teenagers live for the smell of it, even if they don’t know how to “do integrity” fluently themselves yet. Teenagers don’t take shit, and they have crap detectors that are the world’s most finely tuned, non-electronic sensory devices. And then, to be able to take this moral compass out into the world and test it out for real, with people of other nationalities, countries, ideas, cultures + experience and figure out a different city? Truly amazing, soul-changing, shaking, affirming, and life-giving. The learning and shaping of yourself and your values doesn’t get better than that. How rich you become when you have the means to travel.
My work also allows me the monetary means to travel. I have enough money to pay for food, the flights, insurance, postcards, shopping, souvenirs, presents, experiences, entry fees, and emergencies. I have access to a world outside my own, that my own life may be stretched and enriched by what I experience. In other words, I have money to spare beyond the essentials that I can travel for the sake of travelling.
I am overwhelmed with gratitude for the love of my friends and family, who hold me like a strong secure net in my adventures. Without their trust, love and support, I would not be able to venture out so joyfully and freely. Without my Dad’s encouragement as a teenager, and quite against the usual Asian-stereotypes + thinking, I would not have begun to test my wings. Now, my wings and sense of adventure are strong and supple. And I cry tears of gratitude for the worry that both my parents must have endured in my earlier years of travel, when I made some stupid-arse choices for lack of experience and money, and that they still let me take flight.
I cry for joy at my freedom.
I am overwhelmed with gratitude for the chance to learn. Travel, as they say, changes you. And it does. How it changes you depends on what inside you needs changing, and what is vulnerable and malleable to the world at that point in time.
So, here, many thousands of kilometres away from home I say…
T H A N K Y O U.
A little Autumn whimsy for a little Autumn soul!
I pulled out a white hair this morning and discovered that it was going “back to black” (reference totally intended 😁) at the root. 😎
I felt AWESOME! 🙌
I felt INVINCIBLE! 👊
And this feeling of invincibility lasted until approximately Lesson 2, Year 7 Prac. 😂
Isn’t it extraordinary that when we look back to our most influential teachers and mentors, they are the same age as when they taught us? That they have somehow remained suspended in mid-air and time, exactly as they were when we were 11 years old, or high school, or university?
What force granted us the means to stamp them into a moment of time? Shouldn’t we apply the same grace as they gave us, and allow them to grow as well?
I think of my most treasured mentors, who filled me with such confidence, love, and joy for my learning, and seemed so limitless and wise. I am 10, 15, 20 years older and in the middle of my own teaching career, and I have learned + fallen, failed and grown. I’ve changed; why should I think they haven’t?
Why shouldn’t I allow them greater wisdom, tenderness, and the passing of time?
It’s so easy to think of them as timeless, and limitless, but they are people on the same continuum, growing, changing, and being affected by life. It’s the same story I preach to all my students, and yet I catch myself forgetting to apply that insight and grace to my own teachers, parents, mentors.
No-one is limitless.
And when you allow that humanity, they become more scarily fragile and vulnerable, but all the more beautiful and touchable.
And I guess that’s the lesson I am teaching to my students as well; that as bright and as energised as I am, I, too, am not limitless. I am beautifully, touchably human.
It’s started. And I was SOOOOOOO smug.
Lasted 3 days.
I have been grappling with forgiveness.
There are so many little understandings + realisations connected to forgiveness that I had no idea about, and the more I read about it and tried to apply it in real-life, the more I found myself uncomfortably challenged, but joyfully liberated.
Forgiving doesn’t mean forgetting the act or the situation, but it does mean applying the maximum amount of compassion possible to a situation. It means seeing the person, people, or situation requiring forgiveness in the most human light possible; seeing all the short-comings and vulnerabilities, all the imperfections and jagged edges, and softening into the pain and grief, the accusation.
The moment you dehumanise a situation, you walk the other way from forgiveness. Forgiveness is hard work. It’s uncomfortable and gritty, and requires tenacious persistence, and equal amounts of peace and solitude. It’s heart and intellect rolled in one, and it requires practise. I’m learning, all the different colours and nuances of forgiveness. It is nowhere near as black and white as I thought, and each time I forgive, I find a new light and shade in my understanding, and another skill in emotional problem-solving in my repertoire.
Forgiveness works really well when you try and do it in steps, or increments. You need to take time out from the intensity of feeling something, and yes, true forgiveness requires walking through it all. All damn lot of it. Every joyful moment, every searing moment of rage, every farewell, every stomach-churning moment of grief. All of the emotions. So it stands to reason that you need to take a break and, you know, maybe have a cup of tea + a Tim Tam, before diving headlong into it all again!
Forgiveness can look different over time, and might need to be done over and over, but each time you do, it definitely becomes easier. Especially if you’ve made sense of it the previous time you “forgave” and you are building upon a strong compass of forgiveness. So forgiveness needs to be done with an excellent understanding of what your own values are, who you are, and what is okay for you. And each time you make progress, or take another step, something becomes freer and easier. You might suddenly miss a person more, or want to hug them a little tighter. There is the old warmth and joy in conversation, rather than just careful politeness. You are more yourself, and there is connection. Because there is trust.
Finally, forgiveness is freedom. It is like finding more lung-space to breathe deeper, because everything is lighter, the air is clearer, and you have wings that move more. There is still ache and stretch in each step, but there is unmistakable freedom. And that freedom spells itself out in each playful word and new conversation built upon trust. Even in the most dire and difficult moments of forgiveness, there is a deep resonant correctness and rightness about the gravity of the situation. Even if another word is not uttered, there is a sense of some sort of equilibrium. Maybe not the restoration of ANYTHING; perhaps things are far too broken for that. But there are new personal understandings, hard won, and a sense of courage, strength and freedom that comes from walking away from a situation, having forgiven.
Forgiving this week for me was unexpected and simple. For months, I had lost connection with a dear friend. We were in touch, but really not. The old trust, the quirky playfulness, the immediate confidence – all replaced by polite conversation. I was holding back. There was a roadblock that I didn’t know how to shift. I was angry and hurt by distance. What did it take to shift things? Courage to articulate it and time. Time needed to pass, I needed to walk through every force of anger and disappointment, and the trust needed to tentatively grow. There needed to be discomfort and struggle. There needed to be “try” from both ends.
But this week, after 6 months of missing one of my dearest friends…I finally, finally want to hug her breathless and share a ridiculous joke with her. I finally also put into words, compassionately and lovingly, how much I missed her, loved her, and was hurt. It took all my courage to name the hurt and to risk the anger and tears. But somehow, we find ourselves on the other side of it all, freer + lighter.
I’ve taken a step toward freedom.