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Thank you for these holidays. I’ve really needed them, as I led the ANZAC Music Tour in the previous holidays, so these are my first in 23 weeks straight. I think every cell in my body was lying facedown in the cavity that was my body by Week 9 of Term 2!
I feel like I have realigned my compass and learned so much these holidays. Unexpectedly, but so organically, in a natural progression of thoughts, conversations, and connections.
I have rested; my mind, my body, my spirit. I was moving so fast but going nowhere at the end of last term. I was doggy-paddling furiously, only to stay in one place, exhausted, just gulping enough air and love to keep me alive. I will do everything I can to make sure I have greater clarity and space going into this new term, and while things will get busy, I would much rather move slowly and steadily, rather than stay in over-tired limbo. I now that this will take greater concentration than I had the capacity for at the end of last term, and it’s something I need to practise.
I have exercised; I have walked and walked for miles, tens of thousands of steps a day, feeling the strengthening of my breathing, my heart, and my body following my sickness. What a joy to feel the strength in a full breath, and the energy coursing through me from movement, air, time, and space.
I have connected; I feel aligned and back to equilibrium, lifted up from the love and laughter with all my friends and family. The colour is back in my cheeks, and all over, imbuing my spirit with vibrant joy and hope. I feel centred; emotionally healthy from being with people whose words make my spirit echo with safety and happiness, stretch me in new and interesting ways, and who love me with a safety net so wide that it feels like I am floating in a warm summer ocean.
I feel whole and real again. I promise myself that I will remember this equilibrium and at my most busy and stressful, remember that this is what normal is, and not try and make the Pollyanna version of normal from stressful situations, or from people who do not care about my wellbeing.
I have loved; joyfully, playfully, awkwardly, beautifully! It’s so poignantly undoing to realise that I have been Teflon-coated for part of the term, and never realised that it wasn’t normal. Like the frog put into cold water and slowly boiled, it doesn’t realise its environment is not normal until it is scalding the life out of it. Let me love in little snippets every day, or as much as I damn well want. My heart flows, and I will not be scalded into submission.
I have journalled; hundreds and hundreds of words, free-flowing from my pen onto the page, dozens of rain-checked thoughts needing re-examination, reflection, and the sort of self-conversation that comes only from time, space, and safety. That’s not in the middle of the school term, whilst I’m trying to be professional.
That’s when stressful situations get dealt with on the surface level and then get put in a holding pattern. And then, when there is a stretch of time, I open up the skies and let them pour down, like rain. And my tears of healing flowed the same way. I am so grateful for the wonderful ebb and flow in my heart now, that comes from having looked at everything that needed looking at, and sitting next to my heart like and old girlfriend with a bottle of wine, just chattin’. I breathe freely now, and so does my heart.
I have created; my words and music which have lain dormant are awakened, and I am overwhelmed with the beauty and colour of all that I have created. Insights which I could not put into words during the term come out as song, melody, lyrics, or some other nymph-like form of creative expression. I write like I breathe. It is glorious.
I have played; my darling piano, to feel your keys under my increasing deft and strong fingers, knowing that joy of incremental growth again is a mathematical sort of satisfaction, and a clarity of my own self and thinking. I can tell the health of my own emotional self from the fluency of my piano playing, and the colours available to me.
I have cleaned, washed and created room for new energy and thoughts.
I never knew how far I would travel in three weeks.
I feel an overwhelming gratitude and joy in knowing that no matter how great the discomfort, stress, challenge, and pain, that with enough time, I have an internal compass that lines up due north, and I will always be able to find my equilibrium.
Thank you, thank you, thank you for these holidays.
And the fact of the matter is this: You are scared shitless of me.
Of my light,
because the air around me changes when I enter the room,
and I am affecting just by existing, I am so happy to be alive,
and despite saying all the correct words,
that you are not coping with me being me,
and I laugh,
because I can finally see the fear behind the bravado,
the instability behind the big words,
and the insecurity behind the loud voice,
and overly grand gestures,
and will I let this set me off balance, you ask?
NO FUCKING WAY, little man.
Why do we limit ourselves all the time?
The moment we wake up, we automatically calculate what we need to do in a day, and tell ourselves that we don’t have enough time.
We wonder if we’ve got the capacity to be all that we need to be in all our guises, and we start the day stretched before we’ve even tried.
We start with “can’t”; when an idea or suggestion is put forward, we think about all the things that will make it hard, rather than going first to all the possibilities.
Everything makes us feel weighted and tired, and it’s because we try to cram too much into a day because we are so arrogant that we think ourselves somehow different from everybody else that of course we can do what nobody else can. Apply that to parenting, self-care, teaching, maintaining a home, eating good food, and our relationships. The thing is, we need to time to give value to all of these things and to be there to feel those moments fully.
And scariest of all, we believe everything that people say. We are so foolhardy and gullible that we openly believe all the negatives put on the table about us, and most dangerously, we believe and invest in the opinions that absolutely don’t matter. Of our bosses, our superiors, of those who have not earned our trust. We agonise over comments that would be so much easier to figure out a way to let go, because our egos have been bruised. It’s ironically challenging, being human, isn’t it?
The thing is, all of the negatives, the fatigue, the impossibilities, and the can’ts are all going to happen. You can’t Teflon-coat yourself, or be so prepared that you are bullet-proof.
So isn’t it so much easier just to go into the day?
Isn’t it easier just to go into each situation, get stuck-in, problem solve, and get in up to your armpits rather than the unnecessary worry and preamble?
We all get stuck in that. I get stuck in that.
I write, and re-write, and agonise, and wonder, and rehearse, and re-rehearse. That is one of my best personality traits, my care and thoroughness, at my worst. Burning holes in every bit of joyful spontaneity and casting distrust on any of my boss-level ability to adapt and problem solve.
So today, and every day, I am going to undo those limits. Life is messy, and you can’t dress rehearse.
Pause, take the layer of worry off and drop it like a heavy coat.
The day will happen whether you worry and agonise over something or not.
You will need to walk into whatever is scaring you no matter what.
Why don’t you spend the time and energy thinking about how you will navigate, rather than how you will avoid?
There are so many minutes in a day that go wasted in worry, and we look back on each weekend, each Sunday afternoon, and wonder why we got so little done and feel so wrung out? I am sure that it is, in part, because of the limits we put on ourselves.
Embrace the sucky, amazing, glorious, messiness. Go and live, my darling people!
When you are depleted, I think you need to work even harder, harder than you ever have, to keep the pulse of your heart alive. It’s so contradictory, but so truthful and essential. I cannot believe how many times I fight this and then arrive at the same realisation. There’s the recipe for a good life, ladies and gentlemen; to do this over and over against rhyme and reason, just for the sake of you.
Hang tight, my darling girl, because awful, unfair, unrealistic things will happen and you need to figure out a way to get out from underneath them. Look around! There are examples of grace and courage happening every day, from every person who ever lived authentically. Nobody lives a charmed life if they are living fully.
To really LIVE; it means making peace and creating reason from the tumultuous and unreasonable. When you have nothing, give. I know it sounds incredible, but that is what will awaken humanity and connection. Give a smile, a word, a cry, an explanation, a hug, something. Please, my darling girl, don’t close yourself off because it’s a little safer, the cost is too great. By all means, go in there and say your piece. Fly your freak flag. Show your passion and emotion. Fight hard and argue even harder. Rock that boat and make waves. But come back in, connect, love more, MORE than you thought possible. Not in sacrifice, but holding yourself sacred and coming back with tender vulnerability, open to hearing what the world has to say.
And my girl, please, pry open every door or window you close yourself or that gets closed on you. Move every stone in your pathway. Like a swimmer breaking through the surface of the water, gasping with pure will to live, you must fight to keep your heart open as if it were breathing.
Why? For YOU, my darling girl.
For you and those that matter to you. If it happens to line up with those who hurt you, or those you disagree with, then…WHATEVER.
You’re tracking this scene. You’re writing this script. The only goal is to keep that pulse of life, love, hope and connection flowing through your heart, and that cannot be done when you’re wondering where your ego is.
You breathe in that good shit for YOU and ONLY YOU.
Today was one of those days which never got off the ground. From the moment I walked into Concert Choir at 7:15am, I proceeded to stagger my way through double-bookings, clashes, missing pages of accompaniment, flat batteries, sick choral kiddies, dropping a jar of ashes (yes, it was Ash Wednesday, just to add to the fun), and other assorted mild to epic fails.
While sitting in the corner of the classroom, throwing down my lunch in record time in stony-faced silence + generally hating all forms of life, my Year 12 Prefects appeared with a cup of tea + a Freddo.
“Okay, Ms Kwok. We need to talk.”
Instantly, the alarm bells went off and the braincells went into overdrive, “What NOW?! Have I forgotten something? Have I let these guys down?!”
Miss Year 12 Head Prefect put her arm comfortingly around me and said, calmly and soothingly, “Look, Ms Kwok, you have to LET IT GO. You can’t do it all. You can’t nail every moment of every day. It can’t all be AMAZING.”
Sir Year 12 Deputy Prefect: “We made a cup of tea + stole a Freddo for you. Chill out. Stop saving the world for the next 20 minutes.”
Miss Year 12 Deputy Prefect: “Plus we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to quote you back to you.”
Damn it, you three. I just got schooled, and in the most caring way possible. 😭
It stands to reason I’ve left this one to the end.
Even while I was brainstorming my five points of reflection for 2019; this one was the hardest of all to acknowledge, to commit to, and to want to invest in.
Forgiveness, in all its forms, has been something which has both fascinated and frustrated me for a while, eluding and embracing me with equal unpredictability. I’ve been drawn to books which take it apart, or have it as its central theme. I’ve listened to TED talks and read reflections of courageous people who have survived far more in a week than I have my whole life, and been silenced and humbled by their words. And the reason why is this: I want to learn what it means to forgive as an act of love, when the issue at stake is bigger than the usual ups and downs of life. I want to learn how to forgive, others and myself, when there needs to be a process to the forgiveness.
In my natural, un-worked-on state, I am a perfectionistic score keeper. If there is an issue, my instinct is to apologise for the 27.5% of my part in the proceedings (because I’m alway more right), and readily expect 72.5% pure, unfiltered apology from whoever has wronged me. And I would remember it if didn’t happen, or happen to my satisfaction. It didn’t mean that I couldn’t keep loving or working with the person who had caused me hurt, I just could never fully forget the hurt in a way which allowed me freedom and full access to myself, and my interactions with them when it really counted. When I read that forgiveness is an act for yourself, not for the other person, it was revolutionary. So then, I spent some time grappling with that concept, not wanting and eye for an eye, but to forgive and acknowledge for my own well-being and sense of hope.
Now, in my work-in-progress state, I am a recovering perfectionist and advocate of the compassion which is required to live life well. And it comes back to one thing: We are not perfect. We get up each day, we do our best. Some of us do better than others. But we all require compassion and forgiveness at some point in our lives, and I’d rather be an active participant in the process than have to ask someone to forgive me with no return if I am able.
The inability to forgive easily is simple to explain; we are tender-hearted and we don’t want to get hurt. Holding that inability to forgive in place means that we’re in a deadlock, and even if that means hurting yourself a little, it means that you’re relatively safe from any further hurt from the person who caused it.
But it also holds all of you – your joy, your ability to love and move forward, your vulnerability and tenderness – in an absolute deadlock as well. You might argue that you can function perfectly fine without forgiving certain people and events in your life. But those pockets of darkness that remain unexamined continue to hum and buzz in the background, taking away from your love and joy. And loving yourself means truly examining things, even if there is no answer.
Forgiving doesn’t EVER mean letting the other person off the hook, it means that you’re no longer allowing them to take a part of your joyfulness and will to live life without your permission. What’s to say that you, put under a unique set of circumstances and pushed to breaking point, wouldn’t cause a situation where you required love and forgiveness?
As we walk through life together stretched and pulled in different directions by opposing ideas and different people, we walk with a common humanity. It would be ridiculous to expect us all to like each other. But we can certainly start by looking for understanding and the middle ground, holding fast to our compassion for each other, humanising each other, and getting better at sitting in the uncomfortable place which allows us to recognise that very rarely is anyone 100% right or wrong.
So, in holding forgiveness in my heart, I remember the following:
Forgiveness is for me. When I need to look hard at something, let my first thought be for my own well-being and those that I love. Put pride back on the shelf, take ego off the table, and just look at the humanity of the situation. Then look at what I need to do to match my values; is it speak my truth? Walk away? Call a mediation? Offer an apology? Forgiveness will often be open-ended and messy, and I need to be sure of two things; that I have done the best I can according to my values, and that my well-being comes first. These two things push and pull in opposite directions, but that is what I ask of myself.
Anger is okay. Knowing when to express anger in the appropriate manner, to the right person, at the right time, is a unique challenge. But for those of us hell-bent on being perfect score-keepers, it’s so much easier to talk about all the things a person has done wrongly behind their back, than hold them accountable. And sometimes, anger is the right form of communication. Anger can show the strength of a boundary, the depth of a connection + love, or the value of something. Anger, without being derogatory, cheap, or hurtful, is a powerful and important form of communication.
Forgiveness is not an exact science. Forgiveness requires the most creative thought process and tracking than any other brand of problem-solving I’ve encountered. Because you cannot predict how people will respond, you can only deal with your side of things. If you go in with an apology, don’t go in expecting one back. You offer an apology because it’s what you hold yourself accountable to do, and it’s what you think is the right action for you. Forgiveness can be quiet or haphazard, unspoken or spoken, serious or playful; don’t be fooled by its presentation. Forgiveness may also never come, and you may need to figure out a way to find closure, and to make your own peace. If you really want to seek forgiveness, you must be prepared for any outcome, not just the one you want.
Forgive myself. Something I have learned in this past year is to recognise when I need to forgive myself. Often, these times will masquerade as extreme tiredness, or my being unpredictable, distracted, being totally over-the-top, going into myself, not being able to make a decision, and most tellingly, not being able to be fully engrossed in whatever is in front of me. When I get down to the heart of it, it is often a time when I need to tell myself that I forgive myself. I forgive myself that I couldn’t respond to a student in the perfect manner today; I will try and reconnect tomorrow. I forgive myself that I have no energy for my family, I will try and rest so that I am better value over the weekend. I forgive myself the frustration I feel with a colleague because I am on track and they are out of kilter, and it has knocked me off my strong, steady path. I forgive myself that I did not speak up when I had the opportunity, let me make a time to have that conversation, and let me prepare for it. I am not perfect. But I can always try again.
Forgiveness is a skill. Forgiveness is a skill that I would like to continue practising. The more I look gently and tenderly at things which upset, frustrate, or anger me, the more I exercise the muscle which connects me to love and forgiveness. Forgiveness, for all its intangibles, requires the ability to think about a situation from every angle, applying compassion where it would be easier to dismiss. One thing I’d like to do differently to strengthen this conversation with myself is to reach out to friends and family to help me tease out the different viewpoints. What I cannot see, they might be able to lovingly and safely bring to my attention so that I’m not attempting to do the impossible on my own.
Forgiveness takes time. You can’t just figure out forgiveness like you can a maths problem, as satisfying as that would be. Forgiveness is like picking up the threads of the impossible fabric from where you left off, and continuing to weave understanding. As you travel through life and get older, wiser, and collect new experiences, this helps in building your repertoire of skills and understandings to forgive. Allow time. Press pause. Go run around and be human. Then come back to the hard work.
Quiet, considered words are powerful. Forgiveness is rarely overt or loud, and requires some degree of stretching to reach a new understanding. If you cannot forgive at an exact moment in time, that is okay. Aim for being authentic and accurate. Quiet, considered words spoken with truth and accuracy are far more powerful than throwing down a careless and flippant apology or acceptance of something when you really don’t feel it. Because the mind and heart keep score, and it’s your job to know yourself well enough that you can understand what is true and accurate for you.
Forgiveness is love. Forgiveness is love in its purest form. It cannot be measured or extracted, it is given. So, let me remember to consider this first for myself, then those most important to me, then everyone I have contact with in my life. Let me strive to be accurate, authentic, compassionate and honest, straddling the line between compassion and integrity. Let me make decisions on how I will act based on my own morals. And let me understand when to hold fast, and when to let go. Let me do so in the highest integrity, compassion and love.
One of those days where I was totally up against it in terms of navigating, negotiating, and behaviour-managing, with my poor Year 12s walking into class after lunch with me in full-behavour-management-flight with a student.
Very quietly and respectfully did they all sneak in, dotted themselves around the classroom and quickly got to work.
After 2 minutes, a cup of tea appeared on my desk in a mug inscribed with “BADASS.”
Then, when my back was turned, a muesli bar + a handful of Minties appeared alongside it.
All of a sudden, I realised my camera was fully set-up and ready to roll for performance masterclass.
While I was looking over some Composing + Arranging issues, a message appeared on the whiteboard, “Kwokkie: Tiny Awesome Teacher! 😊”
And walking to Year 8 Music, I found the downstairs classroom door covered in post-it notes with various encouraging messages of, “GO KWOKKIE!” + “SMASH IT!” + “HANG IN THERE!” + “YOU CAN DO IT!”
My Year 12 kiddies. NINJAS of little acts of kindness today. You guys totally got me over the line!
Comfortable with Discomfort
How do people get comfortable with discomfort?
How do people engage mindfully with challenging discourse, differences of opinions, aggressive interactions, and high emotions whilst maintaining a joyful, resilient and open heart, but a strong backbone?
It’s something I have been consciously practising this year, partly to develop my ability to stay in discomfort with a level head, but partly because I have had no choice. It’s been spirit-ruffling, enlightening, uncomfortable, and stretching. I always think I am doing crap and very often FEEL crap, when I also instinctively know that I am doing the best job possible.
The need to work with integrity drives this desire to engage with the challenging, but it doesn’t come easy. I am often caught at a crossroads when I find myself the only one standing with one side of the opinion, and the rest of the people around me swept up by the momentum of the argument, or a personality which bulldozes. I am not a bulldozer. Words have meaning and merit to me. What simply is “shooting the breeze” or “meaningless rubbish” and falls by the wayside for others affects me until I make peace with it and decide I am done. I am not a needless “hanger-on” person; words and feelings simply have purpose, merit and meaning to me. In fact, I am working hard to let go when conversations are done and expired. And the relief is immense. It’s healthy and wholehearted. But again, never done carelessly without necessary attention and thought.
How do I then learn to walk in integrity, connect with the challenge knowing that it will affect me deeply, and repair myself that I may walk into difference + disagreement with a calm and clear head?
Many of my friends, colleagues and family members think I can do this instinctively. But it doesn’t come naturally for me. If anything, it comes particularly unnaturally, with me having to sit in excruciating discomfort as I work through the framework of each problem and decide what action I need to take. Not what I WANT to take, not what would feel nice and comfortable for me. But what I NEED to do.
It’s times like this I HATE having a moral compass, because when you have stuck with this north-facing pin of integrity, you do not feel RIGHT until you’ve arrived at the course of action which you know is right. And often, the right decision affords personal peace, but it comes with an emotional mountain to climb first; a conversation which requires rehearsing, losing 3 hours sleep, spending the day before dipping in and out of worry, going back over ideas and ground until you are satisfied. There is no easy way to coexist with a moral compass and be a vulnerable, joyful person of integrity.
It WRINGS THE FUCKING LIFE out of you.
But there is no other way.
You need to do it.
So here’s the question: How does everyone else get comfortable with discomfort?
I’m not talking about deodorising a workplace or situation where everything is hunky-dory and annoyingly, superficially “fine”. I don’t buy in for that. I welcome safe discussion and discourse. I WANT accuracy for where I stand and what I do. But too often, pride and ego get in the way, and safe discussion without incidental power-over is impossible. And it breaks my heart, because I am no weakling. I just don’t want to be unnecessarily hurt by thoughtless, pride-driven conversation.
What I am talking about is when integrity does NOT win the day, and you watch as mud-slinging, bulldozer personalities and power-over get top spot? HOW do other people practise being resilient and courageous in this environment? How do you make peace with having to walk into battle, when you didn’t ask to walk into battle? How do you become more capable warriors in navigating shit-storms, without losing yourself? How do you keep your energy levels up? How do you learn to let things go after they are done? When do you know that they are done?
I don’t want total agreement. I want a safe place to put ideas on the table, the be deeply seen and valued, to not have my intrinsic work questioned when I am discussing difficult topics. It’s how we all want to feel.
Seen, valued, and heard, with worthiness which affords us the courage and audacity to have different opinions and creative ideas.
I know that I have instinctively walked this more challenging path all my life, because that’s how I was raised, that is what I am made of to the very core. I am so LUCKY to be lifted in heart and spirit by family and friends, who know me, and know what I do. They know my humility, they know my faults. They know where a should be fighting harder, and they also know where I am gentle in my strength.
For me, I know the cost of this walk of integrity. And I am tired from the heaviness of responsibility. As you know, this comes as UNNATURALLY to me as possible, yet I must do it. How do the great leaders of the world do it? How did Barack + Michelle Obama walk through their presidential term and maintain warmth and humanity, whilst making the hard decisions to guide and shape a nation? How did Nelson Mandela make wisdom and peace from hardship, over and over? Not just for a mere day; but when he least felt like it?
I am asking for some momentum and wind beneath my wings, some advice + wisdom, on how to continue to sustainably walk into challenging situations and understand how to chart a course of action without apology, but without sacrifice.
Day 7: Toronto
My last day full in Toronto, and it’s a family day! I am catching up with my other sister-in-law, the energetic + gregarious Steph and finally meeting her partner Sam. Who is like an instant sunshade for me when I finally meet him!
Steps taken: 15,982, which is surprising since I feeling like I spent more time outdoors today than yesterday.
One memorable meal or food item: The Nanaimo bar, a Canadian speciality. The bottom layer is a biscuit + coconut crumb base, the second is custard-flavoured butter icing, and the top layer is chocolate ganache.
One special photograph: The group photo of my extended family, all miraculously in one place. It felt like we were the Weasley family from Harry Potter, all safely marked as “AT HOME”.
One decent coffee: The delicious and refreshing cold-brew at Boxcar Social along the glorious Toronto waterfront.
Off the beaten track: Today began with a struggle. I had to get my head back into school-mode and draw on my courage and integrity to deal with some decision-making I didn’t agree with. While I’m diligent, it’s so hard to make these decisions where you are away on holiday and wanting to be present here, and you find yourself drawn back into work-mode against your will, despite having put a firm boundary down before leaving. I feel like I am being pulled into a decision I absolutely don’t agree with, and I am missing family, friends, and colleagues back home to talk it through. Luckily, I had my brother and sister-in-law, Robs + Em, to help get me back into equilibrium. I had to work through the issue, step-by-step, all the while anxious and frustrated I wasn’t there in person to be able to give voice to my opinions. I HAVE to trust that my judgment is right and that my decisions, always based in integrity, will have merit.
An unsettling start to the day, which made me so very grateful for the joy of being able to spend it with family, new and old.
And thank you also, wider universe and everyone who loves me, that I work from a place of love, courage, and integrity. It’s such a hard path to walk sometimes, but it’s the only way I know how to be. And this is the case because I have learnt this example from all the people who have played a part in shaping me.
Please let me be at peace with all that I have done, and let me know that my true worth will shine through. Let me trust in this and continue to take joy and delight in my travels.
Because I absolutely must!