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I always do a blessing on my house each morning. Being a first generation Chinese-Vietnamese Australian, there are things you do partly out of love, partly out of tradition, and partly out of warding off the first-generation karma.
Lately, I have asked for courage. Sometimes, it’s a conscious request with a specific scenario in mind. Like, “Please grant me the courage to have that god-awful and awkward conversation I’ve got to have with one of my students who’s failing. Help me speak with compassion and directness, help me hit the right mark, help me go there and hold space for the discomfort.”
Other days, it’s just what pops up into my heard + heart, unbidden, “One order of courage today, please!”
In asking for courage, here is what I have received in my last term of teaching:
I asked for courage, in order that I might have the self-compassion and patience to be out of action for 7 days to soothe my spirit and recover from the sickness of intensive travel with the ANZAC Music Tour. The tenderness with which I have to speak to myself, that I might understand and fully embrace the fact that I am not super-human, that I must rest, and that the exhaustive pull of this sickness will pass, and I will recover, and my spirit will rise up again.
I asked for courage, that I might catch the newly-awakened love of leadership that came from leading the tour. You always get what you absolutely don’t want, and I cannot tell you how MUCH I DID NOT WANT to lead this tour. I didn’t know the crevices of it, I hadn’t planned it, my heart wasn’t embedded in it. And yet, I found myself holding the reins, in charge of the emotional, musical, and physical safety and joy of the students under my direction. I got on that plane, leaned in, and led like a MF. All the while, knowing that I would have been just as happy with a holidays curled up reading, or cooking, or fresh-faced from a morning run along Henley Beach, and I was on the other side of the world, discovering, experiencing, leading, learning, feeling; wholehearted, courageous, and completely present. I gave my heart to that tour, those kids, and my supporting staff. The fire in the belly has been awakened, and I find that I like being in the driver’s seat. That I like considering the dynamics and well-being of a team, and that I like pin-pointing potential and helping others to grow.
I asked for courage, that I might take a bigger, more audacious bite of life. I am always on the conservative side of the average. But lately, by design or by default, I have found myself pushing limits. Reaching in, asking for more clarification, talking, engaging in discussion, and leaning hard into discomfort. So much so that I come home completely wrecked and exhausted, sometimes wondering if I’ve done right by everyone – and knowing, instinctively, that I have.
I asked for courage, that I might let go more easily, learn how to forgive more completely and honestly, learn the process of forgiveness more intimately, that I might take bigger, more audacious bites of life. The more that I protect myself and tell myself and the world that everything is okay, the more that I don’t embrace the gritty reality of forgiveness. Forgiveness is what allows each of us to fully embrace life, and allow us that “lean-hard” into joy. Because unfortunately, there cannot be a filter for embracing life completely; if you want the joys, you need to run headlong into the shitty moments. Forgiveness is the navigation tool of the bold and brave-hearted.
I asked for courage, that I might love more fully. Loving is such a unfurling, tender, human act.
I asked for courage, that I might not embrace fears before they actually become fears. I see the audaciousness of those much older, much less educated, much more courageous that I am, and I see that they are living life with balls-out, audacious, vibrant wholeheartedness. And I cry, because I realise how many times I have played small from fear. I have the complete Derwent set of pencils in language, emotion, connection, life, stability, family, love, friendship, finance; the ONLY thing stopping me is fear. And perhaps a well-made flat white. I have everything I need to live life audaciously + fiercely.
I asked for courage, that I might learn how to navigate the unforgivable. When fear or circumstance make people act in ways that are less-than, when there is no rhyme or reason to a decision, an act, or a situation. I am afraid of becoming closed-off and bitter when I have to navigate these situations. Conversely, I don’t want to treat them superficially. So therefore, I ask for courage that I might engage with every part of life, even the situations which challenge me deeply and I do not easily understand, those which are seemingly unforgivable, incomprehensible, and driven by fear. I ask that I do not respond in fear, but I respond with courage and compassion, that I might retain and even build my understanding of myself, the world around me, and my understanding of humanity, and continue to live fully. One of my greatest fears is becoming bitter and not knowing myself.
I asked for courage, that I might be perceptive. That just because someone is embedded in a place of leadership or power, that does not make them a person of integrity and worth, and those qualities need to be demonstrated and trust earned over time. I ask that I learn to see things authentically, that I process things thoroughly, and that I anger + react slowly.
I asked for courage, that I might have the courage to be different. Lately, assimilating has been strangely seductive for me. Perhaps it’s been a long term, perhaps I feel like I am up against it, but I ask for courage that I continue to think differently to others, see my different points of view, and bring fresh new insights to the table, even if they seem – different. I am put here to be creative and compassionate, playful and insightful, and no one else will see from my point of view. And just because a decision is not made in my favour, doesn’t mean my viewpoint isn’t valid. The validity is not the question. It’s whether I have the courage to embrace seeing things from my point of view, and whether or not they make sense and are done from a place of generosity and egoless-ness.
I asked for courage, that I might live. When it gets too tiring or overwhelming, I want to fucking dance.
In asking for courage, I got a shitload of challenge, problem-solving, closed doors, fear and unfairness.
I’d say The Universe delivered very nicely, don’t you think?
I got comprehensively “couraged”, and I walk with battle scars, head-up, and a whole new sass.
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.
People trust me with their children…!
YOUR choice. What will you choose?
Every time we do something different, it opens up a little door of change and possibility in each of us. A glimpse of a world slightly different from our current path, or a whole new way of understanding that shakes us up and asks us to explore and embrace something which is outside of our comfort zone.
This year, I’d like to do things differently.
Inherently differently. That is, for all the times in the past that I have made a decision and had an outcome that I didn’t like, I’d like to remember those experiences and then try to respond differently this year.
Every time I get the opportunity to walk through one of these doors and to create a different outcome, I am going try to do so. My question that I am going to ask myself this year at each decision is this: How will I do things differently?
So rather than saying, “That’s fabulous, but that’s not me”, I am going to see if I can take a different viewpoint of, “That’s fabulous, and how can I find a way to engage with it so that I am still standing in my own integrity, but just a little (or a lot, let’s face it!) out of my comfort zone?”
How often do we do things the way we have always done things, or thought the same thoughts, and been surprised when the outcome has been the same? Or those times we have written off a project, idea, friendship, conversation, or connection before it had even the opportunity to get off the ground because we could not change the direction of our thinking?
I realised that even though I am an optimistic person who is thoroughly interested in life, I have made a lot of my decisions from a place of can’t. No, that won’t work because that person doesn’t do large-scale, or fun, or innovative. No, I can’t do that choral piece because I don’t have the numbers. And yes, there is reason behind my thinking and I’m not about to be blindly Pollyanna about anything. But…what if I thought about things just a little bit differently?
So for example, rather than being a little shy and careful with how I react to new connections because of past hurts, I’d like to be more present and embrace them more fully. This doesn’t mean overflowing with information and personal details from the onset, this means that I have to work harder to connect, be more open and present in my interactions and not just rely on brightness and niceties, be genuinely interested and not just fly-by tokenistic with my conversation, and to look hard at myself as to whether I am being the sort of colleague and friend I would like to have. It’s harder, more genuine work. But it’s different from how I do things now, which is stay somewhat brightly superficial until I really feel safe with the people and want to invite them into my circle. So many lost opportunities for connection and to engage with people who have different ideas to me if I do not have the courage to have my own world shaken up a bit because I’m skimming the surface.
I’d like to get more real and curious!
Rather than sitting on the fence, I’d like to see if I can form a more definite opinion, even if that opinion is sitting on the fence and being undecided.
Rather than just writing lyrical pieces, I’d like to see if I can write and embrace my witty, playful, clever, unexpected, and fiercely intelligent side.
Rather than being adaptive, I wonder what it would be like to absolutely take the spotlight more.
Rather than being a team player all the time, I wonder what it would be like to lead and direct a project.
Rather than preempting how something will go before even jumping in, I’d like to try something, knowing full well that it might not work and that it might cost me time, energy, and personal investment, but I’d still like to try and embrace the journey rather than cutting an idea down before it’s even had a chance to be fully explored.
Because somewhere in all of this thinking, I think that I have been living safe. I have a safe little world where I am comfortable. But I am wondering what it is like to take the other path. To take Option B. To take the experience rather than what I’ve always done.
I’d like to see how differently I can do things this year, and what choices I will make which will allow me to change and grow.
What will you do differently?
Mostly, I live + let live but there are times, I confess, where this is my sole modus operandi. 😂
From Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, Big Magic. This paragraph makes me “smile out loud” every time I read it.
Her word resonate with surprising urgency for us to embrace our creativity. So powerful for me to read now as I am in a period of intense writing + composing.
“Who the hell do you think you are?” you darkest interior voices will demand.
“It’s funny you should ask,” you can reply. “I’ll tell you who I am: I am a child of God, just like anyone else. I am I constituent of this universe. I have invisible spirit benefactors who believe in me, and who labour alongside me. The fact that I am here at all is evidence that I have the right to be here. I have a right to my own voice and a right to my own vision. I have a right to collaborate with creativity, because I myself am a product and a consequence of Creation. I’m on a mission of artistic liberation, so let the girl go.”
Now you’re the one doing the talking.
This morning, I finished re-reading the extraordinary book, The Courage to Be Disliked, by Ichiro Kishimi + Fumitake Koga. It shakes me to the core every time with its conversation and ideas, asking me to consider so much. You need a lifetime of thinking to process some of the concepts, and with each re-read (I have re-read it 3 times now), you pick up something different, and the understanding changes to fit where you are in life, and what issues and points of development have your attention.
For me, it got me thinking about self-love; how I care for myself, how I love myself, and how I hold myself in loving tenderness.
It was extraordinary to me how many times I have let myself slip in self-love, and how many times I failed to be tender to myself. No-one else would see it, but I am considering them now.
More than ordinary: Why do we all want to be extraordinary and different for the sake of being those things? We equate living a “good” life with living a “dull + ordinary” life. And “dull + ordinary” very dangerously become synonymous with “worthless”. It isn’t our job to strive to stand out from the crowd as our first priority; it’s our job to just live a good life. When we do this, a certain momentum and energy comes off us, and we become extraordinary and different, because we are animated, fully-engaged, and alive from doing our life’s work. Striving for acclaim and ultimately love and acceptance as our first course of action is a deeply unloving way to ask yourself to work, and to live life.
Just be: When we go into work, we are often measured by what we can give or do. We are only as valuable as our skills, success-rate, and productivity. Sadly, when we engage with family members, friends, and colleagues, in the same way we sometimes measure them through what they can give us. Is it that they make us feel good about themselves? They have a skill we want? They have scintillating and witty conversation? They are socially acceptable to be around? They have money and accolades? The do not ask questions which offend us? While all of these aspects are important and we should choose to be with people who are positive influences in our lives, shouldn’t the very first requirement be that they are just themselves? When we think of others as comrades and equals, rather than useful commodities – and it is a very subtle change of mindset – everything changes. Something shifts, and people are more willing to engage with you and willingly offer of themselves and their talents.
Therefore, it stands to reason that we each of us need to just be, safe in our worthiness.
Momentum, direction, and agency: When you are working from a base value of strong self-worth, then what you create, do, produce, say, achieve, is a bonus. It gives your life purpose and meaning. The fact that I teach, compose, and conduct choirs is a value added on top of my value as a person. Yet, too often, I have brandished those defining factors in front of new acquaintances as a definition of who I am, of all that I am. And I have looked for those defining factors in others as a reason to either keep or discard a connection. This also applies to students I teach as well; does the student who is on track and produces high quality work automatically get more value than a student who is a little turd? Theoretically, no. In practice, we all try not to. But how often have we said, even internally, “Oh, that student? They give me absolutely nothing. They’re a waste of space.” Shouldn’t the absolute bottom requirement be that they are there? Am I not the teacher and adult in the room?
When I scroll + scroll + scroll: You all know those days. It’s been a shitfest since 7:15am in the morning, and every lesson has progressively sucked from the word go. Get home, and you don’t want to engage. I numb by mindlessly scrolling through Facebook + Youtube. And when I cannot break that cycle and I tell myself that I deserve the chance to mentally check-out because I’ve had a shit day, I am not loving myself. When I stay in a holding pattern rather than taking those first, challenging steps toward moving through what I need to, reaching out and telling my story, nourishing my body through good food or exercise, or nourishing my brain through words, music, or journalling, I am feeding myself emotional junk-food and not doing myself any good. And the effects are just as shallow and ineffective. Start the work, care for myself.
I will see what I want to see in the world: People are imperfect, and they will let you down and hurt you. That’s a fact. However, if I set out to see how many times someone has let me down, I will always find evidence of this. If I look for evidence on how challenging a student is being, or how hopeless their situation, I will always succeed in finding it. I will always be able to verify whatever I want to see. So, it is my challenge to change the course of my thinking; how can I change my immediate response? How do I see something different, and look for clues otherwise in a situation, even if the hard work and course of action ahead is exactly the same?
I will see what I want to see in myself: Oh yes, there are several ways I can beat myself up. I don’t buy in for the “mindlessly Pollyanna” way of thinking either, because that’s just lip-service. But I will also see in myself what I look for. If I am looking for evidence of times I have let myself down, or failed, or how much I sucked at something, or how thoughtless, or when I have made a fool of myself, I will no doubt find it. And I can think of so many days when I have come home from school fixated on one interaction which has overtaken any of the other positives in my day, and how hard I have to try to change that course of thinking. Let me train myself to see things differently. Let me celebrate all that I have done well, first and foremost.
When I avoid: When I am avoiding something, I am telling myself I do not matter. Why? We avoid things when we are afraid. We are instinctively saying, “I don’t think I have what it takes to step into that arena, and say my piece, without being torn apart. I don’t think I have what it takes to own my truth. I don’t think I have what it takes to get up from the rubble if I get shot down.” So we avoid. Let me love myself a little more insistently, that the trust in my great strength is there. And yes, it will hurt. But I will be authentic and loving to myself, and not avoid any of truths about me.
The hard questions: As a follow-on from above, I have sometimes tied myself up in knots about a family gathering or a friendly catch-up because I know I will get the questions I dread; Why am I not married, raising a family, or have children? I have used every freakin’ verbal karate move under the sun to navigate these conversations. I have avoided, come out fighting, used humour, used the Zen-like approach, responded, not responded, avoided the most hurtful and nosey people, come at them like a bat out of hell and annihilated them for even daring to ask such a stupid question. What I have to realise is this; for most people asking, they are asking on such a different wavelength to me; they are simply asking a question, and I am looking at an emotional crater of sadness and grief, which I stand on the edge of daily. Humour cheapens it, fighting doesn’t acknowledge it properly. For other people asking, they are asking out of love. So avoiding hard questions is not the answer; it’s practising and preparing my answers. It’s knowing where I stand on these things, and knowing how much they mean to me, that I know exactly what I need to say to get my story across. Take the time to tell my truth and educate others. THAT is TRULY LOVING myself. My darling girl, I will never let you down again in not owning all that you are, I promise. Love all that you are, even the uncomfortable truths. That is your whole self.
Change: Sometimes, I resist change because I don’t think the people and world around me would cope if I changed something. What a ridiculous thing to think! Am I so adaptable that I will just go on being the person other people want me to be? If I need to grow and change, it is only for myself. Again, help educate others I love and care for about the change, speak with them without apology and let them know why I am considering a different direction, or a new way of approaching things. I owe no-one any explantations, by the way! Embrace all that I am, sink into it, deeply and wholly. I am a truly beautiful woman of grace, colour, vibrancy and fire. Let’s rock it.
Owning it: And finally, every time that I step into a room and do not take the floor when given the opportunity. I am not talking about being an attention-seeker. I am once again talking about those times where I have been a happy little fringe-dweller and played small, dimming my light so that other’s around me don’t feel uncomfortable. Step up, girl. Own it. Use your words. Shine your light. Share you extraordinary ideas + opinions. Change the momentum of the air around you.
You deserve all the love.