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These are the spirits we are working with in classrooms. Let us take care of these ones and live like this ourselves!
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.
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.
Did you know you can close up anytime? It’s so easy that it’s almost imperceptible if you’re not aware. And then the minutes and days pass and suddenly, you find yourself on the other side of the window, with the glass getting mistier + cloudier, and you go to reach out and – can’t.
It starts small.
“Hello” only, rather than, “How are you, what’s happening?”, because in that moment, any more than “Hello” is too much effort.
It’s the change in inflection in your voice.
Rather than putting something into words, just moving, moving, moving. The “what’s next” is so seductive, and so easy, that you wonder if you dreamed that moment of worry and vulnerability. Did you know that a moving target is harder to hit? Devastating, hey?
Don’t wear that colourful scarf. Too much to wear those gorgeous earrings. Not feeling that fabulous polka-dot coat. Put the plain-coloured everything on.
I’ll do it tomorrow.
Look down, rather than looking up and engaging, and risking that interaction because there is a chance that it might be uncomfortable, or joyful, or weird, or funny, or – something other than easy.
I’m not ready yet.
Put the bowl in the microwave, heat it up, eat. Don’t want to clean the glorious oil spatter off the kitchen counter, or have chilli make your eyes water and you watery with laughter, or have the house smell like garlic for days. Keep it clean.
Don’t ask that extra question, you might start a landslide or create a wave. You might find yourself on the edge, or worse still, the outer. You might get a reputation.
Why reach out anyways? They’ll be busy. They’ll have other things on. Too tired. No time or energy. Next time.
That worked last time. Do it again, cut and paste, repeat.
It’s so easy, way too easy, to close up.
Be a little more awkward and daring, hopeful and vibrant, and step up.
Look around. There’s more. Embrace the stomach flip. Feel the awkward acutely.
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.
This caught me by surprise and made my heart flip.
The Year 7s have been writing “gratitude notes” and I received one that nearly broke me today with how utterly beautiful + perceptive it was:
“Dear Ms Kwok,
Coming to Pulteney was one of the scariest but best decisions of my life. I have to be honest and say that I really like all my teachers, but I like them all differently. Some teachers are nice and I walk in and out of their classes feeling good. But that’s it. I feel nice, which isn’t bad but it isn’t life-changing.
And then there are some teachers where I walk into class and I feel like I’m really seen and that I need to put up work which is my best. I feel like I am cared for, but not always in a comfortable way, like I’m valued but I can’t cruise.
You are one of those sorts of teachers.
Exciting things feel more exciting, and I feel like I want to try harder because there’s more chance that you will see when I’m not doing my best, and probably call me out on it. That’s okay, it’s your job. (😂)
Thank you for not only teaching me, but making me feel like I want more out of each day.”
Holy crap. Can this kid please go for president?!
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.
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.
Exhausted + buoyant all at once. Thank you so much to the exceptionally excellent Pulteney staff I work with, whose words + laughter lifted me up and filled me to the brim today. I am so inspired by the joy, compassion + love you share with each other and myself. I am 4 (or more accurately, 3.88-ish! 😂) years old at Pulteney, and I love the feeling of realising I have become a little over-loved, dog-eared, and worn-in, in the best way possible.
Thank you. 😊
Flying joyfully free into holidays + feeling light, but anchored. 🌟
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.