Settling in.. fur reel doe.
The dreaded ‘phase 2’ on the cultural fatigue cycle, which coloured my life for a couple months, is behind me now. It was difficult and I’m definitely glad it’s over. But it was a good learning experience, as all struggles are.
Looking back to the cultural fatigue information, it seems that I’ve surpassed stage 3 ‘Life Goes On’ and reached stage 4 ‘Assimilation.’ Which is another way of saying I’m settled into life in Japan, now.
With this transition, I feel less isolated from Japanese culture. I’ve learned coping strategies for the cultural differences that I face, so they don’t bewilder/upset me anymore, and I’m able to pick up on cultural cues (which would have passed by unnoticed before) and act accordingly. In some instances, I’ve even adopted the culture…I’m cleaner than I’ve ever been in my life, I use a kotatsu (weirdest/best invention. Google it) I’m more prone to gift-giving and I gravitate towards the Japanese way of eating, (forks seem a bit unsettling now, actually) among other things. I’m still very often struct by the significant cultural differences I run into, but it’s with more of a fascination now than anything.
Japan feels like home now. Or, more exclusively, Amakusa does. I feel totally calm and settled in my life here. And I have much more energy on a day-to-day basis.(Thank goodness for this..there were a few weeks there that had me needing to go to bed at 8pm)
I felt a significant shift upon arriving back from Winter holidays. As I mentioned in my previous post, I felt somehow ‘changed’ in my core. So I’ve used the past month to internalize these changes. I’ve been more introspective than usual and catered to my inner longing to spend time alone.
While before, I made sure to have plans every weekend, for fear of boredom and loneliness, I’m over that. In fact, I’ve had quite a few weekends to myself in Amakusa since New Years and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed them. I needed them, I reckn. I enjoy hanging out by myself, a notion I had forgotten when I was in the midst of ‘phase 2’ and the loneliness had come on strong. But I’m back, baby!
I took the month off drinking alcohol in an effort to show my body some love after an indulgent Christmas break. I’ve turned my phone off and put it the cupboard a few times. I’ve been making more art, dedicating more time to meditation, connecting with my Japanese friends, and exploring this gorgeous island. There’s a lot to be discovered in Amakusa and it seems I’ve only just scratched the surface.
My outlook on my job has been improving, too. There are definitely aspects of my job and Japanese work life in general that don’t suit me. There are times when I feel underutilized, or lacking in fulfillment at work. I used to dwell on these things and constantly find myself thinking about what will come next for me, after my JET tenure, and while I’m still navigating these emotions, I’ve decided to make an active effort to change my perspective on things.
Rather than focusing on what my job isn’t doing for me, I’m trying to focus on what I can bring to the job, and how I can improve my experience. So far, so good. I am finding more joy in my day-to-day work life, fostering deeper connections with my students and teachers and feeling more present at school. I’m happy about my decision to recontract and stick around for another year. Go, me!
Moreover, Elementary school doesn’t exhaust me like it once did. Contrarily, I now leave Elementary school most Friday afternoons feeling energized and inspired. I look forward to Fridays when I can go work along side the amazing teachers at Kameshoo. (Including my desk neighbour, Kaminaka sensei, the one who kept gifting me with beautiful handmade jewelry. We are kindred spirits.). And of course, the kiddies. I learn so much from these young humans. They know patience, presence and joy better than any adult I know.
So this week, I am grateful for my amazing Elementary school students, who brightened my week, every week. In particular, this shout out goes to my first graders, who taught me some valuable lessons last week. (Hello role reversal!) Read on!
Two weeks ago, at the beginning of class, one of my first graders got into an argument with her desk mate. I couldn’t understand what happened, but they were clearly upset with each other. The teacher, Ms. Araki, stopped the class to see what was the matter and both students started crying upon trying to explain. They got out their tears, apologized to each other, and preceded to move along, as if nothing had ever happened. Within minutes they were happy as clams, singing ‘head shoulders knees and toes’ with the rest of us.
I admired the way these tots were able to experience their emotions, release them, forgive and move on…the way it should be. As children, we know how to deal with our emotions in a healthy way. But many of us, myself included, tend to forget as we grow up.
Upon getting upset or afraid, I have a tendency to try to numb my emotions, and push them down, in an effort to ignore them and in turn, avoid the uncomfortable sensation of actually feeling them. The thing is, doing this doesn’t make them disappear. Rather, denying the release of emotions actually invites them to reside within and embed themselves inside bodily tissue, only to be regurgitated in some other unhealthy form down the road. Like sickness, anxiety or lashing out at somebody unfairly, for example. (A straightforward example of this is a male conditioned to repress his emotions to appear ‘manly’ only to release them through domestic violence when he can’t bottle them up any longer.)
It may sound strange that I’m talking about ‘feelings’ as if they are actual, physical things. But they are. They’re no less real than the bunch of atoms that make up a flu virus or your big toe. Feelings and emotions are energy. And this energy is constantly flowing, whether it flows out of you, or deeper into you. You can’t make it disappear… that would be too easy.
I know this now and I’m trying to relearn how to deal with my emotions in a healthy way. Therefore, witnessing how this silly argument was dealt with by a coupla six year olds did not go unnoticed. It was enlightening!
The youngster-induced enlightenment didn’t end there. Later in the same class, we were practicing the names of fruits English and set up the ‘fruit basket’ game to review what they had learned.
We arranged our chairs in a big circle and gave each child a card with a picture of one of twelve fruits. One child would stand in the middle and call out the name of any fruit, and everyone with that fruit printed on their card must get up, and race find a new empty chair. Whoever is left chair-less must go in the middle of the circle and call the next fruit. It’s a really fast-paced game with a lot of running and commotion.
One gal, Yumi, is very shy and this game was clearly not for her. When it came her turn to stand in the centre of the circle, she completely froze, and ended up standing there for about a minute, looking terrified. In an effort to end the poor girl’s terror, Mrs. Araki gave her permission to say it in Japanese instead. But she continued to stand there, frozen. The teacher entered the circle to help her and whispered options of things that she could say in her ear. Eventually, she quietly uttered ‘pineapple’ and the game resumed.
Not long after, Yumi’s turn came again. This time, the teacher didn’t have to help. Two of the other children shot up and entered the middle of the circle to help Yumi, who again looked like she was going to cry. Haruna, took the role of whispering options into Yumi’s ear, while Sota, stood by her side with his arm around her. Yumi was taking her time, but her classmates were endlessly patient and supportive.
Yumi’s turn came a third time, and about six students stood up to help her out this time. Haruna realized that this was too many, as Yumi looked overwhelmed, so she took it upon herself to assign the helper role to another student (not even claiming it for herself, as I would have expected) and urged everyone else to sit down.
A scared Yumi received the help and support she needed, once again. When she sat down I noticed the boy next to her put his hand on her back and he kept it there.
It goes without saying… these kids are amazing.
I was blown away by the love, patience and kindness these kids displayed so naturally. Not once did any of them show an ounce of judgment or frustration towards Yumi’s inability to perform the seemingly simple task. And the teacher didn’t command them to do any of this, it was all of their own accord. Sometimes I wonder why I stand up in front of the kids, acting as if I know more than them. That one’s up for debate.
Still sitting in the circle amongst these wonderful humans, my eyes filled with tears. I couldn’t help it. Just then, (this part almost sounds made up) one of the special education teachers, (a tiny, older woman) walked down the hallway carrying a mark tree (that percussion instrument that makes that beautiful chime sound you hear on cartoons when something magical happens). It chimed it’s magical chime sound with her every step as she walked past the classroom.
Like.. are you kidding me, universe? If I needed a reminder to soak in this beautiful moment, that was certainly it.
The class ended and I returned to the staff room for my break. In simple English, I was able to explain to the teacher how utterly amazed I was by what I had just witnessed in her class. She was so touched and happy to hear that.
A few minutes later, she came over from her desk and handed me a paper, pictured below, which read ‘I praise warm feelings.’ It was her way of thanking me (with help from Google translate) for complimenting her students. In Japan, teachers have a much closer relationship with their students than in the west. Their role is comparable to that of a parent, partially responsible for shaping the child’s character. She had clearly been doing a fantastic job.
She went back to her seat and brought the note with her, but I later asked her if I could keep it. (I’ve since used it in a piece of artwork I’ve been working on!) I don’t think Ms. Araki knew how profound her note was in my eyes. It spoke to the struggle I had been dealing with that week.
The law of attraction, which I try to live by as best I can, says to “pay attention to the way you feel. And let yourself be drawn to those things that feel good or right to you while you let yourself be moved away from those things that do not.” It’s such a simple, seemingly obvious concept, but it’s often easier said than done. And my week had involved attempting to move away from a couple of things that don’t make me feel good. It was a difficult process.
We should all ‘praise warm feelings’ and open ourselves up to drawing in more of them. The opposite is true too.
That experience with my amazing first graders and their teacher single handedly pulled me out of the negativity I had been dwelling on that week. These kids are showing me that we are all born pure, and full of love and goodness. We simply tend to forget that part of ourselves sometimes. But it’s always there.
Frick- I’m excited to have kids of my own one day!
Finding power in owning my (not-so-flattering) story
After posting my last blog post, which included a request for feedback, my dad messaged me and gave me some thoughts and suggestions. ‘It might get a little too personal’ was among the advice he provided.
I proceeded to rereading the things I’ve written, wondering where I could have toned it down. But doing so didn’t feel right. I value my dad’s advice and wanted to take all of his points into consideration, however, this particular point didn’t sit well with me. I thought about it and realized that, if anything, I longed for my writing to be more personal. The clear dissonance between his advice and my vision explained my uneasy feelings.
I am aware that I am publishing my navel-gazing for the world to see, and in doing so, I am shedding light on some of my personal affairs, which (unfortunately) is a bit of a radical concept among women my age. But that is exactly my intention, I’ve realized.
As I’ve touched on in other posts, in recent years, I’ve been through my fair share of inner turmoil. And while now these difficulties have evolved into something different, I’m still struggling. I’ve yet to shed much light on exactly what I’m referring to here, but I plan to.
I wouldn’t change these struggles I’ve experiences for anything. In fact, I’m grateful for them. Navigating these difficulties and the corresponding lessons learned have shaped me into who I am… and I’m (newly) fond of this person. Plus, they’ve allowed me to cultivate a whole new outlook on life… a much more positive and gracious one.
It kind of blows my mind how much I’ve learned in such a short time. And the process is showing no signs of stopping, so I want to document and share what I’m learning as I go along. I hope reading about my personal affairs might help others navigate theirs. Or at least serve as an invitation to look at them a little more closely. In addition, even if no one is listening, it’s absolutely therapeutic for me to publish this kind of writing in a public forum.
It’s therapeutic because the act of writing brings me joy, but that’s not what I’m referring to. Writing about my personal affairs is therapeutic because it’s a lesson in waking myself up to my inner truth.
Frankly, the thought of revealing myself to others and what they might think of me is scary. Like the rest of us, I have shameful and embarrassing personal issues and stories that feel much safer kept to myself, or ignored all together. But that is, truly, the worst place to keep them.
This goes back to what I mentioned before about the importance of releasing your emotions. Shame is one of the most insidious emotions that we tend to hang on to. Brene Brown (a vulnerability researcher)says ‘Shame can’t survive if you share your story.’ This is so true.
Recently, I’ve gotten more comfortable in speaking about personal things to others in face-to-face interactions, and now, in my writing. It was difficult at first, but the more I do it, the easier it becomes and the better it feels. Owning my story isn’t always easy, but it’s certainly easier than spending my life running from it. With this realization, my urge to ‘expose myself’ is only getting stronger. Sorry (not sorry), dad.
Currently, I feel as though I’m too in the midst of some of my personal issues to be able to look at them objectively and share in a stable manner. But the time will come when I do. And I reckon it’ll be soon. My shame is diminishing, and while it’s a bit scary putting myself in a vulnerable place to share, I know that’s where growth happens.
I just finished Osho’s book ‘Courage’ which also touched on the power behind exposing your truth.
“If you go on exposing yourself, in the beginning it is going to be really scary, but soon you will start gaining strength because once the truth is exposed it becomes stronger and the untruth dies. And with the truth becoming stronger you become rooted, you become centred. You start becoming an individual.”
“Whatsoever you hide goes on growing, and whatsoever you expose, if it is wrong it disappears, evaporates in the sun, and if it is right, it is nourished.”
YEP! You said it, Osho.
(Shout out to Kris Tost for giving me this awesome book as a going away present. Thanks, lady! I enjoyed it.)
Moreover, with my newfound tendency to share in this manner, I’ve become a more open person. I’m able to connect with others more quickly and deeply than before. And my openness often invokes a similar response in whomever I’m sharing with. My relationships and interactions are richer and more interesting than ever before.
So, if my potential ‘over shares’ make you uncomfortable (like they sometimes do my dad..fair enough though, he is my father after all) I suggest not reading on. But lemme tell ya…you should try it. It feels good.
In other news…
-We held our second book club meeting at my place a couple weekends ago. We read ‘Little Bee’ …a really good read. Three of the book club members (Kumamoto city ALTs) plus one of the Amakusa ALTs went paragliding with Rik and Leanne! It was so great to get to see the girls look fear in the eye and run off a cliff into infinity. Hehe. Actually, Matty and Bilal, with whom I went to the music festival in Aso, are coming this weekend to give it a shot, too!
-I had my second painting class, which I’ve joined with a friend of mine and his two young daughters. The teacher only speaks Japanese and Spanish, so Hannah, the ten year-old daughter, has been acting as my translator, when need be. (She speaks English because her mom is British) As it turns out, the teacher is a little out there, and tends to ramble. So sometimes Hannah will be trying to translate with a look of utter confusion on her face, because he’s talking about random things, unrelated to the task at hand. While showing me what I thought was how to use the pencil a certain way I asked ‘What’s he talking about now?’ ‘Now he’s talking about Dracula’ she said. It’s pretty hilarious. We are constantly trying to hold back our laughter.
Before I start painting, he wants me to draw. So I’m drawing one of the roman statues he has in the studio. A lot of the teachings get lost in translation but that’s ok. It’s really nice to just sit in a room amongst other people making art, and have nothing to do but draw. I’m really grateful to have found this class.
-Eleesa (Aussie ALT living in Kumamoto) and I are planning a ‘Women’s Retreat’ over the long weekend in March. We rented an Air BnB by the sea in Amakusa and we’ve got a total of eleven people on board. I’m really looking forward to it. I have a really good feeling about what may come of this 🙂
-I bought a Kindle, which I vowed I’d never do, as I love books so much. But English books aren’t easy to come by where I live, so I’ve joined the tablet-reading club. I’ve named her Gloria, after my grandma. It’s been a weird adjustment.
-Funny story: I go for walks on my lunch breaks and the other day I ended up on an old, overgrown, path, trying to make my way to what I thought was an abandoned building I saw in the distance. I was walked through some pretty dense bushes to get there. (It ended up being fully inhabited, and there was a landscaped path leading to it from the other side -_-)
I was wearing my long grey, knit coat, which, upon emerging from the path I realised had turned dark brown as I was COVERED in those tiny, prickly brown spikes. (The size and shape of pine needles, but with a grippy claw on one end). These are not the kind that you can brush off a knit coat with the swipe of your hand, or even remove with a sticky roller brush (I tried both). The only way to remove them was pulling tiny groups off with your fingers. I tried to pick off as many as I could before arriving back at school, but I only managed to get about 1/500th of them. I was densely covered.
I prayed no one would notice and tried to hide my coat under my scarf on the back of my chair when I went off to class. I how I’d be spending my evenings for the rest of the week… picking off needles from my only friggin’ coat.
At the end of every school day, we have 15 minutes of cleaning time where the students (since Japan doesn’t use janitors) get assigned an area to clean around the school. I watch over the students in the English room. After cleaning, upon returning to the teacher’s room, I saw a group of five or six students crowded around my desk. They were carefully picking the needles off my coat and putting them in a bucket.
The teacher assigned to overlooking the students who clean the teacher’s room asked me how that had happened, to which I replied, ‘I was in the forest’ in my best (horrible) Japanese. Everyone laughed. I was soo embarrassed.
The students barely put a dent it the needles that day, but every day after cleaning time, I noticed my coat was become greyer again. And by the end of the week, with their efforts combined with mine, they were (mostly) gone. #facepalm
That’s all for now. Notice how short that was? It was longer but I had to ‘kill my babies’ as my professor used to say at Art School. (aka, learn to let go of your work, even if you put effort into it.)
Sending love to all y’all. Whoever reads this. (Again, please comment! It makes me happy!)
Aka Mary Ellen