Hello! I haven’t written in quite some time…I felt blocked and nothing was flowing. But then I made a big decision to quit my job after just one year instead of two.. and I’m back, baby!
The cats outta the bag… I’m a spiritual gal.
I’ve decided to take a leap of faith and open up (a bit) about my spirituality. I’ve grown tired of censoring such an integral part of my being in order to not make anyone feel uncomfortable. So from now on, I ain’t gonna. I do so with trepidation, however. There is so much stigma attached to this topic. I’m aware it can make people uncomfortable or even repulsed. Thus, this post (as well as those coming) will not be for everyone. But being the biggest interest in my life, I’d be doing my soul disservice by not opening up about it a little more.
I am weary of doing so for fear of judgement. Judgement that is liable to come in a few different forms. The first being that I’ve gone nutty and this is all some ‘new-age hippy bull sh*t.’ I’m cool with that one, actually. I’ve judged people in this very same way in the past and know how strange and even silly spirituality can seem if you have no connection to it. The form that I’m not comfortable with is having people believe that because I have a connection to spirit, I therefore think I’m better than them. Or even worse, people actually believing that I am better than them.
Let it be known that my intent to expand spiritually is my choice. And my human experience is no better or worse than anyone else’s. Moreover, one does not need to meditate or read spiritual literature in order to have a connection to the universe. My former boyfriend, for example, never meditated a day in his life and is one of the most Zen people I know. For me though, this route was what was necessary to start healing and figuring out who I am. And once I started down this path, I didn’t want to stop. I’ve never encountered anything that’s interested me so enthusiastically before.
Writing this particular post has been a bit of a struggle. Like I said, there is such stigma surrounding spirituality or ‘enlightenment’ ‘ascension’ ‘consciousness’ ‘awakening’ ‘connection to the universe’ whatever you want to call it. Even typing these words makes me feel slightly arrogant. Navigating this stigma has been tricky. In addition, it’s tough to put something so multi-faceted and all encompassing into words to describe it in a general sense. The topic itself seems to resists the breakdown necessary to convert it into words. Here’s my best shot..
Spirituality and personal growth has been the main focus in my life for about four years now. It’s by far what I put most of my spare time and energy into. And good golly has my life changed drastically during this time. The way I experience the world couldn’t be more different from the way I did back then. Heck-it’s even different from last week!
Formerly identifying as a proud atheist, I once had no interest in any of this stuff. Eventually, I picked up yoga and meditation (the gateway drugs) in an effort to find inner calm amidst the constant ebb and flow of anxiety and fear that once plagued me. One thing lead to another and I am now more connected to God* (the universe, consciousness, a higher power, source energy, my higher self, my inner guide, whatever you want to call it) than I ever knew was possible. This was not my mission, but a bi product of all the inner work I was doing in an effort to become a better, calmer person.
Now, while I don’t associate directly with any particular religion, I can understand and appreciate each of their essences, as I too believe that there is something indescribable and greater than myself out there. I can feel it. With this, I’ve gradually become able to perceive life beyond solely what I learn from my five senses. I suddenly understand that feeling of being ‘guided.’ The same notion I used to think was total bologna back when my elementary school best friend used to bring me to her youth group.
(I should note that I am not alone in this. Were all living in the midst of an extremely transformative time. The whole WORLD is going through an intense period of change and upheaval. Turn on the news and see!)
Let me tell ya, the past few years have been an absolute roller coaster, as a lot of challenges come with this process. (Ascension symptoms are a real thing and they’re rough.) Being deeply honest with oneself, shedding layers and getting closer to the root of their being is uncomfortable by nature. It is certainly a lonely journey at times, too. A sentiment that was magnified since I moved to Japan. Here, my Junior High school stance of ‘nobody understands me’ often felt true again. I found refuge in meditation, books, podcasts and following Youtubers that are going through similar journeys. I also have a few select people in my life who I can talk to openly about all this. A couple of which are family members. Thank goodness for that.
Because of all this. life has been filled with plenty of high highs, low lows, intense change, uncertainty, bliss, anxiety, depression, opening of past wounds, epiphanies, love & connection and everything in between. And it’s only the beginning- I’ve got a lifetime of healing left to do. Thankfully, my sense of inner stability gets stronger with every twist and turn.
So what does my connecting to the Universe have to do with my quitting my job? Everything.
I live by the words ‘a person can only grow when they’re outside of their comfort zone’ They’re so true. If you’re ever looking to get out of your comfort zone.. hit up Japan. More specifically, move to an isolated island, work a job you have zero experience in and make sure to not learn Japanese.
Needless to say my personal growth and connection to the universe grew exponentially when I got here. It has been intense and difficult, but nothing short of amazing. My whole being seems to have shifted when I look back and remember who I was when I arrived last year. My time in Japan has been the very shock to my system that I needed to really figure out ‘who I am’. I now know for certain, for the first ever, what my life’s purpose is. Goodness, what an amazing discovery that was! As you can imagine, the very nature of learning something of that magnitude is bound to bring about change. And thus, I quit my job. I’ve left many jobs in my lifetime, but none have felt like as pivotal as this.
Why I quit
The more I learned about myself and my purpose, the starker the contrast became between that and what I was actually doing. My current job is very much out of alignment with my path, and that was really started to weigh on me. A number of reasons contribute to this, and in an effort to avoid a negative rant (I won’t lie, a part of me really wants to, as I’m still in the midst of my job dissatisfaction) I will condense the reasons into bullet points.
-The Japanese school system is not one I agree with, by any means. And being a part of it was beginning to feel wrong.
– I am highly under-utilized and spend the majority of my time sitting at my desk trying to ‘look busy’ (This gets old, fast). Even when I am in class, I often feel my role is useless.
-My base school where I spend the majority of my time is riddled with stressful, tense vibes. It’s a very large school with a reputation for being strict. It’s not a place a enjoy being.
-The lack-of-connection I was experiencing through only being able to have very simple, small-talk conversations in my work life was really starting to get to me.
Moreover, I realized that my feelings towards the school system and Japanese work life in general was beginning to seep into my view of the culture as a whole. I was becoming resentful and closed off to it many aspects of it. After speaking with other ALTs, I know this is normal, but I am still somewhat ashamed of it.
These insights about my job were nothing new. I saw it for what it was right off the bat. But I was so grateful to be here and to be receiving the ‘easy money’ my job entails. And there is good stuff too, of course. But the intensity to which I felt against the system grew and grew as I became in touch with myself. And these bad feelings began seeping into my life outside of work. It was causing me to become disconnected and depressed and thus, affecting my ability to be effective in my job, which doesn’t even demand much of me to begin with.
One night, about a month ago, I was feeling particularly low and confused so I called my mom. She let me vent for a solid hour and a half and by the end of the conversation we both realized it was time for me to go. It seemed like the only viable option. I had been trying to deny my feelings about my situation for a while, but they all came up to show themselves during that conversation. Once I was honest with myself, everything was suddenly so clear. A weight immediately lifted from my shoulders and I saw all the signs I had been trying to ignore that were telling me ‘time to go.’ This was the decision I needed to make to get into alignment with who I’ve recently uncovered myself to be.
Since making this choice, the ensuing tensions of having to break contract and plan my exit-strategy have certainly been present, but they’ve come with such faith that I made the right decision, and excitement about what’s next. Moreover, knowing theres a end date to my time in Amakusa (July), I am pullin’ out all the stops to enjoy what time I have left.
Having said all of this, I wouldn’t have changed a darn thing about my experience! The difficulties I’ve been facing here have been little blessings in disguise. A year in this job has taught me a helluva lot about my values and what i want/don’t want. Knowing this is so valuable. It’s important to experience contrast to learn such things. Every time we face difficult circumstances, it’s the universe prompting growth. And this was no exception to that. I’m headed towards a life thats much more in sync with my true authentic preferences. I’ve never known myself as well as I do right now. I’ve never felt so certain of my path. Go me!
My much needed Golden Week Vacation
Golden week (the week-long Japanese holiday) fell at the end of April and the middle of my ‘this job ain’t doin’ it for me’ episode. I travelled to Busan, South Korea where I had originally planned to go to get Lasik eye surgery, but had to cancel upon evaluating my finances when I quit my job. I decided to go anyways and meet up with Brittany, a friend from PEI who had been backpacking around Asia.
Busan is Korea’s second biggest city, and only a three hour ferry ride from Fukuoka, Japan. (The big city, not far from me.) Mitchell, an old High School pal, lives there teaching English and was away on vacation for a few days, so he graciously let us stay at his place while he was away. What a doll!
We really enjoyed our four days in Korea. It was a nice break from the rigours of Japan. Having lived with many Korean exchange students growing up I was curious about the country. Admittedly, I figured it would be similar to Japan. It was wrong about that- it’s totally different. I found it to be much grittier and more relaxed. It sort of felt like a hybrid between Thailand and Japan.
Brittany and I hadn’t made any Busan plans other than the surgery, so we bopped around and went where the wind took us. (My favourite way to travel!) It took us to the Busan Art Museum, a lantern festival at a temple, a couple markets, the extravagant hotel room of some lovely French dudes we met, some parks and great restaurants.
One day, we decided to hunt down a difficult-to-find vegan restaurant located on the 7th floor of a random building. We were the only people in the restaurant until two other foreigners walked in, a mother and daughter. Out of habit (you don’t see many fellow foreigners ’round here) I asked where they were from.. and low and behold, they were Haligonians! (People from Halifax, N.S.) And lovely ones, at that. Goodness me- the world is small.
Busan was great, but the experience came with the tension brought on by any hustling, bustling city. Luckily, that much needed vacation relaxation really kicked in once we returned to Japan. Brittany and I had plans to travel down to Kagoshima and then road trip around a bit in my car to show her some of Kyushu. The morning we were scheduled to depart, I received a message from my Korean friend Young, who I had met a few weeks prior at Saihate (an adorable eco-village not far from where I live). Young told us about a camping music festival in Oita. It was nearly a 6 hour drive from where we were, but Brittany and I knew we had to go. We scrapped our other plans, packed up the tent and hit the road.
We ended up staying for three nights and it was simply wonderful- exactly the vacation I was hoping for & needed. Spontaneous plans always turn out to the be the best, don’t cha think?
We made it to Oita and were met with a full- on hippy music festival at a lovely camp ground near the beach. I felt just like the one I attended in Aso back in October (blog post 6). Having met at a similar festival ‘Evolve’, Brittany and I were fully in our element.
It was technically a family festival, so the music started in the morning and ended after the ‘headline’ artist finished at about 9:30pm each night. When the kids went to sleep, you could walk around and find little jam sessions and tent-concerts. Some would have preferred the music continuing into the wee hours, in true festival style, but not me. The early pack-up time meant we got good sleeps and woke up feeling rested and fully able to enjoy our days.
The weekend was spent mostly barefoot- singing, dancing, chatting, people-watching, painting, swimming and eating. We met so many great folks and it wasn’t long before we had formed a small group of festival friends, with whom we spent most of our time. We came from Canada, the US, Japan, Korea, The Netherlands and France.
On the afternoon of the second day at the festival, I felt an unusual sensation that I hadn’t felt in a long time. I was extremely present, content and relaxed. There was nothing pressing for me to do. This prompted some reflection as I realized how I always tend to feel like I ought to be ‘doing’ something productive…planning, managing, fixing, accomplishing. I have a hard time allowing myself to fully relax in my day-to-day life. And when I do, it usually comes with a time limit and a some guilt. This constant ‘doing’ is undoubtedly one of the ways I attribute my self worth.
My habit dissipated at the festival, as I slowly allowed myself to simply ‘be’. Mind you, it didn’t come easily, as I’m not used to this. My mind kept prompting it’s usual ‘shouldn’t you be…?’ for a while before I became comfortable with the fact that there was nothing to be done other than chill and enjoy myself. And so for a short time I was freed from the prison of becoming.. it felt SO good.
This is why I love music festivals. They become their own little worlds, where you forget about the ways ‘real’ life. It’s so easy to make connections and everyone becomes like a big family. You live moment to moment. It’s beautiful. Mark my words, Ima will find a way to make my life feel like a festival all the time. Working on it…
All in all, it was a fantastic Golden Week.
Our ‘no-boys-allowed’ weekend
As I mentioned in a previous post, Eleesa (my Aussie friend who lives in Kumamoto City) and I planned a Women’s Retreat back in March. This was something I had been thinking about for a while, and decided to finally go for it once Eleesa expressed interest in helping me with it. Here’s the ad we put in our prefecture’s Facebook page to promote it:
“KumAJET Women’s Retreat
‘Where do you live?’ ‘How are your schools?’ ‘Did you re-contract?’ Do these sound familiar? They’re some examples of the robotic small talk that we all tend to engage in upon connecting with fellow JETs. And there’s nothing wrong with this. But do you ever long to go a little deeper? We do. Women of Kumamoto – read on!
Kumamoto is home to a wonderful group of female JETs. We’ve all mingled here and there at our various prefectural events, but many of us don’t KNOW each other. And frankly, that’s a damn shame!
To help fix this, we’ve scouted out a beautiful Air BnB in Amakusa over the long weekend in March.
We understand the value of bringing women together in communion. So we’re going to provide a warm and safe space to do just that!
As females living in a foreign country, we are all facing similar challenges . Our JET tenures can be a tumultuous, vulnerable, and lonely at times. But we’re undergoing significant growth as a result, whether we realize it or not. Growth that is bigger than ourselves. Over the weekend, our intention is to invite you to look a little closer at your experience, share, and offer/accept support from one another. It may invite some of us out of our comfort zones, but that’s pretty awesome.. as it’s the only place a person can grow.
But of course, no one is subject to doing anything they aren’t comfortable with.
We’re planning to:
-Cacao session (Google it)
-Guided art circle (we’ll pick a craft to do as a group)
-and just hang out and relax in each other’s company!
If you have anything you want to share or guide with the group, please let us know. That would be so rad.
If you’re interested in joining, but feel shy or don’t want to come alone.. fear not. The weekend is catered to people like you. And part of our goal is to connect female JETs who aren’t well acquainted. If you have no one to come with, that’s OK! We’ll make sure you get there and you’ll leave with 9 new friends, guaranteed.
If you want to join, or you have questions… etc.
Much to my surprise, the night after posting this, all the spots were full and we had to start turning people down.
The retreat was a total success. Nine of us spent two nights in Shimoda, Amakusa, at a gorgeous seaside backpackers hostels, which we all fell in love with. By the end of the weekend, the group of us (many of whom had just met 2 days prior) had formed an undeniable bond.
One of the highlights of the weekend was when we took a day trip and went to the famous village of Sakitsu. It was an unusually warm and sunny day for March and we were lovin’ it. We walked up the million stairs to the old abandoned amplitheater at the top, which has a breathtaking view of the islands. Before hand, Eleesa and I had prompted the girls to bring along a piece of writing to share with the group. We sat in the stands and each gal individually went to the stage to read what they had brought.
A few of the gals read quotes, one sang a song, one shared an excerpt from a book she loved, and one read a poem that her mom had written her back in high school (that one made us cry). After each ‘performance’ we all commented and shared our thoughts and support. It was a really intimate and beautiful experience. One that definitely made us feel a little closer.
I read one of my favourite quotes from Marianne Williamson…
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
While I had chosen it well in advance, it ended up being so fitting given what I was going through that weekend.
Upon arriving at the Air BnB and getting settled, I started feeling tense. It hit me harder when we sat down to eat the big feast we had all just cooked and it was time for Eleesa and I to give a little speech marking the commencement of the retreat. I felt unusually anxious and self conscious in a way I hadn’t felt in years. I was suddenly so nervous about executing all the activities that Eleesa and I had planned. It was classic imposter syndrome, very much relating to Marianne’s quote. I thought ‘Who am I to be leading a retreat?’ What right do I have to guide and make suggestions to a group of adults, many of whom I barely know?’ and ‘Who do I think I am?’
Unfortunately, I woke up anxious and self conscious on the second morning as well. One of attendees, a yoga teacher, had cancelled last minute so it was up to me to teach the yoga class we had planned that morning. The class went smoothly and the girls seemed to enjoy it, but it made me feel like even more of an imposter. This feeling persisted all through the second day. I didn’t feel like myself at all and was having a hard time hiding it. I was self-conscious and more shy than usual. I was making myself small. This was all very out of character for me, which made matters worse, as I was becoming annoyed with myself for acting so silly. I was trying to deny my feelings and push them down.
Before dinner on the second night, Eleesa and I had some time to ourselves so I decided to open up to her about how I was feeling. Putting myself in a vulnerable position and shedding light on my uncomfortable state alleviated the shame it was causing me. An open and understanding ear ended up being all I needed to shake me out of this strange funk and imposter syndrome. It still amazes me that it can be that simple. I felt totally myself after that and was able to especially enjoy our last night together. This was a really good learning experience for me. That quote resonates with me much more deeply now. Really though… who are we not to shine our lights?
On day three we packed up to drive home just as it started to pour- the perfect departure weather. It had been such a wonderful, powerful weekend. I left feeling inspired by the 9 women who had gathered from all corners of the world (America, Canada, England, Germany, South Africa, New Zealand, Australia). Women in Unison are sooo powerful. (We gon’ save the world.. I’m telling you!) I was also proud of myself and Eleesa for having taken on this challenge. Which leads me to my gratitude for this post…
I’m grateful for Eleesa Panton (aka Elee Plant)
It’s safe to say I would probably have had to leave Japan even sooner if it wasn’t for this gal. Her presence has been essential to my sanity since I’ve been here. I thank my lucky stars every day for having met her.
Having only really started spending time together in December we became fast-friends. Soul-mates might be a better word.
Anais Ninn said
“Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born.”
Knowing has indeed opened up a world in me. And it has surely contributed to the exponential personal growth I’ve experienced since I moved here.
Were similar in so many ways, yet our differences seem to compliment each other perfectly. She’s the yin to my yang.
She, too, is spiritual, and invests time and energy into self development. Goodness, it’s been so nice to talk to her about such things, share books and meditate together.
I can confide in her about anything. In fact, I feel comfortable opening up to Eleesa about things I don’t share with anyone. She is endlessly supportive and understanding.
Being around her makes me feel full of energy and stoked about life. Knowing her has given me permission to be unapologetically myself while I’m here in Japan.
Needless to say, she is always worth the 3 hour drive.
I am going to miss her the most…
In other news:
-Since my last post, I started at two new schools. One elementary school, (Wednesdays) and one Kindergarden (Monday mornings). I’m super grateful for this, as I definitely prefer elementary school. There’s a sense of community there. I feel more useful and get to hang out with the kiddies.
-After an ongoing ‘identity crisis’ (if you will) regarding my name, I have decided to give in to what my parents intended and go by Mary Ellen in entering this next transition in my life. Or my oldest nickname ‘Mare’. That being said I will still respond to ‘Mary’ (what I went by when I lived in New Brunswick) ‘Marie-Helen (what I went by when I lived in QC) or ‘Ellen’ (what I’ve been going by in Japan). I have a newfound reverence for my name (which I’ve never really been fond of) after finding out it means ‘rebellious torch.’ How cool is that?
-I had to delete the Tinder (it’s exhausting) but i’ve since begun to fulfil my connecting-with-stranger needs via CouchSurfing! I’ve had 4 couch surfers since I last wrote. One from Ireland, one from Basque country, one from France and one from Germany. All of them were cycling across Japan on their own! I am so sold on this method of travel.
-I took a solo hiking trip a couple weeks ago to Unzen, a small tow in the Nagasaki prefecture, famous for beautiful hiking and it’s ‘hells’ (piping hot, sulpher emitting natural hot springs). I love travelling alone and had a hunch I’d meet friends, and I did indeed. I ended up stumbling upon an African drumming concert too, which was fabulous. Some tribal dance move I didn’t even know revealed themselves.
-The biggest amusement park in western Japan ‘Greenland’ is about a three hour drive from me, so I met a few friends there last week. We had a blast. We didn’t wait in line for more than 5 minutes the whole day and they had a vast selection of roller coasters/rides- I was so impressed! I felt like a kid again.
-In an effort to help my paraglider friend, Rick, raise money to fund his placement in the Red Bull X-Alps paragliding competition, I spread the word about tandem gliding amongst the JET community in Kumamoto. A lot of people were interest, so during three separate weekends I had 3 guests stay at my place for a weekend of gliding. It’s been a lot of fun.
That’s all for now, folks.
Thanks for stopping by my blog! Leave me a comment, pretty please!
All my love,
aka Mary Ellen