weight and Light

My heart has been heavy recently.

As Timehop likes to remind me, this week’s history carries its own weight. Three years ago: our cat died. Five years ago: we were cleaning out my Mom’s house to put it on the market after she died. Six years ago: one year before she died, she had part of her lung removed to combat cancer. I carry all this with me, in my bones, in my blood, viscerally, almost as if the years are on parallel planes. And…in the future, this week will now carry the weight of a heavy diagnosis for someone I care about.

I carry the weight of my students. Senior year is not easy. Senior year as an IB student is definitely not easy. Senior year suffocating under pressure of your parents’ expectations is heartbreakingly not easy. I stopped curriculum last week to have a circle with my students as a time to process, to cry, to hug, to sit. still. I asked them the question: how is your heart? Oh the weight. My students are grieving the future they do not have access to while simultaneously mourning the impending loss of their childhood home and comfort. All this with deadlines and fatigue and sports and college applications and rising rates of depression and hard looks in the mirror and… the list goes on. Sometimes the most important thing we can do as teachers is to carry some of our students’ baggage.

I carry the weight of my colleagues. Tomorrow, Brazil will probably experience an election similar to the US’s most recent: where the people elect a man who prioritizes national identity and fiscal gain at the cost of the marginalized. I now carry the weight of my students on scholarship. The weight of my homosexual friends. The weight of the “other” who is, in essence, me. And you. And us. I am tempted to be angry, to be bitter–exactly my response after Trump’s election. But then I think about the energy I put into the world

and so I pick up Light and carry its weight.

 

 

 

 

gates and guardians: a reflection on the state of a sorrowful heart

Dave and I have spent the last seven days in silence.

No, we’re not in a fight.

Well…

Not with each other at least.

Rather, we have spent the last week at a six-night meditation retreat. I did something similar a few years back and wrote about here (in prose) and here (in verse).

This retreat was a completely different experience and style, but no less impacting. Reflecting with Dave on the way back (finally out of silence!), I remarked on the oddest thing: to see forty people sitting in various states of stillness–some on cushions, some on chairs, some on benches–all poised like little perfect, quiet, quaint Buddha statues. But beneath that serene image, a war wages! Thoughts, “come back to the breath,” distractions, “be here now,” stories, “just breath,” narratives, “what am I aware of?,” memories, “inhale, exhale,” plans, “damn it, just stop thinking already,”–oh my! It is like this most placid, peaceful lake, but below the still surface, sharks are devouring triathletes piece by latex-laden-one-piece swimsuits (oh, can you see what I’m worried about…).

I spent a lot of (uncomfortable) time sitting at this retreat with these questions:

How is the quality of my heart? How open is my heart?

It wasn’t pretty.

After an emotional meltdown the final day of school, for some reasons fathomed and others only felt, I have been thinking a lot about a sense of deadening I have had lately. My highs aren’t quite as high and my lows aren’t quite as low. I wondered if this is a result of my solidifying meditation practice? I mean, that can be a good thing, right? But what I know to be true about my most authentic self is passion: rip-roaring laughter followed by belly-aching bawling (not to mention a few pants-splitting farts; did I mention this retreat was vegetarian and I’ve had a lot of roughage lately?!).

Anyway, back to the matters of the heart. Literally (how about that transition?).

I also reflected on the quality of my relationships with people. After all, isn’t this the sign of an open heart? I care for people–it’s my job after all–but all too often, it is on my own terms and when I can control it. I’m not very good at accepting gestures of kindness or affection (as demonstrated on this retreat, where I felt guilty and lazy [“I must not be working hard enough,” she thought to herself, “oh wait, stop thinking…”] because it just felt too nourishing–what IS that?!).

And though I’m still sitting with it (yep, trust me, my butt hurts, and brain, and heart), I can only explore the answer to these questions (at least at this point) through the lens of grief. My mere third decade of life has been defined by the razored edges of loss and grief. Prepared, but no less heartbroken, I lost my dad in 2011. Unprepared, and all the more heartbroken, I lost my mom less than two years later. Then our very old cat. Then our very young dog. (Which, really, come on, pets? What does that matter? But when the wound is open and raw, even a faint breeze stings deeply. Not to mention the odd parallels between my parents’ and pets’ deaths [read about that bizarre connection here]).

Who am I?

am grief.

And so, I coped. I’d like to say pretty well. I have not lost the roots of gratitude nor faith to the black hole of bitterness.

But I come back to the questions at hand:

How is the quality of my heart? How open is my heart?

How could I not, on some level–hidden, deep, essential, true–close my heart after all that heartbreak?

Perhaps the loss-womb birthed a Guardian who stands at the entrance with an iron grip on the pulsing blood-veined gates.

He is fierce. He is loyal. He is protective.

But maybe it’s time I bid him farewell. In peace. In gratitude. In honor.

Dear Guardian of my heart, you came unbidden, but ached for.

Thank you for the gift of one sure, slow step at a time in the dark, tear-damp forest of the grieving soul.

Thank you for the preservation of what is good while so. much. bad. gnawed at my bones.

I bow to you. But, alas, it is time I send you on your way.

May you protect another vulnerable heart.

But for now, it is time I open the gates.

I open the gates.

I open my heart.

 

 

 

 

 

you, too, are welcome here: the anxieties of change

When I was in high school, I lacked the finesse required to to discern my own levels of stress. Instead, in alignment with what I was taught and that which I believed, I held tightly to the safety net of God:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

In my world: anxiety = atheism.

But as much as I ached in my deepest soul to believe this, my body said otherwise. I was plagued with random stomach pains that I could not identify. Sometimes they were so bad, I would lie down in classrooms just to find some iota of relief. Eventually after many doctors’ visits, it was diagnosed that my gallbladder needed to come out.

And it did.

Yet, still, there were ailments I could not pinpoint.

Why?

The only way I knew to find boundaries or rest or–dare I say–weakness  (without guilt) was through sickness.

Now, with over a year of solid meditation practice in my corner, I realize I gave so much power to my anxiety by mentally avoiding it. My body has always known this. Driven by pure freedom, it always felt the experience without the stilted narrative.

And now, by changing my own narrative about stress and anxiety, I am beginning to taste that delicious freedom.

This summer, I have been amazed–perhaps even a bit frightened–with how calm I have been about the impending move. However, with less than four days left in country, I sense my internal landscape changing. I can’t quite put my finger on it. Just this morning, Dave’s mom asked me if I was worried. Honestly, I am not. But, in my body, I feel a heaviness. I am not sleeping well. I feel energy pulsing through my body. My skin is breaking out in rashes and pimples. I can’t stop eating. Sitting still takes an uncomfortable amount of control. I got ants in my pants.

But, instead of the striving and thrashing and condemning script I normally would have rehearsed, I find myself leaning into all the things.

All the things.

In my head and heart, I chew over and over on this poem by Rumi:

Welcome and entertain them all…

Meet them at the door laughing…

Be grateful…

And so, I will.

breath. earth.

Lately I’ve been stepping on a lot of crap–cords and belts and shoes and brooms and oh, there’s my underwear. This is because the beloved chipping-green-and-red-refuge we’ve called home for the past eight years is currently in the process of being dismantled and divided and donated as we prepare for our adventure to Brazil. I’ve gone to heat water forgetting the microwave is sold; I’ve gone to eat takeout on the plates currently in our friends’ homes; I’ve gone to sit at the table that’s no longer there. We are living in a construction zone: the construction of a new life.

Breathing in. Breathing out. I am grounded.

I am in the process of some heavy goodbyes. Students–who have had way too many people come and go in their lives–asking: Why does everyone leave us? Colleagues who have become friends. Friends who have become family. Family who will become foreigners. Not to mention, the scariest goodbye of all: the adios to urban education–or life as I know it. I wonder if it will be forever. I wonder if there will be regret. I wonder if I’ll be effective with a different population. I wonder how my identity will change.

Breathing in. Breathing out. I am grounded.

We hover near a cliff with unknown horizons. Questions float by like clouds shadowing the reddened landscape. Who will our friends be? How hard will it be to learn the language? What if sickness strikes? What if we hate living in a city? What happens if there is a financial crisis? And dear me, how am I going to look in a swimsuit on a beach in Brazil?!

Breathing in. Breathing out. I am grounded.

Tonight I meditated. As I have done daily for the past four months and twenty-five days. (If you do not have Insight Timer, download. it. now.)  As I was guided into my emotions, a sense of being overwhelmed rose to greet me. It was not the overwhelmed of Mary past. It was different. I am different. It showed itself as a coiled spring, loaded low to the earth with heavy weights. But beneath those compact spirals, a palpable sense of excitement breathed. A readiness to spring forth into something new and exciting and refreshing. An eagerness for expansion and space and adventure. An embrace of joy and hope.

Breathing in. Breathing out. I am grounded.

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let go. let it flow.

She saw him: beside me, to my right. She described him: a darker man, probably indigenous, dressed in the traditional garb of some ancient culture, regal headdress upon his crown, holding a spear as if standing guard. She said: the minute I declared I wanted to teach overseas, he started banging his spear up and down, in rhythm to some chant I didn’t know I knew. She emphasized: he would not guide me, that was for me to courageously do on my own. But, once I made a bold move, he would open doors for me and ease my transition and smooth the seas.

He has.

She said: it would heal me of my anxious tendencies. She described it: having been designed for vets suffering from PTSD, it has now become widely used in a variety of therapy sessions. She hypothesized: it’s grief; unprocessed grief is tearing you apart. I disagreed…until I tried it. In her chair I sat, headphones on, a binaural beat throbbing back and forth while I recounted trauma from my childhood. Inappropriate adult relationships; fearful encounters; accidents. And then, before I knew it, my Mom was there with me as vivid and visceral as her last trip to Colorado. Memories of her strength drowned my eyes. Gratitude for the joy we’ve shared lifted the corners of my mouth. I had grieved my Mom’s death, but I had not grieved the loss of her fierce protection in my life. I was now on my own, forced to embody her rather than rely on her. She was right: EMDR would help me.

It has.

People ask me often how I’m feeling about upending our lives and starting new in a foreign country. They know I’m prone to panic attacks and paralyzing fear and crippling anxiety. But something has broken open inside of me. I feel like the two aforementioned experiences have released the floodgates on my parched internal landscape, and liquid light is flowing now. I feel resolved. I feel surrendered. I feel exhilarated. I feel inspired. I feel strengthened. I feel encouraged. I feel emboldened. I feel renewed. I feel blessed. I feel like all of the God-Energy is pulsing within me, aligned and free, just as it should be.

 

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election day metta prayer

For the self:

May I loosen in surrender

May I linger in light

May I laugh in joy

May I luxuriate in love

May I  live in peace.

 

For the other:

May you loosen in surrender

May you linger in light

May you laugh in joy

May you luxuriate in love

May you live in peace.

 

For the community:

May we loosen in surrender

May we linger in light

May we laugh in joy

May we luxuriate in love

May we live in peace.

 

 

on energy: weapons of mass destruction

I recognize that the minute the word energy enters a conversation, visceral reactions will rise: images of granola-eating-gurus, feelings of heebie jeebies, and slippery concepts like “consciousness” and “law of attraction” and “universe.”

I used to be that person.

Maybe I still I am that person.

But…as I find myself changing the way I view myself and the world around me and the God above (?) me, I cannot help but come back to that word: energy.

I have always believed in the power of language, but that confidence is grounded in the inadequacies of language to fully capture that which matters. When I say I love Dave, that word doesn’t capture the beautiful complexity inherent in our 14 years of marriage. When I used the term Daddy, that did not fully capture all my dad was as a man, husband, and father. And this disconnect between term and essence is all over our current headlines: how can tiny little pronouns like he or she really capture all that is in a full person?

And how much more so with God. How can God be bound by gender? How can God be bound by place? How can God be bound by belief? How can God be neatly wrapped up in letters and bow-tied with punctuation?

He can’t. She can’t. It can’t. I Am can’t.

I Am won’t.

And this is why I come back to energy. In science I learn it. In yoga I feel it. I life I live it.

God is the Epicenter and Origin and Destination of Energy.

And this profound thought intensifies with the knowledge that I am created likewise. There is a weight to what energy I put into the world. There is gravity to what energy we put into the world.

Which brings me to Orlando.

Reflected in the mirrored pieces of our shattered humanity, I recognize that Orlando did not occur because of guns or ISIS or insanity.

Rather the energy of hate compounded into senseless tragedy.  At Pulse nightclub, it was catastrophic. 49 lives lost on the bloody altar of hate. Ripples of mourning and loss and sorrow extend infinitely beyond that number.

But the energy of hate that led to that wasn’t singular. The hate between political parties. The hate among forms of Christianity. The hate between genders. The hate among sexual preferences. From gun owners to gun shunners, Southern “bless their hearts” to pulpit declarations of “for the Lord.”

Body-shaming. Mother-shaming. Zoo-shaming. Teacher-shaming. Sex-shaming.

Hate is rampant in our culture. And the worst part of it is that so many of us are self-justified in our hate.

I think about the little seeds of hate in my heart:

  • Lack of grace and patience for people not like me.
  • Bitterness and anger against those that have hurt me this year.
  • The refusal to boldly declare “I forgive you” to Dave’s apologies.
  • My acute anti-Trump, anti-Republican position.
  • My snap judgments of people, criticisms drenched in arrogance.
  • Internal eye-rolling at parents who let their kids out of their sight or annoying tourists on their phones.

Would I ever take a gun into a nightclub and decimate lives worthy of love?

No.

But aren’t my little seeds of hate invisible bullets of energy that slowly corrode peace?

Yes.

When I heard about Orlando, we were enjoying all the sunny delights of Cancun. But even there, I could not stop thinking about the short book of 1 John:

Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. Whoever loves his brother abides in the light…Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer…love is from God…God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him…If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen…

Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer.

Not literally. At least not for everyone. But hate is an energy that threatens life and light and peace and hope and unity.

Hate turns “my brother” into “the other.” And living in a world of “the other” frees up warrant to hurt with weapons of mass destruction: energy. And as with the law of inertia, once energy is moving towards negativity, it will continue to do so.

Right into a nightclub of innocent victims.

And so I come back to this idea of making peace, not just praying for peace. What I do in the privacy of my own heart and home affects not only those nearest to me, but also the world. With what energy am I engaging? How do I close down my own mind’s gun shop, stacked with invisible bullets of hate?

Hate stops with me and my energy adjustments.

Love starts with me and my energy contributions.

Can you imagine a world full of individuals who did not just tweet condolences, but changed mindsets? A world bound by conversation instead of criticism? A world networked by threads of questions rather than accusations? A world rooted in common ground rather than straddling fault lines? A world of “and” instead of “versus”?

Hate stops with you and your energy adjustments.

Love starts with you and your energy contributions.


 

 

 

 

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