The Grass may seem Greener on the Other Side…Unless You Water It ;)

What will your future look like?

Have you planned ahead?

Are you backwards planning?

How will this decision impact your future? Your family? Your future family?

These are the types of questions you may have experienced throughout your life. I know I have, and I know I still do. Due to my conditioned past, these are now the questions I mostly ask myself before I make a decision.

When I look back at my young professional career, my never ending university years, and my time as a competitive athlete, I feel that my lack of mindfulness created a false idea that I was never good enough.

 

I have almost always felt the need to strive for something better. Something more. Something greater. And although there are many great things about self-improvement, are there limitations to this mindset?

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While in academia, I had some of my most debilitating moments when I drove myself into stases driven by self-doubt. For instance, when writing essays, I would write, erase, repeat. After further reflection, I asked myself that if by erasing my ideas, was I creating an inner narrative where my ideas were not worth keeping? That maybe my thoughts were unimportant?

This destructive thinking process (which lasted about 6 years) even influenced the way I saw myself. I became more cynical, self-critical to the point of, again, stasis…inaction, and simply self-destructive thinking.

This writing process mostly did not change until my master of arts. During this time, I slowly started to give myself permission to write my expressions freely, and to not erase my ideas.

In a way, allowing myself to write and not delete was a way of me telling myself that my ideas mattered. I also needed to accept that not every idea I would write down would become the perfect idea that would put my masters thesis on the right path (and let’s be honest, is perfection even real?). Though what became apparent to me was that it is not ok to dismiss the path that was needed to be taken in order to discover what I was looking for.

The lessons I learned from academic writing are now translating into new habits and routines that have created a greater sense of inner peace. For instance, just like I let my ideas flow through writing, I now use meditation and breathing exercises to let myself listen to myself, others, and the world. After much failure, my meditation and breathing are slowly becoming synonymous.

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I use this app quite frequently for my morning guided meditations. There are a lot of great features in the fremium model. Link – https://www.stopbreathethink.com/

Five times a week I start off my days by practicing mindfulness for 20 minutes, while stretching a tight area in my body. This time has become a message to myself that I have inherent value…that I deserve and require the time to stop, breathe, and think, in order to be the best version of myself.

Can you relate?

Whether it’s parenting, our jobs, or our health, do we ever tell ourselves that we are good enough? That we have inherent value?

Recently, we finished a week of professional development at work. Simply put, I was blown away by the rich experiences that I am currently surrounded in at my workplace. So I began to ask myself, “Was I not stopping to smell the roses?” This moment made me realize that to a degree I failed in recognizing the deeper gifts of my colleagues. Further, that I need to take more the time to seek understand the strengths and beauty of the world around me.

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During our professional development session, we were tasked to create an environment with random objects, and to ultimately create a story. This experience revealed the wealth of creativity and collaboration around me. I left this week knowing that it will be another great year.

So for the rest of the year, I am making a commitment to continue to dig deeper to recognize the strengths of the self, peers, and community.

The more we see the greatness in our environments, the more we can collaboratively shape our worlds for the better.

Care to join me?

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Every Day

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Steps down the hallway.

Sunshine pours through from the breezeway.

Tap Tap Tap.

The sound of their shoes shuffle and slide as they race from one class to the next.

Trying to make it on time while carrying more than they can handle.

But they try.

Yes, they try.

Every day, they try.

Every day they try to get that lesson prepared to a T so they can give their students something to believe.

Every day they stop and stare at that PPT, wondering if the words are just right…they say “will these words inspire them to achieve their dreams?”

Every day they rise early, and sometimes fall late, because they know that every check mark matters. Every check matters. Because each check could be that one check that their students just need to feel great.

Every day they stand up in front of the room with a smile on their face, trying to get the best message to the right place…the right place…the students’ hearts is the right place…

Every day they stay strong even though they miss their family back home…Even though maybe they left something behind in order to have a better life, and one day, maybe find a way to not be alone.

Every day they laugh, because their students said something that was more original than wearing AJs even though they may not know who AJ is.

Every day their hearts light up, knowing that student’s mind finally clicked!…”was it because of my lesson? Was it because of the time? Was it because they studied extra hard? Was it because they learned to be strategically smart?”

Or, maybe, just maybe, it was because you touched their 💓 ?

Every day, you change their life. Every day, you give your best and try to make things right.

Every day you slip, and every day you fall. But let’s not forget, we are human, afterall.

Humans, that’s it. Not Spiderman, Wonder Woman, or Tony Stark [Goodness, the kids love him]!

But you are humans who change the world. Every day.

You are humans who keep trying, day by day.

You are humans who sometimes forget why we’re here…

But that’s ok…right?

Because we are humans who once also had a teacher who told us exactly when we needed it, with a warm and comforting smile, “Hey, don’t sweat it. You may be imperfect, but everything you do, is just right :)”

Every day, whether we see it or not, teachers are stewards of light.

Don’t forget that they too need hugs, and told that everything is alright.

Author’s Note: This poem is dedicated to you. Because it is you who can make their dreams come true. Can’t you see? It is you?

Reflections in China

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I’ve never considered myself to be a good writer, so I am going to write more.

As I lie here in my white walled apartment smack in the middle of China, I begin to reflect on the time I experienced here so far.

When I started my teaching degree, over five years ago, I was determined to teach somewhere overseas. It wasn’t until about a year ago when I realized that my aspirations would take me to an almost 1.4 billion person population with the world’s emerging greatest economy. So here I am.

Being in China has afforded me stable employment, which has consequently given me time to think. It amazes me that the time I now have has enabled me to process and reflect on my life more.

For instance, I no longer feel the need to meditate like I did in Canada. I noticed the trend in the West was to adopt and commercialize certain aspects of the east, such as meditation. Whereas here I am, in a city of over 10 million people, and I feel more at peace than I did when I was in a city of not even 400,000.

I think for most of my life I have underestimated the importance of stable employment. After being in university for nearly 9 years, living on a tight budget was just a way of life.

With my extra time in China, I have taken to learning a number of different perspectives. Recently, I have been learning about Ayn Rand’s “objectivism”, which seemed to me to be the opposite of communist ideals. I have also been learning about China’s mindset, history, and position in the global economy thanks to Kishore Mahbubani . It amazes me how different China’s history is from the West, yet, as China evolves it takes lessons from the West in order to adapt and grow into what will likely become the world’s most powerful economy.

Perhaps one thing in particular that stands out to me is “the China perspective”. Unlike the United States of America, China does not have a history of proselytizing (a fancy word I learned recently which means to convert or attempt to convert from one belief to another…) like America does. For more information, check out Kishore’s talk at Harvard.

I think the concept that one of the greatest countries in the world does not force their will or ideologies upon others is remarkable. Because for the past 250 years or so, that has been America’s core thrust into global dominance.

To be honest, I prefer learning from a country with this type of mindset. China reminds me of a silent warrior. And if you think about it, even the “heroes” that have come from China’s pop culture are the same. For example, let’s compare kung fu movies to American action movies. While American action movies are filled with big explosions, lots of weapons, and one man saving the day, kung fu movies tend to revolve around one person using their hands to fight against villains (PS. I am totally stealing from Susan Cain’s book called “Quiet…”, you should check it out – or this YouTube video if you don’t have time to start a new amazing book).

There are a few highlighted situations in the Western media today on Sino-Western relations. With these cases in mind, it is easy to consider that relations between China and Canada are not strong. Based on my experiences and research so far, I do not believe this is the case. Foreigners, especially Canadians, continue to be respected everywhere I go. The Chinese are very polite and curious about Canada, and many of my students continue to strive to study there.

Without getting into details, I believe that the West is jealous of China’s economic success and is scared about China’s eventual return to economic dominance. What’s more, China is a very different country than the current superpower, the USA (as mentioned above).

All in all, there are many things that have brought me to this moment. My experiences in Canada were invaluable and I am forever grateful for what I have learned and achieved. Those experiences have brought me to where I am today. Sitting in a white walled apartment smack in the middle of the world’s soon to be biggest economy. And to be frank, I like it here.


 

Solutions to Toxic Masculinity

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“It is up to [males] to decolonize [themselves] and question masculinity.” — Amy Quichiz
 
This is a quote I pulled from an article on the “men are trash” movement.
 
In my ongoing 8 year engagement of gender theory, especially matters related to women’s’ studies and feminism, I have found it very difficult to uncover solutions to toxic masculinity.
 
First, toxic masculinity can be understood as traits of dominance, devaluation of women, extreme self-reliance, and the suppression of emotions (Source).
So rather than finding solutions from other people and sources, I have reflected on what I believe are solutions to toxic masculinity.
 
To me, some solutions to toxic masculinity are:
– Empathy
– Understanding
– Observation
– Listening
– Putting the needs of others first
– Patience
– Being ok with being wrong, admitting it, learning from it, and taking action to correct oneself
– Understanding that to varying degrees guys get a “free pass” in life, identifying it when it comes up, and questioning who the “free pass” benefits
– Identifying cultural, institutional, and personal forms of toxic masculinity and coming up with solutions to eliminate it
If you (especially males) have taken the time to read this, I hope that these thoughts are concrete and constructive.
I welcome your feedback as my thoughts will always be incomplete.
– Mark
(I dedicate this article to Rowa Mohamed)

Fluid Thinking

I just finished a conversation with a good friend of mine about what he called “fluid thinking”.

One way to describe “fluid thinking” is to seek out nuance (subtle differences) in ideas.

For example, rainbows have many different colours.

Someone who has nuanced thinking can see the variety of different colours that makes up the rainbow, not just the colours that make up the opposing ends.

Moreover, ‘fluid thinkers’ may also ask questions which show nuanced thinking.

Such as, “what is a rainbow made of?”, “is every rainbow different?”, “do people see rainbows differently from one another?”.

Any of those questions could be answered in purely scientific ways with many references to physics.

Though the point here is that fluid thinkers have the ability to expand the way they understand something, rather than boiling it down to some limited definition.

Right or wrong, I believe that the human experience is even more complicated than something like the fundamentals of physics.

Perhaps social issues call for even greater forms of nuanced thinking.

Consider concepts of identity, mental wellness, violence, religion, love, forgiveness…the things that make up the human condition. Although there are “laws of physics”, I do not think there are “laws of love”.

When it comes to matters of the human condition, and perhaps beyond, I believe that nuanced thinking is a requirement for learning.

 

I firmly believe that a lack of fluid thinking leads to destruction, whether materially or immaterially.

If a parent cannot understand that their child wants to blaze a different trail than the parent expects, then the parent may ultimately force their child to be something they don’t want to be, or entirely lose connection with their child.

If we want to learn in order to improve ourselves, and our world, we owe it to ourselves, and we owe it to our world.

Canadian Values?

I was watching the local news with my roommate when I learned that the European court of Justice has declared that companies can ban staff from wearing hijabs (head scarves) because it counts as a religious symbol. In fact, companies can ban any religious and political symbols.

Though Canada has also experienced opposition about religious head dress. In 2015 Canada’s past Prime Minister Stephen Harper opposed the wearing of a niqab during an oath of citizenship because it’s “not transparent [and] that is not open”.

This topic ultimately struck a conversation between my roommate and I about cultural assimilation. The arguments I’ve heard generally fall under two camps: that Canadian rules and culture should proportionately reflect the diversity of its people, or, that newcomers to Canada should not expect their cultures to change the dominant “Canadian” culture and rules.

Simply put, if Canadian culture should be reflected by it’s population, then it makes sense that Ontario is driven by Christian culture – Christmas, Easter, etc. For Ontario is made up of 64.5% Christians, which includes 76 different denominations (Stats Canada). And when Europeans colonized what became known as Canada, the French were historically Catholic and the English were pushing protestantism with the Protestant Reformation. So both history and present times may suggest that Canadian laws and culture do reflect “Christian values”.

Perhaps the dominance of self-identified Christians explains the latter argument – which is, that newcomers to Canada should not expect their cultures to change the dominant culture in Canada. I’ve heard some of my Muslim friends explain that they shouldn’t expect their culture to be represented in Canada. Being allowed to practice on one’s own time is the gift of living as a Canadian.

Personally, I think that if a woman wants to wear a hijab, or if a man wants to wear a kippah, let them wear it. Regardless, I appreciate diversity because I learn more from difference than I do of similarities.

Lorne Ave & The London Intergenerational Community Centre

In London’s Sherwood Forest community, citizens were excited when Nancy Branscomb stopped their elementary school from demolition.
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 Over two years have passed and now and to the dismay of many neighbours from the Sherwood Forest community, the school will be turned into an intensified development housing hub.
 
Fast forward. Today we have Lorne Avenue Public School. Just like Sherwood Forest, we have two options for the beautiful Lorne Ave PS:
 
1) Come up with a great idea to fill in the school – including purchasing/renting
 
2) Leave to City to do as they wish – make money somehow (which is not necessarily a bad thing…depending on what the community is willing to do)
 
Although Lorne Avenue may not have hundreds of big windows where natural lighting can pour in, as some critics in education say, I do not believe that is more cause to take out this beautiful gem in the Old East Village Community.
 
I truly hope that Lorne Avenue’s public school can still be saved, and for some amazing purposes.
 
“These sites where schools are closing are key activity centres, key recreational spaces for the neighbourhood where they are located. It is important to the community to retain those wherever possible,” — John Fleming (Managing Director, Planning and City Planner)  

“Listen Linda…”

Over 40 million views hit Mateo’s hilarious video where he said “listen” 13x.

Though could Mateo’s infamous speech relate to an issue that’s deeply inbedded in the “western” world?

Well as an expert practitioner in the field of blatherskites, I surely think so.

I propose that if humanities’ most lethal virus is futile speech, then the essential antidote is to simply shuuuut, uuuup!

Thanks to Susan Cain, I’ve started to learn that perhaps real power lies in silence since we live “in a world that can’t stop talking”.

Since my visible identity screams normative privilege, perhaps I’ve learned one key takeaway from my courses on feminisms and the human condition…

Just SHUT UP & listen

If our world’s most lethal virus is related to talking, perhaps our only antidote is to shut just up and listen.

So…heeeere’s the part where I stop being a hypocrite…

Thinking…

Tonight I’m thinking…

Thinking has no identity.

Thinking has no name.

Thinking has no boundaries.

Thinking can hurt.

Not thinking can hurt.

Not thinking can be good.

But “too much of anything ain’t good for you baby” (Barry White).

But tonight I think.

“Oh, the things you can think.” (Dr. Seuss) and “Oh, the places you’ll go”  (Dr. Seuss).

I’ll never stop thinking for my thinking can help me meet all the right faces and take me to all the right places.

Where will my thinking take me to the places I’ll soon go?

Run

 

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The wind gently breezes against my face as I sail over the soft grass that parallels the Thames River.

You can smell the waters’ sounds swishing downstream in a steadfast direction.

The sun’s rays wrap me in warmth as I pace myself on the wood-chipped paths that twist and turn through the tranquil trails.

Nothing can replace the time I spend running.

It’s perhaps my most beautiful pastime.

I get to step outside and just breathe, just me.

Just breathe.

Sometimes that’s all we need….to slow down and breathe in order to find what we need.

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