Living in a way that aligns with one’s virtues, and moving in the direction that aligns with one’s potential and core truths has benefits that at times are only visible in the rear-view mirror. Sometimes it has felt like I have been wandering around listlessly, until I made one step in the right direction, and everything just started feeling right.
I have only had this experience twice, and both times were connected to leaving a job behind. This 2nd time, it is a career- most likely, on the chopping block. I say most likely, because there seems to be some possibility that I will return to the education domain, albeit in a different way, style, and/or subject matter.
The first time I had this corporeal sensation of rightness, for lack of a better term, was when employed at a distance from my wife and one-year-old son, whom I had to take to nursery school, breaking my heart each and every morning. One day, after returning to work after two weeks off spent together with my son, I just decided in my head to give notice of my departure at my 2nd full-time job ever, after an 11-year stint there at a private after-school language school in Japan. The memory of it all is now very fresh, the anxiety, the unease at how we would handle the income decline, etc. Yet above, or perhaps below all of those feelings was a feeling that I had woken up somehow- started listening to that deep self that knows when you are moving (or not moving) in the right direction. I recall a specific sensation I had never felt up to that moment- a tiny muscle in my lower back that instantly released its tension, and relaxed completely and totally. Was it my body’s signal that I was on the right track perhaps?
This time around, now 5 years later, as of last week, I was in the same boat. A job that didn’t seem to be fitting me anymore, a direction that didn’t propel me forwards but rather in a circular keeper (to use a waterfall reference) which keeps me locked from escaping the current suffocating reality.
This last Wednesday, I had an interesting day at work, when only one student out of a usual seven showed up for class. I had the chance to catch up on some meditating, and my own reality started becoming clear. My school was near its end, and I was ready to let it die. I had been subconsciously limiting or preventing the growth of my school at first, but then intentionally later, not recruiting new students, and avoiding the chance to grow or even maintain the size of my school.
The main reason was the social/emotional energy that my growing boys required of me forced me to minimize how much I used at work, and so I chose to focus on my boys over my education career-which I never felt comfortable with anyway.
Perhaps most clear to me, for the last year or so, is that my emotional and social energy has finite limits (as of yet), and since becoming a father of two very demanding and wonderful boys, I must make priorities of where I use that energy, lest it be watered down to the point of being effective at neither teaching nor parenting.
Also, my need to refuel, so to speak, through creative pursuits, exercise, diet, meditation, etc. also became blatantly clear, after years of psychological and physical issues: psoriasis, asthma, delusional parasitosis, alcohol and tobacco dependency, depression, anxiety, social anxiety, to name a few.
Similarly to the first time I experienced this corporeal message, my body gave me a quick signal that I was indeed listening to myself. My asthma had been quite manageable for the last few years, since I quit smoking, and became vegan. But suddenly, around 6 weeks ago or so, I started needing my inhaler at night, sometimes before bed, sometimes mid-sleep. Then it was regular, nightly, and at times two times during the day or night. Something was worsening my condition, and I had no clue as to what it was. Everything else in my life was going in a better direction, I had given up sugar about 2 months prior (now 3 months ago), was riding a bike and walking more than ever after getting rid of my car, and I had started taking Calcium supplements and doing pushups etc. to strengthen my muscles and bones. At first I thought, maybe the calcium and magnesium supplements were the cause of my sudden and mysterious worsening of my asthma, as I had started taking them at the same time my asthma worsened. Then I thought maybe the lack of more vigorous running that I had given up due to a much more active lifestyle was to blame, but that internally didn’t make any sense either.
Then, unknowingly, as I made my decision internally to close my school, and change my path- my asthma completely went away.
Similar to the tiny muscle instantaneously relaxing five years ago, my breathing problems suddenly vanished. It has been about a week now, 5 days since the final decision was made, and I have not needed to use my inhaler even once.
Not only that, but when considering my options last week, weathering a self-induced mini-panic attack, and discussing a strawberry-growing opportunity with a not-so-supportive wife, the psoriasis on my hands suddenly erupted into full-blown mode. My psoriasis is kind of a blessing, for it is a very visible and painful reminder when my body is in a tail-spin, and can serve as a warning that I am pushing myself down the wrong path, not taking care of myself, or not doing enough to replenish my social/emotional reserves. Like the asthma, my psoriasis went into almost immediate remission upon coming to terms in my head and heart about my school closure. Even as I write this, the eruption’s remnants are still visible, but mending faster than usual- with a different look to them, a finality perhaps to the roots of the condition perhaps? Have I found the source of my own psoriasis and current bout with asthma? If so, what is this source?
Perhaps the answer goes back to my 10-day Vipassana retreat in Kyoto a half-year ago. During the break times, when not meditating, I spent much of the first few days obsessed with my work. Mentally, I was working out a fantasy of transforming my language school into a learning center, where I would volunteer rather than be paid for my efforts. The students and parents would donate rather than pay a fee. The students would choose to come rather than be forced to come. Students would have control over the content of their learning rather than me or what the parents expected. It is/was a beautiful vision that I hope to one day implement, to steer the field in a good direction- away from the profiteering and business-side that has ruined me as a teacher.
In the end, a lot of my personal problems seemed to revolve around my work, not what perhaps, but how I was doing it. And of course, money was integral to the problems and solutions, as it tends to be. Education, like medicine, should exist in the public domain, in my opinion. I understand the argument for private schools and after-school programs, but I think it is a path that leads to a world that no one wants to live in. The goal indeed of my transformative idea was to remove money as the personal motivator for teaching, and changing to a donation-based NPO where volunteers share their time to support students would likely do such a feat. Of course, the hard part is how to earn a living if one is not earning a living teaching. The same can be said for writing, music, (my other interests), etc. -those areas that are particularly fragile to the corruptive influence of money. That is a subject for a future post perhaps.
In March, I indeed attempted to put such a plan into action. I even had a trial for two students who were trying to change classes. Maybe the idea is ahead of its time and society doesn’t know how to handle it yet, or perhaps my implementation or explanation of it was flawed. For whatever reason, it flopped, and I abruptly ended the idea after exposing all of my students to the possibility of a “self-directed learning” class, with no interest received. Perhaps I can revisit the concept once I have the funds, emotional/social energy, or time to devote to developing it. Emotional/Social energy and funds are things of which I do not have in abundance at the moment- at least I have other foci at the moment towards which I want to focus my efforts.
So, here I am. Essentially broke. Essentially having been teaching on fumes for the last few months. Three weeks to go before the doors close for good. Knowing the end is in sight will likely propel me forward enough to close in style, with my chin up.
Where will this decision lead? Somewhere new, decidedly, and that is a great thing, and my body knows it too.