Posts by Judy Imamudeen

Developing leaders in learning is my joy! I am committed and passionate International Baccaluearate (IB) educator who loves cracking jokes, jumping on trampolines and reading books. When I'm not playing Minecraft with my daughter, I work on empowering others in order to create a future that works for everyone.

The Grief of a Star

Grief does something odd to your body. Your limbs lose sensation and a numbness seems to take over you. Simultaneously there is this deep penetrating hollowness in your chest that balls up in your throat. Despite these feelings, you somehow can walk, hold a conversation and fry an egg. Time seems irrelevant though and you can barely remember how you or why you put your shoes on. Life feels outside of you, and it seems strange to think you are a part of its mundaneness. You cannot hear the song of birds or enjoy the shrieking laughter of a child. It feels as if life is mocking you. At least that is how I feel at the moment.

They say there are 5 stages of grief. I’m not sure where this shock falls into but my guess is that it is Denial. Should I be looking forward to the next phase?–Anger? or Bargaining? Depression? or Acceptance? I actually think I cycle through all of these phases within a day. My wound is open and raw. And I can’t understand why my Star died so soon and in the manner in which she passed. inuit.jpeg

I don’t really want to think about the fatal accident. I wasn’t there when it happened. I was feverously typing out a Thank You email for a job interview I had when my husband yelled for me to get in the car immediately because he had accidentally closed the truck door on Star’s neck and we needed to rush her to the vet. I sprung into action. As my husband handed our Yorkie over to me, I noticed her head wobbled aimlessly and she didn’t make any noise. Shit. This WAS serious! As I jumped in the truck, I tried to recall my CPR training and began giving her breaths through her nose and mouth alternating with 5-10 chest compressions. Her eyes were wide and her tongue was purple, dangling out the side of her mouth. But I wouldn’t give up. All the way there, I went on believing that it might be possible to revive her. The vet took ages with her, making us all feel hopeful. But after 20  minutes, when I asked for an update on her status, the vet came down to inform me that she appeared to have died instantaneously. She was dead.

We came home with her wrapped in a spare towel, in a cardboard box. We were going to bury her in our backyard. It was hard to imagine that an hour ago, she was chasing around the yard, excited to see us return home. She wouldn’t go to the toilet until all 3 of us–my husband, Hannah and myself- had to pet her and give her some kisses. She ran around in such a state of glee that it was dangerous to pick her up because she’d get so happy that she’d pee on us.

That time now felt so very long ago. Our friends came over to share our grief and keep us strong enough to bury her. I really don’t know how my husband could dig that hole. How his heart was aching at that moment. He removed her from the box and uncovered her, her body so much heavier than when alive, and stroked her apologetically before setting her down in the grave. My daughter was afraid to approach the now dead animal that had slept with her every night and tolerated all of her funny games. I can’t say I blame her. Seeing someone you loved so very much dead is a difficult image to erase. I still remember my dad in his coffin.  I was glad that she kept her distance until she was completely buried.

hairy potterStar, like many dogs (or other pets), brought uncommon joy to our home.  She was our “hairy” child that we had “puppy sourced” from a local doggy daycare and training facility. She was “imported” from Thailand, a pedigree Yorkshire Terrier that never grew beyond 2 kilograms no matter how much bacon we gave her. She was playful and smart and a bit of a bandit, stealing tissues, pen caps, and my daughter’s toys, hiding it in her favorite spot, under my trampoline. I called her a “love bully” because she would jump into your lap, nuzzle right into face and lick you with abandon. Other times she’d paw at you and bark, demanding to be played with. She was such a character! During my Skype interview the night before, she kept dropping a toy at my feet and begged to be played with. She was relentless. I had to give in and play a tugging game with her all the while trying to sound intelligent, confident and focused. We buried her with that same toy.

I had looked so very forward to Star growing up with my daughter. She was our “forever” dog. She really loved us. She loved us when we were sick, when we were grumpy and when we were neglectful. She loved us no matter what. And we really loved her too. I think that is what I will miss the most about her. Her stubborn and forgiving love.

Although our lives will not be the same without her, they have been changed. Her gift of unconditional love and sheer delight for life is one that I hope to strive for. She made me a kinder, more patient and gentler person. Even though she is no longer here to help “train me to be a better human”, I hope these lessons in love will remain. Perhaps then she will truly be our “forever dog” after all.

Rest in peace, Star. May your joy still shine brightly upon us.

“A Japenese Way of Looking”

I confess I am not an artist, but it doesn’t mean that I cannot experience a love of the aesthetic. And I find such importance and value in exploring these perspectives because it helps me to recover and experience the beauty that is ever present in our lives. It doesn’t matter if it’s through poetry, wine tasting, bird watching or photography—there are so many ways to experience, to zoom in, and elaborate on these small elements of life which add so much fullness to our humanity.

Recently I visited the Hague, Netherlands and took advantage of visiting the Van Gogh Museum before jumping on my plane back to Laos. There was a  whole exhibition dedicated to Vincent Van Gogh’s obsessive study into Japanese prints and how he took those elements into his own style of art.  I had never really thought much about the subject and composition of works. Truly, I had always thought it was VanGogh’s brush strokes that had defined him as an artist. But as he produced a painting a day, he worked diligently to incorporate this style into his own. And when you looked at Japenese prints and then turned your eye to VanGogh’s work, you could catch a glimpse of how he had achieved a “Japanese Way of Looking” in his portraits of the people and places within the south of France. However, what struck me the most was how strongly he felt that the Arles, France was “just like Japan” because of the light and color of the landscapes he saw there. He had only explored Japan through those prints–he had never heard its language, seen Mt. Fuji or tasted sushi– so I was so deeply amazed that he had made that strong connection just thinking about light and color depicted in those prints. VanGogh, in my mind, definitely had a unique way of seeing the world.

van gogh 2And it was this idea that I connected to the most and made me question whether I, in all my travels, had truly appreciated the perspectives and features of the places that I had been too. Yes, of course, I had “assimilated” the culture in the places I had lived abroad but had I truly appreciated them and studied them in the way like VanGogh did. As an expat, I had simply lived among the culture rather than steeped myself in, floating at the top of its surface, trying to maintain the integrity of my home culture rather than allowing my eyes to completely view a different context of life.

As I bring my first year of life in Laos to a close, it makes me deeply reflect how I might integrate VanGogh’s determination to view life through another lens. In the past, I had pursued awe but it has always been around me. It’s not trying to evade me. It is just my sight that needs to shift. It is as if my camera’s lens has been out of focus and if I turn my attention towards something connective like Van Gogh’s “light and color”, perhaps life can be less blurred from the “could haves” and “should haves” that blind me, seeing, not only people and nature in a whole new way, but the circumstances in life.

What a wonderful experiment this can be.

 

#Mindfulness: A New Offensive

About a month ago, I was engaged in a conversation about how certain negative outcomes arise when your culture is problem finding and you are solution driven. It’s a wonderful thing to want to fix and improve things but an emotional drawback could be the sensitivity and ease at which you can be offended. You end up being quite judgmental and get quite attached to what is “the right” thing vs “the wrong” approach. We can really dig our heals into our opinions and be given to gossip or conflict in a culture like that. Furthermore, this is the sort of negative energy that usually surrounds our New Year’s resolution. To experience true freedom and creativity, we have to remain open and stay mindful of how we want to behave when we are engaged in life’s circumstances. Then there is a lot of space available when we remain accessible to possibilities.

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I recently went to Plum Village on a Mindfulness retreat in Thailand. Plum Village’s founder is Thich Nhat Hanh, a Zen Master who, if you are a westerner, can thank him if you have heard of the term mindfulness because of his work of bringing this practice outside of Asia. The week was full of a multitude of wonderful practices–things I thought I knew about the practice but have come to understand my deep ignorance. What a blessing to have a revelation like this! One of the monks there asked if we planned to go into the “New Year” with an “Old Mind”? What an interesting question? If I make a “goal” but don’t change my habits or perspectives, how could I really expect 2018 to be any different than 2017?

Which leads me to the practice of mindfulness. What I hadn’t appreciated is how rooted it is in the Noble 8-Fold Path– an essential part of the Buddhist philosophy. (I suppose if Buddhism was a real religion then you could liken it to something like the 10 Commandments traditions because it is supposed to act as a guide for living.) During this retreat, we had to reflect and deepen our practice of how we observe others and their circumstances so that we can cultivate compassion and love. We were invited to make 2 promises: to love people, animals, plants, and minerals; and to seek to understand through deep looking of others and ourselves so that we may bring about more joy and compassion in the world. These 2 promises can be attained through the Noble 8-Fold Path.

“When you look for the good in others, you discover the best in yourself.”
― Martin Walsh

As I prepare to leave this sanctuary at Plum Village, I think about how I might use this Noble 8-Fold Path to transform my problem-oriented mind to one that is understanding- oriented so I can look beyond the circumstances and develop greater compassion. Although this practice is incredibly gentle, I thought that in order for me to really bridge the benefits into the “real world”, then I must take the offensive–prepare myself for the frustration and worries that typically plague me and my world on a regular basis. I must remain driven. But not to be successful, but to be kind, to be present, to be grateful and most importantly… to BREATH.

 

Public Display of Excrementing

In China, I saw more than my fair share of people unleashing their bowels in open areas. I’ve pointed and howled with judgment. But today I realized that I do the same thing, except I don’t drop my pants, I drop my jaw.  I’ve been “shoulding” all over the place.

Lately, I’ve been in a foul mood. I feel like all I can see is the negative in situations and in others, especially in myself. It’s felt like the very worst verbal snowball that I have ever created, as one crappy thought sticks to another flake of criticism and complaint. And the worst part of it is that this snowball has been gaining speed and growing, as my only hope is that it reaches the bottom of the hill and stops. But how much negativity can I really generate and collect in my mind, I do not know? It is an incredibly unpleasant experience, especially when I am conscious enough to observe it, yet not disciplined to stop it from exiting my mouth, to begin with.

The irony, of course, is that I have been setting this intention to find more good in life so I can open up to awe. Yet the more I dig into this, the more I see what is wrong and the beauty and joy of life seem to hover beyond this dark cloud, blocking my sun.

This is the worst thought of them all is that something beyond my control is creating this worry and despair, that this mood will stay and become a part of my personality–that I am becoming less agreeable and cheerful with age. No frickin’ way do I want these crappy thoughts to take up permanent residence in my head. I gotta kick these unwanted guests out!!

But what if I am changing? What if I was to embrace my inner-grumpy, to become more curious and kind towards these unloveable thoughts? To look at me as you might see a toddler having a cry over dropping their cracker–despite this absolute trivial brooding, there is an opportunity to have a laugh over the ridiculous self-imposed helplessness of the situation and extend a hand to pick up the cracker.

Change does not have to be about becoming someone else, but about rearranging the pieces of the puzzle in your life in a way that better serves your purpose. Maybe it is not ‘something’ that is missing from your life – it is how everything fits in the bigger picture of your life that makes the difference -Astro Butterfly-

I read that quote the other day and have been examining my mood to see how perhaps this is serving me, that, perhaps I am in the midst of a wonderful transformation, as the pieces of who I am, shift into new positions and will create a new picture of Who I Am. Perhaps what I am experiencing is what people call a “dark night of the soul.” And, although it is awful to swell with such feelings and have a lot of diarrhea of the mouth, the mental muscle I am gaining in overcoming this and the faith that I am developing is creating the most delicious experience of renewal.

And with this insight, although I stand in a gloomy place, there is now an opening, a crack, in which I can put a wedge into to let some light enter, recognizing that this moment can be ethereal if I give it permission to be present in my life. Yes, I can accept this phase, while simultaneously attending my gaze towards the light. There is good in this experience and I have the capacity to find it.

This weekend we intend to drive to Vien Viang, a riverside town in central Laos. We intend to go tubing on the Nam Song River and explore caves in the area. Even though it is impossible to predict the end of this “shoulding”,  I am hopeful that this respite will accelerate the demise of my funk and give birth to a more content and hopeful version of me. If nature is really an antidote to unease, then there stands a chance that I may be injected with revelation and joy, as this dark cloud comes to pass. And, although I feel mentally feeble,  Inshallah, God willing,  I will hold on to the prospect of this possibility.

 

The Pursuit of Awe

The other day I was doing this tortuous hip and thigh exercise routine when the instructor said ” You are going to feel a burning sensation. You’re really starting to engage here.” That word, engage, hung in my mind for awhile and I laughed out loud, thinking how she was trying to frame the pain I was experiencing in a sort of positive light. However, my thoughts bounced in another direction: what does it mean to engage anyhow? I wanted to go deeper into this perspective she was sharing and what it means for me in my life.

Anytime I really “engage” in something, I emotionally connect and focus on it. Often, I experience discomfort, sometimes outright pain. My mind started to list the moments I felt discomfort with “engaging” in life, and by and large, they were times when I was in the process of growth. alivenessEven when my thoughts were dark, it seemed like a seed had taken sprout within me and was breaking through the soil to reach for the sun, as I fended off worry and doubt. But then I realized when I experience some sort of reverie with life’s hidden wonders and was seized with joy, this too was a wonderful form of engagement. It felt like a glorious moment of magic and I become captivated with the endless miracles that orchestrate life.

I recognize that most of the time I am disengaged, absorbed with the routines and mundane habits I have created, the middle between those extremes of pain and joy. Which leads me to this ridiculous goal that I set last year–to experience and document over 100 acts of pure miracle and magic that occur in my life. The point of this goal was to develop a mental practice of detecting the good of life, to bear witness to all the ways that the universe conspires on my behalf with my experience. It’s not the same sort of thing as gratitude, but it was more to do with being captivated and in awe of life. I just called it “ridiculous” because it’s probably been the most difficult goal I ever set. I have 14 moments of “awesomeness”  that I have collected as I strive to develop a “miracle mindset”, and I’m supposed to get 100 by December 22nd (my S.MA.R.T. deadline). Clearly, I have not been engaging with this goal.

So, now that I have put my attention on this goal, I realize that I have a choice. To brood over this deficiency or to become absolutely obsessed with it. As you might imagine, sitting at this crossroads in my mind, I am experiencing discomfort–who would I be if I was to really take this seriously for the next 2 months of this year?   Would I become annoyingly optimistic and giddy? Is this why I am resisting this? Or am I using other people as my excuse to not make this shift? 

 

Well, at this juncture, I may not feel overly confident of transforming my mental landscape but maybe trying to do something so daring and failing may be a miracle in itself. To stop wading in the shallows of life and go into the deep end, becoming more mindful and devoted to experiencing what seems ordinary in a new light. To have the courage to live in a state of astonishment, cultivating a different and more fascinated perspective, might be a subtle form of insanity, but I shall try to pursue it nevertheless. And now that I have shared this confounded idea with you all, I have the responsibility to make the effort to become awakened by the profound and interesting things that make my life worth living.

Thank you for holding a light of hope for me, as I become okay with the discomfort that awareness brings through this pursuit for awe.

When the Road I Traveled Becomes an Open Path

Do you ever wish you were a better person than who you are? Me too. Like all the time.

A couple weeks ago we had a terrible thunderstorm with torrential downpour and lightning that sparked the night with a purple white glow. Since the street to my home is riveted with deep muddy potholes, I was nervous that my friend’s car might get stuck or damaged when she dropped me off, so I decided to walk. At the time, it seemed like the right thing to do, but as soon as the car sped away, I felt a real sense of stupidity and fear.  I was going to have to wade through knee-deep water to get to my home. The story of a colleague’s neighbor getting bit by a baby cobra was stuck in my head and it too added fuel to the fear that was sloshing in my mind. I realized that these flooded waters could very well be full of water snakes and other creatures that could cause harm. But if I was going to return home, I really had no other alternative but to walk through these deep “puddles” that were a block long. I chanted “Please God help me” as I entered the road and stepped into the dimly lighted water, my flip-flops searching for an ounce of high ground. 10 minutes later, I arrived at my gate, very wet but very relieved that I somehow managed to make it through to dry land.

the truthAs I stripped off my wet and muddy clothes, I recanted my daring act to my husband and realized that I may very well have this experience again. This is Laos and I have signed up for an adventure, clearly. Why did I think this was a good idea? I wanted a postcard type of experience, you know–coconut trees swaying in the breeze and an easy going pace to life, but this is what I chose. I had the luxury to choose to live in a developing country and now I faced the reality of what is it like to live in a country that is so poor that most of the streets of its nation’s capital aren’t even paved.

All of sudden it got me thinking, if this experience was a lesson, what did I learn? How am I going to meet this “road”–My attitude? Am I going to go running and screaming down it (kind of what I did) or can I manage this experience a different way–My actions? How else could I go down this “road”–My opportunity? And who do I have to become in order to travel on this “road” that I have chosen–My identity?

I am in the process of answering these questions and was reminded recently of a poem by a famous Indian poet,  Rabindranath Tagore, whose message made me awaken out of self-absorption and see the truth that I am not alone on this journey. (None of us are.) Although I am unique, I am not different, because we all wrestle with the circumstances and the choices that create change in our lives.

Closed Path

I thought that my voyage had come to its end
at the last limit of my power,—that the path before me was closed,
that provisions were exhausted
and the time come to take shelter in a silent obscurity.

But I find that thy will knows no end in me.
And when old words die out on the tongue,
new melodies break forth from the heart;
and where the old tracks are lost,
new country is revealed with its wonders.

I connect deeply to this idea of  “new country”; this experience is revealing how much of me is a work in progress, as I reflect on who I am and how I see the world. There’s quite a bit that I can improve upon, let’s just say. However, to meet this challenge with self-loathing of all the things I wish I could be would be squandering the possibility for serious transformation. I still haven’t sorted out how to approach this task but I know that this discomfort is the first sign of the real potential for change. And if I keep focused….well who knows where this road I traveled where lead me.

In Transit

I can hear a bleating gong that seems to signal the coming of the monks for giving of alms.  My neighbors will bring out in bags and baskets food for the monks, as they pass by and give their good wishes and blessings. And this is how the day begins, an ebb and flow of giving and take within my neighborhood. It’s 5:45 am here in Laos and I am trying to prepare my mind for going to school, for a day of unexpected experiences as I am getting to know my new school community as well as the delightful students who are in my care. Not only that but my little nuclear family is trying to figure out what will be our new normal and establish a semblance of routine.  Although I can identify my feelings of unease as a natural part of adjusting to these new concentric circles of culture (my family, my work, relationships outside of work, my neighborhood, Laos)  it doesn’t make them go away and I wonder how long will I stay in this tentative emotional state.

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Although this place is special, it is not unique, meaning that I have encountered so many of the same frustrations in other countries. At first, I found this ambivalence akin to having still not arrived here, feeling that somehow a part of me is still in transit, being processed and on its way to this destination, and was an odd feeling to grapple with.  But I have come to realize that in this new life here, I, like a piece of solid iron, am being smelted by this experience, reformed and fashioned for a new purpose. I know to decide to be happy, to enjoy how quirky and different everything is here, is surely the first step in this appreciating the transformation. I am trying to find some sort of ritual, some sort of antidote to these simultaneous and contradictory attitudes or feelings toward our new life in Laos.

beauty.jpg I am reminded that my thoughts become my words and my words become my actions and my actions become my habits, and my habits become my character, and my character becomes my life. So I have decided to start making lists of things that create small moments of happiness in my life, like air conditioning at a restaurant, the beauty of lightening as it races across the sky, and the contentment I feel when Hannah enjoys local food. I want to find the beauty in this world and in my new life.

So I thank you, dear reader, for allowing this blog post to help me expedite my shift and define who I will become in this new environment, articulating this idea. I hope that wherever you are in the world, you too can find the beauty in it.