Lest I zoom headlong through my journey of life only to crash to a halt when I meet my Maker without having taken notice of life as it was happening

Never have I felt so at peace with my life. That's not to say that all things have fallen into place, but that's fine by me; at any rate, I think that all things falling into place marks the end of life--in other words, death.

But I digress.

I admit, I love living by myself and I love my apartment. It's old and grimy, but it's mine. Other ALTs around me were given furniture and furnishings for their apartments from previous ALTs, but I basically started from scratch. Nearly every item in my apartment was chosen and paid for by me. I'm enforcing a "no junk" rule in my apartment; I only fill it with things of use or things of beauty.

I never noticed how many by-myself hobbies I have and like to do in the peace of my own home. I like writing. I like reading. Playing a little music. Sewing (believe it or not). Watching House (guilty pleasure). Cooking. Yoga. --I love having my own space to do these things.

I like hosting friends. I've already lost track of how many dinners I've made for evening company; I have a guest bedroom and I enjoy making it comfy and homey for my guests. I like making tea in my tea pot and serving it with snacks on a tray. I like setting up chairs on my balcony on summer mornings and having long conversations with new friends, music from Hawaii playing from my phone.

When I get lonely, I simply call up some friends and make plans. A favorite activity of mine this past year has been hiking. Our hikes can last for as little as two hours or as many as twelve. I enjoy the company of friends who like a little bit of adventure, appreciate nature, enjoy a little bit of physical activity, and (most importantly) can keep up a conversation for hours on end about the funny, the emotional, the thought-provoking, and the little things in life.

I'm getting better at enjoying the moment. I still take pleasure in planning adventures for the future (in what country will I live next? what job will I have next? what other languages do I want to learn? what other adventure sports will I try? what hobby will I pick up next?), but I also purposefully slow myself down to notice the things around me.

How do I slow myself down, you ask? I read in a self-help blog post about how to live in the moment. These incremental, concrete steps are quite helpful for those who are constantly told to slow down (if not stop) and smell the roses, yet don't know how:

  • Notice your environment; exercise your senses. What do you smell? What does your skin feel--the warmth of the sun? the crispness of an autumn breeze? the moisture of an ocean spray? What do you hear--the hum of traffic? unidentified birds cawing in the background? children playing? the chirping of cicadas?
  • When eating--what ingredients do you taste? what colors are in the food? what textures do you feel with your tongue, your cheek, your throat? 
  • Physically ground yourself: feel the ground beneath your feet, your back against your chair, or any other contact that you're making to stabilize yourself. Notice whether or not you're in a comfortable position, or if you have been straining your body to maintain a certain position. Stretch, if necessary.
Another thing I do to help center myself and slow myself down is I imagine a jar half filled with sunflower seeds next to a small pile of sunflower seeds. I imagine myself moving one sunflower seed from the pile to the jar each day. Each seed is a reminder that daily progress is small, but endurance over time yields large payoffs.

With regards to teaching, I look back on my days as a high school student  and I notice that only sporadic "teachable moments" (intentional and perhaps unintentional) have stuck with me until today, serving as granular lessons that shape me to be the person I am now. Many of my high school teachers might have gone home each day thinking "wow, I really rocked that lesson" or "that lesson didn't go so well, I wonder how I can make my lesson better tomorrow?". Despite their self-reflections, neither they nor I would have no idea what nuggets of information or life lessons I'd take away from the lesson that day. For this reason, I as a teacher now have no other choice but to give it my best each day but not beat myself up on days that don't go well. Each day is but one sunflower seed in a jar of many seeds. 

At the same time, the small things that I learned each day as a high school student added up to my being able to read and write fluently today, calculate and convert prices and measurements, and get along with other people. All in all: don't put too much pressure on each individual lesson in the classroom, but know that in the long run, teaching children is a meaningful and impactful profession.

I think that compulsively planning and keeping things ordered is a part of perfectionism. One part of perfectionism (for me) is the false mindset that I am a performer and the world is my audience, or worse, judge. I'm supposed to teach perfect English, speak perfect Japanese, act with Japanese modesty, nurture perfect relationships, and so on. Such a mindset is mentally and emotionally draining and unproductive. The task of trying to balance on a tall, shiny pedestal is daunting and purposeless. The truth is: No One is Watching. Remember that every person you meet is fighting their own battles; they don't have time to critique your every word and every move. Generally speaking, people are more likely to want to like you, so they'll take notice of points in you that they find attractive or inspiring. In fact, I theorize that people mostly only notice the persistent aspects of your character or personal habits that you don't realize are there or can't control. For this reason, do things and act in a way that makes you feel at peace with yourself for yourself; don't live a certain lifestyle to impress others.

Going back to the theme of living in the moment: life is now. The dwelling that your currently reside is not a temporary space to store your belongings and your self in the evenings; this is your home. Your home is no longer the place where you were raised; neither is your  home a concept for the future, when you have a spouse, kids, and a family pet. Your home is here and now. Make it comfortable and keep it clean. Your job is not a temporary means of income to hold you over until you're spending your days doing things you "actually" want to be doing. Your job and how you spend your time is your life. Make it happy and fulfilling. Weekends and vacations are not getaways from life; they are life's joys. Make them adventurous and uplifting.

Choose to take notice and choose to be happy.

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