This weekend I’ve been in the moutains of a district called Jeollabuk-do on a yoga camp. For those of you I’ve not spoken to directly, I’ve started doing yoga to chill me out a little and because as most of you know, I suffer from Ugly Face-itis or rosacea and yoga keeps the stress levels down and thus the face normal – in theory. The theme of the camp was purification and cleansing of the pancha kosha (not to be confused with kosher pancetta. Very different) through food, meditation, yoga and other activities. There was a mix of Koreans and foreigners, which was interesting. I don’t often see foreigners and locals mixing for whatever (likely language related) reason. I had to get up at 4:30am and stress about when the friggin subway was going to start though, so that was a good 40mins sitting alone in the station at 5:20am, awesome times.

The rest of this is going to sound really unlike me. Apologies in advance.

Probably the part that stands out the most is what I like to call experiencing Dante’s Inferno. As part of the cleansing, we were encouraged to get in touch with our emotions and let out all of our feelings in the form of crying. It was at this point that I realised I am cold and dead inside. This became an issue. While all around me, the vast majority of the other 40 participants were screaming, sobbing, and pounding on the floors and walls with their feet and fists, I was feeling mildly sorrowful. Slight tear welling on the Scale of Sorrow*. To just be surrounded by people who were quickly ramping up and getting more and more hysterical was surreal.
Then it kept going.
And going.
And then they turned the lights off.

Suddenly you can’t really see anything, all you hear is screaming, wailing and just heartbreaking, wrenching sobs. And then it kept going.
And going.
For an hour.
Just stop and imagine that. It’s dark, you’re not allowed out, and all you can hear is people in various states of utter misery. It felt like being an island alone in the middle of the spectral sea of lost souls.

It was incredibly distressing and stressful. I started to feel bad for not feeling bad. I’m generally on a pretty even keel, there’s a bit in The Simpsons that sorta sums it up:

Lisa: Dad! Things have changed, we’re the MTV generation. We feel neither highs nor lows.
Homer: Oh, what’s that like?
Lisa: [shrugs] Meh.

I identify with that to an extent, although since being in Korea I would say that it’s just that I’m happy here (I need another blog for that one, I have it very good here). Really, no complaints here. I worked very hard to deal with all my bad feelings and “baggage” and leave it in England. Would take a long time for the post office to deliver all the way here. There’s just nothing there right now. I left the experience feeling pretty shell shocked and since thinking about it have vacillated between damning it as The Worst Thing Ever and wondering why my reactions were as they were. I’ve settled on trying to pull the best out of it, which in my eyes is to consider my own reactions and use it as a test of patience and fortitude. I know I’m probably just dead inside or not in touch with all the gooey bits inside that make feelings happen, but if I can deal with all that in the Inferno then those third graders aren’t gonna harsh my buzz in the slightest, bratty though they may be.

More than that, I witnessed a huge amount of generosity and kindness. One of the things I was contemplating in the Inferno is how blessed my time here has been so far. I’ve generally been lucky enough to have found good, helpful people who have made this transition so much easier for me, so I’m no stranger now to ridiculously nice people…but this was a higher concentration of such folk. Partially generosity and sharing is a Korean thing, their culture is very much about “bring enough for everyone” – as kids happily tell me when they’re eating in class and then share out their sweets between all of us when caught, damn them, I can’t get too angry when I’m scoring free food! – but this was probably the most I’ve witnessed so far. On saturday morning, someone had prepared and brought with them a TON of gimbap (korean sushi) so we all got something like 10 pieces each wrapped up in tinfoil. Then after that, someone else had prepared little plastic bags filled with small chocolates and toffees for everyone on the bus. Where in the UK are you going to go on a trip and find a stranger has made you breakfast and another brought you a snack? Just doesn’t happen. This is one of many examples of the caring and sharing I got to witness this weekend. Very glad I got to experience that level of niceness.

It was also awesome to be out in the woods. We did some fun stuff like trust walking where we were all blindfolded and led out into the mountains having to depend on holding the shoulders of the person in front of us. I loved this, this one was relevent to my interests. I have a real issue with trying to control my environment and fight the tide instead of flowing with it and letting go. This took a lot for me to give up and trust that I was being led safely by near strangers. We did another version of this afterwards where we had to partner up and one would remove their blindfold and lead the other. A moment of silence and blindness where my partner and I just gripped each others arms passed before I realised either she had no idea what was going on, or she was hearing impaired. Either way, I was takin’ the reins. Turns out people who’ve been blindfolded and are relying on a stranger not to push them over the edge of a cliff are pretty nervous, who knew? That was great for building empathy and patience and trying to understand someone else’s experience well enough to guide them. I feel like that was super relevent to my life as a teacher, and I definitely do need more patience with those little shits, but also just in general. It’s easy to pay lip service to the idea of trying to understand other people’s points of view but a lot harder to do in physical practise.

I also now get to say that I stayed up meditating all night and it’s only very slightly a lie! Slightly because in actuality, we all slept in the 10 min break between programmes and also tended to knock out in the middle. Meditation is pretty relaxing, and when you’ve been up since 4:30am to get there on time, deep breathing at midnight is a sure fire reciepe for sleepiness. “Om” meditation was pretty great, and stupidly relaxing. As you can imagine, it’s meditating by saying “Ommmmmm” on the out breath. I loved it. I concentrated on deepening my breathing and on the vibration in my chest from saying the mantra and honestly, it was hypnotic. I passed out in the middle of it as I was just relaxed to that point. Really good cure for insomnia!

The night time programme was super mellow and fun. Before all the meditation stuff, we started with a walk in the mountains in the dark and in silence. It was pretty much a walking meditation, which is where you have to consider all the movements of your body and their relation to the earth as you walk. This is another one I find really useful, as it gives a different perspective on how to feel about your body. It kind of highlights that we are built for a purpose, to move from A to B, to be active, to whatever, which I’m guilty of forgetting in favour of angsting out about how it looks or how much it weighs instead. It also requires a lot of patience, which again, I’m low on. Plus, we were wandering the mountainside in the dark, the stars were so bright and the sky was so clear, it was beautiful. You could just about make out the other mountain ranges on the horizon and a few scattered lights of the town below. A great moment to appreciate life.

I’m gonna leave it on that, ’cause I’m aware that this is dragging on a bit and also that anyone who reads this is aware of me as really, really not the meditating/yoga-ing/soul cleansing kind. Please come to grips with this, for in the next entry I will touch upon my experiences literally tree hugging. Oh yes.

*Best part of the weekend, we were just told to walk around and start getting the sad vibes following. I walk out into the melee and the sweetest, nicest Korean woman approaches me and chirps “Sorrow?” with the biggest smile in the world and a “who, me?” shrug posture. …Uh, guess you had to be there.