“Miss Lee, your laughter sounds so fake…” My student said these words to me one day after he’d overheard my phone conversation. I said, “well, I try to answer the phone with a happy attitude.” Still, I was shocked at what he said to me. I started to feel a bit ashamed, standing in front of the class after that. I also thought that I wasn’t a very good role model and I tried to pretend that my behavior wasn’t that big of a deal. After a 10-year teaching career, I really thought that I was giving everything of myself to my students. But now, all that I could think of was that, to my students, my laugh is fake. My insincerity was seen from the eyes of a pure child in the fifth grade of elementary school, and that was enough to shock me.
My Laugh Was Just an Act
Standing in front of these children as their teacher, I realized that I wanted to be a good example. I was trying so hard to fulfill that goal. Especially during summer vacations. I was always looking for some new training to improve my teaching skills. For years, I visited experts and artisans to learn things like how to play percussion, painting, sewing and natural dyeing techniques. I even took a video course so I could capture the vivid voices and laughter of the children and have something to remember them by for a long time.
These things that I’d learned were incorporated into my teaching plan and the class loved it. Playing Korean drums, art projects, making naturally dyed clothing… All of these activities were organized into my class. I even gave my students their pictures and videos. But no matter how hard I tried, there were always questions that kept coming up in my mind: How can I make my children feel confident? How can I educate these kids and give them real-life knowledge? How can I motivate them?
Is there a way that I can give them the confidence to know that they can achieve anything they set their minds to accomplishing?
As time went by, I realized that changing the children’s attitude was not going to be easy. The real question was how I would solve it. It constantly bothered me. Until one day, it hit me like a shot!
What Is There to Smile About?
Why did I talk and act so fake? I mistakenly thought that I was such a good person, a positive and warm person, a passionate person who always did her best in her work. It wasn’t really me. It was what I wished I was. I couldn’t help myself. I couldn’t really accept myself as this ideal person that I was trying to be. How could I fix myself? I felt dead. It was so hard to live in this lie that I wanted to die. The desperate struggle to protect the illusion of the ‘I’ which I had created for myself. The walls I had built up in my mind trying to hide from the world, and at the same time constantly running around trying to learn more and develop my teaching when what I really was trying to do was to change myself. It was all for me, not for my students. I was trapped in a “perfect castle” of my own making. I couldn’t communicate with anyone else because I’d surrounded myself with walls. I wanted to give up. I wanted to cry out for help. I wanted to stop. Then, I found this meditation.
Through meditation, I was able to face the “me” who had built all of these thick walls to hide my inferiority. Through the course of my life, I created my own mind world and this me who thinks and judges and acts fake was the only one who was right. I had never accepted others; I only pushed them away. I hated myself for being this way.
Looking back, I had a lot of hatred built up in my mind. From the time I was born, I was never comfortable in my own skin. The red dress and the yellow shoes my mother dressed me in didn’t suit me. She bought the dress for me to wear Thanksgiving Day. The clothes were immediately given to my younger sister and they looked better on her. The “ugly me” pictures began to be engraved into my mind one by one. As my body grew physically, the “ugly me” in my mind grew as well. In order to hide the ugly me, I worked really hard and always tried to do well. But the ugly me couldn’t be easily dismissed. I learned while meditating that I couldn’t escape as long as I had the illusion of this ugly me in my heart and the moment I let it go, it would cease to exist in the world.
I Found True Laughter I always wanted to be a good teacher, but I never really had been one. I never realized that any hateful feeling that I held in my heart would be felt by my students. Even if there was the smallest seed of irritation in my heart, my students would feel it. I thought it would work out if I had patience. I also realized that the idea that I was working hard made me feel that my fellow teachers weren’t working hard. The “good teacher” image that I had made in my mind had caused other teachers to be called bad teachers according to my standard. Because I could only accept my picture of what a good teacher is, it closed my colleagues off from me. I prevented anyone from coming near me. I was lonely. I was also alone. Still, I consoled myself because it was my way, and I just kept on building my own mind world more and more. I now know that, depending on what kind of heart you have, the results you attain will be the same. As the saying goes, “If you plant soybeans, then soybeans are what will grow.” Stubborn heart, judgmental heart, regretful heart, hateful heart, skeptical heart… It was so hard to live my life with such a negative mind, but it was next to impossible to bring about any positive change in my students with this terrible me. I cried so much while throwing away the life that I’d made that was so wrong. My tears were not tears of regret, but tears of gratitude for being able to let go of the fake me who wanted only to escape. These were tears of joy, I now knew, as I gradually stepped into the true life that I’d always wanted. I now had hope that I could really help my students as well. This meditation method broke down my old mind world which I’d built up in a very happy and comfortable way. Because of that comfort, I was able to escape from my lonely, dark and difficult mind world and make eye contact with the real world and talk and laugh. In the past, I had tried to pretend that I was happy, but now I don’t have to force anything. I’m happy because my heart is happy. Now I have genuine laughter.