Oh my….it’s five days past the close of the Families in Global Transition Conference in Bangkok and it’s Golden Week back here in Tokyo. That means my husband is home from work on holiday and while I know I need to get all these thoughts and reflections down stat, I’m feeling a bit lost for words. That tends to be how I leave FIGT – a bit in awe that such a unique and inspirational event can actually happen for real in the world.
To be honest, our impending transition from Japan to Belgium hadn’t really hit me until my first morning in Bangkok. Out of nowhere, and outside my daily routines and comfort zone, I suddenly felt every single emotion from deep sadness to jittery anxiety. My thoughts whirred with all the pending tasks and “lasts” left hanging. I felt slightly out of it and just at the edge of tears the entire time I was there. At moments I felt almost on the verge of panic. I’d go to bed each night reminding myself to breathe deeply. It was so incredibly wonderful to see all of my FIGT friends, but I rarely felt fully there. My heart and mind were working overtime with the sudden realization that my life is about to be once again uprooted.
Despite years of mindfulness and meditation practice, like anyone, feeling anxious and overwhelmed is hard. It’s crappy. It’s hard to get out of my head and become comfortable with what’s happening in my body. Yet this year at FIGT I learned a lot from this sudden and unexpected barrage of transition thoughts and sensations. And, if there’s one place on Earth where you’re surrounded by people who truly get what it’s like to be just-about-to-move AGAIN, it’s at FIGT.
I try to take lots of notes during the conference sessions. From the keynote addresses to the small “kitchen table” discussions, there are so many quotable moments. I find I want to remember everything and exactly who said it. As I look back over my notes for this year – one small phrase seems to hit home the most for where I find myself at this very moment of my international journey.
It may sound a bit strange, but here goes…and I’ll explain.
“Lie down in a public place.”
This is the challenge we were offered by keynote speaker Caleb Meakins on day three of this year’s conference.
Meakins shared with us that several years ago, from a desire to develop a better relationship with fear, he started a project – My 40 Days: Overcoming the Fear of Failure. Over the course of 40 days he filmed himself taking on challenges offered by strangers. Of all the many, many strange things he was asked to do (Ask a stranger for £100? Ask KFC to cook a raw chicken he’s brought from home?), the one he found the most challenging was – Lie down in a public place. He told us his mind and body were almost paralyzed with the fear of doing it. And when he finally decided he was up for the challenge? It was like he’d uncovered a whole new perspective!
While it may sound humorous, there is actually an incredibly powerful message behind the challenge to “lie down in a public place.” It is a metaphor for how (and who) we can be on the path ahead. It is a challenge to harness the strength in our vulnerability, to step into our fears head-on and to stand-up to the voices that say there’s no time (or more likely no chance) for positive change in the world. And it’s not literally (I don’t think!) about physically lying down in public places…although…no shame in that if you’re game!
There are a million lessons for global life that FIGT attendees can take away from the three days of workshops, presentations, speeches and community building. I think that Meakins’s message was underscored in every presentation I attended and it serves as both the backdrop to the work taking place in the conference space and an invitation to bring that perspective into our daily lives back “home.” I was constantly hearing messages I knew I could apply right now in my own in-between life.
When we lie down in public places we allow ourselves to admit our vulnerability. We present to the world that we face challenges and that those challenges are real and difficult to navigate. We admit we cry, feel lost or are sometimes overcome with anger. Our vulnerability is about sharing both the delight and awe of the expat experience along with the uncertainty and confusion. FIGT is one of those places where the halls are filled with the echo of gratitude and nurturing. It is a place filled with humans who are whole, even in their uncertainties, anxieties and confusion. It was absolutely the place for me to be as I faced these feelings in my own life.
And when we lie down in public places we step into our fear of the unknown. We do so with the people we know well and those we’re just starting to figure out. We learn to do it in hundreds of languages, across an array of cultures, religions and traditions, and we do so because we know deep down that love is ultimately greater than the fear we face when we step over the threshold of an airplane. FIGT is full of so many warriors facing the unknown with grace and presence. They see their fears, take a deep breath and walk towards them anyway. The energy of lots of super brave people in one place reminds me I can probably do a lot more than I think I can on any given really hard day.
To lie down in a public place is also to learn to say – I belong here. It is to live outside the box, to make a home anywhere, and to carry an inner sense of belonging not to one place, but to the world. It is to make the multicultural, embracing, global voice heard against the cacophony of isolationism, exclusion and tribalism. When your inner doubter says – “This cause is too small. No one really gets it. No one really cares.”– your FIGT voice says, “Wait a minute! This perspective matters. And that one…and that one. Let’s keep working.” FIGT is the place of – I’ve got you! You can do this! Actually, it’s more the place of – We can all do this together! It’s so nice to be reminded, especially during transition, that you belong somewhere.
When I reflect back on past FIGT Conferences, I can’t say these messages are new. They’re the messages that always make the conference so special. What I can say is that this year, more than ever, I needed to hear them and I needed to know that, even in this professional environment, my full self was welcome. I felt that – in numerous conversations again and again and it was key to helping me navigate this most current transition experience.
So, that’s another FIGT on the books! I’m back in Tokyo, packing up, feeling everything. T-minus 36 days…
Want to learn more about Families in Global Transition? Yes! Yes you do! Read more here.