Michele L. Kong, CPC, SEP, LP

 

Born in suburban Los Angeles, I was raised by immigrants who moved to the US in the early 1960s. Perhaps like many other children of immigrants, I moved between different worlds apparently seamlessly.

Looking back, however, there were many contradictions. On one hand, I followed what my immigrant parents taught me: study hard, focus on achievements, think practically etc. On the other, I also didn’t follow what was expected of, or envisioned for me.

I enjoy long walks. When out in the woods, I have a tendency to go off trail. Even when I’m trying to follow a particular network of routes. Although one favorite author wrote A Field Guide To Getting Lost, it’s not that I intend on getting lost. I simply like less traveled paths. To discover. I look for what’s novel.

The idea that we each have an Inner Compass stems from many reflections and personal experiences. As a descendant from lineages of peoples who have been migrating and immigrating for longer than I can trace, I possess certain abilities that come with such a heritage. Adaptability. Curiosity. Ingenuity. Intuition. A love for movement, learning and adventure. I have only ever known a collage of languages, cultures, foods, customs, rituals, spiritual beliefs etc. I also eagerly learn and co-opt new ones I like. Such qualities have been my tools for charting a map of my own.

As far back as my memories go, I have always had a strong relationship to the natural world. Plus, I have a knack for finding the little things, often overlooked. In time, these qualities grew into an artistic practice built on a talent for transforming something out of seemingly nothing. 

As a visual artist, I designed sculptural and graphic forms based on patterns found in nature. My artistic endeavors were an invitation to revere beauty hidden in plain sight.

In order to support my creative practice, I held dual careers. I worked in schools teaching children. I was an arts administrator at times. Eventually, I also taught adults. I cobbled together whatever I could: wearing multiple hats, schlepping, freelancing… all pretty typical for creatives.

In academia, I learned that my students were almost more interested in talking with me about their personal lives. Also, I noticed that some students were tackling their art projects in ways that I wasn’t necessarily trained (at the time) to support: working through traumas, struggling with mental health conditions and other challenges. Of course, the arts have often served as a net that catches the ones who are considered “special,” a bit “different.” The chameleons, eccentrics, outliers, rebels, visionaries, nonconformists and the like. These are my kindred spirits.

Keeping up with dual careers as an exhibiting artist and university professor, I felt really divided. Students wished for more of my attention. The university wanted me to log more service beyond teaching and my research. Meanwhile, I was barely keeping up with my own aspirations for creating art. Working hard and persistently chasing new goals, I wasn’t particularly satisfied or very happy. I was exhausted and chronically underslept. Pulled in too many directions.

I eventually reached a turning point. I gave up my hard-won tenure track teaching position. Contrary to friendly advice. Even in the midst of a global economic nosedive, and what became the Great Recession. Together both pragmatism and optimism allowed me to leap. Perhaps some faith, and some grit too. I surely did not know where I would land. It was a humbling journey: a romance with the unknown.

I was fortunate that my artistic career took me on adventures. Through grants and fellowships, I was also able to follow my interests visiting sacred sites across the US as well as in Spain, Japan, India etc. There were some really awe-inspiring moments. In addition, there were certain unglamorous and quite uncomfortable low points. When I grew tired of traveling, the next phase was more of an inward journey.

Following a career in the arts, I thought I had already made tough choices to follow my dreams. I was willing to follow goals and achievements and my own measures of success. However after a string of accomplishments, then what? I was humble enough to go backwards, start over in new sectors where my skills were applicable etc. It wasn’t what I was doing with my life so much as how I was going about it.

What I discovered… I needed to examine the sources of my own dissatisfaction. I had to become intimate with the inner voice telling me “something was not right.” Following that wisdom, I learned to let go of familiar coping strategies: positive thinking, problem solving and action plans. There were confusing and dark periods. At times I felt truly lost. What came before could not predict or aid me in what would come next. 

A particular breakdown/breakthrough moment came when I was between jobs, heartbroken from a breakup and trying to pin down a medical condition all at once. My particular journey included physical pains, debilitating symptoms and existential questions that I could not continue to ignore. Growth and change can be grueling, yet well worth the sweet taste of freedom that blossoms with some patience.

What I didn’t know in advance was that I would end up changing nearly everything in my life. In hindsight, I can say I learned from being around other artists: sometimes a bold stroke makes (or breaks) a composition. Sometimes you have to scrap the entire novel you’ve spent insufferable years on, pilfer the bits that are working and rewrite the whole thing into an epic tale. Invention and ingenuity often come about in the face of adversity, molded by forces of necessity, sometimes desire—if not both. 

Particularly from my own healing experiences with SE™, I learned to slow down. I discovered how to pay attention to the wisdom in my own body. I found myself needing to relinquish my grip on what was familiar. I started to make really different choices: following ease, aliveness and wholeness. Along the way, I have been blessed with my guides, teachers and allies. Some of them have been therapists. Others are wisdom keepers in their own right. I am grateful to all of the people who have assisted in illuminating the path I have been on, and I look forward to meeting the ones I haven’t yet encountered.

All of this provides a backdrop. I draw from many facets of my life experiences – coupled with my advanced professional training – to support people I work with. Borrowing from decades of combined practice/study of Aikido, meditation and yoga, mindfulness and presence allow me to offer a particular focus, calm and compassionate energy to each person I sit with.

Most often immigrants and descendants of immigrants find an affinity with me. Some gravitate to my particular blend of West Coast casual mixed with pointed intellect. Through my practice, I feel honored and blessed to become intimately acquainted with a diverse range of people hailing from quite different backgrounds, cultures, languages and places of origin. With each person I get to know, I feel privileged and honored to share my love for learning as well as my awe and wonder about people and the world.

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