Artist Living

Is “Passion Pursuing” Worth the Risk When Jelly Fish Lurk?

Me Ra Koh

In a recent interview, I was asked to talk about what inspires me.  For one of the first times, I didn’t say my kids.  In fact, I didn’t even hesitate with my answer.  I said “Moms inspire me!”  At the Seattle CONFIDENCE Workshop this weekend, I was reminded of why this is so deeply true.

Twenty five women come together for a weekend of pursuing their passion.  They are nervous, a little scared, unsure of what to expect, but they bring their whole heart and soul.  And as the weekend unfolds, I watch them discover how deep their joy of photography really goes. They are risking, allowing themselves to be stretched, feeling awkward, but LOOK–joy is also everywhere!

I watch them step out on a limb, not once but several times, pushing their limitations.

I watch a soon-to-be grandma, who had no understanding of Aperture, fall in love with buttery, blurry backgrounds.

As the weekend unfolds, they produce photos that are raw, full of emotion, and beautiful!!  Even though every photo isn’t perfect, EVERY photo is full of passionate effort.  What does this have to do with jelly fish?

There is no proof of safety and security when you pursue your passion.  There is only possibility…and the reality that jelly fish lurk.

I watched Blaze stand on the beach, waves rolling up to meet his toes.  He was weighing the pros and cons.  The day before, he had been stung by a jelly fish.  The pink jelly fish in Thailand can be as big as my arms, circled in the shape of a letter “O”, floating silently along the water’s surface.  The motors of the long tail boats chop the jelly fish up, so that random tentacles are left to float (never losing their sting).  One of those tentacles wrapped around Blaze’s leg–twice–and oh, did it sting.

The locals taught us to grab a dozen green, heart shaped leaves, white vinegar and the mortar and pestle.

Mash the leaves up with the vinegar until you get a thick, green paste.

Pack it on the sting and wait for 30 minutes.  The vinegar helps bring relief to the sting, and the leaves help prevent scarring.

Blaze swears he is done swimming in the ocean for the rest of our trip.  After all, this is the second time he’s been stung.  He’s now one sting ahead of me and Pascaline, and two ahead of dad (of course).  But the next morning, I watch him from a distance.  As the waves roll in, I can see his mind mulling over the idea of risking it again.  Whether he likes it or not, swimming is his passion.  Does he risk it again?  Or does he give up swimming for the rest of the trip?

He whips around and comes running to me.  He just lost his front tooth a few days ago, his smile is wide and toothless.  There is a red line that still shows on his leg, wrapping twice above the knee.  “Can I go swimming this morning?!” he asks.  I smile.  He’s decided.  I know he is nervous, fully aware of the risk he’s taking, but he is still willing to risk again.  I’m so proud of him.  I’m inspired by him.  His passion for swimming is more powerful than the risk of being stung again.

There is no warning of a jellyfish coming your way.  Like unexpected criticism or momentary failures, they can surprise you when you least expect it–when you are swimming–laughing from a place that’s deep withing your belly.  The stings can happen at high tide or low tide.  They can happen whether you know how to swim in deep waters or shallow waters.  And it doesn’t have to be the whole jelly…often the small, unexpected jelly pieces hurt the most.  But, to swim in Thailand, you’ve got to step into the ocean.  You’ve go to risk being stung.  And once it happens to you, you are acutely aware of the fact that it can happen again.  But that’s not all you are aware of…you are also aware of the fact that you will survive another sting just fine–

and possibly love the thrill of swimming that much more.

It’s late Sunday night.  Brian is on his way to pick up the kids from Grammie and Papa’s house.  I change into my pj’s, and I can’t escape the smile I feel inside of me.  Yes, I’m tired after a full workshop weekend.  But I’m also deeply thankful.  I can’t believe that ten times a year, I get to spend the weekend with courageous women who inspire me more than they will ever know.  They are fully aware of the jelly fish lurking, and they still decide to jump in with both feet.  What a sight!  What an amazing sound of joy!  What an inspiration you ALL are to me.

Thank you for this last weekend and all the other weekends we have spent together!  Chicago, I can’t wait to see you end of this month!




  1. Freida Hall says:

    Great post – I know Blaze will inspire others as well.

  2. Sara says:

    Thank you so much for a wonderful weekend… I can’t wait to get out there and start putting into practice all that I learned! And there is still so much in my heart to process, too–I am carving out some time later this afternoon to really reflect on all that the weekend meant for me and where I go from here.

    The optimism I feel now is even unthwarted by the fact that this morning my children are at their most “emo” (can a 2-year-old be emo?) and were so fussy. I realized I have a choice about whether or not I will allow myself to be held back by mundane little obstacles or frustrations. I don’t have to allow that to happen, and yet all too often in the past I have. But the Confidence Workshop has inspired me to be stronger this time, and really work to do the deeper work and find the “more” that my heart has been searching for.

    Thank you for being such an inspiration!

  3. Michelle says:

    What a great post. I spent this past weekend doing mini mama & me photo shoots to benefit cookies for kids cancer. When I woke up Saturday morning, I wanted to cancel..what if the light wasn’t good enough, what if I bit off more than I could chew, what if I do a terrible job. I did NOT want to swim with the jellyfish, I wanted to crawl back into bed with a good book where I wouldn’t be judged. While my heart was full as I took photos of mamas with their kids, some who have never had photos done before, I continued to doubt myself as the photos loaded on to the computer.
    Taking a break from them this morning, I hop on over to read your blog and am once again inspired. I know how it feels to be one of those lucky women at your workshop. We are so lucky to have you here to continue to encourage us to swim with the jellyfish.

  4. jeramy says:

    good stuff mera. jump in! glad the weekend went well. 🙂

  5. Katie Jordan says:

    Way to go, Blaze! You always have to get back on the horse when it comes to doing things you love. It’s worth it every time.

  6. Sarah C says:

    Makes me think of Nemo, just keep swimming, just keep swimming. Without applying to SOAR I wouldn’t have even acknowledged I was interested in taking a dip! So fun seeing the joy on these Settle grads’ faces. Cheers! Well done to Blaze!

  7. […] the midst of looking through my facebook page updates, I found a blog from Merakoh on running the risks in life. I’ve copied a large amount of the text here because, like her, I […]

  8. Julie Watts says:

    I had the pleasure of helping out with the Seattle Confidence Workshop on Saturday and observed a group of women TOTALLY figuring it out…that’s what’s so inspiring to me…not only did you all sign up and say “YES”, but the results that I was seeing on the back of your LCDs as I was visiting/helping during the newborn shoot were nothing short of remarkable. I want you all to soak it in, the fact that you can and did, figure out so much! There was some GORGEOUS gorgeous stuff taken and I know those moms will LOVE ‘EM!

  9. Beth says:

    When I went to the workshop, that last little piece I could just never get before finally clicked. I have been shooting (confidently) in manual ever since of course. BUT… guess what? I came home and taught my fourteen-year-old daughter how to shoot in manual as well, and she is ROCKIN’ IT!! My daughter will take a lifetime of great photos. Thank you.

  10. Andrea says:

    I spent the day today, retelling the story of all that was this weekend. Hope, inspiration, understanding, shared journey, watching women around me blossom and yes, risk, anxiety and the confidence that facing it developed. WHAT an amazing weekend! Remembering all these wonderful details AND Me Ra and Brian’s transperancy, joy and example will continue to give me courage in the days ahead.

    And to Sara C. – I cannot believe you said, “Just keep swimming”! That phrase from Nemo has been SUCH a part of my personal journey this past few years. I feel like you posted it just for me..a reminder to keep moving forward :).

    My admiration to each of you that took the step this weekend! I can’t WAIT to see what all you captured!

  11. JoAnne says:

    My heart just smiled when I saw these pictures. I can’t wait to see the rest. The weekend was awesome. I knew it would be. Me Ra’s joy even radiates from her own picture. And Brian……what can I say…you are a gem. Both of your personalities mesh wonderfully. After spending too much time with the pros, at school, this is just what I needed to help reinforce what I learned but didn’t understand fully. I took a couple great pictures out the window on the airplane yesterday. I’m going to send one to Southwest!! Why not? I have nothing to lose, right??!! They may even like it!! I’ll let you know if it ever makes it to their Spirit magazine LOL. I’m really looking forward to staying in touch with everyone. You have really touched my life and for that I’m grateful. I wish we could have met Blaze and Pascaline. It sounds like Blaze has the same sense of adventure his mother has!! Good for him. Meeting all of you was such a treat. You are all wonderfully talented women and I can’t wait to see the great things you all accomplish!

  12. Wendy T. says:

    Me Ra, this is so lovely. I’m always amazed at how your life gives you these wonderful experiences that apply to photography as a passion. and then you turn around and share them with us. it’s a true testament to how you and brian parent your kiddos that blaze decided to get back in the water. sadly, i wasn’t parented that way, and i’d venture to guess that i’m not alone in that. maybe that’s why it’s been so hard for me to get back in the water? because i vividly remember how badly that jellyfish sting hurts? when does that memory fade? how can i help it along? it makes me so sad to STILL be struggling with this, 3 years after my first workshop with you. clearly these are my own demons, ones that i think i hoped would go away after attending various workshops. but i can definitely see now that workshops aren’t the answer. it has to come from within me.

    sorry i got so wordy! please tell blaze that he a very brave little boy. and he is an inspiration to this grown-up.

  13. Darcy Pace says:

    I still don’t have the words to express how I feel after this past weekend. Amazing, wonderful, transforming, etc just don’t seem to cut it. I feel so inspired, excited, peaceful, energized and calm. I LOVED everything about the weekend and feel reminded, like Sara, that I have a choice as to how I respond and react to obstacles and frustrations in photography, business and life.

    Thank you, Me Ra, Brian and everyone at the Seattle workshop. I can’t wait to see where your journey’s take you.

    “To thine own self be true.” ~Shakespeare

  14. Liza says:

    What a beautiful analogy you shared about Blaze. I can picture my son doing the same thing. It’s funny how we forget how truly courageous our children are…thanks for sharing!