Listening to the Whispers of Time

The Universe is an ever-expanding, timeless place. Yet we act as if time were real, measuring out our lives in coffee spoons as the late T.S. Eliot liked to say. We also act as if the things that happen have an infinite meaning, pressed in indelible ink on the pages of our life’s script. A negative comment, a weirdish interaction, a conflict with a co-worker — we often give too much weight to the one thing that is not working, instead of focusing on all the things that do.

Recently, I took a walk in the woods, as I often do, to sort out life’s complications. I began the journey by making a mental list of all the things that were going well. One-half hour into my walk, I realized I hadn’t stopped listing the good in my life. Why, then, do we spend 90% of our time on the 10% that is broken?

It has to do with our brains. We are hard-wired to focus on the threatening things — real or imagined — to secure our existence. If you were to believe the media today, you might even think that the world is about to end if we don’t pay attention to all the dangers lurking just beneath the surface of virtually everything with which we come into contact.

The premise of this blog — and my life’s work — is that it is possible to have a more positive relationship with the clock. But since time doesn’t really exist, we need to treat it as an imaginary friend who can still have a great deal of influence on how we do things. Every once in a while we need to do a time audit by looking at how we have spent the last year, for instance. Doing taxes is a fine exercise in revisiting the time we have spent and the things we have done within that framework. What made us happy (do more of that)? What made us cringe (avoid it, if possible)? Who entered our lives at the most amazing moment (say a prayer of gratitude)? Who left (and we were glad)? How do we wish to spend this year?

Listening to the whispers of time is instructive. Watching a child, plant or animal grow is a fine example of time’s sweet nothings pressed close to our ears. Seeing clients, friends or material items move beyond us illustrates the endless heartbeat of the Universe. Nothing ever stays the same.

So why on Earth should we?

 

Driven to Distraction

Back in my high school days, my pokey Chemistry teacher doubled as our driver’s ed instructor. Clipboard in hand, side hairs carefully placed over his balding orb, he would patiently smile, take a deep breath and invite two students at a time to drive him first around the parking lot, then around town, then on the highway. I’ll never forget his paternal tenor as he gently reminded us to “keep both hands on the wheel.” It never would have occurred to him to say “and both eyes, too.”

But today, instructors everywhere will have to remind their students of much more than the 1o-and-2 rule (left hand at 10 o’clock; right hand at 2). The automobile industry has started placing infotainment centers in the dashboards of their cars so people can remain connected even when they are on the road.

Um. Who thinks being able to Google while clocking 80 on the speedometer is a good idea?

I’d dare say no one.

According to a recent AAA study, people who played around with their in-car infotainment systems were distracted up to 27 seconds – even after they placed their attention back on the road. The study suggests that “just because a driver terminates a call or music selection doesn’t mean they are no longer impaired — impairment lingered up to 27 seconds after a task was completed.” Our cognitive ability is hindered even if we chat hands-free on our mobile devices.

Major automobile companies believe they are giving consumers what they want. In truth, they are. But what we want may not necessarily be good for us. Hyper-connectivity doesn’t lead to safer roads. It leads to distracted driving and ensures that one of the major causes of death in the United States remains automobile accidents.

One day we will have pervasive wireless access on airplanes too. My only hope is the pilot stays offline. With both hands on the wheel and eyes on the sky without a television to info-tain him during long-haul flights.

Are you with me on this one?

 

The Rise of Fast Fashion and the Demise of Humanity

Andrew Morgan set out to tell a simple story. He wanted to talk about our clothing, what exactly we wear, what it says about us and its impact on our world. At first glance, you might think his film THE TRUE COST is about anorexia as he shows paper-thin models getting ready for photo shoots and fashion jobs. But very quickly the viewer realizes the film tells a much broader tale about how just a few brand names have dictated how fast the clothing industry runs today.

TC_logo_WoPBefore watching the film, I had never heard of the term fast fashion. And yet it is an industry that touches every part of our lives the world over.

In the last decade, the clothing industry has changed dramatically. As late as the 1960s, 95% of our clothing was made in the US. Today 97% is outsourced to developing countries, made by human hands at a fraction of the price it used to be. The price of clothing has dropped significantly, while the cost of producing the clothes has increased. Who pays for the price suppression? The people who make the clothing. The sweatshop workers in Bangladesh, for instance, make just $3 per day in unsafe working conditions. It is appalling.

Why has the clothing industry gotten so fast? And what is fast fashion after all? What used to be an industry based on cycles like Nature itself – with the introduction of winter/fall and spring/summer collections, the fashion industry now produces new styles on a weekly basis. Large brands have identified our insatiable desire for stuff.  In a recent Skype interview, Andrew told me, “We live in a consumer-driven, very fast-paced world. The rate of acceleration is startling. Change at that pace means a lot of things and people fall through the cracks.”

Clothing – made from cheaper and cheaper materials – gets tossed aside or virtually thrown out at such ridiculously low prices that it is impossible for other companies to compete at higher, more realistic prices. The result is a run toward the cheapest labor possible to ensure costs remain in check and profits remain high.

But at what cost? Andrew says his film is meant to address the disconnection that globalization has created in our world today. “I read an article about Rana Plaza (the deadliest garment factory accident in history). I asked myself how is it possible that I am not aware of the origin of my clothes? THE TRUE COST started out as a film that impacts human beings and the environment. It kept expanding as I started to see the interdependencies. It is about understanding the intersection between the psychology, economics and lack of regulation in the fashion industry. There is a profound set of questions about the state of human beings in 2016. What does it mean to live in a world of outsourcing the production of our things?”

Out of sight, out of mind – that is the issue with fast fashion. We don’t see the laborers – often separated from their families as they work endless hours for extremely low wages in buildings that crack, collapse and kill, such as the Rana Plaza tragedy that claimed over 1,000 lives in Dhaka, Bangladesh. And if we hear about it, we quickly experience compassion fatigue. How could we possibly make a difference in those people’s lives? They are so very far away.

But the film raises other issues as well. Most harrowing perhaps is the environmental impact of our greed for something new in our closet every week. The lack of environmental regulation in India, for instance, is allowing poisons to be dumped into the Ganges River. The impact of pesticides on the cotton fields of Northern Texas is another example.

Here are some statistics to put things into perspective:

  • Each year we purchase 80 billion pieces of clothing.
  • That equals 400% more than the amount of clothing we bought just two decades ago.
  • The average American discards 82 pounds of textile waste annually, which translates to 11 million tons of textile waste from the US alone. Most of this waste is non-biodegradable, sitting in landfills for 200 years or more while releasing harmful gases. Where does the disposed clothing go? You guessed it. Oftentimes it lands up back in the developing nations who produced the clothing in the first place.

This topic may seem overwhelming. And it is. But what I learned from Andrew’s film and my conversation with him afterwards is that we can make a difference. It is not about boycotting products made in Bangladesh or other developing nations in which working conditions are less than ideal. It is about shaping our behavior and the story we tell ourselves in a different way. It is about redirecting our consciousness to a different level. Pretty soon, as we begin to examine our choices more closely, we start to shift our perspective. Little things such as using cloth shopping bags instead of accumulating plastic ones in the back of our pantry or utilizing rechargeable batteries instead of buying new ones every time start to impact our world in positive ways.

When we go shopping, we can ask ourselves, “Do I really need this item? Do I love it? Will I take care of it for a really long time? Is it of high quality and will it last? Can I repurpose it if needed?” Sustainable shopping can go a long way in combatting the issues Andrew addresses in his film. Consumers do not have to buy products created under unconscionable conditions. If there is less demand, things will have to change toward a more positive end.

The US economy is based on expansion. But it’s like a balloon. At one point, it will pop because endless expansion is physically not possible (even the Universe will stop expanding one day). The truth is we have grown up in a role as consumers, which is actually very disempowering for the individuals. According to Andrew, it has made it easy to have an apathetic life. Born into so much privilege, we have an enormous amount of influence on how the world is shaped. Tragically, we do not have the sense of responsibility that goes with that influence.

We need to start asking ourselves a simple question, one that informs everything about us. “What are the choices I am making?” As The Power of Slow suggests, your life is a compilation of the choices you make. If you have been living in a story that you are bystander, watching history unfold, it is time to reclaim the field for yourself. For the good of your life. For the good of your children’s.

“I want to inspire people to hope-filled action,” Andrew says. “The greatest lie of all is that you can’t contribute. You can’t separate things. This is not just about clothes. It’s about greed and power and fear. Who is telling the story, to what end and to what end is that story being embraced? How was it ever deemed okay that the prosperity of a few can be built on the suffering of so many others?”

It is a very good question indeed. Andrew wishes to invite us all into a bigger story. A better one in which fashion is not fast, but decelerated to a sustainable pace in which everyone gets what they need.

It is time to stand up to the lies we have been told, that somehow happiness can be purchased – often at a discounted price. Happiness can’t be bought, despite the messages we see every day claiming otherwise. In a recent TedX talk, Harvard professor Robert Waldinger, the head of the longest study on happiness in history, states the secret to happiness, regardless of socioeconomic status, has been found to be connection with other people. Love, not stuff, is the answer.

Love starts with the choices we make for ourselves and – ultimately – for the world we wish to live in. What step can you take today to move toward a better world?

Five Ways to Start your Slow New Year

2016 is around the corner. As with every New Year, we have grand intentions to start it off right. We promise to exercise more, eat better and be nicer to ourselves and the world around us.

You know me. Going Slow is my thing. It may not be yours, but a self-paced life is definitely worth checking out. If you’re not sure where to start on the road to heart-based living, consider these options.

5 Ways to Start Your Slow New Year

  1. Greet the day. How you start your day is often how it ends. Begin the day by repeating a mantra or saying that gets your creative juices flowing. It can be as concise as “Welcome to a new day!” or a longer statement that reinforces your life’s purpose.
  2. Show gratitude often. A simple “thank you” can go a long way in making you feel better and those around you too. If you focus on what you have rather than what you don’t, you’ll be amazed at how long that list really is.
  3. Clean house. That includes removing toxic relationships or attitudes. If you’re struggling with your personal relationships, for instance, seek guidance from others who have been there. Arielle Ford’s new release Turn Your Mate into Your Soulmate is an excellent guide in ramping up your love life no matter what age you are.
  4. Embrace Nature. Digging in the dirt – even potted plants – has been proven to improve mental and physical health. In fact, a recent study from The Sage Colleges shows that gardening is as effective (and addictive!) as Prozac. Now that’s sage advice!
  5. Take an artist’s break. In her best-selling book The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron suggests taking a few minutes each day to feed your inner artist. Art is balm for the soul. Can’t get away from the office? Then let the art come to you. Internationally acclaimed photographer Klaus Polkowski has an online gallery with black & white photography from five continents that will knock your socks off! Delve into his images for some Slow inspiration.

It is not time that flies by. We do. The good news is you don’t have to join the race. You can decide to dance instead. The choice is yours. Always.

Fine reading to kick-start your Slow New Year


Slow Road to Everything

Sustainability takes time. If you want something to last, you need to go slow. Want good grades? Study often. Want more fitness? Exercise often. Want to play the flute? Practice often. Want better relationships? Listen often.

Good things can come from repetition. A fabulous relationship isn’t built in a day. It takes years to build, then sustain trust.

So I’m worried. Our relations with our Middle Eastern neighboring countries isn’t looking so good. We’re embracing the default us versus them mentality. We aren’t looking at the deeper realities. We see what we want to see. Nothing good can come from retaliation. It’s shortsighted. And the bullying goes on.

Last night I started really thinking about forgiveness. It is the slow road to everything. It takes time to release the hurts of the past. But it is possible. It truly is.

Below I compiled a few words of forgiveness. Please feel free to add yours.

  • Two wrongs make two wrongs. One wrong + forgiveness = the beginning of something wonderful.
  • If someone wronged you, reach for forgiveness. It will set you free. I promise.
  •  No wrongful act is ever justified. But forgiveness always is.
  • Gratitude – and its cousin joy – comes automatically when we learn to let things go.
  • Die Liebe hat eine enorme Kraft. Vergebung ebenso (Love has enormous power; as does forgiveness).
  • Forgiveness isn’t about another person. It’s about you.
  • When we move out of the shadows of hatred, we can shed the light of forgiveness.
  • I don’t know about you; but when I hold on to shit, it stinks.
  • Nothing is more moving than grief turned into forgiveness. We may lose a lot in this life, but what we gain through those experiences is immeasurable.
  • Regret is about holding onto the past; forgiveness paves the way for the future.

Why should we forgive? Because the alternative harms everyone; including yourself.

The Peacemakers

Flash back to 1990. American University. Washington, D.C. I studied peace and conflict with a professor who had been tortured. He of all people had reason to be angry. But he wasn’t. He saw the importance of bringing peace to a war-torn world. And he taught us that conflict can only be resolved when you make peace with yourself.

The news of Paris brought me to my knees today. My life partner and I stared at the screen, holding hands and crying for the people who were directly affected by senseless acts of violence. I felt a deep sense of loss, as if a piece of myself had died with them. Later today I felt a surging need to make the wrongs of my own past right and reached out to a few people who hurt me deeply. It only felt right to stop my internal warfare. I did it for the people of Paris. I did it for world peace. I did it for me.

We often carry bad feelings around with us. Past hurts we thought had healed really won’t until we forgive. It starts with each one of us.

I have been studying peace for twenty-five years. And it wasn’t until today that I realized war begins with individuals. People fight for a cause — and against nations to push through their own agendas. They ban together, using strength in numbers and random acts of violence to grab the world’s attention. We often think we need bodies of governance such as the United Nations or the European Union to bring peace to the world. But what we really need is to make peace within. If we do that, we reverberate that forgiving power to the rest of our lives. Others are positively impacted by our willingness to forgive. Our willingness to love. Our willingness to be kind.

So what do you need to begin your own peace negotiations?

Trust. Trust yourself. Trust your truest intentions. Trust that your gesture of forgiveness will garner its own reward for it will bring you eternal grace.

Listen. Listen to yourself. Listen to others. Lend a caring ear to those who are hurting. Show them they matter.

Risk. Risk being vulnerable. Risk rejection. Risk the chance to make amends. Build on that momentum and you will be free no matter how others respond.

Love. Above all else, love yourself. Be kind. Accept your imperfections. They make up who you are. Know that you deserve Big Love. If you give it freely, it will return to you.

Fear won’t heal the world.

Loving kindness and the courage to forgive in the face of our ubiquitous pain and suffering will.

Expectation Management and the Crush of Instant Everything

Disappointment comes from the mind, forgiveness from the heart. When faced with frustrating — and frustrated — reactions, my instinct is to run for cover. I have to fight it like a wasp at a beer garden. Chasing away the feeling of dis-ease isn’t easy. Nor is it really possible. The more I push, the deeper the feeling entrenches itself in my very being. It’s like getting lost in a labyrinth with no conceivable way out.

The only thing left to do in moments when the world seems to be speaking a different language than yours is to sit with it. Allowing for bad feelings takes away their power. Fighting them simply feeds it.

When I first learned German, I had to learn how to be comfortable with not really knowing what was going on, what people where saying or what might happen next. It has been a life lesson to remain centered without proper information. And when you get false information or misinterpreted data, that’s when things can really fall apart. Add to it someone else’s blame or lack of understanding and it starts to sting like a bee.

We have so many ways of communicating today – now more than ever. And yet the quality of that communication has been replaced with fast and furious texting, emails and instant messages. I don’t know about you, but I’m not made for this instant world. Instant, in many cases, has taken the place of intimacy.

Speaking to the God within everyone is my intention. Sometimes I fail. Miserably. My ego lashes out; feelings get hurt (including my own) and I start to wonder how I got to this place. My best friend then reminds me that I too am a perfectionist, albeit a reluctant one. If I could just ease up those expectations for a moment, things would be a lot easier. But then she reminds me that that is who I am and why I get to live the way I do. I never stop questioning, even when I sometimes don’t really want to hear the answer.

“It is a privilege to live out who you really are,” she advised.

I think it is a necessity.

Slow is where I am meant to be and having recently listened to a number of people feeling the crush of instant everything, it may soon be a world that more people join too.

The Sliding Holiday Scale

September and October used to be the months of fall with colorful splashes of pumpkin orange and blue skies. If you were to believe the retailers, however, you would think it was Christmas. Since early September — before my kids even returned to school — grocery stores have been selling holiday sweets. At times the thermometer read 25C (78°F) and the chocolate Santas sweat alongside us at the check-out counter.

The saturation of holiday cheer well before we’re even thinking about roasting chestnuts by an open fire got me to thinking. What are the holidays really about? I mean before consumerism took over and everyone strapped on their boots for the mad rush to the local mall?

For me it is about reinforcing what is truly important in my life. And for me, that is family.

Ussed with permission by Lifetime

Ussed with permission by Lifetime

Lifetime is running a series of somewhat sappy, yet heart-touching movies around the holidays. Of the half-dozen screeners I could have watched, I selected to review “A Gift-Wrapped Christmas” airing November 28, 2015 at 8 pm ET/PT and starring Meredith Hagner (Men at Work), Travis Milne (Rookie Blue) and Beverley Mitchell (7th Heaven). The film is about a personal shopper who falls in love with her workaholic client. While the protagonist may seem to represent our consumer-oriented thinking around the holidays, the underlying message really touched me – her selfless striving to make others happy with her personal gift selections turns her grouchy client into the soft, loving puppy he was prior to his wife’s untimely death. While one could argue you don’t really need expensive Italian suits to make you happy, the movie’s message goes beyond the drive to buy people’s love to a more subtle meaning of the holidays. We love; therefore we give.

So before you stumble over yet another holiday decoration at the downtown mall, turn up the fires of your heart to remember what really counts, no matter the season.

 

When “Why” is all there is

Having a vision is an incredibly important ingredient to having a great life. It is the “what” that we often pursue: more money, more fame, more of simply everything.

But is the “what” really a driving force that can sustain us?

I think not.

Even if we can define our “what”, our vision, our deep-seated desire to articulate that which our hearts bleed for, we may not be sure how to get there.

So we look to the “how” of things. How can we attain that which we hope for? Yearn for? Want more than anything?

I used to believe that if we knew what we wanted, the how would come.

How wrong I have been.

Simon Sinek, the British author of Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action, says that we should start with the reason why we do things. Two-year-olds know this. They ask “Why” all the time. They embrace what Sinek calls the golden circle. Start from the center and everything else will come. But somewhere along the line, children accept the adults’ answer that it’s because we say so.

The Golden Circle - Start with the Why and the How and What will follow

The Golden Circle – Start with the Why and the How and What will follow

What kind of answer is that?

Why is where the heart is. It goes beyond our rational thinking to a deeper, more innate understanding. Why lives on a completely different plane.

Change can only really happen effectively if we understand why. So if an organization is undergoing change, employees need to get a grasp on the reasons for the change. “Why should I care?” Answer that question and people will follow you anywhere — or lead others down the path you intend to take them.

Have you ever considered why you do things?

Why do I write? Why do you take pictures? Why does she selflessly help other people? Why does he get up again and again after yet another defeat?

The “why” of things is the underlying power that inform our days. It is equivalent to our life’s purpose. It is the very reason we are here.

Understanding the “why” of things not only helps us accept change, it also helps us learn better. My son recently changed schools. For years he struggled with the German school system – an institution that insists students learn the “what” of things. “How” was even harder and it seemed as if no amount of tutoring was going to help him because he never, ever understood why he was supposed to learn the things they told him to learn.

Why do we learn math? Why do I need to know the inner workings of a cell? My son knew he needed to make a change. Why? Because he wanted to learn. Along with his very powerful reasons, a series of circumstances and good fortune brought him to a new school where his teachers actually take the time to tell him why. And magically he has never been as motivated to run out the door to school as he is today.

The same applies to our lives as adults. Why do we want to achieve certain things? What are our motivations?

Have you ever wondered why certain tasks seem effortless? Why you enter a space of flow — and with other tasks it feels like carrying a boulder uphill to the stars?

When we know why we are doing something (love is a really good reason), we just do it. Without question. Without faltering. With an effortlessness that makes us heroes in our every day stories.

Ask yourself why you do what you do. Do you have the answer? Are you satisfied with the answer you tell yourself? If not, put down that boulder and make a change toward who you really are.

Why? Because your life depends on it.

 

Limitlessness, Joy and the Pursuit of Happiness

“Thoughts,” my friend said, “are just thoughts. Our innate state is joy.”

According to my wise friend, we don’t return to that state of joy – we always have it. Only sometimes we forget because all those thoughts fill the space between us and that state of bliss from whence we come.

I like it. It contradicts the US Constitution, which guarantees our right to the pursuit of happiness. If we already have joy within us, why would we look elsewhere to find it?

When the world seems to be crashing upon our heads, it is sort of hard to remember these things. But it is those very hurdles that keep us alert to all that we have. Gratitude and sadness cannot occupy the same room. But joy and gratitude can.

Another friend recently told me he welcomes challenges because they help him remain mindful of what is truly important in life. If we were never challenged, we would grow soft, perhaps even arrogant and certainly unsympathetic to those who suffer around us. Without some measure of discomfort, we would become distant from the rest of the world, living in an Ivory Tower without a grasp on the deeper realities before us.

Empathy comes from our own experience with suffering. We would not know how another feels if we had never had those very feelings ourselves. Each of us handles pain differently. Some have a low threshold of tolerance; others have an enormous capacity to manage it. But as my sister recently said to me, it is not what happens in life that matters. It is how you deal with it.

Our limits are of our own making. We are truly limitless creatures with a mind that bridles us. Thoughts can keep us back from our truest nature. Or they can bring us back to where we are meant to be.

Our most authentic state of being is joy. Remembering that will ensure we see what we have sought all along.