Levity, Not Intensity

I have a confession to make. For the past month I have been overwhelmed. Try as I might, I kept slipping into a deep intensity. Slow seemed far, far away. I was in the fast lane, like a lost deer on the highway, seeking shelter, yet finding nothing but headlights.

Today marks the first day that I have finally sat down and concentrated on only one thing. And it has felt so very good. The cloak of Slow has once again emerged to provide the shelter I need.

A lot of my speed-filled month had to do with my being away from my familiar surroundings. And when one is uprooted in such a way, it can throw a person off kilter. Oh sure, you can work remotely, but it isn’t as easy making magic happen at your mom’s sloping card table when what you really need is the stability of your home office desk.

I appreciate the flexibility of my work that allows me to travel to other ends of the earth whilst still making clients happy and heard. But it can also create a muddled state of mind as one is not sure whether to jump into the pool or into a PR conversation. I spent a great deal of August feeling torn, wanting desperately to connect with old friends (which I did) and simply stopping to rest from it all.

There is no place like home. After traveling far and wide, I have come to realize how very good life can be right where you are. Thankfully, life is mostly filled with levity, not such bone-crushing intensity. And when fast takes over, I try to remember what — and who — is truly important.

For those of you seeking reprieve from life’s intensity, Slow can be had. It requires simplifying your life and finding that place on Earth that raises you up to your highest potential.

 

Reunion

Time may change things, but some things truly never change. Over the past few weeks, I have had the opportunity to reconvene with old friends who knew me back in the days when I wore pigtails. These are the people who love us because they know the essence of who we have always been. They see us. They suspend judgement. They know things about us in that quiet, unassuming way. Despite the miles and years that may have separated many of us, we share memories that run deeper than Middle Earth.

Time may wear us down, shape us and leave traces on our faces, but core friendships sustain us as we are tested by the challenges life throws our way. Old friends are the ones who remind us why we are here. And they are so very glad we are.

Perhaps I am feeling so nostalgic because I have come to realize the preciousness of these times. Even though we have many ways to stay in touch in our 24/7 world, the most impactful connections are those we have when we finally get together after years of separation. We pick up right where we left off with a comforting familiarity. That smile, that laughter, that story of Way Back When. It touches the soul and warms the heart as we remember we are never alone, though there may have been times when we have felt the sting of loneliness as we climb yet another mountain of faith.

More than anything on this Earth, I treasure the people in my life. They are what make my life so rich. And the warmth of their love has put me back together more than once to make me whole again.

The Generous Entrepreneur

I come from a family of merchants. Growing up, I would hear stories about my grandparents’ Benjamin Franklin Five and Dime store and how the holidays were the hardest on my grandfather. He sold toys and paper products and candy bars to the locals. Day in. Day Out. For years. It shaped my mother, who later shaped me with her own brand of entrepreneurialism. She sold houses and land and dreams to the locals in our hometown.

So whenever I come across someone with that entrepreneurial spirit, I am fascinated by their passion. It is the honest ones, the generous ones, who touch my heart the most.

The other day I met such a person who owns a small café in the center of Freiburg. Open only Mondays through Fridays, his restaurant feeds the hungry lunchtime crowd that surrounds his building. When I asked him if he’s open for dinner, he replied: “I love what I do, but I love other things too. Noon to three is enough to serve those who are looking for a good home-cooked meal. The rest of the time I enjoy my life.” And so he does.

I witnessed how he greeted small neighborhood children and elderly couples. I saw how they came not only for his good cooking, but for his good heart too. He threw a party for the ZMF Freiburg crew. World-class musicians played the drums while we danced and ate and experienced a moment of profound togetherness.

Couples have found each other in his four walls. He even catered one of the weddings from two people who had met at his café.

The spirit of generosity seeps into the food, which keeps people coming back. And he is able to give so much of himself because he gives to himself – in true Power of Slow fashion.

 

Small Steps, Big Dreams

The Internet has made our lives seemingly instantaneous. Thinking about buying a pair of rain boots? Violà! A newsletter catches your eye to simplify your purchase decision. Want to watch that movie you remember from the early ´90s? Amazon’s instant video makes it possible.

Our world is so convenient. We can reach for almost anything and it’s in the mail the next day.

We have unlearned the art of patience.

When I was a kid, I would pester my mother about when my mail-order doll furniture would arrive. It took weeks upon weeks. And the joy of receiving that package was indescribable when my desire was finally satiated.

My kids don’t have that level of delayed gratification. Thanks to the speed of their world, waiting has become something Godot does – not them.

Yet our collective internal composition still relies on a world of dreams. We dream of things that aren’t easily reached, which is in direct contrast to our virtual reality of instant everything.

Realizing Big Dreams takes time, but our concept of time has been altered greatly by the compression of it in our 24/7 world. We wonder why we feel slightly (or enormously) dissatisfied. We scamper from one thing to the next in the hopes that this feeling will go away. And the more we shove it deep down into ourselves, the bigger the feeling becomes.

It isn’t easy to teach my kids the beauty of waiting for something they really want. But values such as gratitude and appreciation are just as important as in our pre-Internet Age. Maybe even more so now.

My daughter recently thanked me for making her earn the money for her own laptop. She realizes now how hard work adds to the pleasure of having earned her own way.

The Internet isn’t going away. Neither will our dreams if we swaddle them in that protective coating of love for the time it takes to achieve them.

 

The Fitness Habit

A reporter recently asked how to shave 30 minutes off your day to exercise. It seemed like a good idea to figure out how people generally spend their time and where they might find a few minutes here or there to squeeze in a fitness routine.

The findings were astounding.

According to a recent study by Flurry  in March 2014, we spent 2 hours and 42 minutes A DAY on our mobile devices. Can you imagine dedicating 30 minutes of that time to yourself instead?

Or how about watching TV? Turn it off – or turn it on later. The American Time Use Survey 2013 found that the average American spends 2.8 hours watching TV a day. Cutting out just one daily sitcom to walk around the block instead would give you back those thirty minutes.

If you are like me, it sometimes takes a village to get moving. Getting family and friends involved can offer you the support you need. Replace family TV time with a round of basketball in your backyard. Or join a club together. Take up a new hobby that involves movement of any kind.

My favorite at work suggestion? Hold stand-up meetings. They go faster and are healthier than sitting all day.

Take a holistic approach. Instead of treating your fitness routine as separate from the rest of your life, integrate it into your daily activities. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Carry your groceries to the car instead of using a shopping cart (if possible). Walk, don’t drive, to the post office.

Even going slow is better than not going at all.

The Story of an Orchid

Sometimes we must die to be born again. Even the most fragile of us can be resurrected. It just takes the right conditions.

Nature's resilience

Nature’s resilience

This past June my orchid languished in record temperatures while I lounged in the French sun. It wasn’t fair. It was careless. I came back to what my partner called “certain death” on my balcony in Freiburg. My poor plants had been through the wringer. Ignored, forgotten, undernourished, they were limping on the precipice between here and the thereafter.

Rushing to their aid, I doused them in buckets of water, murmuring prayers of apology as the water hit their soil. My orchid plant had been damaged the most. Sunburnt and petulant, it lacked forgiveness for my thoughtlessness.

But as I fertilized and sympathized, I had a feeling my partner’s prediction was wrong. The orchid would survive. It would forgive. And it would come back stronger than ever.

It took a few weeks before the first buds formed. But they came — willingly — just waiting for the invitation to emerge.

Kind of like what happens to us when we’ve been on a long, thirsty journey, only to be rewarded and given the opportunity to show our truest potential.

I am grateful for my orchid’s resilience. Its encouraging robustness gives me strength. And it has taught me that when we finally get what we need, we not only can survive. We can thrive. And shine. And cast off the most glorious colors when sunlight and rain merge to reveal what is nothing less than magic.

The Curative Nature of Kindness

“You may be sorry that you spoke, sorry you stayed or went, sorry you won or lost, sorry so much was spent. But as you go through life, you’ll find — you’re never sorry you were kind.” – Herbert V. Prochnow

Kindness has its own special type of loveliness. Every day we are faced with the decision to show kindness — or not. We can help that person on the tram or choose to ignore him. We can reach out to a friend in pain just to listen, or we can fill their ears with our own crap without asking how they are.

Kindness cures. It isn’t possessive. It exists simply for the sake of its own wonderfulness. Like a wildflower in a meadow, dancing in the wind.

We can access our inner kindness any time we wish, although sometimes we lose our way to that place. The opening to our hearts gets covered in layers of gunk, generated by stress, fatigue or even boredom.

To create a heart-clearing, we need to stop, breathe and forgive ourselves. If we remove self-judgement and resistance from the equation, that opening becomes free again. And we are able, once again, to reach into that deeper part of ourselves to sip from the well of kindness.

Being kind to others does not mean we are unkind to ourselves. In fact, the greatest acts of kindness come from our center. And we can’t be centered and give to others if we have nothing left to give to ourselves.

What act of kindness can you commit today?

It may be as simple as sending love through your eyes.

So close and yet so far

Blind spots switch the light to dim, if not dark.

Blockages keep us stuck.

Mental hinderances prevent us from moving forward.

Opening the floodgates to our inner potential isn’t easy, especially if we don’t even know what our potential is. We may have a vague idea, but we have no idea what we are capable of until we are tested.

For those of you with test anxiety, know that you are not alone. I used to call my mom every time I had an exam. She’d ask the same question every time:

“Did you study?”

“Of course!” I’d say, not without some indignance.

“Good. Then all you have to do is show up.”

Then I would laugh at myself and know she was right. I had done everything I could. The rest was up to time.

The other day, dish towel in hand, I found myself repeating those words to my fear-filled son who had just one more exam to complete before finishing the seventh grade. He had not only studied, he had also gotten a lot of tutoring to ensure he understood the material.

He did. In fact, he got his best grade of the school year on that test.

What was the difference? He had been able to unlock the door that had been kept shut to him for so long. His tutor helped him understand math in a way his teacher could not.

He had shed the light on that blind spot.

He had removed those blockages.

He had lifted the mental hinderance of thinking he couldn’t to entertaining the idea that maybe he could.

Sometimes we are so close to the answers, which ultimately reside within, and yet we feel so far from them.

They are there. The secret is finding the right key to fit the lock to our own inner wisdom.

 

The Long Road to the Fast Track

Sometimes we have to take the long way around things to get results faster. I know that sounds crazy and perhaps you have a better way than I do. All I know is intuition is my guide and has led me to unimaginable places.

You know the feeling when you are about to do something? The original intention is to do A, but B happens instead. And it’s a good thing B happens because A just wasn’t in the cards for you from the very beginning. And somehow you know it — deep down — but you keep on Track A, thinking maybe your gut feeling is wrong after all. Only it isn’t.

It never is.

Let’s look at an example: package delivery. Most logistics companies are awfully busy and they assume you are not. So they give you delivery times that span the entire day.

“You will get your long-awaited package between the hours of 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. Have a nice day!”

If there is one thing I despise in this world, it is the feeling of being caged or locked down, unable to move freely and being placed in a space of endless waiting.

As if I had all day to wait for a rushing delivery guy to ring my doorbell. So I made an online request that they keep the package for me to pick up personally. I mean they offered that option. I gladly took it.

Today I got into my car. I drove 30 KM (that’s 18.64111 miles for you North American folks). I somehow knew when I got to my destination that there’d be a glitch. But I felt like getting out of the house anyway so I ignored my inner voice, (the one that really shouts at me now), and learned that my package had erroneously been placed in the van. It was now in transit. To my house. To arrive some time today.

The silver lining in all of this is that I got the guy to abbreviate the window of possible delivery to just three hours. I got my cake and get to eat it too.

I love it when stuff like that happens.

To a third-party observer it would appear I didn’t really get what I wanted. And I didn’t. I didn’t get my package. At least not yet. But what I did get was a chance to leave my home office, motor along a beautiful road and free up my entire day until 3 p.m. with the knowledge that if they screw up again, they’ll owe me.

I have faith they will keep their word. And I’ve made a friend at the delivery station for another time.

Life may not work out the way you want it to, but thank goodness for that. There is so much more adventure to be had when you take the long road. And the scenery? Well, that goes without saying.

 

The Mega Effect of a Mini-Timeout

If you think of life as a marathon race, it becomes clear that sprinting is only something you can do for a limited amount of time. For the most part, it’s about pounding the pavement, one step at a time. Sometimes we pick up the pace when we feel the need, the power, the essence of our goal. At other moments we hit a stride that sustains us while we move forward. Any marathon runner will tell you there’s a point in every race where you think you aren’t going to make it. That’s when you take in water and one more breath. And you keep on moving.

Running a marathon is one thing. Training for it is another. And even the fittest athlete will tell you that down time is as important as pumping iron, running, stretching and eating well. Mini-timeouts allow the body to rebuild the muscles broken down during strenuous exercise.

Mini-timeouts rock. They nurture not only our bodies, but our souls. They make us more effective by reducing our stress. A recent Carnegie Mellon study published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology investigated people’s resiliency in the face of stress after engaging in just 25 minutes of mindfulness meditation over three days. Those in the meditation group experienced less psychological stress while doing complex math and speech tasks (interestingly, the meditation group actually had higher cortisol levels in their blood than the other group that was asked to analyze poetry over three days). Over time, however, meditation lowers blood pressure and contributes to an overall sense of wellbeing.

You don’t have to repeat a mantra with your eyes shut every day to feel the long-term effects of taking a mini-timeout. Dedicating just one afternoon a week to a pleasurable activity can raise your happiness level considerably.

Find that oasis. Go there often. Take it slowly and you’ll get there faster.

Trust me on this one.