The Resistance

Pedaling a bicycle with the brakes on is exhausting. The harder you try, the more you sweat. But despite all that effort, you don’t seem to be getting anywhere — fast.

Have you ever noticed how pervasive resistance is? It is literally everywhere. We combat traffic, we beat the clock, we fight the crowds. Even our language reflects how much struggle we let into our lives.

But let’s back up for a moment. If we start at the very beginning, we begin to understand why we might think life is a constant battleground. The birth process itself involves a lot of resistance. We literally — for the most part — get pushed out into the world. It is no wonder, then, that we think life is a push and pull too.

What if I were to tell you it isn’t?

What if the birth process was just the first test in a series of lifelong exercises to help us come to the understanding that resisting won’t get us anywhere? That resisting is indeed like pedaling a bicycle with the brakes on? That it is pointless and fruitless and completely unnecessary?

Well, if we were to embrace That Which Is instead of demonizing our reality, the world will be a much easier place. We’d jog around the neighborhood with ease, grace, joy and love in our hearts. We would welcome the merging car in front of us instead of flashing our lights and honking our horns and raising our fists — and our blood pressure too.

Not all resistance  is bad. In fact, some of it is very healthy. It fortifies society when people demonstrate and show support for a cause. I am grateful for committed citizens who symbolize democratic values. But we must choose our battles wisely. We really only have a certain amount of strength to enter combat selectively. We must save our energy for that which truly matters to us.

Everything else is simply an exercise in futility.

So if you find yourself standing in line at the check-out counter or in a merging lane, let someone ahead of you. Smile. Release resistance, if only for a moment. You might notice how the tension you’ve been holding slips away. You might start to feel better about yourself, which leads to different choices, which leads to a different experience, which leads to a different life altogether.

All because you decided it was time to let go.

Pretty cool, huh?

 

 

Mystery Unfolding

Wouldn’t life be grand if only it would work out according to plan — I mean our plan. You know the one. All neatly folded and earmarked and tagged with colorful sticky notes that indicate the direction, timing and course of All Things.

And then Life, as it is, unfolds. Exactly as it should. But not exactly as we think it should. Kids get sick. Or angry. Or defiant. Clients move on — without you. Love gets lost. Then found again in a completely surprising, delicious and wondrous form.

I draw strength from Elizabeth Gilbert, kindred spirit of words and author of my ultimate favorite book Eat, Pray, Love. She admitted today on Facebook that she was to go to India tomorrow, a place I also want to visit some day. It had been 11 years since her last visit there. Due to a medical situation she had to change her plans. But not without a fight first.

All I was thinking about — even as the doctor was reviewing my results — was how to salvage this India trip, by any means necessary. At first, I negotiated quite hard against my doctor, trying to talk her out of her diagnosis, trying to convince her that my situation wasn’t really that big a deal, and that my treatment could wait. (Curiously, she was unmoved by my strong and completely un-medical opinion!)

Indeed I can relate to her unwillingness to surrender to her reality. How often do we fight against reality, only to lose on average, according to Byron Katie, 100% of the time?

My son admitted to me tonight that his failing grades might mean he has to repeat a grade.

“So what?” I said. “I have seen you work hard. You want to do well. And you’ve done your best. Trust the timing of things.”

Gilbert’s initial resistance to her medical reality gave way to broader insights, which I also shared with my despairing son.

1) Listen to your body. It speaks a language far smarter than any dialect we can speak.

2) Honor reality. It will win every time.

3) If something is not meant to be, then it is not meant to be — for reasons that you may never even know. You can fight against the timing of your life, or you can trust in it. The flow and the peace will only return when you learn to trust.

My son’s final shudder of relief and an exhalation of elation told me that life’s mystery is what we most honor, not the thoughts, agendas and mind maps we have in our heads.

Trust the mystery unfolding. It’s our beautiful companion. Our failure lies not in our lack of fulfilling what we think we should, but in not accepting that which is.

In a Hurry?

Have you ever watched the snow fall? It falls at its own pace.

Have you ever rushed over a patch of ice? I bet that didn’t end well for you.

Winter is here. It is a particular time of Slow. It allows us to take it down a notch. External conditions helps us tread a little lighter.

I spent the entire day yesterday on the couch. Flat out sick, I measured the speed of my day by its obtuse triangular movement from the kitchen, to the tub, to the couch again. Although I wasn’t feeling well at all, it was a marvelous experience to remain still.

Why do we only allow ourselves to move more slowly when our bodies refuse to do otherwise?

My dear friend Donald posted this statement on my Facebook page today. If you’re in a hurry today, remember these words:

“Being in a hurry. Getting to the next thing without fully entering the thing in front of me. I cannot think of a single advantage I’ve ever gained from being in a hurry. But a thousand broken and missed things, tens of thousands, lie in the wake of all the rushing…. Through all that haste I thought I was making up time. It turns out I was throwing it away.” – Ann Voskamp

May your hurried scurry decelerate to the speed of a snow flurry — without the fury of busy and bustle.

Happy 2015, my dear ones. Until we meet again.

Modern-Day Angels

Doors close. Windows open. Clients leave. Clients return. Items get lost. Angels find them.

Whenever something that could be perceived as “bad” happens, I take notice. Almost immediately, after the shock wears off, I ask myself: “What is the Universe telling me?” When I take that perspective, the ‘bad thing’ turns into a learning moment and suddenly the feeling of loss is replaced with something to gain.

I have this thing about losing items during taxi rides. I once left my camera in a New York taxi. A woman from Venezuela found it, discovered an image of a blog I had taken, left a comment there and returned the camera to me two months later.

Last weekend I had a new lose-an-important-item in a taxi experience. This time it was my wallet. By the time I discovered it the next day, ten hours had passed. I panicked. Slightly. It wasn’t the cash I cared about, but my driver’s license and green card-like EU visa that I was worried about. Then my dear friend told me what to do.

Cancel all credit cards. Block your debit cards. And don’t worry. It will come back to you.

How could one feel bad after being held in such light? So I did what she said, relieved by the caring tone of each customer service representative I talked with on the phone and by the presence of my friend who stood by me as I did so.

Yesterday my phone rang. It was my car dealership. The guy sounded a little uncomfortable, as if he had to tell me my car had ten days to live.

But it wasn’t that at all.

“I have someone on the other line who says he found some of your documents.” He said the guy had found the car dealership’s business card along with a pile of my cards. He gave me the guy’s cell phone number and wished me luck, but not before I blew him a kiss into the phone.

Angel #1!

It turns out the man who contacted my dealership owns the cleaning company that cares for the main train station in Freiburg. His cleaning personnel had found all my cards in a clear plastic bag in the trash. Apart from the cash, everything was there – every credit card, every loyalty card, everything. He insisted on bringing it to my doorstep the next day.

Angel#2 (guy who called) and Angel #3 (cleaning guy who was honest enough to give it to him)!

I blessed him (and offered him a finder’s fee, which he refused). Modern-day angels are everywhere. Trust them and they will find you.

Every time.

Difficult Conversations

The year 2014 is coming to a close. In a few weeks the holidays will be upon us.

I have never been happier to say farewell to one of the hardest years of my life.

In many ways, it has been a good year. I have developed new, positive, life-sustaining relationships that have given me so much strength in a time when I’ve really needed it. I have also had to allow some relationships to change dramatically, in the form of little to no communication and a distant well-wishing to ensure a healthy, new way of being.

Change is always difficult because it brings up a lot of things we’d rather not examine. It calls up our weaknesses and our blind spots. We are confronted, challenged and greatly unsettled by the newness of it all.

And yet change is also a way of tilling the Earth to bring in new, fertile ground. It is as necessary as oxygen. In a way, change means evolution. If we aren’t changing, we aren’t growing. And if we aren’t growing, we are dying.

And no one really wants to live in a state of death.

Ironically, change also brings death, the ending of the way we used to be. We have the opportunity to alter our thoughts, actions and behaviors to become more aligned with who we truly are.

Forgiveness can help.

It seems as though 2014 has been the Year of Difficult Conversations. I have had a lot of them – as recently as last week when a client admitted to me that he was sorry the way our project failed; that he appreciated my professionalism through it all; that he is embracing the Power of Slow as his world topples too. It was a magical moment of grace as I realized he could actually hear me say, “It was frustrating to know that my best didn’t yield what you were looking for.”

It was a conversation of forgiveness – and it moved me in ways I have yet to fully realize.

What I have also learned this year is that while difficult conversations may sting like hell, they are like wildfires that burn away the debris for new life to emerge. If we don’t express what we truly think and feel, those words burn us from the inside out.

Speaking your truth takes a lot of practice. A few things have helped me along the way whenever I’ve had to have an uncomfortable conversation:

  1. Prepare your key message. Practice what you are going to say. Start from the ending. How do you want the conversation to end? Begin it with that intention in mind.
  2. In some cases, it is helpful to actually say, “No matter what I am about to say, I want you to know that I care about you/the project/our collaboration, etc. You matter to me – my telling you this is actually an act of trust that you can hear me.”
  3. Do not take anything the other person says personally. It is not about you, your worth or your position in life.
  4. Actively listen to the other person. Do not allow distractions such as your smartphone or Facebook status get in the way. It shows respect when you give the other person your full attention.

You may feel like a toddler, waddling from one piece of furniture to the next as you hang on for dear life whilst falling periodically on your butt. But I promise you it will get better, your relationships will grow stronger and the ones that end as a result of your honesty were not meant to be in your life anyway.

The Secret to Happiness

Life can be hard. People can be harsh. Situations can lead us down the path to Hell. In all my years on this Earth, I have learned a few things that have become unshakable truths.

No one can make you happy or unhappy. You are the source of all joy and all sorrow. The way in which you experience things comes from within.

That may seem like a huge weight to bear, as if you are responsible for simply everything. Not so. All you can do is decide how you will respond to what happens.

Don Miguel Ruiz, an international best-selling author from Mexico who embeds his beliefs in the ancient Toltec tradition, offers powerful guidelines to maximizing our happiness. I discovered his book, The Four Agreements, about a decade ago. They are simple truths that have helped me on numerous occasions when things seemed to be falling apart.

Taken from the Toltec Spirit Website, Ruiz’ agreements are listed below:

1. Be Impeccable with your Word: Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the Word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your Word in the direction of truth and love.

2. Don’t Take Anything Personally: Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.

3. Don’t Make Assumptions: Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.

4. Always Do Your Best: Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse, and regret.

As with anything new, applying these agreements to our lives takes time. We are entrenched in habitual behaviors that aren’t easy to break. While we may not always remember to honor these agreements, life seems to go more smoothly when we do.

Some of you may master several of the points well while struggling with the others. For years I took things personally, acted defensively when I felt attacked and avoided conflict as a result. With tons of practice, I have been able to free myself from taking on other people’s projections and making them a part of me. I see them now for what they are (raising teenagers has helped me tremendously with this issue. You simply cannot live with a teen and take everything they say to heart.) And they are not a part of me at all.

Healthy distance and a loving heart can heal the trauma that created our bad habits. Happiness, after all, is not a destination, but a state of being. I would love to meet you on your journey to peace.

The great news is we get to decide anew every day for – or against – our own happiness. How will you choose?

Chasing the Light

The days have shrunk to half their size. The grandiose power of the sun has been replaced by a weaker version of itself. The sky is grey. The Earth is balding.

Winter is almost here.

I have noticeably started organizing my activities around the waning daylight. The abbreviated days have placed me in a rather petulant, rushed state.

“Do things by 4 p.m. Otherwise, it’s all over.” I make sure I place myself under the clouds in hopes a UV ray or two will plunk me on the head. My sun-simulating lamp stands at the ready because soon, even 4 p.m. will mean it is nearly pitch dark outside.

Foto-3It is hard to be productive when ever fiber of your being is shouting, “Why aren’t you hibernating?”

I am a light chaser. If I had my way, I’d live half the year in a very, very warm place. Warmth means sunshine, a rare commodity at this time of year in the Northern Hemisphere. I try to take things with humor, even as the dimness nibbles away at my well-being. I am like a wilted flower when the world turns cold.

Because I have chosen to live in cooler climes, I have learned to simulate light, not only in the form of lamps, but also in the form of food and connection. Vitamin-rich foods have felt the same sun I now miss, so when I eat them, I eat the sun too. Or I will connect with my sunnier friends, the upbeat ones whose inner light makes me want to wear shades.

And I am certain to turn on my own heart light, even when it’s hard and unfairness seems to rule the world.

Light dances between the shadows. If there is darkness, strike a match.

There is always a way to the better side of things. Sometimes all you need is a torch to guide you to that place.

Quieting the Complaining Mind

Between the hours of two and four in the morning, my mind enters the Fret Zone. I worry, complain, argue and fight about the weirdest things. It is as if all the frustration from the day comes tumbling into one pile of yuckiness. And if I am awake, those thoughts try to convince me that they are right.

Do you ever have one of those worst-case-scenario daydreams? It creeps up from behind when you least expect it. Then bam! You are rattled by a catastrophic thought.

Watching the evening news only reinforces the anxiety that the world is going down the tubes. I recently had to walk away from the television because every single story had a negative ending.

Clifford Nass, a professor of communication at Stanford University and co-author of the book The Man Who Lied to His Laptop: What Machines Teach Us About Human Relationships (Penguin 2010) suggests that negative and positive emotions are handled in different hemispheres of the brain. Negative emotions, he suggests, generally involve more thinking so the negative information is processed more thoroughly than positive ones. As a result, we tend to dwell on unpleasant experiences and use stronger words to depict what they felt like than happy ones.

An experiment conducted by Roy F. Baumeister, a professor of social psychology at Florida State University and co-author of a Review of General Psychology journal article “Bad Is Stronger Than Good” (2001) reveals how the same experience in reverse offers different intensities of emotion. The loss of $50, for instance, resulted in a stronger negative reaction than the happiness stemming from gaining the same amount. 

Of course it comes down to survival. Those who anticipate bad events tend to be better prepared for them. Back in the Cro-Magnon days, it was important to be a little pessimistic about the future. Your cognitive functions were necessarily on high alert so as not to slide into a false state of security. Any Mammoth hunter knows you need to get it before it gets you.

But today? Do we really need to be plagued by all those negative thoughts? In our relatively safe environment (and I speak only for myself – I am aware that someone in Syria certainly may not feel this way at present), we have a lot to be thankful for.

Therein lies the solution. I have found there is no room in my brain for the complaining mind to voice its opinion when I am feeling grateful. A state of gratitude is easily come by. All you need is to look at what you have, say a prayer of thanks and recognize the abundance around you.

Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, recently said in an interview that she has long practiced daily gratitude by writing down the best thing that happened to her that day and dropping it in her so-called “Joy Jar”. Whenever she’s feeling blue, she picks out one of the pieces of paper and reminds herself that good things do come her way (I mean, Julia Roberts played her in the movie version of her book. I’d ride on that one for a couple of months, wouldn’t you?).

So the next time you’re up at 3 a.m. wondering why the world can be so mean, remember the good things. Think about them hard. Revisit your jar of joy – in whatever form it takes — and remind yourself that Universal Goodness does indeed exist.

How can you get your daily dose of joy? Well, my friend, as with all things – large and small — it starts with you.

Love in the Land of the Lost


The book pulled me in and kept me there, until last night when I turned the final page. Eleven Minutes by Paulo Coelho is a haunting story about a young girl from the backwaters of Brazil who seeks love in all the wrong places. She lands in Geneva, Switzerland, a place I know well. My heart broke there — several times; and so did hers. Despite the floral clock and the water and the banks, Geneva was a lonely place for us both.

The protagonist’s search for love is akin to most anyone’s experience. Sustainable love can only come when we reach inside ourselves and realize we are the generators of our own joy. When we love without clamoring, we are set free. She was willing to let her deepest love go because she knew that her attraction to his beauty stemmed in great part from the freedom she felt to leave.

Coelho’s own story fascinates me too. At the tender age of seventeen, his parents put him in a mental institution — twice — claiming he was mad. But his spirit and his creativity were not broken. He followed his path, discovering much later in life that he could indeed find expression for all those thoughts inside.

Coelho reminds me of Sebastião Salgado, another Brazilian artist whose breath-taking photography will leave you hungry for more. Much like Coelho, Salgado found the way to his art form later in life. After moving from Brazil to Europe, he decided to leave his well-paying corporate job in Paris at the age of 30 to do photography instead.

Wim Wenders’ documentary film The Salt of the Earth, which I recently saw with my love at the theater, is an epic narrative about Salgado’s journey as a photographer. He travelled to the farthest reaches of the Earth to document the human condition. When he finally landed in Rwanda during the mid-1990s, he lost all faith in humankind and stepped back from the subject of man. Later he discovered Nature and rekindled his belief in the universal goodness of life.

What struck me most about his life’s work was the support his wife gave him throughout all those years of travel. Raising two children in his absence must have been hard, but she understood his need to do what he did. She, like Coelho’s protagonist, was willing to let him go time and again.

The result is a collection of amazing imagery for which our world would be poorer if Salgado hadn’t followed his calling.

Love is what makes art possible. See for yourself.

 

Facebook Fatigue: The Search for Less Input

Bing. Buzz. Ping. Riiiiinnnnng! The invention of the smartphone has altered our lives forever. But has it improved them?

On any given day, I will receive, delete and answer over one hundred emails. Newsletters I never subscribed to pop into my inbox, multiplying no matter how often I unsubscribe. Text messages come from all corners of the Earth through Facebook, WhatsApp or the conventional iPhone delivery service. And I know I am not alone.

Every day we are inundated with information. I daresay 98% of it is useless or simply annoying. It sucks our time and our energy.

And yet we continue to pursue the data flow as if our lives depended on it.

Many of my friends have expressed Facebook fatigue. They post stuff, some quite successfully. They get a quick high from yet another like, but that fades fast. I have found myself begging my kids to allow me to post photos of them (which they despise) in hopes I will draw attention. But for what purpose?

WhatsApp, the multi-featured messaging system that was acquired by Facebook in February 2014, has found an astounding breadth of users in a relatively short time. According to a recent Huffington Post article by Peter Diamandis, this highly disruptive service is growing fast. He reports:

Quick Stats on WhatsApp:

  • 64 billion messages processed per day – 20B sent and 44B received
  • 465 million users on platform
  • 1 million join platform every day
  • 70 percent of users come back every day

If the average text message takes even ten seconds to write and send, you can image how much time we spend with our devices.

Or try on this for size. According to the blog Digital Marketing Ramblings, 72% of online adults visit Facebook at least once a day. In Europe there are 206 million active daily Facebook users; in the US and Canada it is 152 million. And the average time spent on Facebook — per day per person — is 21 minutes.

Don’t get me wrong. I love knowing what other people are doing and keeping up with friends and family. I also adore receiving photos, audio notes and messages from loved ones scattered across the globe. But the pull to pay more attention to my iPhone than my real life has me disturbed.

So for the next week, I am trying a little experiment. I am not going to check Facebook. Not once. Thankfully my social media clients are on a hiatus so I won’t have to.

Time saved thus far: over an hour.

Number of nerves saved: countless.

I’ll keep you posted. Pun totally intended.