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.


Forgetting the “How” for Now

Trust. That five-letter word, like apple or sleep, that we often forget to bring into our lives. We measure. We calculate. We consider the options. Miles away from our hearts, we think, analyze and separate ourselves from the core of what life is about.

Many of us have dreams. In fact, we are born with them. Sometimes they grow. Sometimes they die. But dreams are a part of us like the skin that covers our souls. And when we forget to take care of them, they grow fallow in the center of our being.

Trusting in that which we desire can often go missing as we replace those dreams with compromise. We grow up thinking we will never reach them — not because we can’t — but because we don’t know how.

Perhaps you had a great idea that you wanted to realize, only to stop before you even started because you did not know where to begin. Doubt settles in and you start to give reasons as to why you can’t do this or that. Pretty soon you fret about that lost dream, but soon stuff it down inside you alongside the pile of other unfulfilled promises you made to yourself.

Life grows shallow, hollow and cold. And you keep trying to remember what you cared about at all.

If “how” is your stumbling block, go back to that place where Trust resides. It may be a tiny flame that needs a little oxygen to grow back to the roaring fire you once knew.

Never mind trying to figure out the way to those dreams. Define them for yourself. Then believe that you can do it.

If you believe, you will attract the right circumstances to go far beyond what you thought was possible. People will show up to help you along that path. And who knows? Perhaps realizing your dreams will help others realize theirs as well.

For if you can dream it, you can live it too.

Trust me on this one.

When Lemons Turn to Lemonade

Triggers. Those lovely little emotional downers that send us swirling down the drain to what may feel like a bottomless pit. They are the lemons in our lives that remind us of our own humanity. Triggers are handles on our own personal garbage. And they keep us locked down until we release the baggage that weighs so heavily upon us.

We have all experienced bad things in life – and how much time we waste dealing with that broken record in our minds! He says this. Which really means I am this. Or she does such and such. Which means she thinks this or that. We make meaning where there is none. My belief is there is a very different meaning lurking underneath all that noise, if only we had the ears to listen.

In German we call it Kopfkino – or mind chatter – that buckles us into our seats. We are trapped by these thoughts, an endless cycle of whirling nonsense. And we live as if the film and its accompanying soundtrack playing in our heads were real.

In times like these, it is best to step back and take a broader view. Look at that Big Picture that tells you a different story, a greater one. Connect the dots. Step out of the box into a larger reality.

The truth is we can think whatever we like. But which thoughts truly serve us — and which ones hold us hostage by the relentless thrust of fear?

I am a big fan of turning those lemons into lemonade, a sweeter nectar than the taste left in our mouths by what we think is actually happening.

The next time you get triggered by some unrelated event, remember that what is happening now is not what happened “then”. You get to choose joy at any given moment. Perhaps in the process you will zoom out to that gorgeous mosaic that makes up your life.

It is there, if you wish to find it. Lemonade and all.

Pockets of Win

Procrastination impacts our lives like an avalanche. We wait, put off, distract ourselves with other things. Then a pile of rubbish comes landing on our heads and we end up with a mess far greater than the delayed activity that caused it.

It has been six years since The Power of Slow hit the shelves, but the principles that live within it still apply today. One of my favorite principles stems from the Procrastination Station chapter, in which I talk about designing pockets of win to keep you motivated when you’d rather be doing something else.

We all put off unpleasant tasks; I don’t know a single person who derives pleasure from plowing through crappy assignments. Most of us moan about the things we have to do that we’d rather not be doing at all: getting up earlier than our bodies prefer; writing those month-end reports that seem endless, repetitive and, in some ways, frivolous; following up — yet again — with someone who chooses to ignore his original promise. And yet we persevere, knowing the alternative is paralysis.

Procrastination adds to the dilemma as we draw out feeling bad about those necessary things in life; and then “those things” loom even larger in our already overtaxed minds. Creating a pocket of win can pull us out of our funk and into the light.

Creating a pocket of win is simple. It is a reward system that causes us to feel better about ourselves — and the world around us. eBay is one of my favorite places to create a space of “yes” for myself. Recently, my son and I cleared out his shelves and placed his beloved comic books on eBay so that he could a) have more space for new books and b) earn a little cash along the way. I find myself checking in on the auctions whenever I start to feel a little blue. It perks me right up to see people’s interest. It then motivates me to continue on, even when I don’t want to.

Then magically those reports get done, the quality of sleep improves and well, those people we chase for answers? Sometimes they surprise us too.


The Appreciation of Depreciation

Nothing measures the passage of time more than watching children grow. Or trees that suddenly shoot up to the sky. Or cars that have served you well that suddenly show signs of aging.

My loyal sports car has a few rough edges now. It failed to pass inspection, showing its depreciated value for the first time since I bought it seven years ago.

“It’s time to invest in your lifestyle,” my love said.

He is right.

I naively thought I might be able to replace my car with another one for a reasonable price. The car dealer suppressed a laugh.

“Ma’am. I don’t think so.”

I could almost hear my sports car sighing with relief when I decided it was time to put some money into repairing it back to health.

Car repairs stress me out. It’s beyond my comfort zone (and I’m used to a certain level of uncertainty. It’s the basis of my entire career!) But there is something about motor oil and grease and loud banging noises that throw me off balance. So I asked my love to escort me to the repair shop for a consultation. He nodded, hmmm’ed and made other sounds of affirmation as the mechanic rattled off the things I’d need to make Herman (yes, that’s my car’s name) well again.

It’s amazing what happens when you’re in distress like that. The mechanic agreed to work with me on the price and the timing. He really wanted to help me. I was astounded by his generosity. And grateful for giving my car what it needs.

Whenever things break down, whether it’s a car, device or household gadget, there is always opportunity to look behind the curtain to discover the remarkable people who will come to your aid. Or the experience of not having that thing work and what it feels like when you are without it.

We are so accustomed to everything functioning as we want it to, including ourselves. And when things — and other people – don’t act as we wish them to, it’s a chance to examine our own expectations.

Life is full of mystery. And I have gained a new appreciation for the depreciation of things. How else would we see the magic lurking just beneath the surface of All That Is?




Forgetting the Fear

The tops of the trees swayed. We heard laughter and a few admissions of fear. The ropes whirred like a Porsche on the autobahn. Feet dangling. Hands braking. Tree-top walking at its finest.

We had a brilliant idea today. Five kids. Two adults. And a walk through the tree tops.

The last time I did an obstacle course 30 feet above the ground was for a science show with the kids. We were hired to film the segment for a popular show (Galileo). And although we only got to do a few elements of the entire course, I was fine with spending two hours in a harness and hanging on for dear life in front of the camera’s lens.

In real life, doing such an obstacle course takes serious stamina and a tad bit of crazy to complete.

So today, as I climbed to the heavens with my love and all those kids, I completely forgot to be scared. I was more concerned about the littlest child clicking his carabiner onto the right wires. Then, as I mounted the ladder as the final participant, I realized — at nest level with most birds — that I was afraid of heights.

The truth was I had no time for fear. What lay before me was a job to do. I needed to keep up (and not keep everyone behind me waiting) so I clicked, changed, clicked, whirred, wailed and wheeled my way through the entire thing. There were easier obstacles to conquer, which gave us a reprieve, until the next physical challenge met each and every one of us. Upper arm strength here. Coordination and balance there. By the time we got to the final element, which was a free fall 12 meters down (that’s 35 f-ing feet for you English system folks), I was happy and tired. Five innocent faces peered at me from below. I couldn’t let them down. What was I to do? Remember the fear or simply free fall to the beat of my own heart.

Don’t scream, Christine, I told myself. So I squat into the fall (like I saw my daughter so elegantly do) and screamed at the top of my lungs all the way down.

I am certain there is nary a bird in those nests now. But I made it, shaking and laughing. With a small admission of the fear I had so thankfully forgotten until the very end.

Miracles Take Time

Time is one of my favorite topics. It affects absolutely everything in the Universe, inanimate or not. How long a thing, person, plant, planet or pet exists depends on the isochrony of the clock.

When I was a graduate student, I brought my love of language together with my love for time in a course on the study of timing in speech. Words and time melded into a cacophony of noise and blips on a screen. My final presentation was based on President Clinton’s Inaugural speech, measuring the length of time it took for him to say “My fellow Americans.”

According to Wikipedia, isochrony can be defined as “the postulated rhythmic division of time into equal portions by a language.” In other words, how long does it take to say something and how even are we with its delivery?

Sometimes it takes years — and its delivery is neither even nor measurable.

In my experience, life cannot be measured by the speed of words, although linguistic professors might disagree. Trying to quantify speech is a noble and — in my mind — fruitless effort. What and how things are said are less important than the meaning that lands on the listener.

How we define things informs our experience much more than the speed with which such things are conveyed. Slow plays a central role when we realize the tempo of life cannot be measured in syllables or Southern drawls. In this sense, Slow means mindfulness. We bring our minds — and our hearts — into the equation of Truth, resting there like a swan on a lake’s edge.

My son amazed me with his courage today. He knew — in his heart of hearts — that speaking his truth was more important than following someone else’s guidelines. He wants to switch schools to find the square hole for the peg he has carried through his entire school career. So he took matters into his own hands and wrote a letter to the school principal who runs the school he wants to attend. Despite her office’s initial rejection, he spoke his truth — in his own time and with his own words.

The result was a tearful call from the principal who said, “I want to meet this kid.”

Force may chip away mountains, but authenticity moves them.

Miracles take time. In fact, they are beyond time. Miracles are not the fulfillment of our every wish, but the realization of what is already there. We tend to believe in miracles when things go our way; but if we dig deep down into That Which Is, we realize that miracles are really the emergence of what we already have.

If you know something is true beyond reason, evidence or physical manifestation, then wait for the miracle — for it will come. You are not insane, but wise beyond words. And time too.


Get Lost and Return

We all have Lost and Found stories. It is a part of life that things — and people — come and go in our lives.

But have you ever had an item mysteriously disappear only for it to return under equally mysterious circumstances? As with most everything, we have a choice about how we view such losses. In my mind, things are never really lost. They are merely in movement. Sometimes they travel to far ends of the Earth before returning to you.

Whether it is an inanimate object or a living being, we are one massive gyrating ball of energy. We undulate to the pulse of the Universe. When we play by its rules, the most incredible things happen.

I once lost a camera in a New York taxi. Someone from Venezuela found it and returned it two months later.

Losing my camera in a NYC taxi was the first real lesson for me in the Universal Law of Loss and Return. After I discovered the camera was missing, I fretted interminably. It didn’t help. So I decided I needed to release my emotional hold on it. I went into full acceptance that it — and all the memories I had captured on it – was gone. And then a young Venezuelan woman left a comment on my mother’s blog, claiming she had seen a picture of her on the camera in front of her newly created blog and if the camera might belong to her.

She left the comment on my birthday.

Releasing our hold on things and fully embracing What Is So is the key to energy’s return.

Another example of this is how I learned to accept that my most precious necklace (aptly named My Power) feels the need to travel. About five years ago, it mysteriously disappeared. Just when I had finally come to terms with its lost, it showed up in a pocket of a jacket I hadn’t worn in a year. Recently, I misplaced it again, but having been through this before I knew it would show up when I least expected it. I found it in my gym bag a week later.

Last year I accidentally left my wallet in a Freiburg taxi. As I was about to get upset, my friend reminded me of the Universal Law I was getting to know so well. I admit I entered a state of doubt, but decided she was right. Five days later I got a call. The wallet’s contents (including all credit cards!) was found in a garbage bag at the central train station. The angelic man (whose last name meant angel in German!) insisted on driving to my doorstep to return it.

My son accidentally dropped his bus pass somewhere between school and home. An anonymous person returned it via mail without a trace of identification.

When things like this happen, it feels like a hug from the Universe.

Just yesterday, I lost my calendar. I have no memory of it slipping from my hands. But now it too has delved into the ocean of energy exchange. I allowed myself to fret for a moment, then entered the space of acceptance and anticipation. I’m looking forward to its journey and possible return – in whatever form the Universe decides it will be.

Run (in the Forest), Run!

What does running have to do with the power of slow? There really is nothing Slow about running per se. With a minor exception of one blazing summer as a Washington, D.C. intern, I’ve never been the jogging type. But I do love my walks through the woods. I do them every chance I can get.

Run Phones meEvery now and then I’ll bring my iPhone with me to listen to music. But as I briskly jaunt through the forest, those annoying ear buds kept popping out of my ear. Dangling down to the forest floor, they seemed to mock me. I was about to give up every listening to music on my iPhone again until RunPhones contacted me. They offered me to try their product in exchange for a review on my blog.

So I agreed.

The headband comes in two types of styles — the warmer, fleecy type for winter and the cooler, thinner material for summer. Both are washable so you don’t have to worry about them getting funky after a while. I got the summer kind (thankfully). As the temperatures rise, I don’t really want anything on my head. I was ready for an itch-a-thon, but the headband is so comfortable, I soon forgot I was wearing it at all. It’s like having a portable stereo without the cackling ear buds to ruin the fun.

Another bonus is I don’t have to jack up the sound to have the high fidelity that the RunPhones provide. I always felt like ear buds were making me go deaf. Now I’ll be stylin’ whilst maintaining my hearing too!

I may never take up jogging again, but I’ll certainly be listening to my tunes  more often whilst traipsing through the forest.