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.

Done, Not Perfect

“You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.”   — Maya Angelou

Beloved creativity. It can be an angel or a monster. It can haunt dreams – and fulfill them too.

Many of my friends are what I term “Creatives”. They see life — no — feel life in a remarkable way. They see beneath the surface of things, sense the pulse of the Universe that pushes blood through veins and capture the very essence of being. It is humbling to be friends with such people. In honor of their talent, I strive to do my own creative impulses justice.

Nothing gets my creative engine revving more than a walk through the woods. It is my oxygen tank, my life support system, my place of solace when the words just won’t come. Actually, I know they are there. They are always there. But sometimes the layers of life’s distress cover the thoughts needed to express that inner world just crying out to be unleashed.

A stressed Creative is uncreative. And there is nothing more frustrating than creative constipation.

Perhaps that is the real reason why I advocate The Power of Slow. Without allowing for our customized pace, life’s creativity would wither on the vine. Existence would be flat, accompanied only by the squeak of the hamster wheel we’re on.

Sound dramatic? Consider how many great ideas go unrealized because we say “I don’t have time”. In essence, we do. We just divert our attention to certain things while ignoring others. We prioritize to fit in that which we think we should be doing, all the while forgetting what we are meant to do.

If you want to unleash your inner Creative, the first step is to silence the inner Critic. We all know that voice inside that tells us lovely things such as “You don’t deserve it. You’re not good enough. Who do you think you are?” Prepare some canned answers when that voice shows up. “I so deserve it. I am more than enough. Who am I? Watch, and you will see.” In reality, that inner Critic is our fear, like a well-intentioned parent trying to protect us from harm. The trouble is most of what we imagine is harmful is imagined harm.

If you don’t try, you’ll never know. And who would want to be in the dark about their own potential?

One of the best lines I ever learned came from my sister who helped me see perfection wasn’t worth striving for. “Done, not perfect.” Call things complete. Move on. Enjoy the ride. Do what you can in the time that you have. Trust me. It’s not worth stressing about.

So go out there and create. The world will be richer for it. Truly.

Bad Choices, Good People

Sometimes it takes a series of really bad choices to finally make the right ones. But we can’t even know we’ve made bad decisions until we take a moment to step back and look at what we are actually doing — and why.

Even when we find the ‘why’ of things, it may take another good, long while before we actually take action.

That’s why I plead for time outs – for everyone. We need it. If you think you don’t need time off, think again. Even just a few minutes of solace makes you more efficient.

Change is hard. Really hard. We fear we will lose ourselves because we have ‘always done things that way.’ We identify so much with our own personal process — even if it harms us — that we forget to alter the course of our direction.

Change takes courage and insight and time and patience. But as my mama says, the one thing you can count on in life is change. Life is a bit like building a Lego house, brick for brick. You’re not sure what the end result will be, but you figure if you keep building, something will come of it.

The great thing about Legos — and life — is you can take things apart again if you need to. But as you know, that too takes courage and insight and time and patience.

I find travel makes accepting change a whole lot easier. Going new places opens my eyes to extraordinary experiences, even in the ordinary. It shifts energies, adjusts attitudes, moves the heart. It takes us away from the everyday to a new place, which makes us more receptive to new ideas and ways of thinking. And with every interaction we have with new cultures, a new piece of ourselves emerges.

Maybe you have made bad choices in your life. But they have shaped you into your unique form. Good people make mistakes. Everyone does.

The questions is: What one thing will you do differently today?

Island Time

The United Airlines clerk looked puzzled.

“Um, you want to go to Boston?” he click-clacked on his keyboard. His furrowed brow told me my flight wasn’t going to depart any time soon.

“Not from this airport. You’re in Richmond. Your flight leaves from Washington, DC.”

Funny.

Thankfully, we were driving my mother’s Crown Victoria, the type of car reserved for sheriffs and other persons of justice who need to drive fast.

By some miracle, we made it to the right airport – on backroads — in record time. We actually did the speed limit and somehow the traffic lights gods were with us.

Rushing through the massive international airport, I even made it to the gate in time. Only to learn that the flight was delayed by an hour. Then another. Then another.

We got on the shuttle to the airplane, only to be asked to turn around. Thunderstorms hindered take-off so we waited another hour. Then we got to board.

I sat next to a lovely student of veterinarian medicine. She lived on the island of Grenada and was as relaxed as I had ever seen a person be.

The airplane hopscotched across the sky. My guess was the pilots were trying to dodge the lightning. At one point, I asked her if I could hold her hand.

“Sure,” she smiled.

In that moment, an enormous lightning bolt flashed dangerously close to the left engine. I saw my life roll before my eyes to the beat of the thunderclaps. I really thought we were going to die.

I am not the greatest fan of air turbulence and I was grateful for her kindness. It had been, after all, quite a day. And I thought it wouldn’t be nice to end it with a crash landing or anything like that.

“You sure are calm,” I quivered as I eyed more lightning from my window seat.

“Once you’ve lived on an island, where everything moves slowly, you just learn to go with things. We’ll be fine. Trust me.”

Her depth of belief moved me. Sure enough, we landed safely and I invited her to my book signing the following week.

“Oh that’s my birthday!” she exclaimed.

I thought for sure she wouldn’t show.

But she did.

I will never forget that moment. Island time made her happy. I wanted what she had. So I started to think more carefully about how I perceived things.

Wrong airport? No problem. Get to the right one, then see what happens.

When you’re open like that, you meet the most amazing people. I’m looking forward to my island time this week. Kissing the Spanish sun is exactly what the doctor ordered.

Ya, man.

The Slow Go No

It took me years to discover the power of ‘no’. For some reason I always thought if I said ‘yes’ enough, people would like me. And so I did.

Saying ‘yes’ to things seemed to be the path of least resistance. If I agreed, everything would be just fine. Because it was what others wanted. And I knew I was supposed to be there for other people. That’s what I was told. A good person says ‘yes’ to virtually everything. ‘No’ was somehow selfish, as if ever thinking about yourself was, well, a major no-no.

But one day I woke up and looked around me. I had conceded to things that felt off. It was if every ‘yes’ I had uttered had pushed me a millimeter off the track I was meant to take. It required a major adjustment.

The first lesson was to learn how to decline, say ‘no’ — and mean it.

At first, the road was bumpy. I would be plagued with a sense of guilt and – yes – fear. As if I would die if I met someone else’s request with my own spoken negation.

Saying ‘no’ after years of ‘yes’ shocks people. They have to get used to the sudden change.

Recently, I was reminded of my ‘yes’ years by a series of requests coming from various sources.

“Can you promote my book for me? Oh, for free, of course.”

“Can you read this paper for me? Oh, for free, of course.”

“Can you donate to my cause/my work/my life? Oh, I have nothing to give you, of course.”

The final request got me to thinking. Really? You want me to give you money (again – I had already said ‘yes’ once before). And I had already told you ‘no’ with an explanation.

And then I realized ‘no’ is a full sentence. So I responded with that one glorious word and hit the send button. No explanation required.

And you know what? I did not die. As a matter of fact, I grew an inch. And it felt so very good.

If you feel you have become Life’s doormat, pick yourself up with one of the most powerful words in any language.

‘No’ is ‘yes’ for you.

 

How to Thrive, Not Just Survive

It is as if Arianna Huffington took off her high heels and climbed into my head. For the past week I have devoured her latest book, Thrive. It is not as if she says anything new, but reading her book is like getting a whole year’s supply of self-affirmations in one sitting.


In essence, she tells the reader: “You are not crazy to feel overwhelmed. I was too. And I decided to do something about it.”

I have long known that Arianna is a great champion of sleep. So am I. I have no problem getting enough rest. But the quality of it has seemed to suffer over the past few years. Life’s challenges have awoken me in the middle of the night and robbed me of dreams. Technology and my ambition to keep up have left me feeling depleted.

Arianna’s premise is we must redefine the meaning of success to include well-being, wisdom, wonder and community. As my book The Power of Slow boils down to one word – ‘choice’ – hers boils down to one too — ‘love’. The more I think of it, the more I realize the limits of our minds. We have no love in our minds, only thoughts. When we react from the mind, we are entangled in the web of our own making. In fact, every stressor we feel comes down to one thing — our reaction. Stress comes from a lack of trust that everything is going to be alright.

The truth is if we define “alright” to be That Which Is, then yes, everything will be alright. In fact, everything is alright all the time. Everything is indeed in alignment with the Universe. Our trouble begins when we ourselves are not.

Love can change that. When we come from our hearts’ center, we are free.

Thrive is a smart piece of work that cites Greek and modern-day philosophers alike. She even quotes Carl Honoré, whose thinking about the Slow Movement greatly influenced mine.

My favorite part of her book is her discussion about time. She speaks of it in terms of physics. Time, in the physicist’s view, is a landscape in which past, present and future can be seen. Like a mountain and a meadow and a wildflower all converging into one big thing. If that is true, than we needn’t rush. All of time rests on a single canvas.

This book insists that we can not only survive, but actually thrive, even in our 24/7 world. As with all things, the quality of our lives is not informed by our bank account of Facebook fans or Twitter followers.

The beauty of our existence is informed solely by the depth of our hearts. 

 

The Finish Line

When you get to the finish line, will you wish for more time?

I had to ask myself that question as I watched the beat of my own heart on the EKG machine. Lying in the emergency room in the middle of the night on a Thursday, I realized how precious life is. As I heard the horrible sounds emanating from other patients in deep pain, I knew I wasn’t finished yet.

Our bodies are smart. They speak to us. Quietly at first, then louder if we forget to listen.

Last week I landed on my head on a cold stone floor as my circulation collapsed into itself. The emergency technician who rushed to my aid twenty minutes later smiled warmly. It was a warmth I really needed.

When she asked if I had an allergies, I told her I am only allergic to really bad experiences. She laughed. So did I.

Seven hours and an ambulance ride later, I was released from the hospital with a clean bill of health. Stress and forgetting to eat for nine hours were the culprits.

Stress is not very Slow. Stress is silent, but its impact can be very loud. It begins and ends with our thoughts, then lands in our hearts. It can steal our quality of life if we let it.

Taking care of myself does not come naturally. I often push back my own needs to make room for others’.

Slow is about mindful living, but it is not just the mind that needs care. We need to go deeper to that sacred place in our center. We must fiercely guard our divinity, our beauty, our everything.

None of us gets out of this world alive, but we can ensure we truly live while we are here.

We owe that to ourselves and to those who love us. We really do.

Workplace Woes and How to Replace Them

The workplace has been on my mind lately. Perhaps it is because people close to me have been gainfully unemployed for a while. Or because my children are growing fast and are starting to think about their own employment future.

Looking for a job in this day and age has changed significantly. You don’t just circle the want-ads. You now have to be super tech-savvy in your job discovery process.

Web portals such as Xing and LinkedIn are not just social networking sites. They are designed to encourage that the right person find the right job. If your workplace provides you more woes than wonderfulness, listen up.


LinkedIn is great for business people seeking connections. It’s what Facebook was for college students in the very beginning. And so I was intrigued by the book, The Alliance: Managing Talent in the Networked Age, written by the founders of LinkedIn, Reid Hoffman, Ben Casnocha and Chris Yeh. I wanted to find out more about the motivation of the site’s founders.

I can sum the book up in very simple terms. The authors encourage employers to look at their hired talent as an investment. Think of it as a club member whose golf game can only improve the overall quality of club life. So you invite him for free lessons, give him food and drink along the way and ensure that life is so sweet, he’d never think of leaving.

But if he does, make sure you keep your grass green. Because he’ll come running back — or at least speak highly of you — forevermore.

Employers often shy away from offering training because they think somehow they won’t get the return on their investment. People will leave anyway so why bother? This mindset is fatal. Making the job interesting by developing people’s talent will actually make them stay longer. It’s really about setting up a clear understanding from the beginning that your workplace alliances is built on the principles of give and take.

If you think of your employees as free agents, the natural response is to slash training budgets. Why train a competitor’s new hire? In an alliance, the manager can speak openly and honestly about the investment the company is willing to make in the employee and what it expects in return. The employee can speak openly and honestly about the type of growth he seeks (skills, experiences, and the like) and what he will invest in the company in return by way of effort and commitment. Both sides set clear expectations. (The Alliance, page 9).

That is the Slow Workplace at its best.

Gone are the days of lifetime employment at one company. The authors know this well and provide a useful guide for employers in an age in which knowledge is power and ample and free.

For some offline workplace wellness, I stumbled upon Real Happiness at Work by Sharon Salzberg. She offers helpful meditations and time-outs for the harried worker who may be teetering on the edge of burnout. You may not have the luxury of leaving your current work situation, she says, so here’s how you can make it more bearable. Of course, everything begins — and ends — from within. Her focus is about shifting your mind, heart and soul away from what’s not working to what is. Her meditative practices provide the parameters for a Slow Workplace too.

Whether you love, hate or could care less about your job, one thing is for certain: you spend a lot of time there. Wouldn’t it be nice if your job gave you more joy than pain?