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.

The Frenzy of Immediacy

Ping. Click. Bing. Bloop. Blip. Huuuuuunnnn!

How often do you hear these sounds on an average day? And each time you do, your attention is pulled away from what you are doing to what someone else wants you to know.

Parenting in a digital world is a lot different than the pre-digital age of raising kids. You can’t get away from the demands as easily. In fact, you are on your guard 24/7, thanks to smartphones and other devices.

Just recently, my teenage son discovered the power of pissing Mom off by simply sending an evocative text message claiming this thing or that — because he wanted things a different way after all. Falling prey to the frenzy of immediacy, I would give him a reaction every time. I thought I was being a good, attentive mother, addressing my son’s needs, responding with discipline or reward, depending on the circumstances. But then, just this afternoon, as another ping, whirl, bing message hit my iPhone’s screen, I realized I didn’t have to give in to the temptation to give a reaction at all to my son’s complaining that he didn’t want to go to tutoring, despite our agreement this morning (and last night — and last week!) that he would. I could remain silent, not pay attention, ignore him. Just this once.

I realized what I had done all these months. With my immediate responses, cajoling, explaining, reacting, I had filled the space where his conscience should be. He didn’t have a chance to listen to his inner voice because it was replaced by my own. So I waited to see if he would indeed hear it. Within four minutes, he sent a third and final message that agreed he would go to tutoring after all. Even though he felt he didn’t need it.

He had been given time to review the countless conversations we had had about the importance of being your word. Of doing what you say you are going to do. To do things that are right, even if they are sometimes uncomfortable.

In our modern, gadget-saturated world it is tempting to react to every little message that crosses our path. It’s exhausting. And unnecessary. Sometimes sleeping on it is better. Looking at things with fresh eyes, instead of frenzied ones, can reveal the truth behind the situation. But what we need — above all else — is to give ourselves the time to digest what is truly important.

In a world drenched with information, silence is golden – more often than we think.

The No Vacation Nation

Our relationship with time is embedded in our culture. It is never so apparent than in the different ways in which people view vacation. For some, vacation is a luxury; for others, it’s a birthright. One glance at this chart reveals how diverse our perspective is about taking time off. It shows the number of mandatory vacation days per year. France wins – hands down – with 30 days. The United States lands on the opposite end of the spectrum with exactly zero.

vacation days 2015

 

After seeing this chart, I got curious.  John Piana, a veteran of Corporate America with over 20 years of experience and a work-life balance proponent, approached me with some of his ideas as to why Americans don’t view vacation as a necessity. He calls the United States the No Vacation Nation. It is so deeply entrenched in people’s minds that anything other than working is considered “time off” (even hospitalization – I swear I can’t tell you how many of my American friends told me to enjoy my time off and to consider it a mini-vacation when I went in for surgery– are you serious??).

Power of Slow: Do you think Corporate America will ever introduce mandatory paid vacation? 

John: If it does happen, it will be awhile.  In order for a fundamental change like this to take place, it needs momentum.  Right now there’s little to none.  And even when momentum begins to build, it will still have to overcome the powerful business lobbyists who will likely keep legislators from getting behind it.  Until the issue gets to the point of a social uprising, mandatory vacation will just be coffee shop talk.  However, I think a potential wildcard is social media.  I’m amazed at how many times social media has shown the power to turn public opinion almost overnight.  A social media firestorm could quickly transform the mandatory vacation landscape.

PoS: What things can leaders do to stay offline and in life while on vacation?

J: Simple.  Make the choice!  Prioritize it.  Set the expectation and precedent beforehand with your manager and with people reporting to you.  Explain you will not be calling or logging in during vacation.  Or if that is an impossibility (which I don’t buy), begin to take back control by severely limiting the contact and explain to others you will be checking in very infrequently, perhaps even defining the specific times of day you will check messages.  When an employee leaves the company, everyone always finds a way to get things done without that person.  It should be no different when an employee goes on vacation.

PoS: How should employees address the lack of vacation issue?

J: Set boundaries and priorities in advance with your manager and co-workers.  Once they know that vacation is a top priority for you, it becomes your holy grail.  Not only should you get fewer interruptions during vacation, but it also can become a motivational/reward tool to be used by your manager.  As far as simply asking for additional vacation, I think that may work in a small business setting only.  Large and mid-size companies will simply give a corporate-speak answer and say their hands are tied due to company policy.

PoS: Is mandatory vacation truly needed?  Does the government need to get involved to correct this?

J: Neither government nor corporations will solve this issue (see my ‘Work-Life Balance Advice That Makes Sense‘ post).  The US government won’t get behind it for reasons I mention above.  Employers long ago abandoned their long-term commitment to employees.  This is no more evident than seeing defined benefit pension plans being phased out.  Also, employees aren’t sharing in the ‘good times’ like they once did, but definitely feel the pain of the ‘bad times.’  If the company had a great year, that 2% raise becomes a 2.5% raise.  However, if the company had a bad year, there’s a good chance you’ll be shown the door.  Definitely not an equal risk-reward trade-off.  However, in general, I think free markets and, more importantly, the will of the worker should be sufficient to address this issue.  Again, I think social media could be a wildcard.

***

Social media has toppled empires. It could topple the belief that vacation isn’t important too. I advocate posting as many palm tree pictures this summer as possible, people. Let us rise up to celebrate our lives — both in and out of the office!

Vulnerability is not for the fragile

Teetering on a tightrope, trying not to look down, arms dancing from side to side in spread-eagle fashion. Toes sweating. Heart racing. Mind frozen in concentration. Being vulnerable is not for the fair-hearted.

Somewhere in my history, I thought showing any sign of weakness was somehow wrong. Being vulnerable was high on my list of not-to-do’s. Instead, I proudly belonged to the stiff upper lip crowd, smiling through simply everything. The message I received at a very early age was that being cute somehow meant I’d be lovable. In the black-and-white shadows of a child’s mind, that also meant not being cute meant not being loved.

And everyone wants love, yes?

We piece together a belief system as we grow, drawing conclusions and meanings from experience. And we live as if those carefully constructed guidelines are true.

And while our personalized rules and regulations may have served us well for a very long time, they become outdated at some point because life is an ever flowing river in which you never step twice.

If I have learned anything in the last two years since I moved to my beloved Freiburg, it is that breaking yourself wide open is the most courageous thing you can do. And courage takes strength, not weakness. Vulnerability does not leave us cowering in the corner in fear. Right before we walk on that stage of authenticity, we may be afraid, but the moment we move forward into the lights, something starts to shift. We release something within ourselves, like a dark secret that has weighed us down. And suddenly, the pressure that vacuum-packed secret created dissolves in thin air. When we step into that tender space within ourselves, we are drawing on the implicit well of goodness with which we were born. We reveal the very essence of who we are. And that is simply irresistible.

Vulnerability is contagious. When you rest in the vastness of your utmost truth, others start to settle into theirs. Have you ever noticed how you suddenly attract very different people when you are being real versus being fake? We start to break a long-held pattern of “keeping it altogether” to falling slightly apart. And in that brokenness, we create a new space for people to join us in our uphill battles and sorrow. We are not left behind. Quite the contrary! In embracing our own humanity, we invite others to do the same.

That is when the beauty of life — in all its richness — unfolds. Being vulnerable is key to living the life you are meant to live.

Take that leap of faith. This is your life. Who else but you can live it?

Jammin’ to the Good Stuff

My kitchen shelf is stocked to the brim with homemade jam. Admittedly, I became spoiled at the tender age of twenty-two. It was the first time I tasted Monika’s fine bread spread. Hand-picked, summer ripe fruit and a little sugar are the only ingredients she uses. We are talking Slow Food, locally grown and consumed. It is the kind that is so Slow it can’t even crawl.

My favorite jam is raspberry. Unfortunately, it seems to be everyone else’s too. As abundant as Monika’s garden is, even it has its limits on the raspberry yield it brings every growing season. I am mindful not to be too greedy during my sporadic visits to her house. Inevitably, she will offer me an array of flavors, which I take with a humble bow, trying hard not to eye the jars for fear raspberry might not be among them.

One day, after biting into a not-so-satisfying pear jam, I placed my bread back on the plate and wondered why I didn’t just open up a jar of raspberry jam. What was I saving it for? Why was I being so stingy with myself?

We do this. We put off the good stuff for later. Vacation? One day. That trip with the girls? Maybe next year. That visit to family? Well, they’ll always be there…won’t they?

We deny ourselves a lot of things, but jam? I mean really. Life is too short for bad marmalade. Why suffer when you don’t need to? When you already have a shelf full of stuff that makes you happy? I looked at my reflection in the marmalade spoon and asked: What on Earth are you saving it for?

So I got up, dumped the pear jam and opened a new one filled to the rim with raspberry delight.

We are worth having the good things. And when we forget what we’ve already got, it’s good to be reminded.

Take time to enjoy the good kind of jam. The jam that makes you jump in the morning and say “Yeah!”  It is what makes life so very sweet.

Sleep on It

Sleep is essential, yet many of us don’t get the kind of quality sleep we need to be at our best. Since we spend one-third of our lives on a mattress, wouldn’t it make sense to get a good one?

My life partner got a cheap mattress from a large Swedish brand last year. He lasted a week, then returned it. Instead, he invested in a superior mattress that feels like you are floating.

When DreamZe2015-05-14 11.57.36bra approached me to test out their mattress, I felt a mixture of pleasure and trepidation. A Danish brand, DreamZebra is an online-only company that sells its mattresses worldwide. Ranging from a single to a king-sized mattress, their selection offers something for everyone. You even get a ten year guarantee as an added bonus.

So I ceremoniously performed what they call “the unboxing;” delivered in a large box, the mattress is vacuum-packed in plastic. It reminded me of the Swedish brand’s mattress that my love and I also liberated from its sheath. To my surprise, DreamZebra’s mattress is much thicker, its material of much higher quality and, quite frankly, it’s dreamy “hugging” just made me smile.

Enjoy this rare product video. It’s time to spend a night’s rest in peace.

 

The Joy Choice

No matter what is swirling about you and the squeeze you feel from it- train strikes, illness, pending surgeries or demanding clients — there is always room for joy.

In fact, I have found when I make the conscious choice for joy over suffering that everything works out. Miracle or Universal law? I’d say it’s the latter.

Want to know a secret? Things always work out just as they should, whether we are fretting about them or not. But as life unfolds, we can decide how we are going to feel about it. The joy choice requires a certain level of mental discipline. When standing at the precipice between upset and acceptance, we can ask ourselves: “How do I want to feel about this?” Sometimes I actively choose to feel bad about it. I wrangle. I wrestle. I rant. I rave. And after I have exhausted all my emotional options of negativity, I standing panting in the middle of the room. The only thing that has changed is my brain chemistry. And I’m pretty darn tired from the rage of it all.

Other times  I actively choose joy. I take each moment and drink the nectar of beauty. When negative thoughts come into my mind, I ask them where their invitation to my party is. They blink. They stutter. They turn on their heels and leave.

It is marvelous to have that level of control over your own experience.

Another thing that helps is looking at what is going right in the face of what I perceive to be going wrong. That’s when my focus shifts and that which I think is wrong actually turns out to be a lovely piece of the entire picture.

As my friend Simone likes to say, life is always right. So why do we spend so much time fighting against it?

Opting for joy has been the best decision of my life. And you, my dear friends, are invited to my joy party any time you like. Won’t you join me?

Of Mountains and Molehills

Some days we get caught completely off guard by the littlest things. They suddenly become giants that loom large over us. Try as we might, we can’t quite see the mountain as the molehill it is. We are shrunk to the size of a pinhead, lost in the morass of daily living.

I would like to think of myself as a person of high tolerance, someone who isn’t thrown off track so easily. But when multiple little things pile up, all those molehills resemble Mount Everest.

Are you with me on this?

In times like these, I ask myself a simple question: “What can I learn from this moment?” It isn’t easy to find that question amongst the fumes in my head as I steam about the injustice of it all. Yet every time I pose the question, the answer emerges almost immediately.

Clearing the eyes to see and the ears to hear: it may be the greatest lesson of all.

Life is our grandest teacher; all those molehills are the learning tools to get us to see beyond ourselves to the greater Wholeness of All Things. They are the stepping stones up the mountain. Each pace forward has the ability to bring us more joy, more abundance and more gratitude.

So think of life’s challenges as your training ground to reach the summit. And when you finally get there, you will have the wherewithal to truly enjoy the view.

 

Junk in the Trunk

According to United Nations University, the world created 41.8 million tons of electro-trash last year. Who was at the top of the list?

The United States: A whopping 7.1 million tons of old computers, laptops, smartphones, television sets and more stemmed from US households in 2014 alone. The study argues that, per capita, the US created less junk (22.1 kg per person) than the UK (23.5 kg per person). But if we were to take that argument, Australia would be up there with them (20 kg per person, but with “only” 500,000 tons of electro-trash). And China, that behemoth of electronic gadget manufacturing, tosses 6 million tons a year out the window. With 1.4 billion people, China’s average drops to 4.4 kg per person.
Infografik: Jeder Deutsche produziert 21,6  kg Elektroschrott im Jahr | Statista

More statistics (in German) at Statista

The statistics are distressing for many reasons. Our behavior is not only bad for the environment, but it also presents a broader issue of our relentless consumption for All Things Gadget-Like. At the risk of sounding nostalgic, I pine for the days when the only video games we could play were at an arcade. When your quarters ran out, you were done. Today we are on a never-ending cycle of data transfer from thumb to brain and back again.

I am just as guilty as the rest. My old PC is gathering dust in the corner. Should I sell it? Would anyone take it? Could I donate it to someone?

US-based charity organizations are emerging to handle some of the electro-trash we create. Hope Phones is a charity that safely recycles your phone to fund healthcare programs in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Phones4Charity is another organization that works with affiliate groups to donate cell phones for good. In Europe the European Recycling Platform helps organize compliance and recycling efforts for electro-trash and more.

So it’s not all doom and gloom. A lot has been done to reduce our electronic footprint on the Earth. But a lot more can be done. Recycle your stuff. Mindfully remove all that junk from the trunk. And think twice before buying more gadgets than your thumbs can handle at once.

Silencing the Hum of Fear

The subconscious mind can do a real number on us. Humming just beneath the surface of things, it can haunt, taunt and tattle-tale on us in ways we don’t even realize. That is, until we calm it with a visualization exercise or meditation.

Yesterday a dear friend of mine did what she calls a feelingization with me around a issue I’ve been dealing with for several months. Within fifteen minutes she helped me morph my fears into love by suggesting I focus on a time when I felt deep gratitude. After bathing in the glow of that sensation for a moment, she had me move to a time when I felt deep love.  She allowed me then to name my fears, place them in a golden cup and illuminate them with light.

To me, gratitude is the stepping stone to love. You are awash with it when you give thanks for all that is good about your life. I would go far as to say gratitude is a life-sustaining component for a life well lived. When we focus on what is going right and on what we have, we move from the have-nots to the haves in an instant.

In fact, it really isn’t even about what you have that matters. What matters is what you think about what you have.

Consider a time when you were mad at someone. You tend to concentrate only on the incident — or the feelings that the incident brought up. But if you take a moment to look at the broader picture, you might shift your focus on all the good things that person has done. And the incident gets reduced to the size it deserves.

An attitude of gratitude brings us back to our center. And gratitude brings us love, which heals our fears like nothing else can. To move front and center into love we must remember that to have love we must give it.

Love can exist anywhere at any time.

Love starts with you.