Slow Road to Everything

Sustainability takes time. If you want something to last, you need to go slow. Want good grades? Study often. Want more fitness? Exercise often. Want to play the flute? Practice often. Want better relationships? Listen often.

Good things can come from repetition. A fabulous relationship isn’t built in a day. It takes years to build, then sustain trust.

So I’m worried. Our relations with our Middle Eastern neighboring countries isn’t looking so good. We’re embracing the default us versus them mentality. We aren’t looking at the deeper realities. We see what we want to see. Nothing good can come from retaliation. It’s shortsighted. And the bullying goes on.

Last night I started really thinking about forgiveness. It is the slow road to everything. It takes time to release the hurts of the past. But it is possible. It truly is.

Below I compiled a few words of forgiveness. Please feel free to add yours.

  • Two wrongs make two wrongs. One wrong + forgiveness = the beginning of something wonderful.
  • If someone wronged you, reach for forgiveness. It will set you free. I promise.
  •  No wrongful act is ever justified. But forgiveness always is.
  • Gratitude – and its cousin joy – comes automatically when we learn to let things go.
  • Die Liebe hat eine enorme Kraft. Vergebung ebenso (Love has enormous power; as does forgiveness).
  • Forgiveness isn’t about another person. It’s about you.
  • When we move out of the shadows of hatred, we can shed the light of forgiveness.
  • I don’t know about you; but when I hold on to shit, it stinks.
  • Nothing is more moving than grief turned into forgiveness. We may lose a lot in this life, but what we gain through those experiences is immeasurable.
  • Regret is about holding onto the past; forgiveness paves the way for the future.

Why should we forgive? Because the alternative harms everyone; including yourself.

The Peacemakers

Flash back to 1990. American University. Washington, D.C. I studied peace and conflict with a professor who had been tortured. He of all people had reason to be angry. But he wasn’t. He saw the importance of bringing peace to a war-torn world. And he taught us that conflict can only be resolved when you make peace with yourself.

The news of Paris brought me to my knees today. My life partner and I stared at the screen, holding hands and crying for the people who were directly affected by senseless acts of violence. I felt a deep sense of loss, as if a piece of myself had died with them. Later today I felt a surging need to make the wrongs of my own past right and reached out to a few people who hurt me deeply. It only felt right to stop my internal warfare. I did it for the people of Paris. I did it for world peace. I did it for me.

We often carry bad feelings around with us. Past hurts we thought had healed really won’t until we forgive. It starts with each one of us.

I have been studying peace for twenty-five years. And it wasn’t until today that I realized war begins with individuals. People fight for a cause — and against nations to push through their own agendas. They ban together, using strength in numbers and random acts of violence to grab the world’s attention. We often think we need bodies of governance such as the United Nations or the European Union to bring peace to the world. But what we really need is to make peace within. If we do that, we reverberate that forgiving power to the rest of our lives. Others are positively impacted by our willingness to forgive. Our willingness to love. Our willingness to be kind.

So what do you need to begin your own peace negotiations?

Trust. Trust yourself. Trust your truest intentions. Trust that your gesture of forgiveness will garner its own reward for it will bring you eternal grace.

Listen. Listen to yourself. Listen to others. Lend a caring ear to those who are hurting. Show them they matter.

Risk. Risk being vulnerable. Risk rejection. Risk the chance to make amends. Build on that momentum and you will be free no matter how others respond.

Love. Above all else, love yourself. Be kind. Accept your imperfections. They make up who you are. Know that you deserve Big Love. If you give it freely, it will return to you.

Fear won’t heal the world.

Loving kindness and the courage to forgive in the face of our ubiquitous pain and suffering will.

Expectation Management and the Crush of Instant Everything

Disappointment comes from the mind, forgiveness from the heart. When faced with frustrating — and frustrated — reactions, my instinct is to run for cover. I have to fight it like a wasp at a beer garden. Chasing away the feeling of dis-ease isn’t easy. Nor is it really possible. The more I push, the deeper the feeling entrenches itself in my very being. It’s like getting lost in a labyrinth with no conceivable way out.

The only thing left to do in moments when the world seems to be speaking a different language than yours is to sit with it. Allowing for bad feelings takes away their power. Fighting them simply feeds it.

When I first learned German, I had to learn how to be comfortable with not really knowing what was going on, what people where saying or what might happen next. It has been a life lesson to remain centered without proper information. And when you get false information or misinterpreted data, that’s when things can really fall apart. Add to it someone else’s blame or lack of understanding and it starts to sting like a bee.

We have so many ways of communicating today – now more than ever. And yet the quality of that communication has been replaced with fast and furious texting, emails and instant messages. I don’t know about you, but I’m not made for this instant world. Instant, in many cases, has taken the place of intimacy.

Speaking to the God within everyone is my intention. Sometimes I fail. Miserably. My ego lashes out; feelings get hurt (including my own) and I start to wonder how I got to this place. My best friend then reminds me that I too am a perfectionist, albeit a reluctant one. If I could just ease up those expectations for a moment, things would be a lot easier. But then she reminds me that that is who I am and why I get to live the way I do. I never stop questioning, even when I sometimes don’t really want to hear the answer.

“It is a privilege to live out who you really are,” she advised.

I think it is a necessity.

Slow is where I am meant to be and having recently listened to a number of people feeling the crush of instant everything, it may soon be a world that more people join too.

The Sliding Holiday Scale

September and October used to be the months of fall with colorful splashes of pumpkin orange and blue skies. If you were to believe the retailers, however, you would think it was Christmas. Since early September — before my kids even returned to school — grocery stores have been selling holiday sweets. At times the thermometer read 25C (78°F) and the chocolate Santas sweat alongside us at the check-out counter.

The saturation of holiday cheer well before we’re even thinking about roasting chestnuts by an open fire got me to thinking. What are the holidays really about? I mean before consumerism took over and everyone strapped on their boots for the mad rush to the local mall?

For me it is about reinforcing what is truly important in my life. And for me, that is family.

Ussed with permission by Lifetime

Ussed with permission by Lifetime

Lifetime is running a series of somewhat sappy, yet heart-touching movies around the holidays. Of the half-dozen screeners I could have watched, I selected to review “A Gift-Wrapped Christmas” airing November 28, 2015 at 8 pm ET/PT and starring Meredith Hagner (Men at Work), Travis Milne (Rookie Blue) and Beverley Mitchell (7th Heaven). The film is about a personal shopper who falls in love with her workaholic client. While the protagonist may seem to represent our consumer-oriented thinking around the holidays, the underlying message really touched me – her selfless striving to make others happy with her personal gift selections turns her grouchy client into the soft, loving puppy he was prior to his wife’s untimely death. While one could argue you don’t really need expensive Italian suits to make you happy, the movie’s message goes beyond the drive to buy people’s love to a more subtle meaning of the holidays. We love; therefore we give.

So before you stumble over yet another holiday decoration at the downtown mall, turn up the fires of your heart to remember what really counts, no matter the season.


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?