The Death of an Icon

“Listen to yourself and in that quietude you might hear the voice of God.” – Maya Angelou’s final tweet, May 23, 2014

Maya Angelou has died. Her autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings haunted me in college and I continued to follow her poetry and magic for the rest of her life.

Her elegance and eloquence despite much hardship made us all stronger. And her intensity inspired me to continue writing even when I didn’t want to.

I am sad to see her go.

Whenever someone of such influence passes away, I am particularly saddened — and reminded of how precious this life truly is. Yet we often live as if there is always a tomorrow.

There may not be.

It isn’t easy to be mindful every moment of every day. Life bogs us down with responsibility, pain and constant demands. In the face of all of it, it is understandable that we may lose sight of what is truly important because we are so preoccupied with just getting through the day.

Which is why it is so crucial to start each day with a reminder of your broader vision. Stating your daily proclamation really does make a difference in how you start — and spend — your day.

A morning mantra is a great way to say a blessing to the gift of another day on this Earth. And to remain centered when storms swirl around us.

Having a bad day? This too is a gift. You may not think it at the time, but that puzzle piece is just as critical to your life’s mosaic as the beautiful gems we all love to see.

May Maya rest among the angels now – her strength and beauty are a true testament to the human spirit and to the fact that we can make a difference if we listen to our calling.

Maya did. I hope with all my might to do the same.

 

Love and Magic

swanWhere there is love, there is magic.

Where there is magic, there is mystery.

Where there is mystery, there is life.

Where there is life, there is love.

Amazing how that works, right?

If you’re not feeling the yin and yang of life, just remember it is like air — it is so very obvious to our existence and yet we cannot see it. We can only see the evidence of its existence. Like up and down. In and out. Yeah and nay. Heaven and hell.

Like that.

Yin and yang are two opposites that fold into each other beautifully. They match. And they need each other to complete the circle.

Of life.

Of ferris wheels.

Of Lollipops.

Like that.

So if you are wondering where that love is and you’re just not seeing it, well, my friend, then just be it.

Be the love you seek.

And then the magic will come. Sometimes from the strangest places indeed.

And well, the rest goes without saying.

Are you with me?

The Many Forms Blessings Take

Blessings are often cloaked in the funniest of shapes and sizes. Sometimes you think the worst thing is happening, when in reality it is the force that is going to set you free. It’s its own special kind of liberation when you bust through those old belief systems.

Sometimes things are exactly as they seem. Sometimes they are not. What’s important is that you learn from everything. Take it all in. Every bit of it.

If you have had your ups and downs, then you know that your life has been filled with many, many blessings. They are the riches beneath the ruins. They are what make our lives so interesting.

After a particularly disappointing professional moment, my sister reminded me that the ending of one opportunity makes room for an even greater one. It’s like pulling up weeds in your garden. You clear the space for better things to grow.

Our ground cannot remain fertile if we don’t till it. And tilling requires a certain kind of upheaval. Without it things would stagnate. Of course too much upheaval isn’t good either; but a little shake every now and then keeps things fresh.

One thing I’ve learned is that a risk-free life is a boring one. So, after avoiding disappointment for years, I decided to give things a go even when failure was imminent.

If you listen to your internal GPS, it doesn’t matter if you ‘fail’ or not. What matters is that you tried at all. And besides, as I recently wrote, failure isn’t failure if you gave it all you’ve got.

Yes, even when things don’t work out as you think, blessings crop up in the place of that disappointment. If we move to the rhythm of our own hearts, we cannot lose.

The heart is stronger than steel.

Love can move mountains.

And that, my friends, is a blessing all of its own.

 

power-of-slow_dust-jacket.jpg

Want a change? Try a new lens.

Life can be so rich when we open our eyes.

Because two of the most wonderful people in my life spend a great deal of time behind cameras, capturing the moment in that amazing, craftful way, I have started to look at the world in a new way too. With a new pair of eyes.

It’s sometimes overwhelming – all that beauty. I even look at garbage men in a new way. All because of my love and his camera and his heart (and the job he had to photograph those pre-dawn heroes who whisk away our trash). All that insight seeps onto the photo paper, beyond the frame and into our souls. It goes bone deep. And stays there.

I equate that significant shift in perspective to a Sudoku puzzle. You have a square with 81 boxes. Each row, both vertical and horizontal, can only contain one number from one to nine. On some days I can solve a Sudoku puzzle in minutes. On other days I simply don’t see the pattern. I am blind to it. That’s when it is time to put it away for another day. And yet, with a fresh night’s sleep and a different view, I can suddenly see that which was before me all along.

Only I couldn’t see it before now, no matter how hard I tried.

It is funny how much of our lives is impacted by our view of things. We have so much. And yet often we only see that which we don’t have. It’s a devil’s circle of thinking, a downward spiral to an endless abyss of crankiness.

That’s when we need to lift ourselves off the page, grab a new lens, seek a new scene. And suddenly, those missing puzzle pieces snap into place.

Our greatest obstacles in life are ourselves. 

When you feel stuck, put on a new lens. Give it a try. Trust that you have the power to make a change. Because that new outlook won’t come from a store-bought magazine. Or a bottle of wine. Or thousands of hours of watching TV.

That shift can only ever come from you.

The Value of Failure

If at first you do not succeed, try, try again.

Let’s face it. Success is sweet. And we want it more than we want the smudgy, sweaty, stinky sensation of having given it our all only to flop altogether.

But over the years, I have learned that while success is sensational, failure has its own flavor of wonderfulness too.

Wisdom is born out of failure. Sure, when you win, you learn what worked — that time. But when you fail, you learn so much more about yourself and the world around you. You get to find out who your friends are — and who isn’t. Those who run at the first sign of trouble are the ones you don’t let back in. Those who stick it out even when you aren’t smiling, serving up hors d’oeuvres and smelling like a rose are the ones worth everything.

And then there is the matter of what you learn from what didn’t work. Every once in a while I come across an old book proposal and a wave of compassion rises up in my chest.

“God, what work I put into this! And not a single editor could care less…”

Then a subtle feeling of gratitude settles in. I really tried. It didn’t work. Next.

Is it really failure to have put your heart and soul into something (or someone) only to not get what you anticipated?

I think not.

If you have given your best and the door slams in your face, you haven’t lost a thing. You have actually gained great insight.

We sometimes stomp our feet when things don’t go according to plan. But thank goodness they don’t. Imagine if we could control simply everything about our lives, about what happens to us, about what succeeds and what doesn’t. What a load of responsibility that would be!

I’m happy to leave it up to the Universe. And to listen to its call. Therein lies the key.

Letting things unfold is a much more relaxing approach in my mind. Learning to accept that which is and to see the universal good in life keeps us supple and ready to go for that next cup of gold.

So what if things haven’t worked out the way you thought they would. That just means you aren’t done learning yet.

In fact, until our last breath, we are at risk of failing time and again.

And that is what makes life so very rich indeed.

Why Friendships are Soul Food

“The only way to have a friend is to be one.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

A few weeks ago I took a test. It was meant to determine what my values are and to see what kind of job would be most suitable for me.

The results weren’t surprising. According to the test, I value relationships above everything else.

I am in public relations, after all. It reinforced that I am in the right industry. And it got me to thinking about values and relationships and the decisions I have made because of them.

I have no regrets.

Regret is a wasted emotion in my book because we are all on our own journey. Every aspect of our lives is essential to get us to where we are meant to go.

Sure, we can optimize things. The Power of Slow is about optimizing how you spend your time by spending it on what is most important to you and getting rid of all the yucky, distracting stuff we do to compensate for not getting what we want.

And that gets us back to our value system.

Friends and family are most important to me. They are my soul food. Over the years, I have travelled hundreds of thousands of miles to see the people I love. And I have never regretted a single moment I have spent with each and every one of them.

As a dear old friend told me on the phone just yesterday: “You won’t remember how expensive that trip was. You will remember the time, not the money, you spent.”

In a way it is hard, having friends all over the world because I can only be in one place at one time. And so we have to choose with whom we will spend our time.

Choose wisely. Embrace the ones you love. Remove toxic relationships from your life because your time is better spent with people worthy of you.

You never know if this moment is the final one. Treat it as a gift. Give of that gift generously. And you will be the very friend you seek.

Don’t you just love how that works?

 

The Legacy of Time

The years tumble by. On the eve of my daughter’s fifteenth birthday, I think about where I was then and where I am now. Children are the best measure of time. They show us that the cycle of life is never-ending.

Nothing is as gratifying as watching children grow. They open their eyes to a new world. And they open ours too.

Sure, we make mistakes. We learn. We laugh. We cry. We jump. We shout. We get it all out. Such is the content of our lives.

My mom’s best friend once told me that once you have a child, you forever wear your heart on your sleeve.

Nothing is truer than that.

Children keeps us honest, even when we don’t want to be. They are miracles – every one of them.

We were once children. Now we are grown. We get to pass along the lessons of our time here. If we accomplish that, we will have served our purpose.

Even for those of us who don’t have children of our own, we still role-model for the next generation in everything we do.

They are watching us. Every moment of every day.

If we keep our heads down and eyes latched to our smartphones, we might miss a lot. Including that first step from babyhood to childhood, from childhood to adulthood.

It comes faster than you think.

So unplug today. Connect in real time. With real people right in front of you.

After all, what legacy do you want to leave behind?

The Floodgates of Gratitude

Gratitude makes us happier. So how can we get more grateful to get more happiness?

Here’s how it works: joy and gratitude are related. The more grateful you are, the more joyful you become. And because you are joyful, you increase your level of gratitude for — well — everything. Pretty soon, you are bursting with so much joy that people start to wonder what you’re up to. And that’s where the fun really gets going.

Gratitude starts with looking at what you have. Somehow we have been conditioned to strive for that which we have not yet attained. That gets us on the hamster-wheel-gotta-run-faster track. We race. We sweat. We grab at the dangling carrot. But somehow it is just out of our reach because every time we think we’ve ‘got it now,’ we get sidetracked with something ‘even better’. That kind of thinking will make you certifiably crazy. Or it’ll kill you. Whichever comes first.

Instead of engaging in the imaginary race to nowhere, what if we were to slow down for a moment and take inventory of all the things we already have?

It’s like cleaning out the basement (which I did recently – God bless you, Klaus. That was a grateful experience!). You suddenly can’t believe how many plastic forks you possess that you will never, ever use again. Or all the things we accumulate over the years — that china cup we held lovingly in our hands as we opened it under the Christmas tree; the basket we filled with food for our family; the handbag we once thought fashionable, but now is simply embarrassing. We realize how much we have lived by the scars our possessions carry. For some of us, they are evidence that we have lived at all.

Maybe you don’t have a basement full of stuff, but I bet you have more than you realize when you start to look around you. Instead of looking at the missing cash in your bank account, start looking at the filled hearts that surround you — because of you.

In my view, relationships enrich our lives far more than anything we could ever possess such as a boat, a fancy car or a vacation home. It is nice to have those things, but if it means taking away lots of time from the people I love to get them, I’d rather pass.

Open the floodgates of gratitude today. Count the many, many blessings you have. Share them with others, including how grateful you are for those people.

Gratitude, like laughter, is contagious. You may just spark a revolution with your awesomeness.

And well, by golly, that just creates more gratitude and joy and juice.

You see where I’m going with this?

The Garden

If you were to think of your life as a garden, what would you plant? Maybe you’d have patches of vegetables or beds of flowers. Perhaps you’d have a few fruit trees right in the middle. Whatever you sow, one thing is for certain: your garden can only grow if you tend to it.

We all have segments of our lives that are full of weeds. And those areas change, depending on the situation. Tilling the soil every now and then is a good idea. But sometimes you also have to let it rest — or lay fallow — for new growth to appear.

For anyone who has ever planted a seed, you know you can’t pull at the seedling to make it grow faster. It rises from the Earth all on its own — and in its own time. All we can do is guide it to its fullest potential by giving it what it needs such as water and sunlight. The rest is up to Nature.

The same applies to our lives. We do what we can to live in a thriving garden. Sometimes storms knock down our plants, topple our orchard or flood our flower beds. But with each cycle comes deeper wisdom of how we might protect our gardens next time.

Roots grow stronger when they are allowed to unfold slowly.

So if you are in a rush today, stop for just a moment and ask yourself if you really need to go this fast. Remember the seed. Honor its time.

And never, ever forget to breathe.