How Great (Thou) Art

These are bewildering times. As I follow the growing dis-ease on the international political stage, I retreat to the theatrical one, from which I draw endless strength. In the shadows behind the curtains, I can smell the mystery and anticipation of that golden moment the performing arts can carry.

But it isn’t easy,” said Pooh. “Because poetry and hums aren’t things which you get, they’re things which get you. And all you can do is to go where they can find you.”

Indeed, the beauty of art is a magnificence to behold. After a week in the Swiss Alps near the Matterhorn, observing and interviewing over a dozen artists whose bodies are their art form, I have come to realize two things:

  1. Art is like air. We need it to breathe.
  2. Nature heals and holds us high.

Sometimes we forget in the rush of things how important the simple aspects of life are to nurture us and make us whole again. Then, with a gentle nudge from happenstance, we become transformed as we stumble upon a magical moment. Maybe we pay an unexpected visit to an art gallery or attend a performance that moves us so deeply as we witness the connection between artist on stage and the audience below.

In my case it was Viktor Kee, the world’s best juggler whose act has been featured in Cirque du Soleil numerousIMG_6290 times. He is a mild-mannered fellow who likes to laugh. He told me he is always nervous before every performance, which is a good thing. “The moment I am no longer nervous is the moment I must stop doing this.” Adrenaline gives you a laser-like focus. You can’t be distracted, thinking about what you’re going to cook for dinner when you do circus arts. Keep your eye on the ball. At all times.

Elayne Kramer, a world-class contortionist and a sixth generation member of an Argentinian circus family, told me she has no regrets. “The road is my home. When I arrive to my house in Florida, I am IMG_6300on vacation. But I can’t stand it there for long. I was born to do what I do.” She has appeared on the Ellen DeGeneres Show and Good Morning America. Her charm, grace and balance will knock your socks off.

The commitment these acrobats have for their art is remarkable. A couple from Colombia told me when they perform time stands still. They lose all sense of pain and feel like they ‘are floating in the air. By the looks of their performance, they are!

And so, when poetry does not come to us, we must go to the place where it can find us again. Where we can put the pieces back together of our shattered hearts and remember that these times too shall pass.

And the show? Well, yes. The show will go on.

 

 

Five Ways to Start your Slow New Year

2016 is around the corner. As with every New Year, we have grand intentions to start it off right. We promise to exercise more, eat better and be nicer to ourselves and the world around us.

You know me. Going Slow is my thing. It may not be yours, but a self-paced life is definitely worth checking out. If you’re not sure where to start on the road to heart-based living, consider these options.

5 Ways to Start Your Slow New Year

  1. Greet the day. How you start your day is often how it ends. Begin the day by repeating a mantra or saying that gets your creative juices flowing. It can be as concise as “Welcome to a new day!” or a longer statement that reinforces your life’s purpose.
  2. Show gratitude often. A simple “thank you” can go a long way in making you feel better and those around you too. If you focus on what you have rather than what you don’t, you’ll be amazed at how long that list really is.
  3. Clean house. That includes removing toxic relationships or attitudes. If you’re struggling with your personal relationships, for instance, seek guidance from others who have been there. Arielle Ford’s new release Turn Your Mate into Your Soulmate is an excellent guide in ramping up your love life no matter what age you are.
  4. Embrace Nature. Digging in the dirt – even potted plants – has been proven to improve mental and physical health. In fact, a recent study from The Sage Colleges shows that gardening is as effective (and addictive!) as Prozac. Now that’s sage advice!
  5. Take an artist’s break. In her best-selling book The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron suggests taking a few minutes each day to feed your inner artist. Art is balm for the soul. Can’t get away from the office? Then let the art come to you. Internationally acclaimed photographer Klaus Polkowski has an online gallery with black & white photography from five continents that will knock your socks off! Delve into his images for some Slow inspiration.

It is not time that flies by. We do. The good news is you don’t have to join the race. You can decide to dance instead. The choice is yours. Always.

Fine reading to kick-start your Slow New Year


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.

 

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.

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.

 

Mystery Unfolding

Wouldn’t life be grand if only it would work out according to plan — I mean our plan. You know the one. All neatly folded and earmarked and tagged with colorful sticky notes that indicate the direction, timing and course of All Things.

And then Life, as it is, unfolds. Exactly as it should. But not exactly as we think it should. Kids get sick. Or angry. Or defiant. Clients move on — without you. Love gets lost. Then found again in a completely surprising, delicious and wondrous form.

I draw strength from Elizabeth Gilbert, kindred spirit of words and author of my ultimate favorite book Eat, Pray, Love. She admitted today on Facebook that she was to go to India tomorrow, a place I also want to visit some day. It had been 11 years since her last visit there. Due to a medical situation she had to change her plans. But not without a fight first.

All I was thinking about — even as the doctor was reviewing my results — was how to salvage this India trip, by any means necessary. At first, I negotiated quite hard against my doctor, trying to talk her out of her diagnosis, trying to convince her that my situation wasn’t really that big a deal, and that my treatment could wait. (Curiously, she was unmoved by my strong and completely un-medical opinion!)

Indeed I can relate to her unwillingness to surrender to her reality. How often do we fight against reality, only to lose on average, according to Byron Katie, 100% of the time?

My son admitted to me tonight that his failing grades might mean he has to repeat a grade.

“So what?” I said. “I have seen you work hard. You want to do well. And you’ve done your best. Trust the timing of things.”

Gilbert’s initial resistance to her medical reality gave way to broader insights, which I also shared with my despairing son.

1) Listen to your body. It speaks a language far smarter than any dialect we can speak.

2) Honor reality. It will win every time.

3) If something is not meant to be, then it is not meant to be — for reasons that you may never even know. You can fight against the timing of your life, or you can trust in it. The flow and the peace will only return when you learn to trust.

My son’s final shudder of relief and an exhalation of elation told me that life’s mystery is what we most honor, not the thoughts, agendas and mind maps we have in our heads.

Trust the mystery unfolding. It’s our beautiful companion. Our failure lies not in our lack of fulfilling what we think we should, but in not accepting that which is.

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.

 

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.

That Special Kind of Crazy

If there is one thing I’ve learned as a creative professional, you must always nurture your special kind of crazy.

I deal with business people. A lot. The ones who have been successful have never conformed. They’ve danced outside of the box – and sometimes danced outside of time — to create new things. I get a kick out of tapping into their crazy just as much as I do tapping into my own.

New things can’t come from old things. They can only come from that deepest part of ourselves, like Middle Earth, that is always burbling with energy. If we put a cap on that place, we will never access our fullest potential. And we will be doomed to doing what everybody else does.

That’s like signing your crazy’s death certificate.

A sad thought indeed.

Being a little crazy fosters creativity. Laughter keeps it loose. Being dead serious is a sure-fire way to clamp down on that uniqueness.

Dangle from a limb every once in a while. See what happens. Imagine what life would resemble if everyone lived out their creativity, like a life-long series of Burning Man moments.

Surround yourself with people who spark up your joy, but know that your joy always comes from within. In fact, if you show your inner joy every day, your crazy will shine through too. And it may just set off a new kind of revolution by engaging others in their special kind of crazy too.

I see it. Do you?

 

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.