The Backward and Hateful Mind

Nestled in the aggregate air of three countries rolled into one atmosphere, I lay awake one starry night to ponder the hating heart. We arrived to our campground on Lake Constance that borders Switzerland, Germany and Austria to the news of a gun shooting at a nearby club just miles from our site. We later ambled to a shopping centre, looking for a chaise lounge, only to see the yellow crime scene tape of the shut down club fluttering in the wind next to the store we intended to enter.

Death’s pallor held sway over us for the remainder of the day. We held our children a little tighter that night and into the following morning. Then news of the neo-Nazi pro-Robert E Lee monument rally in my hometown of Charlottesville, Virginia, hit my Facebook news feed. Standing in our camper in 90 degree heat, I stood slack-jawed and sucker punched at the close proximity of such madness. Again.

In a recent Newsweek article, Deepak Chopra speaks of the hateful brain in which tribalism, our inherent need to belong to a group, can dull our ability for empathy. And as we are entrenched in our own belief systems, we grow farther apart from people who don’t think like we do.

By any measure, it is incomprehensible for me to accept a set of beliefs that excludes an entire race or ethnic group or a group of human beings who love differently than I do. And yet neo-Nazis and white supremacists truly believe they are better and hold the exclusive right to existence.

It’s ludicrous. It’s backward. And it appears to be as prevalent today as it was before the Civil Rights movement.

I have argued unsuccessfully with many a right-wing mind over the past nine months. It has not brought me any closer to understanding why they are so angry, why they feel disenfranchised, unheard, excluded. Like an angry child who didn’t get his way, they stew in their maladjusted righteousness. But about what?

The United States is in trouble. Its political leadership is (in) trouble. Civil society is facing challenges it hasn’t seen since the 1960s. And yet a crowd ten times as large as the rally last Saturday in Charlottesville convened on the UVA Lawn to take it back from the vacuous vitriol the alt-right had sprayed across the grounds just days before and chanted “Love wins.” To regain the dignity of the town in which I grew up. Where I first saw the movie Star Wars. Where I got my ears pierced at the mall. Where I bought my first Levis. Where my family resides to this day.

Hatred lives in the brains of those disconnected from the greater good. How can we draw them back into the fold to seek the light and the love that will overcome the deleterious acts of the uninformed and angered?

I am for the winning team. I am for love. Are you?

 

Lonely Planet

Backpackers be warned. The planet has just gotten a little lonelier today.

Remember the days of yesteryear? When “Lonely Planet” stood for that dog-earred guide that led dusty travelers to the farthest corners of the Earth? To places of discovery and wonder? To waterfalls and arid deserts? To exotic temples and camel rides?

The Paris Agreement, an accord signed by 195 parties under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, is meant to reduce greenhouse gas emissions starting in 2020. The whole world, which is clearly impacted by climate change, came together under the agreement to combat its effects. To do something about it. To move from denial to definite action. It was a monumental decision and recognition that we are in this together. The environment does not recognize titles or boundaries or politics. It only knows how to do what it is designed to do.

Nature has unbounded intelligence. It can adapt. It will survive.

We may not.

The only exceptions to the signatories? The Holy See (Vatican) as it is an observer state; Nicaragua, whose emissary claims they are doing climate change on their own; and Syria, a country embattled in a civil war.

148 of those parties have ratified or acceded to the Agreement, even China and India, the countries with three of the four largest greenhouse gas emissions of the signatories’ total (about 42% together).

Where is the United States on the scale of greenhouse gas emissions? The country spews out 17.8% of the world’s greenhouse gas. And yet it represents only 4.34% of the world’s population. Hmmm….

And yet Trump, whose delusions of grandeur as he peers from his perch at the top of his world seem to grow with each passing tweet, has decided to poop in the world’s sandbox by withdrawing the United States from the agreement. He wants to push the coal industry and “save American jobs”. What he is doing is not only short-sighted, it also won’t work. The clean energy industry has surpassed traditional sources in jobs and innovation. China is spreading its green technology throughout Africa, for instance, a profitable opportunity the United States is missing completely.

According to a recent Sierra Club report based on the Department of Energy 2017 jobs data, “[c]lean energy jobs, including those from solar, wind, energy efficiency, smart grid technology and battery storage, vastly outnumber all fossil fuel jobs nationwide from the coal, oil and gas sectors. That includes jobs in power generation, mining, and other forms of fossil fuel extraction.”

The US President claims he works for the people of Pittsburgh, not the people of Paris. For starters, Paris was the location of the conference where the agreement was adopted on December 12, 2015, then entered into force November 4, 2016, just four days before the tragedy that is US politics unfurled with his election win. The best part is it was actually signed at the UN headquarters in New York City, just paces away from his place of residence.  If the man would take just a moment to cursorily review the document, and I mean just the title, he would see that it pertains to the whole world, which includes Pittsburgh, unless the city decides to secede from the planet, which could get interesting. Perhaps Trump would join them then. And we can finally put this whole thing to bed.

In other worlds, Trump is speaking to a handful of constituents at the expense of 7 billion other people.

It is yet another demonstration of the perils this fine nation intends to inflict upon the rest of the planet. And the deep, deep selfishness that fosters hatred in the hearts of those who despise his ignorance.

Yes, Trump, it’s lonely at the top. And as you alienate the country you claim to lead from everyone else, your fall will be even harder.

Why I choose to march

It is time to put on those Big Girl pants and act. I have comfortably, and often not so quietly, lashed out at the state of the world. While it may have felt good for the moment, I knew my days as self-important, indignant complainer were numbered.

The moment we lose the will to do something about an issue is the moment we lose our right to complain about it. We need to take action now.

Remarkably, I have come to terms with the fate of our nation, at least for the moment. But that does not mean I have resigned myself to it. Like many of you, I experienced the five stages of grief as I realized how much power we were handing off to a man filled with vitriol, viciousness and vindictiveness. I oscillated between anger and despair, practicing the utmost restraint (and failing miserably) to not be swept up in the online venting we have witnessed since November 8th. Every day we were fed new fodder from well-meaning celebrities or Senators or reporters. It seems to fan the flame of hatred, catapulting so many of us into a new level of confusion.

Not all of my online interactions have been bad. Many of you have helped me see what I can do to make a difference. I have called my senator, signed numerous online petitions, voluntarily watched C-Span (!) and shared information with people far and wide. It may have budged the conversation only a millimeter for a nanosecond, but doing something felt like a better choice than doing nothing at all while saying even less with a ton of empty words.

It seemed, for a while, that if I fed facts to the faltering followers of the PEOTUS, I would gain new ground. I would, in some hapless way, save the world from its self-inflicted insanity.

It may appear arrogant, and perhaps you are right. I see now that I was wrong. We all have our entrenched ways of thinking. Words alone will not do it. For a writer, it is a hard pill to swallow. After all, don’t we shape the world with the words we share?

Talk without action, words without movement, will do little to sway the hearts we so desperately wish to reach.

And so I will march. On January 21, 2017 I will join the marching million on this planet who care deeply about the future of our world. Places as far as Tblisi, Georgia, Calcutta, India and Dublin, Ireland, Lima, Peru and Nairobi, Kenya are joining together to show their support. To show they care.

This is not just an American issue.

The nearest march to me is taking place in France. It seems appropriate — no essential — as an American living in Germany to participate in an act of peaceful demonstration in France to support all that I have said I care about. While it is easy to cackle at the mean memes circulating on Facebook, it will do nothing to solve the issues we face.

And so I will march.

My son, who is a budding photographer, will join me. My love and his kids will too. We will stand on an historic place in Strasbourg that has showcased many a demonstration in the city’s long history. We will unite to show that action can speak louder than words.

And so we will march.

We will build bridges, not walls, dialogue, not diatribe. We will stand up for what we believe in.

And that is saying a lot.

 

Gettin’ Jiggy with Hygge

According to the World Happiness Report 2016, Denmark is the happiest country on the planet. If you’re thinking it’s because they have great health care, a substantial gross domestic product (GDP) per capita, an overall high life expectancy, social support, freedom, generosity and little corruption  — the criteria for happiness in this report — then you are right. They do. But they also have something else that I discovered the other day that is so aligned with the notion of Slow, I simply had to tell you about it.

You see, the Danes, aside from their fabulous butter cookies, have something that a lot of us do not. They have the notion of hygge, which sounds a lot like “hoo-guh”, which, in turn, sounds a lot like a cave man with a slight Irish lilt demanding a hug.

But that isn’t it at all, my friends. Hygge is the idea of going slow in the winter time. It is roughly translated to mean “coziness” (in German: Gemütlichkeit). After all, it gets light late and dark early for five months out of the year in Denmark. Yet they aren’t SAD from all that light deprivation (afflicted with Seasonal Affective Disorder). They are HAPPY. Thanks to the mental state of hygee.

Hygge says to embrace That Which Is; accept the darkness and leverage it to create a cozy atmosphere. Light candles, slow down, go within, reflect. Celebrate the now. Give yourself what you need – a visit to the sauna, healthy vitamin-rich food, warm meals, a fire in the fireplace, a hot water bottle at night, heat.

My daughter has set up her room such that her bed is in a darker corner of the room so the streetlights from outside aren’t nearly as visible. It is comfortable, warm and relaxing. In my view, it is the perfect hygge design.

Morning rituals in the winter time are different than in the summer time. Slippers and a bathrobe, a hot cup of coffee and warm food create a sense of nurturing to offset the piercing cold.

Warmth is not only a physical state. It’s a mental one too. The Danes figure snow and ice will slow you down so what’s the rush? Get jiggy with hygge. It’s cave time with the tempo to match.

 

Tug of War

It is so very tempting to split the world into us versus them. And if you examine yourself closely, you will recognize that there is a part of you that doesn’t look away when passing the scene of an accident. You might not physically look, but that 2% of yourself that wants to take a peek cranes its neck to look at the horror. So even in your “us”, you are a part of “them”.

Our fascination with the ugliness of life seems to be at an all-time high. We digest the diatribes, shake our weary heads at the injustice of the world, toss our hands heavenwards at the nasty behavior of a Delta Airlines passenger whose rants cost him a lifelong ban to ever fly with Delta again and feel sorry. So sorry. For ourselves and the state of our world.

Admittedly, I too have joined the lurking legions who read blog entries, newspaper articles and opinion pieces of those so deeply infuriated by the results of the US election. I am a part of the none too little fraction that is truly up in arms about the blatant lying and unfounded claims of Orange Boy. As I watch our society split into fractions, I realize that our anger is fueled by something even deeper than fear. It is fueled by hateful revenge on both sides.

You can’t build bridges by pointing fingers toward the other side of the river. You’ve got to make a plan, find common ground, view things from different angles and understand that together we are stronger. Apart we are broken. Apart we build walls. Apart we tear down cities, break hearts and destroy human dignity.

I am in no way condoning injustice or favoring acceptance of that which is utterly unacceptable. I am fighting for a collective spirit that is quickly evading my grasp.

(c) 2010 used with permission, Georg Sander, Flickr

(c) 2010 used with permission, Georg Sander, Flickr

A few years ago a boy in my son’s class was bullying my son. And so I went straight to the bully and said:

“You are far greater than this. What is going on? I mean really going on?”

The boy burst out in tears, saying his parents were separating and he was miserable. I gave him a big hug and told him his pain wouldn’t get any better by passing it on. Instead, it sounded like he needed a friend. And my son? He became that kid’s friend, easing his pain and letting him know he is not alone.

It may be hard to believe, but I truly do think that even that hillbilly on the Delta airlines flight loves his family. And if he does cry, he sheds salty tears like every other human being. His behavior was disruptive, grotesque and positively unacceptable. His outbreak frightened people. He has no right to do that. He should be prosecuted.

But he remains, as we all do, a human being. And we know human beings are capable of both good and bad. In fact, every human being is capable of both. Does a mean act justify an even meaner retaliation? If we lower ourselves to that level, we risk getting caught in a bottomless pit. When Orange Boy makes baseless claims, we retaliate not with meanness, but with cold hard facts.

As we tisk-tisk our way through Facebook, we may be frightened because we see our shadow side, that 2% we try so desperately to hide from the world. If you are human, you are able to build bridges or tear them down.

During these turbulent times, I am reminded of a beautiful Native American story. A grandfather tells his grandson that inside each one of us reside two wolves. One fights for goodness, justice and beauty. The other fights for evil, anger and wrong-doing. They are in a tug of war with one another at all times. When the grandson asked which one wins, the grandfather simply said:

“The one you feed.”

It takes the same amount of time to commit an act of kindness as it does to commit an act of meanness. How will you spend that time today?

 

Summer’s Farewell

The sun raskyys pierce through the open sky. The smell of decaying leaves fills the air. Summer gasps its last breath as we say fare-thee-well for another year.

I have never been at such peace to bid the hot months goodbye as I have been this year. Something has awakened within me to appreciate the very moment instead of mourning the passing of summer. I have somehow grown wiser, or more accepting, of the Earth’s need to pause.

A predictable deceleration takes hold as the days grow slightly shorter. The pressure to “go do something” eases as we tap into our inner chipmunks that seek dark places to hide in the warm shelter of our homes. Pumpkin soup suddenly seems appealing. Cooking is a treat once again. The rhythm of life slows as we match the pace of the weather patterns lulling us into hibernation.

It is okay to take it down a notch. To retreat to the depths of our caves. To reflect on a most spectacular season. To be alright with the nothingness that more restful times bring. It is no longer necessary to keep searching. Everything we have ever needed sits quietly in our laps.

I am so very grateful for this life. For the pain. For the joy. For the ever-present moment of now. Every bit of it. Spring. Summer. Fall. Winter. Each season plays a most significant role in our own becoming. The change of seasons grants us license to make our own radical changes where necessary. Such transformation, the Earth tells us, is the natural course of things. I find reassurance in its implicitness.

What used to feel like death to me is now merely a place in the cycle of life. It is so very beautiful to be a part of it all.

Would you agree?

 

Dejunking the Funk: A Tale of Spring Cleaning

While we may resist change, shaking things up a bit can help release loads of blocked energy. We don’t have to move house to move mountains. Sometimes it just takes rearranging what we’ve already got.

Blame it on the sunshine, but something got into me yesterday. For three years I’ve worked in my home office with the furniture pretty much in the same place. I added a couch and had to move a few shelves, but other than that, my desk always faced the window. In fact, it was the floor to ceiling wall of windows that convinced me this was the right apartment.

Dance floor office“Sunlight!” I belted out as I viewed the apartment for the first time. Standing in my now office, I waited until the other interested parties left before asking the realtor what papers I needed to sign. Somehow I knew this room in particular was special. South-facing with an adjacent balcony, my home office is my castle. It’s where I spend 90% of my waking hours.

In just one second of those hours, I realized yesterday afternoon that although I had the possibility of light, two things were blocking it: the couch, which rested against the bank of windows and my gargantuan iMac, which blocked my view almost entirely. How could I have been so blind? I mean wasn’t it the light that had attracted me in the first place? Only I had shut it out by the way I placed my furniture. I found myself decluttering, rearranging, dusting, mopping and expanding the space by merely putting things in a different order. I now have a dance floor in the middle of the room. The desk is against the wall, the couch is against another one and the bank of windows can now do its job so much better.

All because I suddenly saw possibility where there was none before.

It got me to thinking about how we do this often in our lives. We block out the very things we want, believing somehow that there is no other way. We are blind to our own potential and to what we already have access to. We think things will never change. Until we make that first step that leads to another and another and another. The next thing we know, we are dancing in the middle of the room. In the light. And we wonder why we never saw it before.

If you’re stuck, dejunk the funk in your life. Clear those cobwebs. Make one little change. Sift through a single drawer and remove what’s not working for you.

My astonishing realization yesterday? One baby step can literally bring the mountain to you.

 

 

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.

The Bud Before the Bloom

The light hit my face with an intensity I hadn’t felt in months as the sky filled the world with a new kind of preciousness.

Spring had finally come.

Do you know the feeling that you are about to burst with something completely new, utterly surprising, absolutely amazing, like a bud before the bloom? You have no evidence that something incredible is about to happen, but you just know it will? It lies deep within your inner knowing and it makes you smile as you take a peek at the potential before you.

magic of springWhen we live with the anticipation of wonderfulness, it is as if that wonderful thing has already happened. We then attract even more wonderfulness and pretty soon our entire lives have shifted because of that one decision to believe that our dreams will come true.

It takes:

  • Complete acceptance of the moment. Live it fully. Know that you are exactly where you should be. Right now.
  • A full release of any expectation that things should be different,  but a knowing that you can change things any time you want.
  • An embrace of your personal responsibility. You are the master of your ship. Where do you want it to go?
  • A deep listening to your inner voice. You can only hear it in stillness. So be still. Often.
  • An unshakable belief in yourself and in the fulfillment of dreams.

Waiting for wonders isn’t a bad thing. In fact, you experience them every day if you have the eyes to see them. It isn’t the big ones that deserve our attention, but the tiny miracles that unfold with every breath we take.