The Alignment of Heart and Head

Kindness has a broader reach than hatred, which trickles in the snow like blood, standing frozen, marring beauty, seeping into the deep, but going nowhere.

Kindness has a gentler bounce, a firmer foundation, a more profound penetration. It is like silk to hatred’s dirty rags. Kindness, once rendered, shows up again and again. Hatred leaves frayed edges. It jangles its chains, spewing fumes of funk and fantasy. It settles into exhausted minds, confuses, leads astray.

Sowing seeds of kindness or, as I like to put it, sprinkling fairy dust wherever we go, starts with a single ripple. It is a quieter motion than hatred’s tsunami wave. But it is more sustaining and sustainable. It rocks like a cradle, lulling us into a calming centeredness.

When my children were tiny tots, I would tell them the story of Mr. Heart and Mr. Head. Mr. Head was always wanting to have his way. He demanded chocolate for breakfast, never brushed his teeth and insisted that it was his way or the high way. Mr. Heart would gently ask Mr. Head if he thought it was a good idea to do those things. Mr. Head’s standard response was always the same:

“I want what I want when I want it!”

Then Mr. Head would get or do what he wanted and his remorse was nearly immediate. Mr. Heart would then hug him and say, “And the lesson learned? Don’t eat chocolate for breakfast (or fill in the blank)!”

The stories were meant to acknowledge my children’s rather irrational desires while teaching them that better choices were available to them. Emotion-driven decision making can lead to disaster (and cavities!). But more importantly, an alignment between the heart and the head is important to lead a great life.

What I have witnessed over the past few months is a tsunami of emotion, which can be helpful when balanced with rational thought. It is my plea that we choose kindness over hatred, principles over populism. It means taking a stand for what we believe in, maintaining our standards and using our anger to make the world more just. Pretending that we are not angry is not kind. Being “nice” for the sake of a harmony that is not justified is not kind. It is false. Applying those emotions to create a better space for everyone, based on decisions that have a lasting, positive impact, is the right thing to do.

I think Mr. Heart – and eventually Mr. Head – would agree.

Angry? Go Off(line)

The dream ended with a thought: one day even the Internet will be obsolete. One day everything will be.

The thought comforted me as I snapped on my phone in the middle of the night, unable to sleep as the turmoil of the past few weeks clouded my mind. It was most un-Slow of me to look to my phone for comfort instead of meditating or even doing one of those adult coloring books. But then, I thought, so what? In my recent efforts to be mindful, I have become too full of mind and less of the heart.

And so we return to the Source of All Things. That lovely energy that flows through us more strongly than any petulant, careless tweet from Orange Boy.

Love.

As I lay with my mind’s eye wide open, I tapped into that love flow. After a few deep breaths,  I caught the wave and harmonized with its intention.

We are here to make a positive difference. We are here to learn from one another. And to teach one another how we want to be treated.

Being a parent has helped me understand the value of being a role model in the world. How we behave truly matters. The Internet is not exactly the best place to be when trying to model good behavior on a bad day. It’s too tempting to engage in low-level anger. Flame wars and misinformation rage, especially in times of great distress. The term “information overload” has taken on a new meaning as we struggle to sort through the data and our own feelings about it.

Life offers us so many opportunities to show up greatly. We get to choose at any given moment how we wish to be. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it does not. But with every choice we make, we add a lesson to the overall curriculum of our lives.

And so when a friend, or someone you thought was a friend, turns his or her back on you, that person was meant to do so. Consider it sharpening the tools in your toolbox. You understand life is the greatest teacher. Perhaps that person was developing in a different way than you are. That’s okay. Let it go.

And when a client turns foul-mouthed, learn from it. His behavior speaks volumes. Walk away.

And when your family causes you great despair, know that it is a part of the great experiment called life. We cannot control other people’s actions or feelings, only our own.

Magic is everywhere if you have the eyes to see it. Believe it is so and it will be.

Slow Childhood

“Seven hours of consecutive sleep.” That was my birthday wish after having Kid #2. My mother laughed and promised me this phase would be over before I knew it. At the time, that fact didn’t penetrate my sleep-deprived brain. I didn’t believe her.

Now I do.

One minute they are drooling and observing wakeful hours whilst everyone else is asleep; the next minute they are interviewing for summer jobs and wowing the pants off you.

Children. They grow up too fast. I advocated a Slow Childhood for my kids, trying to stave off the electronic invasion into their innocent young lives. Step by step they got cell phones (“only for emergencies”), then an Xbox (“only for rainy days”), a laptop (“only for schoolwork”) and ultimately an iPad (“only to listen to their grandfather’s stories”).

Only these things serve multiple purposes and before you know it, you have lost the battle of Slow in their increasingly fast lives.

So I introduced “gadget-free zones”, which they pretty much observe (or feel incredibly guilty about when they do not). And family meals, which is mandatory in my house almost every day. And when it comes to major family gatherings, they will go whether they like it or not. Luckily, they like it a lot.

Although I have spent my entire post-child career working from home and have had ample opportunity to bear witness to their daily lives, I am still amazed that, despite my very best efforts, their childhood is nearly over. I find myself hanging out in my daughter’s room, using the excuse that “the light is better here” to apply my make-up. But what I really want is to spend yet another precious minute with her. To be in her space. To take in her aroma. To feel connected just a little longer.

Or I’ll create a reason to ask my son something as he flips through YouTube videos. Through his closed door I listen closely to his laughter and to the clock ticking away another minute of our togetherness.

In my own personal assessment, I am far from a hovercraft mother. I have allowed my kids to fly transatlantically on their own with layovers in foreign countries at the age of 12 and 14. I have sent them to camps and school trips and to friends’ houses for overnights. In their eyes, I am Mama Bear, who growls the instant her young are in danger. “Or perceived danger, Mom. Sheesh!” Somewhere, deep down, I believe they love that protective side of me. But they never fail to complain — or laugh — about it.

We may not be able to hold back time, but we can enjoy the precious moments we have. As I watch my kids grow into young adults, I am made fully aware that each day represents another unit in our personal bank account of time on the road to the end of our days.

It is my greatest hope that they embrace the Power of Slow along that journey. Then I will know I have taught them well.

 

The Wings to Fly

Time is the most precious resource we have. How we spend our days informs how we experience life. We are challenged, but that is not what matters. What counts is how we move forward even when obstacles cross our paths.

Watching children grow into young adults is incredibly gratifying. As parents, we are tasked with giving them wings. We walk a fine line between granting them too much attention and not enough. We pray we get it right. Sometimes we do. Sometimes we do not. My guideline has always been to hold the space for their greatness while giving them room to breathe. The only way they can figure out who they are is to let them join the inquiry. Simply telling them won’t help. Allowing them time to show themselves will.

Last week I gave my son his first “real” camera. The look on his face was priceless as he held his beloved Pentax in his hands for the first time. It was as if he had received meaning and purpose and the tools to live out his life in a powerful way. The next morning as he talked about camera settings, angles and lenses, I realized his wings had grown exponentially and in that second, I saw he now has the ability to flap away from me. It was a bittersweet moment. One day he will.

Letting go is a hard thing. We want to protect our progeny with all our might, knowing full well that we cannot shield them from the world. Not really. We trust, as they ride their bikes to school or take trains and airplanes to far away places, that others will observe traffic rules and other regulations. We must relinquish control and believe in the goodness of everyone.

This past weekend I caught a glimpse of who my children are becoming – amazing individuals with epic talent and kindness. They humble me daily and I now know what is truly important. The time we spend together is what counts. Everything else is secondary.

Our family life differs from many. In fact, family is defined by anyone who wants to join our tribe. Our wings grow with the number of people underneath them, if only for a moment. I have seen the importance of everyone getting what they need, including me. It has been a long and winding road, but as long as we are together in spirit, no bump along the way can topple us.

Yes, how we spend our days informs the life we lead. The time is now to live that life to the very best of our ability.

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 Fear

The tops of the trees swayed. We heard laughter and a few admissions of fear. The ropes whirred like a Porsche on the autobahn. Feet dangling. Hands braking. Tree-top walking at its finest.

We had a brilliant idea today. Five kids. Two adults. And a walk through the tree tops.

The last time I did an obstacle course 30 feet above the ground was for a science show with the kids. We were hired to film the segment for a popular show (Galileo). And although we only got to do a few elements of the entire course, I was fine with spending two hours in a harness and hanging on for dear life in front of the camera’s lens.

In real life, doing such an obstacle course takes serious stamina and a tad bit of crazy to complete.

So today, as I climbed to the heavens with my love and all those kids, I completely forgot to be scared. I was more concerned about the littlest child clicking his carabiner onto the right wires. Then, as I mounted the ladder as the final participant, I realized — at nest level with most birds — that I was afraid of heights.

The truth was I had no time for fear. What lay before me was a job to do. I needed to keep up (and not keep everyone behind me waiting) so I clicked, changed, clicked, whirred, wailed and wheeled my way through the entire thing. There were easier obstacles to conquer, which gave us a reprieve, until the next physical challenge met each and every one of us. Upper arm strength here. Coordination and balance there. By the time we got to the final element, which was a free fall 12 meters down (that’s 35 f-ing feet for you English system folks), I was happy and tired. Five innocent faces peered at me from below. I couldn’t let them down. What was I to do? Remember the fear or simply free fall to the beat of my own heart.

Don’t scream, Christine, I told myself. So I squat into the fall (like I saw my daughter so elegantly do) and screamed at the top of my lungs all the way down.

I am certain there is nary a bird in those nests now. But I made it, shaking and laughing. With a small admission of the fear I had so thankfully forgotten until the very end.

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.

It is the Journey, Not its Destination

Computers get tired. Smartphones too. Every once in a while they get sluggish after all the work they’ve done. They need to be switched off, left alone for a little while and given a chance to reorganize all the information we have put into them.

The human mind is no different. On occasion we too need time to reboot.

It is uncomfortable to move outside of the familiar. In fact, it can be downright terrifying. “What if’s” crop up in our heads like dandelions on a lawn. We grip the ledge of our dreams, hoping we never, ever make a mistake. But missteps and errors are every part of the process. The most painful part is not in taking action, but in our own judgements about those actions.

Take time off? Fire a major client? Rethink what’s next without a safety net?

Major life changes don’t usually happen in an instant. They are typically the product of years of thinking, dreaming and wishing things were different. Then one day you wake up and discover they can be. Sometimes all it takes then is one decision that will turn your life around forever.

The cool thing is that one decision then leads to another and another and another. And before you know it, you are a decision-making machine. You suddenly find yourself in flow, cruising down the River of Life, riding the white waters with ease and grace. Those scary rapids don’t seem so scary after all when you come face to face with them. In fact, the roar of the water gives you great courage to move forward – for what other chance do you have but to bring them into your fold?

Have you ever tried resisting a river current or an ocean wave? Most of the time Nature has its way. It is the same in life.

As my wise thirteen-year-old son recently said, “You have freedom of choice and can decide which path to take, but the truth is you will end up where you are meant to be either way. It is the journey you determine, not its destination.”

I’m in for the ride. Are you?

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.

How to Thrive, Not Just Survive

It is as if Arianna Huffington took off her high heels and climbed into my head. For the past week I have devoured her latest book, Thrive. It is not as if she says anything new, but reading her book is like getting a whole year’s supply of self-affirmations in one sitting.


In essence, she tells the reader: “You are not crazy to feel overwhelmed. I was too. And I decided to do something about it.”

I have long known that Arianna is a great champion of sleep. So am I. I have no problem getting enough rest. But the quality of it has seemed to suffer over the past few years. Life’s challenges have awoken me in the middle of the night and robbed me of dreams. Technology and my ambition to keep up have left me feeling depleted.

Arianna’s premise is we must redefine the meaning of success to include well-being, wisdom, wonder and community. As my book The Power of Slow boils down to one word – ‘choice’ – hers boils down to one too — ‘love’. The more I think of it, the more I realize the limits of our minds. We have no love in our minds, only thoughts. When we react from the mind, we are entangled in the web of our own making. In fact, every stressor we feel comes down to one thing — our reaction. Stress comes from a lack of trust that everything is going to be alright.

The truth is if we define “alright” to be That Which Is, then yes, everything will be alright. In fact, everything is alright all the time. Everything is indeed in alignment with the Universe. Our trouble begins when we ourselves are not.

Love can change that. When we come from our hearts’ center, we are free.

Thrive is a smart piece of work that cites Greek and modern-day philosophers alike. She even quotes Carl Honoré, whose thinking about the Slow Movement greatly influenced mine.

My favorite part of her book is her discussion about time. She speaks of it in terms of physics. Time, in the physicist’s view, is a landscape in which past, present and future can be seen. Like a mountain and a meadow and a wildflower all converging into one big thing. If that is true, than we needn’t rush. All of time rests on a single canvas.

This book insists that we can not only survive, but actually thrive, even in our 24/7 world. As with all things, the quality of our lives is not informed by our bank account of Facebook fans or Twitter followers.

The beauty of our existence is informed solely by the depth of our hearts.