Wishing, Wanting, What?

The best laid plans often go astray. There have been countless occasions in my life in which I have drawn strength from that saying. Imagine if we could control everything that happens in our world. We would know exactly, to the minute, what would happen next. Mystery would die on the vine. Synchronicity would fade. Spontaneity would disappear completely. That which makes life so incredibly magical would no longer exist.

Yikes.

Everything happens for a reason. It isn’t random Universal cruelty, although we may feel that way sometimes. And sure, it’s easy to say that things are meant to be when those things are going our way. The true litmus test is when they don’t.

In those moments, my trust in the Universe is required. Sometimes unwillingly, I force myself to call it forth and listen closely.

My innate sense of optimism is as much a part of me as the air I breathe. Whenever I experience a misstep in my life, I have to ask myself where the golden nugget in all of it is. Because it is always there. If you don’t believe me, remember what you thought you wanted as a teenager. Then you attend your 20th high school reunion and thank the gods above that you didn’t get what you wished for.

I’m not talking about positive thinking, although that is a byproduct of optimism. It is more about understanding the broader vision. What is the sense of it all really? Gifts are frequently wrapped in barbed wire. The unwrapping part hurts, but to get to the gift, we sometimes have to put on those gloves and uncoil it.

We may bleed. We may cry. We may stomp our feet in a blind fury. Until we start to see the sparkle underneath the rusty metal.

It’s not easy taking that step toward unraveling the truth. But if life has taught me anything at all, it is that love can heal those wounds.

It starts with loving ourselves. To others the act of self-love may not be understood. It’s not important that others agree with you. It is far more important that we are in agreement with ourselves. Oh yes! It takes a truck load of courage to step out and be who we are. Having the confidence to stand up for ourselves in the face of immense opposition can be scary. But so is public speaking. Both are well worth it, if you are willing to take risks toward a brighter future. For yourself. For those you love. For your truest purpose in this world.

So if you find yourself wishing for something to happen and it doesn’t, try a touch of gratitude. Believing in the omnipresent goodness that the Universe supplies will turn those thorns into roses.

Life can be beautiful. And it is. If you are willing to consider what’s humming beneath it all.

 

The Basement Blues

Truth time: There is something about my basement that makes me incredibly sad. I am an unwilling partner in storage of the things housed there. At first glance, the items on the shelves and leaning against the walls are innocuous. My convertible’s hard top during the balmy months of spring and summer, a few ill-fitting helmets that roll around the floor every time I shift stuff from one point to another in the 5 square meter space, a pair of skis, holiday decor in a musty suitcase, empty boxes for kitchen gadgets I’ll never, ever resell in their original packaging, and a handful of boxed memories from years gone by.

Perhaps the cause for my sadness is the archived remembrance of a time in my life that didn’t work well. It is confronting to see my careless handwriting on the sides of those boxes, calling up emotions of despair and fragility. Or, further, it is perhaps the knowledge that over two decades of one’s life can be stored in a space so small.

I am not a materialistic person. In fact, when I moved into my beloved apartment after rebooting my life in a new city, I claimed that nothing — and no one — would enter my home whom I did not love. I would no longer hamster away hand-me-downs and unwanted gifts from well-meaning people. In an act of liberation, I would free myself of any material detritus whatsoever. I would live without compromise. I would look to what was working and stake my claim that everyone, including myself, would get what they needed. Well-being would be the center of my children’s and my own world.

At times I am extremely successful in that endeavor. Then something swoops through my universe to unsettle or rattle me to the core. I falter for a moment, stumbling forward in a blind fury toward that thing I promised myself when I got here. The dust settles then and the light returns just as sure as night follows day. I am alive. I am well. I am whole.

Memories are a part of my history and they inform who I am today. But I am not the memories themselves. They are like the boxes that get dusted off every now and again to give me perspective and occasion to reflect on what is good in my life.

My basement is indeed a sorrowful place. But it is just as much a part of me as the world I created above it. Maybe it’s good to have a place you can go to remember why you do what you do today.

Besides, today is truly the only day you can ever call your own.

 

 

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.

 

 

The Mightier Pen

They say the pen is mightier than the sword. In times like these, when airports where my children were supposed to be, blow up thirty-six hours prior to their arrival, I am apt to take pen to paper to make sense of it all. Only it is senseless to try to make sense of something so incredibly violent, deadly, disruptive and hateful. While there is power in Slow, there is something so incredibly powerless about ambush, anger and anxiety. It wraps its grip around our necks, daring us to breathe.

And I dare to breathe.

I dare to claim, even in moments like this one, that 98% of people are good. That 22,000 individuals who have committed themselves to hating others, cannot stop me from loving, living and laughing. They cannot stop me from seeing my family. They cannot stop me from believing in the power of prayer, the Universe and That Which is Good. In everyone.

Terrorists are pawns. They execute orders from others who are kept out of harm’s way. They are driven — in brain-washed insanity – to take their own lives and those of others around them. They truly believe they will be rewarded. Oh, they will be rewarded! With yet another life, coming back this time as perhaps an ant or a microorganism. And they get to come back over and over again. They get to start anew until one day they get it right.

I told my children that if anything ever happened to them as they glide through European borders — or anywhere in this world — that I would hate that person, that forgiveness would not come easy and that I would need a lot of people to raise that threshold of inhibition within me not to lash out in kind. But that the only way our world can get better is — through our own extreme efforts — to fight fire with water.

It is the only way. And so I dare to breathe. I dare to live. I dare to love. Beyond borders. Beyond terrorists. To celebrate the 98%.

 

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.

Of Life, Love and Liberty

Slow doesn’t mean screeching to a halt, but it does require taking a break every now and then. February was a month of taking inventory of things – of life, of relationships, of professional direction. Although I blogged in my head, I couldn’t bring myself to write the things I was thinking about. It took time to sort through the thoughts to ensure they have meaning for you as well.

Blue Waters Inn Hotel_2016

Photo Credit: Klaus Polkowski (c) 2016

The coolest thing happens when you change your behavior. New doors open. New opportunities flood in. New perspectives shimmer through the cobwebs of our minds. I left the country for three weeks, dappling in the cold of New York City, then the heat of Trinidad & Tobago. No matter where we went, the same thought kept persisting.

“We are one.” It doesn’t matter what climate you live in, what job you have, what color your skin is. We all feel things. We all love. We all hate. Spending time in a former British colony was eye-opening. I met many lovely people, and a few not so nice ones. I sensed what oppression does to people. And to me. In the end, I came to the conclusion that we must take time with one another. Time is the ultimate gift you can give another person. I am eternally grateful to my mother, who gave my children so abundantly of her time while I was away. And to so many people in my life who mean the world to me. My partner and I now truly know we can live in a shoebox and come out smiling.

Travel teaches us many things. Perhaps most importantly, it confronts us with our own perceived limitations. We think things should be one way or another, simply because we are accustomed to things being a certain way. But when faced with a completely different value system, it causes us to take stock of what’s truly important to us and what we can let go of. I learned that I can live on very little and still have a fabulous life.

The flame of freedom flickers within. Light its fire and see where it takes you.

Listening to the Whispers of Time

The Universe is an ever-expanding, timeless place. Yet we act as if time were real, measuring out our lives in coffee spoons as the late T.S. Eliot liked to say. We also act as if the things that happen have an infinite meaning, pressed in indelible ink on the pages of our life’s script. A negative comment, a weirdish interaction, a conflict with a co-worker — we often give too much weight to the one thing that is not working, instead of focusing on all the things that do.

Recently, I took a walk in the woods, as I often do, to sort out life’s complications. I began the journey by making a mental list of all the things that were going well. One-half hour into my walk, I realized I hadn’t stopped listing the good in my life. Why, then, do we spend 90% of our time on the 10% that is broken?

It has to do with our brains. We are hard-wired to focus on the threatening things — real or imagined — to secure our existence. If you were to believe the media today, you might even think that the world is about to end if we don’t pay attention to all the dangers lurking just beneath the surface of virtually everything with which we come into contact.

The premise of this blog — and my life’s work — is that it is possible to have a more positive relationship with the clock. But since time doesn’t really exist, we need to treat it as an imaginary friend who can still have a great deal of influence on how we do things. Every once in a while we need to do a time audit by looking at how we have spent the last year, for instance. Doing taxes is a fine exercise in revisiting the time we have spent and the things we have done within that framework. What made us happy (do more of that)? What made us cringe (avoid it, if possible)? Who entered our lives at the most amazing moment (say a prayer of gratitude)? Who left (and we were glad)? How do we wish to spend this year?

Listening to the whispers of time is instructive. Watching a child, plant or animal grow is a fine example of time’s sweet nothings pressed close to our ears. Seeing clients, friends or material items move beyond us illustrates the endless heartbeat of the Universe. Nothing ever stays the same.

So why on Earth should we?

 

Driven to Distraction

Back in my high school days, my pokey Chemistry teacher doubled as our driver’s ed instructor. Clipboard in hand, side hairs carefully placed over his balding orb, he would patiently smile, take a deep breath and invite two students at a time to drive him first around the parking lot, then around town, then on the highway. I’ll never forget his paternal tenor as he gently reminded us to “keep both hands on the wheel.” It never would have occurred to him to say “and both eyes, too.”

But today, instructors everywhere will have to remind their students of much more than the 1o-and-2 rule (left hand at 10 o’clock; right hand at 2). The automobile industry has started placing infotainment centers in the dashboards of their cars so people can remain connected even when they are on the road.

Um. Who thinks being able to Google while clocking 80 on the speedometer is a good idea?

I’d dare say no one.

According to a recent AAA study, people who played around with their in-car infotainment systems were distracted up to 27 seconds – even after they placed their attention back on the road. The study suggests that “just because a driver terminates a call or music selection doesn’t mean they are no longer impaired — impairment lingered up to 27 seconds after a task was completed.” Our cognitive ability is hindered even if we chat hands-free on our mobile devices.

Major automobile companies believe they are giving consumers what they want. In truth, they are. But what we want may not necessarily be good for us. Hyper-connectivity doesn’t lead to safer roads. It leads to distracted driving and ensures that one of the major causes of death in the United States remains automobile accidents.

One day we will have pervasive wireless access on airplanes too. My only hope is the pilot stays offline. With both hands on the wheel and eyes on the sky without a television to info-tain him during long-haul flights.

Are you with me on this one?

 

The Rise of Fast Fashion and the Demise of Humanity

Andrew Morgan set out to tell a simple story. He wanted to talk about our clothing, what exactly we wear, what it says about us and its impact on our world. At first glance, you might think his film THE TRUE COST is about anorexia as he shows paper-thin models getting ready for photo shoots and fashion jobs. But very quickly the viewer realizes the film tells a much broader tale about how just a few brand names have dictated how fast the clothing industry runs today.

TC_logo_WoPBefore watching the film, I had never heard of the term fast fashion. And yet it is an industry that touches every part of our lives the world over.

In the last decade, the clothing industry has changed dramatically. As late as the 1960s, 95% of our clothing was made in the US. Today 97% is outsourced to developing countries, made by human hands at a fraction of the price it used to be. The price of clothing has dropped significantly, while the cost of producing the clothes has increased. Who pays for the price suppression? The people who make the clothing. The sweatshop workers in Bangladesh, for instance, make just $3 per day in unsafe working conditions. It is appalling.

Why has the clothing industry gotten so fast? And what is fast fashion after all? What used to be an industry based on cycles like Nature itself – with the introduction of winter/fall and spring/summer collections, the fashion industry now produces new styles on a weekly basis. Large brands have identified our insatiable desire for stuff.  In a recent Skype interview, Andrew told me, “We live in a consumer-driven, very fast-paced world. The rate of acceleration is startling. Change at that pace means a lot of things and people fall through the cracks.”

Clothing – made from cheaper and cheaper materials – gets tossed aside or virtually thrown out at such ridiculously low prices that it is impossible for other companies to compete at higher, more realistic prices. The result is a run toward the cheapest labor possible to ensure costs remain in check and profits remain high.

But at what cost? Andrew says his film is meant to address the disconnection that globalization has created in our world today. “I read an article about Rana Plaza (the deadliest garment factory accident in history). I asked myself how is it possible that I am not aware of the origin of my clothes? THE TRUE COST started out as a film that impacts human beings and the environment. It kept expanding as I started to see the interdependencies. It is about understanding the intersection between the psychology, economics and lack of regulation in the fashion industry. There is a profound set of questions about the state of human beings in 2016. What does it mean to live in a world of outsourcing the production of our things?”

Out of sight, out of mind – that is the issue with fast fashion. We don’t see the laborers – often separated from their families as they work endless hours for extremely low wages in buildings that crack, collapse and kill, such as the Rana Plaza tragedy that claimed over 1,000 lives in Dhaka, Bangladesh. And if we hear about it, we quickly experience compassion fatigue. How could we possibly make a difference in those people’s lives? They are so very far away.

But the film raises other issues as well. Most harrowing perhaps is the environmental impact of our greed for something new in our closet every week. The lack of environmental regulation in India, for instance, is allowing poisons to be dumped into the Ganges River. The impact of pesticides on the cotton fields of Northern Texas is another example.

Here are some statistics to put things into perspective:

  • Each year we purchase 80 billion pieces of clothing.
  • That equals 400% more than the amount of clothing we bought just two decades ago.
  • The average American discards 82 pounds of textile waste annually, which translates to 11 million tons of textile waste from the US alone. Most of this waste is non-biodegradable, sitting in landfills for 200 years or more while releasing harmful gases. Where does the disposed clothing go? You guessed it. Oftentimes it lands up back in the developing nations who produced the clothing in the first place.

This topic may seem overwhelming. And it is. But what I learned from Andrew’s film and my conversation with him afterwards is that we can make a difference. It is not about boycotting products made in Bangladesh or other developing nations in which working conditions are less than ideal. It is about shaping our behavior and the story we tell ourselves in a different way. It is about redirecting our consciousness to a different level. Pretty soon, as we begin to examine our choices more closely, we start to shift our perspective. Little things such as using cloth shopping bags instead of accumulating plastic ones in the back of our pantry or utilizing rechargeable batteries instead of buying new ones every time start to impact our world in positive ways.

When we go shopping, we can ask ourselves, “Do I really need this item? Do I love it? Will I take care of it for a really long time? Is it of high quality and will it last? Can I repurpose it if needed?” Sustainable shopping can go a long way in combatting the issues Andrew addresses in his film. Consumers do not have to buy products created under unconscionable conditions. If there is less demand, things will have to change toward a more positive end.

The US economy is based on expansion. But it’s like a balloon. At one point, it will pop because endless expansion is physically not possible (even the Universe will stop expanding one day). The truth is we have grown up in a role as consumers, which is actually very disempowering for the individuals. According to Andrew, it has made it easy to have an apathetic life. Born into so much privilege, we have an enormous amount of influence on how the world is shaped. Tragically, we do not have the sense of responsibility that goes with that influence.

We need to start asking ourselves a simple question, one that informs everything about us. “What are the choices I am making?” As The Power of Slow suggests, your life is a compilation of the choices you make. If you have been living in a story that you are bystander, watching history unfold, it is time to reclaim the field for yourself. For the good of your life. For the good of your children’s.

“I want to inspire people to hope-filled action,” Andrew says. “The greatest lie of all is that you can’t contribute. You can’t separate things. This is not just about clothes. It’s about greed and power and fear. Who is telling the story, to what end and to what end is that story being embraced? How was it ever deemed okay that the prosperity of a few can be built on the suffering of so many others?”

It is a very good question indeed. Andrew wishes to invite us all into a bigger story. A better one in which fashion is not fast, but decelerated to a sustainable pace in which everyone gets what they need.

It is time to stand up to the lies we have been told, that somehow happiness can be purchased – often at a discounted price. Happiness can’t be bought, despite the messages we see every day claiming otherwise. In a recent TedX talk, Harvard professor Robert Waldinger, the head of the longest study on happiness in history, states the secret to happiness, regardless of socioeconomic status, has been found to be connection with other people. Love, not stuff, is the answer.

Love starts with the choices we make for ourselves and – ultimately – for the world we wish to live in. What step can you take today to move toward a better world?

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