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.

 

The Death of an Icon

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

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

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

I am sad to see her go.

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

There may not be.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Kitchen Goddess

Change has been on my mind lately. It may have something to do with the book I am currently reading by Chip and Dan Heath, Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard.

In my mind, change is always hard. It’s uncomfortable and messy and rather inconvenient. It requires relinquishing control and becoming accepting and patient and…you see where I am going with this?

For years I thought we had a limited capacity to learn certain things, such as cooking or economics. That we have propensities that lean toward the arts (me) or the sciences (um, lots of other people who are not me). But I have since learned that we are capable of anything, if we try.

As a young adult, I had not yet experienced the delight of food, for instance. I remember even saying once that eating was a waste of time and I’d be just as happy taking a food capsule over sitting at the table for a full-blown meal.

Such a typical, pre-Slow idea – why waste time eating when you could be doing something — anything — else.

Only we have to eat to live.

That truth whizzed right over my head, like a buzz cut.

Looking back on my 21-year-old self, I am shocked that I ever thought that way. One of my favorite pastimes now is to sit for hours and eat! I entered a new culture of fun food fantasy, but it wasn’t until very recently that I discovered my own ability to cook, bake and whip up a delicious meal whenever my fancy strikes.

A lot of our resistance to change, according to Switch, has to do with our self-understanding. We have an image of how and who we are and, if we have a fixed mindset that states we can’t really change much about ourselves, we get stuck. When we entertain a growth mindset, we open the floodgates of possibility.

Bake a batch of cinnamon rolls? Who, me?

Yeah, me.

This morning. Just because.

cinnamon rolls

Tapping into our inner divinity is a nifty thing — it unleashes us from the confines of our limiting beliefs. Once a culinary philistine, I am now a kitchen goddess.

It feels good to move beyond who we think we are to the person we are meant to be.

Change might be hard, but think of the alternative. Getting a few stretch marks for a better life seems like a very good trade to me.

The Four Agreements

Don Miguel Ruiz rocks. He’s shamanic. He’s magical. He is oh-so-wise.


In a book entitled The Four Agreements, Ruiz outlines ancient Toltec wisdom in doable steps that anyone can follow. In thinking about his wise words recently, I realized you could look at his agreements through the lens of Slow.

#1 Be impeccable with your word.

Slow says: if you say you are going to do something, do it. You are really only as credible as the word you give. If you find you cannot after all, let the person know. Promises are meant to be kept ~ or at least renegotiated when life takes a turn.

#2 Don’t take anything personally.

Slow says: when someone responds to you in a negative way, it is about the triggers that exist within that person, not you. Life is about action and reaction. Take personal responsibility for what you create. Say “I’m sorry” when appropriate. Expect the best of others. If they don’t accept your apology, it’s their loss. Period.

#3 Don’t make assumptions.

Slow says: expectation management is everything, but even then, people might not hear you the way you think. When things don’t go according to plan, don’t assume the worse about another person. Chances are he or she wasn’t thinking. Forgive.

#4 Always do your best.

Slow says: perfection is nonexistent. Doing your best today might look different than tomorrow. Some days you are up. Some days you are down. You are okay just as you are.

You’ve been given this life for a reason. You might not know it yet, but you are destined for great things. Live by these four rules and I promise that your life will be fabulous beyond measure.

I’m ready to embrace that kind of life with you. We are on this journey together so remind me when I fumble and I’ll do my best to do the same for you. Agreed?

The Weight of Words

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”

Wanna make a bet? I’ve never agreed with that saying. For anyone who has been bullied before, words can do more damage than a machine gun.

Words have more power in the material world than we think. Japanese researcher Dr. Masaru Emoto  revolutionized how we think about the energy of words when he published his work on how water crystals react to certain terms, photography or music.

The reaction the water had to the word peace looks like this:

The word truth had this response:

The negative term you fool gave the water crystal the following form:

I’m beginning to see a pattern here, are you?

Words in the form of fiction can also have an amazing influence on our lives. Through books, screenplays and short stories, we get to travel to far off worlds without leaving our easychair. In fact, Annie Murphy Paul reported for the New York Times about a York University study in Canada headed up by psychologist Ramyond Mar, that found “individuals who frequently read fiction seem to be better able to understand other people, empathize with them and see the world from their perspective.”

Darmouth College’s Geoff Kaufman teamed up with Lisa Libby at Ohio State University to prove that literature can truly have a profound impact on our self-understanding, attitudes and even behaviors. In the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (Vol. 103, No. 1, 1-19, 2012), they report on the phenomenon they’ve termed “experience-taking“. Essentially, you take on the fictional character’s experience as your own.

The neat thing is our brains can’t distinguish between reading about an experience and actually encountering it in real life, which is maybe why the more teary-eyed folks among us cry so easily when reading a good book or seeing a good movie (I am one of them. I admit. You know that scene in Spielberg’s 2011 flick, War Horse, where the British and the German soldiers gather together in no-man’s land to free the horse from the barbed wire fence in a momentary act of peace and purpose? Yea, I was bawling, people. Bawling I was!). If a book is good, I cry at the end too. It’s that empathy thing, like saying goodbye to a dear friend you won’t see for a long, long time.

Because in your mind, you are. Those characters are real, dammit! Who needs reality TV when you can enter a fantasy world by opening a book at any time?

If you have ever written fiction, you will know that those characters come knocking at your door at all hours of the night, wanting to be heard, formed and plopped into the storyline of your own creation. They can be pretty adament, too. I have a few slumbering in my head myself. Maybe I’ll let them out to play on the page a little more.

And when I do, you’ll get to be a part of the fantasy too.

For now, I offer you this three-minute video to illustrate the power of words. May you choose yours carefully and with all the kindness you possess.

Move the World with Your Awesome

The papers in my office must copulate at night because I swear to you I have recycled, tossed and filed for weeks and it keeps on coming.

The Grand Canyon

In yet another vigorous act of purging, I recently threw out reams of grade school notebooks that my children will never glance at again. In doing so I came across an archived document of my own that brought me to my knees. It was an old book proposal for a kindness project I so firmly believed in that I even contacted the Dalai Lama to see if he wanted in on it.

He politely declined.

But what moved me more than my unexpressed passion on those pages in that moment was the inner knowing that we can all move the world with our special kind of awesome, even if things, such as my book project on kindness, don’t work out as you’d like.

In the wise words of singer-songwriter Lori McKenna, sometimes your life turns out better than you can even imagine.

If you read my post on the pretty pictures in our heads, you will know that what we envision and what really happens are often two separate events. The arc of our suffering is determined by the level of our attachment to the outcome of our expressed desires. With the law of attraction, we are led to believe we can fully manifest our destiny. And to some degree I believe that is true. We have more influence over our lives than we care to admit. We can consciously engage in the universal energy force field that pulls in whatever we call out to. That is what happens anyway, whether we do it consciously or not. We bring in the lessons we need to learn time and again until we have really learned them.

If we take full personal responsibility for our lives, we would no longer look around at others to blame for our unhappiness. Do you want to be happy? Guess who you’ve got to love first?

Yup. That’s right. You.

If you spend your time trying to please others, you will be left depleted. I continue to learn that lesson and recognize my own conditioning in that area. If you raise others up while doing the same for yourself, you are on a path to joy. And your awesome will grow in kind.

Maybe one day that kindness book will get written and His Holiness will decide to play with me after all. In truth, it doesn’t matter either way. If I live the principles set out in that untold work, all the effort I put into writing it will have been worth it just the same.

How will you move the world with your awesome today?

Slow, Green Reads for Earth Month

Books. They are my passion. They make me weep. They dropkick loneliness to another planet. Books have meaning, make meaning, build meaning. Books are the cornerstone for life.

While my editor at St. Martin’s recently astounded herself by actually going to a physical bookstore to buy one made of paper, I have to admit that I love trees just about as much as the books that trees surrender their lives for.

Therein lies the dilemma of this author. I want you to buy books. Lots and lots of books (preferably mine). And I want you to plant a tree in the name of the books you’ve bought to replenish what got lost when you bought those books. The Lorax will thank you. And so will I.

OR: you can go to Better World Books that is committed to libraries and literacy and the well-being of both the read and the reader.

“We only do well by doing good.” ~BetterWorldBooks.com

In name of Earth Month, I hereby provide you with the top ten green reads to fill your soul (and possibly your tearducts). I always know I’m in close proximity to the truth when I cry after reading something that moves me. Give your spirit a jiggle with Better World Books’ top 10 green books:

  1. Natural Capitalism
  2. The Lorax
  3. An Inconvenient Truth
  4. Silent Spring
  5. Moral Ground
  6. The Better World Shopping Guide
  7. Hot, Flat and Crowded 2.0
  8. Farm City
  9. The Responsibility Revolution
  10. The Great Paper Caper

If you’re not familiar with this social enterprise, Better World Books collects and sells books online to donate books and fund literacy initiatives worldwide. With more than 8 million new and used titles in stock, it’s a self-sustaining, triple-bottom-line company that creates social, economic and environmental value.  To date, the company has raised over $10 million for libraries and literacy, and diverted millions of books from landfills.

Books in landfills? That’s book blasphemy!

How many of the above have you already read?

Join the Smiling Turtle

What’s today? Not just Pearl Harbor Day. No, no! Today is the day you can join me, Shirley MacLaine, my smiling turtle and many others to receive a ton of bonus prizes when you purchase a copy of The Power of Slow.

Who is the smiling turtle? He’s the product of my brilliant Webmaster who put together this site www.powerofslowbook.com just for you. Go visit him. He’s a hoot!

How can you benefit from this offer?

Go to www.powerofslowbook.com. Purchase a copy of The Power of Slow (‘Step 1’), put in your amazon order confirmation # by clicking on ‘Step 2’ and receive a free month membership to Shirley MacLaine’s site along with dozens of other gifts from best-selling authors such as Mike Robbins, Stever Robbins, Arielle Ford and more!

I would welcome your participation. Give yourself and others the gift of time this holiday season!

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The Power of Slow ~ The fastest book I’ve ever written

Publishing a book about slowing down can be a daunting task for any self-respecting house. The publisher engages in a game of risk that the author might not deliver on time because she has drunk the Kool-Aid too much, bringing her project to a screeching halt before it has even taken off. Will she take her slow principles so seriously as to dodge deadline and head for the beach instead? Truth be told, I’ve never written a book so fast in my life.

The irony of writing a book such as The Power of Slow: 101 Ways to Save Time in Our 24/7 World is the method in which it was created. I went about applying the very principles I discuss because, after all, practicing and preaching go hand in hand. While the title implies a turtle’s pace, I actually found myself in a semi-permanent state of flow, as if forces beyond my understanding had housed my writer’s mind. Not unlike my other works, the title took form first, followed by the structure. Because I work well with a framework, it seemed to make sense to design the book with an equal number of principles in each of the first ten chapters, then leave the most powerful, and most simple, principle for last. Without my knowing, the final principle was the same one that informed all the rest, making a neat package to present the reader with a satisfying ending. When I huddled with my agent about the idea, it seemed to stem from nowhere. In reality it was a compilation of various germinating ideas that bloomed at the right moment.

Writing a book can be overwhelming, bringing about what Germans call the innerer Schweinehund, the inner pig-dog also known as our procrastinating selves that offer textbook reasoning as to why now is never a good idea. If you lack a certain level of organizational skill, the inner pig-dog licks its chops as you suffer the consequences of your own behavior. Any publisher would agree procrastination leads to a domino effect. You simply can’t afford to put off today what you can do tomorrow.

While not a procrastinator, I’ve never thought of myself as a particularly well-organized person. One look at my desk reveals a lazy chaos of deserted thoughts: the cell phone charger interlaced with a stapler; unusable pens in an upside down CD tower top; two TV media clips from recent segments I’ve done; and old tickets from performances that haven’t made it to the scrapbook I’ve been meaning to do since my first child’s arrival (she is eleven). Bobbing above the chaos are two pictures of my children whose encouraging faces remind me why I engage in storytelling on virtually a daily basis.

The power of slow is a mental state, and while some organization experts would chastise me for my failing discipline, I know exactly where everything is. I consider the creative chaos to be visual cues to our human dilemma: life isn’t all sharpened pencils and dust-free surfaces. If my desk were battened down in controlled rows of calm, I’d never be in a position to unleash the creative fury dwelling deep inside. I managed to write a book in record time (before the January deadline), despite the uneven stacks of paper gracing my office floor. Sound like I’m making excuses? Perhaps I am.

Productivity is a term with deep implications in Western society. If we obtain it, we are considered successful. If we don’t, we are not. While writing The Power of Slow, I examined why we do the things we do such as obsessive email checking or excessive texting. It’s not particularly productive, nor does it add to our well-being. Why do we spend so much time with our gadgets in a virtual realm of connectivity? We ignore the people standing right beside us, interrupt them when our phones ring, and talk more animatedly into a headset than to our fellow peers in the next cubicle. In effect, we waste the units in our personal bank account of time, often engaging in useless activity.

Where are our manners? Where is our mindfulness for ourselves and others? We are in danger of becoming drones in a drama of our own making. We need to act fast in order to slow down.

Unplugging for two weeks, I gathered up my family, who had already begun showing signs of book fatigue by late August, and took them to the Adriatic coast for some fun in the sun. Saddled down with seven books, I had read and highlighted every single one by the last day of vacation. Living the slow, I strolled along the pool one day when it hit me. I could actually hear the sound of my own flip flops as they slapped my heels in rhythm to the burbling water before me. Inspired, I grabbed a notebook and jotted down a few ideas about walking speed and the pace of life. The flip-flop principle of checking how fast we walk by noting the speed of the slap was born. Many more ideas followed in rapid succession. In fact, the modernized fable of the unplugged tortoise and the online hare in the prologue arrived right on time as I banged out chapter after chapter while sitting in a hotel room in Budapest.

The beauty of the Internet is a writer’s ability to work and live virtually anywhere. With this malleability comes the danger, not just for writers, but for any transient worker, of an unabashed, hyperconnectivity that zaps our life force for all its worth. Admittedly, I had one media interview (ironically about slow living) while in Italy, and a client call while in Budapest. These minor distractions reminded me that there is a world waiting for us all whenever we choose to visit, but that how we live now is all there truly is.

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Thank you, Cal State Polytech!

Since I last blogged, I’ve celebrated another birthday, filmed a beer commercial (on set and outside for 14 hours ~ouch!), visited a Renaissance festival in the walled city of Rothenburg for an overnight with the kids and cleaned both our cars. Doesn’t sound slow, does it? Ah, but it was! Wandering down the cobblestone streets, watching the parade of horses and knights and fair maidens…it was simply fantastic!

Last but not least I found that California State Polytechnic University has just added The Power of Slow to its library collection. I feel so incredibly academic and marvelously entrenched, if only on the shelves of a California university!

Thanks for the greatest birthday ever, too!

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