Slow Culture, Fast World

The honeymoon is over. The bubble has popped. Reality slammed me in the face at 6 am this morning.

That tender space of suspending thinking, in which you float between the time you return from vacation and the return to the day-to-day, is filled with wonder. Your brain has emptied. Your thoughts are fluid. Your consciousness is elevated. You are on a cloud, feet barely scraping the ground. You wonder how long you can keep up the feeling. You hope it lasts far longer than it will. But you hope nonetheless.

2017-02-23 13.49.05“Maybe it will be different. This time.”

And then Monday morning comes. You wake up before the alarm with a startled thought. It’s nothing really. You made a less than optimal decision about something so banal that it’s not even worth thinking about. But you do. And then you get mad that your bliss has been disrupted by something so meaningless.

Just yesterday I chat with my neighbor, revealing I had just returned from the most life-changing trip to Nepal and India. His eyes lit up and he began his tirade about what’s wrong with Western civilization.

“Why do we keep running? Toward what?”

He summed it up beautifully.

“We are distracting ourselves from the thought of death.”

Perhaps he is right, I thought. But I wasn’t ready to take on those thoughts just yet. I guarded my bubble carefully, going on to my yoga class for a moment of “Om”.

In the evening I wasn’t feeling particularly fearful or distracted or worried or annoyed. I drank lots of water and went to bed early. And then morning came with the reality that I had some even harder decisions to make that might rattle even the most Zen-like person. I watched my age-old fear awaken from its slumber, stilled only for the time it took me to realize it is alive and well.

Stay in your center, stay in your center, I told myself as I brushed my teeth, feeling like Julia Robert’s character, Elizabeth Gilbert, in Eat, Pray, Love.

Momentarily, I have regained ground on myself. Filled with Slow Culture, I cannot deny that it feels strange to be back in a fast, fast world.

The feeling is slipping slightly. I have lost a noticeable grip on the ephemeral sensation of alignment. But I know where to get it when I really need it.

Deep within in the archives of my memory of what has been, what is and what shall be.

 

Sleep on It

Sleep is essential, yet many of us don’t get the kind of quality sleep we need to be at our best. Since we spend one-third of our lives on a mattress, wouldn’t it make sense to get a good one?

My life partner got a cheap mattress from a large Swedish brand last year. He lasted a week, then returned it. Instead, he invested in a superior mattress that feels like you are floating.

When DreamZe2015-05-14 11.57.36bra approached me to test out their mattress, I felt a mixture of pleasure and trepidation. A Danish brand, DreamZebra is an online-only company that sells its mattresses worldwide. Ranging from a single to a king-sized mattress, their selection offers something for everyone. You even get a ten year guarantee as an added bonus.

So I ceremoniously performed what they call “the unboxing;” delivered in a large box, the mattress is vacuum-packed in plastic. It reminded me of the Swedish brand’s mattress that my love and I also liberated from its sheath. To my surprise, DreamZebra’s mattress is much thicker, its material of much higher quality and, quite frankly, it’s dreamy “hugging” just made me smile.

Enjoy this rare product video. It’s time to spend a night’s rest in peace.

 

Silencing the Hum of Fear

The subconscious mind can do a real number on us. Humming just beneath the surface of things, it can haunt, taunt and tattle-tale on us in ways we don’t even realize. That is, until we calm it with a visualization exercise or meditation.

Yesterday a dear friend of mine did what she calls a feelingization with me around a issue I’ve been dealing with for several months. Within fifteen minutes she helped me morph my fears into love by suggesting I focus on a time when I felt deep gratitude. After bathing in the glow of that sensation for a moment, she had me move to a time when I felt deep love.  She allowed me then to name my fears, place them in a golden cup and illuminate them with light.

To me, gratitude is the stepping stone to love. You are awash with it when you give thanks for all that is good about your life. I would go far as to say gratitude is a life-sustaining component for a life well lived. When we focus on what is going right and on what we have, we move from the have-nots to the haves in an instant.

In fact, it really isn’t even about what you have that matters. What matters is what you think about what you have.

Consider a time when you were mad at someone. You tend to concentrate only on the incident — or the feelings that the incident brought up. But if you take a moment to look at the broader picture, you might shift your focus on all the good things that person has done. And the incident gets reduced to the size it deserves.

An attitude of gratitude brings us back to our center. And gratitude brings us love, which heals our fears like nothing else can. To move front and center into love we must remember that to have love we must give it.

Love can exist anywhere at any time.

Love starts with you.

 

Bad Choices, Good People

Sometimes it takes a series of really bad choices to finally make the right ones. But we can’t even know we’ve made bad decisions until we take a moment to step back and look at what we are actually doing — and why.

Even when we find the ‘why’ of things, it may take another good, long while before we actually take action.

That’s why I plead for time outs – for everyone. We need it. If you think you don’t need time off, think again. Even just a few minutes of solace makes you more efficient.

Change is hard. Really hard. We fear we will lose ourselves because we have ‘always done things that way.’ We identify so much with our own personal process — even if it harms us — that we forget to alter the course of our direction.

Change takes courage and insight and time and patience. But as my mama says, the one thing you can count on in life is change. Life is a bit like building a Lego house, brick for brick. You’re not sure what the end result will be, but you figure if you keep building, something will come of it.

The great thing about Legos — and life — is you can take things apart again if you need to. But as you know, that too takes courage and insight and time and patience.

I find travel makes accepting change a whole lot easier. Going new places opens my eyes to extraordinary experiences, even in the ordinary. It shifts energies, adjusts attitudes, moves the heart. It takes us away from the everyday to a new place, which makes us more receptive to new ideas and ways of thinking. And with every interaction we have with new cultures, a new piece of ourselves emerges.

Maybe you have made bad choices in your life. But they have shaped you into your unique form. Good people make mistakes. Everyone does.

The questions is: What one thing will you do differently today?

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. 

 

Workplace Woes and How to Replace Them

The workplace has been on my mind lately. Perhaps it is because people close to me have been gainfully unemployed for a while. Or because my children are growing fast and are starting to think about their own employment future.

Looking for a job in this day and age has changed significantly. You don’t just circle the want-ads. You now have to be super tech-savvy in your job discovery process.

Web portals such as Xing and LinkedIn are not just social networking sites. They are designed to encourage that the right person find the right job. If your workplace provides you more woes than wonderfulness, listen up.


LinkedIn is great for business people seeking connections. It’s what Facebook was for college students in the very beginning. And so I was intrigued by the book, The Alliance: Managing Talent in the Networked Age, written by the founders of LinkedIn, Reid Hoffman, Ben Casnocha and Chris Yeh. I wanted to find out more about the motivation of the site’s founders.

I can sum the book up in very simple terms. The authors encourage employers to look at their hired talent as an investment. Think of it as a club member whose golf game can only improve the overall quality of club life. So you invite him for free lessons, give him food and drink along the way and ensure that life is so sweet, he’d never think of leaving.

But if he does, make sure you keep your grass green. Because he’ll come running back — or at least speak highly of you — forevermore.

Employers often shy away from offering training because they think somehow they won’t get the return on their investment. People will leave anyway so why bother? This mindset is fatal. Making the job interesting by developing people’s talent will actually make them stay longer. It’s really about setting up a clear understanding from the beginning that your workplace alliances is built on the principles of give and take.

If you think of your employees as free agents, the natural response is to slash training budgets. Why train a competitor’s new hire? In an alliance, the manager can speak openly and honestly about the investment the company is willing to make in the employee and what it expects in return. The employee can speak openly and honestly about the type of growth he seeks (skills, experiences, and the like) and what he will invest in the company in return by way of effort and commitment. Both sides set clear expectations. (The Alliance, page 9).

That is the Slow Workplace at its best.

Gone are the days of lifetime employment at one company. The authors know this well and provide a useful guide for employers in an age in which knowledge is power and ample and free.

For some offline workplace wellness, I stumbled upon Real Happiness at Work by Sharon Salzberg. She offers helpful meditations and time-outs for the harried worker who may be teetering on the edge of burnout. You may not have the luxury of leaving your current work situation, she says, so here’s how you can make it more bearable. Of course, everything begins — and ends — from within. Her focus is about shifting your mind, heart and soul away from what’s not working to what is. Her meditative practices provide the parameters for a Slow Workplace too.

Whether you love, hate or could care less about your job, one thing is for certain: you spend a lot of time there. Wouldn’t it be nice if your job gave you more joy than pain?

Freelance Nation

Freelancer, diversified worker, temporary agent — I prefer the term independent contractor. It sounds more serious. More stabile. More delivering.

Whatever you call those of us who work on our own without the safety net of an employer paying our health insurance or days off, one in three US workers engages in some type of freelance work. According to a recent study commissioned by Elance-oDesk.com, 53 million Americans took on project work last year alone.

The term freelancing sounds so whimsical and, well, free. Truth be told, much of my time is spent panting heavily, running uphill and crossing my fingers that my contract will be renewed and my sins of fallibility forgiven. We walk a tightrope most people don’t see. They think freelancing is somehow for the meek at heart. The ones who can’t get out of their jammies until noon. You know, when they wake up.

Yeah. Right.

That’s not my reality at least. Most days — and many weekends — I spend thinking, working, worrying, writing, rewriting, formulating, reformulating, strategizing and implementing and reporting and — yes — praying. Sure, I can decide when to take time off. And I do as much as I can. It usually amounts to a handful of hours on a weekend, away from my phone.

Doesn’t sound very Slow, does it?

Freelancing can be tough. But if you are in love with your clients — and I am — it doesn’t feel like work, but rather more like an obligation a parent has to a child. You want to assure them that everything will be alright. Even when you think it might not be. That’s when you assure them that even if it isn’t, you aren’t going away and you hope they won’t want to see you go.

The Slow part of my freelance exists lies in the freedom of choice I have. I have a lot of room to make decisions, which can be both daunting and liberating. I get to decide now or later to do this thing or that. Ultimately, what counts in my industry (public relations) are results.

Bring them or perish.

Since I like to eat, I move mountains where I can and make molehills out of the rest.

That strategy — and the joy it brings — has worked for over a decade…and counting.

 

power of slow book cover

Life as a Playground

Life offers multiple opportunities to play, even at work. It really comes down to how you approach things.

According to research, our brains are sharpest 2 1/2 to four hours after waking up. So if you are an early riser, you’re looking at your peak time before noon. I am one of those people. I craft my most creative work before 10 am, then slump by 2 o’clock. That’s why I usually save my mundane tasks for the afternoon when smart thinking is less needed.

If we are familiar with our biorhythm, we will stop fighting against our own nature and work according to our inner clock. If you are lucky, you will have a boss that understands this.2014-02-23 15.28.58

Does work have to be hard? No, it doesn’t. I don’t know who made up that rule, but it seems to have seeped into our collective psyche that work has nothing to do with life at all – that life equals pleasure and work equals everything else. Thus the term work-life balance. As if work wasn’t a part of our lives, but something that offsets it.

As my daughter thinks about her own future, I try to convey to her that while there are certain things she won’t like about her job, she should at least love some parts of it. In fact, if you love most of what you do every day, you are going to be a much happier person.

Joy can be had wherever you are – even at the auto mechanic’s. Spread it far and wide. Dance in the light of your own private celebration of life, which includes work and the people that populate that space too.

Life can be a playground if you let it – even at the workplace.

Taking the Slow Train

Nothing reveals more about human beings than physical discomfort. Trapped in an overcrowded train with no air conditioning as it stood still on the tracks for over an hour, I realized how quickly things can turn sour when things get a little uncomfortable.

Pont d'Arc, Ardèche, France

Pont d’Arc, Ardèche, France

People shouted. The conductors hid in the safety of their locked cabinet, giving us periodic updates that said nothing. A medical emergency ensued. It was chaos for a while until one guy said he’d either call the police or see why the train hadn’t moved in an hour. I went with him. We quickly discovered all the other wagons had air conditioning. We got the conductor to make an announcement for passengers in our wagon to move elsewhere. And we decided we would cheer once the train got moving again. Another thirty minutes passed and the train moved forward. We applauded, laughed and jumped for joy. Until the train stopped again for another defect. At this point, I had already hugged the conductor, who was rather shocked by my response.

After a two hour delay, I made it back to sweet Freiburg to meet my son whose bus, by some miracle, arrived with a similar delay fifteen minutes after I did.

As the train rolled into the central train station, I told a fellow passenger that this experience had changed my perspective on Monday morning. After two weeks frolicking in the South of France, I felt a deep reluctance to return to my work life. But after realizing how good I actually have it — with clients, friends and family I deeply love — I happily returned to my every day life with renewed gratitude for cool spaces, calm surfaces and meaningful work.

Sometimes it takes the slow train to remind us of what we have. I am grateful for the experience and for the goodness of this life.

 

The Value of Failure

If at first you do not succeed, try, try again.

Let’s face it. Success is sweet. And we want it more than we want the smudgy, sweaty, stinky sensation of having given it our all only to flop altogether.

But over the years, I have learned that while success is sensational, failure has its own flavor of wonderfulness too.

Wisdom is born out of failure. Sure, when you win, you learn what worked — that time. But when you fail, you learn so much more about yourself and the world around you. You get to find out who your friends are — and who isn’t. Those who run at the first sign of trouble are the ones you don’t let back in. Those who stick it out even when you aren’t smiling, serving up hors d’oeuvres and smelling like a rose are the ones worth everything.

And then there is the matter of what you learn from what didn’t work. Every once in a while I come across an old book proposal and a wave of compassion rises up in my chest.

“God, what work I put into this! And not a single editor could care less…”

Then a subtle feeling of gratitude settles in. I really tried. It didn’t work. Next.

Is it really failure to have put your heart and soul into something (or someone) only to not get what you anticipated?

I think not.

If you have given your best and the door slams in your face, you haven’t lost a thing. You have actually gained great insight.

We sometimes stomp our feet when things don’t go according to plan. But thank goodness they don’t. Imagine if we could control simply everything about our lives, about what happens to us, about what succeeds and what doesn’t. What a load of responsibility that would be!

I’m happy to leave it up to the Universe. And to listen to its call. Therein lies the key.

Letting things unfold is a much more relaxing approach in my mind. Learning to accept that which is and to see the universal good in life keeps us supple and ready to go for that next cup of gold.

So what if things haven’t worked out the way you thought they would. That just means you aren’t done learning yet.

In fact, until our last breath, we are at risk of failing time and again.

And that is what makes life so very rich indeed.