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.

Happiness Before You

Some days I will search and search for “misplaced” sunglasses or keys or some such only to find the item right before my very eyes. I call the phenomenon “displacia”, an affliction caused by a crowded mind.

The search for happiness is similar. We think it isn’t “here” so we search and search for it elsewhere only to find (if we’re lucky) that happiness has been right before us all along. In fact, happiness cannot be pursued (although the Founding Fathers in the United States would have us believe it is our right to pursue it). It can only be discovered from within.

Perhaps it is the privilege of getting older, but I find sustained happiness to be easier now that I have found the secret to it. It has nothing to do with material gain or wealth or external adoration. It has everything to do with cherishing our innate joy with which each of us was born.

We receive the ticket to happiness the moment we arrive in this world. For some the road is long, the journey agonizing, the destination just ever so slightly out of reach. For others, who may experience similar things, the road is bumpy, yet instructive, the journey is challenging, but manageable, the destination irrelevant.

Resilience is essential to maintain that joyful equilibrium in the face of anything. Self-care ensures we remain centered in a state of abundance regardless of the circumstances. A sense of curiosity about the world provides a richness that no bank account can fulfill.

Happiness lies before you. Or better said: within you. There is no need to chase after that which you can create in the workshop of the heart.

Declutter the mind and happiness will follow.

Who Gives a Shift?

Change. It’s the only thing we can count on. And it’s gonna happen, whether we like it or not. Although we may try to prepare ourselves for life’s transitions, it isn’t really possible to consider all eventualities.

Back in the day when I was scraping by as a glorified secretary at a Boston investment firm, I provided administrative support to several people, including one working mom who would call me from her car phone (yes, we still had them back then) so I could fill her in on all the office politics. She worked remotely most of the time so she could spend more time with her kids. And she would constantly say at the beginning of each call, “I need to know everything so I’m not blindsided.” I would roll my eyes and pretend to be nice, filling her in on this and that. Back then I wasn’t a working mom. I had no idea how important my function was to her until much later when I became one myself.

Being blindsided comes from the world of sports. It’s that blind spot your opponent hopes to fill so you can’t see him or her coming. Taking inventory from the last nine months of this year, I would say my blind spot has been filled a time or two too many. Shift happens. Whether we like it or not.

Hindsight is indeed a helpful thing. It is the platform for gaining wisdom when things happen unexpectedly. If you have a tendency toward feelings of regret, hindsight can mock you. It can stand there with its hands on its hips like a bossy older sister, telling you “I told you so!” Or you can allow it to gently nudge you toward an alternate course in your direction like a noble mentor who truly wants what’s best for you.

I tend not to regret most things, but I do question why I chose to do what I have done in my life sometimes. Why did I chose to spend time with certain people who clearly have their own interest at heart? Or how could I trust others not worthy of it?

Those who give a shift roll with the times. They don’t resist it or at least accept some parts of it, taking responsibility for what they have created in their lives. They bounce. They rock. They roll.

Resilience is a survival skill I learned early on in my life. Researchers say resilience may add to your longevity. It makes us happier people who tend to make healthier choices. Resilience makes sense as a key ingredient to a fabulous life.

So as life tosses more dodge balls at my head, I’ll live on with change as my constant companion, smiling all the while with anticipation of what will come next. Maybe next time I won’t be blindsided. I have heard that wisdom offers a pretty good shield against such things. Nothing is guaranteed in life except the change we experience. I’m opting to enjoy the ride and dance to the very end of it all.

Won’t you join me?

 

Slow Road to Everything

Sustainability takes time. If you want something to last, you need to go slow. Want good grades? Study often. Want more fitness? Exercise often. Want to play the flute? Practice often. Want better relationships? Listen often.

Good things can come from repetition. A fabulous relationship isn’t built in a day. It takes years to build, then sustain trust.

So I’m worried. Our relations with our Middle Eastern neighboring countries isn’t looking so good. We’re embracing the default us versus them mentality. We aren’t looking at the deeper realities. We see what we want to see. Nothing good can come from retaliation. It’s shortsighted. And the bullying goes on.

Last night I started really thinking about forgiveness. It is the slow road to everything. It takes time to release the hurts of the past. But it is possible. It truly is.

Below I compiled a few words of forgiveness. Please feel free to add yours.

  • Two wrongs make two wrongs. One wrong + forgiveness = the beginning of something wonderful.
  • If someone wronged you, reach for forgiveness. It will set you free. I promise.
  •  No wrongful act is ever justified. But forgiveness always is.
  • Gratitude – and its cousin joy – comes automatically when we learn to let things go.
  • Die Liebe hat eine enorme Kraft. Vergebung ebenso (Love has enormous power; as does forgiveness).
  • Forgiveness isn’t about another person. It’s about you.
  • When we move out of the shadows of hatred, we can shed the light of forgiveness.
  • I don’t know about you; but when I hold on to shit, it stinks.
  • Nothing is more moving than grief turned into forgiveness. We may lose a lot in this life, but what we gain through those experiences is immeasurable.
  • Regret is about holding onto the past; forgiveness paves the way for the future.

Why should we forgive? Because the alternative harms everyone; including yourself.

Run (in the Forest), Run!

What does running have to do with the power of slow? There really is nothing Slow about running per se. With a minor exception of one blazing summer as a Washington, D.C. intern, I’ve never been the jogging type. But I do love my walks through the woods. I do them every chance I can get.

Run Phones meEvery now and then I’ll bring my iPhone with me to listen to music. But as I briskly jaunt through the forest, those annoying ear buds kept popping out of my ear. Dangling down to the forest floor, they seemed to mock me. I was about to give up every listening to music on my iPhone again until RunPhones contacted me. They offered me to try their product in exchange for a review on my blog.

So I agreed.

The headband comes in two types of styles — the warmer, fleecy type for winter and the cooler, thinner material for summer. Both are washable so you don’t have to worry about them getting funky after a while. I got the summer kind (thankfully). As the temperatures rise, I don’t really want anything on my head. I was ready for an itch-a-thon, but the headband is so comfortable, I soon forgot I was wearing it at all. It’s like having a portable stereo without the cackling ear buds to ruin the fun.

Another bonus is I don’t have to jack up the sound to have the high fidelity that the RunPhones provide. I always felt like ear buds were making me go deaf. Now I’ll be stylin’ whilst maintaining my hearing too!

I may never take up jogging again, but I’ll certainly be listening to my tunes  more often whilst traipsing through the forest.

Vulnerability is not for the fragile

Teetering on a tightrope, trying not to look down, arms dancing from side to side in spread-eagle fashion. Toes sweating. Heart racing. Mind frozen in concentration. Being vulnerable is not for the fair-hearted.

Somewhere in my history, I thought showing any sign of weakness was somehow wrong. Being vulnerable was high on my list of not-to-do’s. Instead, I proudly belonged to the stiff upper lip crowd, smiling through simply everything. The message I received at a very early age was that being cute somehow meant I’d be lovable. In the black-and-white shadows of a child’s mind, that also meant not being cute meant not being loved.

And everyone wants love, yes?

We piece together a belief system as we grow, drawing conclusions and meanings from experience. And we live as if those carefully constructed guidelines are true.

And while our personalized rules and regulations may have served us well for a very long time, they become outdated at some point because life is an ever flowing river in which you never step twice.

If I have learned anything in the last two years since I moved to my beloved Freiburg, it is that breaking yourself wide open is the most courageous thing you can do. And courage takes strength, not weakness. Vulnerability does not leave us cowering in the corner in fear. Right before we walk on that stage of authenticity, we may be afraid, but the moment we move forward into the lights, something starts to shift. We release something within ourselves, like a dark secret that has weighed us down. And suddenly, the pressure that vacuum-packed secret created dissolves in thin air. When we step into that tender space within ourselves, we are drawing on the implicit well of goodness with which we were born. We reveal the very essence of who we are. And that is simply irresistible.

Vulnerability is contagious. When you rest in the vastness of your utmost truth, others start to settle into theirs. Have you ever noticed how you suddenly attract very different people when you are being real versus being fake? We start to break a long-held pattern of “keeping it altogether” to falling slightly apart. And in that brokenness, we create a new space for people to join us in our uphill battles and sorrow. We are not left behind. Quite the contrary! In embracing our own humanity, we invite others to do the same.

That is when the beauty of life — in all its richness — unfolds. Being vulnerable is key to living the life you are meant to live.

Take that leap of faith. This is your life. Who else but you can live it?

The Joy Choice

No matter what is swirling about you and the squeeze you feel from it- train strikes, illness, pending surgeries or demanding clients — there is always room for joy.

In fact, I have found when I make the conscious choice for joy over suffering that everything works out. Miracle or Universal law? I’d say it’s the latter.

Want to know a secret? Things always work out just as they should, whether we are fretting about them or not. But as life unfolds, we can decide how we are going to feel about it. The joy choice requires a certain level of mental discipline. When standing at the precipice between upset and acceptance, we can ask ourselves: “How do I want to feel about this?” Sometimes I actively choose to feel bad about it. I wrangle. I wrestle. I rant. I rave. And after I have exhausted all my emotional options of negativity, I standing panting in the middle of the room. The only thing that has changed is my brain chemistry. And I’m pretty darn tired from the rage of it all.

Other times  I actively choose joy. I take each moment and drink the nectar of beauty. When negative thoughts come into my mind, I ask them where their invitation to my party is. They blink. They stutter. They turn on their heels and leave.

It is marvelous to have that level of control over your own experience.

Another thing that helps is looking at what is going right in the face of what I perceive to be going wrong. That’s when my focus shifts and that which I think is wrong actually turns out to be a lovely piece of the entire picture.

As my friend Simone likes to say, life is always right. So why do we spend so much time fighting against it?

Opting for joy has been the best decision of my life. And you, my dear friends, are invited to my joy party any time you like. Won’t you join me?

Of Mountains and Molehills

Some days we get caught completely off guard by the littlest things. They suddenly become giants that loom large over us. Try as we might, we can’t quite see the mountain as the molehill it is. We are shrunk to the size of a pinhead, lost in the morass of daily living.

I would like to think of myself as a person of high tolerance, someone who isn’t thrown off track so easily. But when multiple little things pile up, all those molehills resemble Mount Everest.

Are you with me on this?

In times like these, I ask myself a simple question: “What can I learn from this moment?” It isn’t easy to find that question amongst the fumes in my head as I steam about the injustice of it all. Yet every time I pose the question, the answer emerges almost immediately.

Clearing the eyes to see and the ears to hear: it may be the greatest lesson of all.

Life is our grandest teacher; all those molehills are the learning tools to get us to see beyond ourselves to the greater Wholeness of All Things. They are the stepping stones up the mountain. Each pace forward has the ability to bring us more joy, more abundance and more gratitude.

So think of life’s challenges as your training ground to reach the summit. And when you finally get there, you will have the wherewithal to truly enjoy the view.

 

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.

 

Daring Greatly or Why Perfection Sucks

I don’t blame religion for our current predicament. Our Western world is obsessed with doing more, being better and engaging in unhealthy competition, especially with ourselves.  I can’t help but wonder how we have gotten so caught up in this notion of perfection. Christianity tells us we are not perfect, but that we should attempt to be like Jesus, who is. It’s a set-up really because perfection doesn’t exist even if Jesus did. It’s a construct that makes us ill as we strive for the unattainable.

“At least you tried,” I hear a small voice say to me. It sounds like a cop-out, like a consolation prize for the just-missed opportunity to show just how perfect you can be.

Only we can’t be.

Brené Brown, an extraordinarily down-to-earth shame researcher who struggles every bit as much as everyone else, says in her recent book Daring Greatly:

Perfect and bulletproof are seductive, but they don’t exist in the human experience.


But oh! How we yearn to be just those things! If we are perfect, we might be seen. People might like us. We might finally be accepted. All clean and neat and fantastically ordered. If we are bulletproof, we will never, ever feel the creep of shame that rides our arteries up to our skulls and back down again.

But have you ever really liked a person you have viewed as perfect and impervious to any kind of mishap? I don’t think so. There is nothing loving and warm and wonderful about someone who tries to be immaculate. Oftentimes they are riddled with judgement, especially about themselves.

To be imperfect and vulnerable is to be human. And to be human is to be alive, making mistakes, getting upset and showing up even in the face of your greatest fear.

The very thing we run away from (the fear of getting hurt) is the very thing that, when we trust that process of opening up to the unknown, makes life worth living. It is that moment when we step on stage, knees knocking, heart pounding, palms sweating, mind whirling, and do it anyway.

Stepping on stage really means taking a risk. When you open your heart, it could get crushed. But to keep it closed means you won’t feel the flip side of fear, which is love.

And love is why we are here.

It’s ironic, isn’t it? It is as if we have to relive the birth experience over and over until we finally get it. Pain is a part of life. It is what ensures us that we get back on our path when we go astray.

And that’s what friends are for. They are the ones who hold your hand across those treacherous ravines, loving you even when you are broken. As Brené writes so beautifully, true friends are the people who love you for your vulnerability, not despite it.

Daring greatly means being in that arena, even if your prospects for success are slim. It’s not about winning, but about showing up and getting up. Time and again. Even when you fall.

I’m game. Are you?