Noise. We are surrounded by it more than we know. Whether it’s the television, our phones or airplanes overhead, we are subjected to a great deal of sound every day.

SilenceSilence is very rare indeed. Yet it is in the silent inward gaze that we gain the most power for ourselves. It is not in the distractions of every day life that we find what we are looking for. It is within.

A wise friend of mine once said much can be said in silence. And I have a few special friends that enjoy that silence with me. Nothing must be spoken outloud because we already share a knowingness. It is simply there.

And that is extremely comforting because some things are beyond words, beyond our comprehension, beyond our understanding of reality.

Invite some silence into your day and see what you experience. You might surprised at what you find lurking just beneath the surface, waiting to be heard in the soundless space of your heart.

I have been known to say “I used to be a nice person…until I had children.” Now that I’ve been at this parenting gig for well over a decade, I realize that children bring out everything in us that is unresolved, unattended or carefully hidden from view.

And so it was recently as I found myself blowing my top at my teenager publicly. For the first time. Ever.

It was an uncool thing to do, yet it seemed nothing could stop me in that moment. The fuse had finally burst. I had been pushed to a precipice never seen before. But to admit my weakness is the first step in recovery.

Or so I hope.

The shadow side is as much a part of us as our light. And as much as I’d like to dance in that light 24/7, I have come to realize ignoring those parts of myself that are mean, ugly and hateful simply doesn’t work. Sending those pieces love is the only thing to do.

Raising a teen in this world of escapism through video games, television and other digital media is harrowing at best. I’ve not yet figured it out, but one thing is for certain: where shadows lurk there is also light.

I hope to keep mine shining, even in the darkest of my days.

Let’s embrace the shadows, invite them to dance and not be fearful in their midst. They make us whole. They make us real. They make us feel the entire spectrum of humanity.

And that is worth something indeed.

Gazing at the picture of my thirty-year-old self with a baby in my arms, I had no idea what life had in store for me then. Soon after the picture was taken, I was confronted with the dilemma so many working women face today: dueling priorities of both work and home life. Having arranged a part-time position in the marketing department of a major investment firm, I managed to work a forty-hour job in thirty. There was no balance: just 5 a.m. wake-up times, baby fevers and early pick-ups at child care in the middle of the day.

It was a nightmare.

In the sage words of Vickie L. Milazzo in her 2011 release Wicked Success is Inside Every Woman, “[i]f you haven’t been reduced to your breaking point one or more times in your life, you’re either very young or probably not a woman.”

Forget what self-help gurus tell you. Work-life balance does not exist.

In my view, work-life balance is a media sound bite that tries to remedy the conflicts working parents face every day. It is a myth primarily because the image evokes the sense that work and life are on opposite spectrums of our existence. In fact, they are not.

Anyone with a smartphone will tell you work bleeds into life after hours. If you are an entrepreneur or freelancer, such as myself (I soon discovered Corporate America would not support mothers they way I needed it to), you find yourself working at odd hours. Partly, it’s because we are passionate about what we do. Partly, it’s because our global world demands it.

What is possible is aligning your life with your truest purpose. Everything else cascades from that centerpoint. If you know what you are passionate about, your focus will be laser-like and the extraneous distractions that tug at your attention will fall away.

I recently chat with CBS This Morning correspondent Lee Woodruff, who is doing the opening keynote address at the upcoming Women’s Leadership Conference in Las Vegas August 14-15, 2012. When she offered up her view of work-life balance, I sat up and listened because her priorities have really been put to the test in her life. For those of you who are familiar with her husband’s story, Bob Woodruff replaced Peter Jennings in the ABC news anchor chair. For 27 days. That is, until a bomb in Iraq struck him while reporting there in 2006. His amazing recovery has been recorded in various places. Here’s one.

For someone who has been to hell and back, Lee is a remarkably resilient personality whose sense of humor is certainly her recipe for success (just ask her about the power of flannel nightgowns). Spending a few minutes on the phone with her was enough to boost my spirits skyward. Her writing will do the same for you. She’s just penned her first novel entitled Those We Love Most, which will be released in September 2012.

According to Lee, “there isn’t a balance. It’s a myth that we’re chasing. And we’ve done women a big disservice to say they can have it all.” She referenced a recent Atlantic Monthly article by former director of policy planning at the State Department Annie-Marie Slaughter that claims the current workplace and society at large are not equipped to deal with family life as a holistic part of an employee’s existence. The personal and the professional are held separately and not valued equally. Slaughter suggests that someone who trains for a marathon and puts in the early and late hours to reach his goal is considered disciplined, committed and admirable. Someone who puts in the same hours caring for a family is not regarded the same way.

Glibly put, family life, should it interfere with work at all, is regarded as an unspeakable part of yourself, like gastrointestinal issues. In current times, it is unprofessional to mention you might have a life beyond your cubicle.

Society dictates that you are ‘less than’ when you show you have family commitments outside of work. You are somehow subpar to those who really ‘dig in’ and don’t let pesky distractions such as a sick child or school matters interfere with more noble pursuits such as the bottom line. In fact, I have been told to say I have an off-site meeting to clients when really I’m attending my child’s concert. I was instructed that it is unprofessional to speak of such matters because it would indicate my attention is not 100 percent on the client himself. No one places 100 percent of their attention anywhere. That, too, is a myth.

We need to redefine what professionalism means. We are not robots. We are social beings in a broader network with other social beings. When will family life be as hip as Facebook?

Lee admits that she cannot have it all and that, whilst on the speaking circuit, her children aren’t going to get that home-cooked meal. She says you can still be a great mother and miss a few sports games. The trick is self-forgiveness.

“We’re calibrated as working women to have an entire sense of guilt because we can’t chase it all. Once we become kinder to ourselves, the whole thing is a lot easier to manage,” she admits.

In those moments when she has her kids on the phone complaining that she’s not there for a special event, she gives herself a pep talk afterwards. She knows she is there for the big things in their lives. With twelve-year-old twins and two older children, Lee has come to realize they will survive without helicopter parenting. In fact, they will do better as a result.

“Stay the course,” Lee advises. “We are the best judge of what is going on with our children.” Mindful parenting does not mean you are a hovercraft.

It’s time to toss the balance beam out the window and get real. Alignment with self, family and work is where it’s at.

The Empathy Habit

July 27, 2012

Do you want to know the secret to a happy life?

It starts with empathy.

Research in young adults has shown empathy is associated with heightened sexual pleasure and I’m sure the older crowd could benefit from the effects of empathy in that department too.

Have I got your attention now?

According to a recent study at Oregon State University, the ability to be empathetic may be partly genetic. “The love hormone” oxytocin plays a strong role in bonding and empathy, for instance. Those with two “G” variants of the oxytocin receptor gene tend to have better social skills.  At the same time, those with at least one “A” variant are apt to deal with stress less effectively and suffer from mental health issues. That’s a whole lot of science talk for “Empathy has some basis in neuroscience.”

Nonetheless, most anyone can learn empathy so we can’t blame not being kind on our genes alone.

How can you be more empathetic? Follow the “walk a mile in their moccasins” rule.

My mother is probably the most empathetic person I know. She taught me long ago to really consider another person’s perspective before laying judgement on them. By the time you’re finished feeling into their situation, you will have forgotten to lay judgement at all. So empathy is about looking at someone’s situation, trying to get their perspective and suspending judgement altogether.

It is incredibly liberating not to carry judgement around like an old sack of clothes. Imagine a world in which we did more loving and less judging.

Photo Courtesy of NaturalPatriot.org

Have you ever experienced an empathetic listener, someone who feels into what you are saying without judgement or advice? You may not have noticed at the time why you felt so much better after talking to that person, but you know they uplift you every time. What you experienced was empathy.

It truly is the key to unlocking your joy.

Now there are people whom you may try to connect with who are simply not interested. You can be as empathetic as you want to be and they still won’t care. As Rick Hanson says in Buddha’s Brain (yes, I’m finally nearing the end of the book – it’s a great read!), you need to match the relationship with its true foundation. That means you might have a deeper relationship with someone you thought was only a casual acquaintance. Or you may have to disconnect from those who are toxic.

Either way being empathetic does not mean trying to change a person. It means being your truest self, celebrating what you and the other person has to offer and being kind. Sometimes the kindest thing to do is to walk away. Sometimes it is to draw nearer.

How might you show empathy today?

It takes a village to raise a child and since I have no village (that is, extended family within three hundred miles) per se, there are certain things I’ve had to do to get creative. In the early days when we first arrived to Germany where I spent the first ten weeks without a car, friends or furniture with two children ages 3 and 1, I spent every moment I could leading or participating in a toddler’s playgroup above the firehouse. It was my saving grace because the kids got to play with toys for a few hours. And I got to see, well, people.

Then they went to preschool, then school and now high school. And in the interim I have gotten creative about delegating certain family care chores because that village is still needed, especially now.

After months of delibration, consideration and desperation, I finally hired a cleaning lady. And although she has yet to clean a single thing, I like her already. During her interview, she was unphased by my teen’s, shall we say, behavior? She gave me a hug and said, “I know. Mine’s five and it’s the same.”

As I showed her about the house, we engaged in some small talk. Suddenly we looked at each other and said, “You look awfully familiar.” It turns out she waitresses at a local place where I went for the first time recently. Who know that the extension of my village was so near?

So you see, dear friends, sometimes help is closer than you think. Reach out and touch someone today. It takes a village to raise a child.

It takes a village to live.

What’s in a name?

July 25, 2012

Before I moved to Bavaria, I had no idea there was such a thing as “name day”. Also known as “feast day”, it is a European tradition rooted in Christianity. The names of saints in the Catholic and Orthodox church are celebrated so if you are lucky enough to be named after one of them, you get to party not only on our birthday, but on your name day too.

So yesterday, July 24th, was my name day and the saint Christina sounded like a cool chick. Born in 1150 in Belgium, she was orphaned at the age of 15 and had to make a living as a shepherdess. By 1182 she lived a life of austerity. It is said she experienced miracle after miracle after that. I don’t think I could aspire to live a life like that, but miracles are something I would welcome for sure!

If you are curious when your name day appears, check out this name day calendar.

Byron Katie asked herself a simple question as she lay in a half-way house, not sure if she would survive the next day.

“Is it true?”

It was the first time she actually challenged her own belief system, and what she found out was indeed much of what she had told herself was not true at all. She has since go on to become an international best-selling author and speaker who inspires thousands with her simple approach.

So much of what we tell ourselves is based on conditioning and filters we have placed over our eyes, shielded from the truth of ourselves and others. If we are able to build belief systems that disempower us, we are certainly capable of building truth-based ones that bring us more joy.

What good does it do the world to build broken systems that only serve to put ourselves down? What if Byron Katie, who continues to help the world, had not asked the question, is it true?

So much of our lives is ruled by our thinking. We say we don’t have time, we’re too busy, we’ll do it tomorrow. Did you know that tomorrow is a myth? We only ever have today.

It is time for us to move beyond our ears and eyes to let our hearts live too.

I’m game. Are you?

Dust in the Wind

July 23, 2012

Sometimes all we are is dust in the wind, as Kansas rightly sings. The first time I heard that song was at a talent show when I was ten years old. A few friends of my sister sang it. The message stuck with me all these years.

As you glide through this life, ask yourself, are you really dust in the wind? Or are you perhaps the wind itself? Or are you both?

Ride that wind and see where it takes you, my dear friends. It is worth the journey.

Playing for Change

July 22, 2012

It is true that once you leave home, you never really fully return because a part of you is left with the people you meet along the way. If that is so, I have my heart scattered on five continents.

But what is also true is that music can bring the world together, even when the actual musicians live far apart.

PlayingForChange.com is a movement that brings musicians together from around the world. They all perform the same song, in harmony, at the same time. And get this: Timeless Media is their for-profit arm that funds the project.

It goes something like this:

 

So you see. It doesn’t really matter if loved ones are far away. There is always a way to connect through technology. Of course, the real thing is good too!

My grandmother lived in a house she called The Enchanted Cottage. As a child, I considered it an enormous fairytale castle with secret passage ways (closets) and rooms that each had a name: the French Room, the Pretty Room, the Inn. She segmented her house into stories, in which you might encounter magic within the four walls of each one. Even her wildlife, the squirrels, had names. She fed my hungry imagination the right amount of fantasy that remains with me to this day. Thanks to her influence, I was allowed to preserve a child-like wonder from which I create every day.

Enchantment isn’t something we adults think about much. Intellectually, we know forests don’t have fairies (although of this I am not certain. Maybe one day I’ll tell you about an encounter I had with large trees and a giggling friend. And no, there were no mushrooms involved!). But every time I enter the woods, I half-expect a gnome or pixie to greet me. It’s the energy of the place that lulls me to that special place inside. The trees speak. I listen. And what I often hear is a calling beyond words.

Enchantment may be harder to find in urban settings. My grandmother was from New York City so her rural Connecticut home felt like a refuge from too many years in an urban environment. But even in a place as vast as New York, you can find enchantment if you’re with the right people.

Ultimately, enchantment resides within us. If you can cast a spell in any area of your life, whether it be work, a relationship or, like my grandmother did, a home itself, you will have created something sacred.

And who knows what influence that could have on the world?

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 148 other followers