Shades of Gray

June 17, 2012

One of the greatest lessons I have learned in my exploration of our temporal relationship is that being on time is a relative thing. When we allow our lives to be dictated by hours, we automatically engage in clock combat. We establish, in a way, rigid, mechanistic thinking. Our world becomes black and white. We are either on time or we are not. And in a black and white world, there is no room for shades of gray.

My dear friend Arielle Ford taught me a new concept of time: that of divine timing. As we drove a book project to completion, deadlines and timelines somehow became my lifeline. I breathlessly engaged in clock combat to ensure I stayed on track. That is, until she uttered the simple phrase: “It will come in divine time.” She never once pushed the creative process, but instead allowed herself to be enveloped in it. It was one of the most beautiful times of my professional life to be enshrouded with such love, trust and courage.

I am reminded of that trust as I think about how much we worry about being on time in our Western culture. Punctuality is a revered trait in Germany in particular. And I agree that it shows respect to be on time for events, appointments, etc. But some things cannot be pushed into a timeline. Nor can they be foreseen. Some experiences simply happen, such as a crazy GPS that leads you astray until you realize it might just have been your angels that averted disaster for you on the road.

Going slowly and absorbing the meaning behind the experience allow you to savor the beauty and flavor of life.

In April I had meticulously planned a conference trip to Berlin that included an early morning flight from Munich. Thinking that no one else would be up that early, I took the latest bus possible from remote parking to the airport itself. When I saw the long line at security, I could feel myself putting on my combat boots against time. In a very uncharacteristic move (those of you who know me – stop laughing!), I excused myself throughout the entire line to the front, explaining my gate was about to close. By some miracle, the security turned a blind eye to my four bags of liquid products and let me through. As I rushed to the gate, which had changed last-minute, I saw that my flight had been delayed by 45 minutes. I slipped off my invisible boots and apologized to time for my lack of trust. In the end, I made it to the conference, despite an hour’s ride through Berlin, just in time.

When we trust in divine timing, life works smoothly. Even when we think we are going down the wrong road, we are always exactly where we need to be. When you tune into that inner knowing, that inner GPS, the mystery that is your life reveals itself. Are you listening?

To Bid the Norm Adieu

May 27, 2012

“Anything worth doing is worth doing slowly” ~ Mae West

It has been three years since The Power of Slow hit the stands. It has slowly (pun intended!) infiltrated numerous cultures: from India, to South Korea, to China, to even the lovely country of France, which, with its joie de vivre and 35 average vacation days, leaves me a little breathless. One would think a place with so much good wine would not have issues about stress. But in my travels, I have learned even in one of the most beautiful places in the world such as France, people feel the crush of modern life.

It’s time to do things a little more slowly.

Slow resides within. It is a mindset, not a speed. It cannot be measured in units, but in the quality of your life. When we embrace time abundance, we no longer shoulder the weight of too much in too little. Instead, we reverse the relationship to have more resources than are needed. We then simply have more than enough.

An actor friend of mine cried into the phone that she had received an invitation to walk the red carpet at the Cannes Film Festival alongside Nicole Kidman, but due to circumstances, was not able to make it in time to do so.

“So here I am on top of this villa, overlooking the Croisette at all these people…and the red carpet.”

I had her repeat her words. Did she really hear them?

“You could be sitting in front of your television set doing the same,” I smiled into the phone. She laughed. C’est vrai!

Life is abundant, if you see it that way.

A reader on my Psychology Today blog recently told me he is a European trapped in an American body. He wants four weeks off every year as most Europeans have (and live in a place where the word “vacation” is not substituted for words like “out of the office” and “on travel”), yet if he even gets one week between Christmas and New Year’s, the work piles up to staggering heights.

Something is wrong with this picture. When you cannot extrapolate yourself from work long enough to catch your breath, the quality of it suffers. We need to bid the norm adieu.

Google has learned the truth of this, at least to some extent. In his widely publicized book Search Inside Yourself, Chief Relaxation Officer Chade-Meng Tan offers up ways to unleash your fullest potential.  Google’s Corporate culture supports the notion of workplace wellness. Whether it is truly put into practice in such a competitive industry is left up to interpretation. I’ll be blogging about Chade-Meng’s book soon. In the meantime, enjoy his 54-minute talk.

Big Mama busted out of her cage this morning. A svelt glossy grey rabbit the size of a shoebox tore around the neighbor’s yard with impunity while we, Husband and I, stood in our pjs with utter helplessness. The rain pelted our faces and despite the alluring rabbit food bag that crackled in my arms, Big Mama was having none of it.

Ah! The sense of freedom beneath those paws as she clawed the neighbor’s lawn! I began to admire her for her smarts as we shooed her back into the garage. She hid under our sports car whilst we closed the doors to catch our breath.

“Maybe she’ll tire out.” Husband said flatly as he shuffled back into the dry house.

Strengthened from our breakfast, we set back outside to corner Big Mama in the garage. She slipped our grasp, scampering out into the rain. After chasing her 360 around the house, I finally nabbed her near the garbage cans. Wild-eyed and ready to box me with all her might, Big Mama seemed to give a sigh of relief when she returned to the safety of her cage.

“Freedom’s not all it’s cracked up to be,” I could almost hear her say. Sprawling out on her warm bedding, she immediately fell asleep to the licks of her grateful  brother.

Jonathan Franzen knows this. He penned a gargantuan novel aptly called Freedom that takes us to Minnesota, New Jersey and even West Virginia. A family tale of triumph, defeat and deviance, Freedom teaches us readers that while we may get what we truly desire, it’s not always what will make us happy.

Big Mama learned that lesson this morning. She taught me a great deal  in her cheeky  attempt at escape. Sometimes we need to break out of our cages to taste the other side of the grass. It is then that we realize our side of the fence is just fine too.

If you find yourself wanting to break free, do it so you know what it feels like. You may just find, however, that after all that effort, everything you were ever looking for has always been within your grasp.

Say what?

Huh?

You gotta be kidding me!?

Those are all ways of saying ‘no’. They may not be eloquent choices, but they get the job done. If you have trouble being that direct (and most of us do), there are gentler versions of ‘no’ that can be equally effective without the collatoral damage to your relationships. At any rate, one can consider the word ‘no’ as a powerful way to say ‘yes’ to yourself.

Building boundaries that empower you while encouraging others to respect you is a none too easy task, especially for the people-pleasers among us. It has been proven, however, that always saying ‘yes’ to others can lead to conditions as severe as burnout and depression.

Cyndi Dale and Andrew Wald recently penned a book called Togetherness: Creating and Deepening Sustainable Love that shows readers how to set personal boundaries that will actually strengthen personal relationships. According to the authors, saying ‘no’ helps us to figure out who we are and who we want to be in our relationships. By setting boundaries, we keep our personal identities alive — and our personal relationships honest, balanced, and intact.

To directly quote Tina Turner: What does love have to do with it? In a word, everything.

Self-love is not narcissism. It’s a life-sustaining force. The authors offer several ways to build beautiful boundaries to let love in ~both from others and from ourselves.

How you are going to say ‘yes’ to yourself today?

What Do Your Boundaries Say About You?
By Cyndi Dale and Andrew Wald
Adapted from Togetherness: Creating and Deepening Sustainable Love

In our lives — and in relationships — we create personal boundaries to define the space we call our own. We set boundaries and say “no” with our words, but even more so with our behavior and actions: we may tell white lies, come up with excuses, or throw ourselves into activities like work, working out, or volunteering — essentially creating boundaries by making ourselves unavailable.

Boundaries may sound negative, but in reality, they are very important and help to define our personal identities. For example, being the nurturer or a people-pleaser comes with boundaries that fit those roles. Being the boss or the guru comes with a different set of boundaries that keep those identities intact. In this sense, personal boundaries allow us to “locate” ourselves within relationships (or within the world) in a way that’s familiar and safe. Our boundaries help us to honor the balance between taking care of ourselves, and taking care of others.

Here are four practices that will empower you to update your personal boundaries and take ownership of your life:

Honor yourself. What parts of your life are in need of care or attention? On a daily basis, find simple ways to honor yourself. Choose three things you like doing every day, and then do them. You might pick something as simple as taking a walk, reading, or having lunch with family or friends. Whatever you choose, know that you deserve to have pleasure, so let pleasure be your guide.

Soothe yourself. Are you living the life you want to live? Or do you feel like you are stuck and don’t have a choice in what’s happening? In these moments, stop and recognize the feeling of “choiceless­ness,” check your assumptions, and acknowledge the needs and desires you’re afraid won’t get met. With practice, you will find that cultivating the awareness of choice is profoundly soothing to your soul.

Embrace choice. Every time we make a decision, we have an opportunity to determine a course of action: “Do I stay here and face the situation, or do I run out the door?” By recognizing that you have control over your own reactions, you’ll also have the opportunity to reinforce, change, or alter your boundaries.

Accept yourself and your life lessons. Shame and disappointment about our lives causes us to create false boundaries and interactions with the people we care about most. It’s important to accept who you are and what has happened in your life. When faced with a challenge or disappointment, ask yourself: “What is my lesson here? How is this challenge a way for my soul to grow?” Use your answers to create boundaries that reflect acceptance of your true self.

*****
Cyndi Dale is an internationally respected author, cross-cultural healer, and spiritual scholar with over 35,000 client sessions and trainings across Europe, Asia, and the Americas. Andrew Wald, LCSW-C, is a psychotherapist with advanced certifications in Imago Relationship Therapy, Gestalt Therapy, and Neuro-Linguistic Programming. Together, they have co-authored the new book, Togetherness: Creating and Deepening Sustainable Love (June 2012).

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?

Imagine taking an entire day off. No cell phone. No one calling your name. No computer. No client calls. No children begging for ice cream. Just you, yourself, and, well, YOU!

Yesterday I declared a sabbatical from my every day life and headed for the hills. Well, not really. I first headed for the woods. In fact, I left my iPhone, with little battery power left, behind. After an hour power walk, I went to the gym to enjoy the sauna and a hot, albeit short, shower. Browsing the supermarket aisles for a snack, I took my time with no real purpose or timeline. I even waited patiently in line while two women and a two-year-old unloaded their heavy shopping cart onto the conveyor belt. I had two items, but didn’t mind just standing there soaking in my surroundings. What an fabulous feeling not to try to squeeze time like an orange!

I missed the train to Munich so had to wait 30 minutes for the next one. So what. I called my husband with 30% left on my iPhone battery to say I’d be home in the evening or later, in case I found a movie I liked.

When I finally got to my destination, thousands of people rushed to and fro. Seeking refuge (and warmth) in a bookstore, I sat amongst the others on a long bench made for book lovers who just want to focus on one thing: the book or magazine they were reading. I found a book on burnout, which felt purposeful enough as I am doing research for a new book on it myself.

It was there that I realized how tiring a purpose-driven life can be. When we do everything on purpose, with focus and intention, we have no real time for Bacchalian enjoyment. To do a thing simply because we want to resides outside the realm of our vocabulary. In our achievement-oriented society, having a ‘be’ day seems extravagent indeed.

But it was just the thing I needed after a string of successive achievements. When we keep our eyes on accomplishment only,  we have no time to recuperate. With all our time spent on going for the gold, we find our worth only in the doingness of things instead of realizing just being is more than enough.

Did you know you will continue to exist — that is, to be — even when you don’t ‘do’?

Where did our drive for constant activity come from? According to the book I just read, Warum Burnout Nicht Vom Job Kommt by Helen Heinemann (in nearly one sitting – it was that good), burnout comes from the blurring of the lines around our specific roles in public and private life. If we live with uncertainty as to where my role begins and, say, my partner’s ends, we are left with a domain over which we will combat. Combine the lack of clarity with a lack of pause to reconsider which direction each of us should go and a wildfire ensues. Each of us, running as fast as we can, toward an ill-defined end goal can lead to burnout faster than you can say, “Call 911!”

Slowing down and taking pause really do help because in those pockets of air we allow ourselves come the solutions to many of our issues we otherwise quickly try to sweep under the carpet.

Take the Slow Challenge and call a whole day off for yourself. What do you think you’ll discover?

Healthy eating is a big part of the Slow Movement. You are what you eat, and how you do it, too.

Smart cooking doesn’t come naturally to all of us so that’s why I breathed a sigh of relief when Camilla V. Saulsbury’s 5 Steps to Healthy Cooking: 500 Recipes for Lifelong Wellness arrived in my mailbox (You remember her, don’t you? I blogged about her fabu Piece of Cake cookbook that has been my baker’s secret ever since!). I tore open the envelope and started reading right away.

The neat thing about her recipe book is how it’s organized. Unlike many cookbooks that ignore breakfast altogether, she actually starts there. As we all know, breakfast is the most important meal of the day. So why do most cookbooks avoid it?

The truth is Camilla takes a holistic approach. So while you might be perusing the cookbook for some in-law impressing meals, you’re actually getting health tips along the way too. Did you know that mushrooms contain potassium, a mineral that can actually lower your blood pressure and reduce your risk of a stroke? Or that cherries (much like blueberries) contain antioxidants to help prevent many diseases related to aging? Who knew?

Instead of having to get that information elsewhere, it’s right there while you make your shopping list.

Every recipe includes a nutrients section so you know how many calories, amounts of fat, protein, etc. you’re ingesting. Along with the enticing recipe names (I mean who can resist the sound of “Southeast Asian Roast Beef Wraps” or “Whole-Grain Blueberry Maple Muffins”?), she sprinkles in a few great images too.

The cheery front cover gives you the sense that you can do this. You really can. There is nothing intimidating or condescending about her book. If anything, it offers just the right array of amazing meals to make your mother-in-law wonder “Just how does s/he do it?”

With mindful shopping, cooking and a touch of Camilla’s grace! But that’ll be our little secret, okay?

Now, what’s on your meal plan today?

Making Sense of MAD MEN

March 6, 2012

Right before Christmas I stumbled upon MAD MEN at the grocery store. No, Don Draper wasn’t casually smoking Lucky Strikes in the produce section, and Pete Campbell wasn’t chasing women down the frozen food aisle. It was a gift box of Season One DVDs. I grabbed it on an impulse, making a mental mark on my husband’s wish list. Giving in to my old speedaholic tendencies, I didn’t notice that the DVDs weren’t actually in the box, something I was supposed to pick up at the information desk after the purchase. Fast forward to early January when I discovered the faux pas just as my husband and I settled in to watch the very first episode. Luckily, there were only two boxes left at the store so by power of deduction, we were able to match the ‘missing’ DVDs with my set. Another night passed before we reconvened for another viewing attempt.

And we’ve been savoring every episode ever since. After just three shows I ordered the next season online. We were hooked. And we didn’t know why.

I mean honestly. I went to Smith College, alma mater to Gloria Steinem, the godmother of the feminist movement. Why on Earth would I like a show that exhibits sexism, racism and homophobia like none other?

To explain the attraction, fellow Psychology Today blogger Dr. Stephanie Newman just came out with her new release MAD MEN on the Couch: Analyzing the Minds of Men and Women of the Hit TV Show. From her perspective as a clinical psychologist and psychoanalyst, Dr. Newman dissects every one of the main characters in a Freudian context. It’s amusing, if not revealing, that we appreciate watching people act badly.

It satisfies our inner bad boy or bad girl. We actually enjoy watching Betty Draper dismiss her daughter for possibly dropping the dry cleaning on the floor (and not minding that she’s actually wearing the plastic covering from it over her head). For 42 minutes, we’re allowed to be less than perfect parents, colleagues and lovers. We may be nauseated by all the alcohol and tobacco consumption, but we watch anyway because inside we’re collectively saying “I’m so glad that’s not me.”

It’s a bit like reality TV. We find pleasure in viewing others’ antics for the sake of our own entertainment. MAD MEN on the Couch may be repetitive in its driving home how much Don Draper misses his prostitute mother who died in childbirth, but it also explains a lot about the character himself. Why else would he self-sabotage if he didn’t think he deserved it?

We engage in self-harm on a subconscious level because we somehow think that we shouldn’t be rewarded, that our bad sides acted out and it’s our punishment. We see this in virtually every episode of MAD MEN too.

I embraced the book primarily because I wanted to understand why Peggy, the secretary turned junior copywriter, gets ahead professionally while Joan, the bombshell office manager, does not. They both sleep around. They both are seriously surpressed as women in the early 1960s and they both obviously possess higher than average intelligence. However, while Joan buys in to the role of nurturing maternal figure, Peggy does not. She shuns that societal expectation well before there were even role models to follow. She establishes herself in a man’s world by becoming a lot like them: harsh, critical and independent ~ without all the substance abuse to hide behind.

If you’re a fan of the show (and have seen most of the shows up to Season Four), I highly recommend giving MAD MEN on the Couch a read. You may not agree with everything the author writes, but then again, that might give you even more reason to read it!

 

Are you looking for a nice, slow read to fill your evenings this February? Well, do I have a treasure for you.

We tend to skim-read through stuff without the lingering pleasure of allowing a well-constructed sentence, filled with juicy elements, to land on our skin and shimmy up our spines. Not all writing is meant for deep reading. I admit to retweeting links to articles I’ve not read in depth. But writers such as Bill Bryson deserve our attention head-on. His brilliant lyricism and command of the English language made me want his latest book, At Home: A Short History of Private Life, simply not to end.

Using each room in his own home, once a rectory built in 1851, as a point of reference, he takes his readers on a journey into the past. Sometimes with an architectural focus, sometimes with a societal one, Bryson never loses sight of how technological innovation has impacted us to this day. From the pre-Civil War in America to Victoria England to today, we get to tramp alongside the author as he unearths historical facts that would make Wikipedia green with envy.

Consider his description of the German schoolteacher Johann Philipp Reis whose prototype telephone came fifteen years before Alexander Graham Bell filed his patent. The phone never worked and here’s why:

[I]t was later discovered that when the contact points on Reis’s device became fouled with dust or dirt, they were able to transmit speech with starling fidelity. Unfortunately, Reis, with Teutonic punctiliousness, had always kept his equipment impeccably shiny and clean, and so went to his grave never knowing how close he had come to producing a working instrument.

His description of bathroom habits, a relatively new discovery for mankind, is a real hoot, not to mention how the role of the hallway has changed from gathering space to a cheerless, empty one on your way to somewhere else.

As my dad, who kindly gave me the book, so rightly said: “It’s a book so full of information, you have to put it down after fifteen pages to simply digest it all.” So true. But you’ll want to pick it right back up again the next day to explore the next cavern of human existence and the house that has turned into our home.

What good reads would you suggest?

New Year, New Pace

December 29, 2011

My gift to you for 2012 is a new pace of life, one that matches the beat of your resting, not racing, heart.

Get your free eBook today, “21 Ways to Slow Down NOW!” and let this new year flow with slow!