The Weight of Words

August 20, 2012

“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.

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?

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

December 7, 2010

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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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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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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Slow Dynamics

March 18, 2010

Yesterday’s talk at Barnes & Noble in Charlottesville, VA was very enlightening for me. It was a standing room only crowd with some really great questions at the end. The discussion centered around life, work, and time. While I do not believe in the term work-life balance, I do support what it is trying to create ~moderation in our lives. Work to me is an integral part of my life. Whether I am helping my child with homework, writing a press release or bio for a client, acting in a TV scene or taking out the trash, work can be defined in many ways.

As technology bleeds the lines between public and private, professional and personal, we are challenged with a new task: to find a new language to describe our lives. We cannot circumvent technology, nor do I plead that we do so. Rather I suggest that we harness its power to better our lives instead of muddying them up with more activity.

Slow thought of the day: activity does not equal productivity. What item can you eliminate from your list to celebrate the space between things?

Live your bookish nature

November 30, 2009

Books are a divine expression of our innermost worlds. I revere books like some people do churches. In fact, libraries are my sanctuary.

You know the saying, Everyone has a book in them? Well, it’s time you pulled yours out into wide open spaces.

On December 4, 2009 at 9 am PT/12 pm ET, you will have the opportunity to learn more about how to write a book to make New York publishers smile. I am joining forces with Get-it-Done Guy Stever Robbins, author of the forthcoming The Get-it-Done Guy’s Nine Steps to Work Less and Do More and Michael Neill, best-selling author of Feel Happy Now! and You Can Have What You Want, to discuss how we wrote our books and how to promote them. From book proposal to bookshelf occupant, take it from the pros in this lively, interactive teleclass!

Interested? Register here for details. And you better believe it’s free.

We want more books to delve into. Why not have it be yours?

~~

More cool news

At 7 am PT/9 am ET on December 4, 2009, I’ll be chatting with Loren Gelberg-Goff on her radio show Loving the Life You’re In about the power of slow and how to live its principles every day for a more fulfilling, joyous life of time abundance. Please listen in either live or in the archives. I welcome your feedback!

The Gift of Time

November 4, 2009

So often we rush in a blur of activity, uncertain where our lives are taking us. It seems as though we are in reactive mode, being more the dealers than the designers of our days.

Giving someone the gift of your time is tremendous. It is a present as you are present with them. Over the past two weeks I have spent extraordinary moments with friends, family and strangers while touring the East Coast presenting my new book, The Power of Slow to various audiences and forums. It is as though I have experienced the gathering of the minds on a global scale.

No matter who you are, you make a difference. As my uncle said yesterday, our bodies are sojourners of the spirit. May we dance together to the beat of our personal metronome and remember always what is most important.

Feed your inner fire. The world needs you and all the talents you bring. Give your gift of time today. It is the most precious thing you could ever do.

The Gift of a Year

September 4, 2009

The phone jangled just as I was shutting down my computer. It was my sister, fresh off her summer beach vacation. She was brimming with ideas and excitment.

“You’ve got to read this book: The Gift of a Year: How to Achieve the Most Meaningful, Satisfying, and Pleasurable Year of Your Life by Mira Kirschenbaum. It’s changed my life!!” She proceeded to tell me how the book giftlays out a year-long plan to do what you’ve always wanted to do, but never had the guts/time/energy/money to do it. With compelling case studies of people who took time off for a year to travel, paint or pursue other passions, I got excited for my sister who decided to travel more. In fact, we made plans for our pending trip to Barcelona week after next right then and there.

halfwaySo when I received a copy of  Halfway to Each Other: How a Year in Italy Brought Our Family Home by Susan Pohlman, I was enthralled by her story. She took her husband and two kids to explore life in Italy for a year. The author, who was on the brink of divorce from her then radio producer husband, decided to give her married life another chance by moving her entire existence to the outskirts of Genoa. I fell in love with Susan the moment I cracked the book’s spine. Her strength (and admitted weaknesses) make you want to call her up for a cup of cappuccino and a chat.

Susan and her family indeed gave themselves a gift of a year and by the end of it, and the book itself, the reader is richer for their experiences and for the opportunity to explore his or her own chance at renewal by shaking things up just a little bit.

You needn’t move to a foreign country to make a difference in your life.

The power of slow dictates that we periodically reevaluate how we are spending our personal bank account of time. For the two authors above it is clear they dedicated some of theirs to a worthwhile cause of self-discovery and joy. We readers are all the richer for their efforts.

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