3 Steps to Nirvana

September 10, 2012

Strolling across countless Tuscan piazzas from Florence to Siena to Pisa to Lucca, Italy, one cannot help but see the birthplace of the Slow Movement with Slow Eyes. The three-hour siestas, the wine, pasta and beautiful shops are breath-taking. Around every corner is a new sensation in which to immerse yourself. Even the air tastes good in Italy, at least in Tuscany where we spent six glorious days with the top down in our two-seater, pretending we lived there without a care in the world.

Nirvana under the Tuscan Sun

Perhaps it is the sea that tightly hugs both coasts that brushes away the soot and smell of modern life. Or perhaps it is the sun that kisses your face in relentless delight. Your skin absorbs the light, entering your heart in a constant wave of glowing warmth.

Can you tell that I’ve fallen in love?

Yes, Italy is an amazing place. For the past two weeks that I’ve been on vacation, I have experienced the world with immeasurable delight. As a writer, I must live in order to feed my creative source. So it was my mission to live life to the fullest and report back to you on what I found.

And what I found was Nirvana.

It started in Paris where I began my Slow travel. The city cast a spell on me as I wandered about the cobblestone streets, practicing my French and remaining in constant awe at the grace and refined, yet celebratory nature of the people there. Whoever says the French are arrogant are simply wrong. They know how to live…and eat. Three-hour lunches? Absolutely!

I realize now that anyone can experience Nirvana at any given moment (a beautiful setting helps expedite the process, of course!). It takes practice to get there, but it is possible. In my view, there are three essential steps one must take to reach that place.

1. Harmony

One must first enter a harmonious space. It starts with our thinking about things. If we are in conflict over something, harmony is hard to find. When we adapt our thinking to embrace change, challenges and upsets, we enter a state of Flow. Flow leads to better decisions, which leads to better action, which leads to more Flow.

See what I mean? Harmony is a habit based on your thinking about, then reactions to, the things that happen.

2. Bliss

Bliss is the next step. Once we have reached a level of harmony in our every day lives, we are open to the sheer joy of being without conflict. Everything passes through us without judgement or scrutiny. We reach an inner peace that passes thinking to a true state of beingness. Our brains are still operating, but our emotions have been disengaged from their dependency on external circumstances.

This state is Flow to the nth degree.

3. Nirvana

Also known as Enlightenment, this stage is pure Heaven. Everything is in alignment with everything else. There is nothing to do, want or even be. You are in complete Oneness with All That Is.

Getting to Nirvana is a highly personal experience, but it is a journey worth taking. We all have our own path with many bumps, twists and curves in the road. Slow Travel helps get us there if we are willing to take on the world with a different set of glasses.

And who knows? Your Nirvana might co-mingle with someone else’s. Imagine the fun that would be!


Lessons from the Iceman

June 14, 2012

The season of Ötzi’s discovery (Fall 1991) was a very impactful time in my life. Just three days after stepping off the plane in Vienna, Austria, I heard the news of a married couple who had found a man, frozen in a glacier between South Tirol and Austria, near the Ötztal. The story of the oldest man on earth tore through the media. While I perfected my German that fall, the rest of the world was uncovering the mysteries of man.

A confluence of events led to his discovery. The glacial ice melted away just at the point where the Iceman was found. His belongings, as well as his body, were so well preserved that we were able to learn that the Copper Age started a full 1,000 years earlier than scientists had originally thought. And the married couple? They spontaneously decided to take the route they did.

Fate? Fortune?

In my view, everything unfolds exactly as it is meant to. The magic of life requires nothing other than to simply dance to the unfolding. Why resist new ideas? Brilliance may be just one ice cube away.

New scientific discoveries are exciting and serve as a reminder that we must frequently reconsider our own belief systems. Gallileo and Einstein are two major paradigm-shifters that come to mind.  Challenging the status quo takes courage, but if you know something to be true, then there’s no denying it.

So good Old Ötzi had to wait 5,300 years to be discovered. Obviously, he’s a patient man. And a frozen one. On view at the Ötzi museum in Bolzano, Italy. It’s well worth a visit, if you’re interested. And don’t miss the artist’s sculpture of what they think Ötzi must have looked like. It’s hauntingly realistic. If you peer closely, you might just see him wink!

Now I know why Italy is the birthplace of all things slow. Its magical sun, the food that sprouts from the earth, the smiles on people’s faces…with all that goodness, how could you not want to decelerate to enjoy it all?

Four years ago in this very place, I outlined the steps to Slow. In under a week I had read seven books and started to absorb the powerful message that Slow can bring to all of our lives.

I am here now again. And it feels wonderful to reconnect to the source of so much.

May you enjoy the beauty of Slow today, no matter where you are!


Where in the world is it legitimate to kiss a stranger, drink wine at lunch and ride on the water even during a lightning storm?

If you guessed Italy, you’re right.

If you have spent any time in Italy at all, you will know why it is the birthplace of the Slow movement. It’s not that Italians are, per se, turtle-like. In fact, they are quite efficient (even their trains are on time!). But what informs their unique power of slow is the way they embrace life itself.

“You want to stay all day? Okay! You want to leave, okay, too!” the resort manager exclaimed in June when we found ourselves not wanting to depart after having enjoyed a week of Italian sun. He ended up giving us a free night (and a bigger place at the week’s beginning). When we spent another two weeks there in August, we started to think maybe he was giving us the special treatment.

One day, he stopped by on his bike and smiled.

“I have an idea.”

I winked at him over my glass of Chianti and said, “I like your idea already.”

He told us of a friend who has a sailboat. He’d take us out for a four-hour sail around the harbor of Trieste, “if we felt like it.”

Boy did we ever! Despite the two-foot jelly fish that rolled around the harbor waters, we managed to get on and off the ten-meter sailboat without trouble. It was a perfect, windless day so the sailing part was definitely sloooow. We topped off the evening with a sunset dinner at a nearby restaurant whose salmon made me weep. It was that good!

The last day was a tad cloudy so I headed to Venice while the kids and my husband stayed at the resort for a final day of frolicking. There I learned the water taxis are as punctual as the trains. As we skippered along the ocean to the island of Lido where the Venice Film Festival is being held, I pretended to ignore the lightning flashing behind my new friend’s head. He distracted me with his recounting his latest film in which he plays a priest murderer. I couldn’t help but notice there was a priest sitting in the boat so I felt a blend of relief and fear that my actor friend may have had ideas!

The next day, we unwillingly left our beloved Italian resort on the island of Grado and returned to Germany. We couldn’t help but notice the different pace of life immediately.

It’s good to be home with Italian memories in our suitcase, waiting for the next time to unpack the joy of slow under the Adriatic sun.

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According to a recent newspaper article about a German Census Bureau survey, 9% of all EU citizens cannot afford to buy adequate food, heat their apartment or have a car. In the land of vacation, a whopping 37% of all EU member citizens couldn’t afford to take even a week’s vacation somewhere (Poland tops the list with a full 63% not being able to do so). In Germany, thinks look a little brighter. Only 2.6% say they don’t have enough to live on, 26% can’t afford to go on a week’s vacation and only 5% said they can’t afford a car. Not surprisingly, Greece has similar numbers.

It seems to pay off to live in Scandinavia. In Denmark, Sweden and Norway, only 1% couldn’t afford to heat their apartment with only 10%, 11% and 6%, respectively, not able to go on vacation for one week’s time.

According to the 2010 International Vacation Deprivation Survey by expedia.com, Germans have an average of 27.5 days off annually, two of which get left on the table. So what does roughly one-quarter of the employed German population do that cannot take off for some sun and fun? Staycations have become a reality for a lot of people.

We’re staying close to home for the majority of our summer vacation as well. Singular day trips here and there with some time in Italy at a low-cost resort are all we’re doing. I realize as well that’s a lot more than some people get to do. No matter where you go this summer, go slow. A season pass to the community pool can be just as enjoyable and a lot more affordable than a package tour for thousands of bucks. As Financial Times Slow Lane columnist, Harry Eyres recently wrote, “spartan or quasi-monastic accommodation has its advantages” and is sometimes more relaxing anyway!


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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.