Our First Year In Switzerland – For This I am Grateful

Our family just celebrated our first year of living in Switzerland. We are first-time expats. So as far as modern-day continental transitions go, I have no frame of reference.  But, my life experience and hard-won mom-skills tell me we are all thriving. 

Before I jump into another year, I review what worked and what didn’t so I can consciously create anew. I do these “new year” reflections all the time. It’s a formal effort to make the most of life or Live Your Jam.  Reflection also allows me to look at how I rolled with life’s twists and turns because most of what we think we can control is an illusion anyway. (I know. Bummer.)

We all experience many new years throughout a calendar year — job, wedding, birthday, lifestyle change, etc. Go to this link to get an idea of what questions you can ask so you can perform your own review.   

My gratitude in 2019 for the opportunity to move from the United States to Europe, now in 2020, has blossomed into daily blessings. And, while I thought we would enjoy living here; we are falling in love with this efficient and enchanting country.  So, in the spirit of what is working…here’s what I’m grateful for this past year living abroad.

“Acknowledging the good that is already in your life is the foundation for all abundance.”

Eckhart Tolle

Our welcoming Swiss neighbors

The Swiss aren’t an extroverted culture as a general rule, but our neighbors did not get that memo. All of our neighbors have been welcoming and gracious. One year later our relationships with each of them have grown naturally due to a mix of openness and mutual interests. Our children play together, some of us hike in nearby woods, some of us ride bikes together and all of us enjoy seeing each other. We have a real sense of community in our Swiss hood. We left a neighborhood in California where all the children played together on the street and the adults genuinely liked one another. I didn’t expect to create a similar experience in a new country. For this, I am grateful. 

The multi-lingual Swiss

In Switzerland, there are four recognized languages (German, French, Italian, and Romansch) We live 8 miles outside of Zurich (north-central region). Public school here is taught in German. But, most Swiss speak Swiss German which is a dialect, (not a recognized language), at home, and to one another. French is the spoken language in Western Switzerland (French Region) and, Italian in the Southeast (Italian region). Romansch is spoken by the largest canton called Graubünden (Southeast). 

If all of this is a bit dizzying because there are so many languages for a country with a population of the state of Virginia. I’ll break it down. In my experience, most Swiss speak at least two of the above-mentioned languages or dialects. 

To my delight, many Swiss speak English and enjoy speaking it. I thought the language barrier would be a real challenge and it is not. Recently while out hiking, I attempted to communicate in German (about my dog) to a fellow hiker. She listened patiently, and replied in English, “It’s okay, speak your language.”  This is not unusual. Often, if I begin a conversation speaking German, the Swiss will respond, “What language do you want me to speak, German, English, Italian?” My family teases me that my German is so bad that the Swiss simply can’t bear to hear it and that’s why they graciously offer another language. I think there is some truth to that! 

The Swiss, understandably, appreciate it when an Ausländer tries to speak their language. For me, it’s a sign of respect. A law was recently passed that foreigners have to pass an A1 Level German class to help them integrate. I agree! And, luckily, I have some cushion while I’m learning because the Swiss, who are fluent in many languages, also enjoy speaking English.  For this, I am Grateful. 

Our sons’ school

School is an anchor for families — especially those in transition. Housing, commute, and many other life decisions are based upon schooling. International schools, like the one our sons attend, focus on creating community and making you feel like you belong. Students and parents are a part of an integration process that is well-thought-out throughout the year; not just at the beginning. Students are required to learn German so they can integrate into local communities. And, for parents, there are so many clubs to join and create community. When home learning began due to COVID-19 just seven months after school began, our boys mentioned many times how much they missed seeing their school friends and teachers. For this, I am Grateful. 

Slower pace

It’s only natural the pace of life slowed due to our move. It takes time to rebuild. In our case, instead of trying to re-create the life we had in the US, we decided to ease into our new life to see what unfolded. Our kids didn’t join sports teams, we didn’t pressure ourselves to make friends, and I didn’t pressure myself to get new clients. All this equals less rushing about and more time together. There are cultural differences that helped, too. Eating out is an exception, not a rule in Switzerland. So, there are many more family meals and time to be together – even before the pandemic. I was able to implement many of the practices from my two favorite fields: psychology, and spirituality. I have been able to consistently meditate, practice mindfulness in nature, or even while I’m cooking. The slower pace coupled with the daily practices of freeing my mental mind has allowed me to access my creativity.   

I think it’s the same for many of us. We have all become so attached to being busy, that our creativity is stymied. You can see the impact of the slower pace in the creative outputs of those of us who were fortunate enough to be healthy and quarantined. There is space to remember and relearn ways of creating that were left behind as life got too busy. Leadership Development expert Manfred Kets De Vries says, “The unconscious mind needs enough time to wander, pursue fantasies and assimilate information collected from diverse sources. When we engage in activities that make us relaxed and happy, dopamine is released in the brain. This neurotransmitter helps the mind to wander, activating the creative process.”  For this, I am Grateful.

Public-Transportation

Switzerland is known for a world-class transportation system; it is a reputation well-deserved. We have one car here and are rarely in it. We ride trains, trams, funiculars, buses, boats, gondolas, ferries, cable cars, T-bars, and chair lifts regularly. Our boys take the train to and fro school — it’s an easy, efficient, and safe seven-minute commute. Transportation really does run on time – we call it “Swiss Magic”For this, I am Grateful.

Nature

The natural beauty of Switzerland is astonishing. In the summer, the blue-green alpine lakes shimmer and reflect the mountains that rise up from the ground. In the winter, the snow-capped Alp peaks etch a silhouette that is breathtaking.

We wondered when we first moved here if we would become presumptuous with Switzerland’s beauty — we have not. Nor do our hosts. I see the smile on the old Swiss gentleman’s face as he sits on the bench looking out into the fields of yellow rapeseed with a backdrop of mountains illuminated by sunlight. Depending on the time of day it seems as if you can touch them. Truly Awesome. Feeling small in the face of nature, while perhaps fleeting and hard to explain, helps us all feel a part of something bigger than ourselves.

What’s even more awesome than the natural beauty of Switzerland is the country’s relationship with it. Nature isn’t just to be admired, it’s to be explored. If there’s water, you swim, paddle, float or ride on it. If there’s a mountain you climb, ski, sled, bike, or ride it. It’s the keen accessibility to nature that is a marvel here. The Swiss invite you to nature to explore, enjoy, entwine, and esteem.

The Swiss love dogs

They are welcome almost anywhere: restaurants, hotels, transportation, and nature trails. Along with the privilege comes the responsibility that dogs are trained, registered, chipped, and owners abide by the leash laws specific to each canton. Chester, who meets all these practical criteria, has been welcomed all over Switzerland! For this, I am grateful.

Hope

July 4th, the US celebration of Independence is just two days away. Since we left the United States on July 1, 2019, it seems our divisions as a country have grown larger. We are a country embroiled politically in dualistic thinking which seeps in and poisons our humanity. On November 8, 2016, we elected a national leader that lives in an “us vs. them” world and has divided us further. The outcomes have set us back; there is no doubt. There is a vital revolution afoot for equality for black people in the United States that requires all Americans to demand action. 130,000 lives have been lost to COVID-19 due to an administration that claimed the virus was a hoax and blown out of proportion by political rivals.  There is much despair. But, there is hope.

We have a chance again on November 3, 2020. All Americans need to be more willing participants in our elections — at all levels. The United States has faced adversity before. It is my sincere hope that we can overcome again to fulfill our potential and promise of “with liberty and justice for all”. For hope, I am grateful. 

How to manage your fear during the Coronavirus pandemic.

World Health Organization experts agree that the spread of COVID-19 is going to get worse before it gets better. For those in the Western hemisphere, the threat is no longer far away in China. It is now at our doorstep. Taking aim at our beloved sports events, our hospitals, our schools, our tireless healthcare workers, police and even the US national treasure, Tom Hanks.

As recently as this weekend, like many of us, I was weighing travel decisions for spring break. Now, four days later, it’s clear a no-go is the only decision. Things are changing quickly. Panic is setting in and we need to manage our fear in order to get through this together.

Our brains are wired for short-term threats

Humans are wired to act on more present threats than the distant future. The thought of climate change is a far less threat to our brain than a baseball screaming at our head. There has been much written about the perils of the evolution of our short-term, problem-solving brain.

Now that the COVID-19 is a clear and present danger our brains are ready to go on the defensive. And, boy are we ready! First, we saw the supply of face masks depleted, then hand sanitizer, and now in some countries, toilet paper.  

8 ways to prepare and not panic during the COVID-19

Educate yourself. Find a credible source like the World Health Organization. Read up. Write down any questions you have and follow-up with your doctor, local public health office, local government, and school system for more specific information. Writing down your questions and getting answers is a much more productive way of dealing with them than letting them spin in your problem-solving brain. And, let’s face it, if there’s an absence of information, we tend to make up stuff, and it’s not usually positive. We are hardwired to see threats, not opportunities.

Limit your social media and news cycle time – If there was ever a time to put your phone down, it’s now. Especially if social media is making you anxious, confused, or irritated. (Wait, isn’t this every day? wink wink) There are many “health experts” on social media who are not qualified to provide information as well as their cousins — alarmists and pot-stirrers. Unfollow them for 30 days or forever. Your life satisfaction will improve drastically. Admittedly, I don’t have any empirical data to support that claim – it’s just a keen hunch.

Also, stay out of the endless media news cycle. It’s not healthy. In this information age, you can go to sites (online/on-air) when you need information. Take control and don’t let information be constantly pushed at you.

Lean into your fear. Remember Stuart Smalley from Saturday Night Live? (The hyperlink includes one of my favorite bits with basketball legend Michael Jordan). Stuart would replace his negative thoughts with a positive affirmation. This is a classic cognitive-behavioral technique. His famous affirmation when the thought occurred that he wasn’t good enough was,

“I’m good enough, I’m smart enough and doggone it people like me.”

Stuart Smalley

Stuart used a technique to replace negative thoughts with positive ones. While it is true that stopping a thought negative thought and reframing with a positive one is a strategy that can work. Over time, it can backfire on us. The way language works in our brains is that it is relational. Therefore, with repeated use replacing a negative thought with a positive one, the thoughts become associative and related. Meaning, our brains can equate a fearful or harmful thought to the positive one. While it’s an innocuous answer, try saying hot to yourself and then, pause. Wait for it! After the pause, often, the word “cold” will come to mind. This is the relational nature of how our brain learns language.

Instead, try leaning into your fear and defuse it. Let me explain. Many of us might experience “What IF” questions. “What IF my elderly father gets COVID-19, What IF my child gets it, What if we go somewhere and someone is infected.” What IF” questions are natural in life. But, when they become looping, repetitive, and drain our energy and focus, we need to make a change. Try this technique from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy which is rooted in research and mindfulness.

  1. Make a distinction from the thinking mind and the observing mind.
  2. Your thinking mind produces the thought, for example, “What if my 90-year-old father gets COVID-19?”
  3. Your observing mind then notices the thought. And uses curiosity. Why am I worried about this? The answer would be something like, “I love him and am afraid of losing him.”
  4. Even the act of noticing that thought vs. being in can bring you some relief.
  5. Next, thank your thinking mind for being concerned about your father. After all, it is doing its job.
  6. Give your fear a shape or a color. This will help defuse the fear. You might notice your heart rate reduces and the charge of the thought reduces. You might have to practice this a few times and it’s best to do it when you are really caught in the thought loop.
  7. If you really want to take action on the thought, write it down. Then, write out the constructive ways to address the legitimate concern for your father instead of swimming in the anxiety and fear. For example, you could write a letter letting him know how much he means to you, you can make sure he doesn’t have to go out for groceries, etc. These positive actions are often helpful, constructive and can remove our suffering. Sometimes, it literally just takes defusing the fear to release it. We give it less power by leaning into it. It sounds counterintuitive, but it works. Note: This technique works best when the emotion doesn’t match the facts. So, in this case, if your father is in a safe place, has food and is well-cared for and the fact is that he is at low-risk in his current situation and you keep obsessing that he is going to become ill, then, writing down the fear and making the actions logical is helpful.

Help Others – We are relational beings — our survival depends upon it. Help others who are in need and at risk. If you know of people who are in high-risk categories, drop them a note in their mailbox, InBox, or call them to see if you can run an errand for them. Make sure they are still in connection with others. Isolation can cause stress for humans and reduce the immune system. Set-up a daily time to talk to them on the phone or a free video service like Skype or Google Hangouts.

Be with your kids – Really. Spend quality time with your family. With the cancellations of events, schools, and adults working from home, use the time for positive connection. Play board games, draw, exercise, and answer any questions they may have. Limit their screen use, too – never a bad idea under any circumstances.

Go to Nature – Mother Nature is our best healer. She is the conduit to a feeling that there is something bigger than ourselves, and can change our brain by improving our moods. She’s a powerhouse! Plus, all that quality time with your kids is going to require a change of scenery. Especially if you have two active tweens, as we do. Take your kids out in nature! They might complain at first, but they always adapt and get into it. I’m still amazed at the hours our boys can spend skipping rocks or playing by the side of a stream. And, I’m equally amazed by how fun it is when I join them despite my inability to improve my rock skipping skills.

Practice Gratitude – Gratitude keeps the mind focused on the present moment and the beauty in our lives. During times of crisis, our ego wants to take over and worry about the future and wish for calmer times in the past. Keep a gratitude journal or at mealtime have each family member share something they are grateful for in the present moment. Not what happened yesterday, but something they are feeling or having right now. It’s never too late to teach young and old this simple mindfulness technique.

Practice Compassion – Elizabeth Gilbert one of my favorite authors and people I admire just posted a helpful reminder on Instagram:

“Overreacting to people overreacting Another form of overreacting.”

Elizabeth Gilbert Post on Instagram

Judging others is another way our ego keeps our identity safe, right. and in charge. Resist acting on the judgment. Notice it with the observing mind. And, then, put your attention on your heart. It always has the right answers. We don’t need our ego to practice compassion for others during this challenging time.

Stay safe everyone and remember to choose love not fear. Please pass on to anyone who might find these tips useful. Love and light, Ellen

Self-Care Sundays

Slowing down on Sunday…

is rooted in the Christian tradition. As far back as the second century, Sunday was a day of gathering to reflect upon Jesus’ resurrection. For believers and non-believers alike, Sunday has long been a day of rest and reflection.

Growing up outside of Chicago many years ago, our Sundays were reserved for family and church. And, depending on the time of year, watching the Chicago Bears.  My friend Coco, a true southerner, says that Sundays in the South are preserved for faith and football. My friend Dan from the SF Bay Area cooks large meals for his Italian family every Sunday.

No matter where you live or what traditions you honor, protecting Sunday as a day of rest has become increasingly difficult.

My experience is that Sundays in America have transformed into another day for productivity. There are countless reasons why this has happened: Kids’ sports are now commonplace on Sunday because unfortunately, most sports in the US occur outside of the school system. And, with children entering competitive sports at such young ages, weekends are devoted to their sports. So, Sunday is just another day to plan for and execute the extracurricular schedule. 

Many American families are dual-income. So, Sunday is a day to get caught up and ready for the week. Grocery shopping, meal prep, and laundry. Yay! Because many of us are always plugged in to work thanks to our smartphones, our minds often start churning prematurely in preparation for Monday – robbing us from our day off.

There’s more social pressure to be doing on Sunday. Everything is open and everyone is busy accomplishing things — who are we to chillax?

In the last few years, I felt my Sundays inching away. I often felt cheated because I wanted to slow down and resentful because I could not. Like many of my friends, I had taken to rising very early to squeeze in exercise before the commitments kicked in. Wait, was this Sunday? Because it looked an awful like like Monday — just less traffic. 

The idea to dedicate a day to slow down, spend quality time with our loved ones to BE and not DO is vital to our wellness. So much so that there’s a movement to reclaim Sunday. Have you heard of it? #selfcareSundays

Michelle Obama and Oprah prioritize Sunday as a day of Self Care.

Beloved Former First Lady Michelle Obama recently re-popularized slowing down on Sundays (#selfcareSunday) as a day for women to take care of themselves. Recently, Oprah is sharing her #selfcareSunday on her social media posts. Let’s face it if these two amazing souls are doing it — #selfcareSundays is a thing. Oprah and Michelle, like all of us, are yearning for fewer to-dos and a higher quality of life!

The Swiss know all about #selfcareSunday.

With its roots religious roots in Christianity, Sunday has been a day of rest in Switzerland for centuries. Only 38% of the population describe themselves as Roman Catholic, while one fifth doesn’t identify with any denomination at all. Yet still, Sunday is a day of peace and quiet for the Swiss. The majority of stores (grocery, consumer, services) and restaurants in Switzerland are closed on Sunday. That’s right, C L O S E D, people!

A popular Swiss saying is there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad gear! Regardless of the weather, most Swiss are outside with their loved ones taking strolls, hikes, skiing, biking – anything outdoors with family. And, for those of us who love the outdoors, it’s our church – our connection with humanity, ourselves, and a higher power.

“In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks.”

John Muir

While most of Europe has opened its doors to Sunday shoppers, critics call the Swiss tradition of no shopping on Sunday “outdated”, but, the Swiss carry on undeterred. 

With the stores closed and a culture that protects Sunday as a family day, I now have #selfcareSunday with little effort. Now that I am out of the pattern of a busy Sunday, I realize no matter what I am, I can create a Sunday that feeds my soul.

How to Create #SelfCare Sundays  – No Matter Where you Live.

  1. Know your values and if things don’t fit into your values say no to those things. I realize the source of my discontent on Sundays was that I was out of alignment with my values.
  2. Don’t be afraid to swim upstream. It’s not easy to go against your peer group. But, have the courage to take care of yourself and live by your values. Be an example for your kids.
  3. Say no more often. Read my dear friend and brilliant coach, Denise Green’s article on How to Say No with Grace, not Guilt.
  4. Limit your children’s sports activities. Children are over-booked these days and the amount of stress competitive sports is putting on their still-growing bones is well-documented. Considering joining teams for recreation, not competition.
  5. Protect your time. One of my coaching clients established “No Meeting Fridays”. He would only work on strategic and important issues on Friday and simply would not take any meetings. And, he stuck to it. We can all protect our Sundays, too.
  6. Plan ahead with your shopping and meals. With shops closed on Sunday, I plan our weekend meals on Thursday or Friday and make sure to have the ingredients on hand. I also don’t meal prep on Sunday anymore. The refrigerators are small in Europe, so, I just go to the store more often. It’s a trade-off, but I have my Sundays back.

What is your tradition on Sunday? Do you feel that you get enough down-time on that day? If not, I’m interested in how these tips might help and what you do to keep one day a week restful.

The secret to a fulfilling life.

My mission is to help people lead more fulfilling lives. What I call Jam. I’ve been doing this work long enough to see the paradox in seeking fulfillment. The idea that fulfillment is something to attain, a destination, something we can enter into google maps if create the right action plan and script the right moves. The paradox is this – how can something so inherently intrinsic as fulfillment be found outside of us?

I’ve recently moved to a new country. I’ve taken the change as an opportunity to slow down while we transition our boys. The time has allowed me to re-commit myself to some of the tools and resources that have always been helpful (but hard to sustain) in my spiritual and personal growth.

Jam isn’t linear…

In my coaching practice, the client creates goals and I support the client in achieving their goals. Goal setting can be a linear process, but as with most things in life, the circuitous journey (whatever we discover about ourselves along the way) is equally, if not more, valuable.

In coaching people to Live their Jam, the notion that there is a linear process for leading a fulfilling life is misleading. And most importantly, it places our attention in the wrong direction. As I stated, Jam isn’t something outside of ourselves that we have to go searching for, and even if we reach it, we don’t get a golden ticket to sustainment. This can only mean one thing.

Drum roll…

We can only live a fulfilled life by consciously choosing the present moment.

I think we have all heard this before. But, why is it so difficult to live in the present moment? You would think with all the advances in modern science, technology and mental health we could find fulfillment! Yet, it’s gotten more elusive. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting around 40 million adults — almost 1 in 5 people. Let’s take a look at what’s getting in our way of Living our Jam.

Unfortunately, most of us don’t live in the present moment; we live in the future.

Beware of Destination Addiction – A preoccupation with the idea that happiness is in the next place, the next job and with the next partner. Until you give up the idea that happiness is somewhere else, it will never be where you are.

Robert Holden, PhD.

It’s true we all think that wanting the next thing is the voice of our true self, but it’s not. As Eckhart Tolle says, “The ego is lacking. It’s in a constant state of always wanting more.” We have all experienced the insatiable wanting of the ego.  If we get that job, that car, that bonus, that vacation. If our child gets into that school or plays that sport. If that person thinks we are smart, or if we can prove how competent we are, THEN life will be (outstanding, awesome, perfect). That’s not living the present. It’s a never-ending cycle of, “I don’t have something and when I do have that something — my life will be amazeballs!” (Something = material thing, relationship, job, prestige, legitimacy.)

Living in the future-thought cycle ensures one thing – we will never be content.  

When we let the ego tell us what is important in our life, our life becomes driven by unexamined intentions and automatic reactions to the world. We get further and further away from ourselves. So far, in fact, that we can’t even create what we want any more — because we don’t really know what fulfills us. 

Our ego may even mislead us to what our Jam is! Many have pursued a dream that wasn’t our own! We love our parents and family and often confuse their wanting for our path. Or for some of us, our lack of fulfillment leads to a life where we become too involved, too enmeshed in the pursuits of our children.

Our ego weaves and holds the story we tell ourselves about our lives, so it’s understandable that many of us have pursued a path that was not of our own making. When we quiet the ego, Jam can be found as we sense what authentically lights us up. And, as we stay in the present moment, we can truly feel what appeals to us and what does not without the critique of the ego.

Many of us live in the past.

Another preoccupation of the ego is to live in the past. Those of us who live in the past either relish or regret what was. We prefer our identity back then or we return to the past because we don’t like what the future holds.  When we live in the past, our narrative is trapped in time and can be heard in our lack of acceptance and responsibility for our current situation.

The past gives you an identity and the future holds the promise of salvation, of fulfillment in whatever form. Both are illusions.

Eckhart Tolle

When we realize that lasting fulfillment isn’t “out there” or “back there” we are free to mindfully give our attention completely to what we are experiencing in the NOW. 

Let’s look at another way we stay out of the present moment and away from our Jam…

Most of us push away “challenging” feelings.

We spend so much of our time actively avoiding pain or disappointment that we forfeit now. Two ways we avoid challenging emotions are: 1) trivializing and, 2) moving into action.

For example, our neighbor gets a new car and remodels their home. We instantly feel mixed. We are happy for them but, we don’t like the ugly pangs of jealousy and inadequacy. So, we deny it! We make it “bad” rather than just is. Or perhaps we suppress the feeling and turn our minds to work on how we can afford to remodel our home!

Some of us make the mistake of equating painful feelings only to the “big things” like depression or the death of a loved one. We let go of these feelings that are part of human existence. Feelings of not belonging, not being good enough, not being liked. These feelings can come through even in the most common of situations! That’s why social media can be so unhealthy. The images and popularity can leave us feeling woefully inadequate. It’s okay to have these feelings – the key is to stay in the present moment and become skilled at noticing them from a distance. It is in this objective stand that they can exist but not have such a hold on us.

Here’s what works.

Accepting our feelings and reactions to situations is healthy. We can then move into conscious action. For example, limiting our exposure to social media would be conscious action after noticing and sitting with the anxiety we might feel after we peruse sites. Or, noticing we have personality traits that we don’t like, but accepting them nonetheless. Doing this allows us to be more whole – to experience all of ourselves and not just compartments.

Our impulse is usually either to try to deny our pain, by suppression or self-medication or to get caught up in dwelling on it through rumination and worry, allowing it to take charge of our lives.  How will you know the difficulties of being human, if you are always flying off to blue perfection? Where will you plant your grief seeds? We need ground to scrape and hoe, not the sky of unspecified desire.” 

Rumi

We are NOT our habitual thoughts and emotions

One of the most liberating and beautiful truths is that we are not that voice in our heads. When we give our thoughts and emotions too much power they can overcome us. Through meditation and other mindfulness practices, we can train ourselves to look at our thoughts and emotions and not necessarily silence them, but distance ourselves. Game Changer!

We can look at our emotions and thoughts objectively and do nothing but observe them! We can later decide how we want to think, feel, and react. And, even when our mind wanders as it will in meditation, we can learn not to judge it. As Dr. Herbert Benson,  founder of the Mind/Body Medical Institute at Massachusetts General Hospital suggests, when our mind wanders we can simply say to ourselves, “Oh well.” And, put our attention right back on our meditation (our breath, our body, our visualization).

There is nothing more important to true growth than recognizing you are not the voice of the mind. You are the one that hears it.

Michael A. Singer author of “The Untethered Soul”

How do you know if you are living in the present moment?

If you are aware of your thoughts and emotions, then you are in the present moment. The mind has two areas. The thinking mind and the observing mind — both are extremely valuable. We tend to over-rely on the thinking mind in the Western hemisphere. But, the observing mind is what ancient traditions have taught to live in the present moment. Try to observe what you are thinking. Notice the voice, let the voice do all its talking and just observe. That’s the present moment. You don’t have to try too hard, the voice will talk and you just have to listen and know that the voice is not YOU.

Jam exists in the present moment!

No matter where I have lived, nature has been my portal to presence. Nature is central to the Swiss way of life. And once again, nature has gifted me with a clarity that is transformative. I will serve others to lead a fulfilling life through the present moment.

Jam exists in the present moment because when we are focused on what we are doing and enjoying it — we are at peace and in connection with our true self (God, the universe, our soul). And, when we face adversity in the present moment, we can just take that as information, too. Information not to be ignored or dramatized, but as information that is also a part of who we are. It’s so simple and yet our modern life has complicated what we know. That we each have our own access to Jam – Every. Day.

If you are interested in some practical tips on how to become more present every day, please make sure you are on my email list. I’m also still trying to build my audience, so if you know of anyone who would enjoy this content, please forward to them so they can sign up for my email list.

Love and light,

Ellen

PHOTO CRED: Rebekah Gates. Near Einsiedeln, Switzerland 2020

Why Reflection is critical to creating goals for the New Year

Grüezi!  I just returned from a family Christmas holiday in lovely Scuol, Switzerland. Scuol is a picturesque Alpine village that borders both Austria and Italy. The mountains are even more spectacular when covered in fresh snow. I shared a few of the pinch-me photos on Instagram. I returned feeling very grateful and relaxed.

I love this time of year. Winter solstice arrives in late December and we begin the transition from the year behind us to the one ahead. Ancient cultures viewed winter solstice as a time of death and rebirthSo, it makes sense that it’s a time for reflection, introspection, and, when ready, taking action. Much of the talk around the new year is about goals and resolutions. I have a bias for action, so slowing down and reflecting on the past is a muscle that I’ve had to develop. And, let’s face it, if we’ve had a tough year, we most often just want to move on. But, some of my greatest teachers have been the most challenging of times. So, I encourage us all to roll-up our sleeves and take a keen look at 2019.

Here are some insights to develop your reflection skills and get your New Year goals started right.

Go Deep

Reflecting is the act of self-observation and self-evaluation. It requires self-awareness which is the cornerstone to a high EQ. We have to be honest about our strengths, limitations, and how we reacted to the events of the year. When asked a simple reflection question like, “What was the highlight of my year?” It’s easy to accept an answer that immediately comes to mind. But, in practice, reflection isn’t about the first thing that comes to mind. It’s about evaluating our observations.  We need to evaluate our responses and say, “Is that really true for me?” Critical thinking skills are also required. For example, Why do I think that event was the highlight of my year?”  

Go Solo

Because we all have a bit of people-pleaser or concern for how we are being perceived, it’s best to practice reflection alone. Extroverts often process their thoughts by saying them aloud. So, if you are an extrovert, you can talk through your answers, but do it alone. Give yourself the gift of intimacy with Self. Introverts won’t have any trouble with this one. Go it alone so you can be completely unencumbered to show up with whatever comes up. 

Pen to Paper

Writing down your answers will serve as a record for you to refer to and use for action-taking later. And, it can also keep you honest. In crafting this very post, when sharing something personal, I ask, “Is this really true?” The physical act of writing something down can literally reduce stress. So, if you did have a really tough challenge to overcome during the year, it is a great way to relieve any latent stress you may hold and clear your mind.  Studies have shown that even writing for 15–20 minutes on a stressful topic leads to significantly better physical and psychological outcomes. 

Avoid Recency Bias

Recency bias sounds fancy, but it really means our brains are wired to remember the most recent events. If you are trying to memorize a long to-do list, studies show the majority of people will remember the items they looked at last, more accurately. That’s recency effect. It becomes a bias when we use it to take action with the information. Corporations cautioned their managers to be mindful of recency bias when conducting year-end evaluations for their direct reports so they would take into account the entire year’s performance, not just the most recent months. So, when reflecting on 2019, make sure to scan all the way back to January. 

The ability to create our own happiness is central to our well-being. We need reflection to understand what really makes us really fulfilled. For if we don’t fully understand our experiences, we can’t make changes or continue to do what is working for us based on what we learned from reflection. Think of it this way – we have to slow down to move forward. 

7 Reflection Questions for 2019

Let’s put these tips into practice! Get your pen ready! Here’s a list of 7 reflection questions for 2019. We just ended a decade, so you can view from the perspective as well. These questions can also be asked from work, family, or relationship perspective, as well. I have shared those frames, too. Enjoy!

  1. How would I describe 2019 in just 3 words?
  2. What were my biggest achievements for 2019?
  3. What were my biggest challenges for 2019?
  4. How have I developed as a person?
  5. What surprised me most about 2019?
  6. What can I leave behind in 2019?
  7. What can I bring from 2019 to 2020?

Relationship perspective (Each person reflect and record independently, Then, share completed answers for discussion and learning.)

  1. How would I describe our relationship in 2019 in just 3 words?
  2. What were our biggest achievements as a couple for 2019?
  3. What were our biggest challenges as a couple for 2019?
  4. How have I developed as a partner?
  5. What surprised me most about our relationship 2019?
  6. What can we leave behind that didn’t serve our relationship in 2019?
  7. What can we bring from 2019 that worked well in our relationship to 2020?

Family perspective (Each person reflect and record independently, Then, share completed answers for discussion and learning.)

  1. How would I describe our family in 2019 in just 3 words?
  2. What were our biggest achievements as a family for 2019?
  3. What were our biggest challenges as a family for 2019?
  4. How have I developed as a (mother, father, daughter, son)
  5. What surprised me most about our family in 2019?
  6. What can we leave behind that didn’t serve our family in 2019?
  7. What can we bring from 2019 that worked well for our family to 2020?

Work perspective 

  1. How would I describe my work in 2019 in just 3 words?
  2. What were my biggest professional achievements for 2019?
  3. What were my biggest professional challenges for 2019?
  4. How have I developed this year in my profession?
  5. What surprised me most about my work in 2019?
  6. What can I leave behind that didn’t serve my work in 2019?
  7. What can I bring from 2019 that went well at work to 2020?

Once you’ve taken the time to reflect, then you can decide if there’s any action that needs to occur. In my next post, we’ll talk goal-setting! Best of luck and may your light shine bright in 2020!

Navigating Big Life Changes with a little bit of help

When my dad died at 89 after living a blessed life, I couldn’t do math or read anything longer than a paragraph for three months. After giving birth to each of our sons, I shut out the news world because the stories of violence and pain punctured my full-heart.  Since we moved abroad almost two months ago, I struggle with focus and keeping track of details.

Parents passing, babies arriving, and moving to a new country are all major life events. And, no matter what the reason for the change, we are usually in for an unexpected ride. I have learned over the years, to go with the flow and be patient with myself during big transitions. I’ve also learned not to hold shame for memories that aren’t particularly happy or prideful. 

After my dad died, paying for groceries became a challenge.My mind would go blank when confronted with simple addition and subtraction. I would push bills and coins across the counter at the local Trader Joe’s and ask plainly, “Is this enough?” At first, it was so frustrating and then, I decided to stop being so surprised and indignant about my newfound inability. The mantra in my head slowly switched from, “What’s wrong with me?” to, “I need a little bit of help.” 

When our first son was born, I switched pediatricians because the office was in an area of Oakland that painfully reminded me that we, as a society, have left many humans behind. For years to come, I held confused feelings about my inability to face humanity compounded by the privilege of switching pediatricians. I learned later, I needed a little bit of help and it came in the form of me controlling some of my environments during those infant years.

Yes, time heals and has shed light on major changes in my life. But, my perspective has also been informed by a framework. I use the Enneagram for my continued personal development and in my coaching practice. One of the core principles of the Enneagram is that humans have three centers of intelligence: head, heart, and body.  Most of us are familiar with ideas like, my head wanted one thing and my heart another, but my gut said to do this.  For those of us in the Western world, we likely lean on the head (mind) as the ultimate source of knowledge and the location of our sense of “knowing”. But, the body and heart have equal importance and value. 

In the Enneagram system, each one of us is more familiar with one center than others. For example, I’m a body person. I am comfortable with instant action and trusting my gut. It’s my superpower; until — it’s not. I use my heart least, and in times of stress, overuse my head. With practice and work, I’ve become more skilled in using all three centers. When we operate in one (or two) centers constantly, we are more than likely fulfilling some egoic image or structure we have built versus consciously choosing what’s right for us. In short, the centers of intelligence help us break through limiting patterns and access more of ourselves.

In the case of a major change, the centers of intelligence often yield to one another or become dominant or subordinate. Like burners on a stove — one center is hot while the other two can remain cold or warm. No need to touch any dials or knobs; the centers know when to show up – if we listen.  I like to think of them as automatic pilots helping us to navigate the change. 

When my dad died, the center of intelligence I needed most was my heart. The emotions I faced were big, deep and complex. I felt the sorrow of losing a person I loved so dearly and joy for what his passing meant to him as a man of deep faith. I was also receiving all the love and emotions others felt for him as well as witnessing the pain of my siblings and mom. 

I didn’t need my brain during the days and weeks following my dad’s death. Nor did I need it for the ensuing mourning period. I didn’t need math; I needed to feel. My heart was there to intelligently help me connect to my feelings, emotions, and memories. And, as the weeks passed, my heart helped me navigate my new life without my Dad.

When our sons were born, my heart was split wide open. It was true for me, as it is for many parents, that I have never felt a greater love. It was bliss and wonderment so big I thought my heart would burst. Once again, I needed to be in my heart. I didn’t need to think anything through. Pay bills or stay updated on the US War with Iraq. I needed to experience this once in a lifetime love and let it nurture the connection with my babies. If I thought about everything that needed to be done or was exposed to the hard truth that the outside world is often harsh and cruel, it would have taken me away from the bonding and profound connection with our sons. When a heart is bursting with love, even the the smallest of slights can feel incredibly painful. I remember telling a friend, “it’s puppies and rainbows for me for awhile.That’s about all I can handle.”

Now, I’ve moved almost 6,000 miles away. New continent, new country, new language. I struggle with details and follow-through. It may be that I have exhausted one center of intelligence and another one is picking up all the slack.  I’m not sure yet, but let me try to explain. There were so many complex mental logistics leading up to the move that my head center was large and in charge for months. I was like a master project-manager: ticking boxes and shredding to-do lists in my wake.

Now, that we have moved, I find myself using my body (where my intuition resides). I simply don’t understand a lot of the information presented to me. Some due to the language barrier or cultural awareness of why things are done a certain way.  So, I rely on my gut. When our boys asked to go into the city to ride scooters with some of the neighborhood kids, I had to use my intuition. Kids here are much more independent and being new, I don’t know any of their parents. So, I just listened to what my body told me. And, off they went (and safely returned!).

I do think that big changes are exhausting and it’s possible that we are so tired, that our brains shut down. Yet, there are many examples of big changes in my life where my head center was dominant – especially in my career. 

I know from experience that we can override our centers of intelligence through sheer force of will or denial. We can force one of the burners to stay off when it really should be on high. When we do this, we are stuck in an egoist pattern that impedes us from accessing our whole self.  I also know from experience that when I see others hijacking this natural change process, they just need a little help. 

With love, light and a little help,

Ellen 

How we moved to Switzerland

Our move abroad wasn’t a fluke…

Our idea to move to Switzerland was put in motion in 2009, when my husband and I were deciding where to raise our sons.

Our first big move was intentional. Like most new parents (we had two boys under two), deciding where our sons would spend their formative years felt both weighty and exciting. Between two careers, two babies with colic, and two dogs in a 1200 square foot rental, Rob and I created our vision for what was next. We chose Pleasanton, CA — 30 miles east of Berkeley, CA — where we made our start as a couple. In retrospect, a winning factor for Pleasanton was its many lovely outdoor pools and parks with water features. After our first visit, I told Rob it felt like Club Med, or what I thought Club Med to be based on the New York Times Travel section ads. In the end, our fate was sealed with a lethal combo of new parent conscientiousness and all-inclusive vacation fantasy. 2009 was a very intentional year for our young family.

Switzerland wasn’t on the agenda at this point. In fact, it never really was, but I’ll get to that in a bit. At the same time we were moving our family to Pleasanton, Rob and I had the foresight to commit to creating the next 10 years. THE NEXT TEN. I am not much of a planner by nature, but I am a possibility person. Plus, I facilitated business meetings for a living, so I’m no stranger to visioning exercises. Luckily, Rob is always game. So, as we settled into our suburban environs — a pact was born. It looked like this, “No matter where we are in the next 10 years, we will be as intentional about creating those ensuing 10 years, as we are the current 10. Why 10? Our boys would be transitioning from primary school to middle school at that point. Plus, it makes for easy counting.

Our family thrived in Pleasanton. It more than delivered on providing the community and educational experience we desired for our boys. At the 8-year mark, when our sons were entering grades 4 and 5, our task to consciously envision the next 10 years was upon us. Rob and I checked-in while hiking one Sunday morning. We both agreed that our family was thriving, but the frenetic pace of the Bay Area, while stimulating for our work life, put unnecessary strain on our family life. And, even more importantly, we agreed there was so much more “out there” and felt pulled to be “open” to something new. We didn’t have a solid plan or any answers. My work could take me almost anywhere; Rob’s work was not flexible. Being in technology, the Silicon Valley seemed hard to beat. We agreed to start small — pursue possibility with clear intention and minimal effort. We then took two very small but intentional steps:

Take these two simple steps to manifest what you want in your life…

  1. PUT INTENTION INTO ACTION: We began our intention of moving by looking at things differently. We committed to look at each place we visited for work or pleasure, with open minds and ask, “Could we live here?” We visited ten different cities in next two years. We took notes and discussed our findings so we could agree (or not) on the ingredients for our new vision. Through this process, we also created an option to stay in the Bay Area and make a few small, but powerful changes to the way we lived, so we could, in fact, slow our pace have more family-time. And, we also did something else….
  2. LET THE UNIVERSE DO THE WORK: I created a quick visioning exercise with a small process (or ritual) where each of us wrote the vision for our family for the next 10 years. The only instruction I gave was to put consideration into how it would “feel” and not worry about specific details. Our boys were 9 and 10 years old at the time, and I was amazed at what they wrote. I then read each of our visions aloud and circled the similar themes. Our themes were: more time together as a family, less time in the car, more time in nature, somewhere less crowded but still interesting, mountains, water, and somewhere that had a lot to offer, good schools and a sense of community. There were a few outliers like, more X-Box time or unlimited ice cream, but for the most part, I was amazed at how aligned we all were. And, then, I folded up the pieces of paper and put them on my office book shelf under a paperweight. And, left them there for the universe to do the rest. Tips:
    • The ACT of writing our ideas pen to paper is critical because it puts energy into the universe.
    • Reading intentions to another or in our case, sharing our visions was a critical step for our family because it symbolized what we together, wanted to create. Even if this is not empirically true – if you are reading this and want to create more possibility in your life – it can’t hurt to WRITE IT DOWN or SAY IT OUT LOUD in the presence of others. It’s powerful – try it.

There was a knock on the door…

Almost eighteen months later, we were on a family vacation in Williamsburg, VA. And, Rob stepped out of our hotel room for a work call. When he was done, he knocked on the door to our hotel room and as I opened it he said, “You aren’t going to believe it, but I got a job offer for a new role that’s very exciting and they want me to move to Europe.”

When I put our vision papers on that makeshift altar on the bookshelf in my home-office, I never considered Europe. Rob and I never discussed Switzerland. Not because it wouldn’t be desirable, but because it never occurred to us to dream that big. We jumped at the chance to move to realizing that we would never squander what the Universe offered. Tip: If the universe creates something bigger than you dreamed, don’t debate it. Just go for it.

I have a series of stories like this from my life. The story I just shared is very similar to how I met Rob, I wrote out a list of the qualities I wanted in a partner and put it in my underwear drawer! When we bought our first house in Pleasanton, there were a myriad of things that had to happen which we had no control over in critical window of time in the very competitive Bay Area. In both these instances, too, I had to let go to before anything “happened”.

Every time one of these inexplicable major events have happened in my life, it’s brought me to my knees. Literally. I’m humbled and reminded that I’m always being taken care of by something bigger than myself. I try to return the gifts I have received from the Universe to others; sometimes, by sharing my stories and inspiration, or listening to others pain and joys, or providing solid support and guidance when others need it. I try to remind others that living a life of intention isn’t easy, but the Universe (insert your word here) is always there to help us.

My intention is to spend more time now on Live Your Jam. I’ve let go of my consulting practice and will focus solely on coaching and helping others Live their Jam. I have some ideas. I’m not really sure where the Universe will take me, but I know from experience, I’ll be humbled. I invite you to follow me and also share your inexplicable stories and Jam lessons with me.

Love and light,

Ellen

The Power of Silence

Those of us who are safe and healthy in our homes with our family during this pandemic are fortunate. I love having everyone home, but it can be difficult to get some peace and quiet. Luckily, I’ve been able to find peace and quiet and so much more in the power of Silence.

In our family, we have the loudest to quietest ranking. It’s a good-natured ranking with simple criteria: 1) loud voice, 2) talks the most, and 3) general noisemaking. Our eleven-year-old ranks solidly at #1. He is as sweet as he is loud, (that’s another ranking). My rank is #2 and, I am admittedly, loud-ish. My husband ranks a distant 3rd, with our eldest son close behind in 4th. Our results can be non-empirically interpreted as the Extroverts are loud and loquacious; the Introverts are not.

For the Extrovert, Silence takes practice.

I came to appreciate Silence later in life. My desire to become quieter began intentionally. I’m an extrovert, and formally trained in personality assessments like MBTI, DiSC, and Enneagram. I was well aware that I needed to listen more and talk less.

Early in my career, I began practicing the skill of Silence in business meetings. I would refrain from talking by putting an “x” on a piece of paper when I had an impulse to speak. Next to the “x”, I would jot one or two words to help me to remember the gist of my comment. I rarely had to revisit my notes because I learned quickly that if something was really important, it was voiced by the group. I could actively listen in the meeting and rely on the wisdom of the group to handle any clarifications or keen connections. In personal relationships, I was relieved to learn I did not need to keep the conversation flowing. I began to learn for myself that silence truly was golden.

Silence is more than being Quiet.

Keeping with the Introvert/Extrovert framework — Introverts are naturally predisposed to the inner world whereas extroverts place their attention on the outer world. In the world of Silence, Introverts have a leg up on us chatty-types. Carl Jung defined introversion as, “valuing the inner life more highly than the material world.” But, even those fortunate enough to be predisposed to their inner life have to dig deeper to truly appreciate all that Silence offers.

The inner life is where our thoughts and emotions reside. For most of us, our day consists of responding to the demands of our outer world and being actively involved in our inner world of thoughts and emotions. With the fast pace of this modern world, it may seem that there are no other alternatives. As Robert Sardello says this in his beautiful work, Silence: The Mystery of Wholeness:

Our choosing to live in the noise of our thoughts and emotions – within the incessant clamor around us happens almost without our recognition.

Robert Sardello

Yep, most of us are unaware there’s more. The challenge with staying in thoughts, emotions, and even the identity of our extroversion/introversion is that they all share the same real estate – the Almighty Ego. Silence doesn’t come so easily there. We have to go a step further as we notice our thoughts, emotions, and personality traits and, lovingly (and continually) release them. This is where true Silence resides.

Ram Das, says, “How does one become loving awareness? If I change my identification from the ego to the soul, then as I look at people, they all appear like souls to me. I change from my head, the thought of who I am, to my spiritual heart, which is a different sort of awareness – feeling directly, intuiting, loving awareness.⁣⁣”

Ram Das makes it sound so easy. But, there’s hope — as I have found with practice. We can get past our busy minds and daily to-do’s to access Silence. And, I have noticed that even with all the discord and angst in the world right now, that my judgments of myself and others are being drowned out by the Power of Silence. What a beautiful world we would live in if we were all able to see each other’s souls rather than our differences that keep The Almighty Ego in charge.

Seeking those who are living their Life Purpose (Jam)

Are you someone who is living a life of passion and purpose? If so, how did you to where you are today? Who helped you along the way? What key lessons would you share with others who are committed to living a life of purpose?

8 Keys to Finding Your Life Purpose

Everyone has their own unique gifts to offer the world. We all want our lives to matter and leave the world better because we were in it. The 8 keys to finding your life purpose are listed below. But, there are two tricky aspects of Life Purpose that we should all be aware of.

1. Life Purpose isn’t singular; it’s collective.

Thinking we have one singular purpose is a fallacy. We can have many paths that we fully enjoy, give us meaning, fulfill us, and then, that path may lead to another. We have to be awake to what we are being called to next and have the courage to follow it. It’s the collective that embodies our purpose.

For the first part of my career, I was in Finance. My oldest brother lost his life to cancer and my parents and family were shattered. When I graduated from college, as a healing homage to my parents, I decided to work really hard and succeed at whatever I put my mind to. Subconsciously, I thought if I were successful, it would bring my folks joy and perhaps alleviate some of their pain. No one asked me to do this, but, with the drive to heal them – I began a very successful career in Finance — something I had no deep interest in. It wasn’t until my late 20’s that I realized that I was going down a path that felt empty inside.

I was able to take time after my Fiance career to discover that what I really wanted was quite simple- to help people lead more fulfilling lives. My soul’s destiny is to be an inspirer, mentor, teacher, and someone who helps others shine their own light.

I am now on my third big career shift helping others lead more fulfilling lives. I am now an expert at teaching others to shine their own lights. But, if I hadn’t had the Finance and Business background, I couldn’t have easily transitioned to my second shift as an Organization Development Consultant and Executive Coach. So, I see life purpose as our collective experience. All roads lead to the other and are intertwined and in each shift or stage, we are sharing and honing our unique gifts.

2. Life Purpose is not out there somewhere. It’s in the present moment.

This is such a hard CONCEPT! Eckhart Tolle helped me understand this fully for myself. He says that our outer purpose changes with circumstances and necessarily involves time. Which is what I’m describing above. We have more than one life purpose. It shifts, changes, grows as we grow. We need to stay open and listen to our deep desires in order to follow them to greater fulfillment and alignment with our true Self. Whereas our inner purpose always remains the same. Our inner purpose requires us to be absolutely present in whatever we do and so let our actions be guided and empowered by awareness, the awakened consciousness, rather than controlled by the egoic mind. We fulfill our destiny and realize our purpose when we awaken to who we are: conscious Presence. I highly recommend anyone who has not read Awakening to a New Earth by Eckhart Tolle to read it immediately.

How do you view your Life Purpose? Do you see it as something out in front of you? Or do you see it in your ability to stay present – truly present with what comes from inside of you. Not what your mind says, but that voice that we all have that represents our soul’s desire. Here are 8 Inspirational Truths to help you have the courage to design a life that can keep you aligned with your Soul’s calling.

8 Inspirational Truths to Help you Find Your Life Purpose

  1. You were born for a purpose.
  2. You have innate gifts that are meant to be share with the world.
  3. Your purpose is an energetic field just like you; it shifts. changes, and grows.
  4. You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. Choose wisely.
  5. Spend your time with people who inspire you and have done thing you aspire to.
  6. Participate more in your life and plan less.
  7. Place your attention on what you want; not what you don’t want.
  8. Know what gives you energy and fulfills you – when faced with decisions in your day, choose those things

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