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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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…
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.
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
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”
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.
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,
PHOTO CRED: Rebekah Gates. Near Einsiedeln, Switzerland 2020
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?
The notion that humans are intended for a certain life purpose goes back many centuries. Rumi, a beloved 13th century Sufi poet, wrote extensively about life purpose. He wrote, “Everyone has been made for some particular work, and the desire for that work has been put in every heart”.
The Christian tradition is rich with proverbs and passages from the Bible that discuss God’s calling people to a purpose. Apostle Paul says, “We are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
Do you know what your purpose and passion is in life? Every one of us wants to feel as though our life matters. We want our time spent on earth to be meaningful and for the world to be a better place for us having lived in it. I started Live Your Jam because I wanted to inspire and help people live a life of meaning. (Jam = Passion + Skills)
My childhood friend Polly has been helping others for years and was ready for a change. Hear how Polly courageously closed the door on her career of 20 years and opened a new door to live her Jam.
The notion that humans are intended for a certain purpose goes back many centuries. Rumi, a beloved 13th century Sufi poet, wrote extensively about life purpose. He wrote, “Everyone has been made for some particular work, and the desire for that work has been put in every heart”. The Christian tradition is rich with proverbs and passages from the Bible that discuss God’s calling people to a purpose. Apostle Paul says, “We are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
Happy New Year, Jammers! Our Jam is our where our passion and skills meet and we put them to use in our life! Everyone has a Jam. It’s our individual way to live a full life and make the world a better place. So, let’s get intentional about discovering our Jam in 2018!
Discovering your Jam is an inside job. It takes deep inquiry to help you find what you are passionate about. It also requires self-awareness.