Our family of four humans and three animals returned to the USA in August after four years in Zurich, Switzerland. Repatriating to my home country has been more complex than I imagined. In truth, I didn’t imagine any complexity. I’m American, how hard can it be? So, when we learned my husband’s job was relocating to the USA, I leaned in with my “up for anything” approach to life. Though, the definition of ‘up for anything’ has changed considerably with age…bungee jumping and canyoning have been taken off the bucket list.
Being adventurous is obviously fun and exciting. And, uncomfortable. That’s the paradox of change – it’s both difficult and exhilarating. Being in situations that are new deepens empathy – it’s a fact. My foreigner status allows me to connect to how hard it must be for others. I also feel gratitude because my situation as an expat on my husband’s work visa was much easier than the Ukrainian refugees I met in Switzerland.
Many of my expat friends with more countries and years under their belt forewarned me that the transition home is tough. It feels like the rug has been pulled out from under my feet. With a twelve-hour flight, my old life is gone and it feels abrupt and surreal. All the routines, cultural norms, and ways of life – that were so different four years ago – that I adapted to and thrived in disappeared almost instantly.
I didn’t drive a lot in Switzerland. I often walked to the grocery store. My kids took public transportation to school and sport. Of course, I am aware that parents are their children’s chauffeurs in much of the USA. I was one myself just four years ago. But, I grew to love taking public transportation over driving.
The variety of food and the size of grocery stores in the US is overwhelming. I have now taken to ordering groceries online because it’s easier for me to sift through the items that way rather than walk up and down the aisles. There’s an entire aisle dedicated to hard seltzer with alcohol. I haven’t even heard of hard seltzer alcohol. I’ll save going to Costco for 2024 because if I do go, I think I’ll faint.
Ordering anything online in Switzerland was rare; there’s no Amazon.ch. And, I liked it. I quickly realized we didn’t need all that stuff, most were just impulse buys that could be easily solved by a workaround or going without. Our household belongings are currently in a container somewhere on the Atlantic Ocean, and with school starting for our boys, I’ve ordered from Amazon almost every other day. While it’s easy and time-saving, it doesn’t feel like me.
There are a lot of pros and cons to living in both countries. My discomfort isn’t a tally about which country is better. It’s more the sense of loss for the life I adapted to and grew to love. A cardinal rule of expat life is not to expect your host country to be the same as the country you left. In our four years in Switzerland, we met people who would flame out. They just couldn’t adapt to the change and would leave. I don’t expect the USA to be like Switzerland – but I do miss my old life.
In the field of change management, where the rubber meets the road is when people have to actually “DO” the work differently. That’s where change efforts live or die. If I go to work on Monday and how I start my day is different, the tools I used before are now gone and I’m supposed to use new tools, tools that I’m not that familiar with or my team is new, WOW, that’s hard. Ever switched from a PC to a Mac? My “personal workflow” has changed and I’m feeling the loss.
A little voice in my head asks periodically, “Why can’t you just be grateful you lived in Europe for four years?” Well, little voice, pipe down, I am. Gratitude isn’t a bypass for the hard bits in life. In fact, being able to feel gratitude when things are rough – no matter how relative – is the true gift of gratitude.
Every challenge forces us to discover a new path. I’m on a new path and it’s an opportunity to be more compassionate to myself and others. And, ultimately, increase my humanity. Besides, it won’t be long until I’m ready for the next adventure!
I had the pleasure of hearing Jack Kornfield, Buddhist teacher, and author, share a Buddhist parable about worrying.
Three monks go for a walk—one wise, old monk and two younger disciples. The older monk points at a large boulder and asks his disciples, “Is that boulder heavy?” The younger monks reply, “Of course, that boulder is heavy!”
“Indeed, that boulder is heavy” says the old monk, “but, only if you pick it up.”
The boulder is a metaphor for worries. Big, heavy, hard to lift, and even harder yet to carry. Still, we bend down to pick up the boulder and lug it around with us all day. To worry is exhausting.
Our brains are wired for threats, so it’s no wonder we are prone to worry. The early thinking mind originally focused on survival still needs a job in today’s modern world. So, it relentlessly searches for problems to solve. Most of which pose no real danger. Yet, now in our sixth month of a pandemic and a lot of unrest in the world, many of us are in worry over-drive.
To stop worrying is difficult, but not impossible. There are some practical steps we can take to allay worry.
Identify actions that are IN YOUR CONTROL. Let’s say the worry is that you’ll lose your job during the current economic downturn. What can you do?
Do not pick up that BOULDER! Kornfield suggests that after you take action on what is reasonably within your control, you can give the worry away to a higher power: Buddha, God, Universe, or some symbol of love and peace to hold for you. You write the worry down on a slip of paper and place it on a home-made altar to hold — symbolically releasing you of the burden.
Then, go about your life….
You took action within your control, but the worry resurfaces again in your mind. So, what next? There is only one way to move from worry to peace.
Let’s say you are worried about an older loved one falling ill with COVID-19. Your mind thinks through a litany of scenarios — your loved one is exposed, gets COVID, hospitalized, etc. The worst-case scenarios are vivid, but you can choose presence over worry. Here’s how:
The more you practice the skill, the better at it you will become. If you are interested in learning more about presence go to this post.
The practice of bringing the attention back to the present moment is called mindfulness. Once you start to practice mindfulness, just begin to notice how you feel in those mindful moments versus the moments where you let your mind focus on worry. (Hint: The present moment feels more expansive and peaceful.)
I hope these two strategies help. To recap on how to let go of worry:
Here are some of my favorite quotes about worry!
If it can be solved, there’s no need to worry, and if it can’t be solved, worry is of no use.”Dalai Lama XIV
Worry pretends to be necessary but serves no useful purpose.Eckhart Tolle
The psychological condition of fear is divorced from any concrete and true immediate danger. It comes in many forms: unease, worry, anxiety, nervousness, tension, dread, phobia, and so on. This kind of psychological fear is always of something that might happen, not of something that is happening now.Eckhart Tolle
The meeting of two eternities, the past and the future… is precisely the present moment.Henry David Thoreau
Living in the present moment means letting go of the past and not waiting for the future. It means living your life consciously, aware that each moment you breathe is a gift.Oprah Winfrey
Don’t pick up that boulder! Choose the present moment and enjoy all the extra energy you’ll have when you make the conscious choice not to worry!
Love and light,
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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,