Wednesday, September 30, 2009

CranioSacral Therapy

I just completed a CranioSacral Therapy (CST) course through the Upledger Institute. It was a fabulous class and I learned a lot. This type of therapy is congruent with the relationship based  program I am trained in and is helpful for people who have autism, ADHD, learning disabilities, headaches, neck and back pain, tension and many other conditions. Many people, including myself, use it for preventative and well-care as it is very relaxing.

CranioSacral Therapy is a gentle touch approach (about the weight of a nickel) used to facilitate the bodies natural healing capabilities and propensity towards wellness.

There are many rhythms in the body. Blood circulation and breathing are two of the most commonly known, easy to feel and see. Although more subtle, cerebral spinal fluid flows through us is a rhythmic manner of about 6-12 cycles per minute in adults and with some training and practice one can feel this rhythm as well.

One of the major things I like about CranioSacral therapy and why I see it as so congruent is the importance placed on the attitude, or intent of the therapist. The therapist takes a neutral, non-directive standpoint of listening and following the body rather than indulging in thoughts of trying to fix it. The body takes care of itself -- the therapist doesn't know what healing means to each specific person. The therapist is present with the person's process and offers a helping hand. Very often, being held within this attitudinal space, the body welcomes the assistance and then guides the therapist to do what is most helpful.

With a neutral intent and gentle touch the therapist's hands blend with the client's body and therefore do not activate the natural defense mechanism. CranioSacral therapy releases membranes restrictions and suture compressions in the craniosacral system due to everyday stresses and strains as well as from more serious traumas (e.g. car accidents, falls, birth complications etc.). These releases consequently help cerebral spinal fluid flow more smoothly.

John Upledger, the person who developed CranioSacral therapy, believes "somewhere inside you is the answer to every question that can be asked about you"(p. 117). He calls this part the Inner Physician and uses CST to access one's inner wisdom.

It has been found that people with autism tend to have tight dura maters (the membrane around the brain). In Upledger's work providing CranioSacral treatments to this population, he found that they became less self injurious and improved social behavior. After these children had felt the special touch, they sought out the therapist and lined up to receive more. One little boy I read about lay still for two hours while receiving his treatment.

There are simple techniques in CranioSacral therapy that can be learned by caregivers and parents to use on a daily basis to improve the health and well-being of their children.

Your Inner Physician and You: CranioSacral Therapy and SomatoEmotional Release
by John E. Upledger, 1997

The Path to the Future

One of my favorite mottoes is:
The path to the future is brightly illuminated by the bridges burning behind us.
I like this motto for a bunch of reasons.

First, it reminds me of a time in my life when I left the security of a highly paid position in a large company for the the uncertainty of a start-up that I founded using savings and credit cards to pay people until I could get funding.

Second, for me, it provides a shortcut to confidence, whenever I find myself hesitant or anxious about moving into something new.

Third, the motto that I find so edifying and comforting seems to provoke a visceral and negative response in many people. "Hey, you don't want to burn any bridges!"

Freedom's Just Another Word...
There are so many cases in which burning bridges is the best way to guarantee success in a new endeavor.

If you've embarked on a new adventure but find yourself consistently distracted by thoughts of turning back, cutting off your path of retreat can help you attain new levels of focus and clarity. If you find yourself holding back or hiding because of concerns of what others will think of you, then simply letting the cat out of the bag can be a wonderfully freeing experience.

To be clear, you don't need to actively burn your bridges to benefit from the motto; you need only adopt the attitude that "not being able to go back" is okay.

Just prior to her senior year in high school, my daughter Eila (pronounced with a long A) and I were talking about her class selection which was filled with advanced placement classes for college. As we talked, it occurred to me to ask, "Hey Eila, are these the classes that you really want to take?"

Eila immediately responded, "Oh, no dad. I'd much rather take art and music classes, but that would be so impractical."

So, we talked about it.

Eila ended up filling her senior year with art and music.

The next year, she enrolled at Emerson College in Boston. By the middle of the first semester, she decided that it was "boring". She dropped out, took a job at Urban Outfitters and considered her next move.

She decided that she wanted to study fashion design in Florence, Italy. She found the school, did all the prep work, and then headed off to Florence. She spent the year studying, speaking Italian, meeting new people and spending her weekends traveling on the cheap to different parts of Europe.

The following year, she enrolled at Parsons School of Design in Manhattan. She was living on Union Square West and doing great.

Obliged to Continue
One day, just after her mid-term exams, Eila and I were talking on the phone. She told me about all she was doing and the amazing feedback that she had received from all her teachers.

Then she started crying.

I said Eila, "Why are you crying? You're doing so well!"

Eila responded, "Yeah, Dad. And I hate it."

It turned out that, although Eila was doing really well in school, she simply didn't like what she was doing. Yet, she felt that, because she was good and because she'd invested so much in getting where she was, she was somehow obligated to continue.

As we talked about it, Eila decided that she didn't want to continue at Parsons.

Everyone told her she was crazy. Her teachers saw that she had a promising future in design. Her friends had all drunk the "you have to finish college" cool-aid.

Perfect Confidence
With all this feedback, Eila started to doubt her decision. One day, she told me that she wasn't sure if she could really trust herself. I grabbed a copy of a personal development catalog and looked up a program focused on self-trust and confidence which as it turns out was being offered the following week. We called the sales counselor and enrolled Eila in the program.

From my perspective the program had an amazingly transformative effect. Eila, who was already a quite confident person, came home a powerhouse of confidence and self-ownership. On her way home from the program, she gave me a call. I asked Eila what her biggest learning had been in the program. Eila said:
"Dad, I realize why I was so uncomfortable not being in school. When I'm not in school, I have no one to grade me. I decided that I don't need anyone to grade me anymore."
Today Eila is the general manager of a restaurant in Harvard Square called Border Cafe. She absolutely loves the restaurant business and her job. Despite the dire predictions regarding her financial future, she's doing fine. And most importantly, she's really happy.

Burning Your Bridges
One of the things that I've learned over the years is that, when you start something really new and different, there are going to always be people who aren't happy about it. It might be that they simply don't understand what you're doing. It might be that they see it as wrong. They might feel threatened by it. They might see your confidence and energy as an indictment of their own lack of action.

Regardless of their motivations, you may find yourself in the position of choosing between your friends, colleagues and family, and your vision of who you want to become or what you want to do. In these instances, the most useful path forward may involve bridge burning.

Some Bridges Just Won't Burn
I should note that some bridges only appear to burn. I've had many times in my life where people got outright angry at me for moving forward with something they didn't want me to do. Oftentimes, they would see what I was doing as somehow threatening.

From my perspective, they simply didn't understand and I didn't want to wait for them to understand. I also figured that they'd probably come around eventually, but I was going to be concerned about it.

What's really cool is that, oftentimes, they do come around.

Have an awesome Wednesday!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009


Today, Julie and her boyfriend Brian start their big move from the Northeast to California. They will travel by car and do some work along the way. It is a combination trip with work and pleasure.

My friend Mary from the Netherlands is starting to get ready to go back to the Netherlands. She and Brian are having an intense couple of last days, because when she flies back it will be only Internet and phone to communicate until Brian visits the Netherlands.

When my friend Paul arrived on Saturday, we integrated him in our busy schedule that now combines sightseeing with playing music, starting up a company, work through other scheduled stuff and do some socializing with friends. By Monday morning Paul revealed that he was happy to be able to stay home that day and settle in while Mark and I went to work and did our busy thing!

So, this makes me think about relaxation. It's a topic lots of people seem to talk about when they are busy or are in the middle of an intense lifestyle. They have theories about the amount of relaxation you need and about how important balance is in your life. As a mentor, I like to clarify words like relaxation and balance and it is intriguing that these words have so many meanings that it is hard to understand each other, without clarification.

Some people use relaxation to describe the period they don't have to work. It's the time they spend with family and friends. For some it's time they only spend on "want to", and "have to" is not invited! These people often get disappointed, because there seems never to be enough time for the "want to". For others it's a word they use to point out to others that their schedules are ridiculous and what they do is unhealthy. Then there are people who use relaxation not to describe any physical action, but relaxation of the mind. You also have different groups in this category:  like the group who wants to relax themselves and the group who tells others to relax!

The word balance seems to mean in most of these kind of conversations: a balance between work and relaxation! Personally, I do not believe in a distinction between work and relaxation, so I do not believe in balance. Let me try to explain how I operate:

I believe that relaxation is a state of mind. I do not attach being relaxed to what I am doing, but to the happiness I choose while doing it. The intense feeling of happiness  is what I describe as relaxation. So I relax while writing this blog and getting my mind clear on this subject. I relax while discussing the daily tasks with Mark so we are sure that everything works out, I relax while stacking three cords of wood, or when I have sex, when I am in the playroom or doing a dialogue.

There are things that can influence my state of mind in a negative way (choosing unhappiness). Some very practical examples are food (I am intolerant for milk and white flower products) and sleep. But I cannot say that I do balance with those either. There are moments that I can do with six hours of sleep a night, and there are other periods that I sleep eight or nine hours a night. There are foods that I avoid, but I do not use a regulated schedule or program to make sure I balance my food. There are even moments in which I choose the immediate happiness of sharing a meal with someone instead of taking care of my diet! This I start to do less and less, because my body seems to slowly develop more intolerance to certain foods.

I do have my preferences: I want to spend time with my husband Mark, I want to do work that is meaningful and gratifying, I want to go on a holiday once in a while, I want to enjoy the people and the world around me. I want to share my thoughts with others. And the fun thing is: when I create what I want, I am happy and so... relaxed!

How do you relax? How do you define relaxation and balance? Do you do balance in your life?

Monday, September 28, 2009


I often hear people talking about how they want to get more balance in their lives. When I ask them about this, they tend to talk about working less, spending more time at home with family, taking more time to travel, eating better, getting more exercise and so on.

They often tell me that I work too much and that I should create more balance in my life. I thought about this a lot over the weekend as I tried to balance a heap of work that I really wanted to finish with all the other activities in my life.

A Full Life
From a work perspective, "a lot on my plate" would be an understatement. Additionally, we've had a fairly steady flow of people staying with us which often involves taking more time to clean, cook, transport, etc. We have our band and gigs and recordings. We have many different social engagements each week. I like to spend at least an hour a day working out. I really love writing this blog. I've been painting the house and repairing this and that. And on and on...

If not balanced, I certainly have full life.

And yet, there are so many other things that I'd like to do.

Hmmm... Maybe working less would be a good idea?

What Do I Want?
But then it occurs to me that the things that I'm working on are things I really want to see happen. They're things that will really benefit people in a big way. They're things that haven't been done before and that some people consider un-doable.

In my experience, no one has ever done things like that and had what people would call a balanced lifestyle. Some would call it making sacrifices, but I disagree. I see it simply as having a strong desire to accomplish what you want to accomplish and making it important enough that there are other things you don't do.

You can view it as a vacuum or as a space full to overflowing.

Infinite Possibility in Finite Existence
One of the things that I love about my friend Mark is that he tends to vacillate between two frames of mind. One is that of limitless capacity and possibility, and the other is that of zero capacity and possibility. For example, when we talk about his relationship(s) with women, Mark will say that love is infinite and therefore, his capacity to have numerous simultaneous relationships is unlimited. Within the same discussion he'll move to the near hopelessness of finding a relationship that will work for him.

I can't count the number of people who've come to me with great ideas that they're going to transform into new businesses or scientific breakthroughs or brand new lives. They see infinite possibility. They have tremendous energy and enthusiasm. They can conquer the world!

But then something happens. They get distracted by day-to-day activities. They encounter challenges that they hadn't anticipated. They get tired. They run out of money. They stop.

But why? I think the challenge lies in finding balance between the optimism-inspiring concept of unlimited potential and the goal-achieving concept of finite resource and time management.

What are You Willing Not to Do?
One of the first things they teach in time management courses is that it's not about time management, it's about priority management. If you've been considering paying for a time management course, simply doing the following can save you some money.
First, get yourself a watch and a small pad paper.

Second, spend three days accounting for every moment of your day. Whenever you start an activity, write down the activity and the time. When you conclude the activity (or interrupt it), write down that time. Include everything from sleeping to brushing your teeth to watching television to reading blogs to time on Facebook to time with your kids.

Third, after three days, create a list of all the activities that you've tracked so that there's just one entry for each activity.

Fourth, next to each activity, put a number from one to five (where five is very important and one is not important) indicating how important that activity is to you.

Fifth, for each activity, add up the amount of time you've spent on it.
Now, look at your list. How well aligned is the importance that you've placed on each activity with the amount of time you've spent on it? If they're not aligned, you have one of three choices:
  1. Reallocate time from something less important to something more important
  2. Adjust your priorities to reflect the amount of time you allocate to them
  3. Forget about time management and just ignore the whole thing
Whether you're embarking on a new business adventure or a new love relationship, whether you're shooting for the moon or simply trying to get to work on time, I believe this kind of exercise can have a remarkable effect.

Simply cutting out fifteen minutes here and thirty minutes there on a daily basis can make all the difference in the world. You can end up with your head in the clouds and your feet firmly planted on the ground!

When the Going Gets Tough
One more thing.

Often, when we undertake a new and challenging activity or task, we dramatically underestimate the degree of challenge. Things start feeling really difficult and hard.

Many of us ascribe meaning to this. The task feeling difficult or challenging is somehow an indication that we shouldn't be doing it. Something is wrong.

What I've found is this: If things seem challenging and difficult, it may simply be because they are.

Have a great week!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Little Voice...

This morning we drove back home from New York after picking up my Dutch friend Paul. Paul will stay with us over the next two weeks. In the car we discussed the busy schedule we have for the next weeks and how to make his holiday as fun as possible while we also get lots of things done.

Paul is here to play harmonica for the first CD we are creating with our band No Room for Jell-o. But this is not the only project going on at this time. Some of our other open projects are: starting new companies while doing other work that brings in the money, compiling a book, make sure we have articles for the blog, creating the CD and doing performances, making some fixes around the house etc.

After we came home this morning, I did some cleanup around the house, needed to clean up the mess I made earlier in the week. In meanwhile a little voice in the back of my mind was repeating to myself: "hey, you did not yet post your article on the blog" and "hey, you had promised to get this information to this person" and hey, you had planned too.."

I dealt with this by making myself a big list with all the upcoming tasks and work the list down based on priorities. This feels good and I feel I am in charge by picking what I do first and what can wait. I am always surprised how little time I have for all the things I want to do! If there would be 36 hours in a day, I still would not get bored!

How do you handle your busy schedule? Do you repeat the things you want to remember to yourself constantly? Do you have other ways of handling it?

I wish you all an organized Sunday!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Are you different?

I think one reason why I love working with my little friends with special needs is that in some ways I was a special needs child too! In a way, a lot of us were probably special needs children when we were young. The diagnostic systems were not what they are today, and at that time there were lots of developmental challenges that were ignored or overlooked in the regular school system.

I love the way I grew up. I love that I have been able to overcome my challenges. I love that my parents and all the other wonderful people around me were not worried, but just accepted that I might need some more time in different areas... It helped me to design a worldview in which I see opportunities and possibilities for everyone. And, I learned that challenges are nothing more than challenges!

So, as a kid I had some speech challenges. My mom could understand me very well, but no one else could! When I was around five years old, people started to talk about getting me into speech therapy. I think my mom decided it was not necessary and I would grow out of it! In lots of ways, I did. The only challenges that have stayed with me for most of my life are that I cannot pronounce the rolling-R like we do in Dutch, and I seem to make the same sounds for the Dutch S and the Dutch Z.  These are other little nuances that most people don't notice.

At that age I LOVED singing. I would sing any time of the day (yep, for sure an ism!) The songs taught to me in kindergarten were sung over and over and over... I specially loved the songs that integrated the lyrics with movements of the body. You could see me singing and dancing everywhere.

When my parents and their friends would hang out, I would be invited to sing for them. In the beginning I did this with great enthusiasm. I would sing and they would laugh.  They would ask me to sing again and, when I did, they would laugh harder and harder. It turns out that they were laughing at my pronunciation;  I sounded "funny".

I would start to get uncomfortable with the laughing because I didn't understand why they were laughing.  Meanwhile, the adults would have great fun asking me to sing more and more. Over time, I would try to avoid these parties and I started to only sing when I was by myself.

I also had dyslexia. For years I was not able to copy a sentence from a book without missing letters or mixing them up or writing in mirror writing. I remember one of the last times my mom tried to help me with it. I was around nine years old.

My mom, my brother and I were sitting at the kitchen table with a schoolbook. She asked me to copy a sentence. I did and she pointed out what I missed or had to correct and asked me to do it again.

I wrote the same sentence again. She pointed out that I made mistakes again.  We continued this process until my mom lost her patience and irritatedly told me, "the only thing you have to do is look and copy that sentence!"

My sweet mom. I just needed more time. Around the time I went to middle school, something seemed to spontaneously change and I started to be able to retain how to write words and language with much greater accuracy. (Read more about dyslexia here Types of Dyslexia)

At different times my parents were told it might be better to hold me back a year and repeat the same class instead of moving forward with my group. For me, my friends were very important and I am still grateful that my parents always chose to keep me with  them, even if that meant I would be behind in certain areas. I built friends that made every challenge worth to overcoming.

In my late twenties, I started to play guitar with a wonderful teacher in the Netherlands. He had a small group of singers that would play and sing together and I joined them. Twelve singers in four main categories (tenor, bass, alto and soprano). We would sing harmonies accompanied by guitar. This was the place where I learned to be more comfortable singing with others and how much fun it is to share something like this together.

Then last year, while visiting the Netherlands, I decided that I wanted to make a music CD. I was not playing or singing with anyone and I didn’t know how to do it, but I decided that by the end of 2009 there would be a CD. If you have read earlier blogs, you know I have been working on my singing and drumming and that I am now part of the band “No Room For Jello”.  You can find some snippets of me singing last night by clicking here. One of the amazing things about this is that my singing exercises have helped me to be able to roll my R's properly. A miracle!

Why am I writing this all? When Sree commented the other day on Mark's article saying that it helped him and that he has new inspiration to look differently at his kids, I realized that a lot of us have amazing stories about growing up that do not fit in the general view of how we kids should develop and by what time. I decided that those stories might help others see things in a different light. The diversity of our experiences creates a wonderful mix of perspectives and strengths that we can use to help each other.

Do you have a story about your life that you want to share with others because it might inspire them? If so, write it down and email it to me and I will make sure it gets posted on this site.

Have a great inspiring Saturday!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Know One... Know Many...

The other day, I was working in the garage with a friend building some new shelves to help us manage our rapidly deminimalizing lifestyle. When I build things, I tend to picture them in my mind and then construct them without drawing sketches etc.

My friend asked me where I'd learned to build like that. I realized it's something that I've always had in my life. My dad is a real "tools" guy. As far back as I can remember, I have always been involved in building this or fixing that, everything from putting up studs for walls to repairing clutches for washing machines to replacing brake shoes and brake lines in cars. It's just part of how I grew up.

My friend said, "so much for 'know one, accomplish all'."

I replied, "What do you mean?"

He said, "Well, with you, it's more like 'know everything, accomplish anything'."

This got me thinking.

Know Everything, Accomplish Anything
Many of you are probably familiar with the phrase "Know One, Accomplish All". It's essentially an admonition against dabbling. It implies that, by truly investing yourself in one discipline, you'll be able to do anything.

I've always liked the phrase. I know many people who always seem to be deeply invested in their passion of the moment. They flit from idea to idea, theory to theory, discipline to discipline, and so on. They run on inspiration, not perspiration.

In these cases, knowing 'one' would be way better than knowing 'none'.

However, I now realize that, if you're past the dabbling phase, the 'know one, accomplish all' approach can be severely limiting. If you're someone who has the wherewithal to invest yourself deeply in understanding a discipline, then there are many conceptual breakthroughs that you can only acheive when you're well grounded in multiple disciplines.

For example, I never really understood English grammar until I learned French. Within the single language, it was very difficult to discern the exceptions and the rules. English was simply too familiar. As I learned French, I picked up a new way of thinking about language, one that I might not have found learning only English. The French-based perspective improved my English.

When I worked in the research group at Bell Laboratories, my colleagues were all PhD's in electrical engineering, computer science and physics. I didn't have a PhD and my background was in music. Still, I did quite well in the organization receiving high ratings and promotions. My training in music gave me a different perspective and way of thinking about technology problems. This allowed me to achieve breakthroughs that wouldn't have come otherwise.

In short, I'm really starting to like the "know everything, accomplish anything" way of thinking.

Staying Young
I recently heard a news story about the School Sisters of Notre Dame in Mankato, Minnesota. This is an order of nuns who on average live well into their 90s and who seem to thrive to the very end of their lives.

About twenty years ago, researchers at the University of Minnesota began a study on the nuns who, in addition to their long lives seemed to have no incidence of Alzheimer's. The nuns not only participated in the study, but also agreed to donate their brains to the project (posthumously, that is).

The amazing part is that, when autopsied, many of the nuns' brains appeared to have the physiological characteristics of Alzheimer's disease. Yet, none of them showed any of the symptoms while alive. It turns out that the nuns stay active throughout their lives (one receptionist was 102), and that they are constantly learning new things and new disciplines. The thinking is that, by actively learning and putting into practice new ideas and disciplines, their brains are always building new pathways, including those that bypass the Alzheimer's.

I'm sure that my explanation above is not up-to-snuff from a medical perspective, but I find the concept intriguing. If we stay active and if we actively learn new things, we may actually increase our lifespans and avoid dementia.

What Do You Mean by 'Is'?
It just occurred to me that my use of the word "know" may not be specific enough. By 'know', I'm not talking about the Trivial Pursuitish, Jeopardiacal memorization of facts; I'm talking about a functional and applicable understanding of how things work. I don't believe that memorizing without understanding will get you there.

A Little Experiment
I'd like to invite you to join me in a little experiment. First, only do this if you've already got the "know one" part down, otherwise, well...

Anyway, if you've invested yourself in and become really accomplished in a specific discipline, pick another, seemingly incompatible discipline that you find appealing, but in which you have not invested. For example, if you're an painter, it might be time to take up bowling. If you're an accountant, it might be time to take up singing. If you're a classical piano player, it might be time to take up jazz. If you're a Catholic, it might be Protestantism or Judaism.

Over the next few months, invest yourself in learning and really understanding the new discipline. As you do so, don't do it from a critical perspective, but instead, do so from the perspective of naive initiate who loves the discipline and really, really, really wants to learn and practice it.

My hypothesis is that, after three months, you will not only have acquired an understanding of something new, but that you will also have developed far better understanding of what you already knew.

Have a great Friday!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

I'm just wondering

I'm just wondering... Wondering about friendship, closeness and how I define a friendship.

People who know me (lots of you have done programs with me over the last few years) might remember that one of my reccuring issues has been that "I have no friends".

I believe this to be true and not to be true!

I do have friends. I have many friends. I have all kinds of friends.
This week I got a call from a friend I hadn't spoken to in two years, and we just picked up the connection so easily. But, I have known her for 25 years...

Did you read "but..."? Did you know that a sentence beginning with "but" is often a negation of the preceding part of the sentence?

I wanted to say:
But at times I can spend a week without getting a single hug. This is something I regret - AND this is not true: since I started to volunteer in a play-room I know that at least I’ll get hugs on Saturdays - in the playroom.

My next upcoming thought is: I don't have people to talk to. People who'll listen, people who are close... This is not really true either! On my way from work or when I get home and start walking the dog I'll often call someone. Call someone with whom I can share what has happened at work, or what I expect will happen soon. Just someone to share my everyday thoughts. And seeing that during the day I share my thoughts with my colleagues, why do I tend to not take this into consideration when I say that I do not have people to talk to?

I want to have someone who lives close, someone who can join me running, who'll drop by for a cup of coffee. I do have someone close who'll run with me. Even if it's me picking her up and not the other way around. Recently I have started to talk to one of the neighbors and it seems that we have alot in common.

But what I really want is having someone at home or next door with whom I can share my thoughts. Someone who'll understand me, know me and still questioning my thoughts. In other words: I really want to have a person near by who shares similar philosophy of happiness related beliefs.

I do have some same-minded people near - one lives 2 kilometers away, several live in my country and are never more than a phone call away, even others are living further away but they might available on Skype or Facebook just at the same time as me.

So, why is it that I am asking for more friends when I have the most wonderful loving people never more than a few clicks away?

Over the last few months this has happened several times: when I feel in need, there is always someone online. They might not always call me and ask me how I'm doing, but there is always someone near, ready to listen or ready to make an appointment soon.

So, why does it seem to be more valuable to me when someone calls me? That someone guesses that I want a hug or a question? And why do I seem to make physical closeness more valuable than the close connection with equal minded people?
Why does it seem to be more important to have people who "pick up" on how I feel and ask me questions when I didn't ask for questions, who hug me when I didn't ask for a hug etc. etc.?

I'm just wondering...

What does it mean when I say I "want friends" or when I say "I want to be part of a community"?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

What Works for You?

As a kid, I did terribly in school. I just never really understood what the teachers were saying. I had a hard time paying attention and the days seemed to drag on forever. I couldn't do math, I couldn't write well, and when it came to taking multiple selection tests, I could come up with reasons for any one of the answers being correct. I would actually do worse than random.

To compound matters a bit, I totally missed social cues, I was overweight, I was terrible at sports and my mom insisted on me having a crew cut. In fifth grade, I became the kid in class that everyone else had to beat up in order to be "cool".

Then something magical happened. One day at school, they brought all the fifth graders into the gym for a presentation by the music teacher. He had a huge array of band instruments that he and others demonstrated for us. One man picked up a tenor saxophone and played this amazing jazz solo.

I fell in love.

At the end of the presentation, they handed us forms that we could take to our parents if we wanted to begin taking band lessons at school. I took two, just to be safe.

A few weeks later, I received my brand new conn student-model tenor saxophone which I didn't put down until I could play something, anything. As I held the saxophone and blew through it, I imagined all the cool saxophone players I'd seen on TV or in the movies. I became them.

Finally a Win!
I don't know that it was genetics or environment or passion or vision or simply not being able to do anything else well, but as a fifth grader I got really, really good at playing saxophone. By the middle of the year, the band director arranged for me to go daily to the junior high to play with the eighth grade band where I became the "first chair" saxophone player.

One day after school, I was walking home with a friend and several of the boys from class walked up to us, surrounding us a looking for a fight. I got ready for my usual get-beat-up scenario in which I never actually fought back. I just kind of took it.

As the other boys went through the litany of taunts and pushes that always preceded the beating part, my friend said, "Hey, you know he's playing sax in the eighth grade band and he's first chair!"

Suddenly, everyone stopped! Magic again. One of the guys helped me off the ground. Another picked up my stuff. And yet another picked up my sax case and offered to carry it for me. We all proceeded to walk home.

I never got beat up again.

Special Treatment
By eighth grade, I still wasn't doing well in academics, but I was doing great with music. I also started to do well with things that weren't taught traditionally. Whenever I listened to someone teach or read something in a book, I always managed to come up with at least three or four ways to interpret it. So, I was never sure what they meant.

However, when I could learn by doing, by practicing, I could discover for myself what worked and what didn't. Although my science grades were poor, I ended up winning a first place in the state science fair with a binary computer that my dad helped me to build from discarded telephone relays. Hands-on worked.

In high school, several teachers created special classes just for me. For example, Mr. Greenberg, who was running a film making class (using super-eight film cameras), created a film scoring class just for me. He let me compose and record film scores for the movies that people made in the film class.
The Mr. Ganzman created a music theory class for me. I started writing more and more music. By fifteen, I could sit with a sheet of music paper in front of me and write down all the parts for the orchestration simply hearing them in my head. (It's funny, I still can't read music, but whatever I hear I can write).

I still had problems with focus and distraction, so I would sit in the living room on the floor, my feet stretched out under the coffee table with both the TV and the radio on. It seemed that the more cacophonous the environment, the easier it was for me to concentrate.

One evening, as I sat in the living room writing the score for a musical I was working on, my dad walked in. Seeing the TV on, hearing the radio and seeing no text books, he said, "Hey, it's a school night. Why aren't you doing anything?"

He sent me to my room to do homework. I learned to work on music when my dad wasn't around.

What Works for You?
Today, I still have difficulty focusing in environments designed to provide limited distraction. I do well in loud and crowded coffee shops, or on subway cars, or with the TV and radio blaring. I also still have a difficult time learning in typical classroom settings or from textbooks. But, when I approach new topics as I do music, with passion, awareness and practice, I can learn anything.

I do what works for me.

Have you or your kids had similar experiences? Perhaps it's an inability to pay attention or stay focused? Perhaps you suspect your child of being "really smart", yet he or she doesn't do well in school? Maybe they seem to spend all their time on things that don't matter?

I believe that each of us has the ability to do well when we find the model that works for us. The clues are often hidden in the things we gravitate to or the places where we feel most comfortable. When our comfort zone and our optimal approach are outside the norm, the response is typically to try to get us to conform.

Perhaps that's the wrong answer. Perhaps the answer is to deeply explore what works and then expand on it.

Happy Tuesday!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Are you out of rhythm?

[Time+flies+fast.gif]I looked at my daughter this evening, as we wrapped up our night time routine and thought "Where did the past 8 years go?"  Doesn't it sometimes feel like time is zooming by?   July 7, 2001 was just a minute ago.  We were  racing down the West Side highway trying to get to the birthing center before my contractions started coming any faster, pulling up to the Elizabeth Seton Birthing Center on 14th Street at 4:25pm.  Simonne-Anais Michel was born at 6:15pm.  It was pretty quick, and I was home the next day.  By my rough estimate, 2995 days have passed.  Wow!!  How could almost 3000 days feel like a moment??

I thoroughly enjoy being a mommy, but I have to admit to flying through too many moments.  It seems like modern life is so much about the 'doing' and not the 'being'.  I can become over-scheduled in a minute!  So many things on the schedule crowd out many of the big rocks, the really important things.  Sometimes, even when the schedule is balanced, my execution of it is very unbalanced, with discomfort, anxiety and more of the same.  With the kids, I have to resist the social pressures to do more... more activities, more craft, what about sports, more, more more... Out of balance!!  I feel tired thinking about it.

Life is about rhythm.  We breath in and out. We experience the rhythm of the seasons, of day and night.  The rhythm helps us recognize the passing of time and to register the memories in the season.  I am working on creating life giving rhythms for myself: ones that support my intention to savor life and be present in every moment.  I realize that I have been slowing myself down.  When I feel like things are moving too quickly, I do exactly what would do in the playroom with my son.  I stop my thoughts, tune in to me, then to my surroundings.  I take a deep breath and just be grateful.

Fast forward to last Sunday. The kids and I were very excited and motivated by our mural painting field trip a few weeks ago, so decided to paint a mural on our garage door.  We talked about it for weeks, drew sketches of the animals and flowers for our mural and then the day came, a perfect, sunny, mild day.  We all went outside, transferred the sketches to the wall (a friend who is an artist is helping us), and started mixing colors and putting base paint on the wall.  It was a beautiful day.  I spent it moving slooowly, savoring the moments, enjoying the kids (most of the time) and thinking how great it was to be living this day slowly.

What if every day was like Sunday?  What if I took the time to magnify each moment, to savor it, be delighted in it?  What if I decided to make every second orgasmic?  I don't have to have every day as a slow day (though I think I would really enjoy that!) but even when my current activity requires intensity and velocity, I can still magnify every second!

As you know, I'm on the theme of intentions.  So my intention in all this is to sit in the moment of my life, magnify it and delight in it.  I will have delightful, memorable times of both alacrity and laziness as I create the rhythm I want in my life.

Monday, September 21, 2009

How Do You Describe a Feeling?

We've been having wonderful, engaging discussions, and one of the things that comes up for me is in trying to describe a feeling. Often these conversations lead to people making up what they think I THINK and FEEL, based on the things I do or say. Often the guesses are off, but I love being with people who aren't afraid to guess or be "wrong"--I do the same myself!

But sometimes we get on the subject of how we feel and I find it a real challenge to describe a FEELING in words...and I have been thinking back to a letter that I wrote a while back in an attempt to convey in words what it FEELS like to be in the life I have:

"I’m a writer. I’ve been writing since the 5th grade; stories, poems, screenplays, you name it. I’ve also read thousands of books in my life. Words are special to me. Arranging letters in a certain order that people then use to bring themselves to deep joy, tears, laughter—what an amazing gift words are! But my words have let me down. No matter how powerful they are, or how articulate I can be at the top of my game, they simply fail when it comes to describing what it feels like to live life in this moment. That feeling is so big, so all-encompassing, so beautifully complex, that even the greatest scribes can really only evoke an approximation of it, never truly describe it. But I’ll do my best because I so deeply want to find a way to convey my gratitude for the life I’ve created for myself with what you have taught me here, walking beside me and coaxing me along our path so many different ways. I’ll do it by describing a moment, that’s the best I can think of.

It was October, 2007, and I was coming in at four in the morning to start work. As we were running out of cities left to contact about the tour, I started to take my breaks early, spending a few minutes walking the employers property. The sunrises at could be spectacular as the sun would peek over the hill by the Main House and set the autumn-hued trees afire.

But one particular morning stood out and there was no sunrise that day. It was gray and cloudy, seemingly nothing special. But it was the perfect canvas on which to paint one beautiful, extraordinary moment. I stood on the Lighthouse path, looking over the pond towards the mountains. The clouds were scudding over me from that direction, a billowing gray. And I just stopped. And listened. And was. The movement of the clouds, the sound of the wind through the leaves, the feel of the grass and stone beneath my feet. It was the song of a contented universe, revealing itself to me. And I closed my eyes, and lifted my face, and opened my arms wide to that song and said a few words, deep in gratitude: “Thank you for my life…..thank you for this moment.” And in that moment, something extraordinary happened. A soft wind came up from behind me. I’m sure I could figure out the physics of how the clouds could be going one direction and the wind could blow the opposite way, but where’s the fun in dissecting….magic. And standing there with my arms open wide, I felt this wonderful sensation that if I just let go and fell backwards, the wind would hold me, that I would never fall. And in that moment, I knew that arms were wrapped around me, a gentle hug from God.

And that’s what it feels like to walk through my life now--at least that's as close as I can get to describing it. Like a sweet….constant….gentle hug from God.

I’ll leave you with snippet of a poem I wrote to my best friend after he passed away when we were 30. I had terrible regret and anger over losing him, but I no longer feel those things, just a deep gratitude for the moments we got to share. I say these words to you now—in a way, you are so much like him, always asking questions, always challenging me to be more:

My dearest friend
Sit beside me in the years to come
And talk to me of love and of life
And grow old with me

So….I thank you….and I love you,


How would you describe what it FEELS like to be you? To be in this moment in your life?

Have a joyous and exciting week! Big love and hugs,


Sunday, September 20, 2009

Suspending disbelief

On Friday evening we had another performance with our band "No Room For Jell-o". This time we played at the local coffee shop Fuel in Great Barrington. It's a cute place where most of our band spends lots of time during the week. For Mark it's even a virtual office! So, when we got invited to play, we were very excited and honored!

For new readers: this whole band thing is quite new. Pete, Mark and I started jamming in April; we met Butch in May just before our first performance. We got together because of the fun we have playing together and the inspiration we provide each other to learn and create more music. Our band is built on the "we want to play together" principle!

As a band we are clearly in a growth stage. We are learning. We are developing. It's an amazing experience. I learn so much. It's one big opportunity for me to build passion and persistence by letting go of unhappiness fueling beliefs that hold me back from growing and learning.

One off my big challenges so far has been listening to recordings of our performances. I listen back to all our band sessions and performances. The idea is that I will hear what goes great, what goes well and what requires more focus and attention. I also use it as a reality check, especially after the performances, because what you hear on stage can be so different than what the public hears.

So, what has been challenging about this? Instead of using the recordings as a useful tool, I use them as a stick to beat the hell out of myself: "I sang awful", "How did people survive this (my singing)" and "Why do I believe I can be a singer in a band, listen to myself!"

Unhappiness fueling beliefs
I have been taught that I can look at these judgments and look at the underlying beliefs. For me it seems that the following is fueling my unhappy thoughts: “I am not a singer, and I will never, ever be a singer”

These two beliefs say that I am doing something that I should not be doing (do not sing, you are no singer) and stop me from working to become a singer (I will never, ever be a singer). I am not only judging myself in the present, but I am also killing any inspiration to learn and grow.

Suspending disbelief
When I really understood that this was what I was doing, rather than convincing myself that I am a great singer or that I will become a great singer, I simply decided to suspend disbelief. I don't know if I can become a great singer, because I've never tried!  But I also don't know that I can't become a great singer.  So, I just tossed out the negative beliefs. If I want to become a better singer, I have to trust that it will happen with practice. So, I created a program for myself in which I practice every day.

Yesterday I listened back to the recordings of Friday night and guess what? I loved it! I didn't scare the customers away! I gave a performance that was very sweet and lovely to listen to.

Are there things to improve? Ohh yeah. I can make up thousands. Did I judge myself? I did for half an hour on Saturday afternoon, until I decided again to suspend disbelief and to instead believe that I am a good singer and I can become a great singer with practice!

In what area of your life do judgments hold you back? How could you suspend disbelief in those situations?

Saturday, September 19, 2009

When My Mom Died

My mom was raised in South Carolina in a strong Southern Baptist tradition. My dad grew up in Finland with a father who was a Lutheran minister that traveled the world starting Finnish speaking churches. I grew up with a mixture of these traditions and in high school decided that I wanted to be a minister.

At eighteen, I went to college as a religious studies major. Although my focus was Christianity, studying the bible and learning Koine Greek (the language of the New Testament), I also studied other regions and belief systems. When I was nineteen, I wondered into an Assemblies of God Church in Cambridge, Massachusetts that totally changed my concept of worship.

Led by God
Rather than sitting in pews in an audience configuration, chairs were arranged circularly so we all looked at each. The service seemed to evolve without any clear leader. One person would start singing and everyone else would join in with beautiful harmonies. It would get quiet and another person would read something from the bible. People would pray. Some spoke in "tongues", which to me sounded like accented gibberish or a pseudo foreign language. Others would interpret what had been spoken. It felt as though the spirit of God were leading the service.

At one point, the pastor stood up and delivered a sermon. We closed with some more singing and prayer. And then, two and half hours later, we were done.

I fell in love with the experience. It felt fresh and pure to me. I deeply involved myself in the church working in street ministries, playing music, helping people in need, and studying the bible. It's still one of the most memorable periods of my life.

Spirit in a Bottle
Over time, members of the church started thinking of ways to capture the wonderful experience that we had during worship, taking what had been totally impromptu and spirit-led, and routinizing it. Slowly services evolved to something more organized and formal. The worship changed, and so did the people.

Out of this loose affiliation of like-minded people emerged a hierarchical organization replete with politics and power struggles. There was a subtle yet pervasive shift in motivation from simply worshiping and serving God to doing things because they were "right" or "good" or "just" or "correct".

Tipping Point
Years later, I ended up as the church's music director. While meeting with the pastor one day, he brought up the fact that several of the choir members smoked cigarettes and that they were setting a "bad" example that he didn't want to endorse. He told me to ask them to either quit smoking or to leave the choir.

I was dumbfounded, but not speechless.

I mentioned to the pastor that I saw no prohibitions against smoking in the bible. I pointed out that there were, however, prohibitions against gluttony and that several of the people in the choir were fat (the pastor's wife being one of them). So, if we are going to set a good example from a biblical perspective, we should ask all the fat people in the choir to either lose weight or leave the choir. It seemed the logical conclusion.

The pastor withdrew his request and then the next Sunday during his sermon brought up the fact that there were members of the congregation demanding that he preach "logic" rather than "the word of God".

For me, that was the tipping point. I left the church and never looked back.

Starting Over
After leaving the church, I decided to start over, from scratch. I tossed out everything I ever believed and began looking at other religions and belief systems with an openness that I'd never had as a Christian. I started looking for themes, attitudes and beliefs that were common to all or many religions and belief systems. I developed my own set of beliefs that work for me.

Today, I would describe myself as a happy existentialist. I believe that we're simply here; whatever meaning we find in life is up to us. In particular, I find the conceptualization of a conscious god or gods (from the all-powerful, monotheistic god of western religions to the multiple gods of eastern religions to the new age concept of a universal consciousnes) to be decidedly dis-empowering. These concepts, while helpful when we're feeling weak or helpless, also contribute to our feeling week and helpless.

All that said, I love many of beliefs, attitudes and concepts of various religions. I love "spiritual" experience. Contrarily, I think that religion (whether based on the spiritual or the material), is the root cause of most of the conflicts we face as humans today.

When My Mom Died
Several years ago, I got a call from my brother telling me that my mom had had a stroke and was in the hospital. At seventy, my mom had still been teaching aerobics classes; we anticipated her to recover quickly.

It turned out that the stroke was the result of her blood having thickened due to an advanced state of pancreatic cancer. She died within a few weeks.

As we prepared for her memorial service at the church in which she'd invested so much of her later years of life, I received calls from different people who wanted to say or sing something at the service. I decided, why not? So, we opened the service to anyone who wanted to say or present something.

When we arrived at the memorial, the church was full with more than 300 people. What might have been a solemn occasion became a remarkable celebration of my mom's life. People told stories, people sang songs. I still get chills thinking about it.

After the service, countless people approached me to tell me about the time my mom showed up at their house unannounced to help them with this or that simply because she'd heard that they needed help. I found out that for at least the last decade of her life she'd managed to prepare a meal every day for someone who "might need a meal". She'd then send my dad out the door to deliver it.

Although my mom still had some beliefs that were more religious and judgmental than they were spiritual, she'd managed to not become religious. She simply wanted to serve and worship God in the best way she could.

Rethinking Religion
These stories moved me. Up to that point, I'd been quite resentful of religious people. I'd felt lied to and used. I'd felt that religion was simply a tool by which a very small group of people could manipulate and control a very large group of people. I changed that.

Today, I'm of the mind that we as humans have developed wonderful systems by which we explain the unexplainable and manage the unmanageable. I believe that, in their pure forms, any of these systems can serve us remarkably well. I find beauty and spirituality in all of them.

I also believe that, when we convert any system of beliefs to a system of truths, we undermine them and transform them from something beautiful to something, well, ugly.

Food for Thought
What are your spiritual beliefs? Do they stem from a tradition that you grew up with or are they something that you came to later in life? Are you religious about them? If so, why? How is being religious serving you? Is it serving you?

Perhaps you've walked away from the beliefs of your youth or your tradition. If so, is it the beliefs themselves or the religion that boxed them? Have you looked at the beliefs in isolation from the formal religious structure? Perhaps it's time to revisit them?

Happy New Year, Teflon

Friday, September 18, 2009

How do we know?

My friend Mary from the Netherlands is staying at my house with her fiancee, Brian. When she and Brian arrived three weeks ago, I showed them the house, the kitchen, where our food is stored. I invited them to make themselves at home and use whatever was available.

Today, Mary asked me if she could take some of the chewing gum I that I keep in the kitchen. I responded with: "Are you kidding? Off course! I thought I made clear that everything is available to you!" Mary smiled her big smile and grabbed the gum.

This little situation got me thinking about how differently people communicate with each other.

Mark and I have created a fully authentic relationship. This is a relationship in which we say what is on our minds, what we want or don't want, what we like, etc. The result is that things are very clear and easy.

If Mark says that he loves the food I cooked, I do not respond with "are you sure, didn't it need some more salt?" because I believe he genuinely made a compliment.

If he says, "here, eat the last brownie", I believe he's offering me the last brownie without reservation, and so I do not ask: "are you sure? It's the last one..."

I will more likely respond with "ohh, thank you" or "That's sweet, but I don't want one".

Mark and I use the same kind of communication with the people we meet and hang out with.

Sometimes this leads to communication challenges because the people around us might not communicate the same way. For example, when I told Mary and Brian that they could use whatever was available, that is what I meant. But I do not really know how Brian and Mary translated that comment. Maybe they took me at my word; maybe they decided that I said this, but meant something else; maybe they made up something totally different...

So, my question to ponder is: "how do we overcome communication challenges when the different parties do not know that the challenge exists in the first place?"

I'm looking forward to hearing what you think about this subject...

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Throw Off Your Crutches

Last night, my friend Ben and I sat talking into the early morning about his life, his loves and his prospects for work. Let's say that Ben's life is in transition. Ben was recently on the receiving end of a relationship break-up which he took pretty hard.

A few days ago, he returned to his former girlfriend's place to pick up some of his things. While there, she informed him that "both professionals and non-professionals alike had told her that Ben had been abusive in their relationship".

Having had no experience with any physical abuse and being unaware of any emotional abuse, Ben asked her what she meant by "abusive". It turns out that Ben had always been pretty strong and clear about what he wanted (e.g., what to eat for dinner, where to go for this, whom to see), and she had not. Typically, she would just go along with whatever Ben wanted at the expense of what she wanted without ever voicing her wishes.

Note, the professionals and non-professionals alike had just her perspective (which makes either the professionals' opinions or her story suspect), and I have only Ben's perspective. But let's go with it.

Ben mentioned telling her that he was sorry she felt that way. When she told him that she wanted him to apologize for what he had done to her, not for how she felt, Ben decided that it might help mend the relationship (even though he didn't actually think he'd done anything), so he did. Sigh...

Abuse for Fun and Profit
Anyway, as Ben continued with his Saga, he mentioned wanting to pick up his $1200 vacuum cleaner.

"$1200 dollar vacuum?", I said.

"Yeah, my folks bought it for me."

This triggered a thought, "Wow Ben, you are abusive!"

"What do you mean?"

"Well, I've noticed that you're more than happy to take advantage of people's good graces. If someone is open to you and ready to help you, you'll take it to the limit (or past it). You'll abuse it."


Running with It
Now, I'm prone to taking little fleeting ideas and running with them to see where they'll take me. Last night as no exception. Ben, despite his "best" efforts, has been without work, without a woman and without a place of his own for more than half a year now.

So, I postulated, "I believe the reason you're not moving forward with all the things that you say you want to move forward with is simply because you're an abuser. You're more than happy to take money from your parents. You're more than happy to stay with friends. You're more than willing to tell your story over and over to anyone who will listen, without any real intention of changing anything.

Your abusing has become a crutch on which you've grown dependent. On current course and trajectory, you'll never change any of this stuff."

(You gotta love me as a friend. I mean, you gotta or, well...)

Ben said, "Well, what would you do differently? What would prescribe here."

Going with it, I said, "Stop accepting any help for you which you don't somehow reciprocate. Don't accept any more money from anyone. Start bringing more to your relationships than you take from them. Start relying on you."

A Bridge Too Far?
OK, maybe I was a little over the top, but the ideas really rang true for me. I haven't yet seen Ben today; we'll see where it goes.

Nonetheless, I realized that just as there are people who overindulge in alcohol, in food and in drugs, there are people who over indulge in relationships, in relaxation, in comfort. You can abuse anything.

When Mark K and I were talking on Sunday, it occurred to me that "Mark, I believe all the things you're struggling with would all but disappear if you were to lose all you money. It would be the best thing that could happen to you."

Mark's a trust-fund kid who doesn't have to work for a living and whose life is riddled with challenges of over-indulgence and abuse.

Sweetly, Mark said, "I agree."

Now I'm wondering if there's a more general theory that we could come up with here. Something like:

If you find yourself chronically stuck in a situation that you want to change, it may be that you've been abusive of some one, some thing, or some situation to the point of having become dependent on it.

Further, the operative object of abuse may not be the most apparent. For example, if you struggle with weight, the problem may not be food, it may be the lack of meaningful work.

From a root-cause perspective, you would want to look past the immediate and start to look at other places in your life where you're abusive.

It might be indulging in complaining rather than doing. It might be in getting things perfect, before doing anything else. It might be indulging in television. It might be over-tolerant friends.

My theory is that, if you were to get to the root abuses and then remedy them, other things would change.

Anyway, those are my musings for this morning. Would love to know what you think.

Hugs, Teflon

PS Our band, No Room for Jell-o will be playing at Fuel in Great Barrington tomorrow (Friday, Sept 18) from 5-7PM