Monday, November 30, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - I Got my Whole Future in My Hands

"Put your future in good hands - your own." ~ Anonymous

I read this quote a few days ago on Owning Pink's Twitter account (@Owningpink), one of my very favorite accounts to check. It is always brimming with inspiring ideas. This one spoke to me quite clearly and was just the advice I needed. Taking our future into our own hands is a brave and frightening act, though once we accept it as a way to move forward, it really can move mountains.

Today I had to have a conversation that I have been dreading for some time now. I knew it was coming and I was nervous about it. I was afraid of what the reaction of the of the other person might be and I was afraid of my tendency toward blatant honesty. How delicately did I need to plead my case? Would I have to tap dance around what I really wanted to say, playing politics, or could I just get on with it?

No surprise that I went the honesty route. I explained how I wanted my future to unfold and where I thought the best place to do my life's work would be. And a remarkable thing happened - the very person I was frightened of, the very person who I thought would not at all support my decision, stepped up and offered his hand. This person and I have on occasion had a rough go of it. We haven't always seen eye-to-eye. As a matter of fact we've butted heads so often that it's become a habit for us. And yet, there is some kind of magic that honesty breeds. Once he understood my point-of-view, he realized that he had the opportunity to make my dream come true, or at least to help it along in a significant way. And so, he did.

Before I went to see him, I took a deep breathe, smiled, and told myself, "you can do this. Just go in there with an honest heart and say exactly what you think." I did. He listened. And before I even had to ask for help, before I even dared to ask for help, he offered it up with a smile. All my worrying had been for naught. He asked me to think it over, and make sure that this is really the direction I want to go in. I thanked him, knowing that I'll be back to see him tomorrow, to tell him I'm ready to build the life I imagine, to thank him for his help, and to take my life into my own hands.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Journal of Cultural Conversation - The Power of Design Thinking

Hello from The Journal of Cultural Conversation! Laura has just returned from her Peruvian adventures and I've trekked back from Costa Rica by way of Florida with the fam. All the while we've kept up our blogging, commenting, story-telling antics and anecdotes. We hope you'll join us today for a conversation about the power of design thinking. Click here.

My Year of Hopefulness - Thankful for the Unknown

"Do not stop thinking of life as an adventure. You have no security unless you can live bravely, excitingly, imaginatively, unless you can choose a challenge instead of a competence." ~ Eleanor Roosevelt

An opinion article was published in the New York Times on Thanksgiving that gave thanks for the unknown. It struck me so profoundly because of all the surprise that entered my life this year. Through it all, I never stopped believing that something good would come from it all, that I'd be able to raise my head up eventually, shake off the sadness, and rejoin the human race as a more empathic, compassionate person. What I didn't expect is that I would emerge so brazenly fearless, that I would myself feeling more secure once everything extraneous was stripped away.

The great joy of living through something that we imagine we cannot live through is that we become unable to tolerate the act of wasting time. Tragedy makes our vision crystal clear; it helps us to see things with a sharp focus that we never had before. I sometimes wish that we could obtain this kind of clarity without having to live through tragedy. One of my business school professors talked to us about the sad necessity of the "burning platform" that inspires change. I wish my platform, my home, didn't have to literally catch fire, bringing a whole new meaning to the term "burning platform". It certainly did inspire me to change my life in profound and daring ways. I've been putting off a PhD program for over a year; I've been settling in my career and my relationships; material possessions were beginning to wield too much importance in my life. I needed a shake-up, a change, and I got it in spades. Now I'm studying for the GRE, pumping up my efforts on the relationships in my life that are truly valuable to me, and embracing a lifestyle that places far less value on material valuables.

The unknown is a scary, precious thing. The holidays are a great marker for us, a time of reflection to consider exactly what we want our lives to be about. This is an opportunity for us to be with friends and family and truly consider Eleanor Roosevelt's great question: are we challenging ourselves or resting on our competencies? Are we stepping up to meet the world or taking a comfortable seat and just watching the world go by? As we take a bit of time to relax this holiday season, it's my great hope that we will seriously re-consider our priorities and how we spend our time and effort so that we do as much good in 2010 as we possibly can. There is no time like the present to take up a new adventure.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - Find Your "T"

This morning on the plane home I read an article from Stanford's Social Innovation Review entitled "Design Thinking for Social Innovation" by IDEO's Tim Brown and Jocelyn Wyatt. In the article the talk about looking for team members who have their own "T". The vertical line of the "T" is each team member's unique skill or knowledge that they bring to a cross-functional team and the horizontal line of the "T" is a shared set of characteristics that all of the team members share: empathy, respect for the unique talents of others, openness, curiosity, optimism, a tendency to learn by doing, and experimentation.

I like this approach to team-building because it inherently incorporates diversity into the structure of a successful team while also making sure that team members are cut from the same cloth at a very basic human values level. I also think it's a healthy recipe for building out friendships and relationships in our lives, as well as a good strategy for building a family. It's a formula for accumulating a set of good-hearted, talented people. And isn't that the kind of people we'd all like to surround ourselves with?

How does one go about building a personal "T"? Can empathy, curiosity, and optimism be taught or are these traits we must be born with? Can we build an education system that instills and nurtures these values into our children at the very beginning of their learning years? I'd like to think that we're all born curious, and I'd like to think that our natural creative, empathic nature is so strong that even if we have lost our way, these tendencies can be recovered and strengthened.

And what about that vertical in the "T"? How do we discover what makes us special? Is that something special about each of us something we are born with or is it something that we learn? And can it be changed throughout our lives? I believe that the answer is a resounding "yes" on all counts. My special trait is my storytelling, my writing. While I have a natural inclination for this, it requires practice. I certainly wasn't born knowing how to write well. I needed to put a lot of time and effort into it, though because I enjoyed it and saw a rapid rate of improvement with my practice, I was encouraged to become an even better writer.

I've seen this same pattern with every person in my life: my brother-in-law who is a fine painter, my friend, Kelly, who is a master project manager, my friend, Ken, who is a beautiful dancer and a gifted physical therapy assistant, my friend, Brooke, who is one of the most promising young acting talents on television, and my friend and mentor, Richard, who is one of the most successful and talented fundraisers in the nonprofit field. Incidentally, they all have a fabulous sense of humor and are some of the kindest people I've ever met.

I suppose that there are Mozarts and Einsteins among us, walking around, born brilliant, born as prodigies. I just don't know any. All of the brilliant people in my life, and I am very fortunate to have many, have found and leveraged their "T" because they have worked hard at something they love. And they're better off for this because their hard work also gives them the empathy and appreciation they need to be not only brilliant, but to be imbued with hearts of gold. Their "T"s are apparent in every part of their lives. They give me an example to strive for and are my greatest reason for hope.

Friday, November 27, 2009 An Update with Amanda Steinberg of DailyWorth

Since I first featured Amanda Steinberg, Founder of DailyWorth, the site has grown considerably. DailyWorth is a website that helps women manage their finances, though the information is incredibly valuable for men as well. I recently caught up with her to ask about the site, her business, and how she's managing change.

My Year of Hopefulness - Everyone Can Draw

"If you think you can't draw, too bad. Do it anyway." ~ Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO, in his book Change by Design

I've been lamenting for some time that I can't draw. I'm a much better writer than visual artist, and this is exacerbated because I am an auditory learner, not a visual learner. Thank that's weird? You're right - auditory learners make up only 20% of the population. Add it up and it's easy to understand why I don't have any natural ability to draw, nor have I ever really had a desire to learn.

And then I read Tim Brown's excellent book, Change by Design, that explains his philosophy on design-thinking and the future of the field. He talks about mind maps, schematics that illustrate ideas though visual depictions rather than through written briefs or powerpoint presentations. This is a kind of drawing I can get into. Think of them as multi-dimensional tree diagrams blending pictures and words to illustrate ideas. Rather than just working left to right and using the basic construct of option A or B to progress from problem to solution, a mind map starts with a question that takes the form of "How might we ( fill in the blank)?" for a specific population. For my program with Citizen Schools, I will be asking the kids I work with to solve this dilemma with a mind map "How might we build a public school curriculum for the graders to encourage creativity and entrepreneurship?"

As so often happens, as I was reading Tim's book, I saw an interview with another Tim whom I greatly admire, Tim Burton. He was discussing his views on drawing and creativity and echoed Tim Brown's sentiment. "Every child believes he or she can draw. Too many adults have found their creativity beaten out of them." And this brings me back to my long-held belief that I have only just begun to fully articulate: it is much easier (and effective) to help children maintain their creativity through to adulthood than it is to repair the confidence of adults who believe they have no creativity at all.

The truth is that I've lost confidence in my ability to draw, believing that my creativity is relegated to writing and developing products and not at all to drawing. The Tims helped me realize that I am selling myself short. Somewhere inside me is a visual artist of some sort yearning for a paint brush (or crayon or chalk or colored pencil) and a canvas (or piece of paper or blank wall or empty piece of sidewalk).

So here I go with another resolution to live a more authentic life: even if it's not good, I'm going to draw a little bit every week with the help of my mind maps. I'll let you know, or better yet I'll show you, how it goes by publishing the pieces to this blog. Stay tuned as I re-teach myself to draw.

The image above is not my own; I'm just starting to draw so my pictures aren't this good - yet. It is the image created by Tim Brown for the table of content of his book Change by Design. It can be found here.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - More Thankful Than Ever

"A thankful heart is not only the greatest virtue, but the parent of all the other virtues." ~ Cicero

This Thanksgiving is a particularly special one for me. All week I have been with my family in Florida, playing and laughing and cooking, grateful for all of this time with them. I've never spent this much time with them over the holidays. In a year that has been so difficult, in a year when I came very close to not being here at all, I can hardly think of something I'm not grateful for. This Thanksgiving was a big milestone for me because I have been using it as a marker to a time I wanted to get to, a time when I would be in a position to make some big decisions about my life going forward. And this week I have - applying to a PhD program, formulating my own business plan, signing up for a full yoga teacher certification course. Life is looking grand from this side of Thanksgiving.

Today I am very thankful for my family and friends and mentors, people who have not only been supporting me through this difficult year, but also encouraging me to get the most out of my time here.
Earlier this week Weez and I went to the grocery store to do some Thanksgiving shopping and we talked about the fire in my apartment building. I told her how that event really eradicated any fear I have about all aspects of my future; when you almost don't get a tomorrow, every day is gravy so I might as well get on with doing exactly what I want to do with my days. No more compromises. There's no sense in waiting. She agreed, as has everyone in my life that I've talked to about this experience. That fire made every day Thanksgiving for me.

I'm grateful for my health and my ability to imagine a new future with new dreams. Surprisingly, I'm thankful for all that I lost this year because it has made me so grateful for what I have. It cleaned out my life and made room for a drastically better future than the life I was living. It made me realize that a lot of good can be created from something terrible so long as we have the right attitude, so long as we embrace the idea that everything we live through can be an opportunity for learning, for strength, for love. It's this learning, strength, and love that I am most thankful for and I plan to use this thankfulness to bring these new dreams of mine to life.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - It Takes A Village, or an Army

I've been having a great time in Florida with my niece, Lorelei. I can hardly believe that she'll be 2 in January. I wrote about her on this blog the day that she was born and she has appeared a number of other times in my posts. It's fun to watch her learn and change. My sister and brother-in-law are tired pretty much all the time - Lorelei is always on the go and always curious. She's also somehow inherited insomnia from my mom and I.

While many people say that it takes a village to raise a child, I'd add that it requires a very large village, or in many cases an army. It's amazing how many things Lorelei gets into. Everything from electric outlets to cabinet doors to chairs that are a tiny bit too tall for her. She needs feeding and changing and washing and activities that teach her reading, her colors, her numbers, etc. And the list goes on. She needs an eye on her constantly.

Lorelei is lucky - she has so many people in her life who watch out for her, who love her, and take care of her. Every day, I think about how lucky she is, and how many kids are not so lucky. I think about how many kids don't have a village much less an army. Some don't have anyone at all. This is where we can all come in.

This Fall, I had the opportunity to volunteer teach at one of the best high schools in New York. When I told a friend of mine about the choice I had to make to do that assignment or work on my own program in East Harlem, she said, "Christa, those kids in that high school are fine. They don't need you. They have plenty of advantages. Whether or not you're there won't matter to them. It will matter to those kids in East Harlem. Go where you're needed."

Every day, we have a chance to be a part of a child's village, and it's most important for us to begin building a village for kids who don't have one at all. This might be the greatest challenge of our time. We can be that village, that army, with a small donation of time or money or concern. If we have any interest at all in the future of our planet, in the future of our own children, we have to stand up for other kids who need us.

The Journal of Cultural Conversation - Lessons in Spirituality and Why I Hugged a Tree Yesterday

This is a post by my writing pal, Laura, on her latest adventure in Peru. Enjoy!

I grew up in a very Catholic household. Before my super cool mom married my equally remarkable dad, she was a nun. I won’t elaborate – that should explain most of it.

For the full post, click here.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - Learn by Doing

This week Michael Sandel at Harvard talked about Aristotle's Politics. Sandel compares the art of politics to playing an instrument, telling a joke, and cooking. Theses disciplines cannot be learned just from a book or by watching others. Great political orators like great musicians, comics, and cooks must be actively engaged in their craft, practicing consistently, to become masters of it.

Social change is the same way. We can read and write about social change. We can study it. We can be inspired by others who are actively generating social change though only by rolling up our sleeves and participating can we understand the particulars, the details, needed to create change. Change requires trial and error, a variety of approaches, and practice.

In the coming weeks I'll be attending the final projects, called Wow!s, for this semester's Citizen Schools afterschool programs. Attending these sessions will give me an idea of what I need to put together for Innovation Station, the afterschool program for 6th graders in East Harlem that I am building around the concepts of innovation and entrepreneurship. I will learn so much by attending these Wow!s, though I know that this Spring I need to get in there and test the methods myself. I'm looking forward to the practice.

Monday, November 23, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - Personal Statements

Today I began writing my personal statement for my PhD application to Columbia. I have been thinking about it for a week. Usually writing comes very easy to me. It's something I love and a skill I work on every day. The words usually come faster than I can type them. Several times I have sat down to write this personal statement and starred at a blank page for a long time, closing my laptop with nothing to show for my time.

What is it that's getting to me? Why is it that putting fingers to keys to write this personal statement is so tough? I can talk about why I want to get my PhD; I know my dissertation topic and I know what I want to do post-PhD. So why is this personal statement giving me writer's block?

In one to two pages I have to explain who I am and what I'm most passionate about to people who barely know me. Every word counts. Because of the critical importance of this piece I was editing before I even started writing. I let my quest for perfection get in the way of telling the truth, plain and simple.

While I need perfection before I click the 'submit' button, I was forgetting that the first draft, along with the second, third, and thirtieth can be far less than perfect. A final piece that shines from beginning to end is composed of bits and pieces of glimmer from the many drafts that come before it.

Life's the same way. Love's the same way. Careers are the same way. We usually don't get things perfectly correct the first time around. It takes a lot of trial, and error, and trial again. It takes the courage to fail, to follow a dream as far as it will take us. And many times our dreams dead end and we have to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and start all over again. Life, love, and careers take many drafts, and in each new experience we gain a little piece of magic, a little piece of awareness that will get us a bit closer to our own version of perfect. The trick is to never call it quits until we get exactly what we want.

The Journal of Cultural Conversation - A Tico Life for Me

My latest post is up on The Journal of Cultural Conversation - a description of my incredible trip to Costa Rica.

"The first time I learned Spanish, it was to satisfy a school requirement in 7th grade. The second time I learned Spanish it was for love – my first boyfriend in college was a Venezuelan and I wanted very much to know and understand his culture, especially the language. Now in the process of learning Spanish for the third time, it is to improve my own life and the lives of others."

To read the full article, please visit:

Laura is in Peru this week - we passed each other in the skies over Miami. She recently posted a piece about her arrival there:

Sunday, November 22, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - Unquestioned Answers

While in Costa Rica, I continued reading Lynne Twist's book The Soul of Money. So many of her sentiments about the use of money, sufficiency, and abundance have resonated with me. At the end of one particular chapter she challenges readers to explore not unanswered questions, but unquestioned answers. I have not been able to get this term out of my head. I spent a long night in Costa Rica, tossing and turning, wrestling with the unquestioned answers in my own professional life.

Since going to business school, I have been on a track - to pay back my loans, to believe that I must make a certain amount of money in my single paycheck, to climb, climb, climb as high as I can in the field of business. We hear so often that there are not enough women at the very top of business world, that people from my socioeconomic background are under-represented and needed in large corporations, as are those who embrace empathy and innovation and change. Up until now, I assumed that these sentiments were a given, answers to timeless questions and concerns in business, and that I must heed this call.

With this latest economic downturn, these very things that I have held to be true without question are now up for scrutiny. Everything is up for debate. I went to an innovation conference several weeks ago, hosted by Roger Martin of the Rotman School of Business. My former boss, Bob, invited me because he knows of my deep interest in change and design. Tim Brown, the CEO of IDEO and one of the panelists at the conference, discussed the dilemma of big business today as it relates to change. IDEO runs workshops throughout the year that are training sessions for business people to encourage more creativity within their companies. They are wildly popular events, and there's only one problem with them. "Once people open up their minds to the world of design," Brown said, "they can never go back. Many times, attendees of our workshops leave their jobs shortly after they complete the sessions. They can't accept a life in typical big corporations anymore. They know better."

Big corporations have been trying so hard to make innovation and change a part of the culture, or at least trying hard to pay lip-service to change. The difficulty is that only a handful of corporations really believe in the power and necessity of change. Target, Apple, Nike are among the few. By and large most big corporations just want to return to the good old days of fat profits, zero regulation, and big, big bonuses. Those individuals who really want change, innovation, and design to be incorporated into the fabric of a company get too frustrated with bureaucracy and the slow, lumbering gait of a company strangled by its own size. And so, they leave for smaller, more nimble, freer pastures. Who could blame them?

These are the brave souls questioning the answers that business has for so long assumed to be universal truths. Now, the truth is not quite so clear as it once was. The people who have long-benefited from business as usual (so much so that BAU has become a common acronym in their lexicon) are getting very nervous because their lifestyle is being threatened by those asking why, those who are questioning the 'given' answers.

For those brave enough to ask why, their dilemma now lies not in how to get their ideas heard by the ones who phone it in, but whether or not it's even worth it to ask why at all. Many are leaving to build their own dreams, to bet on themselves rather than on a big corporation. The world of business should be afraid. To survive in this new economy, corporations need the questioners much more than the questioners need the big corporations.

I laid in my bed, realizing that these questioners are the next great breed of entrepreneurs, the next batch of people who are on the verge of jumping from the safe, secure cliff and changing the world as we know it. And then I asked myself the question, "Will I be brave enough to count myself among them?" I waited long into the night for an answer to come from the darkness, and with the sun my own heart rose up to speak a quiet, strong, clear "yes".

Saturday, November 21, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - Visions and Plans

"How could a vision ever be given to someone to harbor if that person could not be trusted to carry it out? The message is simple: commitment precedes vision." ~ High Eagle

In San Jose, we stopped at an artisan market to buy gifts for family and friends back home. The market was filled with stalls that contained crafts of all kinds from coffee mugs to home goods to jewelry. I found some things for my family and purchased a journal for myself, of course, handmade from materials from a coffee plant. I am using it to write down my dreams for each part of my life.
On this trip, a number of paths rolled out before me and I wanted to make sure to capture them as they revealed their many details.

In Costa Rica I found the space to breath and dream, the space to craft visions of what I want my life to be going forward. Bringing these dreams to life will take some short-term sacrifices, financially and personally, though the long-term pay off is well worth it. Realizing what I can live without has given me so much freedom. I don't feel weighted down by needs and wants. I feel lighter and feel that my life is both full and fulfilling. Many of the volunteers I worked with have taken this similar path, simplifying and downsizing their lives, taking a chance on big dreams. It was very inspiring and encouraging to be among them and to hear their stories. Like me, they were a little hesitant and a little scared, and they kept going anyway.

On the plane back to the U.S., I allowed my mind to wander. I didn't multi-task the way I have on every other flight I've ever been on. I simply started down one vision, turning over every stone, concentrating on all of the beautiful little details, and recording them in my coffee plant book. Within the pages of this book, I have put fear aside and written down my wildest aspirations without judging them in any way. I let the visions show up, knowing that High Eagle was absolutely right - of course I have the ability to bring them to life. If I'm committed to building a better life for myself and for others, then visions and the ability to make them my reality will follow.
It is invigorating to be grounded in so much faith.

Friday, November 20, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - Sunshine and Rain

"There is no passion to be found playing small - in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living." ~ Nelson Mandela

By nature, I have a very hard time with good-byes. Today was our last day with the abuelitos, people I have grown to love in such a short period of time. How is it that in 4 days for a total of 12 hours, I have come to care so much about people whom I barely know? How is it that our hearts open up so freely to so many in this beautiful, foreign country?

We were encouraged by Oscar, the activities director, and Dona Sandra, the passionate owner of the Center at San Raphael, to say ‘hasta luego’ (‘see you later’) rather than ‘adios’ (a more permanent good-bye). I settled on a saying that I heard all the time when I traveled to Venezuela 15 years ago, ‘via con Dios’ (go with God), and I meant it more than anything I’ve ever said in my life. In my heart I knew that is was quite possible that I might never see any of these abuelitos again and I suppose that’s why the tears came so freely and quickly despite my desire to hold them back. Among people who love so freely and easily, I have found that in this week I have learned to love more freely, too. And so, the tears of good-bye were unstoppable, as were the smiles. In Costa Rica, the sun often shines as the rain falls, so tears mixed with smiles are only natural.

As predicted, the people here have offered up much more to me than I think I was able to offer them. I wish I spoke Spanish with greater fluency, and I resolve to do so by the time I visit again. I wish I had more time here. I wish I didn’t have so much debt from business school so that I could afford to give more money to groups like CCS to continue their work in communities like San Rafael. I wish I had more freedom to do what I want to do whenever and wherever I want. Travel, and international travel in particular, provides the distance and space we need to allow our dreams to take root.

I returned to the CCS home base with a heavy heart, with so much gladness and sadness – glad that I could be here, glad that I could be helpful, and sad that our time here was rapidly drawing to a close. My favorite part of the CCS home base are all of the quotes and hand prints that past volunteers have put on the walls. Volunteers choose quotes that encapsulate their experience here - the one above by Nelson Mandela was among my very favorites and really got to the heart of how I feel about my life now that I have been in this beautiful place for a week.

The quote I chose for the wall to accompany my hand print at the CCS home base is my favorite, a quote that gives me courage and strength and embodies this idea of “now is the time”. It’s by Victor Hugo, the author of the book Les Miserables, and very simply states, “There is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come.” This idea of carving out the life I want, a life of freedom and mobility and generosity, in this strange and beautiful world is an idea whose time has come.

My time in Costa Rica has confirmed that yes, now is the time for me to go after everything I want in my life: my own business, more international travel, the opportunity to teach yoga and to teach at a university level, the ability to effect public policy to provide a voice to those who need our attention and care, a loving, committed relationship, and much more time with my friends and family. The opportunity for this life has been with me all along, though it took traveling many miles from my home to realize how much is within my grasp. It’s with much thanks and gratitude that I bid farewell to the abuelitos today. They changed my life more than they could ever possibly know and more than I could ever possibly tell them.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - La Musica de los Ninos

Today I had the opportunity to visit a day care center in the morning. Maria, one of the other volunteers, needed some extra help with the kids and I raised my hand to go along. The children at the day care are between 8 months and 5 years old, and volunteers spend time playing with them and organizing activities. We made masks from construction paper and popsicle sticks, and played on the slides and swings. Monica, one of the other volunteers, and I spent some time cleaning out a very dirty refrigerator that had been donated to the center. It was full of mildew and mold. Dirty work, though so necessary for the children, and so we were glad to do it.

Later on I had the chance to do yoga with the kids. Teaching yoga to kids is a very different experience that teaching yoga to adults. It’s also very challenging because I have never done a class in Spanish. Thank goodness that Maria, who is originally from Spain, was there to translate! With kids, I find it’s easiest to have flashcards with pictures of animals and things that correspond to different asanas. Frog pose, airplane pose, monkey pose, etc. While adult classes many times focus on silence and on holding a pose for an extended period of time, classes for kids often involve laughing and moving about and making the noise of the very thing the asana is named after. There wasn’t really enough room for the class – the daycare center is a over-crowded – and we had a great time laughing and tumbling over one another anyway. It was the happiest I have been in a very long time.

What immediately struck me at the start of the class is that the sound of children playing is universal, regardless of the language they speak or the country where they live. The sound of laughter and joy is the same the world over. Again, I was reminded today of how much we are able to give to others with such a small amount of effort and time, and how much we receive in return. When we give, our own abundance grows.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - Honoring Time

I have only been here three days and I am amazed by how easy it has been to leave behind life in the U.S. for a while. I miss my family, my friends, and my neighborhood, though I don't miss anything else. I can imagine being here for a very long time with no problem at all. It's a delicious feeling, far different than any feeling I have experienced on any other vacation. How did this place begin to feel like home so quickly?

Today I had a chance conversation with another volunteer about her experience working at a school just outside of Cartago. She told me what struck her most was the great honor that Costa Ricans feel when an international volunteer works with them. They know how many other ways people have to spend their time and the fact that people travel from foreign countries to participate with Costa Ricans, improving the neighborhoods in this country, is truly a gift for them. This idea of honoring time is so different from the way so many feel in the U.S., and it is a pervasive sentiment throughout this country. Costa Ricans place the highest value on time and the way that it is spent.

At the senior center today in San Rafael, we spent time coloring with the seniors and making reindeer Christmas ornaments from pipe cleaners, clothes pins, and glitter. These simple activities brought them so much joy. Truly what they wanted was just to spend time with us, to talk to us about our lives and theirs. I continue to be struck by how little people need to be happy here, and how sad it is for us in the U.S. to believe that we need so much. My great hope for today is that once I return to the U.S. on Saturday night, I will be able to embrace the idea of honoring time, my own and that of others, and to hang onto the idea that truly we need so little in the way of material items. I need to find a way to carry a little Costa Rica with me wherever I go.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - Holy Water

In the center of Cartago there is a church known as La Basilica de la Virgen de los Angeles. In 1635, it is told that a statue of the Virgin was found in the forest by an Indian girl. She took it home and put it in a box. When she returned to the forest the next day, she found the statue again in the same place. When she went home, the statue was gone from the box. This same sequence of events happened to her several more times. She told her priest about the miracle and he took the statue from the forest and locked it in a box in his church. The statue performed the same miracle, and so it was decreed that the Virgin must have wanted a church built over that very spot in the forest.

On August 2nd every year, Costa Ricans come to La Basilica as a pilgrimage, some walking for days across the country and crawling on their knees from the start of the aisle up to the altar. Several of us went to the church yesterday and today to witness the extreme devotion that Costa Ricans feel for this church and for the Virgin Mary. They come here to ask for help and healing and peace and luck, something we can all use a little more of. There is a river that flows under the church and there is a small spring where people collect the holy water in bottle, wash their faces in it, and drink it as an elixir of all things in their lives that they wish to come true, things that they wish to change.

I am not a religious person, and haven't been for a long time, though I do find religion to be a compelling area of study and I do believe fervently in a higher purpose and power. I do believe we are all connected; my religion is simply kindness. Hearing the miracles that the church has performed for people in Costa Rica, I felt compelled to pay my respects, to ask the Universe for help me now at this time in my life as I make big changes to transform it into the life I want to live, and I did wash my face in the holy water.

Sometimes, we must accept that there are things that do not make sense to us, things that happen and sources of power that we cannot see nor explain. I don't know if the Virgin appeared in the forest and I don't know that a church needed to be built on that site in Cartago. I do know that faith is a very powerful feeling, that it is capable of accomplishing that which we cannot possibly accomplish without it. I do believe in our ability to change, and every once in a while I believe that miracles really do happen. Today, was one of those days.

I left the church and I did feel a little bit more brave as I headed back to the house. Perhaps bravery and our ability to change that which we do not like in our lives is a miracle in and of itself.

Monday, November 16, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - Turn Right at the Fancy House

(Internet has returned to my house in Costa Rica so I can begin recording all of my experiences here so long as the connection holds - 'via a Dios'.)

I am famously bad with directions. I never know where I'm going, even with a map. I have to repeat the same path many times over and mentally make note of landmarks along the way. I suppose I could hunker down and just get a little bit better at this skill, though to be honest I've just gotten comfortable feeling lost. I enjoy it because every road, whether I've been on it or not, is a new adventure this way.

Imagine my great happiness to learn that there is an entire country full of people with this same issue! In Costa Rica, there are no postal addresses. There is barely a postal service at all. Address are something akin to 'go 25 meters east from the large yellow building with the slat windows and blue shutters, then turn north at the Soda Pollo (literally means Chicken Restaurant) and go another 100 meters until you reach two little stray dogs, one brown and one black, that are always outside an orange house'. As our program manager, Santi, said when giving us directions to our volunteer placement, "Turn right at the fancy house and walk up the hill."

This is the greatest pleasure of travel - to learn the customs and history and culture of other people, to realize that our little lives in our little cities, no matter how big they are, are just one tiny slice of life on this planet. We learn that there are so many other options to conduct our lives. For people like me who are considering a jump off the cliff, travel helps us see that what to us seems like a big risk is not really a big risk at all. It is just a step change; it is just a different choice and this realization is a great comfort.

There are so many people on my program who made this same leap into a different life. Their courage is encouraging me, inspiring me. I know I am here in the lovely town of Cartago, today, for a very specific reason. I know I was brought here at this time in my life to help me see that this different way forward that I imagine is not only possible, but probable, bordering on certainty. The comfort I am finding in this house, with these people, in this town, in this beautiful and loving country, is a great gift.

Internet in Costa Rica

The internet in Costa Rica is horrendous and everything else is incredible. I will likely be unable to post to this blog for the remainder of this week, but never fear. I´ll be writing every day and will upload all of the posts when I return to the U.S. this weekend.

I will say that the people in Costa Rica are among the friendliest and most genuine I´ve ever met. My Spanish is flooding back into my mind, and I immediately felt at home here. In just one day, I have so much to share. This is a place of tremendous healing and happiness. This will be a turning point in my life that I will look back on with great fondness.

Hasta Domingo....

Sunday, November 15, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - Finding Pura Vida

Every now and then go away, have a little relaxation, for when you come back to your work your judgment will be surer. Go some distance away because then the work appears smaller and more of it can be taken in at a glance and a lack of harmony and proportion is more readily seen." ~ Leonardo Da Vinci

I don't know how the folks at Daily Good are able to sit in my head 24/7 but they've done it again. This quote showed up in my inbox today, the day I leave on a vacation I've been planning for almost a year.

I’ve had the good fortune to travel a lot as an adult – both for work and for leisure. It should have come as no surprise to me that my travel to Costa Rica would be just what I needed to lift myself up out of sadness, disappointment, frustration, loss, and anger of the last few months. I agree that so often what’s needed is a change of self and not a change of scene – I just find that a change of scene, even if it’s just for a short time, kick starts the change of self.

I left for the airport at 5am – my preferred leave time when I’m traveling. I like to jump up out of bed, throw on my clothes, grab my bags, and run to the M60 bus that carries me away to LaGuardia airport. On the bus this morning, my mind was still reeling from some circumstances in my life that I cannot change. I just couldn’t let go; I couldn’t clear my head.

I boarded the plane and stashed my carry-on bag. I was worried. “Are my disappointments going to follow me around for the next weeks? Are they going to ruin this vacation I’ve been planning for almost a year?” I thought. And then I heard the announcements come over the loudspeaker in Spanish. I have been practicing my Spanish, reminding myself of vocabulary and grammatical structures that I haven’t thought about in years. The excitement began to mount.

I leaned my head against the window as we backed away from the gate, my Spanish phrasebook in hand. “Please God, let this go well,” I prayed. The whirring of the plane’s engines put me to sleep for about 30 minutes, and I woke up to a face full of sunshine. We had broken through the cloud cover. We had soared to a place where my disappointments could not go – I literally felt them fall away and go crashing to the ground below. I imagined them as angry little characters down there on the ground I could no longer see, shaking their fists at me as I went on my way without them. And then they hung their heads and sulked away, lamenting the one, me, who got away.

In Costa Rica, the common greeting that people exchange is “Pura Vida”, which literally translates to “Pure Life”. From the moment I set foot in this beautiful country, I vowed to embrace that as my motto going forward, no matter where in the world I am. I will be my one guiding principle for how to live each moment: with the feeling of being truly alive. The time of contentment and “good enough” and “maybe tomorrow” is not an option anymore – I left those sentiments back there with my disappointments, far below the cloud cover.

The image above is not my own. It can be found here.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - You Get What You Give

"What I know for sure is that what you give comes back to you." ~ Oprah Winfrey

I'm off to Costa Rica tomorrow on a volunteer project with Cross-Cultural Solutions. A lot of people have asked me why I chose to do a volunteer vacation. Why would I spend my vacation working? There are several small reasons: I did a volunteer vacation in the south of France in 2005 and loved it, it's a great way to truly experience the culture of a new country, it's a fun way to travel alone without being alone, and I enjoy meeting new people more than I enjoy just about anything else. The true reason I'm volunteering on vacation? It's good for the world - Oprah's right, as usual. What we give comes back to us, and I would add that it comes back to us 10-fold.

Though I am volunteering to help others, truly it's me that I'm helping. I am certain that the Cross-Cultural Solutions program will teach me and help me far more than I could ever teach or help anyone else. It's an interesting fact about service - you go into it to help others and you're the one who ends up with the greatest benefit from the work. In theory, this doesn't make sense. In practice, it is most certainly true.

For the past few months I've heard a lot of people wishing out loud. They need a better job, a better place to live, better relationships, better health. They have spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to acquire these things, and I've spent a lot of time trying to figure out how I can help them. I wonder if service might be the best remedy for wishing.

I wonder if it's really true that what we seek for ourselves we can obtain by providing that very thing for someone else. Love, confidence, money, health, a positive outlook on life, trust, friendship, courage. Our list of wishes is never-ending, and therefore the number of opportunities for service is unlimited. How do our lives change if we take on the view "we only get what we give"? And in the process, how can this view change the whole world? I'll let you know if I find some answers in Costa Rica. Talk to you tomorrow from beautiful Cartago!

Friday, November 13, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - Safety in Change

"It takes a lot of courage to release the familiar and seemingly secure, to embrace the new. But there is no real security in what is no longer meaningful. There is more security in the adventurous and exciting, for in movement there is life, and in change there is power." ~ Alan Cohen

My friend, Rob, and I were talking about safety a few weeks ago. Rob talked to me about how we've conned ourselves into believing that a company, a job, can give us some feeling of security and stability when really it's a house of cards. I've seen it happen to so many of my friends - they are cranking along in their jobs, exhibiting exceptional performance and results, and then the pink slip. Rob's advice on my news of moving on: "
You've done the hard part: making the choice to step outside the box that hems one in, and keeps one from dreaming bigger dreams...know you are supported from many quadrants. More as it goes..."

I emailed some friends about my impending jump off the cliff. I told them that it feels great to have made this decision, though my friend, Eric, in his characteristic empathy sensed that I'm scared. And then in his continuing characteristic empathy, he responded : "
Don't worry, Christa - I already hit rock bottom underneath that cliff - so I'll be there to catch you!" Not at all surprising since Eric honestly saved my life as I muddled through my MBA. My friend Laura simply responded "I am 150000% behind you." My friend, Allan, said "You are very brave and thoughtful." These are the very messages I needed today to lift me up.

When I think about finding security and stability, I'm reminded that it's in our friends and family and in the chance we take on our own abilities that we can find a haven. The safest route for me is not to stand on that cliff hoping that it doesn't crumble beneath me; it's to jump, knowing that friends like Rob, Eric. Laura, and so many others are there to catch me if I need catching. They are the ones I can place my faith and trust in.

My friend, Jamie, finished up his last day at his job today. We went for a celebratory dinner, yummy cheap Thai food around the corner from my apartment at Sura. We toasted to our new adventures, to our choice to be free and to build the lives we want to live. And while there is still that underlying ripple of fear of the unknown, fear of what's next, there is also a tremendous sense of excitement, of realizing that we are on the edge of becoming more ourselves.

I was reminded all day today, through so many different channels, that in September I came very close to never getting a tomorrow. I stood on West 96th Street, watching smoke billow out of my building, realizing I was living a life of great comfort and little meaning. That great "what if" hangs over my head every day, and rather than being plagued by it, I am so grateful for it. What if I hadn't made it out of that building? What if that was the end? Could I have looked back on September 4th and said, "yes, I'm so glad that I was living that life?" No - not at all. In that moment, change became not an option, but an inevitability, and it's been driving me forward, upward, and onward toward a life lived with greater meaning, greater purpose, every day since.

The image above is not my own. It can be found here.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - The Gift of Curiosity

"You can't always be happy, but you can almost always be profoundly aware and curious, and reap the psychological and physical benefits. Thankfully, curiosity is not a fixed characteristic. It's a strength we can develop and wield on the path to a more fulfilling life." ~ Todd Kashdan

This quote has special meaning for me today. I learned about some unkind things that someone in my life has been spreading around about me, things that simply are just not true. This isn't someone I trusted, or someone I even liked for that matter, but it is someone I see every day and who has some impact on my life. At first I was a little shocked to learn this information, though now that I reflect on this person a bit more, it all makes sense really.

In the first few minutes of learning this information I was very unhappy. If someone drags my name through the mud because of something I actually did, then I'll take the consequences. To say things that just aren't true is another thing entirely. And then after a few minutes, I had a good laugh at myself. I had turned the corner to curiosity. Why would she do this? What could she possibly hope to gain from it?

Life throws us curve balls all the time, things we don't understand, things that make us anxious and weary. I'm finding that the trick is to develop one good question from each difficult situation, one lesson learned that we can hang our hat on and use going forward. Curiosity dissipates unhappiness and anger, it frees us up to be the kind of people we'd like to be, to live the kind of lives we'd like to live. It provides us with possibilities.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - Climb Up A Ways

One of the first Broadway shows I worked on was Cabaret at Studio 54. I would sit in the back of the theatre night after night and watch that story unfold, every show more beautiful than the show before. One of my favorite lines is from Herr Schultz (played by Ron Rifkin) to Fräulein Schneider (played by Blair Brown). Herr Schultz is trying to convince Fräulein Schneider to enter into a relationship with him, despite the fact that he is Jewish and the world is looking a little bleak for people of his heritage. He tells her that the apples at the base of tree are easy to pick up, though the fruit at the top of tree, if she is willing to climb up a ways, is so much sweeter. I worked on that show almost 11 years ago, and still I think of that line and how applicable it is to our lives every day.

I feel comfortable admitting in this blog post that very soon I will be moving on to a new position in my career. I've had an honest conversation with my boss and explained my intentions. I hope she understands. At the end of the day, the future of her team that she's laid out is just not what gets me going. I completely understand that she's in charge of the team and has every right to change the direction of the bus. My obligation is to decide whether or not to whole-heartedly get on the bus. I've decided to actively look for a new bus, and there are some stupendous options on the horizon.

Some people think I'm a little crazy for making this move. I've done a lot of good work in my position; I've built solid relationships that would serve me so well and get me promoted quickly. If only I could put my head down, keep my mouth shut, and phone it in just the way that I've been scripted, I'd be just fine. I could coast right through to the end of this recession no matter how long it lasts.

Those who know me a bit better just smile and nod when I say I'm looking for new opportunities that get me up out of bed in the morning. They know I'm not built for coasting. Yes, coasting is much easier in that it requires no exertion on my part. The trouble is that for me coasting is just an unbearable existence. Putting the pedal to the metal and 'trying to get up that great big hill of hope' is more my style. Herr Schultz was right: The vistas up there are so much wider and more open and beautiful. Fräulein Schneider didn't know what she was missing.

The photo above is not my own. It can be found here.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - The Great Progression

"We must be silent before we can listen. We must listen before we can learn. We must learn before we can prepare. We must prepare before we can serve. We must serve before we can lead." ~ William Arthur Ward

The Universe is trying to tell me something. Here I am on Day 2 with no voice. I can get out a squeak here and there. My friends have commented that I sound like a cross between Marge Simpson and those people on talk shows who want their identities to remain hidden. There is an odd kind of peace found in being silent. I can be silent about as long as I can sit still, which is to say roughly 5 seconds or so. At the moment, the universe is not giving me any choice in the matter. So I'm parked on my couch, being vewy, vewy quiet....

Those telepathic folks over at DailyGood sent me this quote last night about silence. I have definitely felt conflicting messages flooding my life lately - how to keep up and slow down at the same time, how to balance the effort to enjoy our lives with a constant eye on achievement and success. These are tough things to do. They don't all play nicely together in the sandbox and often make us feel like we are at odds with ourselves.

So what if we begin with silence. My great hope is that you have not been forced into silence like me, but that it's something you can choose, just for an hour or two. What can we find in silence? What kind of ideas can we get by sitting and being and doing nothing else? What do we listen to when we quiet our audible voice and the narrative inside our own minds?

Today, I am listening to the message that my life has many options. I don't feel trapped at all - right now I feel like I have more options before me than I have ever had in my life. I am now most concerned with how to provide myself with the greatest amount of flexibility and freedom possible. And I'm learning that there are many ways to be free. We are free as soon as we choose to be.

I've also found that every day for the past several months I am learning so much about myself. I am becoming increasingly aware of what I enjoy and don't enjoy, what makes me happy and what makes me sad, what kind of people I want to surround myself with and sadly which people I must release from my life, at least for now. I'm learning about the contribution I want to make to humanity, and I'm learning how my actions and words effect others and vice versa. To tell you the truth, it's fun, albeit sometimes a little exhausting, to be in a state of hyper-learning.

And now the preparation. I was on the subway yesterday riding home from work and reading the following on one of the NYC subway posters: "If we could first know where we are, and whither we are tending, we could then better judge what to do, and how to do it. ~ Abraham Lincoln, A House Divided" This sentiment was true not only for the U.S. in 1858, when Lincoln made this speech, but for our own lives as well. Silence and listening leads us to know the first first piece of Lincoln's statement so that we can then prepare, serve, and lead our futures.

I'm finding it very hard to have different segments of my life call for a different kind of personality. I certainly believe in and practice the principle of knowing my audience, though I also believe ardently that we must be authentic at every moment, we must be more like who actually are at every moment. In this new life that I am creating for myself, filled with freedom and flexibility, I am preparing the way, offering myself a variety of options for income and making way for opportunities to pursue whatever makes me happy and piques my interest. Yoga, teaching, creating products and services, writing, travel, and research. With solid preparation, it is all possible.

All this preparation leads us to serve the world and our own happiness in the best way for each of us. We all have unique talents and abilities. The way to happiness for one of us is not necessarily the way to happiness for someone else. We have different priorities and interests, we have different goals and different paths we'd like to take to get to those goals. The key is to always ask "is this the best way forward? Am I providing an optimal amount of service by going about my life this particular way."

And then finally all of our service leads us naturally on to leadership. Leadership is a funny thing. While there are some that feel the best way to lead is with strong opinions, to develop a clear delineated chain of command structure, I couldn't disagree more. To me, leadership is service in its highest form. As a leader, and by leadership I don't mean a title but a behavior, my only role is to serve those I'm leading, to lift them up to be the very best people they can become, to lead the very best lives possible.

I have been abundantly blessed with great leaders in my life, in my family, at work, in school, and among my friends, people who actively gave me tough advice and great support and love all at once. The greatest hope of my life as I begin Act 2 is that I can bundle up that advice, love, and support for others who I will lead going forward, whether they are in a classroom, at work, or people who come to me for any kind of advice or help. Success will be that I can impart any wisdom on them with the same degree of grace and humility that my leaders have shown me. And then I will be certain that the great progression that Williams Arthur Ward discusses will be well on its way.

The images above is not my own. It can be found here. Interview with Lorin Rokoff and Laura Paterson, Founders of Hot Blondies Bakery

I learned about Hot Blondies Bakery through Crain’s. They were the headline business in a feature article about online bakeries. A friend of mine from business school is considering a similar avenue so I opened up the Crain’s article to have a peek at what these ladies were up to. Laura's and Lorin's story of making the leap from stable jobs to entrepreneurship was inspiring so I hopped over to their site. Their market positioning and branding is unique and fun – I like the edge they take with their baking and they clearly have the business savvy to match their sumptuous baked goods!

Find the interview here.

Monday, November 9, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - Make Big Decisions Real

"A problem well defined is half solved." ~ John Dewey

Just when you think you have it all figured out life does something very funny - it changes everything on us. We get thrown an option that we never even imagined as a possibility. This recently happened to me while I was in the middle of making a very big decision. I thought I just had to choose between A and B, A being far superior to B, so superior that it didn't even seem like a choice at all. Enter choice C, a real choice. Houston, we now have a big decision to make and this one is not easy.

I've got several mechanisms for deciding between options. I'm a fan of the pro con lists. I like talking to lots of different people and getting their perspectives on what they'd do if they were me. I've also been known to just wait and see in silence until some helpful piece of info emerges. This latest decision is a bit more complicated. B and C are actually equally great options. I'd be lucky to have the opportunity to pursue either avenue. Now it looks like I'll have the chance to choice, and they will lead me in wildly different, happy directions. This is the classic case of two roads diverged in a yellow wood.

For inspiration in my decision-making, I was reading through some of my books this weekend and came across a few books by ?WhatIf! Innovation. In How to Have Kick-Ass Ideas, Chris
Baréz-Brown talks about the very personal decision-making he and his wife went through when they were deciding whether or not to have children. To make their choice, they decided to live their life for a week as if they had decided to not have kids. This helped them live their through the lens of that decision, sort of like a test-drive of a car. After that week they re-evaluated their choice to see if it felt right.

Chris's method is vastly superior than my pro con lists and asking 100 different people what they would do. His method makes the choice more personal and lets us experience some of the consequences that hit us shortly after we make a choice. In truth, I'm a little scared of this process and I'm going for it anyway. I've recently noticed that one of my areas of personal improvement is to see the downside of a situation as clearly as I see the upside. Chris's process will allow me to not only see the downside, but experience it. It brings a certain reality to the situation. If tough decisions need anything at all, it's a healthy dose of reality. I'll let you know what I find in a week!

If you've never read Chris's book, I highly recommend it. It's a perfect, inspiring read for anyone at a crossroads looking for guidance from one of the world's leading creative minds. Get it here.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - The Power of Silence

"Let us love, since our heart is made for nothing else." ~ St. Therese

I have completely lost my voice to this cold I have been fighting. I can barely eek out an audible whisper. This is especially hilarious because talking is one of my favorite activities. Truly, I've been known to have a very interesting conversation with a brick wall. I talk to myself in my apartment, as I'm working through problems. I have lots and lots of opinions on just about everything. And now I have been silenced.

I was in DC this weekend with a load of my business school friends for our friends' Chris and Steph's wedding. I don't know that I've ever seen a groom that happy. Seriously, if Chris's smile was any wider his face would have cracked. It was wonderful to see someone I love so much so happy.

After the wedding and reception, my voice was really getting hoarse. The trouble with this sore throat is that it is not currently accompanied by any other symptoms. I feel fine; I just sound a little funny. Actually, I sound a lot funny. To get the blood flowing in my throat, I went to a yoga class with my friend, Julie, at 9am. I always learn so much going to a yoga class. I watch for teaching technique and I invariably learn a new pose or a new way of thinking about a pose that allows me to deepen my practice and teaching.

In Savasana, corpse pose, I was completely relaxed, or so I thought. Savasana is done at the end of virtually every yoga practice. It allows our bodies and minds to approach a meditative state after being worked through the preceding asanas. People have become so relaxed in Savasana that they've been known to fall into a sleep / dream state.

The teacher came around to each of us, pressing our shoulders firmly to the mat and down away from our ears. Until she did this, I didn't realize that I was holding any tension there at all. In fact, I was scrunching up my heart a bit. With the teacher's pressure, my heart opened with a little bit of a creak and a crack. I felt lighter. I felt a bit more love.

It is an amazing thing about silence and time with friends and yoga and the witnessing of an act of love and commitment. In the past few months, I have been shown how risky and wonderful loving with an open heart can be. I looked around at the wedding reception: at Chris and Steph, of course, and also at my friends Daphne and Eric, and Courtney and Brian, also newly married this year. Their lives are richer for having one another. There is this unspoken chemistry that just works with all of them. At some point, they must have all been a little bit scared, too, maybe afraid to keep their hearts open. Somehow, they worked through that fear and emerged happy and healthy and whole to find another person happy and healthy and whole with an open heart ready to love them.

Today I felt more certain than ever that eventually I'd find the guy for me. That creaking and cracking of my heart was symbolic of that openness I've been able to find in the second half of this year. In the midst of my forced silence and voluntary yoga practice, my heart and my mind came together, my mind accepting that this heart o' mine after being put through the fire many times is now shined and polished and poised for the kind of love and commitment that so many of my friends have generously shown can work.

The image above is not my own. It can be found here.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

My Year of Hopefulness - The Invitation

I am still sort of getting my new home set up. I’m having a hard time getting myself entirely set up. I’m sure this is being brought on by some left over emotional fall-out from the fire. I suppose I’m scared and worried that all of this will just got up in smoke again, literally. On Friday night, after a very long tough week, I rounded the corner to my apartment building to find my street littered with fire trucks and flashing lights and big brawny fire fighters in their gas masks and black and yellow suits. Pre-September 5th, my first thought upon seeing this kind of scene was “I hope everyone is okay.” On Friday night, my first thought was “not again”. As Dinah Washington said, “What a difference a day makes.”

The fire on Friday wasn’t in my apartment building, it was across the street, and no one was hurt. I asked the fire fighters. I went upstairs to my apartment grateful that everything was still the exact way I left it Friday morning. Just inside my front door, there’s a piece of art that I read every morning. It’s a poem by Oriah Mountain Dreamer, an Indian Elder, which I wrote out many years ago in my nicest penmanship on fancy paper. It was one of the few things to survive my apartment building fire, and I am sure that is not a coincidence.

There are a few lines in this poem that have really effected me as of late:

Can you disappoint others to be true to yourself?

Can you stand in the centre of your sorrow and still shout at the great Silver Moon, “yes!”?

Do you like the company you keep in the empty moments?

Being true to yourself:

This can manifest in our careers, relationships to others, in how we spend our free time. It’s hard work to be true to ourselves, it’s tough for us to get over the guilt of what we think we owe to others. And too often we disappoint ourselves for the sake of others. In truth, we let people down even more when we aren’t authentic, when we feign happiness instead of actually being happy.

Stand in the centre of our sorrow:

Disappointments and sadness are a part of life. I’ve known people who deal with their sadness by using it as fuel for creating happiness. I consider all of my friends who have recently lost their jobs and used their job loss as an opportunity to do something they’ve always wanted to do. These are the people who shout “yes”, yes to the goodness of life, even if life at that very moment is not very good at all. These are the people who keep me feeling hopeful in times that seem so bleak. They are my inspiration.

Unfortunately, I’ve also known people who use their sadness and disappointment as a way to make themselves and everyone around them miserable. These are people who can’t commit, who can’t seem to build healthy relationships, and as a result feel constantly alone and disconnected. They stand in the middle of their sorrow and sulk. Temporary sulking is okay – we all need to sulk once in a while. We just can’t let it get the best of the us.

The empty moments:

Someone who smiles when no one around is a person who is truly happy. These are the people I want in my life, people who like their own company. My friend, Ken, is someone I look to as this example. Ken could spend all day in his house by himself and have the best day of his life. He is someone who loves the empty moments.

Below is Oriah Mountain Dreamer’s poem, The Invitation. I hope it helps you as much as it has helped me for so many years:

"It doesn't interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart's longing.

It doesn't interest me how old you are. I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool for love, for your dream, for the adventure of being alive.

I want to know if you have touched the centre of your own sorrow, if you have been opened by life's betrayals.

I want to know if you can be with joy, mine or your own; if you can dance with wildness and let the ecstasy fill you to the tips of your fingers and toes without cautioning us to be careful, be realistic.

I want to know if you can disappoint another to be true to yourself. If you can bear the accusation of betrayal and not betray your own soul.

I want to know if you can see Beauty even when it is not pretty every day. And if you can source your own life from its presence.

I want to know if you can live with failure, and still stand at the edge of the lake and shout to the silver of the full moon, 'Yes.'

It doesn't interest me who you know or how you came to be here. I want to know if you will stand in the centre of the fire with me and not shrink back.

It doesn't interest me where or what or with whom you have studied. I want to know what sustains you from the inside when all else falls away.

I want to know if you can be alone with yourself and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments."