When In Japan

The phrase “when in Rome” dates back to St. Ambrose back in 387 A.D. He was advising St. Augustine how to behave in Milan, which unlike Rome, did not believe in fasting on Saturdays. At the time, the phrase applied to church customs.  Today, it just means that you should do what is appropriate for the location and occasion:  you don’t wear tennis shoes to a wedding or a ball gown to a ball game.

But what if the phrase could mean permanently adapting some part of another culture that works better?  My family is currently living in Tokyo for a month while my husband does academic research, and being here got me thinking about the idea of “when in Japan.”  Having lived here a few times before, I’ve come to realize that I’m a different person in Japan because of my surroundings.  But unlike the idea of adopting something new temporarily in a new place, I thought it might be worthwhile to claim some of that when I’m back in the States.

In Japan, I’m more free, since I feel untroubled by the American rat race, the parenting as a competitive sport that I feel so strongly in the States.  It helps that I’m on vacation currently, so I’m naturally more relaxed, but it goes beyond that.  As my friends who live here tell me, you just don’t feel the American competition so acutely here in a large international city that is outside your own country.

When I’m here I also notice things more, whether it’s the fishermen squatting by the side of the pond, or the Japanese children with bowl haircuts waddling down the street in their large backpacks, or the odd assortment of housing, from modern buildings to old wooden shops waiting to be torn down, to brightly colored walls, to temples or shrines shoved in between. When I’m here, I look up more and say good morning to everyone from police men to old ladies, maybe to practice one of the few phrases I know in Japanese (Ohayo gozaimasu!).  Yesterday, I waved goodbye to some Japanese toddlers who had befriended me in the grocery store, showing me the twigs they had collected from the park.  I waved and said, “Mata ne!” and then they shouted it back to me again and again, giggling.

It took me a while to love Japan, a place my husband calls home, having gone to high school here.  At first, all I could see was the indecipherable signs and the crowded trains with old ladies pushing and weird, sticky food like mochi.  But slowly I came around.  Where else is an entire nation so polite and conscientious?  Where else is service such an art form that the average person is treated like royalty? The last time we left Tokyo for the States, we took the airport limousine from a hotel.  As we were leaving, at least ten hotel staff came outside to say goodbye to our bus, all bowing in a deep bow of respect.  I had tears in my eyes because I had never experienced anything like this in the States.

To find your world stage, make sure you travel and learn from other countries and cultures.  It might just change how you are back home.

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Love Is the Answer

When I think about the recent shooting at the gay club in Orlando, all I can think of is how often we get it wrong in understanding violence in our country.  Even though it’s true that gay people were targeted this time, three years ago it was school children in Newtown, and 20 years ago it was high schoolers at Columbine.  In reality, it doesn’t matter who was in the club– they happened to be largely gay hispanics, but the fact is that they were people laughing and having a good time, and then shot down for no reason. It doesn’t matter who the gunman was– he was Muslim and originally from Afghanistan.  But the reality is that he was mentally imbalanced and had easy access to guns, just like the killer at Newtown and the killers at Columbine, all of whom were white.

It scares me that we live in a country that might elect a man who wants to build a wall and shun all Muslims.  Do we not remember our history, the fact that people of Japanese descent were imprisoned here in our country during World War II even though they were American?  Or the Jews rounded up in Europe to be killed just because of their religion?

It seems almost trivial to think about finding your passion and living it when so much of the world seems at war with each other, and when terrorist attacks have become so commonplace that we barely notice anymore.  And yet, finding your world stage is essential for the world, because if you’re doing your life’s work, then you radiate a joy that can’t help but create a light for so much darkness.  We need more people standing up for what they believe in and living a life committed to helping the world as an antidote to hate.

I wrote a song once in which the lyric was:  Love is the answer/Joy is the way/To finding meaning/In every day.  I wrote it as a wedding song, but really it’s more apt as a counter to the world’s violence. The more we can live with love as the answer to any problem and choose joy on our path, the more meaning we will find, since there is no meaning in violence and there is no meaning in watching the Kardashians or trying to keep up with the Joneses.  The meaning comes from being true to ourselves and stepping up on our world stage so that we may be a light for others.

Love is the answer.  Now go prove it.

 

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Be the Spark

 

Mahatma Gandhi once said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”  I love that quote, because it reminds me that while it’s easy to complain about the problems in the world, the first step is to see what we can change in ourselves that will have positive ripples on others.  So often we wait for some big change to happen outside of ourselves, when in fact we do have the power to do so much, both internally and externally.  We have the power to be kinder and more joyful, and we also have the power to speak out and vote, and to give to causes that matter.

I founded World Stage Coaching because I believe that so many of us are afraid to show our true light, so we hide and sometimes settle for less.  Henry David Thoreau once wrote, “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.” As a singer/songwriter/vocal coach who has helped people to find their voices in a literal and figurative way, I started World Stage Coaching to encourage clients to claim their world stage, in whatever way that means to them.  (See http://www.worldstagecoaching.com).

Now that my blog, Your World Stage, is finally live to extended family and friends, I encourage you to ask yourself and your friends, “what is your world stage?”  We all have dreams, but some are more buried than others.  The first step to claiming your world stage is to dust off those dreams or create new ones if the old ones no longer apply.  What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?  What would you do if you had one year to live? How do you want to be remembered? What were you born to do?

As you step onto your world stage, remember how important generosity is to your success. Remember to be the spark for someone else.  You don’t even have to wait to do that.  You can do that right now, giving money or time to a charity or organization that matters to you.  Even if you’re not sure what your dream is yet, you can be part of someone else’s dream in the meantime by giving.

The first step is to stop waiting for the world to change and imagine that the world is waiting for you to take the next step.  What would happen if you were the spark that ignited real change?  Today, be the spark and see what happens.

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Grateful

Albert Einstein was quoted as saying, “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”  I love this quote, because it reminds us, from one of the great geniuses of our time, that it’s up to us  how we perceive our lives.  We can be grateful for the ten things that went well today, like the fact that we have a roof over our heads and we have people who love us, and we have free libraries and flowers blooming outside.  We can also be grateful for the things that we take for granted, like the fact that our heart beats every day and night for years and years without our having to think about it.  If you use an average of 80 beats per minute, your heart beats about 4,800 times per hour. That’s 115,200 times per day. Over the course of a year, that’s 42,048,000 times!

So often it’s easy to focus on what’s wrong and not see what’s going well.  Currently, our home phones don’t work, we have some ants we have to treat, and our backyard looks crazy and overgrown since we haven’t gotten around to really fixing it.  But in reality, these are what most people would call “first world problems.” We are not worried about whether our water source is safe or whether our neighbors are going to attack and kill us in the middle of the night.  Yes, this is a crazy election year and I’m concerned that an unqualified nut like Donald Trump might actually get elected.  But still, we are American.  We are free.  We can practice whatever religion we want. We have the ability to rise above our circumstances and be whatever we want.

This past Memorial Weekend, in addition to having friends over for a barbecue, our family reflected on the heroes in our family who fought to keep America free.  Thankfully our heroes came home from the war, but many don’t.  We need to remember how precious our freedom is.  All you have to do is look to war-torn countries like Syria to realize how many people don’t have freedom.

It’s important, as you look to find your world stage, that you notice what you’re grateful for, both small and large.  Take the time to really look at how beautiful strawberries and lavender fields and sunsets are.  Think about starting a daily gratitude journal.  I have used one off and on for years and it’s really special to look back and see entries like “I am grateful for my first grader’s toothless smile” and “I am grateful that my mom’s surgery went safely.”

When you’re having a bad day, remember that there has never been another you and there will never be another you ever again.  You are as unique as your fingerprints.  Now that’s something to be grateful for.

 

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