Peace Comes Dropping Slow

I’m loving hearing from you readers with answers to the past two week’s summer quizzes. The good news is that you’re responding. The bad news is that some of you are having troubling accessing the comments section in a post so that you can comment. Here is the key: click on the title of the post that you want to comment on and then the comments will appear and you can post. Or you can email me your thoughts at melinda@worldstagecoaching.com. If you’re one of the first six commenters and you’re not a current client, then you get a free 50 minute coaching session.

This week has been a sad week for the world.  In the US, we have a president who refused to stand up against the KKK and Nazi groups terrorizing protestors. For the first time in my life, I fear that the world is becoming more and more unstable and there seems little to counterbalance that. And then reading about the terrorist attacks in Barcelona, after all the attacks in France, and then Germany and then the UK, just made my heart sink. It seems endless. When my daughter went on a school trip to France this past spring, I had to warn her to be careful on pedestrian walkways and sidewalks and listen for cars careening out of control. The innocent days of walking down the street freely are over, at least for now. This is the world we all now live in.

My husband reminded me, however, that poetry is a great way to lift one’s spirit. I recorded an album a number of years ago with my musical settings and voice and piano on 14 poems, including one of my favorite by W.B. Yeats, whose writing I fell in love with first in college. The poem is a call to action to find peace any way you can. My favorite line is, “And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow.” (To check out this album, called Tread on My Dreams, you can go to https://store.cdbaby.com/cd/stanford.)

So for those of us feeling despair for the world, remember to find peace where you can and remember that peace doesn’t come all at once but in bits and pieces. Notice how and when that happens. And remember that as you move toward your world stage, the most powerful leaders who will inspire us will be the ones who are good and selfless and loving and filled with peace.

The Lake Isle of Innisfree

W. B. Yeats, 18651939

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee;
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping
     slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket
     sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.
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Giving Thanks

It is easy to forget, in the busyness of the holiday season, that Thanksgiving is about so much more than eating until we’re stuffed, spending hours doing dishes, and then collapsing on the couch. Last night we hosted twenty of my husband’s relatives, whom I happen to really like.  We had people ranging in age from 84 years old to 6 months old, and the four older kids (ranging from 11-13 years old) put on a variation of a show that they have been putting on since they were little tiny kids, each year adding in the younger kids and making the dances and skits harder.  Since my son is the only boy in that group of kids, one year the girls decided to dress him up in girls clothes, which he didn’t mind since he was little.  Sometimes there are magic tricks and sometimes singing, like when my son sang “Down On the Corner” in a Cajan accent in his sports coat and tie, with all his front teeth missing since he was only six.  Most years the show involves dancing and jokes. This year, we had a 2 year-old and a baby watching the show, getting ideas for when they are old enough.  To me, that’s what the holidays are about: silly rituals, a pack of kids, and all generations celebrating together.

I’m concerned, however, that some of us are missing the point.  Retailers have decided to cash in earlier every year, so that Black Friday now begins on Thanksgiving.  I was at the gym this morning watching the news, and there are already stories of people getting hurt in stores, fighting over discount items.  One shopper even shot and killed another shopper over a coveted parking spot.  Our family decided long ago that we would boycott Black Friday, since the holidays should not be about shopping; they should be about family and twinkling lights and festivals and rituals and whatever religion you believe in.  What would the pilgrims think of our commercialism taking over what was supposed to be a reverent reference to them?  I admire the pilgrims for their survival skills through brutal hardships. They weren’t just survivors, though.  They were religious and strived to be good.

I recently read about a Muslim community who bought land a few years ago across from a church in Memphis Tennessee.  The Christian community was so upset, that many people threatened to leave the congregation.  The pastor, however, decided to pray about it, and realized that the best way to show their religion was to welcome the community with open arms, including letting the Muslims worship in their church the entire month of Ramadan, since their building hadn’t been finished yet.  The two communities now do clothing drives and bake sales side by side and hold each other up, as friends and partners.

As we begin this holiday season, let us remember to give thanks for all of our blessings and remember those who are without, particularly the people in war-torn countries, and those who have no homes or friends or hope.  One of the students at my daughter’s school is battling cancer right now, thousands of miles away from home, because Boston Children’s Hospital has the best care there is. He just found a new tumor on his leg.  If you believe in prayer, please pray for Pablo.  My daughter has learned so much by being friends with him.

To find your world stage, remember that the world extends so much beyond our tiny lives. And yet, we are so needed in the world.  Now that the leftovers are put away and the guests have gone home, it’s time to roll up our sleeves and get to work.  The world is waiting.

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I took this shot in a local cemetery that has beautiful trees.

 

 

Remember Aleppo

A few days ago I was feeling tired and overwhelmed with too much to do, as I stood in line at the grocery store.  I had been asked by the cashier if I would change lines since he had a “situation” that might take a while.  I changed lines and then noticed that the woman in the other line, standing with her preteen son, hadn’t brought enough cash for all the food she wanted to buy.  Now most of us travel with credit or debit cards, so not having enough cash on hand in not an issue.  Sometimes, however, I have swung by the store while on a walk and without my purse and realized that my $20 bill wasn’t enough, but was happy to put the lettuce back. This seemed different. There was a desperation on the woman’s face, even though she was only $7 short.  I quickly handed the money to the cashier to help finish the transaction, but what astonished me was the woman’s reaction.  She must have thanked me ten times and made sure her son thanked me too. I looked into her eyes and realized that even in our upper class town, there are poor living among us.  This might have been all the money this woman had for a while.

The next day I was feeling sorry for myself because my husband and I are applying for a HELOC and have discovered all sorts of legal errors from our past mortgage that was never discharged and recorded properly.  After four hours on the phone and doing research, we still felt like we were spinning our wheels.  It just felt awful to waste all that time trying to address a problem that I couldn’t figure out how to solve yet and that was based on other people’s errors.  And then I thought of the children of Aleppo.  I looked up the images of children stumbling through the wreckage covered in blood, searching for their parents.  And then I felt ashamed for forgetting about the people who are really struggling.

I’ve heard Americans laugh about how they only have first world problems, as though only people in third world countries suffer.  While it is true that we have clean sources of water and access to vaccines, the United States still has one of the highest percentages of children living in poverty in the world, which is shameful given how rich our country is.  And even in wealthier communities, there is still suffering.  My neighbor Anne died of breast cancer at age 40 a few weeks before her oldest child started first grade this fall.  Her younger child is probably too young to remember her.

The problem with our culture is that we have this belief that if we work hard enough and focus enough, nothing bad will happen.  We will have perfect abs in 15 minutes per day.  We will make millions while working 4 hours per week, sitting on a beach.  We will always look 25 no matter our age and we will always be happy.  This is the world that Facebook shows, but most of us know that it isn’t real.  The fact is that we have very little control over so much of our lives, in small things and large things.  I can’t control that my son broke our dishwasher playing with a friend, that kids in middle school can be mean, that some people are rude and have bad manners, that the weather in Boston changes every five seconds, and that drivers are crazy and unpredictable.  I also can’t control that I have suffered from unremitting eye pain for 5 years, and no amount of wishing or praying or trying makes it different.  But I can remember that when I am struggling, whether with the drudgery of life or the fact of living with pain, that I can remember Aleppo.  I can focus on the people who need us the most, whether the woman in the grocery store or the children searching in the rubble.

To find your world stage, remember that the reason to strive for greatness is so that you can help others to see their own.  Striving to become rich is an empty goal unless you have a larger mission like Bill Gates, using his money to reach so much of the world.  Trying to be famous so more people will like you (and LIKE you and FRIEND you) is an empty goal.  But becoming known so that you can have a greater impact is something worth striving for.  This week, when you feel down or overwhelmed or frustrated, remember Aleppo, and it will put it all in perspective.

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The Present

Twenty-three years ago on October 16th, I walked down the aisle in the gorgeous Stanford Memorial Church, built by my ancestors, with the late afternoon light pouring in through the stained glass windows.  I remember the long, red carpeted aisle with a slope that I walked down, tugging my father– who was beaming proudly– to slow down and take it all in.  I remember the gold Byzantine mosaics and the frescoes on the wall, like the great cathedrals of Europe that this church used as a model.  I remember the beaming faces of my standing guests as we slowly passed by and the look of wonder on my husband-to-be’s face, seeing his bride for the first time. Even though earlier in the day it was pouring rain, and I hadn’t left enough time to pack for our honeymoon, and I was beyond nervous about the wedding going well, I somehow had the wisdom, once I was dressed and waiting at the back of the church, to let all that go and just be with the moment. So many of my friends had warned me that their own weddings were so stressful, that they got distracted and forgot everything.  I didn’t want that to happen.  I wanted to be present, to soak in each moment, so that someday I could look back on that day of important moments and not forget.

I used the lesson I learned that day to focus on the moment while I was parenting young children, reminding myself that there is only one moment when they say their first word (“Mama” for my daughter and “ball” for my son), or when they take their first steps, or when they start really talking or go off to kindergarten for the first time.  I knew how tired and distracted I was, so I reminded myself constantly to pay attention.  Now that my kids are 13 and 11, I’m grateful that I didn’t have a smart phone when they were little- it would have been too hard for me to just be present.  But even with older kids who themselves want to be distracted all the time by computers and phones, it’s such a gift to put everything down and just listen.

Now I know that not every second of life is worthy of paying attention.  Frankly, when I’m at the dentist or on hold for some repairman, I almost need to zone out for my sanity.  Not every moment in life is supposed to be gorgeous and perfect. Sometimes life can be boring or hard, and sometimes not being so present is actually easier, like when you’re in pain or had a really bad day. Distraction can be a gift too.

But one of the things I’ve done with my kids from day one is to write down the funny things they say, and record them singing songs and telling stories.  I also make a point of showing them clouds shifting in the sky or trees that are shimmering gold in the late autumn light.  We always notice wobbly babies who are newly walking and little tiny puppies.  In our sad, broken world, it’s easy to forget that there is still so much goodness,  and that we don’t have to be famous or cure cancer to lead worthy lives.

So as you think about what work is meaningful to you and how you will find your world stage, think about the ultimate gift which is to be present, for your own sake, but also for the sake of others.  In this noisy, chaotic world, we humans need more people who are kind and joyful, and who understand that the greatest present you can give anyone is to be in the moment.  So as we move into the holiday season, think about how your season can reflect not just the gift of generosity, but also the gift of your truly being present.  If you do that, everyone around you will notice and no one will forget.

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Stanford Memorial Church

 

What You Need

 

I read recently that part of US military training involves teaching what we absolutely need for survival.  The “rule of three” describes a hierarchy of needs, so in a life or death survival situation you can remember what is most important. You can survive only 3 seconds without hope, 3 minutes without oxygen, 3 hours without shelter in extreme weather, 3 days without water, 3 weeks without food and 3 months without love and companionship.  When you look at the hierarchy, what is interesting are the first and last ones.  You can’t live even a few seconds without hope in a crisis, because you will give up.  And you can’t live more than a few months in isolation, because we humans are meant to be with people, and being isolated can kill.

But how many of us think we need the following:  a six-figure income, top of the line electronics, a designer wedding, an Ivy League education for our children, the world’s adulation?  For me, raising kids in a hyper-competitive town, it’s easy to get lulled into thinking that I need others’ approval about my life or my kids’ achievements, or that I need a nicely renovated house.  But I don’t.  I need hope, air, shelter, water, food, and love, in that order.  Everything else is icing.

I have a theory about why so many of confuse our needs vs. wants and have a gnawing sense that we don’t have enough.  It’s because many of us don’t feel like we are enough.  How many of us in this modern world truly feel welcome and safe wherever we go?  How many of us feel like there is a long list of invisible rules that we have to follow in order to be deemed acceptable?  In our town, two of the oldest country clubs in the nation have long lists of requirements and contacts in order to be able to join.  One requires 14 different sponsors and a lot of money to even be considered.  (Rumor has it that Governor Deval Patrick, before he became governor, was almost turned down because he was black.) If you want to inquire about membership, you can’t because there is no website or phone number. They don’t want to find you; you have to find them.  This kind of exclusion has worked well for over a century, but I hear that these days they are having trouble attracting younger people who don’t want to jump through all those hurdles to be in a crowd that doesn’t include their friends. A lot of people no longer want the hassle and expense. People don’t want to feel excluded or pressured to conform to other peoples’ standards.

And yet today in Palo Alto, stressed teens are jumping in front of trains and killing themselves—and even though a lot of smart people are working on the issue, they haven’t really figured out what is going on, except assuming that the kids need less academic pressure.  But I wonder if something larger spiritually is going on. Many kids today feel that there are so many impossible rules for them to follow, such as top grades in dozens of AP classes and extracurriculars like starting a company before age 16, that they can’t keep up.  It’s not just about feeling successful, but more importantly about feeing acceptable in their parents’ and society’s eyes. If you don’t feel welcome just as you are, then it’s easier to feel like giving up.

In contrast, there is a greeting shared by the Zulu people of South Africa, which consists of two parts. One part is Sikhona, meaning “I am here to be seen”;  the other part is Sawubona, meaning “I see you.”  Imagine if the teenagers in Palo Alto were greeted with “I see you” every morning by their families and communities?  Imagine if country clubs were replaced with swimming clubs that let in anyone who wanted to come, and the staff greeted everyone with “I see you”?  That is something I would sign up for.

As you think about your world stage, remember what you need.  In addition to air, shelter, water and food, you need hope and you need love.  This week, try saying “I see you” when you meet someone and notice how your heart opens up.

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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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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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Good Samaritan

Earlier this week, I got to hear a thoughtful speaker, Dr. Richard Weissbourd–Harvard Education School professor and author– talk about how to raise caring, ethical and happy children.  His point was that we are so focused as parents today on our kids’ happiness, that it’s often at the expense of other people.  In addition, we are focusing so much on our kids’ high achievement, that it crowds out the time or energy it takes to care about a friend or family member or a stranger in need of our help.  Dr. Weissbourd described a poll in which teenagers from various schools were asked to rank how important happiness vs. high achievement vs. caring for others was.  Most of the students ranked high achievement first and happiness second.  Most of the rest of the students ranked happiness first and then high achievement second.  Very few put caring first, because the assumption is that caring for others doesn’t get you into an Ivy League school, or a corner office on Wall Street.

I think about the famous study done at the Princeton Theological Seminary in which divinity students on the way to an exam on the Good Samaritan encountered a fake Good Samaritan scenario, in which a person had slumped over and needed their help.  The question of the experiment was how many students, in a rush to get to their exam, would stop and be a good samaritan?  The results were astounding.  60% didn’t bother to stop, even though they were on their way to preach about being a Good Samaritan.  (http://faculty.babson.edu/krollag/org_site/soc_psych/darley_samarit.html)

Georgia O’Keefe was quoted as saying, “Nobody sees a flower really.  It is so small, it takes time.  We haven’t time, and to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time.”  This time of year in Boston all the tulips are up and unfolding in shades of yellow and red and orange.  But how many people really see them?  Taking the time to really see a flower or notice someone in need is hard to do in our rushed, achievement-driven society.  But it is, in fact, the key to being happy, since being present allows us to really experience our lives and to make a difference.

To find your voice and claim your world stage, it starts by noticing the flowers that are blooming and the people around you who need you.  The more attentive we are to the larger world, the easier it will be to discover how our unique talents will inspire and elevate the world.  This week, really look inside a tulip.  You’ll be amazed at what you see.

 

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Make Lemonade

I had a client once who had been sexually abused for years by her stepfather, and even when she finally told her mother years later, her mom refused to believe her.  And yet, my client was one of the happiest people I’d ever met.  She felt grateful for having survived and felt that she had the ability to choose to be happy and create a life that she loved, in spite of her past.

In contrast, I spoke recently with a friend who had been out of work for over a year. He had once made great money in business, but left it over 10 years ago to pursue the arts, which hadn’t made him much money, and now his savings were almost gone.  “I might as well work in business again, but no one wants to hire me.  It must be ageism since I’m 50.”  I tried to gently remind him that he hadn’t been in the business world for almost a decade and that employers weren’t necessarily eager to hire him unless he showed new skills that were relevant today.  My friend responded with, “The economy collapsed, which is why I can’t find a job.  It’s not my fault.”

We tend to live in a victim-filled world, with lots of blame, finger pointing, and law suits.  How often do we hear people say, “It’s my fault.  I take full responsibility for it?”  Take Enron and the various oil spills over the last few decades for example.  We complain about our lives, instead of focusing on what we can do to create a life that we love.  It is true that life can be difficult and none of us is immune to hardship. Viktor Frankl, in his famous book, Man’s Search For Meaning, wrote about the horrific experience of being in a concentration camp, where everything had been taken away from the prisoners.  And yet Frankl wrote, they still had the freedom to control their attitude.  And that realization set him free.

In order to claim your world stage, it’s important to take responsibility for your actions and choices. There’s a lot we can’t control in life, but we can control our thoughts and words and attitude.  And doing so might just set us free as well.

This week, think about a struggle in your life that you could spin as a positive one in some way.  For every lemon in your life, think about how you can turn it into lemonade.  And if you can’t turn it into lemonade, maybe you can at least embrace the lemons you have.

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Take A Stand

I was talking with a friend recently about the strange phenomenon these days of really nice people raising bratty and frankly mean kids.  “How is that possible?  Don’t nice people raise nice kids?” my friend asked, perplexed.  I’ll never forget years ago seeing a mom and her four children in a lecture hall with mostly adults.  The kids started acting up.  All the mom had to do was give them that look–the look that says, “You need to behave now,” and they were quiet and respectful.  I didn’t have children yet at the time, but I never forgot it.  Clearly years of day in and day out parenting went into that mother being able to command that level of respect from her kids.  But how many really nice people just assume their kids will turn out fine because the parents are nice?

I was at another friend’s house recently and her young son came up to me and punched me in the gut for no reason.  I was stunned and my friend laughed, since she thinks everything her son does is adorable.  I was too polite to say anything in the moment, but shouldn’t I have said something?

I wonder if today, with our busy lives, and our over-scheduled kids, if we really take the time to teach our kids to be kind, to treat themselves and others with respect, to take a stand for something, to stand up for someone.  How many of us are taking the time to stand up for an injustice or teaching our kids to take a stand, like for a child being bullied?

If we want to create a life that makes us proud, so much of that hinges on our ability to be true to ourselves.  But what does that really mean?  It means asking ourselves what we value and standing up for it, even if it is scary or unpopular.  It means allowing us to be the misfit or the rebel or the crazy one in order to make the world a better place.

Steve Jobs wrote:  “Here’s to the Crazy Ones.  The misfits.  The rebels.  The trouble-makers.  The round pegs in the square holes.  The ones who see things differently.  They’re not fond of rules and they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them.  About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them.  Because they change things.  They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world–are the ones who do.”

How are you going to change the world?  Who or what are you taking a stand for?  What would happen if we replaced complaining with creating?

This is sign I saw when traveling in New Zealand with my family in 2014.  DSC07700