November 25, 2014
SAND 2014, The Nonduality Event That Bridges Science & Spirituality
SAND is such a great name for a conference and no, it doesn't hold that acronym because it's a travel conference that focuses on adventure in the sand. SAND stands for and is about all things that encompass Science and Nonduality.
The mission of SAND is to forge a new paradigm in spirituality, one that is not dictated by religious dogma, but based on timeless wisdom traditions of the world, informed by cutting-edge science, and grounded in direct experience.
I first attended the event two years ago (see my blog post from 2012), when it was held in Marin, just north of San Francisco. While they have an annual event in Europe as well, the U.S.-based event is always held in California.
This year, they headed south and set up shop for their nearly week long event at the Hayes Mansion on Edenvale Avenue in San Jose California, a resort which was once a lavish private estate.
People across continents and from all walks of life started flowing in on October 22 for this annual gem of an event. It was an entirely different vibe this year and I'm not sure if it was due to its extravagant venue choice, the fact that the quality of the content was even better or that I'm a little further along on my spiritual journey. My guess is that it's a combination of all three.
Surrounded by lush, emerald green lawns, accented with gardens of vibrant, colorful flowers and guarded by towering palm trees, the 100-year old mansion was transformed into a spiritual wonderland inside and out. Outside was an experiential oasis, which included a sound therapy tent run by Danny Goldberg (below).
Here, you could lie down and go into a deep hypnotic relaxation through a series of vibrational sounds. The sounds and vibrations of singing bowls, gongs and chimes guide us into a deep meditation, passing through our body and opening blockages while allowing our minds to quiet.
A wide range of ancient world traditions from Confucianism to the Pythagoreans’ claimed that sound could not only "tune the soul" but affect our cosmological & social worlds as well. I couldn't agree more - the experience was transformational.
Also outside was another relaxing technique in the form of a bed, a floating bed that is. The Floating Bed, a company started by John Huff, is mishmash of creativity, comfort and paradise. Says John, "not only is it great for a more relaxing and deeper sleep, but also useful for people with disabilities such as Autism, Autism Spectrum Disorder, PDD-NOS, Aspergers, Fragile X, ADD, ADHD and others.
Allowing the swinging bed to gently swing you back and forth while watching the world walk by, was a lovely way to spend a relaxing hour at the conference. I imagined where I could put such a contraption in my home and then remembered that I lived in a city. One can dream however, one can dream...
While the first time around, I tried to take in as many sessions as possible, this time I honored a more non-intentional flow. In other words, I didn't map out my agenda in advance nor did I make sure I had to attend every important talk by every renowned academic or yogi. I went with the flow and what my own bio-rhythm told me to do.
Using this approach, I met exactly who I was supposed to meet at the right time. By being as present as I could at every given moment despite the intellectual and spiritual eye and audio candy being thrown my way, the individuals I met, the experiences I had and the conversations that transpired along the way, were that much more powerful.
Being in your body as much as possible at an event like this is as important as digesting the data if not moreso, for it is through your body and spirit that you transform, not through your mind. From TransDance, yoga and meditation to art expression, RUMI poetry readings and Qigong with master Mingtong Gu, there were a number of ways you could experience mind/body immersion.
The community itself is what allows you to better process what you process during your SAND experience. Most of the people who attend could also be speakers, which is how profoundly interesting the attendees happen to be, alongside warm, authentic and soulful.
This is a community that spans religions or simply has none, however their core is central to the nonduality vision, which is to embrace a new integrative paradigm in which science and spirituality reenter into meaningful dialogue.
The idea is to authentically bridge an empirically responsible and non-dogmatic spirituality with a humanistic science willing to consider questions of context, perception, meaning and purpose. AND, that is precisely what happens at SAND....the melding of ideas across cultures and disciplines is discussed in hallways, in the bar, the experiential rooms, at the sessions, and over dinner.
In between the formal and structured content is quite frankly, is where the real magic happens at SAND. Below, co-founder Maurizio Benazzo talks about his own insights and inspiration for starting the event.
Imagine a conversation on healing the schism between science and spirituality while forging a new understanding of what it means to be human, with a professor of science, an emergency room doctor, a holistic healer, a film producer, a musician, a martial artist and a technology entrepreneur all within an hour.
Mind boggling is an understatement and within that boggling comes a little bit of chaos and confusion, all of which is designed to open you up to new possibilities and definitions of humanity as we currently understand it.
The result is a profound mashing of ideas through both heart and mind, allowing you to leave not just refreshed and re-centered but able to tackle the world around you in a much more compassionate way while leaving ego behind at the door.
The more you tap into the world of consciousness and interconnectedness, the more you are able to celebrate the mystery of life and the love that emanates from it, a far cry from seeing the world and the players on its stage as cynical, which is easy to do given how unconnected people around us seem to be on a daily basis.
Those who are some of the best in the world in helping you tap into your highest levels of consciousness showed up at SAND for the week, including the likes of Rupert Spira who led some of the morning meditation sessions -- I loved his calmness and powerful presence.
Other session leaders, speakers and topics included Yasmin Bar-Dor on finding harmony in this moment, John Hagelin on entanglement, space-time wormholes and the brain, David Barash on biology and self as functions, Meriel Gold on the ground of being, John Prendergast on secrets of the heart, Richard Lang on seeing who you really are, Sally Kempton on Shakti and self awareness, Ellen Emmet on the awakening body and Gabor Mate on mind/body unity and the stress/disease connection -- this was a powerful talk btw.
There was also Adam Hall on the polarity paradox, Stanly Klein on quantum mechanics and the entanglement of life (this went deep, so artists and right brain thinkers beware), Scott Kiloby on addiction, Paul Smit on enlightenment for lazy people, Edward Frenkel on mathematics as hidden reality, Swami Beyondananda on inter-spiritual nature and conscious agents, Donald Hoffman on entangling conscious agents, Nick Day on how movies and storytelling can connect us across time and space and Lothar Schafer on quantum reality and the spiritual mind.
And this my friends, is nowhere near an exhaustive list of the talent and pure energy I discovered at SAND this year.
Some of my Top Highlights:
- Judith Orloff who suggested that vulnerability is our deepest strength. She says, "being in fear makes you present." Check out radicalchoices.org.
- Coleman Barks and his beautiful RUMI poetry readings (below and my slightly cut off video of him speaking here).
Attendees who asked and challenged questions like:
- When you're practicing the passion of your life, you're not seeking, you're cultivating.
- What if we were free enough to be whatever we happen to be at any moment?
- What's key is being intimately honest and present with where you're and being okay with all of it regardless of what is going on.
Susanne Marie who suggests that Embodiment is never ending. (in the peach sweater below) She says, "the wholeness realizes there's a process going on. Know that nothing can be lost in that process. Step back from the experience and realize you are the space that everything is arising from.
The space itself is the whole and within that wholeness, that's all there is." On fear, she says, "one of the ways to deal with fear is to break it down into sensation.
Everything you're feeling is part of your own wisdom -- your own wisdom, which is the purest kind. If we can get close to that fear, we'll suddenly notice an awareness of a piece of it that we define as fear and something else that we inherently already know.
That knowiness of what is allows us to step back from the fear while at the same time walking towards it. Once you walk towards it and rest with it, there's a reflective piece of it all that you just know. All experience is good. One piece of what I'm feeling is not any worse than another because it's all part of a greater force at work.
Fear is all of these aspects of emotion and none of it is separate from God. When you are truly there with that, fear is just a sensation, nothing more....and then you'll find that the fear dissipates." I loved her energy!!
Gary Weber, who talked about the necessity to upgrade our mental operating system. He says, "if we can change our thinking just how we did from flat earth to round earth, we stand a chance."
He described the challenges with our current problematic operating system and how to decrease your self-referential internal narrative, fears, and desires and function more clearly and effectively, operating in "now, now, now" from a place of peace, presence and stillness.
See his video on this topic, which has much of the same content as his SAND presentation. I love his style and his ability to nail the most fundamental obstacles that get in our way through humor and direct candor. More info at www.happiness-beyond-thought.com.
The Importance of Breath. So often, we are running around and don't think about how we're breathing, how shallow it is and how often we actually hold our breath without even realizing it. I discovered SPIRE, which is currently in beta. Below, founder Neema Moraveji gives me a demo.
Spire monitors and analyzes your breathing patterns in real time to show when you are focused, tense, or frazzled. Stress triggers the brain's 'fight or flight' response, causing elevated heart rate, muscle tension, and shallow breathing. Your breath connects to your brain through the longest cranial nerve, the vagus, to influence your body, brain, and state of mind.
Improving the way you breathe eases pressure on the heart and cultivates a 'rest and digest' response in the brain. Spire helps monitor this and gives you feedback in real time and over time so you can improve your breathing and therefore, your overall quality of your health and your life. Below is an interview I did with Neema. Have a listen.
Film - All About Nothing from directors Paul Smit and Robert van der Broek. I had an opportunity to speak to Robert briefly afterwards who came over from Holland for the event - I loved his energy, so be sure to watch out for the film in the U.S. More info on Robert's site at www.allesoverniets.nl.
Qigong with Master Mingtong Gu: in this very educational and yet completely in your body session, Mingtong Gu took us through the various meridian points of our bodies and as we went there, we focused, chanted and released, relaxing into our breath and into the presence moment.
Wisdom healing Qigong was credited as the most effective method of Qigong healing by the Chinese government in 1997. Its success lies in these six treasures, or golden keys as it is commonly referred to: Haola ("I AM"), Inner Smile ("I am LOVE"), Service ("I am Connected"), Trust ("I am Enough"), Chi Field ("I am a co-creator") and Practice ("I am NOW").
His teachings involve showing people how to get energy to flow more freely through movement, sound and mind visualization and meditation.
I also discovered another product, which isn't quite there yet for consumers given its $13K upward price tag, however could be a godsend for health practitioners and holistic healers. The brain child of Harry Massey and Peter Fraser, miHealth is a practical system for detecting the body's fields and correcting areas in the most need.
I tried this nifty device on site and sat with Todd Zimmerman from NES Health (the parent company) who walked me through the process, how it works and where it can be beneficial in both clinical and non-clinical worlds.
After placing my right hand on their non-invasive, clinically researched, handheld device, the miHealth system did the rest.
The combination of the connected device and powerful software produced a print-out of areas where I had blockages. This biofeedback allows practitioners to locate, unblock and release energy blockage in areas of the body. The idea is to see beyond symptoms and provide a more effective and targeted way to rejuvenate the body's energy by releasing energy blockages throughout.
From scientists, philosphers, physicists, spiritual healers, sufi and zen teachers, yogis, and anthropologists, to musicians, artists, film producers, academics and psychotherapists, the nondual conversation is a rich and rewarding one, for through all of it, there's a desire for oneness, something that if we were all to allow ourselves to go there, would be the most peaceful serene sensation we've ever known.
Through that level of personal transformation, we can transform people around us, including the planet. And, while on this path to a so called golden age for humanity, you'll found beauty, purpose and deeper understanding in the simplest of things.
Truly, the....simplest of things, the opposite of complexity, which is what we're getting hit with on a daily basis, one of the most dangerous ones being, digital information overload.
November 25, 2014 in America The Free, Conference Highlights, Events, Magic Sauce Media, On People & Life, On Science, On Spirituality, On Technology, San Francisco, TravelingGeeks, Videos | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
December 06, 2013
Reflecting On Nelson Mandela's Life, His Impact On South Africa & The World
I write today with great sadness after learning about the passing of Nelson Mandela this week. You see, I have a long history with South Africa and every time she graced me with another memory, I was forever changed. Her imprint wasn't the kind of imprint other country destinations leave; it was if South Africa's spirit spoke to me each and every time, as if she had to teach me something larger than myself...a bit like Mandela did over the course of his lifetime...
As I reflect on Mandela's impact and his important life work, I began thinking of all the talks I have heard him give including a dramatic one in person in the 1990s, and zeroed in my own South African story, one which he influenced by his actions, his courage, his resilience and his solitude. He changed how I absorbed not just culture, politics and history, but how I viewed humanity and the world.
My story goes deep. Endure me on an important life journey for a moment, starting in a pre-Mandela world.
Apartheid was still very much in place when I lived in South Africa as a foreign exchange student in 1984, two years before the country's declared State-of-Emergency.
Being white, I was placed with a well-off English speaking white family in a ritzy Johannesburg suburb and sent to a prestigious white school. In this bubbled existence, I was meant to be protected from the waging cultural war that was brewing under the surface. We wore uniforms and lived colonial lives, with two tea breaks a day at school, private tennis lessons and trips to the stables for horseback riding. And, it was oh so very proper. Girls hung out with girls, and boys hung out with boys even at co-ed schools.
I also studied at a white Afrikaans school just outside Johannesburg. Boys played sports and marched -- remember that military service was mandatory for South Africans - my boyfriend at the time served in Namibia for two years.
Below one of my teachers from Hyde Park High School instructs a black gardener who serviced the grounds during a 'tea' break.
Meanwhile, another world existed outside Johannesburg's wealthy white suburbs. While we played crochet, ate strawberries and cream, and sipped champagne by the pool, black South Africans lived in their own neighborhoods, a far cry from the world I had begun to know. Imagine a world where life existed for your entire family in one room with nothing but a tin roof or a leaky plastic covering to protect you from the rain.
Violence was rampant and deaths occured daily in townships between black communities (many westerners don't realize that fighting happened not just between whites and blacks at the time but between local tribes who disagreed). Important movies like Cry Freedom & A Dry White Season made the world aware of the social injustice, all driven from the top.
Unfathomable stories came into the international spotlight, unveiling atrocious crimes of white police beating and killing black prisoners, many of whom didn't deserve to be arrested in the first place. Buried in a corrupt system under the guise of Apartheid, some whites turned a blind eye, while others lived in their own colonial bubble, oblivious of what was happening behind the scenes. Then, there were a few brave white souls who risked their lives to bring these heart wrenching stories to the western media and fought hard and long for equality and a united country, not one divided by color.
Outside the cities, black South Africans lived in straw huts in the rural countryside. The below shots were taken in the northern Transvaal and Swaziland in 1984.
My naivity at the time still dumbfounds me. While I may have been a smarter than average teenager, the siloed education I received in small town America limited my awareness of global politics and injustice. While it's not rocket science to understand the concept of a segregated country by color (crikey, we had our own until the 1960s), but since I had never 'lived it,' I wasn't prepared for what I witnessed. This lack of preparedness and awareness resulted in me living in a world blinded by sugar-coated glasses for the first few months. During that time, I avoided probing too deep when answers to my questions remained unanswered or even worse, were undigestable.
I used to ask questions that perhaps a ten year old might ask, such as "why does our maid live in a shack behind our house? Why can't "they" sit with us at the same table? Why can't they go into the restaurant with us? The answers of course never made any sense, nor did the sneers I received from my boss at a Sandton restaurant where I was hostess.
I'd talk to the "black" boys who cleared away the dishes and the dishwasher crew and whenever I did, I was told not to and in hindsight, they too seemed confused by communication. There were so many times I was told "not to" during my first year in South Africa, that it started to numb my understanding of what was at play on a large and deeply turbulent scale. "Not to engage with, not to play with, not to dance with, not to talk to, not to buy things for, not to give a hug to..." The list went on. And yet, my true understanding of what was happening in the early months of living there was closer to a young child's understanding, not a mature one.
I experienced different behavior when I lived with a white family on a rural farm in the Northern Transvaal, not far from the Zimbabwean border. Below, I am cooking on the grill with the oldest brother of my host family, who was one of the best hunters I had ever encountered - I once saw him kill a snake which came flying out of a tree into our window early in the morning in a nano-second. He seemed to have a unique relationship with their servants in a way I had not yet witnessed in the country's urban areas, something I would later learn would add to the puzzle of why South Africa's black and white history is so much more complex than meets the eye. No history book or novel can prepare you for the intricacies of its long and painful racial struggle.
He used to woo me with his knowledge of Zulu, Xhosa and something they referred to as Fanagalo, a pidgin (simplified language) based primarily on Zulu, with English and a little Afrikaans thrown in. It was often spoken in northern South Africa and in more rural areas, between white farmers and their black servants and staff.
In those days, people still referred to Zimbabwe as Rhodesia and many had getaways up there, so much so that we used to head over the border to waterski on Lake Kyle on weekends. (you know you're not in Kansas anymore when they tell you about the risks of crocodiles, so be sure never to fall). In Zim or Rhodie depending on who you talked to, the relationship between blacks and whites seemed milder, less hostile, less fragile and less haunting. There are a host of reasons for this but it wasn't until I crossed that border several times with my ex-husband in the 1990s did I feel the intensity of the tension the moment we were back on South African soil.
While South African tourists may most remember sipping wine on some of Stellenbosch's best vineyards or their visit to Kruger National Park, there's a whole other side to South Africa, a world where white and black South Africans worked together, tended the land, hunted and killed to eat.
Below, I am with one of my host families in the northern Transvaal after a day out in the bush, which almost always meant in those days, bringing an impala or kudo home for dinner.
I eventually learned who Mandela was, but it was only after I ventured beyond my rich white suburbs and started conversations with people who I sensed felt uncomfortable with my questions, as if I were a private investigator probing rather than an everyday civilian having a healthy dialogue. It was at this time I met some white radicals (or at least that's what some people called them) at the Wits University campus, one of South Africa's most famous universities. It was then that I discovered how deep race issues were and how close to a very dangerous edge the country was living. Little did I know how much violence was brewing and how close we were to a transformation that would not just change South Africa forever, but the world.
What would be deemed as a curious and socially active student in a free democratic country was classified as radical and dangerous in a 1970s and 1980s South Africa world. That year, I fell in love with musician Johnny Clegg and even had an opportunity to meet him and shoot one of their concerts from the edge of their stage. His music more than moved me, it transformed me from an innocent and ignorant bystander of life to a curious and caring one. If I wanted a life full of purpose and passion, I knew my life could never be one where I'd stand on the sidelines observing life, but one which involved diving with both feet even if it was sure to be a painful dive.
Above, Johnny Clegg in rare form, his passionate music echoing into a winter night on the grounds of Wits University. While he wasn't the only musician to write about this volatile time, he was a revolutionary at heart who led the way on his home soil. Steven Van Zandt's "Sun City," a song that protested the South African policy of apartheid was also instrumental as was the follow on support by such musical greats as Bruce Springsteen, Run DMC, Bonnie Raitt, Miles Davis, George Clinton, Jackson Browne and dozens more. Let's also not forget Paul Simon's "Graceland," which came out in 1986 and featured Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Their music brought South Africa's pain into our hearts and understanding in the west even if we could never begin to understand day-to-day life for people living under an Apartheid regime.
Below, locals just outside the Transkei are about to load a pick up truck with chickens, okra, tomatos and bananas.
Below, children sing at an all black school in a rural area.
To say that my experience living in the 1980s and 1990s in South Africa was diverse is an understatement. From rural farms to living with Afrikaans families in cities and towns, and then wealthy English families in Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town, to breathing in the land and its wildlife on various national parks and nature reserves, I felt the pulse of a country in pain.
While today Soweto is freely traveled to and even houses a Holiday Inn, back then, it was off limits to whites and considered incredibly dangerous. That didn't stop me however and I can recall the experience as if it were yesterday. People ask me all the time: weren't you afraid?
The truth is, no I wasn't afraid. The truth is...I was greeted with warmth and generosity despite the fact that there was mass hatred of whites and an extreme number of violent incidents at the time. I realize that things could have gone south and a different set of encounters could have resulted in my not being alive to tell the story today. The same could be said for venturing into certain parts of Harlem and Detroit during their most volatile times. And yet, back then, talking to locals felt urgent somehow, even though I didn't have a clue what to do with their stories.
A few years later when I was studying and living in London, a mere stone's throw from Trafalgar Square, the home of daily South Africa protests, it felt like the most natural thing in the world to join the crowd. Times were complicated and the circles I traveled in were diverse.
Below, I was out on a bush walk with an American missionary who was stationed in southern Africa for many years. Everyone and their brother seemed to be involved in stirring up a pot, whether it was religious, political or social.
In 1990, I returned to South Africa to live, this time with my South African ex-husband. Not much had visibly changed in every day life, except there was a shift in sentiment and more importantly, laws. It was the year the then President Frederik Willem de Klerk began negotiations to end Apartheid and the official abolishing of Apartheid occurred with repeal of the last of the remaining Apartheid laws.
The result would be the country's first multi-racial democratic elections in 1994, which as we all know, was won by the African National Congress under Nelson Mandela. To this day, the vestiges of Apartheid still shape South African politics and society.
That year, we drove up and down the country a few times, and eventually made our way north to Malawi in an old fashioned boxed van manufacturered sometime a few decades earlier. Economically, nothing had yet changed for black South Africans but Mandela had become a household name.
When we weren't working in Johannesburg in the hospitality industry, we were on the road and that meant living in our van or pitching a tent when the mosquitos weren't rampant. We picked up hitchhikers along the way and made friends from around the world over the course of nearly two years.
Life couldn't be more free; no one told us who we could talk to and who we couldn't, or where we had to be or when. Below, we stopped the van along side a cliff somewhere on the Cape's Garden Route and here, we made dinner, opened a bottle of South Africa Shiraz and toasted to a new world.
If we wanted to go into a rural area or township and have a conversation, we could and we did. To say this was widely accepted just because the Apartheid veil had been legally lifted is far from a reality.
Considered as dangerous as it was in the 1970s? Absolutely. If you recall, violence soared before it leveled off and there was a tremendous amount of mistrust and cultural 'sorting' in Mandela's early days. Also remember that there were a lot of disgruntled white South Africans (in and out of the National Party -- which later became known as the New National Party) by De Klerk's radical political move.
It was a different vibe in rural areas however, particularly the bush. Life was much more simple and chatting about life around the fire at night was easy. Here, I sensed less anger and their personalities were more fluid. It doesn't mean that white hatred didn't exist but the energy was more relaxed and trusting. Below, we drink coffee late at night listening to hyaenas in the distance, an experience which always felt spiritual to me.
Below, a shot of a family we picked up in our van in 1990, who wasn't sure (at first) whether to trust us or not. Behind them, you can see our mosquito net which we slept under every night.
Below, drummers go wild in Hillbrow just outside Johannesburg's center.
In the early nineties, life was still very much segregated in the cities and the towns.
Young white South Africans (as my ex-husband, his brother and wife and our friends were) shifted their attitudes and wanted to make amends somehow. It wasn't uncommon to hear things like "we have a black friend now," or "we just did X with Z," as if to make a point that they were progressive in their thinking and not white South African racists. It wasn't their fault; after all, the country had conditioned them from childhood, a white racist government who created white racist schools and taught History the colonial way, which was from a very different textbook than the one I used when I taught in a Kenyan school a few years later.
Most of their attempts at doing the right thing, at least in our circles, came from a pure place. Those with candy colored glasses who were so brainwashed under the old regime would either take decades of reconditioning to truly understand the atrocities of the Apartheid system or never change their mind.
Yet, during that time, things were vibrant, wild and new. It was a time when the unexpected happened and the country had a chance to start over.
Around that time, I was asked to do publicity for a black musician and his white wife who needed help opening a white & black nightclub in Johannesburg, a groundbreaking and bold move for the time. They weren't interested in traditional communications and media strategies, nor exposure from CNN. For them, it was all about grassroots efforts, from educating locals to alleviating safety concerns across three generations of whites whose lives were about to change in ways they never imagined.
Meanwhile, Mandela's respect was growing with diverse supporters and new voices (both black and white) were amplifying.
There were times we'd be at a braai (equivalent of a western barbecue except they'd often grill game) in someone's backyard, see smoke bombs going off in Soweto a mile or so down the road and suddenly be brought back to reality. Sirens would follow and we knew a death had happened or two...and yet we were untouched behind our walled gardens in some white suburb with guards by the fence.
Life could also be melancholy and surreal at times. People were struggling with all the changes, many in disbelief, even those who felt it was positive for the country and had fought for decades to see an integrated South Africa.
Other times, the intensity of it all was too much. Everyone spoke of politics and violence all the time and it became all consuming. Female friends in their early twenties were carrying hand guns in their purses to be ready for attacks, whether it was walking into a fast food joint to order a burger or get petrol in their car.
While we never carried a gun, we took the rotor out of our van every time we parked it since so many vehicles were being stolen, sometimes at gun point. We often didn't stop at red lights because that's where so many hold-ups happened and white South Africans were losing not just their cars, but often their lives. Break-ins became more commonplace and would sometimes result in a death not just a theft. It became a way of life and people assimilated into a new but more violent South Africa.
We eventually left the city and headed south to Cape Town where things were less unpredictable. The reason for this lies in the fact that Cape Town had always been more integrated than the north and as a result, the environment was milder. We stopped at red lights again and started to breathe a calmer air. We also brought sandwiches and wine out to the ocean's edge and sat on the rocks at sunset, talking about politics, democracy and war, both of us so aware how different the dialogue would be had we been back in the states sharing food with friends on the Boston coast instead.
Through all of this, I wrote. For so many reading this, it's hard to imagine a time before computers, but then, I didn't have one, nor did anyone I know. It was a world without cell phones, iPads, iPods and laptops. Texting was inconceivable and if you wanted to leave a message for a colleague you were planning to meet in Tanzania in two week's time, you'd send him a note through a PO Box or leave a handwritten message on an old fashioned pin-up board in a known hotel travelers knew about.
And so, with so much uncertainty and violence in the air, I wrote. And, I wrote. And, I wrote. I filled a suitcase with notebooks.
I wrote everywhere and anywhere I could and didn't need a power chord or an Internet connection to do so.
My brother-in-law at the time loaned me a typewriter so I could process my thoughts faster since there were times my head was spinning out of control. Late at night, my mind whirled and swirled trying to make sense of the growing violence and political changes. History was in motion as Mandela was about to take the reigns.
My favorite place to write was under the stars by moonlight. There's nothing like an African sky....it made me feel closer to the earth than anywhere else I had ever spent time or lived. When you consider that southern Africa is where man began, it makes sense. I was lost in time on more than one occasion under an African sky, an experience that is now but a mere memory, but one I'd gladly relive.
After we left South Africa and returned to live in Boston, the country was never far from our reach. While we didn't have Facebook, we had friend's letters, phone calls, access to the BBC and Johannesburg newspapers that my then mother-in-law used to send us. We continued to listen to South African music, drank rooiboss tea, received packages of biltong and attended South African get togethers in New York and Boston every year. We couldn't let "her" go. She had grabbed ahold of us and made us forever hers.
We watched Mandela's progress from afar, listened to his speeches and routed him on. It wasn't until 18 years later in 2008 that I returned. A trip that was slated for three weeks turned into several months, which included an extensive drive up and down the country and along the mystical and magical Garden Route in the south.
Returning to Soweto was nothing short of surreal for me. Blacks and whites shopped in the same mall and sipped coffee at the same cafe. Below is a shot I took while relaxing against a rock on a sunny afternoon.
Prophet gave us a historical account of activities; the stories felt so far removed from the South Africa I had experienced so many moons ago...pre-Mandela.
Two brothers play together in a nearby park, both of them with smiles on their faces.
In the south, in a small village on the coast called Arniston-by-the-Sea, more seemingly happy children found me and my camera and couldn't wait to pose.
I was blown away by the positive attitude of the children, all of whom are removed by a generation from the inequality their parents and grandparents faced. They gave me a sense of hope and joy, so much so that I created a photo book on this hope. Have a look at the most precious images of what hope looks like in my book I call Post Apartheid Kids.
All this we have Nelson Mandela to thank. As CNN so eloquently put it, "word of Nelson Mandela's death spread quickly across the United States, bringing with it a mix of reverence and grief for a man who was born in South Africa but in the end belonged to the world."
His activism is a pure example of how to make a horrible wrong right. The South Africa I experienced in the 1980s and 1990s, while is full of beautiful memories and encounters with people who did make a positive difference, is an uglier South Africa than the one Mandela created over the course of his presidency.
While for many Europeans and Americans, the death of Mandela may feel akin to losing one of their own, it goes much deeper for me. Having gone to high school in South Africa, having been exposed to the rawest form of racism I had yet to experience in South Africa, having married a South African and having been transformed by its activists, its musicians, its professors, its authors and my friends, all led to a deep connection to the country, as if the country had become my own.
South Africa is imprinted not just in my memory but she is in my blood. Mandela is part of that imprint. Mandela made more than an impact on South Africa - his resilience and spirit has taught us all around the world what it means to be human and what it takes to step up to the plate and embrace humanity. I bow down and honor his life and am grateful for how he has touched me and the world at large.
May God grant you the peace and serenity you so deserve Nelson Mandela. As Obama so beautifully said in his speech, "He no longer belongs to us. He belongs to the ages."
For a beautifully reflective and heartwarming end to this tribute, listen to this heartfelt song by Johnny Clegg performed in 1999 with Nelson Mandela on stage:
Note: For those who are interested in a deeper dive into South African history, culture and tribal influences across centuries, please read one of my favorite authors Andre Brink, who I still dream of meeting over a glass of Shiraz one day. He has written countless novels and memoires, all of which I have read, however my favorites include Looking On Darkness, The Other Side of Silence, Rumors of Rain, An Intant in the Wind and A Chain of Voices. Let's just say I have read this list of novels more than once.
Photo credits: Top image of Mandela from UK Telegraph. All other images Renee Blodgett.
July 15, 2013
When the Clouds Ask You to Dance Under an Icelandic Sky
She picked me up from "the nautical hotel", the one that wooed me with the red balcony that faced the blue and abandoned ship in Reykjavik's Harbor. I could have written sad and happy things for days on end facing that crazy abandoned ship whose gaze continued to dazzle me outside my bedroom window.
Suddenly, she made a sharp right and headed east into the countryside, some 40 kilometers outside the city. There's a point when all pretenses fall loose and it was one of those moments. My first trip out of Reykjavik a few days into my trip, it was as I feared, rainy and drizzly as the weather report indicated. And yet, sometimes, blue sky and white clouds made their appearance because perhaps they wanted to dazzle an overworked brunette from a far away American land.
"Wow, this is pretty," I said and felt. It was such a meek and ridiculous attempt at what should have been, "this blows," or "this is outrageous"...Or perhaps nothing at all and just breathe into one aha and joyous moment after another had I been from somewhere in this world that didn't need a phrase to qualify such a beautiful existence.
It was as if I was witnessing a place where Ireland just married the Moon and then tossed with some magical dust from Scotland, Norway, Antarctica and New Zealand and I didn't know what to do with it.
The area is called Nesjavellir, a great launching pad for trips in the south of the country. I was on my way to new resort and was in a rare place of accepting the forthcoming indulgence.
Nesjavellir is set in the Icelandic countryside where there are very few frills - it's all about the air, the sights, the smells and the tastes from nearby lava fields, the thermal steam and vapor and an ever so stunning early summer Icelandic sky.
As a frequent solo traveler, I arrive somewhere I am reviewing, often a hotel, resort, activity, adventure, spa or tour and 95% of the time, people around me are couples, 4% are very young travelers and 1% are in that other category, the one I guess I would fall into -- the misfit category. And so from the category of the misfits, I hold a perspective which is unique and muddled and distinct and reflective and beautiful and blessed and pure and often....complex.
Holding that mindset, imagine my dinner, which started off mid-way to great until a fairly lame Chilean red arrived since the options by the glass were slim. Suddenly, a Viking who says he's a blend of bartender, waiter and fix it guy, showed up with a bottle of 1991 Bordeaux. Classy, I think as I watch the lame glass of red leave my table.
As I slowly sipped my Bordeaux, I dove into the Icelandic sky since it seemed to be so gracious with its time, energy and beauty in a way that the best food and wine can never begin to offer.
While the wait staff started out a little reserved and quiet, they slowly picked up steam. Liquors that solely belonged to Iceland suddenly began to appear. New to me, crowberries and einiberja soon graced me with their presence.
A local doctor who was out for dinner with his wife popped over to say hello and shared a few photos with me after I offered to take a shot of both of them at their table.
"It is usually a photo of just one of us," she said with a smile as I snapped away. My God, I thought as I looked them, they're whiter than the Irish. Later, when he approached my table as I was nearing my coffee, I realized that his eyelashes were whiter and lighter than blonde - I could barely see them as he stood to my side slightly bending over me, his 70 year old fingers sliding left and left again, so I could see all the shots he took on his phone over the previous two weeks.
It was an Iceland I had not yet seen since my days in the country were still so few. That moment in time was special if not rare...a retired doctor confiding in me even if it was for a few brief moments and showing his endearing and reflective self. The tenderness and vulnerability came through and it was a treasured and elegant memory to say the least. Iceland isn't just unique or pretty or inviting, it's dramatic, spiritual, intense, volatile and ever so engulfing. And, most importantly, the people are what make it so...
After the doctor leaves and a glass of Bordeaux has warmed my soul, a blonde Icelander returns to my table to inform me that they'll open up the 10 meter hot tub pool for me and me alone, half of which extends into the open air and half of which is covered. It is typically closed after ten, about the time my second wind is re-ignited and so, this news brought on a huge smile.
As I made my way into the shallow hot pool with temperature of 95 degrees or so, I realized there were no jets or chlorine and the bottom of the pool was both murky and slippery because it was coated with green algae...natural green algae. Surreal, peaceful and tranquil Eastern instrumental music played in the background and like I am so often these days, I was alone. It was just me and an Icelandic sky.
Gratitude won. Presence won. The hot natural waters won. The thermal steam won. The Midnight Sun won.
A couple hours later, I slowly removed myself from the pool, the one with the slimy green and black bottom. Ahhh, the pure naturalness of it all I thought.
As I made my way down the hallway, I listened to a group of Norweigans and Icelanders laughing in the lounge only two doors away from me...reserved but after much alcohol, no longer quiet. The women would frequently gasp under their breath when they spoke as if they lost their breath somehow for a moment and were fighting to get it back and in a so not so sensual way. A friend claims the women (and men) do this in Norway too. It was something I never did get to the bottom of or understand.
Two girls continued to drink and as they did, their boyfriends started to howl...once quiet reserved Nordic types now in a different place of mind.
I returned to my room and as I shut my door and turned the lock to the left, I could hear people's laughter, the same 20 or so who were in the resort restaurant some hour or two before. There was still plenty of Bordeaux left but I poured some Earl Grey tea instead and faced my open window which looked out onto a brightly lit 2 am sky.
Clear Blue sky turned to white fluffy clouds every twenty minutes or so, at times, turning into tenuous or threatening clouds. Just when they just seemed to be settling down, you suddenly felt them dancing in front of you asking you for a hand in a delicate or perhaps a not so delicate dance. You see, Iceland is this way - forever changing and you never can be sure where it's going to take you. In the midst of my volatile dancing clouds, there were rolling meadows and luscious hills.
To my left was a view of Icelandic tundra and flowing landscape and to my right was a painted white horse against a concrete wall, hazy at best against a later than midnight sky. A juxtaposition in time or was it really all one in the same?
I wanted to shut down my laptop, yet there were photos to process, more hot water for my tea to fetch, emails and tweets to respond to and a life size photo of a horse's head to say hello to. Breathing into my beautiful Icelandic horse on my wall...stage right, and the meadows to my left with the three shades of brown drapes covering a third of my view, I breathed deeper than I had in awhile, and as I did, I acknowledged it was okay that I didn't say hello to anyone else but me and that I didn't have to be someone else other than me for a moment or an hour or as Iceland would remind me, a lifetime.
In my white robe and bare feet, I "okayed" my wet bathing suit that lay on the concrete floor. I also acknowledged that it was okay not to pick it up, hang it up or dry it before my day's end. I let it be. I let me be. I let the Iceland sky be. I let the laughs of the all Nordic guests at the end of my wing just be. And then, and only then, did I hit save and toss my computer off my lap without packing it away. It fell into a bundle of pillows to my left and then I gently moved it to the floor as the pillows followed without rhythm, without choice and without a plan.
Suddenly, pure joy. With feet up in the air behind me, dangling as a ten year old would dangle them, I looked out into my Iceland sky and its draping, green luscious hills which stretched to my south and smiled. Thank you for that gift you Nesjavellir wonder I thought. Thank you for that gift!
May 26, 2013
Embracing & Owning Your Imperfections Opens More Doors, Not Less...
People who know me well know that I'm a sucker for a new read. As long as there's not six other books in queue or the recommended book is so uncompelling I can't get through it, it's mine for the taking. When I was beating up on myself recently, a friend recommended I look into the work of Brene Brown.
I started with her TED talk and then moved to her book: The Gifts of Imperfection -- oh such a compelling title in a country that deems itself more perfect than any other. Some may call it a personal self help book, and while aspects of that may be true, the category has gotten such a bad rap lately that I'd prefer to call content what it is designed to do: help you get from A to B through whatever wisdom the author shares through their vantage point and skillset. If that's self help, fine.
Is it self help when you need to learn a specific management skill and an expert who has the wisdom shares it through a book to get you unstuck? We look down upon wisdom that might help elevate ourselves and our sense of humanity but praise things that help our skills and ability to accomplish and succeed. You get my point.
Frankly if you dive deep enough into most things we do of "external value," there's always an underlining emotional issue that gets in the way. Take money. While clearly there's a skillset in trading, investing and allotting the right money to the right buckets, selling too quickly or making the wrong decision often comes from a place of emotional fear rather than following a code of what works and what doesn't. The best guys on Wall Street keep their emotions out of it but not all of us can. The same applies to raising kids, keeping a marriage together, staying healthy or running a company.
While most of Brown's references are personal ones, the gift that this "read" gave me was largely professional. Here's why. While clearly we all have moments where we're afraid to be honest with ourselves and others, throwing our vulnerabilities out there with a friend or group of friends tends to be easier, at least for me. I'm more likely to lift the shield in a personal environment than in a professional one. The former can expel me from their group while the latter can fire me, impact my revenue, reputation and most importantly, self esteem.
When I read that Brown was a "shame researcher," my immediate reaction was: how much is there to research about shame? Really? It's so specific that I couldn't imagine a professor dedicating her entire career to something that specific and yet, there are professors who dedicate themselves to ants and write lengthy scientific papers on the latest Melanesian ant fauna which end up as a TED talk, so why not?
Little did I know. Shame is not as specific as you might think. Through reading her book and doing some additional digging on my own, I can see how prolific it is in our lives, weaving its way into all aspects, from how we interact with family, peers, and loved ones to the person who hands us our double latte in the morning.
To deny that "shame" shows up in my personal life would be to deny being human, for we've all experienced it, however the piece which most resonated with me is how it awkwardly plays into professional relationships and dynamics, a place that doesn't use the word "shame."
Getting beyond it requires courage and compassion daily in order to live what she refers to as a wholehearted life. It requires practice. Malcolm Gladwell said it best in his 10,000 rule analogy. How can you ever ace something you don't spend time practicing over and over and over again? The same applies to our personal lives. In other words, proactively practicing courage, compassion, connection and empathy is how we ultimately cultivate worthiness.
Time and time again, I have witnessed people not asking for what they're worth and "owning it" while they're at it. I've been there - we all have. Given that PR in general is often perceived as being useless, provides little or no value and can't be measured, I find that many practitioners and consultants undersell themselves or charge on a transaction basis to bring the cost down in order to get the business. It's an act of desperation when you do this - it not only commoditizes our business and our value but delivers an "action" rather than the "value of that action."
Women often have a harder time feeling worthiness and the moment we attempt to prove our worthiness is the moment we've lost the game. Often, we feel as if we have to prove ourselves particularly when a CEO or worse, a COO suggests that what we do didn't move the needle today. The problem at least in my industry, is that branding, communications and marketing doesn't move a needle in a day, or a week or even a month, although sometimes it can. It's a process, just like building relationships is a process. We cannot and must not ever measure our worthiness based on that formula and model.
Because of the nature of my industry, it's even easier to undercut our worthiness than say a doctor, who performs a surgery and suddenly a limb is working again. At the heart of what we do as communications pros is storytelling. Aren't the best stories the ones which are authentic, intimate and vulnerable at their core?
I often feel that when I begin to go there with a client, fear gets in the way...not just on my side but on the client's side as well. The more I rely on emotion, intuition and creativity which is the essence of what makes me thrive at what I do, the more the client throws up roadblocks or devalues the deed because it's so untangible. Beauty, art and yes, even moving the needle often comes from untangible.
Is a brand that you buy again and again always tangible? Sometimes it is (it's faster, more durable) but more often, it's a feeling you have about the brand that brings you back again and again. This feeling is the result of years of storytelling and messaging, not six month's worth. And, consistency is key.
One of our inherent gifts as professionals is that we excel at not just creating that story, but delivering it consistently again and again. It's an art and our clients need to understand that it's an art, not a science. Own that art and you own your worthiness. We shouldn't have to 'sell or prove our worthiness' again and again as if somehow showing a stat suddenly proves that our "art" is worthy.
Brown talks about owning our story and I'd ask you to think about how what she says here shows up or doesn't show up in the workplace. Where she refers to love, belonging and joy, replace the words with self respect, connection and courage.
She writes: "Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love, belonging and joy -- the experiences that makes us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light."
She also quotes Pema Chodron, a Buddhist writer who is one of my favorite authors. "In cultivating compassion, we draw from the wholeness of our experience: our suffering, our empathy, as well as our cruelty and terror. It has to be this way. Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounder - it's a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity."
Hear hear Pema.
Here's another little bit of wisdom for those who have a hard time with imperfection and asking for help. Depending on what circles you travel in, some have a tight network (let's not forget the old school boy network, which yes, does still exist, especially in Washington), they rely on and often, they don't even have to 'ask' for help. It shows up just because they're part of that network. Others have different networks who help them out from time-to-time and others try to do it themselves...all the time: parenting, managing, creating, producing and running with very little delegating along the way.
Asking for help is hard when we are conditioned to strive for perfection, even if its something we disguise as perfect. From that place, we often feel that if we ask for help, we're indebted to someone and that lays over us like a negative card. Within the confines of that negative card, it's as if we're always trying to figure out how to repay for that help, even if the help wasn't a financial one.
This is how it shows up in many of our lives. While the following statement may sound counter-intuitive, it's true and she's right. Brown writes, "until we can receive with an open heart, we are never really giving with an open heart. When we attach judgment to receiving help, we knowingly or unknowingly attach judgment to giving help."
This is also true: "Belonging is the innate human desire to be part of something larger than us....because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance."
While I know many a narcissist in my business circles and on the flip side, others who have gone through the hard journey to get to self-acceptance, many of us still struggle with pieces of it from time-to-time. When that piece shows up in our professional lives, we second guess our decisions when our intuition tells us its the right one or we don't ask for what we're worth because a client widdles us down or leads us to believe our value isn't worth a specific amount.
Suddenly we're in a place of proving that we matter when we matter for just showing up and sharing the gifts we can deliver better than that client or possibly anyone else. Bottom line, we should be paid well for it: the value of it, not the task of it even if some of that value can't be measured right away. I know people who have gone to psychologists for ten years - does the value of their work show up after a visit or does it take time to get results? What about a tennis coach? Does the value of a dentist's work show up after one time or let's put it another way, how would your teeth look and feel if you didn't have those bi-annual check ups and cleans?
Value shows up over time and if you believe in yourself, your client needs to believe in your value too or don't work with them. Walk away. I mean it - walk away. It's the biggest gift you can give yourself. When one door closes, another one opens. And if you're feeling fearful about that statement, think about Helen Keller's fabulous quote: "when one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we don't see the one opening before us."
Live from a place of true worthiness, self-respect and authentic living and as Brown puts it, a wholehearted life and things will blow open for you. While it may not happen overnight, it will happen as long as you trust in the process. As an old wise monk said to me on a hike in Nepal many years ago, Patience, grasshopper, patience.
Photo Credits: Original Impulse. Andrew S. Gibson. Tiny Buddha. Jenny's Endeavors.
May 26, 2013 in America The Free, Books, On People & Life, On Poems, Literature & Stuff, On Spirituality, On Women, PR & Marketing, Reflections, Social Media, WBTW | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
November 25, 2012
The American Thanksgiving Tradition: Where Did It Go?
Thanksgiving has always been one of those holidays I never took lightly, mainly because it was the one holiday above all other holidays, where we sat down at a table together as a family...one massive large table. While this was also the plan at Christmas and attempts were made and often fulfilled, it wasn't quite the same as the tradition that we forced upon ourselves on Thanksgiving.
My family wasn't exactly "sitters." They didn't like to sit or really know how to sit, at least not for long, so it was remarkable that people showed up, did as they were told and handled hours of conversation on end.
I was born in the sixties, so after dinner, women did the dishes and men drank gin martinis and manhattans in a separate room far away from the kitchen.
Alternatively, the men headed to "the gazable" to smoke as it was famously called at my Uncle Edgar's house which was perched on a slope along a country road, one that had its fair share of pitfalls getting in and out of the driveway after a heavy snowfall.
While we weren't a family that piled on the dinner "grace" at the table, nor did we go around the table and share what we were grateful for, we were expected to talk about what we were "doing." I wasn't aware of how uncommon it was at the time, but my grandfather, father, and nearly all of my uncles and cousins ran their own businesses as did a couple aunts, so everyone was born with an instinctive entrepreneurial spirit.
In the 60s and 70s, that meant something a little different than it does today and all the men regardless of how many hours they put in during the day, also mowed, cleaned, scraped, painted, hammered and plastered during any other spare window they had.
With military men at the table who had toughened and roughened from far too many wars, the gatherings were full of far more alpha testosterone influenced flannel shirts than dresses with flowers and pearls. The men were men, the kind who wouldn't settle for anything but strong women who could conquer the world in case they couldn't one day.
One thing that bonded us during these holiday functions was games and we played plenty of them late into the night -- from cards to board games to charades. And, rest assured, no one believed that children would be messed up for life if they weren't tucked in by 8 pm every night.
Like all families, there was always a Great Aunt Hilda or Great Uncle Alton snoring in some remote room while another had a TV on that no one was watching.
Great Grandma Bert lived through at least four husbands (we lost count) and would always insist on an extra shot in her eggnog and that was after she yelled at any son who would listen to something in the world she wasn't happy about, which grew with age.
While every woman in the family baked something to contribute to the massive pile of food, there always seemed to be at least one white box of Russell Stover Chocolates on the table, the kind that cost about $3 from a nearby drug store and was brought be some lame man in the family who couldn't be bothered to spring for anything else. He figured because he could buy the box with a bow on it (they all included one around holiday time), he was safe from being completely embarrassed. Great Grandma Bert used to take a bite out of one of these highly sugared milk chocolate concoctions and if she didn't like it, she simply put it back in the box, not bothering to hide the indentation her false teeth made in the process.
As kids, our mouths would drop as she proceeded to do this to several pieces of chocolate. As a woman who was born in the 1800s, had thrown one husband out of the house and ran for some political office over the years, she didn't hold back any punches. Catching the glares from her great grandchildren, she'd pipe up and say to us laughing, "if you end up living close to a century old, you can do whatever the hell you want too."
She was always a source of amusement for her grandchildren and great grandchildren although her sons seemed to endure more than laugh, yet they all seemed to respect her strength and persistence despite how difficult she was to manage at times.
Thanksgiving memories included her boldness and directness, a symbolic force in all of our lives proving that even a woman born in the 1800s who was barely 5 feet tall could hold court and utilize her power.
I never got to ask her what the source of her strength was through it all because I was never old enough to understand that a woman had such a thing as a "source" until years later.
I sometimes wonder if she's not flitting around my garden disguised as a bird or perhaps the snarly cat in my neighbor's garden who while gets into night fights from time-to-time, seems to protect the houses in the neighborhood.
From her place of strength came confidence and the gift of the gab, not quiet Gandhi-like solitude. No one in the family seemed to be short on words and not unlike an old fashioned Italian family even though our heritage came from elsewhere, everyone talked and if there was a shy member of the family, I never met them.
If someone became aggravated, annoyed or bored, they'd simply get up from the table and go bark at someone else.
In between all of this chaos was a serious meal: turkey, mashed potatoes with gobs of butter (Aunt Jo made the best of the lot), stuffing, squash, homemade cranberry sauce, pearled onions, glazed carrots, and some thick casserole dish that was loaded with ingredients bound to destroy your arteries, but between the eggnog, chocolate, whiskey and cheese at the onslaught, no one was counting.
And somewhere, somehow between the bickering and the games, we sang. Music was always part of anything we did, whether that meant a family member playing the piano or an old fashioned record we played on a turntable that someone thought was grand enough to warrant repeating every year. Dancing often followed. All of it became a tradition even if it is a blurry mess of one that is hard to piece together it was so long ago.
This concept of tradition was something I took with me as I made my way out into the world even after nearly every family member died, decreasing the pool of gatherings over the years to the fragmented unrecognizable particles they are today.
For those who are still living, they don't unite as one, but as an independent separate families in their own homes. Small and isolated but familiar and safe, forever clinging to something fuzzy off in the distance that may bring them one smile from such a far away time that it now seems like its someone else's dream.
It's one of the experiences in my life that made me appreciate other people's cultures as I made my way around the world. When the Swedes would gather around a Christmas Tree at midnight the day before, and held hands as they circled the large fur, it was merely a Nordic replica of my own family's strangeness of playing particular songs as the tree went up, while men took on one role and woman another.
Children and children's children are often the catalysts that keep traditions alive and when fewer families have them or the great aunts who insisted on keeping traditional gatherings alive have passed, the tradition becomes a mere memory, one that shares little snippets and pieces to someone else in a weird, but sweet kind of way.
Since my family has become a smattering of black and white prints on a refrigerator door, rather than guests at a dinner table, I didn't want the concept of Thanksgiving as I once experienced it to become so blurry that I would forget the taste of that insanely thick casserole dish I can never remember the name of, or the smells of my Aunt Betty's kitchen before we polished off loaves of sweet breads freshly pulled from her 1930's stove.
OR, the wet smell of the orange and red leaves that were days away from being covered by snow. Then there was the taste of the icicle that hung from my Uncle Dick's house, the smell of our car as we drove home with leftovers after a long succulent day and the smell of my aunt's basement as we crawled our way through the dusty and dark nooks and crannies waiting for appetizers to be served.
Later, other marvelous things were added like the pumpkin and blueberry pies I baked, one of which won top prize in the New York State Fair, and my grandmother's unforgettable rice pudding with cloves and cinnamon. Food mattered. Conversation mattered. Games mattered. Bickering mattered. Being real mattered. And, most importantly, showing up mattered.
I'm astounded how many people don't bother with Thanksgiving at all. In the growing melting pot that we live in, it's not surprising. This year, I ended up having a late dinner with six non-Americans kind of by accident.
Family gatherings start early for most traditional American families and dinner is often served between 2 and 6 depending on the culture and part of the country, but rarely later. It was clear that it wasn't a yank who organized the dinner since the dinner reservation was at 7 at an Italian restaurant, one which oddly had a Turkey dinner special in honor of Thanksgiving.
The dressing of course was made with Italian sausage, the cranberry sauce wasn't homemade and there was no squash. My heart stopped a beat when I realized there wouldn't be squash at the table, but it wasn't quite as bad as the stuffed cream puffs that showed up for dessert. I looked around the room and sited families having dinner, and many tables had several looking down at their cell phones rather than talking to the people in front of them. I looked behind me and the cell phones were there too. To my left? Yup. To my right. Heads buried in cell phones everywhere all in lieu of a physical conversation.
The flow of that human connection is suddenly lost and the magic moments that you used to have thousands of are now diminished to perhaps one if you're lucky in an hour sitting.
Later on the train, I checked the news and was sadly reminded of another new American Thanksgiving "tradition": Black Friday, where Americans stand in long lines bundled in warm jackets waiting for a store to open.
This isn't to say that there were not plenty of American families eating dessert at the dinner table together at the same time, but it does mean that millions (not hundreds) forego that experience because "getting a deal before anyone else" has become a higher priority.
With Target and Walmart offering Black Friday deals earlier than ever this year, things got ugly: one man threatened fellow shoppers by pulling a gun while in line, another threatened to stab others waiting in a Kmart line and there was a scuffle that broke out over a cell phone deal at a Walmart.
Let's put this into perspective. Sometime in the 1960s, some brilliant marketing genuis (aka idiot), decided that Black Friday should fall on the day after Thanksgiving, a holiday dedicated to thanks, family and gratitude. Somehow along the way, we traded family reunion for retail, and togetherness and gratitude for spending money.
The term “Black Friday” was originally coined to mark the kickoff to the Christmas shopping season and somehow it has migrated into a kind of madness that derails people away from the core things that Thanksgiving represents, a far cry from how our ancestors celebrated this ancient November feast.
Local boosters in Virginia, Florida, and Texas like others who came off the boat in the 1600's, gave thanks for setting foot again on dry land. Others tout it as the annual celebration to give thanks at the close of the harvest season. How and why did retail take over a holiday focused on family, gratitude and giving?
Traditions are often there to serve as a reminder of what's real and sacred in a culture...in a nation. How did this country become SO far disconnected to what's real and sacred?
While I declined the cream puff whatever they were at the end of my Thanksgiving meal and quietly reflected how foreign the whole evening felt, I realized that 'of course' it would and should feel foreign when I was the only born and bred yank there.
I then smiled at how natural such an occurrence would be in my life having been a global traveler for so many years. It made sense that while the non-Americans at my table now lived in this country, they didn't grow up with a tradition I hold so dear. To them, they didn't know that squash should be on the table, that 7 pm is an odd time for a Thanksgiving meal, and that even if technology could be part of a conversation, that sharing was a very important part of the dinner.
They didn't grow up with this inherent tradition that houses so many beautiful and tragic memories for so many yanks across so many generations. How could they know I thought quietly.
Then I thought about so many Thanksgivings gone right and all the ones that went wrong over the years. What was constant was a bond that brought us closer together year after year.
There's a reason the words "thanks" and "giving" are in the word Thanksgiving. In fact, it's the only holiday we have as Americans that has such precious words, two words that depict the most sacred things we have: humanity.
And yet, the dismissal of this tradition was prevalent in so many ways this year, from the activities the night before, to the barrage of media coverage of Black Friday on the day of, to the next two days with a friend who spent more time on his laptop and cell phone than in a physical conversation, even during a visit from other friends while in the same room. Did we even make eye contact five times in two days?
My point here is not to beat up on my friend's connection to technology - I have my moments...we all do, especially for those of us who live in Silicon Valley. My point is how increasingly common this is becoming among friends and family and more importantly, how little we recognize the fact that this choice values a machine connection over a human connection. It has become so common that we no longer see it as "odd" or "sad" or "disrespectful" or "rude" or "distracted". What this pattern is not is present.
What followed was a failed attempt to share an old fashioned story with my friend. The story is from a record I have from the 1960s, a moment in time so lost that it is hard to find on eBay or other collectable sites today. The tale is told by a little fir tree who is looking for his true purpose in life, a story I carry with me into board rooms and other areas of my life to this day. It is a story that gives me strength.
The gift was lost: not separating from "a machine" for just a few moments in time is in fact a decision to separate from "a human" during those same few moments.
I lived in Amsterdam many years ago, a place I still hold dear to my heart. When I was about to leave the country, my closest friend who was a local, announced that he wanted to throw me a small farewell party at his house. The time of year was between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Before the evening was over, he said it was time for my gift. What followed is one of the most precious gifts I have received to this day.
Hans was a doctor and while he was not a religious man in the 'traditional' sense, he did attend a Russian Orthodox Church where he sang in a choir. He had asked his group to join him in writing lyrics and music dedicated to me and my departure from Holland.
The song was written, the group had rehearsed and then, the voices sang out in four languages while a harp played, and then...the girl cried. She cried from a place of gratitude and "thanks." She cried because it was one of the most "giving" moments she had received in her life. It was a true Thanksgiving moment, one this girl will never forget.
I had wanted to give my friend "a gift of sorts" on that sunny Thanksgiving weekend day. It saddens me to think that technology can control our life so much that we can forego tradition, a childhood memory or the true essence of what a holiday means because of addictive distractions that remove us far away from our center.
I failed to communicate why this Thanksgiving tradition should mean something to all of us and why we should take the time to embrace humanity in honor of it. And so here I am attempting to do so in a blog window while the sound of cat fights echo outside my bedroom window.
As random people were starring down at their cell phones for most of their Thanksgiving dinner the day before, rather into their friend's and family's eyes, I couldn't help but think of all the gifts....all the magical moments they were losing because of it.
What we lose by glazing over tradition and its true meaning is thousands of potential magic moments that bond humans together and form friendships that last a lifetime. By not being present with each other whether its because of Black Friday, laptops and cell phones, the inability to share what is meaningful to us and what we appreciate about each other most, or simply not showing up, we stand to lose the very core of what makes us human.
Photo Credits: Hands: Human Connection Institute, Family shots: Renee Blodgett, Human Circle shot - Theadhikaris and Turkey photo: Stockbyte.
November 07, 2012
Science & Nonduality: Where Data & Consciousness Meet Puppets and Tea
After a few days filling my head for ten hours a day at the Singularity Summit, to then spend a few days filling my head with discussions on nonduality had a weird rewiring effect on my brain. This happens often however given I'm such a sponge for all things 'possible' and both groups believe that all things are possible. One believes that technology will make all possibilities happen and the other is a bridge to "it," but with spirituality leading the way. Sort of.
Nonduality is the philosophical, spiritual, and scientific understanding of non-separation and fundamental intrinsic oneness.
I recently had the opportunity to attend an event that integrates both worlds: the SAND Conference or its longer known name: Science & Nonduality Conference. It's tagline: The Nature of the Self of course.
An annual event stateside and in Europe, it is held in San Rafael California in October and in the Netherlands in May. Nonduality is the main thread throughout however within that eye's view, people from all walks of life come together to discuss 'its' meaning and explore what is emerging in consciousness.
From scientists, philosphers, physicists, spiritual healers, sufi and zen teachers, yogis, and anthropologists, to musicians, artists, film producers, academics and psychotherapists, the conversation is a rich and rewarding one.
I spent ten days or so in Fiji a few years back learning the 'ins and outs' of the "oneness movement" (some people see it as a cult) and in the process, I became certified as an official Deeksha Blessing giver.
What does that mean exactly?
A Deeksha Blessing is a direct transfer of intelligent sacred energy and in this "transfer," people may cry or laugh as their heart opens in small or big ways. Inside this opening, everything from small shifts that can modify the dynamics of a relationship to transformations that can alter lives forever, erupt.
It can also bring about clarity or quiet a busy mind in a similar way that meditation achieves. What it doesn't promise to do, but can do, is open the door to higher states of awareness and initiate awakening...an awakening where there's a feeling of oneness and not a sense of separateness.
Their goal is to raise the level of consciousness globally through a "ripple effect that goes out to all of mankind." My personal experience with it was mixed.
In both giving and receiving a Deeksha Blessing, I did experience higher levels of awareness and it was evident to me at least, that a powerful energy exchange is not only possible, but it can move you into a different state.
In most cases, it's a purer stage of being where your awareness is elevated and your heart is more open. I saw some powerful things happen as a result of this energy exchange over time...in Fiji, and later in the states.
That said, I believe most of our spiritual growth comes from within ourselves, deeksha blessing or not, as powerful as it may be. It happens when we let go of our fears.
A feeling of oneness in its truest sense comes from a place of unconditional love for everyone around us, not just our immediate family. This includes self love, which more people have a hard time with than loving others.
It's also about getting out of our own way and most importantly, letting go. Letting go, silenting the mind and being present is when I go to a higher level of consciousness and the beauty about it, is that its consistent.
When I truly turn off the brain and stop my over processing which I do often (aka a state of being paralyzed by "thought"), then magic begins. This is hard work or so we think it is. That's the paradox. Once we stop fighting our mind's paralyzed state, then things move as smoothly as a light airy tube flows down a river.
Once we are transformed ourselves, we can transform people around us, including the planet.
The cool thing is that while spiritual teachers and philosophers have been writing about the concept of oneness and higher consciousness (and living it) for centuries, western scientists are now arriving at the same conclusion:
"The universe does indeed comprise of a single substance, presumably created during the Big Bang, and all sense of being - consciousness - subsequently arises from it. This realization has ontological implications for humanity: fundamentally we are individual expressions of a single entity, inextricably connected to one another, we are all drops of the same ocean."
Eastern Mysticism is now meeting Quantum Mechanics. If both the left brains and right brains are starting to agree that we're all drops of the same ocean, why is it that we beat ourselves up and continue to live our lives from a place of fear rather than love and acceptance?
Like so many, I'm often hard on myself (note: that's "thought" speaking) and so it was no surprise that I was hard on myself several times throughout the weekend. This was the kind of conference where you 'shouldn't be' hard on yourself, I thought. (there's "thought" speaking again).
Ever have one of those "be damned" conversations inside your head that goes nowhere?
Ginu Yu writes in a blog post on nonduality: "nondualists often resort to the metaphor of a movie that's being projected on an infinite screen. Even though the characters and the scenery appear to be separate and interactive, the only thing that's really real is the white, seamless screen that's accepting the melodramatic and illusory story that's being projected upon it. Nondualists claim that, instead of you being just a small and limited character playing a part in your life's story, that, in truth, you're actually the entire infinite screen itself. From their point of view, you are the very context in which ALL of life itself is showing up in."
There are obviously people playing and working at various levels of consciousness and when you find yourself face-to-face with a really quiet soul, you become even more aware of the chatter going on in your head. This happened to me on a number of occasions at the SAND event including the brief exchange I had with Francis Lucille, an Advaita Vedanta (non-duality) teacher, who was respected by pretty much everyone I spoke to.
Even when we know its absurd to compare our states of being with others around us, it happens. For a moment in time, we return to a high school mentality and create a reality that may or may not be true.
Most of the time, the reality is in our heads and when we create that reality, the world mirrors that reality back to us. And so, suddenly what is a perceived illusion does in fact become a reality of sorts, something we have the power to change instantly...in the moment of "decision."
Rather than be effected by the noise, become the noise, let it diffuse around you as you become 'it' and suddenly the voices of that unremarkable high school playground will eventually disappear.
One of the things I loved about the event was the diversity of minds at the table...when science gets a seat at the spiritual table and both sides can respect each other and move mountains together, then oneness starts to take on a new meaning. It becomes Global. Cultural. Intellectual. Spiritual. Psychological. Scientific. And all of it ends at the same place: nonduality. We are one.
On the path to a so called golden age for humanity like everyone else there, I found beauty, purpose and deeper understanding in the simplest of things.
Although the sessions were led by respected speakers who flew in from around the world, it was the conversations in the hallways that moved me the most, sitting down in a circle, listening, asking questions and then just not doing anything at all. Well, maybe nothing at all over a cuppa tea.
I was taken in on more than one occasion with welcoming smiles by two guys obsessed with tea more than life itself. Almost. There were two round tables set up with short backless chairs surrounding them.
They led tea ceremonies all day, every day and to participate, all you had to do was take a seat at the table. It was called the OmShanTea Lounge.
Sitting was always a treasure because it meant meeting a new soul every time; sometimes it was someone at the middle of his or her journey who was struggling with one thing or another and sometimes it was someone you felt never had to struggle at all. Miraculously, they had arrived on this planet inherently and quietly knowing all the answers by the age of ten.
When we let go of our stories, I find that just when I think I'm the teacher, I'm actually the student and vice versa. More often than not, we are both in every encounter. Awareness of that exchange even if we don't necessarily understand it, is such a beautiful thing. And, the whole conference was a bit like that.
There were too many sessions and speakers to list since the event is four days (and nights) long but you can get a glimpse of this year's schedule here. Topics I expected to see included sessions such as: The Practice of Selflessness, The Self and Non-Duality in Sufism, Closing the Gap Between "I" and my "Self", The Art of Being Present and the Poetry of Infinite Belonging.
But, there were also sessions on health and disease, spiritual ecology and a response to our present ecological crisis, getting the same result through magic mushrooms and meditation, psychedelic research, revealing the self through Kabbalah & Alchemy, theta consciousness and the heart of quantum phsyics. John Hagelin gave an inspiring talk on Higher States: The Neurophysiology of Enlightenment.
A few sessions I missed but would have loved to be sitting front row center for, included the Yin-Yang Theory for Transformation: Applying Feminine and Masculine Principles for Awakening by Mukti, An Integral Approach to Dreams by Fariba Bogzaran & Daniel Deslauriers, Unmani's Unravelling the great pretence of who you think you are and Adyashanti's Mystery of Being.
Since I am so physical and being in a creative state through my body is at my core, my favorite sessions were those which involved elevating 'self' through movement and music. They had daily activities in a space they referred to as the Experiential Room.
Other opportunities included the energy of sound and Shamanic Practice, African drums, TransDance with Heather Munroe Pierce and a very cool session called the Fusion of Opposites in the Circular Portal, a hoop-dance exploration with Stefana Serafina.
I also had a lot of fun meeting (and then kissing) Puppetji, a puppet who enlightens you through simple reminders of what's real, and Meriel Gold's drawing class.
Muriel's drawing class seemed to be popular since it was sold out when I arrived. Graciously, a man gave me his seat and announced he was off to carve pumpkins with a two year old. I didn't know anything about her except that she had an English accent, was from Scottish descent and had that dry sense of humor that only someone who was born there or who has lived there can truly appreciate. I loved her energy immediately.
Scrolls of large paper hung off long wide tables and next to each sitting space was a round block of brown clay, a feather, and a couple utensils that could be used to scatter wet clay or ink on the paper.
Since I had no idea what I was getting myself into, I didn't realize until after I soaked my hands in water and bathed them with clay, that I'd be drawing nudes, but without my eyes. Well, sort of.
Her intention was for us to draw with our hands while feeling what we saw rather than putting 'thought' into what we saw. As my creative busy brain started to take over, Muriel came straight for me, grabbed my hands and softened them over the paper as they were but an airbrush and the paper was but a cloud.
Alas, I "get it" Muriel, I "get it." Pure, simple, musical and divine, my hands don't want to think as much as my brain doesn't want to really think. "Thought" so often gets in the way of us doing our best work....our most divine work.
I didn't want to leave the room but eventually afternoon turned into evening and I found myself covered in wet clay from head to toe. Little did I know that I'd still find clay stains on my body and clothes days later even after showers and laundry.
Senegalese musician Youssoupha Sidibe is a Kora player who performed for us. His music fuses traditional West African sounds on the Kora, with the Sufi devotional chanting of the Senegalese Baay Faal community. (see video)
Films also played throughout the conference including Kumare, Neti Neti, Nataraja (The Dance of Life), The Unknowable Reality of Things, and others.
Maurizio and Zaya Benazzo produce and run the conference and being around them is pure joy. If you have an opportunity to attend one of their events, I'd strongly recommend it.
If you want to transform your life, engage with some of the world's leading thinkers and nondoers in the world of consciousness and join a community that bridges the best of the spiritual world with the best of the scientific world, SAND is an incredible journey.
Besides, where else do you have an opportunity to sip transformative tea, kiss a puppet guru, meditate, do yoga, and African dance in the same morning? OR, watch spiritual films, finger paint and grow from some of the most respected spiritual and scientific leaders today in the same afternoon?
Thank you to Maurizio and Zaya for an opportunity to spend time with so many beautiful souls, Ginu Yu who introduced me to their world and Nick Day for his patience and support while I went off target, back on target and then off target again.
We are all on our own journey. It's important to recognize this and move the needle forward one step at a time until we are free from the thought (and thoughts) that bind us from living a remarkable life every minute of the day.
Photo credits in order of apperance, IAwakeBlog, HolyBooks, BeforeGlow, Unknown, Unknown, Renee Blodgett (Francis shot), Lands of Wisdom and Renee Blodgett. For more on spirituality on WBTW, go here. Read my latest tweets @magicsaucemedia and @weblogtheworld.
March 19, 2012
Austin's Scene & #SXSW in a Nutshell: My Summary of Sorts...
SXSW aka South-by-Southwest, the event that takes a week of my time every year in Austin, Texas, seems to get bigger and bigger every March, not to mention more global.
Refer to my blog write-up on its international diversity here.
For example, Ireland had the most number of start-ups they've ever had at SXSW (30 in total representing film and interactive).
Also in my international blog post, I covered the sheer volume of brands who had tents (Nokia, Microsoft and others), threw parties (HP, Pepsico and others...I lost track) or carted folks around town (Chevy).
On the interactive side, there was so much activity between the dozens and dozens of panels to the after parties, all of which I couldn't keep up with despite my social media apps buzzing me every ten seconds to tell me what was happening and where. Foursquare remained a popular app for check-ins and to see where your buds were - that said, the private parties were off the grid and frankly, had to be, for the intimacy of the "old SXSW" to prevail, a necessary for those of us who have been going for a decade (or more).
Speaking of Foursquare, they had a private bash where the security was so intense that a friend of mine got 'bounced' before he even made it up the stairs despite the fact that he was buds with 80% of the attendees. "Kids" (early 20-something year old geeks, marketers and wanna-bes) seemed to be clamoring to get elbow time with Dennis Crowley and get into events like this all over town and frankly, it was just not worth the fight, even the ones where I was on the VIP list, because VIP list or not, the lines and wall-to-wall rooms were still maddening.
Some late nights, I retreated to The Driskell which has become a little too crowded as well, but at the very least, you're likely to run into some industry buds who are more in the mood for a quiet drink amidst moose and deer on the wall and antiquated brass and iron statues that mesh the culture of Texas with England somewhere along the way.
The below was taken on my iPhone at some random 3 am hour in the Driskell lobby.
Other nights, after the official invitations of music, film and interactive wore me out, taking in a dive bar where you could take in some off-the-beaten path music was the way to go.
TED decided to have a 'showing' at SXSW this year (aka TED@SXSW) and blocked off a couple of hours two evenings in a row for speakers in a private room at The Driskell. The line-up included folks like TED Fellow Jose Gomez-Marquez, JP Rangaswami, Ayah Bdeir, Paul D. Miller (DJ Spooky), Ping Fu, Baratunde Thurston (who always has me in stiches), Steve Daniels and others.
Film...so many great ones! I wrote about a number of them earlier in the week, which you can scroll through in the Arts/Austin section here. So many worth listing but since I tend to cover things from a global and international perspective, a few call-outs worth noting include: Sunset Strip, The Taiwan Oyster, Bay of All Saints, Eden, The Black Balloon, Trash Dance, Wonder Women and a handful of others. (see the list of winners for 2012 here). Also see our Scottish Films overview here and Israel at SXSW here.
Songster from Mowgli, the first music-creation social fame on Facebook launched at SXSW this year. CEO Marshall Seese, Jr. came to the table with a recording artist background and says their design is with "everyone’s inner rockstar in mind."
Players follow the compelling storyline of a fledging musician working their way up through the ranks of the music industry. From playing gigs at frat houses and proms, to launching a worldwide arena tour, players can make great music, while allowing their creativity to take them through all levels of the game.
I tweeted up a storm about the on-stage love for Google+ with Vic Gundotra, which was more of an informercial than it was a fireside chat. If he used the word "amazing" one more time, I thought, even the newbies who are eating this up, would have to see through Google's sugar coating. Hey, I'm a Google+ user, not a prolific one, but I'm on the system and giving them tons of my data and creative energy just like I am to Facebook without a whole lotta benefit (yet).
I'm not saying what they're trying to do isn't useful or great online canvas for photographers to share their work or industry celebs like Guy Kawasaki and Robert Scoble to up their social status without even trying to, but for mainstream folks, it's just not there yet. (not in this cats humble opinion anyway). Just saying - I had enuf with "amazing this and amazing that" after the first 15 minutes.
Kelly Carlin performed again in a breakout room in the main convention hall and although I've seen her before and like her energy (I totally resonated with the 1970s family TV and dysfunctional family of the 1960s jokes), there was something that put me off slightly about her stint and I couldn't figure it out until near the end.
For those of you who don't know the Carlin name, she's the daughter of iconoclastic comedian George Carlin. As a one woman show, she uses storytelling, classic video footage, and family memorabilia, to chronicle over forty years of her life with her famous father.
While she's amusing and gives us countless insights into George, it f-g feels like its all about George. I'm thinking as someone who's only slightly younger than Kelly and had a lot of the same reference points, what about YOU? I'd love to hear more about YOU!
I walked away still not knowing and it was the second time I saw her perform. I just felt that using her dad as a vehicle for her 'show' and 'persona' may have perhaps run its course and what I really wanted to hear was her voice without Dad in the background (or at the very least so prevalent) so I could better learn who SHE was as an artist and more importantly, as a person.
Who didn't have an event? On the music front, B and C listers were all there, Bruce was there, Gary Vee called all wine afficiandos to a so called 'private' venue immediately next to another so called 'private' party I was at and the line was ten miles long by the time I walked outside. Really? Is that really the way to engage with folks? A great way to get SXSW publicity so from that perspective, stints like that really work, but they're far from "real" or intimate. I just wanted to say 'hey' without a thousand pushes and shoves. For the record.
The XPrize folks also held an event and it was invite only and really felt like "invite only." Not a publicity 'stunt' in any way, everyone I met was top notch and showed up because they had a vested interest or cared about the kinds of things they cared about. Quality conversations where people weren't looking at their watch or Foursquare check-ins to see where the coolest cats were hanging next next. A welcome relief.
If you're not famliar with their work, go here: their mission is to bring about radical breakthroughs for the benefit of humanity. Below, an XPrize team shot: (I love these guys and btw, Peter Diamandis has a new book out entitled Abundance).
My favorite part of SXSW of course is the randomness of meetings at film and music more than interactive, for at the former, there still seems to be more spontenaity, largely I think because of mutual passions rather than a race for check-ins or being 'seen' at the right party and telling the whole world about it on Foursquare, Facebook, Google+, Twitter, yadda yadda yadda.
I'm not saying that politics and social klout doesn't run rampant in the film and music world, but passion for the 'art' still stands tall.....maybe not dominant in Hollywood, but at SXSW.
As for the social bit...of course I tweet at these events. I'm in the biz - who doesn't, but the feeds at SXSW are so much about where I'm at and who I'm hanging out with than providing value. It's hard to tell the difference anymore, and sometimes I even get confused by why I do what I do on social media even when my intensions are pure. The addictive nature of it all just 'ain't all that healthy' in my opinion. I have talked about this before but can't emphasize it enough.
The blogger lounge is on the top floor where it always is, around the corner from the press lounge, which had massages this year. The blogger lounge has occasional 'acts' and social media gurus of sorts popping in and out. (a little red badge gets you into it if you're a blogger).
This was more of a 'center' in previous years, but today, less so. It doesn't mean you can't still show up and meet up with old buds, converse with folks in the biz you haven't seen in awhile or folks you still haven't met, but things are so spread out and there's so much 'more' grabbing our attention that "hanging out" in the blogger lounge seem to be few and far between.
Below: Renee Blodgett, Angel Djambazov, Liz Strauss, Hugh MacLeod
Then there are a hundred or so other folks I'll keep under the radar, except for of course Jeff Pulver & crew who co-hosted a great 140Conf party (if you haven't been to their events, check 'em out), with the textPlus folks. (never enuf time Mademoiselle Heather Meeker).
Below is a snap from the Nokia Innovation Lab, a massive tent set up a few blocks from the convention center, that housed more than fake snow as you entered.
While travel wasn't a big representation at SXSW and I was struggling to find serious foodies, some of the usual suspects were hanging about. American Airlines had a down-to-earth event with fabulous peeps (closer to town or IN town next time PLEASE :-).
To the left (lighting wasn't great) is American's head of Mobile products Phil Easter talking about their latest and demoing some nifty stuff on an iPad that we can't quite talk about yet. Exciting stuff! Other call-outs worth mentioning are Stacey Frantz (corp comm), Dawn Turner (Entertainment Marketing), and Jonathan Pierce & Jon Bird (social media & video), among a handful of others.
The photo to the right has a combination of woven yarn, paint, and wire among other materials.
While the booth was creative and the Canadians fed us French toast, strawberries and homemade maple syrup, the Irish shamrock tattoos that Enterprise Ireland dished out had to be my favorite giveaway. (Sure, I'm biased but it's the truth). A lot more fun than pens, pads, stickers, drives and balloons.
The Cool Sculping guys who were parading around town for days, tried to demonstrate that 'getting naked' can be a positive thing if you own one of their "suits."
The below very 'blurry" image of pianist Eric Lewis, a favorite 'musical' experience by TEDsters who saw him perform a few years back in Long Beach, was taken at a Mashery Party at Sandra Bullock's Austin restaurant. The "blurr" gives you an idea of his energy and personality, therefore is untouched. It's "Eric" in every way. The party was of the classier events held at SXSW this year. Well done Oren!
As always, Blumberg Capital held an incredible meet-up for their start-up companies & friends. Flow, drinks, conversation, networking was top notch. Well done to David and his team.
The below is a l'il local bar and street scene music action, albeit blurry...blurry is in some ways more 'suitable' for SXSW, despite the fact that I had my Canon 7D and 2 good lenses with me.
Two fun 'street scenes' very late at night. Or morning. Or whatever.
There was also an interesting demo on the show floor of Vinyl Recorder T-560 -- analog stereo recording on 5", 7", 10" and 12". A pricey option but for serious audiofiles, an option? The 7-560 starter set includes a stereo clutterhead fuse, heated diamond stylus, 19" main unit with RIAA encoder, groove controller and stylus heating regulation mono microscope, a lamp and all cables and adapters. The price? E3,200 (yes, that's Euros).
The week can be a bit exhausting (okay, very) even when you're not trying to race from event to event. Below is a taste of just a day and a half and a few of these bands fell off. And, all the film stuff was equally thick hanging around my neck.
As a complete aside and for kicks, refer to my insanely hard-to-follow post on "how to stay healthy" in Austin during SXSW if you have the strength to avoid all the free beer and Texas ribs.
March 19, 2012 in America The Free, Arts & Creative Stuff, Books, Client Announcements, Conference Highlights, Events, On Blogging, On Innovation, On People & Life, On Science, On Spirituality, On Technology, Reflections, Social Media, WBTW, Web 2.0 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack
December 28, 2011
If You Only Had One New Years Resolution....
If you only had one New Year's resolution, it might be to recognize where this statement applies and do something about it. I'm sure it will lead to countless things you cannot even imagine until you start writing them down.
"Iron rusts from disuse; water loses its purity from stagnation.
So does inaction sap vigor from the mind."
-- Leonardo da Vinci.
AND I'd add to this....it also saps vigor from your life.
December 19, 2011
Steve Jobs Life Lessons: How Do They Play Out In Your Own Life?
The 600 page Steve Jobs biography by Walter Isaacson isn't one I've picked up yet but Lance Ulanoff recently finished it and wrote a piece on Mashable about lessons learned -- aka insights -- from the man who was mysterious to so many of us, being described as creative, driven, intense, mean, focused, innovative, entrepreneurial, masterful, and a genius.
He has been ranked up there with Einstein and by others who are either bitter, anti-Apple or who worked with him and just didn't like the man, as lucky albeit smart.
Below is the list of so called lessons gleaned however for Lance's take aways, read the original blog post, which also includes a page of fabulous inspirational quotes, one of which includes this reminder, "don't settle." I think about that phrase today more than ever.
As we get older, we realize that we have less time to "settle" and live an extraordinary life. When we're really young, even if we subscribe to living a life far beyond "settling," we don't have the wisdom or years behind us to know how fast the decades march on. We often live in the moment which is a beautiful place to live, yet the perspective of time has little meaning.
Next to each lesson learned below, are my own reflections and experiences of working in the technology industry, many of which reflect back to Steve's decisions and mindset. Also refer to my "so long Steve Jobs" blog write-up here,
One of the most frustrating things I deal with in working with start-ups with small budgets is how many compromises need to be made on a consistent basis. It has also made me and the entrepreneurs I work with learn how to become more resourceful along the way. That said, I think about the "one chance to get it right" more often than not and this means stepping up to the plate. Work the long hours, hire the right people, don't undervalue marketing or positioning, get the product out there before your competitor jumps ahead of you...the industry just moves too fast.
Make Your Own Reality
My take away from this is connected to "not settling." It's also about building a better life by not accepting the reality you've been given, for you almost always have the power to change a current reality. Sure, you can come up with every excuse in the book: I don't have the money, I don't have the access, I don't have the education, I don't have the resources, yet Gandhi didn't let don'ts, even if they were different ones, get in the way of his success. Steve Jobs didn't either. I say this to teenagers whenever I get the chance: Don't let someone else write your life story or dictate how the chapters should unravel. This one still keeps me up at night sometimes.
Control Everything You Can
This is counter to so much of what the social media afficiandos and purists believe, which is centered around collaboration and giving up control. The latter is also something I see as a new "American" behavior even outside the technology industry where parenting is often about collaborating with your kids rather than disciplining them.
Control helps keep things on target, your vision in tact and products on schedule but it also can result in alienating people around you, not allowing others' creativity to flourish and the inevitable...once you're out of the way, what happens to the company and its products?
Control can deliver great things - look at Picasso's paintings and Steve's iPhone. Yet, those I talk to give Apple three years with Steve gone. I'm not sure that I agree, but you get the idea.
Own Your Mistakes
This is probably one of the hardest things to do, particurly when a bad decision negatively impacts a large group of people. But it's also PR 101: when you do a "dirty," whether it was intentional or not, own it, apologize, commit to fixing it and move on. If Clinton had done that earlier and embraced his actions from a place of leadership, perhaps we wouldn't have spent so many cycles focused on blowjobs more than the state of our economy. Europe trivialized it and we behaved like high school children, including "some media."
I love this one. Sometimes we know ourselves but don't "give" ourselves what we need and so I'd add to know thyself, trust thyself. One of my favorite quotes and it isn't a Steve Jobs one: Just trust yourself, then you will know how to live. -Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.
Leave the Door Open for the Fantastic
Is it fantastic or is it outstanding? I prefer the latter because it takes us beyond fantastic. Fantastic is an experience, which Steve Jobs certainly created for us again and again, but outstanding is a way of living, a way of being.
Don’t Hold Back
Ahhh, is this one of the reasons I love Italian culture so much? Or why people like Steven Spielberg awes us time and time again? Don't just give it to them baby, but give all of it to them. As big, as great, as dynamic and as extraordinary as you can.
Surround Yourself with Brilliance
This is a general lesson for great leadership. Outstanding leaders do this time and time again. Choosing and "curating" the right team for a project is a skill of a master. And, rather than be afraid that who you surround yourself may just be more brilliant than you, you embrace it.
Build a Team of A Players
Ahhh, mediocrity. There's nothing that drives me crazier than mediocrity, particularly in business. And "real" A players I'd argue don't waste time trying to convince you that they're A players; they just execute.
Sure, this largely applies to person-to-person contact, whether it's about managing your team or being ethical with your board and calling the right shots. That said, when I see this statement today, I think about truly being yourself amidst a world of cluttered voices on the web.
When I see a tweet, I think "are they doing this as a way to game the system and up their Klout score aka "perceived influence" or are they doing it from a centered, balanced place? aka "this is who I really am and what I really think".
Or, are they trying to deliver an aura or image of what they think is respected by their peers, some of whom haven't been behaving so well lately?
Scrambling to get respect from the gate keepers is all around us and some of the conversations I'm hearing and part of behind closed doors is astounding.
I think to myself again and again, "are we really having this conversation? Is sucking up to X or Y influencer while burying who you really are worth it? It's a game not worth playing because it's a life not worth living. And, yet it's happening all around us. In politics. In technology. In life.
There are some people who you would build a moon for even if 1,000 people in a row told you a moon couldn't be built. Steve Jobs had that gift which resulted in outstanding products that changed the way we live our lives. Richard Saul Wurman had that gift when he developed the TED Conference concept. Tony Robbins has that gift when he stands in front of thousands of people. Obama has that gift through his calm and articulate embodiment. Being persuasive by being "real" and "intentional" is the most powerful gift you can give.
Show Others the Way
We all need mentors whether we think we do or not. Sometimes we're the teacher, sometimes the student and sometimes when we think we're the teacher, we end up being the student. I would add to this that the real talent in showing others the way is finding out how people learn and showing them the way in their modality or language. Some teachers only know how to teach from their own modality which leaves a huge percentage of people either bored, pissed off or simply confused.
While it may seem like an awkward aside to raise here, it feels right as I write this. I wish women would stand up for women in business more than they do. I know a lot of incredible women who help, inspire, nurture, fund, and more, however what I haven't personally experienced is women taking risks to help pave the other for others in their peer group. (risking a powerful relationship behind closed doors by speaking up or making things right, speaking up publicly or simply taking the time to encourage in a deep and meaningful way).
By the latter, I don't mean sharing. As women, we do this well. We listen, we share and show our girlfriends we "understand them."
I get some of the reasoning behind why we say no: we're already overspent and don't have the time or energy, we want to reserve that energy for children and family when we're already doing so much, we don't want to risk tampering with a connection that has been instrumental in getting us to our current positions because quite simply, it ain't an easy compromising ride to get there. And so on. That said, the majority of people who have "shown me the way," have been men.
Trust Your Instincts
Steve Jobs was a master at this and most great leaders are too. Women btw are really good at this in their personal lives and we need to know that its an incredibly rich asset in our professional lives too. The best leaders are strong enough to go to a place of solitude when the noise of external voices telling them what to do becomes so loud that they can no longer hear their inner voice. Our inner voices always lead the way.
Silicon Valley is great at taking risks and it all started with the guys at the forefront, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak being instrumental in the early days. One of the things I see with companies outside the U.S. is that risk taking is less embraced because it's not part of their culture.
There are always exceptions of course: great products are great products, and great leaders are great leaders. That said, I have seen hesitation and uncertainty first hand in working with start-ups and entrepreneurs now from France, Scotland, Belgium, South Africa, Australia, Ireland, Canada, England and others. If you truly believe in something, there's no room for fear and doubt. Trust, believe and take the risk because if you don't, someone else most certainly will.
Follow Great with Great
When I read this, I thought of what those who have been to the top know all too well, "you're only as great as what you've done lately." That said, there are entrepreneurs in the Valley and elsewhere who had a successful exit and never "created" anything else. Yet, they're still part of the conversation, at all the VIP dinners and are even funding other startups because they have the money to do so.
You know the drill: you get access when you have one of the following: power (connections to people or things other people need), money (you can buy that access), position (you hold a title at a major company or in government and can use your influence to help), in the inner circle (are part of a prestigious family, went to college with or are buddies with someone of influence and so the latter three are automatically waived).
What's truly remarkable is when none of those things matter, you push them all aside (or simply ignore them) and just consistently keep building great things that benefit people. Steve Jobs showed that he was capable of that with the iPod, iPhone, iPad and Pixar. Other "greats" do the same.
Make Tough Decisions
Tough decisions often make you unlikeable, at least to one group or person. I had a reflective conversation in a long cab ride recently with someone who worked with Steve Jobs in the very early days. He attended a small gathering of like-folks after his death somewhere in Silicon Valley.
A question was presented to another person in the group who also worked with him: did she "like" him?The response was one of silence and no one said a word. A lot of people didn't like him. A lot of people didn't like Picasso.
I'm not suggesting being an asshole is a formula for success but some great leaders who are also artists are often unliked. Steve Jobs was an artist and while he was unliked by many, he was also a visionary who created great things, including inspiration for others to find their own genius inside of them. A gift. Making tough decisions is part of that gift.
Presentation Can Make a World of Difference
It's amazing how many people still rely on traditional Powerpoint slides for presentations. Boring ones. Frankly, I hate speaking in front of large groups and feel "more secure" about my delivery when I use visual aids. Quite simply, its a crutch that helps us move the presentation along when what we should be doing is telling a story from our heart and life experiences that educate, inspire and ultimately move people to action in some way.
Some of the greatest TED talks have used some visual aids, even a slide or two, but 80% of their presentation is about flow and about story. If storytelling isn't the essence of what you deliver, then it most likely isn't an outstanding presentation.
Find a Way to Balance Your Intensity
I would add to this since balancing your intensity isn't the whole picture; balancing your life is what you need so you don't burn out and can find peace with what you signed up, aka your career. If you're not working part-time or gave up a job to raise a family, you're probably spending more time in your work life than any other thing you do. Striking a balance is critical to sustaining happiness and peace with that decision. Life is a long road. Balance sets you free.
Live for Today
Steve Jobs was much more able to go to that place after he learned about his terminal illness. While intellectually we know that we should live for today even when things are going our way, very few people do.
Isn't living for today just another way of saying "be present"? And yet, even if we've hung out in Buddhist temples, spend quiet time on yoga and meditation mats, it's hard to live a very present life all the time. Our brains aren't wired that way. At the core of our decision making, even important ones is our lizard brain, a pretty unevolved part of our bodies. Refer to my post on Linchpins, lizard brains & getting uncomfortable.
While there are people who share their wisdom and bring others up with them as they themselves rise to the top, I see sharing explode when people hit their forties, whether or not they have children. Something happens when you've reached a certain plateau -- call it wisdom, call it inner peace -- where the race no longer matters. Sharing matters more and for some, it's the only thing that matters.
For the original once again, go here as it was my inspiration for this variation...
September 21, 2011
How We Need to Teach Our Daughters and Sons to Think & BE
A man who views her as property-and a man who views her properly. A man who lusts after her-and a man who loves her. A man who believes he is God's gift to women-and a man who remembers a woman was God's gift to man. And then teach our boys to be that kind of a man."
The above was posted by a friend of a close friend. Thought it was "spot on" and wanted to share.