Monday, November 23, 2009

Life is Precious

"Everything is a gift of the universe" - Precious

"Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way" - Viktor Frankl

A client emailed the other day asking if I'd write a piece for Thanksgiving, to which I replied that anything I'd imagine to say would likely be either redundant or cliché. The lessons of the season are all around us... lessons of which we are all well aware.

As I returned home from the theater last night, however, it occurred to me that while not an original thought, I might shine a light on a shared wisdom we too often forget...

...and that is how blessed we all are. Not sometimes, not occasionally. But all the time. Even in our darkest, most terrible moments.

As many of you know, the movie Precious is an agonizing tale of a young woman's journey through a hell that most of us cannot even begin to imagine. While a work of fiction, the story is an all-too-real life reflection of what goes on behind so many closed doors.

Still, it was a sense of awe rather than despair that stayed with me during and after the film. Here was a young woman determined to push forward, finding and holding to a sense of hope in spite of a complete lack of it in the lives, hearts and minds of so many around her.

There is similar inspiration in Viktor Frankl's "Man's Search for Meaning", the true story of a man who found a way, against all odds, to hold fast to a sense of purpose in the worst of human trials. That meaning- hope and faith in the world and his place in it- allowed him to stay both alive and optimistic while so many perished around him in the concentration camps (including his wife and children).

While these stories are certainly inspiring, more important is the reminder of perspective. How quickly our mountains of pain become molehills when we are faced with true human suffering...

And yet, even in suffering- indeed, in every moment- we have a choice. At every turn, we can throw open the gates of our hearts, or lock them tight and throw away the key. Daily, it is up to us and us alone whether to look up and shout with all our might “YES!”, or to bow our backs and heads in a silent scream of 'no'...

For the chance to walk into another holiday season celebrating and embracing all that is and will come, saying yes to and learning from it all, I am truly grateful.

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Monday, November 16, 2009

Slow Down

I'm very lucky. Out of my coaching studio window there is a sweeping view of the Hudson River and Riverside Park. I don't take it for granted, and often find myself gazing out at the changing sky and shifting waters during the course of a day. The impact on my clients' spirits and performance is marked as well; I and whoever has the 5, 6, 7 or 8pm slot- depending on the season- often pause to watch the sunset, grateful for and rejuvenated by the seconds of stillness and beauty.

I don't catch the sunrise as often as the set, but this morning, I was up and here as the day started to break. I rushed about, putting on a pot of coffee, turning off all the lights, and setting up my front-row, windowsill seat to catch the show, desperate not to miss a single moment.

And then time stopped.

Unlike so much in our modern lives, the sunrise- and indeed all of nature- is a molasses-slow show whose every moment is filled with more sensory information and nuance than what most of us consciously pay attention to in an entire day. The rapid-fire rate of television, internet, and radio programming are both cause and reflection of the manufactured pace of today's world, in which our mind and body clocks have been reset to permanent 'fast-forward'. Expecting and processing everything faster, faster, faster- and multi-tasking all the while- we feel more productive. We're living more, doing more, becoming more in the 'newer, faster, better' model. Chant with him now, the grand poo-bah of the speed-madness parade himself, Kanye West: "Work it harder! Make it better! Do it faster! Makes us stronger!"

But faster, faster, faster doesn't make us better or stronger. It makes us stressed out and stretched thin, less effective and disconnected.

I was rushing to catch the sunrise, racing about to 'get there in time', anxiously trying to get into the best possible position to see all that I could... only to be reminded that my gerbil-on-a-wheel act needed to stop before the show- and life- could really start.

An hour later, I was still there in the window, mind, body, and spirit mesmerized by the soaring birds, their changing tune, the shifting colors and dancing clouds. Focusing on nature, I was transported back to the rhythm of the earth... the natural and intended rhythm of life.

When the show was over, at that turtle-slow pace I started my morning, and have accomplished more already- creatively, peacefully, and powerfully- than I would normally in an entire day.

When was the last time your mind stilled, and you focused on one thing? Try it, and you'll be introduced to one of modern life's greatest ironies: doing so will make you more productive and efficient. What a novel idea... by quieting the mind, removing distractions, and releasing resistance, the entire world- and every possibility in it- becomes 'immediately' accessible.

Slow down, people. Slow down.

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Sunday, November 1, 2009

Lessons from a Marathon

I set out this morning for my daily walk in Riverside Park. As often is the case, I ended up meandering off my intended path, happily adrift in my thoughts.

Fortunately, you're never really lost in New York... all roads lead to somewhere interesting, and you generally return home better for the unexpected places you've been. The same is certainly true of life.

After picking up a bagel (I often get hungry during my wanderings), I strolled over to Central Park, where I found myself in the midst of the NYC marathon. I arrived just in time to watch the leaders in the wheelchair/handcycle division cross the finish line. To see men and women who've lost their legs or the ability to use them completing a 26-mile race is something I'll never forget. Neither will I forget the beauty on the faces and in the voices of those lining the course... people cheering on complete strangers as if they were family.

After a time, I started walking uptown through the park, pondering what I'd just experienced. The runners were coming soon, and I was eager to find a good spot to watch Paula Radcliffe pass by.

The sound of whistles and yells brought me back into the moment, and I glanced up to see, off in the distance, two racing cyclists coming down the street. As I was trying to figure out what they were doing on the course, my heart leapt in recognition as my mind put together the pieces in instant slow-motion:

...the cyclists were slightly ahead of and on either side of a handcyclist... the handcyclist was wearing sunglasses... the cyclists had whistles in their mouths... at each bend in the road, one would blast out a signal...

The man competing in the race, who had no legs, was also blind.

Just when I thought the day couldn't be any more inspiring, I was given one of the most powerful gifts I've ever received. Here was a man, who looked to be in his late 40s, without legs, without sight, racing in the one of the greatest, most challenging marathons in the world.

At that moment, I made three vows to myself: to never take a single moment for granted, to never forget how blessed I am, and to never complain about anything... ever, ever again.

I did see Paula Radcliffe run by, as well as the man and woman who ended up taking first place in the marathon. It was indeed a sight to behold. But for me, there was no competition... the real winner had already crossed the finish line.

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