Can I choose a nicer feeling?

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If I was not worried about this situation, but felt calm and positive about it – would that change anything for me?

This last week I have been trying a little bit extra to focus on my everyday fear. I always say that all emotions come from either fear or love. As if irritation, worry, anger, anxiety or frustration have their roots in a place of fear, while harmony, happiness, contentment and hope have their roots in a place of love. Like a “fear mode” and a “love mode”.

It’s natural for us to look for dangers all the time, since that’s more crucial for our survival than signs of kindness or love. We have done that for so many years that it has become the first hand choice for our subconscious – to choose an emotion coming from fear rather than considering one from love.

I therefore have to make a conscious effort to first realize that what I’m feeling is coming from fear.
“I’m worried.”
Then I have to ask myself what it would feel like if I picked a feeling coming from love, calmness for example.
“That would be much nicer and I would be much more relaxed”.
So I continue and ask myself if something in reality would change if I choose to focus more on being calm than worried.
“Maybe I would make decision that are better for everyone involved. I would probably be more creative. And perhaps more fun to be around!”
Do I have anything to earn from continuing being worried?
“No, I just don’t want to be naïve, but I can’t actually see that things could change for the worse if I changed the roots of this emotion from fear to love.”

Piece of cake? Not exactly. But interesting and a good way of growing and developing.

If you want to try you don’t have to start with the big fears in your life. Start with a little useless negativity that you have in your mind or body right now.

 Are you irritated, frustrated, bitter or low about something or someone particular today?
 What if you were not?
 What positive emotion could you choose instead?
 Would that be nicer? Want to give it a try?

Write a little note or place something symbolic on your desk (I have my symbolic bracelet that reminds me of today’s challenge!) or set the alarm and think about the situation and your feelings from the “love place” as many times as possible today.

Everybody just wants to be happy.

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When I read the news about all the horrible things people do to each other, I often thing about Dalai Lama talking about happiness. “Everybody just wants to be happy”, he says. The problem is that we don’t know what makes us happy.

Isn’t that weird!? We learn so much in school, at college and at work; math, grammar, history, science etcetera, but we never really learn how to be happy.

A man who kills hundreds of people in the name of a god or an organization – did he do that to be happier? Well, maybe he was not in a good, harmonious and balanced mood, feeling loved and prosperous. Maybe he felt that if he did something that counted, others would praise him and see him as a hero. Unconsciously, being seen as a hero, might be something that feels closer to happiness than anything else in his life? The girl who makes up rumors about another girl in class. Isn’t she mean and evil? Well, maybe she is afraid that nobody likes her as she really is, and – once again unconsciously – if she can make her friends dislike another girl, they might not dislike her as much. Not really happiness, but a step away from the frightening unhappiness.

I don’t say that Dalai Lama is right about this, but I often think about it and it gives me a kind of explanation to the seemingly irrational behaviors of some people. So we come back to the weirdness of not knowing what makes us happy. Do you know what makes you happy?

Part of the answer might be easy, like; being with my friends and family, sunshine, a cinnamon roll and a cup of tea, a job that I like, good health. But if we dig a little bit deeper? When you are being bullied at you job, your best friend doesn’t invite you to a party or you get sick? When you are angry, sad or humiliated? Then what makes you happy? Maybe just to ask yourself what will make you happy implies that you are not happy right now, and that thought (the acceptance of being miserable) might be worse than pretending that all is fine. And maybe all will be much better if those horrible people over there were to blame?

I don’t have a quick fix solution to instant happiness, but I once in a while try to sit down and seriously ask myself what I really want, what really would make me happier in the present situation.

But my key point today, is not so much about my or your happiness, but to consider how everyone else is fighting for happiness, even when it looks just the opposite to us. In what way is that person trying to be happier? That is an interesting and valuable way of personal development I think.

Stop. Breathe. Notice.

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This is one of my favorite exercises to make myself more mindful in my everyday life.

I might sit in my office about to write a blog post, when I simply stop what I’m doing for a moment, I look outside the window and take a breath. Then I just notice whatever I see. Today the sun falls nicely on the leaves of the green bush outside, while the leaves of the tree behind gently play in the wind. It’s surprisingly beautiful!

But I’m always surprised by the beauty of what I see when I just suddenly focus on something ordinary surrounding me. I think it’s the breathing that makes me notice what I actually see. So often I look out the window but I don’t really see anything in particular. To stop, breathe and then just notice what you see, not judging or starting a long chain of associations, but just noticing makes your pulse slow down and the stress hormones in your body decrease instantly. I also feel that it makes me happier. Most of my thoughts are about memories from the past or worries or planning for the future. Very little of my time I actually spend in reality – here and now. To just be and enjoy the very simple thinks in front of my eyes makes me appreciate my life more.

And it’s such a good thing to do when you’re waiting; in the line at the grocery store, in the street waiting for green light, on the doorstep waiting for your teenage daughter to finish her make-up or in front of the wakening computer. Waiting is usually boring and useless, but if you train your mind to notice the things around you – “she has a green hat”, “the shadow is very long”, “all but one person here are wearing sneakers” etcetera – the waiting will suddenly be a little pleasant reality check. Try not to go on about how ugly the green hat is or how cold it is in the shadow – simply notice what it looks like. I promise you that you will like this exercise!

Do you know the teenager language?

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(The teenager on this picture is not my child)

The other day a mother in my daughter’s school asked me in what grade she is. When I answered that she’s in grade 9, she looked at me full of empathy and said: “So you’re a 9-grader. That’s hard.” At first I didn’t understand what she meant, but then I realized that having children in different ages also means that you have to adjust your parenting to their level. Having a teenager means that a part of you is also going through that stage. Grade 9 was not one of my favorite grades …

In his book Almost Cool, Tim Smith writes that we should think about teenagers as foreigners. They have a different language, different culture and different habits. Of course! Why have I not thought about it that way before!? When moving to Turkey I understood even before I went there that I had to learn some basic Turkish and I struggled with the peculiar words and grammar. Once there I had to cope, understand and adopt to different ways of doing things the Turkish way. Gradually it went better and better and the more I was able to communicate the more I could enjoy meeting people, finding out how to solve everyday problems and make myself a good life in this new country. Then I moved to China. All over again! But it’s obvious to everyone that we have to learn the basic language and culture if we want to communicate and understand those who are foreign to us. Why aren’t there language courses in Teenagerish?

Below are some “translations” from Tim Smith’s book Almost Cool.

The way many adults tend to communicate The way most teenagers tend to communicate
By using reason, logic, one topic at a time. Stream of conciousness, easily switching between topics.
To solve problems, get results, change behaviour. By talking at length without looking for solutions.
By lecturing or moralising, at times getting heavy and intense. Like to leave things open-ended; don’t need to have a ‘point’; enjoy talking for its own sake.
Interrogation style: Have you …? Are you …? Aren’t you …? Open up when we least expect it and usually not to order.
Often drawing on much experience to support arguments; holding a firm viewpoint. Often drawing on limited experience to make their point; exploring options.
Pushing to know the whole situation, to learn all the details. Less focused; more easily distracted; shorter attention-span.
Generally in a hurry. Have high expectations of what can be achieved in a short amount of time. Can’t rush them. They are on their own timetable – often it’s very slow.

I can clearly see that it’s much tougher than learning Mandarin! But if I’m a 9-grader mom I better start learning, because in a couple of months I’ll have to transform to a 10-grader!

 

Can Technical Development Cause De-Civilization?

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What is actually development? When you look around the world you will probably think that some countries are developing in the wrong direction. But how do we know what is wrong and what is right? And what is right anyhow? Is it BNP, life length, happiness, or technical implementation?

Is technical development necessarily something that leads to a civilization’s development? Clever brains have the possibility to invent new machines and solutions, but is it for the happiness, health and wealth of the people in the world or mostly for the wealth of that particular company producing it? Well, we all know the answer to that I think.

But if we believe that some inventions actually make more people stressed and unhappy and don’t add to their health or wealth, is it right to forbid it, to stop a kind of de-civilization in the country? I find it an interesting question, but of course almost impossible to answer, since it all comes down to guessing. How would anyone know if a new thing is for better or for worse in the long run?

I see an interview with the old king of Bhutan, who started to put the measures of the people’s happiness over the BNP in the 1970s. This is still their primary goal in the country and to keep the happiness of the people on a high and growing level, they forbid a lot of technology and inventions from outside, which they don’t see is to their benefit. Is this wonderful or just a way to control the people?

If you look at your life – are all the technology surrounding you adding to your happiness or would it even be less stressful without it? What in your life is truly adding to your happiness?

I myself realize how detached my mobile make me. Instead of looking at the people, trees or everyday life surrounding me, I keep reading useless articles or look at little kittens on Facebook! As if it’s better to do an activity (scrolling down on Facebook) instead of enjoying the moment in real life!

 

The Observer Effect indicates a consciousness behind matter

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When I first heard about the Observer Effect, some 25 years ago, I could not believe it. But during the years I’ve come across a documentary every now and then and just the other day I saw one again. The Observer Effect refers to the phenomenon that might happen when a person just by observing an experiment changes the way the particles are behaving. Within quantum mechanics there is a classic example where electrons are being projected towards a wall. On their way to the wall the electrons have to go through two rectangular holes, thus making the same pattern on the wall. As if you were spraying color through a template to make a decoration on your wall. Nothing strange about that. Waves, which is not any kind of particles, makes a completely different pattern on the wall, since they are not moving, before and after the template, in the same way as particles.

Now comes the interesting part! When the researchers were looking at the difference between how particles and waves are behaving, they could suddenly see on their recordings that when nobody was observing the experiment, the particles were behaving as if they were waves. That never happened when someone was observing them. Nobody could explain what was happening. Some years later other researchers did the same experiment, with a person present but with his eyes closed. Just before the electrons were to hit the wall he opened his eyes. On the recordings you could see how the particles started out, behaving as waves, but in the same moment that the person opened his eyes they turned into behaving as particles again. And they even changed their history, so looking back it looked as if they had behaved as particles from the start.

Still there is no explanation for this that scientists within all disciplines are accepting, but I don’t care so much about that. I’m mostly fascinating by the thought that there might be a consciousness behind the matter. That would mean that our reality is not built by particles, but by a consciousness deciding who, when and where the particles should act. That opens up a lot of new possibilities! Doesn’t it?

 

If you’re interested you can look at this fascinating documentary (the Observer Effect comes towards the end): The Simulation Hypothesis
And here you can read about the first experiment: ScienceDaily; Quantum Theory Demonstrated: Observation Affects Reality

“It’s a fact. That’s true!”

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These days we hear a lot about “alternative facts” and jokes about “the truth”, coming from the circus in the US. We laugh because we know that there can only be one true fact about something. You can’t have alternative facts. A fact is a fact. And a truth is a truth. Based on the facts most of the time.

At the same time we know how facts and statistics can be used in any possible way, depending on your purpose. Which facts you choose to report and which ones you omit. I’m a little bit troubled when I see how the different news channels, without even trying to hide it, clearly choose the facts that they think make the best “news”. How will the audience be able to see the big picture and be able to make their own opinion about what’s going on if they never get “alternative facts”?

And who decides what the truth is? Is it the conclusion someone at the news desk draws from the chosen facts? Is it something we have been told for generations or always done in our culture without questioning it? Can you make a reference to a god and immediately everyone has to believe that it’s a truth? Is it true because it’s the latest scientific proof?

I think that most of us want to live in a truthful way. So how come that we have so different ways of looking at the truth? It bothers me to use the word “truth” since that immediately implies that the opposite, or even the slightest deviation, has to be untrue or false. As if there only exist one good, true side of each opinion or action.

In honest, deep discussions I find that most people agree that everyone wants to be good and truthful, but how come that we too often completely forget that and look at actions and beliefs of people on “the other side” as if they were stupid, less intelligent than we? If I believe that my opinion is the truth, how can I accept that their opposing opinion is just as true? Not just true to them (no wondering since they are stupid?!), but actually as true as my truth.

I don’t say that we should be passive and just accept actions and speech that we find wrong, but I think it’s of great value to the overall development of societies, if we start by trying to figure out how it can be true in different ways to different people. Only then can we grow and continue the discussion on a higher, more developed level.

Is it true? How to change your negative feelings about someone in a few questions.

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Many years ago I and some colleagues were discussing another person at the office, whom we disliked because we found him lying about so many things and acting nice, but being mean behind our backs at the same time.

He’s such a false person, one of my colleagues said in anger.
Are you really sure about that?, I asked this particular day. She looked at me in confusion:
Of course I am!
But can you be 100% sure that he is false?,
I persisted.
Well, of course he’s not false all the time, she admitted.
How would we feel about him if we didn’t think this way about him?, I dared to ask.

Both my colleagues probably thought I was crazy, but we agreed that it would improve the atmosphere at the office and make co-operation much easier.

By now they wondered why I was asking these strange questions, instead of just participate in the daily nagging on our colleague. So I had to tell them that I was just reading about The Work by Byron Katie (“Loving What Is”) and that I had one last – reverted – question:

What if it’s WE who are false?

That was just too much! No, they could not even ponder that question! But I persisted: Here we are sitting, talking angrily about this man, but we never tell him how we feel about him. Instead we are smiling and carrying on with our jobs. So you could actually say that we are just as false as he is!

Well, they didn’t really accept that, but to me it made a difference – I was not as hard in my judgement and attitude any longer, because I could see that I had my part in the play as well – and since that day I have often come back to Byron Katie’s questions, if I’m having negative thoughts or feelings about someone.

It’s so easy to pick a negative thought and then hang on to it, as if it’s a truth, just because we have been thinking it over and over. Nothing good will come from that. Since I can’t change anyone but myself, scrutinizing my own thoughts about others, is a good start to improve relationships. And to grow as a person!

Is it true?
Can I be absolutely sure that it’s true?
What do I feel when I think like that?
How would I feel if I didn’t have that thought?
What if I revert the thought: He is NOT …/ I am …./ I am not ….

 

What is a good life?

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Today I got inspired by a talk by Arianna Huffington. She said that when we say we want a good life, we usually mean a successful life. And by successful we usually mean a life were we have gathered a good amount of money and power. This is quite a modern way to look at life. In ancient time, the Greeks used to talk about the four pillars to a good life: giving, wellbeing, wisdom and wonder. What a completely different way of looking at it!

What I find fascinating and sad is that most of us probably know that to be able to earn a lot of money and gain power, we have to be creative, make good decisions and see new solutions. But that is almost impossible to do if you are tired, stressed and out of balance. We know that too. But still we admire people who seem never to sleep, have hundreds of projects going at the same time and never being lazy, relaxing in the sofa the whole Sunday.

Arianna Huffington talks about an experiment where people got two choices: Either they should sit all alone, without any devices or anything else, in an empty room for a long time, or they should sit in the same room getting electric shocks. 47 % of the men preferred to have electric shocks instead of sitting alone with nothing to do! Isn’t that tragic! (Only 25 % of the women choose electric shocks, which is somewhat reassuring though!).

But how can this be!? How can it be hard to do the nice things we know we have to do, to be in balance? Is it cultural? It seems like more and more top leaders are confessing that they have been meditation for years, but never told anybody. If it would turn out that meditation or sleeping a lot or taking 30 minutes time for reflection in the middle of the day is what cool leaders do, will that change our view of how to look upon our work?

After more than four years of not working the way I used to do, I still feel a bit ashamed if I have not been “productive” enough every day! But I am getting better and better at thinking about my meditation or breathing in mindfulness as a productive thing to do. I can see how important the balance in my life is, not only for my harmony but also for my relations with my family and friends. Being more balanced also makes it easier to make decisions or find out what we truly want, because we have a better access to both logic and emotions when we aren’t constantly involved in something non-real happening in our minds or our cellphones! It will even prevent you from accidents – if you are in balance, you will see that stone or hole in the road and you will not fall. You will not fall, because you are totally in the present, alert about what you are doing, using all your senses here and now.

Just one last thing that Arianna Huffington also said that made me think; She commented on the fantastic technique we have today, that brings us this enormous amount of knowledge – how will we now gather that into wisdom? So much knowledge and so little wisdom …

I have read and heard about Arianna Huffington and her Huffington Post for years, but never actually heard her speak or understood what she is doing. Here you can see the 30 minute speech that I was inspired by today: Arianna Huffington – Reimagine. Everything.

I can learn something from everyone I meet.

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Reading Swedish film director Kay Pollak’s book “No Chance Encounter: Meeting Yourself in Others” some ten years ago was one of those eye opener you get once in a while. Whenever you have any negative feelings towards someone else it’s mostly about you, Pollak says.

At first I had troubles understanding what he meant.

So that terribly annoying mom at school is not really annoying at all – it’s I who have a problem? And that far too smiling sales man is not embarrassing at all? It’s all about me?

Of course I had to do my homework! I remember so well one morning when I was waiting for the commuting train and I saw this young adult covered in tattoos. He had tattoos all over his neck and face and they were far from professionally made. One was even wrongly spelled. I became aware of my negative feeling towards him. So my first quest was to find out what I was actually feeling? I tried to be honest and realized that it was a feeling of despise. That’s shameful! You should never despise someone! So I breathed deeply and went further into this feeling of despise. Was I despising the fact that he had tattoos? No. Did I despise that they were all over his face? Maybe, but not really. That they were so ugly and badly made? Yes! Here I could feel in my body that I had hit the root of the feeling. But why did I despise that?

“It’s ugly”, I could hear myself thinking, “and you just don’t make yourself ugly!” Aha! “Why not?”, I asked myself. “Well, you just shouldn’t!”, was the agitated answer. I was actually a bit surprised about the strength in my feelings about not making yourself ugly and I started to scan my life and childhood about such situations.

When I grew up I was very tall with red hair, freckles and white eye lashes. I never felt ugly, but then I never felt cute or beautiful either. I did my best to look good, dress nicely and be as creative as possible when I was allowed to use make-up. I had always hated masquerades when you were supposed to dress like a monster or ghost or any other kind of ugly creature. I didn’t want to look worse than I did – I wanted to look a little bit better! How on earth could anyone even suggest such parties?!

So now you can also see where my deep emotions came from! The child within not being cute enough. Feeling a bit sad about this, standing there still waiting for the train, I continued the chain of thoughts and started to think about the man with the tattoos again. What he had done I would never be able to do! I wouldn’t be brave enough to go around with one fake tattoo in my face just for one day! So actually he was much braver than I … What a turn of feelings! I looked at him and smiled and thanked him in my mind for a wonderful lesson!

Since that morning I have done this exercise many times. And it’s thrilling and amazing to see how my irritation about that mom’s behavior turn into a lessons about me being afraid of making a fool of myself at the school meeting or being unsecure about my social skills in new encounters. And I can see now how every meeting is a chance to grow and develop!

The impersonal intelligence beyond my control.

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Today I happened to hear an old interview with Dr. Wayne Dyer talking about the impersonal intelligence. He gave an example that I liked very much: Put forth your hands and take a look at your ten fingers. On everyone is a finger nail. A nail that is growing constantly. If you find it tiresome to have to cut them and take care of them all the time, you might want to tell them to stop growing. Will this prevent them from growing? No, it won’t, because that is out of your control. There is an intelligence within you that makes the nails grow. And that same intelligence is within all of us.

So my nails keep on growing due to some kind of intelligence beyond my control.

When I start to think of it, that’s the case with everything in life that is truly important. I can control what I do during my day, what I eat, what I say and what I pay attention to. But I can’t control my breathing very much, my heart pumping, blood running in the right directions in my body, all my organs taking care of food and air and turning it into fuel for my body. The actual things that are important for me to be able to live yet one more day! Of course I can make it easier or more difficult for my body to be able to carry out its purpose, depending on what I eat, the pressure I put on my body, if I get a cold etc, but the ability to fight the bacteria, to mend broken muscles or turn food into healthy fuel I can’t control.

Where is this intelligence? Is it in my cells, or between them, or outside of me? Is my body like a radio satellite, receiving information and forwarding it to the right cells? I don’t know. But I find the thought fascinating, that we all have the same intelligence making our nails grow. Is it once source of intelligence telling all our bodies what to do, or is it one intelligence in each of us, originating from that one source?

Is conversation different in mixed groups?

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The other day I suddenly realized that I live in a very female dominant environment nowadays. I have always been working in very male dominant companies, but now I’m not working and most of my friends whom I spend my days with are women. My husband is almost the only male I talk to! Is it different? Hmm. When I start to think about it I can notice that it’s very comforting talking to women. I don’t really have to think about what we’re talking about. The atmosphere of bonding, relaxing in the friendship is the most important. But if occasionally a man joins the group I get the feeling that the conversation is suddenly more focused. Why is that?

When I started my first job at a small, newly started mill with five men at the office and eleven men in the factory they had already worked together for some months. One day the six of us at the office decided to have an after work; bicycling in the forest, having picnic and drinking Gammeldansk. While we were resting and chatting in a meadow one of my colleagues said “It’s so good that you began at our job – now our conversations at coffee break and lunch are so much more interesting!” I laughed and wondered if they had only been talking about women and fast cars before. “Oh, I wish we had, but we mostly talked about what paint to use when repainting the house or which new tires to buy. Nothing really interesting.”

Is it so, I wonder, that both men and women tend to relax and pay less attention to the dynamic and the actual topics in the conversation when they are in a homogeneous group, but get more alert when the group is mixed? I have no idea at all, these are only my thoughts for the day! Don’t get me wrong – I often have fantastic conversations with my girlfriends, but then we are usually aware of the fact that this was something different from the everyday chitchat. Maybe the awareness that women’s everyday chitchat is different from men’s everyday chitchat makes us meet on common ground, where we both have to listen to the other part and his or her interests, which makes us more focused.

Then of course comes the question if “focused” is actually better than relaxed and comforting? Is it more intellectual or more important or just more of a compromise?

Or maybe it’s just the way I am? I would really like to hear your thought on this subject! Have you had the same experience?

Is tolerance to be passive?

A photo by Daniel Cheung. unsplash.com/photos/cPF2nlWcMY4

There are some words that I’ve always found hard to use, hard to really understand, for example love, tolerance, forgiveness, peace.

I want to develop and become a better, kinder person and I suspect that to act out of love, tolerance and forgiveness is important. But the words are so BIG to me! Do you understand what I mean?

How can I love people I don’t know? How is that possible? How can I be tolerant towards people that have the most horrible opinions and do terrible things?

Actually it is only the last few years that I have understood that it is the INTERPRETATION of the words that make the difference. If I think of love like the feeling I have for my daughter and expect to feel that towards everybody in the world, I will never succeed. And if I try to accept and understand the thoughts of someone doing horrible things I will make myself a victim and become a passive doll.

So I have to see the words from another angel.

“Tolerance is not about agreement or being vague about differences and disagreements. Tolerance is maintaining metta (loving kindness) towards those who hold views which are different from ours and which are even repugnant to us. Metta is the basic Buddhist attitude and tolerance is the application of that basic attitude to the area of difference and disagreement with others.”
‘Buddhist thoughts for a violent world’ by Ratnaghosha (2003)

When I read this quote some years ago, that was something new to me. Until then I couldn’t understand how one could be tolerant with all those crazy people in the world having such violent, egoistic, narrow views. To me that was to be passive! How could I just listen and smile if someone told me about his or her opinion and I thought that they were completely wrong? To just listen and smile would be being a coward, not fighting for a better world! Or at least feeling that I was dishonest to myself, by not telling the person about my opinion.

Then I was taught about the difference between being passive and being tolerant. As the quote above says, the point is not NOT to say my opinion, it is to do it in a kind way. To listen to the other person, to try to understand what he means and maybe even why he has this opinion. Then I can tell him my view, I can write articles, I can demonstrate, I can do anything I want to show my opinion, but I should do it in a kind way. I should not hurt or even kill him, I should not shout, humiliate or say mean things. I should respect him. I should respect the other person as an equal part of humanity.

I can see now how I often have felt as if my opinion, or rather I myself, have been threatened by somebody else’s opinion. I felt that I sort of had to WIN, or I would have LOST. To be good at argumentation would be to be better at winning. That might be completely wrong then. I should not feel threatened next time. I shall try my best to accept that this other person thinks like this, and that I can tell him or her what I think if I feel that it would be good.

I shall express myself in a kind way, no matter what others say or think!

What if it might be true?

A photo by Greg Rakozy. unsplash.com/photos/oMpAz-DN-9I

Sometimes I meet people with opinions that I’ve never heard before. Pretty often within the spiritual area. Some years ago I would just have thought of them with pity; how can anyone be so crazy they believe in things that are not proven to exist?

But then I read something that made me change my approach. Unfortunately I can’t remember the author but her categorization of new ideas was this:

1. I’m not interested in this subject.
2. It might be true.
3. I believe this.

That was such a relief to me!

I had accepted that people believe in the big religions, even if many of the thoughts there too seemed crazy and too old fashioned for me to listen to. It had been harder with the more strange things like UFO, aliens, parallel universe, law of attraction, reincarnation, vibrations, messages from other entities etc. I couldn’t really pay much attention to them, because I didn’t want to be one of these people who believe in every new age thought, thinking it’s a truth just because many enough people say so, even if there are no scientific proofs at all. This new categorization though made me start listening more relaxed to their thoughts. I could think “It might be true” and I didn’t have to decide if I believed in it or not. Sometimes I heard about absolutely crazy things, and then I could just think “I’m not interested in that” – I didn’t have to state that I thought it was wrong.

I have always relied hard on scientific proof. But to be honest, I know, as we all do, that the scientists only see what they are looking for and can only measure things they have instruments for. We can laugh at people some hundred years ago who didn’t understand things we understand today, just because now science has been able to prove it.

This more relaxed approach to new ideas has also allowed me to read new books about all kind of strange thoughts, listen to interesting, engaged people on YouTube and provoke my friends at dinner parties. And funnily enough, I every now and then read about scientific discoveries, especially within the quantum physics, that prove some of the more strange ideas!

At the same time I think it has changed my world view. Things aren’t black or white. There are so many things we still have not discovered and some things that are true today will most probably be proven false in some years. And I don’t have to react to someone’s belief – I can just enjoy expanding my world of possibilities!

Will I reach the top of the hill when I turn 50?

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We have all seen the illustrations of human ageing; the babies followed by young children and teenagers going upwards in a stair case or a hill side. On the top of the stairs or the hill is the middle aged person and after that it all goes downward with the retired followed by on old, crocked person with a stick and finally the cross symbolizing death. So how depressing isn’t it being on the top?!

“It must be around forty, when you’re “over the hill”. I don’t even know why it’s a bad thing. When I go hiking and I get over the hill, that means I’m past the hard part and there’s a snack in the future. That’s a good thing as far as I’m concerned”, writes Ellen Degeneres in her book “Seriously …. I’m Kidding”.

I find that such a great way of seeing it! It’s much nicer to think that in life it’s time for a “snack” and I can imagine that I will sit down and enjoy the view every here and now. The walk will be easier and not require the same amount of energy and perspiration. It’s a beautiful image. But is it true? Or is it just me changing my perspective because it suites me? To see my future as a nice downhill walk I find more enjoyable than a depressing slope towards illness and death.

I can without doubt say that I would never like to be a teenager again! But I remember that I liked turning 28. I felt that I had been 28 mentally for many years and liked that my actual age and I was suddenly the same. Then I stayed 28 for some years before I had to admit that I was actually 35. But would I like to be 35 again? The truth is that it’s impossible to compare. Today I’m living expat wife life in Shanghai, trying to support a teenager and a husband, but back then I had a hectic life with children, a career involving travelling all over Europe, commuting three hours every day and taking care of a big house and a garden – while longing for the holiday. But maybe it’s not so much about the whereabouts of everyday life, but the change of attitude.

Looking out from the top of the hill, I enjoy that what I see now is not black and white. During my travel uphill I have met so many people with so many different opinions and values that I today know that the Truth might look very different from different angles and that Good and Bad often depends more on the intentions and the consequences than the actual deed. That gives me a more relaxed mind on my way down. I don’t have to be perfect, because there is no such person, and I don’t have to know all the right answers, because there is no right and wrong.

I tend to be more anxious about my health now than I was going up towards the top, I must admit that. A bad knee was just something I tried to forget, hoping it would be better next month, but now I get a bit worried that it will not disappear by itself. What will the rest of the trip look like if it doesn’t?

My world view has changed in the opposite direction though. When I was young I took for granted that we all could change the world, today I’m not that optimistic …

I have come to the conclusion though, that the major difference between going up and going down on this imaginary hill, is that when we are working our way up we always aim for the next camp. These camps are goals that we have, like meeting a man/woman, get married, buy a house, have children, change job to speed up the career, buy a nice car, travel to our dream destination etc. Some might have very specific goals that they have set up, but most of us just follow the goals set by society, friends and family. Even though I’m a coach and I love working with goals and how to reach them, I think that the joy I feel now – overlooking the downhill path – is the lack of these unstated but life changing goals! The goals I set up for myself now are purely created from my heart, to give me and my family joy and harmony. They are not so much about things and positions, as they are about feelings and attitude. That makes me feel so much more in control of my own life. On my way down I don’t have to hurry up to get to the next camp – I can follow the stars, stray from the path to look at the flowers or sleep in that cave just for the thrill of it!

And isn’t it time for that snack now?!

Is my Ego just a lump of fearful emotions?

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I’ve been thinking about my ego lately. I read an article about the ego, saying that we will never experience full harmony and love as long as we are so deeply connected to our ego. But what is the ego? Is it an alien living inside of me or am I two kind of people in one body? I have started to think of my ego as if it’s all my fears gathered together like a big lump of emotions. Since we have learned over the years to connect different emotions with different thoughts – and vice versa – these emotions have a lot of thoughts already stored in my brain. Perhaps these thoughts of fear are what we experience as our ego. By “fear” I mean all kinds of negative feelings, like anxiety, worry, embarrassment, unease, anger, bitterness, self-pity.

Whenever I do something totally out of kindness, love or joy there is no ego knocking on my shoulder. I feel harmony and ease. The ego is absent. And if it’s not absent, it will for sure turn that good moment into something negative by telling me that this act of kindness didn’t get the proper response or that my love for someone is not returned – different kinds of fear talking again! The ego making sure that I don’t forget about it!

This would mean that in order for me to feel more harmony in my life I have to get my ego more and more out of the way. How can I do that? I don’t know for sure, but I will start by trying to take a closer look at all these little pieces of fear. What would this moment be like without any kind of fear? How would I respond to this person without any kind of fear? If I was free from all negative emotions, what would I do today?

Maybe that big lump of fearful emotions is like any other kind of infection in the body? When it gets too big it will start to affect me, and if not treated it will take over and eventually make me a victim of the decease.

“The treatment” could of course be a pill – so that I don’t feel any kind of feelings any more. Or perhaps a kind of vaccination – if I boost myself with even more fear I might be one with my ego and not think about harmony or joy at all anymore. Or I do it the military way – I attack! By investigating in my “enemy” I will get to know it and how it’s working. I can then form my strategy and finally attack the Ego. My weapon will be love and understanding! That I will do.

I’ll come back to you with further reports from the battle field!

Making friends the expat way.

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If you have lived in a small town for a long time, or maybe in the same neighborhood in a bigger city, you might have the same experience as I have when it comes to making friends as an adult. It takes a long time – sometimes years – before you ask that nice mom at your child’s school or that good college of yours to come home for dinner or go to the theater together. Making friends is an investment for life and you want to be absolutely sure that you like this person and that you can be sure that he or she likes you too, before you expose yourself.

It is also a risk. What if it turns out that the person wasn’t that nice after all? Now that you have invited that person or that family into your social life, they have to return the treat and so it goes on forever!

Living an expat life requires quite another way of making friends. You know that you have a limited amount of time, maybe two or three years, before you will leave this place. And that goes for everyone else too. You’re living in the moment. You have to be active yourself or you will be invisible! You have to grab that nice mom and immediately ask her out for lunch, you have to ask the new neighbor if she wants to join you to the vegetable market and you have to throw yourself out and ask those three ladies at your language course if you can join them on that interesting day trip they are talking about.

You might see pictures on Facebook of the ones you thought were your friends doing things together – without you. Or you will realize that the nice mom always has a good reason not to be able to plan that lunch you’ve been talking about. But you mustn’t give in and lose your self-esteem. This is the way it is. And after a few years you will be a professional when it comes to mingling around and daring to ask people to join you for the most different kinds of excursions. And you will get friends from different cultures, religions, political opinions, child raising philosophies and different backgrounds. You will grow and develop and enjoy being with all these wonderful, funny and fascinating people whom you’ve met in the middle of your life! Some will be closer than others, but they will all share some part of this adventure of yours – with all the ups and downs – and you will never forget them.

But one day your new soul sister tells you that her husband has been relocated and she will move in some months. Your lovely neighbor tells you the next day that they will leave too. June comes and every day you give someone the last hug and farewell. Maybe you will meet, in your home country or in another country, maybe you will never see each other again. Those are heart breaking days. But the sadness you feel is the proof that you’ve managed well in your “expat friendship education”. Go celebrate!

 

PS: All the examples above are fictional and not about any of my friends.

Love will not make your marriage last forever

photo-1458413111252-87446cbff277The other day I met the priest who officiated the marriage between me and my husband 17 years ago and baptized our daughter some years later. It was so strange to meet him here in Shanghai! Last time we met we were in that old, beautiful church in Kalmar Castle. Of course he didn’t remember me, but I had to tell him that what he told us about the key to keeping a marriage together, has stayed with me all these years. So what did he say?

He said that it’s so easy to think that it’s the love that will carry you through all ups and downs in a long marriage. But it’s not that easy, because there might be days when you are so angry or sad that you can’t feel that love inside of you. Or days when your spouse is having health or job problems and you don’t feel as loved as you would like. Those days it has to be the will to be married to that other person that shall make you do the necessary work to find each other again.

Now I’m happy to have a very good marriage and I can’t really say that I’ve been that much out of love for my husband, but still what the priest said has made an impact on me. It’s not only the love to a partner that needs some will some days. It can be the love or good feelings for a friend, a job or an education. Nowadays we often get the message from media that we should only do what pleases us and turn away from difficult or boring activities or people. I think it’s good, once in a while, to reflect on what we want to keep in our lives even when the feeling isn’t the best. If I feel that I really want this relationship or job to continue, but in another form, then that will give me the strength to start thinking of solutions instead of getting stuck in negativity.

So the will to find new solutions or turning on a more positive perspective could be the bridge from the bad days, when love is not so present, to the good days where love can prosper again. I like that!

Lessons learned by living an expat life

DSC_0760When an employee is starting a new job in a new country, the accompanying spouse is often facing a job free life. In theory this is paradise! But in reality, the ones who loved their job with all the responsibilities, hardships and engagement, find themselves frustrated by not having something purposeful to do. Yes, it’s quite nice going to lunches with new friends, enjoying a manicure or shopping new decorations for the home. But after a while many accompanying expatriates whom I’ve met say that they have a desperate need to “use their brain”. Along with this comes the fear that their career is finished and that these years abroad will be nothing but a drawback to their future chances.

But don’t we learn a lot of things that we could not have learned if we had stayed at home? Have we required any skills that we maybe even could put in our CV? Some weeks ago I asked my expat friends on Facebook about this and I got answers, e-mails and messages from men and women all over the world! Thank you all for your contributions!

Yes. We have learnt a lot!

If I summarize the experiences I would say that living in a new country, a new culture, puts us out of our comfort zone. Suddenly we can’t communicate with the locals in our own language and we have to use body language and smiles to help us do the most ordinary things during the day. We have to be humble and ask for help all the time, because things in this new country are done in other ways and found at other places. Soon we find friends in our new country, mostly expatriates coming from all over the world, and in our discussions we realize that what is bad or good, right or wrong for us most probably look very different for them. They have completely different values and perspectives on things like children’s education, religion, equality, treatment of animals, family life or law and order. “How can she be such a nice person, but have these strange values?”, can be a normal question to ask oneself.

We pretty soon come to understand what people from our own country have in common, cultural things and values that we wouldn’t have noticed until we meet other cultures. Suddenly we can see that not everything in our home country is that logical and perfect. In the beginning we are most probably irritated or even disgusted by how people do things in this new country, but after a while we start to see things their way, we get more patient. We know that things can be done in different ways, that these people also have their truths, ethics and moral – it’s just that they aren’t the same as ours. So how can I be so sure that mine are the correct ones?

After a while we might have learnt some more words in this new language and we have understood more of the “codes”, the unwritten social rules. (I can tell you the Istanbul traffic is full of them!) Interacting with locals and friends from other countries is now a wonderful adventure! Thanks to our new friends it’s much easier to solve all these new problems that arrive every day in a new country. Once again you have to accept that you have to ask for help. Also thanks to our new friends, we start to see ourselves, our home country and even life in a new perspectives. Maybe there are other things in life that are more important than I thought before? Maybe the truths I’ve never questioned are not that good?

The hardest lesson though might be the one concerning loss and grief. Living an expatriate life usually means that we have to leave the rest of our family, friends and colleges for months, sometimes even years. When we meet we know that we will soon part again. And the new friends we get suddenly move or we leave them behind. For our children this might be the biggest problem, so we have to deal with their loss and sadness as well. The good part of this lesson is that we slowly learn to live in the moment and enjoy the friends we have right now.

Honestly I think we can put some of these lessons, specially the more traditional ones, in our CVs:
A new language; basics or advanced, taught by the people in the country.
Intercultural communication; how to interact and communicate with people from other cultures, how to detect the “codes” in a new culture
Critical thinking; how to interpret information based on new observations and experiences
Problem solving; how to constantly find creative solutions, how to ask for help in every moment, often in languages you don’t know
Body language; how ask for help, food, solutions, directions, appointments etc. without any words (and understand the answers!)

Other skills are softer, but not entirely uninteresting to the HR department:
Patience; how not to be upset because things aren’t done the way I am used to, but in a much more complicated and time consuming way
Humbleness; how to realize that my way might not be the only way – and maybe not even the best way!
Thankfulness; how to be grateful for life, laws, environment etc. in our own country
– Self-awareness; how to discover yourself when you are out of your comfort zone, and your country based values when confronted with other peoples’ values
Mindfulness; how to better enjoy the moment and not fear the unpredictable future

Do you recognize yourself in this? Please let me know if you have learnt some other lessons!

Of course also people not living in another culture can learn some of these lessons, but I think the combination is somewhat special to expatriates.

Are you a Seeker or a Source?

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The other day I listened to an interview with author Neale Donald Walsch. He said that you have to realize whether you are a Seeker or a Source. He meant that if you’re a seeker you wait for someone or something to teach you or show just what you need to know to grow or reach your goals. It might be a course that is just the right course for you, or a book that will finally make you take the step needed. If you’re a source, you know that you have all the potential within yourself. You are the creator of your life and you don’t wait for someone else to tell you how to make it.

So all we Seekers just have to transform into Source! Piece of cake …

Well, Neale Donald Walsch actually went on by saying how to do. Let’s say that you want to develop a certain trait in your personality, for example you want to be able to talk in front of people with more ease. Then you should start by finding someone else, who is just as scared as you are, and teach or help that person to get up on stage with confidence. You become a Source to someone else! And by doing that you have activated your own sense of the strength and possibilities you have deep inside of yourself. Eventually, by acting more and more from the source within, you will find the answers to your own questions. Without any teacher.

Starting this blog was actually an attempt from my side to go from Seeker to Source. When I lived in Istanbul I used to enjoy my weekly meetings with a wonderful Buddhist monk further down my street, so when I moved to Shanghai eight months ago I was soon looking for a new teacher. But I didn’t find one. So I decided to write about the things that I would have liked to talk with a teacher about and share it with others. Hoping that someone might gain some insight or growth by reading about my thoughts. I sort of became a source.

And last week I started a course in Leadership by Coaching, to teach some expats something they felt useful to learn during their stay here. And seeing how happy and excited they were, made me feel I was doing something very useful with my time here!

What do you want to change or develop? Do you know someone who wants the same thing? In what way can you help that person?