Writing as the entry point

Writing as the entry point

There are few things that require more honest reflection and self-knowledge than a well-written book. But the book itself can prove to be a terrifying physical object. The idea of your words and ideas being permanently printed for all the world to see and judge can give you the same fearful rush that jumping out of an airplane gives. 

But nothing is as euphoric as the safe landing after a leap of faith—when you lie panting as the waves of adrenaline roll over you because people have read your words and have understood and seen.

Listening to the inner world while taking action in the outer world—doing these two important things not simultaneously, but in turn—in cycles of in and out, inhale exhale—can lead to a grounded, meaningful life.

Writing is the most effective tool to take you through those ups and downs.

There are cycles of wild and crazy—feeding the inner wolf, stirring up the devil—and cycles of packing up and coming home.

The sum total of the waxing and waning is a life lived and breathed on purpose.

Inner and outer journeys—a framework for integrated living.

Inner and outer journeys—a framework for integrated living.

Inner and outer journeys are at the heart of what I do, what I teach, and how I work with clients.

The inner journey is the courage to face your true self.

The outer journey is the courage to manifest that self in a world that needs your help.

Both are necessary to lead an integrated, conscious life.

Diving deeper into your place along the Inner-Outer spectrum of knowledge and experience will provide you with a reference point for growth and meaning. It is the opening where you find what you can contribute to the evolution of global consciousness.

Writing is the medium that gets us started on this path. An exploration of the IO path—which begins with writing but can lead you anywhere—helps us arrive at the most important of destinations: an authentic view of ourselves and our world. It is from this place that we can work towards a healthy, flourishing society.

I am a guide for writing that takes you deeper into yourself, while also instilling in you the courage to bring your deepest expression to the world at large. Whatever aspect of the inner or outer journey you are working on—even if it is not yet a book and might not ever be, I can help. 

I know that introverts can be thrill seekers, and courageous moments call upon our deepest inner reserves.

The forces behind the IO path move in cycles and are in constant change in relation to each other and the world. Energy, motivation, creativity, desire—all ebb and flow in natural rhythms that ask us to wax and wane as we journey towards a holistic existence.

 I am a writer, book coach, and editor, but I am also a seeker and thinker, a sensitive listener with a razor fine bullshit detector. I work with fascinating people from all walks of life, using a variety of tools to help them reach a fuller form of self-expression—most often in books, but also for websites, articles, love letters, and even empowered emails to your soon-to-be-ex girlfriend, curmudgeon professor, or snippy colleague.

An understanding of the IO path brings you closer to what you want to say, and gives you the chutzpah to follow through. The world needs what you have to say. 

Don't feed polarization, disarm it.

Don't feed polarization, disarm it.

I cringe every time I see contemptuous generalizations about Trump supporters. Contempt for "flyover country" is what got us here. More contempt will not make things better.

A Venezuelan economist shares hard-earned lessons in how to overcome an authoritarian leader.

"Populism can survive only amid polarization. It works through the unending vilification of a cartoonish enemy. Never forget that you’re that enemy. Trump needs you to be the enemy, just like all religions need a demon. A scapegoat. “But facts!” you’ll say, missing the point entirely. . . . 

Don’t feed polarization, disarm it. This means leaving the theater of injured decency behind. . . .

Your challenge is to prove that you belong in the same tribe as them — that you are American in exactly the same way they are.

In Venezuela, we fell into this trap in a bad way. We wrote again and again about principles, about separation of powers, civil liberties, the role of the military in politics, corruption and economic policy. But it took opposition leaders 10 years to figure out that they needed to actually go to the slums and the countryside. Not for a speech or a rally, but for a game of dominoes or to dance salsa — to show they were Venezuelans, too, that they weren’t just dour scolds and could hit a baseball, could tell a joke that landed. That they could break the tribal divide, come down off the billboards and show that they were real. This is not populism by other means. It is the only way of establishing your standing. It’s deciding not to live in an echo chamber. To press pause on the siren song of polarization.”

"The worst you can do is bundle moderates and extremists together and think that America is divided between racists and liberals. That’s the textbook definition of polarization. We thought our country was split between treacherous oligarchs and Chávez’s uneducated, gullible base. The only one who benefited was Chávez."

Read the full thing at the Washington Post

What it Means to "Hold Space" for People

What it Means to "Hold Space" for People

Holding-Space-.jpg

In my job as a staff editor at Round Table Companies, we spend all day "holding space" for our clients, and for each other. The best writing comes from this very place. Heather Plett does an excellent job explaining what that means. It's a key concept for professional communicators to understand.

What does it mean to hold space for someone else? It means that we are willing to walk alongside another person in whatever journey they’re on without judging them, making them feel inadequate, trying to fix them, or trying to impact the outcome. When we hold space for other people, we open our hearts, offer unconditional support, and let go of judgement and control.

 

Sometimes we find ourselves holding space for people while they hold space for others. In our situation, for example, Ann was holding space for us while we held space for Mom. Though I know nothing about her support system, I suspect that there are others holding space for Ann as she does this challenging and meaningful work. It’s virtually impossible to be a strong space holder unless we have others who will hold space for us. Even the strongest leaders, coaches, nurses, etc., need to know that there are some people with whom they can be vulnerable and weak without fear of being judged.

...

To truly support people in their own growth, transformation, grief, etc., we can’t do it by taking their power away (ie. trying to fix their problems), shaming them (ie. implying that they should know more than they do), or overwhelming them (ie. giving them more information than they’re ready for). We have to be prepared to step to the side so that they can make their own choices, offer them unconditional love and support, give gentle guidance when it’s needed, and make them feel safe even when they make mistakes.

 

Read the full thing on her website.

 

What I Do For a Living: A Career in Questions

What I Do For a Living: A Career in Questions

Career-in-Questions.jpg

As part of my job as a staff editor at Round Table Companies, I also contribute to the blog where we post about our experiences in writing and in helping others tell (and even understand) their own stories. Here is how I answer "What do you do?" when I have 1,000 words to do it: I have made a career out of asking questions. So, isn’t it funny that I can’t really answer the one I get asked the most often: What do you do for a living?

The short answer is that since I left my day job as a news reporter, I have been dabbling in long form stories—looking for any excuse to sit around, talk to fascinating people, and ask them deep questions. Don’t get me wrong—doing a couple month-long embed tours with troops in Afghanistan was one of the most consequential professional experiences of my life, but the love I have for books and the space they allow for exploration has taken me down a different path. I could say I spend more time ghostwriting these days, but people get the mistaken impression that I just type furiously at my keyboard while a well-to-do author on a vanity crusade spews their story into a Dictaphone— all while paying me to be silent about my role as a glorified typist. But that’s not right either. What I do is something more, and it’s often a fervent labor of love.

When I help people write their books, I get to ask them questions like, for example, why did you decide to forgive your mother after all those years? Or, what emotions were you experiencing when they took your daughter away, and you knew you would have to institutionalize her? Or, how did you feel when the Communists confiscated your family farm? Yep, that doesn’t even compare to asking a US Senator why he voted against that farm bill. The questions that move people’s lives in tectonic shifts—that’s my currency; that work feeds my soul every day. I love being a part of this collaborative conversation—where what I give is just as important as what I get in the course of bringing the story to life.

But writing a book is a complicated, complicated process. Even for those who have a clear thesis from the get-go, there is much work to be done to discover, distill, define—which often leads to new waves of discovery, distillation, definition—which lead to further waves, and you get the picture. The iterations of ideas are a beautiful cascade to witness— like fractal geometry with words and emotions. I get to be the guide and confidante for these intimate journeys.

Sometimes it’s tough at the start. Before we become friends, we’ve signed contracts and non-disclosure agreements. Money has often traded hands, and preparatory emails with questions and caveats have been exchanged. Clients are often a bit confused when we begin—they don’t know how this whole thing is going to work. Usually they only know that they want to write a story, often on nothing more than a persistent sense that what they’ve experienced or learned should be shared. This is a mysterious impulse that strikes some people and not others, and if they come to me with that inclination, they’ve come to the right place.

Everyone has a story, and often the ones who are most fun to work with are those who aren’t even sure what their story is, exactly.

Surprise, surprise though—even those authors who believe they know exactly how everything will play out find that, once we begin, what they thought was the story, is not in fact the story. I love those moments when I’ve told clients, “This is not the story of the awards you won for your business’ contributions to the community as much as it is the story of a son living his father’s legacy.” Or another time—“This is not the story of how the church turned its back on you—but rather the story of how you outgrew the church.” A paradigm shift, an eye-opening perspective.

When in the course of conversations and iterations, it becomes clear that what they have to say goes far deeper than their original thesis—that is pure joy for me and for them. This is the best part of my job. This is where I am part therapist, part life coach—and all storyteller. I show them the beginning, the middle, and the end, and I convince them how moved readers will be by what they have to say, because I am moved myself. I show people how they can edit themselves into brilliance and meaning, and how with that comes healing, closure, and evolution—some of the best of what life has to offer.

Like all compatible meetings of the minds, openness, safety, and freedom are required for two people to develop a meaningful book together. Not only do I have to provide this space for my client, but they have to provide it for me too—which maybe they don’t realize. They allow me a glimpse of their innermost world, and in return I sometimes read their minds. I go out on a limb and say: I see you, and this is what I see. On those exquisite occasions when I have gotten it just right, understood them perfectly and read between the lines to see a part of themselves they couldn’t express—that is the art.

I coach them through the stops and starts. I know when something is “off” and send them little love beams to encourage them to come back to the page when they’re drifting. It takes time. It takes trust. Over months of phone calls and video chats, I will often learn more about a client than some of their own family members know. I honor their courage; I tell them they are doing the right thing. They are.

So what do I do for a living? I work inside hearts and minds; I shine a light in dark places no one has talked about for a long time. I fit big ideas into a body of relevant, page-turning chapters. Sometimes, if I am lucky, I get to show authors how this story makes meaning out of their lives—and it has the potential to lift them up, heal their wounds, make them proud. I help people define what Joseph Campbell called their Hero’s Journey. Then the world is the richer for having this story come to life.

This is what I do. I write books for a living.

Find the original article at the RTC website.

Handing a Child Over to A Stranger with a POA is Legal?

Handing a Child Over to A Stranger with a POA is Legal?

Sad-Child.jpg

I'm writing a book about a family who adopted a traumatized 9-year old girl from Russia, and their struggle to survive amidst her violent rages — she was diagnosed with reactive attachment disorder (amidst a slew of other diagnoses including ADHD, PTSD, ODD). I recently came across a fascinating/terrifying investigative report that Reuters did last year on the phenomenon of "re-homing." It turns out that you can legally hand your child off to a complete stranger with little more than a notarized power of attorney (POA) as a "receipt". Fascinating, terrifying, heartbreaking.

Read the full report here.

The full 5-part series is worth reading.

While it's definitely true that some families are abusing the system, are irresponsible hypocrites, etc — overall, I don't actually think it's that black and white. Adoption agencies in other countries are often not forthcoming with details about a child's mental health. There are plenty of wonderful, decent, loving families that adopt older children (maybe naively and maybe not) — do their research and due-diligence, want to make a difference in the world — and then get in completely over their heads with a child whose behavior is so severe they fear for their lives (and their other children's lives) daily.

I think it's hard to imagine how traumatic it can be for families (this is exactly what the book I'm writing is about). This short article here points out that the real problem is that there are almost NO post-adoption resources for families who find themselves in these desperate situations, so adoptive families in crisis find themselves doing these despicable back alley deals. Click here for a different perspective.

Emily Dickinson on Hope

Emily Dickinson on Hope

Hope-is-the-Thing-with-Feathers.jpg

Emily Dickinson was one of the best poets to write in the English language. Here is one of my favorites — it's a poem I love reading again and again just for the sound and rhythm of it.  

“Hope” is the thing with feathers By Emily Dickinson

“Hope” is the thing with feathers - That perches in the soul - And sings the tune without the words - And never stops - at all -

And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard - And sore must be the storm - That could abash the little Bird That kept so many warm -

I’ve heard it in the chillest land - And on the strangest Sea - Yet - never - in Extremity, It asked a crumb - of me.

***

Born in 1830 in Massachusetts, Emily Dickinson lived in almost total physical isolation from the outside world and is now considered, along with Walt Whitman, the founder of a uniquely American poetic voice.

Read more about her at Poets.org:

The Dishonesty of "Owning It"

The Dishonesty of "Owning It"

Spendowska_JennLaw.jpg

Mary Rose Somarriba, Culture Editor at Verily Magazine, talking about the celebrity photo-hack scandal, comments on the pressure to "own it" when something embarrassing happens:

Lawrence might have laughed off flubs like tripping up the stairs at the Academy Awards in the past, but laughing it off when people disseminate naked photos of you against your will is quite another thing. To “own it” really means to buckle under social pressure and desperately seek the feeling of being in control. It’s an understandable temptation since it feels horrible to not be in control, but faking it doesn’t help. I’ve known more than one woman who has attempted to “own it” after receiving an unwanted sexual advance from a man, and it’s heart-breaking.

Attempts at "owning it" when something bad has happened — either because of something you did, or because of something done to you, could instead be an opportunity for honesty and depth. You can do as Justine Musk suggests and call the offender out for being an asshole. Instead, there are some strains in our culture that pressure others into a  attempt to "save face" by shifting into pretend mode — suppressing the pain, anger, or embarrassment they feel inside. I'm perplexed by this phenomenon which seems so pervasive in America (and perhaps is less so in European or Asian cultures — where concepts of shame and dignity seem more consequential). There's something about this which is fundamentally demeaning and dishonest about the person trying to do the owning — and it's obvious to everyone it seems, except the person at the center of it all. Why do we allow peer pressure to trick us into thinking that "owning it," is the preferable strategy? Isn't it better to be honest and get angry (when something is done to you) or to to honestly admit when you've done something wrong, and apologize (when you've done something wrong)? What are the benefits to "owning it" — when you could just….. be honest?

Dalai Lama in Talks with Chinese to Return to Tibet?

Dalai Lama in Talks with Chinese to Return to Tibet?

Tibetan-Monastery.jpg

Rumor has it that talks between the Tibetan spiritual leader and the Chinese government are getting serious — there is a real chance the Dalai Lama might return to Tibet. For years, even having a picture of the Dalai Lama was considered a crime in Tibet, and Chinese border guards have been known to flip right to the section on Tibet in popular Lonely Planet guidebooks and rip them out stating they are "contraband." Now they might be welcoming the exiled Buddhist leader back?

"THE ice may be thawing on the “roof of the world”, as signs show China is inching closer towards an agreement with the Dalai Lama that could allow him to ­return to Tibet after more than half a century in exile.

A Chinese official has said talks are in progress, while Beijing censors have permitted the publication of an article describing the outlines of a deal between the ­Tibetan spiritual leader and President Xi Jinping."

This is how the Chinese reported it:

"Such a deal, it said, would “instantly destroy” the radical Tibetan administration in exile and rob the West of “a pretext to attack China”, adding: “This would be a chance for Secretary Xi to rack up many victories with one move' ”

This would be a huge strategic win for the Chinese, and could spell sea change in Tibet itself.

Read more at The Australian. 

Secretive Chinese Compounds

Secretive Chinese Compounds

Chinese-Citadel.jpg

I lived in Beijing for a year and I wasn't aware that these kinds of secretive compounds still existed. Fascinating glimpse inside the world where high-ranking Chinese military members and their families live in Beijing, but still a world apart.  The Last of the Gilded Citadels: Life Inside the Secretive World of Beijing's PLA Compounds

by Karoline Kan

As the daughter of a highranking colonel in the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), Wang grew up in a military compound 25km northwest of Tiananmen Square. “They call me a Beijingren, and of course, technically, that’s not wrong – it’s what it says on my ID card,” she explains. “But my relationship with Beijing is closer to that of a migrant worker. I remember the very first time that I met my classmates at school in Dongcheng – real Beijing kids who talked in Beijing dialect. I realized then that I was different. I remember thinking, who am I?”

To outsiders, Wang’s childhood home remains a mysterious place, surrounded by high walls and guarded at all times by armed soldiers. Inaccessible to all but select military personnel and their families, the compound receives few civilian visitors. Its whereabouts are not made visible on online maps, nor is its address publicly available.

Once inside, however, perspectives can appear reversed. Mystery is replaced by routine and spontaneity by order. Each day soldiers awake at dawn to perform exercises and chant patriotic slogans. At 6.30am, ‘Ode to the Motherland’ is broadcast across loud speakers, followed by morning updates from China National Radio. By 7am the courtyard is alive with uniformed men and women strolling purposefully between buildings. Work starts at 8am sharp and finishes at 11.30am. Lunch is eaten communally and typically followed by a mid-afternoon nap. Work commences again at 2pm and finishes at 5pm.

...

By contrast, those who lived in compounds, “belonged to the state” – the country’s new elite. In addition to housing, life inside the compounds guaranteed higher than average living standards: clean wide streets, beautiful gardens, free bathing rooms, free cinemas, free activity halls, free buses, free shops, free barbers, free phones, free post offices, free hot water, free electricity and free heat. “In the planned economic era, life inside those compounds was far beyond the imagination of people outside. It was the illusion of a communist society come true, but enjoyed by only a special group of people,” says Ma Gang. The children of military officers inside the compound were dubbed “Wild Children” by local Beijingers, who considered them outsiders, who took a considerable share of local resources. Most compound kids cared little about their new nicknames; they were proud of their special identity.

 

Read the rest here.

Is the Right Brain "Better" than the Left Brain?

Is the Right Brain "Better" than the Left Brain?

Jill-Bolte-Taylor-2.jpg

Misunderstanding Jill Bolte Taylor's Right-Brain Nirvana Experience I attend a regular yoga class with an instructor who likes to share anecdotes which are aimed to help us calm our "monkey minds" as he likes to call them. The other day he shared a story about reading one of my favorite books — Jill Bolte Taylor's My Stroke of Insight. She is a neuroscientist who had a stroke in the left hemisphere of her brain, and documented the entire process (what she described as "nirvana") in detail. She is most famous for giving one of the most popular and moving TED Talks of all time on the same subject. (15+ million views)

We were resting on our stomachs, eyes closed in between poses. The instructor urged us to turn our heads to the right, bringing the left cheek to our mats, and visualize draining our left brain out of our ears.

"Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor explains how the left brain is responsible for keeping you busy, thinking about the future, trying to fit everything into neat logical boxes with to-do lists and judgments," he explained.

"Visualize draining your left brain out of your ear, let it go, shut it down," he encouraged us. "You'll be a better person if you can learn to turn off your left brain."

This sentiment — that the left brain is somehow "bad" — is something I hear a lot, and I think it misrepresents how Dr. Taylor presented her experience. She makes it clear in the book that without the left brain we would be drooling vegetables, unable to speak, read, or comprehend much of anything. Yes, we would be full of love and compassion, but if we didn't have the left brain to help us integrate into the world, what good would that be, really? The left brain is the story-teller, and it has a different agenda, role, and personality than the right brain, but the essence of her story, for me, is that we need both halves equally well-integrated in order to be healthy, compassionate, functioning human beings.

I wish there was more of a focus on integrating and balancing the two halves, rather than bashing one or the other.

Here are some of my favorite passages from her book: (emphasis mine)

—Sensory information streams in through our sensory systems and is immediately processed through our limbic system. By the time a message reaches our cerebral cortex for higher thinking, we have already placed a “feeling” upon how we view that stimulation – is this pain or is this pleasure? Although many of us may think of ourselves as thinking creatures that feel, BIOLOGICALLY we are feeling creatures that think.

—To the right mind, no time exists other than the present moment, and each moment is vibrant with sensation. Life or death occurs in the present moment. The experience of joy happens in the present moment. Our perception and experience of connection with something that is greater than ourselves occurs in the present moment. To our right mind, the moment of now is timeless and abundant.

—In the absence of all the rules and regulations that have already been defined as the correct way of doing something, our right mind is free to think intuitively outside the box, and it creatively explores the possibilities that each new moment brings. By its design, our right mind is spontaneous, carefree, and imaginative. It allows our artistic juices to flow free without inhibition or judgment. The present moment is a time when everything and everyone are connected together as one. As a result, our right mind perceives each of us as equal members of the human family. Our ability to be empathic, to walk in the shoes of another and feel their feelings, is a product of our right frontal cortex.

—In contrast, our left hemisphere is completely different in the way it processes information. It takes each of these rich and complex moments created by the right hemisphere and strings them together in timely succession. It then sequentially compare the details making up this moment with the details making up the last moment. By organizing details in a linear and methodological configuration, our left brain manifests the concept of time whereby our moment are divided into the past, present and future. Within the structure of this predictable temporal cadence, we can appreciate that this must occur before that can happen. I look at my shoes and socks and it is my left hemisphere that comprehends that I must put my socks on before my shoes.Through the action of critical judgment and analysis, our left brain constantly compares us with everyone else. It keeps us abreast of where we stand on the financial scale, the academic scale, the honesty scale…etc. Our ego mind revels in our individuality, honors our uniqueness, and strives for independence.

—The two halves of my brain don’t just perceive and think in different ways at a neurological level, but demonstrate very different values based upon the types of information they perceive, and thus exhibit very different personalities. My stroke of insight is that at the core of my right hemisphere consciousness is a character that is directly connected to my feeling of deep inner peace. It is completely committed to the expression of peace, love, joy and compassion in the world. It is my goal to help you find a hemispheric home for each of your characters so that we can honor their identities and perhaps have more to say in how we want to be in the world. By recognizing who is who inside our cranium, we can take a more balanced-brain approach to how we lead our lives.

—Although there are certain limbic system (emotional) programs that can be triggered automatically, it takes less than 90 seconds for one of these programs to be triggers, surge through our body, and then be completely flushed out of our blood stream. Within 90 seconds from the initial trigger, the chemical component of my anger has completely dissipated from my blood, and my automatic response is over. If however, I remain angry after those 90 seconds have passed, then it is because I have CHOSEN to let that circuit continue to run. Moment by Moment I make the choice to either hook into my neurocircuitry or move back into the present moment, allowing that reaction t melt away as fleeing physiology.

—When my brain runs loops that feel harshly judgmental, counter-productive or out of control, I wait 90 seconds, for the emotional/physiological response to dissipate and then I speak to my brain as though it is a group of children. I say with sincerity, “I appreciate your ability to think thought and feel emotions, ut I am really not interested in thinking these thoughts or feeling these emotions anymore. Please stop bringing this stuff up.” Essentially I am consciously asking my brain to stop hooking into specific thought patterns. Different people do it differently of course. Some folks just use the phrase, “cancel ! cancel!” or they exclaim tot heir brain, “busy! I’m too busy,” or they say, “ enough, enough, already knock it off “

—I whole heartedly believe that 99.9999 percent of the cells in my brain and body want me to be happy, healthy and successful. A tiny portion of they story-teller however, does not seem to be unconditionally attached to my joy, and is excellent at exploring thought patterns that have the potential to really derail my feelings of inner peace.

—The peanut gallery, the itty bitty shitty committee. These are the cells in our verbal mind that are totally resourceful in their ability to run our loops of doom and gloom.

—In extreme cases of cellular disregard, I use my authentic voice to put my language center’s peanut gallery on a strict time schedule. Giving it from 9-930am and pm to whine. And if it accidentally misses whine time, then it is not allowed to reengage in that behavior until its allotted next appointment…..you have to be persistent and determined about what loops you allow to run in your brain.

—I am a devout believer that paying attention to our self-talk is vitally important for our mental health. In my opinion, making the decision that internal verbal abuse is not acceptable behavior, is the first step toward finding deep inner peace.

—I have also found that when I am least expecting it - feeling either physically tired or emotionally vulnerable, those negative circuits have a tendency to raise their hurtful heads. The more aware I remain about what my brain is saying and how those thoughts feel inside my body, the more I won my power in choosing what I want to spend my time thinking about and how I want to feel. If I want to retain my inner peace, I must be willing to tend the garden of my mind moment by moment, and be willing to make the decision a thousand times a day.

—I believe it is vital to our health that we pay very close attention to how much time we spend hooked into the circuitry of anger, or the depths of despair. Getting caught up in these emotionally charged loops for long periods of time can have devastating consequences on our physical and emotional and physiological circuitry. However, with that said, it is equally important that we honor these emotions when they surge through us. When I am moved by my automatic circuitry, I thank my cells for their capacity to experience that emotion, and then I make the choice to return my thoughts to the present moment.

—From my perspective, the focused human mind is the most powerful instrument in the universe, and through the use of language, our left brain is capable of directing or impeding our physical healing and recovery.

—Remembering that we are energy beings designed to perceive and translate energy into neural code may help you become more aware of your own energy dynamics and intuition. Can you sense the mood of a room when you first walk in? ever wonder why you seem to be content one minute and then fraught with fear the next?

 

And here is a great quote of hers from an article in the NY Times:

"Although her father is an Episcopal minister and she was raised in his church, she cannot be counted among the traditionally faithful.

Religion is a story that the left brain tells the right brain,” she said."

 

Take Care of Your Body, Regulate Your Mind

Take Care of Your Body, Regulate Your Mind

Monk-in-Meditation.jpg

Here's another little ditty I wrote for the "Just Be Well" movement at Round Table Companies — a reflection on completing my Yoga Teacher Training certification with my favorite Jivamukti Yoga teacher — Lisa Asha Rapp earlier this year: Take Care of Your Body, Regulate Your Mind

Last Sunday, I completed one of the most physically, mentally, and spiritually arduous days I have ever had. I was soaked in sweat and shaky — both from nerves and exhaustion. I had spent most of the day alternating between praying and chanting, chanting and praying, and now that I was blowing out the candles as dusk settled, I felt a deep sense of accomplishment. I had just completed my yoga teacher training final oral exam and, after months of preparation, had taught my first hatha yoga class. I surveyed the roomful of prone people before me as they meditated in shavasana — corpse pose — and reveled in their relaxation.

This was, I knew, the most important moment of their yoga practice — the ten minutes at the end of class where they do nothing else but breathe, and it was my job to gently guide them here so they could harvest the beautiful fruits they had sown when they arrived on their mats that day.

 Breathing is one of life’s few imperatives, but its role in leading a physically healthy, balanced life is often overlooked and even neglected in the literature on truly living well. Yet, when you study Eastern traditions, they show us that breathing is primary in cultivating wellness.

 If you look at people who are living well, it seems that they are breathing well too. Thoughtful people will pause for a count before answering an angry email or call — they’ll take a breath and move forward without the irritated reflex that might guide the less reflective.  I’ve seen enlightened parents of unruly youngsters close their eyes and take a few deep breaths before facing the most recent disciplinary problem their child has created. These people who pause enjoy less drama, less anger and therefore less stress — and more wellness compared to those who never take a moment to take a breath.

The world’s great meditators and enlightened masters say that their daily practice of focused, calm breathing is what gives them their unshakable equanimity. They seem ageless, and master meditators have been known to control their involuntary responses through a focus on breathing and calming the mind.

 In his book, The Relaxation ResponseDr. Herbert Benson describes an experiment where Tibetan monks were wrapped in wet sheets at temperatures near freezing. The monks could raise their body temperatures to such a degree that the sheets were soon steaming and dry in a situation where most of us would be in danger of hypothermia. They explained they were able to do this by simply focusing on their breathing.

Read the rest at the Round Table Companies website here.

A Different Take on Heart Health

A Different Take on Heart Health

Burning-Man-Love.jpg

As part of my role as a staff editor at Round Table Companies, I contribute pieces to the online movements we've created for various authors on our team. Here's a piece I wrote for the "Just Be Well" movement — a different take on heart health: Wellness is a Free and Trusting Heart

I had been walking for miles across the desolate salt flats deep in the Nevada wilds. The fine, white, alkaline powder whitewashed my entire person so that even my eyelashes turned freakishly, beautifully white, and I hadn’t had a proper shower in days.  If I had been alone, I wouldn’t have survived for long. As it was, I walked towards the shining mass of humanity arrayed before me in a colorful semicircle, and I was overcome with love for all 60,000 of them. It’s a powerful moment when you realize how much love your heart truly is capable of holding. I was in Black Rock City — a temporary metropolis that is built up and burned down during the annual Burning Man Festival in the middle of the Nevada desert.

 If you had told me that a week into this messy, crazy, chaotic, exhausting experience I would be feeling better than I ever had — I wouldn’t have believed you. Yet what I learned was that none of the external stuff mattered if what is inside of you is pure and beautiful and — mostly love. It was by far one of the most desolate places I had ever explored, and that isolation created an exquisite bubble of acceptance, love, and joy for anyone who was willing to participate with an open heart. Maybe because it was such a harsh place, the universe made a concerted effort to rain down abundance on us everyday, and we were awash in its glory.

 

Read the rest on the Round Table website here.

New Home

New Home

wordpress_pencil_and_pins03.jpg

I have finally decided to create a central online home for all my writing. I know I’ve been confounding my friends and family for years with all the various blogs and platforms I use and stop using, password-protect and delete, email and retract. I know it’s been hard on you all. So glad you made it this far. I do hereby declare that this one is here to stay.

Kulczuga Becomes a Corwin

Kulczuga Becomes a Corwin

fountainpennibjun105.jpg

I’m officially changing my byline to Aleksandra Corwin, shedding my ultra-ethnic maiden name, Kulczuga. I know you will miss having to pronounce all those consonants. Now that I’ve told the internets about it all those long-lost junior high school crushes can track me down. There’s no “x” in the Polish language, hence the "ks” spelling. My parents didn’t just make this up to be difficult.The ks still gives me away as a 100% Polish girl. Next time you go to Poland and find you want to write an audacious note to the girl across the café from you, tell her you find her seksy, and find her dazzled with your erudition and cultural sensitivity.

Mongolia Videos

Mongolia Videos

Some highlights from our trip to Mongolia over the summer. Ola and her awesome high-speed horse:

 

Ola & Rusong galloping along, video by Caroline:

More updates to come soon. The great firewall of China has severely limited our internet activity of late, but we should be back up and running soon.

Chinese Train Station

Chinese Train Station

Quintessential Chinese train station. I have spent endless hours in long-lines in these sweaty, reeking halls, swatting away hordes of flies and enduring the stares and cell-phone paparazzi. 

Images of life around China in the last few months

Images of life around China in the last few months

Melting artillery shells for knives:

Grinding into cleavers:

Our opera-loving, fine-Scotch-drinking Taiwanese host showed me his love of Polish composers, and asked how it was that Poland was such a special country that they could elect a musician as their first president:

Enticing street food:

But be careful. I ordered chicken soup and this is what I got:

Brave parents in China:

Videos from Yunnan and Sichuan Provinces

Videos from Yunnan and Sichuan Provinces

Some older videos I'm just getting around to uploading now. Tiger Leaping Gorge Hike from 9000 ft up:

 

The Naxi Family cooking us dinner at TLG:

Steep stairs at the Leshan Giant Buddha:

September 11, 2001

September 11, 2001

6138844307_46c209a73d.jpg

Ten years ago I took these photos from the roof of my apartment building in SoHo:

My neighbor and friend Pete, who had just woken up and who I ran into in the stairwell in his boxers as we were all heading to the roof to see what was going on:

Today, I took these photos from a Blackhawk flying through Paktika province, Afghanistan - near the border with Pakistan.

I'm at FOB Ghazni, and I've realized 9/11 does not mean the same thing to the Polish as it does to the Americans. To Americans it only means one searing thing. When I ask a Polish soldier where he was on 9/11, he'll pause for a moment and say, "You mean  2001?"   The Americans don't need clarification.