Synchronicity, Good PR, or Algorithms

Is it a message from the Universe or just trying to sell us something?

Every once in a while, I have a day when I can’t help but think that I’m getting a message from the universe. But is it synchronicity, good PR, or algorithms?

One day last week, it was a subject that kept showing up in my email. The first message resonated because it gave me some ammunition for something I had already been thinking about. Later, a second message on the same topic came from a completely different source. To me, it was a pretty strong message from the universe that it was time to put my thoughts into action.

It convinced me that it was time to write this blog post.

Synchronicity

For Carl Jung, who coined the term, synchronicity happens when a cluster of unrelated phenomena create a meaningful coincidence. Sudden hunches and stochastic operation also fall under the umbrella of synchronicity. Like you are thinking about someone who you haven’t talked to for a while, then they call you. Or you open a random book to a random page and find a message that addresses a quandary you’ve been having.

I was formally introduced to the concept of synchronicity reading The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. For Julia, synchronicity is a way that, “…the universe falls in with worthy plans and most especially with festive and expansive ones.”

Part of synchronicity is just awareness. Part of it is magic, like when I was looking for a hutch for my kitchen and came upon one that someone had put out on the curb.

As Julia puts it, “First, choose what you would do. The how usually falls into place of itself.”

Basically, the universe is constantly sending you messages, providing paths with which to accomplish your goals. Synchronicity happens when you are paying attention and notice these messages.

Which is super fun. But are these always messages from the universe? I mean, I can accept that sometimes the universe is telling me that I should buy the smelly candle, but sometimes, it might be another force.

Good PR

Just to clarify: I’m referring to the entire marketing communications umbrella.

There are a lot of people in the world who are gainfully employed in the endeavor of getting other people to pay attention to something. One of my favorite things, communication strategy, is simply an exercise in plotting out what you want to say (your message), who you want to say it to (your audience), and how you are going to get your message to your intended audience in order to accomplish your objective.

The whole point is increasing awareness of whatever it is (an organization, a product, a policy).

Sometimes good PR is obvious, but sometimes it feels very organic, like the idea just popped into your head. How do you know it wasn’t synchronicity?

Algorithms

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

I can’t explain the mechanics of it, but we all know that our digital lives are shaped by computer algorithms. I use Google to look up a lot of terminology when I’m writing; now Google knows that the first search result to show me is a definition.

And then there’s social media. Just because I keep seeing ads on Facebook and Instagram for smelly candles does not mean that the universe is telling me to buy smelly candles (although I probably will at some point, I love smelly candles).

So, is it synchronicity, good PR, or algorithms?

In The Art of Impossible, Steven Kotler talks about how our brain is a pattern recognition system, our own internal algorithm.

When we set up our internal algorithm properly, we are primed to notice synchronicity. Steven calls this supplying the pattern recognition system with ammunition.

He recommends doing this by feeding it lots of information. Don’t just troll the internet, read books, listen to podcasts, go for walks, talk to people – give your pattern recognition system lots of data from different sources.

By doing so, we become our own PR manager and synchronicity follows.

Because don’t we all want to be in tune to receiving messages from the Universe?

Acting Like a Dancer

Does Authenticity Really Matter?

When I was in college, it always drove me (and my fellow dance majors) crazy when the drama majors would invade ballet class. In the sanctity of the dance studio they were a disruption. I remember one girl who was always there just acting like a dancer.

There is an ineffable difference in the quality of the movement when someone is acting like a dancer. They will be executing the steps, but it is as if they are just trying to replicate pictures of the movement. Everything was happening on the outside.

An authentic dancer moves from the inside, from the center. Think of it like the sun or the center of an atom. Everything else radiates from and moves around that point.

Center is a metaphor, but it also corresponds to a physical location in the body, much like chakras. The precise placement varies depending on the style of dance. For example, the center in ballet is at the diaphragm (manipura) but in Martha Graham technique it is below the belly button (svadhisthana).

Regardless of the style or level of training, for an authentic dancer all movement, no matter how subtle or grand, how delicate or robust, how small or substantial, emerges from the center.

Among my many college jobs, I taught ballet to preschoolers. They would come to class in their precious pink baby ballerina outfits (so would the drama majors), and we would practice the foundational elements of ballet – the positions of the feet, the positions of the arms, the basic movements. And they would act like they were ballerinas.

One day instead of the usual drills, I read the class a story. And then I put on music and instructed them to dance it for me.

I was blown away. It was the most beautiful expression of pure dance I had ever seen. Because these little girls were dancing from their center. They hadn’t suddenly mastered ballet technique, but they were executing advanced steps. Their lines were strong. Their movement had a refined musicality.

But the most moving thing about what I saw was the way that they were expressing themselves. What was on the inside was being made visible through their movement.

Photo by Caleb Woods on Unsplash

I had a moment of clarity that day about what my instructor El Gabriel had been yelling at us about in my ballet classes. About letting the expression come through in the movement. About moving from the center. All of the training, all of the practice was just to facilitate the path for that expression to emerge.

There are a lot of times in life when we are moving from the outside, when we are acting like a dancer, or a writer, or fill-in-the-blank. We have the right costume, and we know the steps, and we go through the motions. But we are not moving from the center.

And that’s ok. Sometimes it is appropriate or even necessary to act like a dancer. Maybe a lot of the time. As long as we are mindful of it.

And as long as we are open to opportunities when we can authentically dance.

Bardo – Something Really In-Between

Before COVID times I was listening to a podcast about meditation (because why meditate when you can listen to other people talk about meditating) when the woman introduced this interesting term, “bardo” which she defined as meaning “in-between.”

In-Between!

Well, considering that this is the In-Between Things it certainly seems like the right place to explore the concept of bardo. I decided that I needed to look into this it further, did a little bit of research, and left my notes sitting in my draft folder.

Until now.

Bardo Thödol is a Tibetan Buddhist funerary text that is popularly known in Western culture as the Tibetan Book of the Dead. This text describes the process through which a recently deceased person transitions from their current state of being to the next. The occurs in an in-between state, bardo, which is similar to the Roman Catholic concept of purgatory.

Applied metaphorically, bardo can describe many sorts of in-between situations. Any time there is a suspension in the way of being that we are familiar with we are experiencing bardo.

COVID times certainly qualify, wouldn’t you agree?

The Four Noble Truths, a central tenant in Buddhist teaching, explain that the root of suffering is desire for and attachment to worldly things. When we experience bardo, we become detached from our usual way of being, including the accompanying suffering.

But you know what we feel is worse than our regular, everyday suffering? The unknown!

Think about someone you know who is always complaining about something. You wonder why they continue fill-in-the-blank rather than change. When you say something, they usually reply beginning with, “yeah, but…”

This is because in-between-ness is uncomfortable. Bardo puts us in a position where we are confronted with considering other ways. We must mind the gap as it were.

What if, in that in-between space, instead of reacting negatively, we withhold judgement of the discomfort?

We may discover an opportunity for something new.

The gap gives us the cognitive distance to consider things from a new perspective. We may have a flash of insight or creativity or we may gain clarity about things that we are allowing to be causes of our suffering.

And this is why I wanted to dust off this topic at this time. The past year was certainly bardo, the entire world’s usual way of being was suspended. Now that things are beginning to stabilize, many are looking to get back to our old ways of being and doing. But it would be unfortunate to not take advantage of this bardo to make some conscious choices about the sorts of suffering we hold on to.

Maybe being in-between this past year wasn’t all bad.

The Writing Sprint Challenge Prompt Was: Mercy

Have you ever participated in a writing sprint challenge?

Neither had I until a couple of weeks ago. Someone was doing one on Instagram and I signed up right away because there were prizes. There are probably a lot of things that I can be motivated to do for the sake of artisanal smelly candles. I should remember that. 

Ok, back to the writing sprint.

The challenge was that there were prompts for each day and you would write for a set amount of time and then post on Instagram for accountability. The writing sprint prompt one day really captured my attention and I decided to turn it into this blog post. It was just one word: mercy.

Mercy. It isn’t an unusual or exotic word. But it struck me that this is not a word that I use or hear a lot. It’s not really in the zeitgeist the way that forgiveness is for example. It’s an ordinary word, why did it feel uncommon? What thoughts/ideas/feelings does the word evoke?

My first thought was that mercy correlates to surrender. Not that there is some sort of causal relationship, they’re not two sides of the same coin; but maybe they live in the same room.

So where does that correlation come from?

I started to pull my idea apart. Mercy is an act from a position of power, isn’t it? Whereas surrender seems to be something that the one who is being acted upon would do. Asking for mercy is a means of surrender.

That got me thinking about affirmations and all that jargon. Forgiveness is very trendy these days. But what about mercy?

Mercy means that you were in an acknowledged position of power and chose to relinquish your advantage. That rather than impose your will, you showed restraint. I suppose that mercy takes a good deal more awareness and self-control than forgiveness.

By the time that you get to forgiveness the thing is done. You stayed strong and kept plowing ahead with a single-minded determination, then when it’s over, you can evaluate and choose to forgive.

Mercy requires evaluating the impact of your actions while in process. That’s no fun.

If you follow the etymology of mercy all the way back to its Latin root, you find the word merx which means “wares” or “merchandise.” There is something tangible about giving up one’s advantage in a power dynamic, isn’t there?

All that being said, I wonder if we all couldn’t use a little more mercy in our hearts, even more so than forgiveness.

Just because something is within our power to make happen doesn’t mean that we always need to. Maybe have mercy for your feet by not wearing those shoes (you know which ones I’m talking about – they are really cute). Rather than say the unkind thing that you will apologize for later, demonstrate mercy by not saying it at all. You could even get meta with it – I’m thinking things like buying hand soap at the refill-your-own-container store (mercy) instead of putting another plastic container in the recycling bin (forgiveness).

What do you think? Did I get too in-between on this?

Holiday Gratitude Practice

Since Thanksgiving is this week, of course I thought I would do a post about holiday gratitude. Not the most original idea, but something that I think is appropriate to take a moment for. Of course, I did write a post about gratitude last year, so the challenge is to see if I have something new to share with y’all.

In some ways, it might be harder to find things to be grateful for this year. Not being able to travel to visit family or hold big holiday get-togethers might be a real bummer. It has been a tough year for everyone and the anxiety that goes along with this global pandemic is no joke.

But in some ways, maybe all of this turmoil makes it easier to be grateful for all sorts of things that we may have taken for granted before.

When I was reading the post that I wrote last year, one of the things that I noted being grateful for was our local yoga on the bluff. And one of the elements of yoga on the bluff that I particularly enjoyed was being around all the different people from all different walks of life. I’ll tell you what, I would not be grateful to find myself in a crowd of all sorts of people these days. But I do feel grateful that I have been able to cultivate a home yoga practice. In some ways it has been a great privilege to take responsibility for my own yoga practice. I can be very mindful of the way that I move through all the postures; I take more time than I used to in some positions and I am gentle with myself in ways that I wasn’t before. I might not be grateful for all of the new aches and twinges that I seem to be uncovering, but I am grateful for my ability to discern between a discomfort that needs to be worked through and one that needs to be moved away from.

In June, I did a gratitude practice of listing at least ten things every day. The challenge was to not repeat as much as possible. I mean you can imagine what my list would have looked like without that challenge: cats, coffee, sunshine, repeat. Some days were easier than others that’s for sure, but the whole exercise was very centering. Actually, now I’m starting to think that I should take it back up again …

Ok, I’ve just given myself an idea for a holiday gratitude practice and I’m going to invite you to play along with me at home.

Let’s look toward Thanksgiving and this whole holiday season in front of us and find ten things to be grateful for. Maybe write them down. Maybe put them in a gratitude jar and see if you can add one new thing from now until the end of the year. Then on New Year’s Day why not pull them out and read them? Start the new year from a place of love and gratitude.

If you’re not ready to write down ten things, how about just one? Leave it in the comments below and we can help each other to jump start a holiday gratitude practice.

I’ll start: I’m grateful for you reading this and playing along!

P.S. I will follow up with everyone who commented about the book giveaway this week!

Kindness Today and Every Day

For this edition of Health and Wellness Monday, I thought we could consider kindness.  

This Friday, November 13th is World Kindness Day, a holiday established in 1998 by The World Kindness Movement, an international consortium of NGOs, for the purpose of encouraging people to create a kinder world. I’m not really clear on what they mean by that, but it seems to have something to do with supporting projects that align with the United Nations sustainable development goals.

Did you know that there is also a Random Acts of Kindness Foundation? I didn’t either. The organization’s mission is to, “Make Kindness the Norm.” They suggest that an individual can celebrate World Kindness Day by intentionally engaging in random acts of kindness such as buying someone a cup of coffee or giving someone a compliment. I tend to think of these things more as “random acts of niceness” but that’s alright. One of my favorite random acts of niceness is sending someone a card in the mail for no reason. I mean, isn’t it exciting to get mail from an actual person! But phone calls and texts are nice too.

I thought it would be interesting would be to examine the distinction between being ‘kind’ and being ‘nice,’ so I went to the dictionary. While ‘nice’ is defined as, “polite, kind, pleasing, agreeable, appropriate, fitting,” the word ‘kind’ is defined in the Merriam Webster Dictionary as, “of a sympathetic or helpful nature.”

I like to think about kindness as being a little bit more than just doing something nice for someone. For me, an act of kindness is a compassion exercise in which I separate a person from their beliefs and/or actions in my heart. I may disagree with someone or not like their behavior, but still have sympathy (and sometimes even empathy or compassion) for them as a person. By doing so, I am better able to interact with that person in a kind manner.

Remember that story, The Box that I published last month? I would say that kindness kind-of ties into the ideas expressed in that story. It is an act of kindness to not put someone in a box based on one facet of their personality but to acknowledge that people are complex creatures who may not necessarily be defined by one element of their beliefs and/or actions. It’s like that thing about not defining yourself by your feelings (ex: I am angry) but acknowledging that you are a person having a feeling (I feel angry) applied to someone else.

This doesn’t mean that an act of kindness requires you to be a pushover or condone someone’s behavior. It’s like Brené Brown says, “Strong back, soft front, wild heart.” Know who you are and what you believe. Then be willing to accept other people for who they are and what they believe.

Here’s the thing: there will still be people who you just don’t agree with. You might plain old just not like someone. But what if you chose to face them with kindness rather than confrontation? Maybe your strong back, soft front, wild heart will inspire the same in someone else. You could start a chain reaction of kindness.

World Kindness day is Friday, but why not start today? You could even throw in a random act of niceness or two while you’re at it.

Vote Smarter Not Harder

research your ballot

Even as someone who avoids the news, I am very aware that there is an election coming up in November.  One race is a big topic on everyone’s mind, but that is not the only item on our ballots. So in today’s post, I would like to encourage you to vote smarter not harder – to take a little time to really look into who and what you are voting for on your entire ballot so that you can make an informed decision on each candidate and ballot initiative.

vote smarter not harder

Researching my ballot is not my favorite way to spend my time and I don’t doubt there are lots of other things that you would rather be doing. But I assure you that it is time well spent. By putting that effort in, I can feel comfortable that I’m voting for the candidate who will potentially cause the least amount of harm or that I’m not supporting a ballot initiative that would cost more than its purported benefit. In the March primary election, one guy running for district court judge actually changed his first name to Judge. At first glance, I thought, “Oh, this guy is already a judge,” but no, he was actually not at all qualified and being intentionally misleading!

How to research your ballot

It can be tricky to find good sources of information about local and state races. I will sit down with my ballot and Google each item. You can search by district (ex: CA 47th Congressional District), by candidate (they all pretty much have their own website these days – it’s a good way to get an idea of their education and professional background), or by region (ex: LA County Voter Guide). Your local bar association will put out a list rating candidates for judicial positions as “well qualified,” “qualified,” or “not qualified.” I’m a big fan of the voter guide put out by the Southern California Public Radio website LAist; I hope that other public radio stations put out similar information. I like to compare what a candidate’s website, LAist, and my local newspapers have to say about things.

The League of Women Voters (LWV) also puts out a voter guide. I love the LWV; it is a non-partisan organization that was founded in 1920 (the year the 19th Amendment was ratified) to help women carry out their responsibilities as voters and today is an organization dedicated to encouraging the active and informed participation of all citizens. The LWV doesn’t take a position on initiatives, it simply presents them as written and explains potential impacts, who is supporting and opposing each one, and what a “yes” vote or a “no” vote would mean. They have a resource called Vote 411 where you can put in your address and get personalized voting information.

A new resource that I just found is Ballotpedia. The website states that its mission is to deliver, “unbiased information to educate and inspire American voters” and it seems to have a lot of straightforward information. I think that I will be incorporating this site into my ballot research.

If you haven’t already received your California voting guide in the mail, here is a link to an online version: California Voting Guide.

Who and what you decide to vote for is none of my business and I wouldn’t presume to offer you my opinions on any of the races or measures. But I do hope that you will consider committing a little bit of your time to looking up the candidates and propositions before you mail you ballot in early or head to the polls. Remember to vote smarter not harder.

International Talk Like a Pirate Day

junior pirates

When I was thinking about posting about International Talk Like a Pirate Day, I consulted my sister – who is an expert in all things piratical – to ask where such a topic would fit in my posting schedule.  She quickly and firmly responded: Health & Wellness Monday. So, today’s post will focus on the health and emotional benefits of talking like a pirate (at least for a day).

International Talk Like a Pirate Day (TLAP) is held annually on September 19.  Established in 2002 by a couple of guys – Ol’ Chumbucket and Cap’n Slappy, they chose September 19 because it was Cap’n Slappy’s ex-wife’s birthday.

The idea for TLAP Day arose out of a handball injury.  One of the guys tweaked something, and exclaimed, “Arrrrrr!” This became an inside joke which evolved into an internationally recognized holiday.

When I learned that delightful tidbit, it reminded me of many years ago when I would play tennis with a group of ladies after work. One of the gals had been a tennis instructor and she was working with me on my hitting.  She kept coaching me to say, “grrrr!” when I hit the ball, but it wasn’t until I switched to “argh!” that my stroke improved. In that moment Pirate Tennis was born. One of the other gals even made us a little logo – a skull (with lovely eyelashes) and crossed tennis rackets (I wish I still had a copy of it to show you!).

How does one celebrate TLAP Day?  However you see fit! You don’t need to partake in excessive amounts of grog or have an elaborate pirate costume; but if any of that is your jam, go for it. Ol’ Chumbucket and Cap’n Slappy are very clear that this is TALK like a pirate day, not ACT like a pirate day. They don’t condone acts of piracy. What it is all about is expressing your pirattitude.

Pirattitude is defined by the Urban Dictionary as the natural attitude that comes from embracing one’s inner pirate. I feel that it has to do with expressing oneself in a bold manner, not worrying about holding back or staying quiet to try to be polite.

So here we can get into the wellness benefits of talking like a pirate – sometimes you just have to let it out!  Don’t be afraid to “Arrrr!” or “Argh!” or however else you feel like you need to exclaim. I mean, I do whisper sweet nothings to the kittens all day long, but some days speaking clearly and articulately is a challenge. The other week, I was going to give a speech at my Toastmasters meeting (online), and it took me four times reading my speech out loud to find my voice. It can feel strange to speak up when you are at home alone.  But try it. Not in that soft, sing-song way that you talk to yourself, in a bold, loud, clear way.

Whether or not you decide to celebrate International Talk Like a Pirate Day on Saturday, I hope you will take an opportunity to express your pirattitude (even if it is just to your cats).

Loving-Kindness Meditation

rainbow

I’m feeling so sad for the world today.

Sometimes, when I’m having a hard time getting a grip on my feelings or keeping my energy focused where I want it, I find a little meditation can be very helpful.

I’m not a regular meditator, but I always feel better when I do. If I meditate on my own, I generally will do a mindfulness meditation, just focusing on my breath and being where I am.  But today’s feelings seem to merit a different kind of meditation. A loving-kindness meditation.

Loving-Kindness meditation, also known as a Metta meditation, is a form that focuses on both self-love and compassion for others. As with most things, there are several versions of the “right” way to do Metta meditation, but I feel comfortable in saying that part of this practice is showing yourself the compassion to accept that however you choose to practice it is the right way for you.

The basic structure of this meditation is that you first focus on yourself, then on one, specific other person, then on the collective.  You can do multiple variations of the specific other. You can also identify the collective as all humanity, or the whole world, or even the universe – or you can do multiple variations here too.

Insight Timer has a bunch of free, guided loving-kindness meditations. I tried this 10-minute meditation with Mark Zelinsky that I thought was nice.

If you want to try it on your own, here is my take on a loving-kindness meditation:

May I be happy
May I be well
May I be safe
May I be peaceful

(now for another – think of someone specific)

May you be happy
May you be well
May you be safe
May you be peaceful

(now think about the whole world)

May we be happy
May we be well
May we be safe
May we be peaceful

Namaste.

Are You Moving Enough?

Well folks, we’ve been participating in the national hermitage movement for a while now (has it been 4 weeks already?). I feel like so far it’s been one of those, this is only temporary kinds of things.  But now that hermitage has been extended until mid-May, we may need to start thinking about how to adopt a more sustainable routine. No matter what, I find that everything is better if I’m moving my body. How about you, are you moving enough?

One thing that has been cramping my style here is that it has been raining.  That makes it very easy for me to blow off any notion that I may have about going outside for a walk.  But regardless of whether I’m out there getting my steps, I still feel like I need a bit more movement in my days and I’ve come to terms with the fact that I need to workout at home.

There are so many options for home workouts these days. I bet we all still have a few workout DVDs laying around (I even found my old favorite, Callanetics on VHS in the garage a while ago – too bad we don’t have a VHS player anymore). I’ve seen a lot of paid content on offer – zoom yoga classes and stuff, but there is also so much free stuff out there, it seems crazy not to take advantage of some of it.

I started just doing yoga on my own a few weeks ago. It’s been good. I have a little routine that I put together for myself. I get to spend more time on poses that focus on my problem areas, I get to move at my own pace, and I get to include poses that aren’t that fashionable these days (like plow and fish). The little series that I have been practicing takes me between 30-40 minutes and afterwards I feel great – taller and aligned and ready for my day.

Not my current yoga situation

But the other morning I just WAS NOT IN THE MOOD. I knew that I need to move but I wasn’t feeling the yoga vibe. So, I dug out my Pilates notebook from college and had my own little mat Pilates session. About 15 minutes later, I was a new woman.

Then I was feeling motivated, so I did something that I have been contemplating for quite a while: I took a ballet class! I searched on YouTube and there were a bunch of options. Sure, my barre was my dining table, but it was a real ballet class with an accompanist, and I wore ballet slippers, so it totally counts.

Ever since San Francisco Ballet had to cancel their season, I’ve been seeing their clips of the dancers taking company class at home. If they can do it, I probably can too.

I was so delighted to find this ballet barre class from the Dutch National Ballet that was classic and straightforward enough that I could attempt to replicate the combinations.

My goodness, it sure was fun!  Ernst (the instructor) would demonstrate and then do the first side with you.  For the second side, you were all alone with Rex (the accompanist).  My brain thought that I totally got it, but my body was not so sure (especially my feet).

Somehow, I survived.  And somewhere deep, down, that little ballerina who lives inside of me woke up a little bit. She is excited at the prospect of inhabiting this body of mine again (I am too). Fortunately, there are no mirrors in my dining room to make either of us aware of how far away we are from the body that she used to inhabit.  It’ll be ok, we will just continue to show up for class with Ernst and Rex every other day or so and maybe eventually we will get my feet to start working again.

So that is my story about finding ways to move more at home.  How about you?  What are you doing?  Are you trying something new?  Something old?