In Search of the Champagne Life
by Jennifer Barnick
Recently I have been having an utter ball with the book “Awaken the Giant Within: How to Take Immediate Control of Your Mental, Emotional, Physical and Financial Destiny!” by Anthony Robbins. I will first state that while I have not wholly finished this book I can say that I haven’t felt this energized by a book in some time. It is an oldish book—however—its themes and ideas have never felt more timely both from a personal perspective and a national one as more and more I see a nation that more than ever needs to take “control of its mental, emotional, physical and financial destiny”. While there are many amazing techniques and ideas there is one truly striking worldview that I believe could really change one’s life (if they chose to adopt it) and could also change one’s country (if it chose it to adopt it). This striking worldview is to see life not in terms of what can you do in six months or perhaps a year, but what can you do in a decade?
This deceivingly elegant and simple worldview may at first seem like not such a big deal, however, with some contemplation one can begin to see how massively one’s life would change if they begin to view life in terms of decades and not days, weeks, or months as too often the impatient person of today does. Horrific political decisions, corporate decisions, and personal decisions are often made because change was wanted quickly and the long-term effects were not wholly considered. And here I will not be quick to judge the politicians or corporate leaders as more often than not they are pressured by an impatient-need-it-fixed-right-now populace and stock holders (which now because of the 401K revolution pretty much accounts for all working people in the US). Anthony Robbins gives the example of Exxon and the decision not to use double lined tanks (to cut immediate costs for there yearly stock report bottom line) and how that would have prevented one of the greatest catastrophes in the forms of the oil spill in Alaska. An oil spill that ended up costing billions of dollars as well as priceless natural assets versus the couple of millions it would have taken to make the oil tanks collision proof.
Another aspect to the worldview of thinking in terms of “what can I accomplish in a decade” versus “what can I accomplish in a year” is that very often the results will be more concrete and more profound. Making some big dramatic change and then white-knuckling it for a year or so will eventually fizzle. Think in terms of weight loss: if your goal is to lose all your weight by, say, six months then most likely you will adopt and behave in more extreme ways than you would normally be able to sustain. One of the reasons that you will be able to sustain such dramatic living is because you are thinking in terms of the six-month deadline. However, the reality is that while you see yourself on a six-month schedule for change it is really a lifetime of change that is required to actually lose weight permanently. If, however, you think in terms of a decade—that you have ten years to totally remake your body—than most likely you will adopt more subtle and gradual changes. These subtle and gradual changes have a better change of actually becoming solid, permanent lifestyle changes—eventually giving you a healthy, fit body for the rest of your life. For instance, if you promise to adopt one new healthy habit a month than most likely these small efforts would add up to big results: like walking a half hour a day (which in a year could evolve to an hour walk and in two years an hour run) or never having second helpings (which in a year could evolve to never wholly finishing your plate and in five years to modest portions and nothing deep fried).
The final aspect of considering one’s life in terms of ten years instead of one year or even a couple of months is that very often what may be a good decision for a short-term happiness is a terrible decision for long term happiness. Vegging-out on the couch watching television may in the short term seem like a great way to find relief from a terrible day at work. However, in the long term is will prove disastrous as 1. Habits can be formed with surprising ease, 2. The more out of shape you are the more you will be prone to depression and anxiety making potentially stressful job even worse to bear, and 3. Learning to workout or write or draw or meditate as a means to relax not only forges an extremely healthy habit but also genuinely addresses the physical and emotional sides of stress. Drugs and binge eating and drinking are also good examples of going for short-term solutions or relief or pleasure over long-term solutions, relief, and pleasure. Adopting coping and pleasure habits that are good for you in terms of a decade will more often than not bring lasting and deeply satisfying results—not to mention a great life down the road.
Whatever change it is you would like to make I believe one of the greatest things you can do is think not what you can do in a year or so but what can you achieve in a decade. If you want a better career, a better marriage, a better body, or even a total life overall all of these things are completely doable—completely—in fact in Taoism the one universal truth is change…Change is the one thing you can absolutely count on. This idea thrills and inspires me greatly, however, I also see how wanting change Right Now and not fully considering the long haul can bring either disaster or fleeting results. By thinking in terms of what can you achieve in a decade you will be able to think, adopt subtle changes that have a better chance of sticking, and you will not get frustrated for when you have a set-back you can merely see it as part of the journey and more importantly as a learning opportunity whereas if you are in a hurry you will more than likely get frustrated, panic, and perhaps even give up.
Lastly, a decade at first seems like a very, very long time. But I have one question for you: what were you like in 1996? What were your goals in 1996? What would your life be like now if you had adopted a small change then? Isn’t amazing just how fast a decade goes by? Now think of yourself right now…if you were to simply adopt a few small changes over the next ten years, keeping inspired by the adventure and want to transform your life whether it be emotional, physical or financial you would find yourself looking back at 2006 and thinking “Isn’t it amazing just how fast a decade goes by…(and perhaps you will be thinking this living the life of your dreams).”
There is a poplar saying, “Get it while it’s hot”. Today, I would like to re-think that saying or rather reuse that saying and transform it into a cautionary tale: “If you don’t get it while it’s cool you’ll have to face it when it’s hot.”
For me personally I do believe that the Universe likes to teach us lessons and while at times those lessons may very well be painful to learn all in all the Universe only means the very best. Why we are led to learn valuable and often painful lessons in life I am not wholly sure…although I have experienced and wholly believe that once a lesson is truly learned a life of less pain and more peace always comes in its wake. With all this type of thinking I also believe that the Universe first tries to teach us in more subtle and gentle ways and only when we either remain blind or obtuse or simply in denial does the Universe heat up the classroom (so to speak). So, again, I believe it is important to try to get the lesson while it is cool and not when it is seriously burning things down.
All of this has sharply come into mind as my dearest friend in the entire world has finally found a new job. Over the course of the past couple of years her job has become increasingly unbearable. What sustained her the first couple of years was a genuine love of the work, the location, and her bosses. What was increasingly sending her into my kitchen in tears was a growing hostility between her and a particular set of co-workers who seemed bent on making her life miserable. It appeared that nothing was below these few randy co-workers from making fun of her lunch, her clothes, and just about everything she spoke about. The problem began with one boss in particular who absolutely adored my friend and clearly used her as the shining example of everything a boss could ever want in an employee and became particularly heated when her boss even began saying things like, “Everyone should be more like Ms. X”. It did not help that Ms. X, my dear friend, was a little on the gentle and shy side, was a devout vegetarian (hence the lunchtime ridicule), and had a curious passion for Entomology and robots (she positively disappears every time the new Popular Mechanics comes out). To make matters worse my friend was both hauntingly intelligent and beautiful. Any good story teller or general reader of life could easily see how things were going to turn out for my dear, spider-hugging, parsley nibbling (one of her favorite snack foods) robot building friend.
Even though I could see how the bully situation arose I still could not bare the thought of my gentle little friend crying every day and being told boldly (literally) “nobody here likes you”. When my friend was promoted to a new position with a new boss we were all hoping the condition of things would improve. Unfortunately, one of her bullies was also promoted with her and quickly made sure that everybody knew of my friend’s “boss’s favorite” status as well as working overtime at getting others to make fun of her. Oddly and much to my friend’s impressive fortitude my friend continued to succeed greatly at work and she even managed to find a few sympathetic friends.
Just recently my friend came to me with much excitement telling me she had finally found a new job that would not only be far superior but would be in a wholly other town. She was thrilled—as was I—finally she would be able to move away from her tormentors. This feeling of happiness for my friend was only short-lived, however, and in no time this subtle inner voice kept bugging me about the problems with running away or at least thinking you can really—truly—run away from your problems. In truth, the Universe was trying to teach my gentle little friend a lesson and instead of facing those bullies she was going to be happy with simply running way.
I called her over and told her about my terrible inner voice and how I felt that before she went to her new position she should really learn how to face and deal with her bullies. Her usual tactic was to either try even harder to befriend the bullies or to cry, but never did she actually stand up to and confront the handful of jerks that were making her miserable. After many tears and a good heart to heart talk my friend agreed and she too wondered about the folly of running away—for in truth bullies are everywhere and until you learn how to deal with them you will never find peace. My friend realized that a great deal of her problems arose from her difficulty standing up for herself and being assertive. My friend also realized that she would actually find herself focusing more on her bullies and less on the people at her office that not only seemed to like her but also could become genuine allies against any would-be ringleader.
Now instead of simply holding her breath for the next two months (which was the initial plan that she was going to employ in order to tolerate work) my friend is working to reach out more to people, open up, and most of all stand up to her bullies. We practice in my kitchen and I must say it is incredible to hear, “Mr. H you are being mean, and rude, and you are not worth my time,” (which is her rehearsed statement the next time one of her bullies makes fun of her). My friend is also working on making better eye contact and realizing that nobody has a right to push her around—spider hugging or not. And if you must know I have not seen my friend so happy in a long time and much to her surprise after only a few days she not only found herself eating with friendly people in the lunch room her bullies for the first time in a long time were actually acting like co-workers instead of school yard thugs. The biggest triumph, I believe, is that while my friend is genuinely learning how to deal with jerks she has not compromised herself in order to do so—which would mean triumph for the jerk. My friend remains as tender, kind, and gentle as always and still pulls the parsley out of my fridge—only now when you maliciously call her a weirdo she will turn and sharply face you, and I dare say to have such an angel’s laser clear, wide eyes into yours would be no picnic for the offender—no matter how tough he or she may think they are.
The truth is, sadly, that bullies are everywhere and many of the circumstances that caused the trouble will always be present. Indeed very few problems in life can be avoided. The key is to learn how to deal with them. Furthermore it is my belief that if my friend learns how to deal now then the Universe will graduate her and no longer will bullies be able to send her home crying—no matter who hard they try. She can then go to her new job not as someone running away but as someone confidently striding onto a new chapter in life.
So I suppose the suggestion for this week is to look at all those irritations, frustrations, and hardships in your life and deal with them—really deal with them. Otherwise there is a very real chance that the Universe will turn up the heat so hot you will find yourself seriously burnt before you finally get it.
Recently a girlfriend of mine came to me with a very rattled heart caused by a little untamed mouse. My friend is extraordinarily creative and bright and has a successful career in a very competitive and creative field. Recently, her talents landed her a new job with a new company for a great deal more power and money. It was the fruit of much hard work and labor and one of the key benefits is a new environment where she would be escaping a rather egotistic and domineering boss and entering a position with enough seniority and respect where the bosses would no longer be so dominating—rather more cooperative. With all change—good or bad—there was the usual amount of stress. Her new position required a higher level of everything from her wardrobe to the amount of money involved with each project—not to mention the amount of pressure upon her own talents. When my girlfriend came to me with her bad day she had only been at her new job for a couple of weeks. It appears that while her new position was indeed a great boon and a validation of all of her hard work one still must struggle with little mice. I am reminded by my own real critter struggle a few years back and my pest control gentleman assured my clearly panicked person that I should not take my mouse problem personally and that the house he was just at was that of a very prominent judge. He then told me in a very martial arts movie way that everybody gets mice and something about only the cat is quick enough to catch a mouse (in response to my earlier attempts of catching my little house mouse with a broom and a shoe box).
The little mouse for my friend came in the form of a slightly more senior colleague who was making her life miserable (or trying to in any case). This colleague would shoot down all of my friend’s ideas then use those same ideas to their bosses in large meetings. This colleague would try at every corner to make my friend feel as important or bright as a summer intern. Besides trying to belittle my friend her colleague additionally yelled a great deal and when she was not barking she was snapping, hissing, and snipping at her. As you can imagine this was a great worry and blow—for she was only into this new, thought-to-be-perfect position for a couple of weeks—only to realize her gorgeous cooperate digs had a mouse problem.
Wanting some comfort and advice she asked me what she could do to survive this colleague. I listened carefully to all of the details including the fact that this colleague got so intoxicated at the last Christmas party she had to be physically carried out of the ballroom. It also became clear that this colleague had the body and facial features of someone who has been carried out quite a few times. She was divorced and her hair and dress always appeared as though she had slept in them and then had to walk to work in a storm. Essentially, by every crude external measurement there was much to believe that this offending colleague was having a hard time of it. And after listening carefully to all of these details from the stealing of ideas, to the need to dominate, and the fact that her clothes were always markedly unkempt the solution to my girlfriend’s problem became quite clear: she must tame the little mouse.
I say “little mouse” because one of the first things I suggested to my friend was that she give her colleague a little animal name—making sure it is somewhat soft and comical—for it is truly difficult to be too angry or too threatened or to take too seriously a little mouse. To tame a little mouse or a little pony or even a little goat (some other great names to use with people whom you want to tame) one must touch ones chest. This is where the heart is and rules, and I assure you when little mice bark at you, steal your ideas, or try to belittle you in front of your boss you will feel this in your chest. Your heart is the place where you can tame any being. It is far more effective than your mind or your body.
To begin you simply find a quiet place to sit. It is best to sit in a position where your spine is erect. Sitting on the edge of a hard chair with your feet planted on the ground is a great way—the traditional lotus position is often painful for Westerners accustomed to sitting always on furniture. Then shut your eyes and allow your mind to settle a bit. Do not be aggressive or impatient with this. Simply wait until your body is used to its position, your breathing is regular and your mind is a little bored or dulled. Then place your focus on your heart. Envision your heart as a glowing and spinning wheel—it can be any color you wish from gold to blue. It can be silent and slow or it can spin quickly with a soft hiss. Whenever a thought enters your head gently return your attention to your spinning heart wheel. Do not dwell on or put any energy or stock into any of your thoughts. Simply notice them then go back to focusing on your spinning heart wheel. When your breathing begins to slow down, while envisioning your heart wheel, work to generate compassion for the person who has brought you so much anger and frustration. Genuinely examine that person and think of all the things you truly feel soft—even sad for that person. Surely a person who drinks so heavily that they need to be carried out of a party (a person in their fifties) and who needs to blatantly steal ideas is not a person who is doing very well and definitely not a person heading towards good times to come. Sometimes this is very difficult at first, but one must try. Even the smallest thing like remembering that person has children or even that they were a vulnerable child once—any thing to get you to use your heart in a compassionate way towards them.
With a daily commitment to this meditation miracles will happen. First realize that you will benefit from all of the physical, spiritual, and mental benefits from daily meditation. Then you will realize that you can use this mediation for anyone and everyone—including yourself. What you will also realize is that the more you work to generate compassion for someone the more the situation transforms—and I mean transforms. I will explain: when there is an outflow from your heart then others are unable to push energy in. This works both ways meaning if you are an angry, negative person and you encounter someone who feels genuine compassion for you, you will not be able to affect them. Conversely, if someone is trying to project his or her misery onto you if your heart is pushing out with compassion then their negativity will not be able to enter your chest (causing that terrible and painful tightening of the chest, shoulders and neck—not to mention hours of inner mental battle between you and the offender). Having true compassion in the face of a real jerk may seem impossible, however, if you are regularly and actively developing compassion for your Little Rabbit (Jerk) then I assure you that your Little Rabbit will never be quite the same to you: for a jerk is one thing but a Little Rabbit is, if anything, amusing and comical.
The second thing to happen is where, until you yourself experience it, I know it is nearly unbelievable. However, I have many, many times over worked with this heart-wheel technique and I will tell you that it does indeed happen—why or how I am not positive—but somehow the more you generate genuine compassion you end up truly taming your little mouse. First you will find that the more you foster compassion the more you feel protective and endeared to the previously offending party. This seems impossible in the beginning—but it just seems to happen. This effect is not, however, the miracle. The miracle is that without any real external change or effort on your part by simply feeling compassion for a person that person begins to completely transform. It is as if the Universe throws us jerks and liars and backstabbers in order to TAME US. By learning to use your heart and learning to develop compassion for those who are quite clearly messed-up we are tamed. And so it seems that once the Universe sees we have properly passed that particular test then we are no longer tried: for Little Mouse becomes oddly your dear friend or Little Rabbit transforms into Wise Owl and proves to be a valuable confidant.
So for this week, it is my suggestion that instead of dealing with the jerks, liars, and barkers in your life with anger, frustration and perhaps even by using the offending party’s own tactics you try to use your heart. It is an awesomely powerful muscle—certainly capable of handling Little Goose.
Around eight years ago a dear friend loaned me a book. It was a spontaneous event—I was actually on my way out when he handed me the book and said that I should read it. As usual, it took some time for me to get to it. When I finally sat down I found myself completely engulfed with the thing and disappeared from life for a couple of days until the book was fully read. The book was “Chronicles of Tao: The Secret Life Of A Taoist Master” by Deng Ming-Dao (Harper San Francisco, 1993). I will plainly state that this book would forever alter me in that its stories and lessons would remain in my psyche. Recently, I found myself thinking of this book as I found myself using and needing many of the lessons taught in its stunningly drafted pages. With those thoughts I decided to re-read it. This time, however, instead of the experience being a sort of frantic gulp of wisdom I find myself reading slowly—only a few pages a day—and seeing richer, finer lessons that my first run did not fully grasp.
While there are countless wisdoms to be explored and shared, today I want to focus on destiny, ambition, and development. To begin I will give a very—extremely—simple image of what the Tao is. While I am no Taoist master and I will be the first to discount my crude understandings and explanations, I will say that it is first best to think of the Tao as a great sea and to think of yourself as a small vessel riding upon that sea. Your vessel does indeed have a captain, some navigation capabilities, and a rudder; however, the sea as many a wise sailor knows has a power and intention that can humble any captain, navigation capabilities, and any rudder. In short, one does the best they can to go where they want to go, but one must also realize they are but a tiny vessel upon a vast and fathomless sea.
At first one can become rather pessimistic with this seemingly fatalistic worldview, however, this can easily be overcome it one were to see the deeper point and that is that while the Tao is awesome and in many ways too vast and tumultuous to every truly know the vessel is knowable and if one were to learn how to be a terrific captain then regardless of where this sea tosses your vessel you will manage marvelously—and maybe just maybe—you will see that where the Tao takes you and not where you want to go is precisely where you need to be.
Now I know this all sounds fantastic and super-spiritual and perhaps even a little trite. For really you could exchange the name Tao for God and see how this little worldview has been bandied about for some time within the course of human thinking—East or West. However, there is one little (or very big depending on your temperament) rub that happens when you contemplate the idea that we are but small vessels upon a vast sea and really in all honesty one really has to begin to wonder who is really in charge: the captain or the sea. And I will say that most of us would really, really like to live as though the captain is—only to be sincerely and overwhelming surprised when the sea asserts itself.
The book begins with the protagonist as a little boy. The book is a true story based on a Taoist Master’s life story. The master as a little boy was very intrigued with all of his grandfather’s stories of great martial arts warriors and the little boy deeply wanted to be a martial arts hero himself—a true legend like the many his grandfather told him about. His grandfather in response to the nine-year-old’s ambitions had this to say:
“Fame and fortune are predestined. Of what use is a guileful heart? Rather, constantly seek the truth, maintain your discipline, and preserve your dignity,
“Cultivate the ‘Way.’ Don’t swim against the current. Only by swimming with it can you avoid disaster. For the bitter truth of life is this: Each person is at the mercy of the tide. Sometimes one wants to go east, but one is swept to the west. Sometimes one wants to go north, but one is carried to the south. There is no choice. Finding this truth is the Way. The Way is ‘Tao.’” (Page 39)
The little boy’s grandfather goes on to explain, “Tao is the flow of the universe. Tao is the Mysterious. Tao is balance.” The key he explains is how one confronts evil. Evil can put the world off balance and evil must be dealt with. “If you learn to live with Tao and someday use your skills to fight evil, then perhaps you can be called a hero”. (All excerpts page 39)
The lesson is really the futility of ambition. Fame and fortune are simply places that the Tao swept you. To strive for them is to pretend that you are the mighty sea and not the small vessel being tossed about. This is not to say that one should just become a couch potato—just the opposite. It is a call to genuinely work on yourself. While the sea very well may toss you to fame or perhaps great loss if you have worked to develop a strong, wise, and just inner self then you will be able to handle yourself brilliantly. And really that is the whole point: for great evil and misery can be had in the face of fame and fortune if a poorly prepared captain is suddenly cast in their wake; conversely great joy and realization can be had in the face of immense loss. True heroes are heroic in tragedy as well as abundance.
To focus on gaining external greatness is merely pretending you are the Universe. To focus on gaining internal greatness is actually the way of becoming one with the Universe. There is much irony here. The more and more you strive to become popular, famous, rich, beautiful the more and more vulnerable you become and if the Tao should toss you in the direction you so deeply believe you want to be you will be woefully unqualified to handle its wake. This in turn can bring great misery even evil. The Tao might also toss you far away from your ambitions of wealth, power, and popularity and this too will bring much misery and perhaps even evil—depending on the bitterness and drive of the individual. For someone who has worked on their inner captain and the strength of their vessel there is no place the Tao can toss them that will not be met heroically. There is no fame or power that will cause corruption or misery; there is no tragedy or disappointment that will cause cruelty, jealousy or bitterness. For a person who has developed a great inner captain and has fostered a strong vessel faces life as a hero and sees the vast sea as a grand adventure to be fully embraced and enjoyed.
This is a very tough pill to take—particularly in a time when external riches and validation are considered to be the highest achievement a person can make—with internal riches and validation as being a sort of weak superstitious affair. However, one only has to gaze at many of our leaders and remember Katrina to see the evil in power without a wise inner captain and to see the folly in thinking we are the masters of the sea and not the other way around. Today it is my suggestion that you contemplate the Taoist Master’s wise grandfather’s words and perhaps try to focus less on where you want the Universe to take you and focus more on the character and constitution that lies beneath your skin. Again, because it is so beautiful:
“Fame and fortune are predestined. Of what use is a guileful heart? Rather, constantly seek the truth, maintain your discipline, and preserve your dignity.”
Currently I have been plowing through an enormous book with an equally enormous title: “Merging with Siva: Hinduism’s Contemporary Metaphysics—365 enlightenment lessons from a living master, revealing the depths of raja yoga, the clear white light and the ultimate destiny of every seeker” by Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami (1999, Himalayan Academy). Now first I want to state that for the most part this book has so far flown quite nicely over my head. Indeed I have found myself more than once overcome by an intense languor after only reading a few pages (a sleepiness that usually comes when I find myself understanding the words but not the meaning). My dogs, however, have enjoyed this book as usually when reading sleepiness overcomes me I usually climb off my favorite reading chair and lie on the carpet with my dogs in their favorite sunbathing spot. They usually get up and spoon in right next to me. I suppose instead of swimming with the dolphins I find spiritual repose in lying with the dogs.
With all that said there have been parts of this non-stop sharing of wisdom that have been intelligible—even enlightening and today I want to talk about the subconscious and a great way to see what really lies under your skirts.
The gist of this exercise and the reason for this exercise is that in order to reach higher, more refinedstates of being one must first clean out one's subconscious. The idea is that if one is running around with an overcrowded and unruly subconscious then one will continue to be a slave to ones inner drives, desires, and fears—all of which are not necessarily wise and good. If one were to first be able to know what they even have lurking around in their subconscious then one can begin to understand and work through all of the experiences of their life. For until that is achieved life will continue to throw us the same lessons over and over again until we finally have learned the lesson.
This all sounds pretty heavy and pretty expensive. Years of intensive analysis seem to be the only way one could really get down and see what is in the basement. However, this guru offers an amazingly cheap and doable suggestion: go through all of your possessions, including the relationships you have and your pets and recall their total history. The idea is that if you ever really want to see a perfect snapshot of your subconscious simply look around your house. Everything that surrounds you is a direct expression of your subconscious and it is those objects that continue to influence—even dictate—how you view and experience life. I’ll explain….
Every single thing from a book to a teacup came to you in some way. It has a history. If you were to pick up any object in your house with a little bit of effort (or a lot depending on your memory) you would be able to recall how, why and when that object was acquired. By continuing to keep, use, misuse, or not use that object you are in a very real way continuing to keep, use, misuse or not use that history. I have a bottle opener that was given to me by a beloved uncle who died not long after he gave me the opener (as a Christmas present along with two bottles of beer). I still have that opener and even though I have moved countless times since, I have never lost that opener and still today it is heartily used in my home even though it is surely worn. This is an easy history. A love story—I can think of my uncle ever time I open a cool bottle of beer or soda. So I know that part of what informs my day to day living is a love story of death and remembrance. However, not all of the things in my home are love stories. Some are anger stories—gifts from people which whom I have had a falling out. Some frustration stories—objects I bought to fill a void like dresses in my closet that still have their tags—dresses I purchased for events I would like to attend but never seem to be invited.
And some stories are silly and mysterious like my vacuum. Around twelve years ago I decided it was time to buy a new vacuum. My vacuum was a hand-me-down and surely was made in the fifties. It had begun to shoot sparks out of the outlet and fearing electrocution or fire I decided to get a new one. Not feeling sure of myself in the vacuum world I decided to enlist the aid of a gentlemen friend of mind who after months of excited research found the “perfect one”. Much to my surprise the perfect vacuum was not sold in stores rather out of people’s homes and sure enough I found myself in the entry way of this middle aged woman’s home with check book in hand. Besides my dog I had never purchased anything inside of a stranger’s home and honestly I can still say the practice is weird—but a good weird. She was dressed in a no-nonsense Sears and Roebuck sort of way wearing jeans and slippers and her house was packed and noisy—with little toddlers and tiny yapping dogs. It appears she also ran a day care business out of her home. The entry way was narrow and small, but she managed to keep a whole line of vacuum cleaners displayed along the wall. In her slippers and jeans she demonstrated the vacuum to me all the while her little dogs barked and jumped behind a toddler gate you could see blocking the kitchen from the entry way and toddlers pressed and pooled behind another gate blocking the living room from the entry way. It was wild. After the demonstration she then told me why this was the very best vacuum in the world. Her eyes had very dark circles and crescent-shaped bags underneath them. I had to believe her and pulled out my checkbook. It was around five times more expensive than any vacuum cleaner I ever saw in a store and for years I always wondered it I had really made the best decision…until just a short while ago.
My good, though suspiciously expensive vacuum finely blew out a belt, and I realized that my vacuum did not have belts you could get at a normal store. I would have to go to a vacuum store. I finally found one nearby and nothing—absolutely nothing would prepare me for what I was to experience. From the outside the store looked perfectly normal, however, once you walked in immediately you sensed you were in some kind of bizarre time space continuum. The store was covered in dust—ancient dust—which did not make sense because the little shopping center it was in was not that old. Secondly, you noticed that the bulk of the space was filled with old vacuums—really old—like hundreds and hundreds of years old. There were also several old fans—the kind made of putty colored steel that you see in old detective movies. Next you see a large desk covered in dusty, ancient office things—the kind of office things that would be given to a child by a great-aunt in order to play office—things I have not seen since I was very very little. Then, WAM, you see a large oldish man in a stained tank-top undershirt, suspenders, and very stained slacks that were unbuttoned and partially unzipping. He was sweaty and balding and wore black horned rimmed glasses. And he was doing absolutely nothing. Thinking I had made a great mistake and was not in the proper store or the proper store had since moved I sheepishly asked if he had the vacuum belt I needed. He asked me the type of vacuum I had and then pointed to a tiny display on the wall. The display was no more that five feet tall and two feet wide and it was an ordered line of various tiny plastic packages filled with little things for vacuums. His point, I realized, was ingeniously fine-tuned and while knowing nothing about vacuums I was able to pick the exact belt just from drawing a line from his finger to the display. The belt was sixty-seven cents (with tax) and I saw that almost everything in the display was around that price range. Before I left I gathered all of my courage (for he was not an easy gentleman to be in the presence of…you could not help fearing that zipper would drop further) I asked about my vacuum. I finally wanted to know if I had made a good decision and he said, “That one? Good? That’s a vacuum that’s used commercially. They don’t get much better. That’s a classic. You have one? Do you clean offices? For home? Wow, well you got one powerful machine.” And for someone like myself who very often lies with dogs it is very important to posses no ordinary vacuum.
Now, certainly some histories as with the history of my vacuum are not so cut and dry as in gifts from ex-lovers I seem to still use or beat-up lamps I won’t throw out because I bought them at a very happy time in my life. But in a way already I can see how our objects and how we recall our objects are still completely pregnant with who we are and where we’ve been. In recalling my vacuum’s history I was brought back to a very sweet and new time in my life and to one of my very best gentlemen friends and to my love of wonder and adventure…and surely my vacuum has led me to those places. And I suppose that subconsciously every time I see or use my vacuum I am re-experiencing the history surrounding the vacuum and that history is still informing the life and person I am.
So for today, my beloved Sailors and Patrons joining me on my quest for the Champagne Life, it is my suggestion that you take a little walk about your house and go through the history of your possessions. Perhaps you might see a little more clearly what you probably need to finally get rid of and why when you walk past your dresser (that you bought with your ex) you feel a subtle surge of anger, or perhaps why mopping the floor makes you feel happy inside…perhaps you bought that mop at a very good time in your life. Either way, everything you ever really need to know about yourself is always blinking, shimmering or gathering dust right before your eyes.
I have for some time been a fan of the self-help guru Dr. Wayne Dyer. There is just something about his voice that always inspires me to at least try some of his suggestions—suggestions that he insists will bring much peace and goodness into my life. Knowing that much peace and goodness is indeed a good thing to acquire I took on one of his more difficult challenges. In his book “Your Sacred Self: Making the Decision to Be Free” (HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. 1995) Dr. Dyer provides a very bold exercise—one that not only appears to be nearly impossible but one that has produced surprising and unexpected results. This exercise is to absolutely stop lying. All lies are to be discontinued, and I mean all lies from those little white lies that protect your loved ones egos to those great big lies that keep you out of jail. Once again, I will say that I really do adore that Dr. Wayne Dyer and over the years I have gleaned so much peace and benefits from that sage that when he gives the call to try to lie never ever again then at the very least I am drawn to give it a try. Now ordinarily I would not give such a monstrous experiment a go, and certainly there have been many calls to speak only the truth (all of which I have heartily brushed off), however, somehow with the way Dr. Dyer suggested it I felt it was at least worth a try.
Lies are funny things and certainly the subject of honesty has been the fodder of many plays, movies, novels, and sit-coms, and always the big question is: “Is it really such a good idea to always tell the truth?” We can all pretty much agree that honesty is important and there have been pretty clear boundaries set up regarding what type of lies are evil or wrong and what type of lies are “white” or somehow good and right. Evil lies are intended to hurt as in the case of slander or deceit meant to somehow profit as in a “con job”. Other evil, though slightly less, sinister lies may involve self protection as in the case of lying in court or lying to ones spouse. Some lies are seen as wrong though in a pathetic sort of way as in lying to make yourself seem better, richer, or more important as in lying about your finances or sexual exploits or even the true size of the fish you caught. Flattery is a curious class of lies in that we have collectively agreed on a very refined judgment system regarding the Right and Wrong forms of flattery. Flattery as a vice can be portrayed as evil and very often flatterers are considered to be lowly profiteers. However, flattery can also be seen as a warm and acceptable practice if we are complimenting little old ladies and people with outstanding handicaps. At first glance one could easily argue that flattery is acceptable or okay if the intent of the flatterer is not one of personal profit. However, the counter to that idea is that really all flattery is executed because the flatterer wants to profit: whether that profit means a promotion or that profit means a popularity vote. Flattery is certainly a subject that could be rolled around for some time, however in needing to be economic we will move on to the lies that fall in the “good” range: the lies we say to protect other peoples’ feelings. For most it is really these types of lies that are the most difficult to avoid and for many they are to be considered a morally good practice. This little survey of lies though surely incomplete shows I hope what a vast enterprise we are dealing with when we consider the practice of never—ever lying. And it would be this little survey that would roll and roll through my mind as I steeled myself to boldly go lie free.
When I first began my mission of a lie-free lifestyle I came in thinking of myself as a pretty honest person. I had even been accused of being too honest by some friends and family, and so to be perfectly honest I was a little “cocky” when I began this enterprise. What I would quickly find out is that I am a total liar. You got it…an absolute lie-O-holic. This shocked me. I had been walking around for many years thinking of myself as being a super-duper honest person. I believe I even told people I met that I was a very honest person. Wow, was I in for a surprise…it appears that once you try Dr. Wayne Dyer’s little exercise of living an absolutely lie free life you realize just how much you lie. I saw that I lied about everything—anything—that really few conversations went by that didn’t have at least some small lie in it. And what was really weird is I discovered whole new classes of lies that fell completely outside of my above survey of lies. There were the lies of laziness: when I was asked to explain what I did during the day and I would lie because I was too tired and too lazy to really answer that person honestly. There were the lies of laziness Type II: these lies were lies to get people off my back by saying things like “I’ll get to it tonight” even though I knew I had absolutely no intention on getting to it tonight. And then there were the lies I just have no category for these lies were mysterious untruths I said with really no rationale: these were the hardest to stop and catch before they happened and once they happened more than ever I found myself wondering about being human and what this honesty thing was really all about…for it appears I have not as of yet really come to experience it.
By the second month I found that not lying actually became a little easier. For the gross lying I was nearly perfect: not a single over-glorified “war story” passed my lips…even in the face of sparkling wine and cute guys. Even white lies were dissolving from my day-to-day psyche, and I found that saying nothing or picking one thing that was both positive and true worked not only just as well but also better. It was still hard though, and I realized just how selective I had been with telling the truth and perhaps using the truth selectively can in some ways be as deceitful as lying.
The third month of only truth telling was again a little easier. I am not saying I was perfect, but I was a great deal better. Now I was actually getting into the habit of telling only the truth and when I did tell a fib it was increasingly uncomfortable to do. And by the third month I even found myself better able to both protect my privacy and not lie: meaning when someone asks me a probing question that I do not want them to know my “true” answer I have found better ways to both not lie and protect my peace. And I realized, once again, yet another type of lie: lying to protect a truth that nobody needs to know. This was a complex lesson because it not only tackled lying, but it also tackled the concept of privacy and probing. Being honest is important, however, it does not mean you owe anybody anything. In fact, when I took lying out of the equation I found myself feeling more empowered, and I realized that people may demand all sorts of things from you but that does not mean you have to give in to their demands. And from that idea or lesson I began to realize a very—very magical thing….
Now I am nearly ending my fourth month of this experience and while I certainly cannot as of yet claim to be George Washington I can say that the lies are becoming increasingly rare and obvious and no longer an automatic social function as they were before. And within the exercise I have experienced bold exchanges between what would have been lies and what are now empowering truths with Silence being my greatest new asset. It is okay to simply say nothing. And while for some this may seem obvious, for me it has been one of the most exciting new toys I have received in a long time…it is okay to say nothing. However, even this realization was not the biggest most magical thing that happened due to this exercise….
I did not see it coming…honestly…and when I commenced this project I really only thought of self-improvement in the light of being a better person. I thought that not lying anymore would somehow put me in some kind of elevated “karmic status” or if anything just trying such a bold and difficult experiment would prove interesting and illuminating. However, what has happened since my commencement is truly surprising: it appears that the more you do not lie the better you feel about yourself. When I began to live the truth—really live the truth—I found I was increasingly getting to know who I really was. As I was getting to know who I really was I was getting used to who I really was, and as I was getting used to who I really was I was getting to like who I really am. I guess it appears that lying—even those little white ones—not only prevents others from knowing the truth it keeps the liar from knowing the truth. Sure we know when we are lying, but what I realized was that only after I really made a conscious effort to not lie just how much lying is a part of living and only when I began to really stop lying—all lying—did I come to see how the lie works as a fog between your mind and your soul. The more I told only the truth the more I came to see who I was and after awhile I have actually gotten used to and have even come to enjoy who I really am.
In no way did I ever realize that the truth behind Dr. Wayne Dyer’s exercise was way bigger than simply not lying. Far beyond being a better person, consciously not lying has brought on an unbelievable sense of self-acceptance. I just quite frankly feel better in my skin…a skin that perhaps hasn’t really caught a five foot fish…a skin that does not really think starting a career in cheerleading at thirty is a good idea…and a skin that does not have to tell you anything that does not feel right to tell. I suppose every time you lie you tell yourself that who you really are and how you really feel and what you really want is not worth honoring.
I thank you humbly Dr. Dyer. This was one of your most outlandish and difficult suggestions yet, and now as an explorer searching for the Champagne Life it is my suggestion today that you all take this terrible ride for a spin. For you too may find that the truth that lies beneath your skin is far better than the lies you feel compelled to tell others.
Last week in my column I discussed the importance of sweating the details in life. For really no master plan will work if one does not mind all the little errands and irritants that will foil any great ambition: if your pants are uncomfortable you will not write a good business plan and if your mind is soaked in having to buy a present for your niece’s fifth birthday then I am quite sure you will not be focused in your important meeting. This is not to say that life should be reduced to one long list of things to do, however, it is to suggest that while great plots, plans, and thinking are fantastic to be sure if you do not come down to earth every once in awhile to do your laundry and unclog your sink then even the loftiest of minds will find themselves mired down. With all that said I would like today to address another key component to living a real live Champagne Life and that is living with a Master Plan.
Yes…yes…yes indeed it is important to sweat all those little details of day-to-day living, however, without having a guiding vision or master plan then very quickly the spark, lust, and inspiration for living becomes increasingly absent. It is pleasing to have a clean house or to have remembered a co-worker’s birthday, however, that sort of pleasing always fades and demands another stimulus. Having a master plan in life gives depth and meaning to life and addresses a crucial life issue: why. It is important to send a wedding gift to a friend or relative BECAUSE by sending a gift you not only take part in an ancient custom designed to keep families and communities bonded and closely knit it also is a way to acknowledge the fragility and beauty of love and the need for outside support when two people are pledging a commitment of that love. It is the why or because that needs master plan thinking. Now surely you could say you purchased a wedding present because people would get mad at you if you didn’t, however, rarely is that type of rationale strong enough to provide any type of lasting result. Possible punishment is rarely a deterrent, however, doing or not doing something because of a deep philosophical or moral rationale is profound and throughout history we have learned that rarely can a person’s fire be diminished—even in the face of death—when they are drawing strength from their sense of ethics, philosophy, or theology.
This brings us to the question what really is a master plan? First I would like to quickly state that the type of “Master Plan” or “Master Plan Thinking” I am talking about is not common desire or ambition. Wanting a successful career in acting, sales or the medical profession might very well be your “game plan” and this “game plan” might very well inform your day to day decisions, however, it is my suggestion today that without a grander, more profound master plan even the best of game plans will eventually ring hollow. In fact it is my further suggestion that without having a good master plan than your ability to form a really great game plan will be sincerely diminished.
But now here we are with the big question: how does one and from what should one formulate a master plan? For some religion has been their pattern from which they cut out their master plan, and for those I will say that regardless of ones religion having a great pattern still does not make the suit. Even with an impeccable pattern—with impeccable instructions—master plan thinking must still come into play. Master Plan and Master Plan Thinking are two things that must always be together. One should not only have a sense of a master plan one should also practice learning how to put their master plan into perspective as life rapidly throws things at them. How does your master plan come into play when you encounter a really crabby waitress or when your friend tells you he has cancer?
For many, religion has been ever illusive, and for them the creating of a master plan must take on other roads. For those working without a pattern I believe master plans can be at the very least inspired by ones heart and the wisdom of others. Throughout history there have been many horrors and blunders, however, there have also been incredible examples of true human greatness. Nothing for me is more enriching and inspirational than a good biography of someone I deeply admire. And as for the heart I will say that while the brain certainly has received a great deal of attention over the past couple of centuries as our medical and scientific technology has improved I do not really know if our philosophical and moral traditions have been able to advance in the shadows. With that said I have personally found that spending some regular time meditating with solely that red organ on focus there is much wisdom to be had south of the Thinking border. There are many times in life that we succumb or must act without thinking—a strong and unhindered heart can at those times confidently take the reigns.
Why am I continually using the word “plan” or “master plan” when what I am writing implies the word “beliefs” or “belief system”? The reason I use the term “master plan” is because the word “plan” implies responsibility, action, and reason for action. You see it is one thing to have a belief system and even a belief system that informs your day-to-day living, however, having a master plan means that those beliefs are merely an aspect of a grander, larger vision of what living a life is. A Master Plan has an end result. While doing the laundry, buying birthday presents, and pursuing a successful career in law are all great “things to do”, and perhaps even having a solid belief system might guide how you go about all those “things to do” only if one has a master plan is there a sense of where all this is going. And having a sort of super fantastic end goal gives life a profound sense of romance, meaning, and excitement. If your Master Plan is to leave this planet having more clean water or less infant mortalities than when you came, or your Master Plan is to pull together your fractured, and perhaps, spiritually wounded family together before you take your earthly leave than I assure you those long hours at work or those times sitting up with a sick child all night will carry a richer and more fulfilling reward. Ultimately having a master plan implies that we were born for a reason and that not only does life have meaning so does our very existance.
I would have to say while there are all kinds of people in the world one could really shake them down into two groups: the master plan people and the detail folks. There are those that see life as a grand gesture a sort of sweeping play with rolling, but major themes, and there are those that see each day each moment as having something important to do, to get done. Both worldviews have an incredible amount of merit, and indeed, I would argue that to be a sort of “super person” one really should embody both ways: to embrace both the whole picture and all the little chores that allow the whole picture to become realized.
Details come in many forms. There are details like putting out the garbage and making sure you have a clean shirt for work the next day, and there are details like stopping for a moment to take the pebble out of your shoe or finally dealing with an ongoing conflict you have had with a co-worker. Both types of details are those little things that whether you like it or not can fill an awful lot of headspace—making it difficult to almost impossible to formulate ones master plan. For even the most brilliant of evil geniuses will have to wait in line for hours at city hall because they failed to mail back their city parking permit form on time. In (one of my favorite reads of all time) the classic “Autobiography of a Yogi” by Paramahansa Yogananda I was totally amused by a perfect example of how a lofty visionary intertwines the stark reality of the little things: when the author Paramahansa Yogananda (an esteemed Yogi) was visiting Mahatma Gandhi he was told that while Gandhi was thrilled he came he could not speak to him until the next day…it appeared that the day Paramahansa Yogananda was visiting was the day in which Gandhi observed total silence. At first when you read this you perceive some grand, spiritual gesture in this, as the author does, a sort of day where Gandhi shuts off the turbulence of day-to-day world saving to commune with god. However, the next day when the two gentlemen meet and Gandhi is able to speak Gandhi reveals that he took up the practice of a weekly silence so he could finally get through all of his correspondence. He said that he was unable to read and answer all of his mail because everyone always needed to know this or that, now with his imposed day of silence he can get things done. Honestly, I have not heard of a better way to intertwine ones profound purpose with ones mundane chores. This is not an unusual theme, in fact, in the world of Zen Buddhism one of the most common phrases is: “Wash dishes, find enlightenment, wash dishes”.
Those little details are not always manifested in things to do they also are manifested in the form of minor irritations, and those little spurs can wreak more havoc on ones Supreme Pilgrimage than any band of highway robbers. One of my most enduring lines from literature comes from one of my most beloved of writers, Thackeray, in his masterwork “The Newcomes”. “The Newcomes” is a sweeping epic that encapsulates war, financial boom and bust and massive romantic failure and yet what Thackeray observes through one of his aged lead characters is that while man can endure all sorts of dramatic hardships: war, disease, and heartbreak it is the pebble in ones shoe that eventually will bring him to his end. For in truth, in those grand, epic-quality experiences more often than not a sense of profundity and depth ensues regardless of the level of pain or loss. However, uncomfortable shoes, an irritating neighbor, or even a flat beer on your last nickel are the things that will erode a man and lead him into disrepair—the kind of downtrodden state that death soon fallows. This observation of Thacheray’s, for me could not be more true and to give another real-life illustration I will retell a brilliant story given to me by one of my best friends: My dear friend was traveling through Europe with a German gentleman friend of his. For most of the trip they were getting along fine and having a great time. However, one day as they were touring Versailles in France (on what was reported to be one of the most beautiful days of all time) my friend and his German companion were at constant odds. According to my friend the German snapped at everything that was said or suggested and continued to embitter everyone’s nerves. Finally, my friend snapped, “Mr. W I think your underwear is too tight.” The German gentlemen stopped in his tracks, raised his eyebrows and said, “I suppose you might be right.” The German gentleman then proceeded to take out a small knife from his key chain, put his hands inside the sides of his pants, and then pulled out his newly cut-free pair of underwear. He then began to take wide steps around the lawn of The Sun King’s grand gesture and exclaimed, “By golly you are correct…that was my problem all along!” The German gentleman then tossed his underwear in the bushes and merrily walked on…and by all reports from my very dear friend he and the German gentleman proceeded to have the time of their lives.
I suppose my point here is that while it is indeed important (and loads more fun) to engage in high plains thinking—to see life as something meaningful and profound—and to see one as having some sort of grand purpose. It is also important to sweat those little things, those errands to run and those pebbles in your shoe, because in truth, if you do not they will surely hamper your master plan. For no matter how focused you are a lost set of keys or a looming, need-to-buy Mother’s Day card will blur even the eagle’s eyes
Every new issue has its own particular vibe when being made. The Spring Issue 2006 eventually became known by my staff and I as the “breach birth”. Now normally putting together a new issue always takes more time and has several mini disasters throughout, however, this issue, though oddly disaster free seemed to take FOREVER…and ever…and ever. There was something about this issue that wanted or needed to be doted on. This thought went through my mind as I sat down and read the magazine early this morning in preparation for my column. I came to see at least some reasons as to why this issue took not hours—but days more than a usual issue. In short, this issue is packed, full, pregnant which is interesting because that is what Spring is all about. Spring to me is a time of enormous promise a time of planting, beginning, and hoping.
As usual I have many people I would like to thank. First I would like to thank Liz Vilardi for taking the time out and letting us interview her. Liz is the General Manager and Wine Buyer for one of my favorite restaurants in Cambridge, Ma, The Blue Room. Additionally, I would like to thank Dr. James Smith, MD for co-authoring this issue’s feature “Wine and Your Heart”. Dr. James Smith, MD and Dr. Timothy Smith, PhD managed to write both an informative and readable piece. To compliment the feature Dr. Timothy Smith wrote a great article in the Arts & Science section regarding the nature of a scientific study and gives you some tools in order for you to better evaluate a study’s validity. To round off the Sparkling Wine section John Euclid does a great review of “expensive wines from usually cheap places” and our Industry News section has a few new updates with more to come.
Our First Person section of this magazine is incredible—definitely take the time to read these essays! I have read them all several times and every time I am still moved, entertained, and informed. Regular Better Drinkers Dave Brown and Suzie Sims-Fletcher are my Hellogoodbyers. Both of the first person essays are incredibly written and hauntingly honest. I am always so touched and awed by the generosity of my writers. The Hellogoodbye section more than ever highlights all that hello and goodbye mean. Dave’s piece is uplifting without being sweet or sentimental, and as for Ms. Sims-Fletcher’s piece, I must admit it was one of the more emotionally charged goodbyes yet—she delves into a shadowy reality of friendship that few of us like to admit. Another regular Better Drinker David Sirois delivers a riveting Passion Forum. Again, I can as editor safely brag that my writing staff all seem to posses the heart of a lion. David shares with us the true story of how he came to meet his guru and how his spiritual path became reveled to him. Lastly, I am very proud to introduce two new writers to The Better Drink: Philip Roufail and Laurel Lamperd. Philip delivers a delightful, fun-filled champagne adventure in our “Under the Goldlight: true tales of drinking champagne” section. The name of the piece is “Tuesday” and to be honest I respect any person who sees good reason to drink the good stuff mid-week. If you are trapped at home or the office this is a perfect read—a sort of virtual party experience. Laurel wrote our “Life Before Ten” essay, and I must say that I could not be more proud to publish it. I had a little free time before dinner and decided to poke through a couple of writer’s submissions. When I came to hers I only intended to skim over the first paragraph or so, but instead I not only read the whole piece I entreated my arriving dinner guest to as well. It is a truly finely crafted essay, and I heartily encourage you all to check it out.
Feeling fully that these days the gods really are in my favor I would like to introduce you to this issue’s Art & Literature section—and again it is packed with quality writing and art. For poetry and fiction we have two return writers Rebecca Uhlhorn and Wayne Scheer. Rebecca’s work is clean and sincere and most definitely will clear up any lonely or out of focus moment you might have. Good poetry can do that. Wayne Scheer gives us yet another great short story. Wayne is not only a gifted writer, but I believe he has an additional gift of authenticity. I trust his words. Again, it is a great read and (again) I urge you to check it out. I would also like to thank J. Blake Gordon for allowing me to use his breathtakingly tender and sensual photo of a young couple to use with Wayne Scheer’s story “Autumn Moon”. Rounding off the Art & Literature section is Troy Paiva’s photography in our Marcia Reed Virtual Gallery; and Anna Luciano, Frizt Voigt, and J. Blake Gordon giving us great insights in our Film in Review section. Wow was my first response when I stumbled onto Troy’s site and saw his work. He is truly a gifted artist, and I cannot be more proud and honored in being able to present his work to you. Thank you Troy many times over. Anna, our regular reviewer delivers, yet again, a superb and informative review of “V for Vendetta”. Fritz manages a fun and insightful co-review (he enlisted the help of a seven-year-old) of Tim Burton’s “Corpse Bride”; and lastly J. Blake Gordon (who I know personally is one of the savviest critics of poplar culture and absolutely knows what’s hip and what is not and who generously keeps me from being dated) shares with us a movie that he thinks we should all see in the “Closet Classic” section of Film in Review.
I would like to thank Dr. Timothy Smith for all of your hard work, dedication, and tolerance. This certainly was a difficult issue to put together and we both saw four a.m. to many times.
Last but certainly not least I would like to thank all of our readers. Simply put this magazine would not be what it is without all of your loyal and enthusiastic support. Tim and I strive to make every issue a little better than the last and likewise we have seen our readership steadily grow. If it were not for the inspiration we gain from you, the reader, I do not think we could put in the long hours. I truly hope this newest issue inspires, challenges and entertains…and again, I truly thank you for sharing your time with our little electric magazine.
A brief note to my beloved Sailors and Patrons…those hearty souls who are joining me on my quest for the Champagne Life…as you have noticed my column has gone from a daily to a weekly. This will continue as I have been afforded an amazing creative opportunity. Also in writing a weekly I have been able to develop broader and more complicated themes. Each new column will be released on Friday (mid-morning) and will remain up throughout the week. The columns will also be available in the table bellow. We are currently working on a database for the complete collection of my columns that will hopefully be easy to navigate and search. If you are new to the magazine definitely check out my column and entertain the idea of joining me as I search for the Champagne Life.
Jennifer Barnick, Editor
If one should wrap up the whole of the I Ching it would be “heaven fills what is empty and empties what is full”. Today I want to talk literally about nothing…about silence…about emptiness.
Not so long ago I saw one of the most disturbing ads on television that I had seen in a long time. The scene was set on a sunny, fuzzy afternoon presumably on a weekend day where everyone was off work and at home. The home was largish and clean and everything America Perfecta. A mom was strolling through her home with a dreamy sort of smile and a figure that few real moms have. Soft, swooning, inspirational though all the while upbeat music played as she moved room to room. She looked in one room and Dad is with his friends jumping around over a sports game on the television. She then floats upstairs where she sees Son playing video games with some friends and then she espies Daughter working (or surfing) on the computer. All the while Mom has this sort of glazed over joy that normally I would attribute to pot or something you can pick up with a prescription these days. Then Mom strolls into her private sanctuary—a painting studio no less—and puts on the headphones of a compact CD player and begins painting. Then the voice over comes…with the marvel of electronic technology the whole family can be wired in just the way they like it (or something like that…). Luckily the second time I saw that ad I was with a dear friend who loudly gasped in horror by the morbidity of the ad—it made me feel more comfortable with my initial horror for it is awkward to feel sickened by something that portrays itself as completely and utterly heavenly as that ad did their little electronically wired Familius Pefectus Americus.
Besides the obvious revelation that to have an electronically connected family very often means to have a human-level disconnected family, what also disturbed me was this present—almost panicked—need to be constantly doing something. From waiting on the bus, to strolling down the street, and even to enduring a slight lull at a party everyone seems to be grabbing at his or her phones, PDAs, or Blackberries.
In every wisdom and religious tradition silence is the exclusive route to peace, wonder, and intelligence. So much of the world can be understood if only one would wait at a bus stop in silence. Perhaps they would even begin to see that “wait” has really nothing to do with the bus stop. Wait is a dangerous word for it implies that ones life has only a few selective moments of importance or splendor whereas the rest is simply a boring platform from which we are able to jump good time to good time. The big problem is that Wait can really begin to fill somebody’s life forcing them to seek more and more diversions (like watching music videos on their phone or checking their emails on their Blackberries), and what one then has is not really a life richly lived but an ornate disconnection from life…a sort of living death.
Noise, Something, and Flurry are as addictive as any potent drug and they deliver similar results. However, Quiet, Nothing, and Stillness are so potent that even a gingerly attempt to bring them into ones life can bring dramatic results. And what are some of those results? Wisdom based insights; a rich sense of life, and even material success can only enter into empty vessels. If one is filling every moment of their life with some sort of activity or sound than I assure you heaven will not fill it but actually will seek to empty your life. However, when heaven empties it can be quite painful (though still ultimately healing). For many when heaven decides that it is time to empty the event takes the form of some sort of crisis. A time of crisis can actually be a pivotal moment when a person can absolutely transform their lives, however, if one panics and refills their life with diversions, once again, they will be waiting for wonder, intelligence, and peace and once again heaven will empty them out bringing yet another crisis.
The key to escape this seesaw of diversion to crisis is to embrace emptiness and learn to live a balanced life of nothing and something. For as wisdom grows you will begin to see what should be full and what should be left empty. And in that balance as if by miracle the universe will fill what is empty with grace and success and empty what was full of pain and suffering. For many wisdom traditions this balance is called enlightenment. However, one must not be so daunted by such a fantastic—almost mythological—idea such as Enlightenment. In reality this balance is really about turning the stereo off for a while, walking around with a quiet mind, and getting out of the habit of “waiting”.
Other great ways to learn how to put emptiness in ones life is learning how to meditate. There are many great forms of meditation—each catering to a different personality type (be careful though of any teacher who charges a great deal of money). There are a lot of great books on mediation—my suggestion is that you begin at your local library and check out as many as you can. Meditation, though connected to many religions, can be absolutely “God or religion free” so do not be turned off if you see many styles connected to a particular religion. Several books have been written by doctors regarding meditation techniques that they have found to help their patients.
Whether you decide to learn mediation or perhaps take off the portable CD player when you walk I assure you that profound results will arise. I have personally realized this phenomenon of “heaven fills what is empty and empties what is full”, and I can honestly say that the more I embrace Nothing the more rich and magical life becomes.
Some time ago I caught on television, way out in the hinterland of my cable subscription, a lecture that for some reason or another caught my mind and stuck with me. The film quality was a good medium for the lighting and sound were consistent enough for me to believe it was made with some intention and the audience was large. The scene was that of a large classroom or perhaps a small auditorium with two absolute hippie types a husband and a wife sitting up front on bar-type stools with microphone stands in front of each person. The couple appeared to be in their late fifties with subtle strands of gray coming down their longish brown hair. I believe they were both wearing outdoor type attire and the woman wore no makeup or noticeable jewelry. Now, generally speaking it was these very types of spectacles that usually cause me to laugh and merely watch—not as student—rather as anthropologist. However, what would absolutely surprise me was that not so long into their lecture I would find myself no longer a lofty spectator but a stilled listener and now I think a bit of a student. I never caught their names, but I did keep with me a very intriguing idea. And over the years I have experimented with their idea regarding life and change and dealing with life. What I have found so far is that they were on to something and that sometimes the universe can teach us things in ways we least expect…which in a way furthers those two amazing hippies’ point.
They were discussing change or rather how we go about change. Change can really mean anything: I am bored so I would like that to change…there is great injustice in the world so I would like that to change…I do not like the senator so I would like that to change…I do not like my body so I would like that to change. Essentially, the want or mission for change can be very small—so small that we hardly notice it—or change can be quite large so large that we feel as though it just might be impossible. Change becomes even more complex in that so often we are ruled by so many wants or missions for change that we become unconscious to many of them. We feel a discomfort then seek to change. Change can swing the other way: we become so overwhelmed with a want for change that everything else in our lives becomes unconscious. In both cases, want for change or the mission for change can sever us from the real. Interestingly, it is not really the actual change that causes the problem—that takes us out of our life our center and makes us unreal. It is the want or the mission that causes the problems.
Now I have put myself in a terrible or terrific spot (logically at least) for I am writing this essay and indeed I have written many essays regarding The Champagne Life and my searching for it. Searching for a life called The Champagne Life denotes that right now I am living some other life or at least The Not Champagne Life. The key though is to manage searching, wanting, and embarking without severing one from life. If I think all the time of wanting something different then I am not seeing the life going on right now. And if I am not really paying attention to my life right now then I am not really making very good decisions that just might lead to the change I want or need.
Now if I recognize that I should avoid severing myself from life or being real as I seek change then more likely than not I will take on a couple of attitudes. Today I want to discuss one of the more popular attitudes people take on when embarking on change and that is Fight.
Behind the two hippies (both I believe were wearing down vests and flannel shirts) was a white board. The husband stood up and drew a little circle in the middle of the board and said something—the something—that has now permanently made a home in my mind. He said in the world there are really two main ways we can do something: we can operate in this little circle and fight it out. We can make a war of our lives. Or we can operate outside of the circle where things effortlessly grow. Now normally situations like these trigger my “fruity alarm” and I find myself haughtier than anything. Somehow though at that moment I felt a rather different bell—a sort of ding a ling I get it bell.
Let us first look at fight. All the time I hear that I’ve got to see it as a fight. I’ve got to fight for myself, fight for justice, etc…. Some of the fighting must be against myself: that I need to fight all those demons that seem to be teeming out of not only me but all the other poor saps who find that the have to fight some impulse or desire inside of themselves. Some fighting must be against other people: I must fight the people who disrespect me or who don’t know or care about me. And some fighting is for abstractions: I must fight for my marriage or for freedom or for justice. Fighting has some good points: it is exciting, it is something to do, and it can make me feel heroic even though the change I want has not yet happened. So I find that I am happy with the change of what I was to becoming a hero. So perhaps it was not really justice that I desired rather becoming a hero. There are problems too with fighting: fighting can be fatiguing, fighting can blur us from our goals (like instead of making a real change in the state of our lives we make only a change in the way we see ourselves: we see ourselves as hero). Fighting is also problematic because it needs a foe and foes swing back often with equal force—which can mean that one’s life becomes about fighting and really nothing else. If you try to lose weight by fighting yourself your foe will swing back with much force and you will find your eating becoming increasingly removed from why you began to eat as a human in the first place. Lastly, fighting is a really tight and small space. If you want to change something through fighting then you will have to do it in a ring. Fighting needs a laser like focus. You must lock onto your foe in order to swing at it, and if your foe is persistent then you will not be able to take your attention off your foe—not even for a minute—for the moment you do your foe will swing back. This means that you must live your life dedicated to your enemy, which means you will not have room or time to see, enjoy or experience much else.
Now let’s leave the ring. Here is the world outside of the ring. This world achieves change in quite another way. It grows. An acorn becomes an oak tree not by fighting but by growing. Roses become not by fighting but by growing. The world has become not by fighting but by growing—expanding—evolving. Everything is used in growing. Everything is an opportunity in evolving. If you decide to take on the growing attitude you will not sever yourself from the real, from life, because growing needs everything around it to continue. Problems can become fertilizer—opportunities from which we can further or even speed up our growth. The growing attitude will not sever you from yourself because a tree cannot sever itself from its roots and grow because a person cannot sever itself from its roots and grow. Instead of fighting all of those parts of yourself make them long roots from which you can grow from.
Really, I could probably devote a whole book to this idea of learning to grow instead of fight. However, it is my hope that just the idea is all one needs. For me personally I have found that whenever I calm a bit and change my attitude from fight to grow that seeming miracles happen in my life. So again, I will give you the image that has certainly given me much food for growth: think of a small circle in the middle of a vast white surface. Do you want to life your life in the little circle or do you want to life in the vast universe?
Lastly, for all of my loyal readers—my beloved sailors and patrons joining me on my quest for The Champagne Life—my column will now be a weekly instead of a daily column. I have been blessed with a remarkable creative and professional opportunity and will need extra time so I can balance my magazine, column, and other writing duties. It is my hope, however, that the quality and depth of this forum will not diminish and will actually improve, as I will have more time to craft my essays. I thank you again for all of your support. Each new column will be out on Friday.
This will be my final installment regarding change and the environment. I suppose one of the more surprising things is that really I have not given any suggestions as to how one should actually change their environment. Actually, in my previous column, Part II, I suggested that one avoids making any kinds of external changes based on their dreaming exercise. However, I will today be better explaining why I do not think one should barrel in and begin to redecorate their lives during a time of change, and why I asked you not only to daydream the life you want to live as the person you want to be but secondly, I asked everyone to begin to deeply notice how both their emotional and bodily states feel and react when they visualize.
I will first state again that it is my wholehearted belief that one’s exterior life is a reflection of one’s interior. The order is important here: for if you begin to convince yourself that it was or is the environment that is currently causing what your interior life is like (a.k.a. your mental, emotional, and bodily states) than sadly I believe you will continue to run into the same problems—just with a slightly different location. However, if one can really work on the interior of one’s life than I believe the exterior will quite naturally and effortlessly transform accordingly to your new inner self.
By making a steady habit of visualizing what sort of person and what sort of life you want to live you are gradually changing your mind as to who you are. This is key. If you have decided that you are a fat person, or you are a smoker, or you are a workaholic, or you are someone who is afraid of intimacy, than no matter how hard you try to modify you will always be locked in a battle state which can be held but usually not for long and with much suffering. In truth all you really are is you and regardless of your various states it is important to learn how to not define yourself by your shortcomings or your seeming good attributes as well. By teasing away the labels you have pasted to yourself you can begin to really free yourself from the habits, fears, or life you have outgrown or no longer feel good about.
The second key thing to visualizing your dream life it that it literally creates a new set of mental, emotional, and bodily states that you can lean on in trying times. I shall use losing weight as an example, but the technique can work for any endeavor. Say you are trying to lose weight and as you daydreamed your life as a fit and slim person you notice a certain posture to form in your back—perhaps a straightening of your spine. When you are faced with temptation a great way to go beyond it is to mimic the bodily sensations you noticed when you were visualizing. This really—really works. So, when you are dying to eat the leftovers in the fridge late in the evening adjust your body to the posture you noticed when you were dreaming yourself as a thin person. With practice you can even call up the emotional states that you felt in your dream exercise whenever you feel yourself wanting to backslide back into your old habits. In time you will find a gradual and almost miraculous transition. By practicing and using the various mental, emotional, and physical states you felt when you visualized your dream life you will find your everyday waking life feeling more and more like the one you dreamed.
The key is that change does not have to be a mighty battle. Mighty battles are fun indeed and there is a great draw in the initial rush, however, they never last. True change is more like water—seemingly without color, mass, or strength—yet power enough to carve the Grand Canyon.
So, I suppose for this seeker of the Champagne Life I have come to believe that change must ultimately begin in the mind. However, I have also realized that changing one’s mind is far more difficult than one’s wardrobe, town, or even lover. When it comes to change and the environment my beloved Patrons and Sailors it is my heartiest recommendation that the environment from which you should focus is the one beneath the skin.
In Part I of Change and the Environment I discussed a few key issues regarding change: change really begins in the mind, one’s outer life is an expression of one’s inner life and that to begin to work with one, one must begin to work with the other, and lastly that the first step in dealing with one’s environment one should begin with one’s imagination. The little exercise I suggested was to spend at least a half hour or so a day simply imagining your life as the person you want to be. If you want to change a habit or your body or your lifestyle or your career you must first imagine that change. I suggested that you should expand your dream as much as possible. What do you do for fun in your perfect life? How do you dress? What kinds of things are important to you in your dream life? How do you decorate your house in your new life? The main keys to this exercise are to be utterly uninhibited and to be as detailed as you possibly can. You may if it helps write the dream down, however, I believe learning the discipline of visualizing is a good life skill and would really implore you all to practice sitting and dreaming.
But what does one do with all that dreaming? Believe it or not one of the most pivotal aspects of this exercise is the exercise. However, there are secondary fruits that can be had by dreaming one’s life.
The first exercise is to pay attention to your emotional state as you dream. How do you feel when you notice how you are dressing in your dream life? How do you feel when you look around the home of your new life—your home after you returned to school and pursued your dream career or your home after you quit smoking or your home when you finally managed to lose weight? Even the slightest of changes in one’s self can bring significant changes in one’s life. Exercising everyday may bring new friends and favorite activities, which may lead to unexpected adventures. But for this exercise the key is to pay attention to how you feel when you are visualizing your dream life.
The second exercise is to pay attention to your body as you visualize your dream life. What does it feel like in your chest, your legs, your breathing, and your face when you are creating scenarios of life after change? How do your hands feel as you roll over an imaginary workday with your new, transformed self? Genuinely focus your attention to your body. I assure you that your body will be quite vocal.
With both exercises the key is to really pay attention—both to your body sensations and your emotional states as you visualize your dream you in your dream life. At first this may seem like a curious thing to do, and perhaps it may feel like you are not doing anything at all, however, I assure you that you are doing one of the more effective and profound things you can do if you want to bring successful change in your life.
Believe it or not what I believe you should not do with your visualizations or daydreams is to try and immediately emulate the things you see in your visions. Do not run out and buy the clothes you dream or begin to save money for the car you see yourself in. The truth is that those things are still reflections of the you now and actually are of little importance. Secondly, you will find as you embark on this dream journey that the details will evolve and change. The absolute key is to begin to really memorize your emotional and body states as you dream your life.
That is all I have room for today. Next I will be taking you to another step with this visualization exercise. Remember…remember…really take the time to notice and make a mental note of how your body feels and how your emotional states flow when you imagine the life you want to live.
Today I am going to continue my ongoing series regarding change. One of the reasons I have decided to focus my columns on change this issue is because I believe this to be the most perfect time of the year for change. The holidays now will be lighter hearted and the weather is still inclement enough to not want to be as out and about as normal. With the darker evenings one also has a better chance of settling down and working on the interior of one’s self rather that having a ball in the exterior. Soon enough the sun will come back and the evenings will be light and warm—perfect time to share with friends and the world in general and not a good time for taking stock and working hard on the complexities of change. With all that said today I want to begin discussing another key element surrounding change and whether or not one will be successful. That element is your environment.
Your environment is indeed one of the key components in not only change but also really one’s life. Your environment is the outward expression of your inward self. With that said it seems only logical that the two—the outward environment and the inward self—have a direct effect on each other.
I believe strongly that all change really begins in the mind. Changing your mind is what will bring success—whereas struggling to change without really changing your mind I believe will only bring immense struggle and eventual failure. However, changing your mind is tricky business and so there are a few things one can do to help the mind along. While one cannot always immediately shift one’s mind one can immediately shift some things in their home or wardrobe, and again, I believe that one’s environment interacts at a potent and intimate level with one’s inner being. The natural question is now “where do I begin?” when considering changing their environment in order to foster and support positive inner change.
The answer actually lays in your imagination—yes your old daydreamer. Now is the time to pull out the fantasy machine, find a quiet space, set aside around thirty-to-sixty minutes and start visualizing. The first step should be sitting comfortably and really visualizing what you would look like, dress like, live like, and everything that surrounds you from your home to your car to your friends when your dream change was fully realized. If it was to go back to school in order to have a better career what was the result? How do you dress with your better career? What kinds of things do you do for fun with your better job? What does your living space look like and how is your home life? The key here is to become as detailed as you can. If your wished for change was to quit smoking or to lose weight or to become more spiritual, again, really fantasize life with your change fully realized. How is your house decorated when your are forty pounds thinner? What kinds of friends do you have when your are focusing more on your spiritual life? How do you dress now that you do not smoke? The key—key—key is to be as detailed as you can be.
This visualization exercise is probably one of the most crucial and fun steps towards making a concrete and positive change. Too often before or just when one begins to embark on the journey towards positive change they barrel in with all kinds of environmental changes. However, the problem with that is that it is actually your old self, the self you actually want to change, that is calling the shots. Consequently, change will not be forthcoming because in truth the last time your old self called the shots you found yourself with negative patterns. This seemingly simple (though I assure you profound) exercise can help direct you towards a life that matches your highest potential and your highest joy.
That is all I have room for today. In Part II of my newest change series “Change and the Environment” I will be taking you from this crucial step of fantasizing your dream life to beginning to do the work as it pertains to your environment.
For the past couple of columns I have been focusing on change. Never will you find a better time of year for it. The weather is lousy, we are all a little broke from the holidays, and the world (at least in our hemisphere) is still sleeping quite soundly. Once, spring rolls around and certainly by summer change is usually far from the mind instead friends, parties, and fun are usually (and quite appropriately I might add) the order of the day. So here we are at the first day of February…now really is the time to “seize the day”…and so I have been discussing “drawing a line in the sand”. Drawing a line in the sand is one of the most crucial aspects of making effective change. There really must be a point in which a person makes a revolution in their mind. While one can always ease into change at a physical level and remain successful I do not believe one can ever ease into change at a mental level. It may very well take some time getting your co-workers on the same page with you as far as wanting to put your family first—the material aspects of change always take time and a lot of trial and error. However, if you do not find your line—find the point where you absolutely decide “that’s it I need to put my family first!” than I assure you change will not be forthcoming. And so my “Drawing a Line” series is less about the material mechanics of change and more about the mental interior aspects of change that I absolutely believe must be present before change can be effective.
On Monday I talked about how the simple act of marking your calendar can be one of the greatest things you can do to “draw a line”. The calendar should also be used to mark milestones and yes, an end point. On Tuesday I discussed the concept of writing a personal contract with your self and then signing it. Again, by making a contract and then signing it you are sending a serious message up to your heart and mind that you have now said, “that’s it!” And today I am going to discuss one last great thing everyone should do in order to really draw a line….
Telling friends and family is probably one of the most difficult things a person can do when they draw a line in the sand. Marking a calendar and even signing a contract are things that at some level (though not in the mind) can be tossed out or hidden. However, telling friends and family about your plans takes you to a new level of drawing a line and that is accountability and commitment.
Oddly though with this last step I do have a few conditions for I feel that more often than not the worst people to tell about your plans are your friends and family. Friends and family do—they do love you—but they also tend to be just as uncomfortable with you changing as you might be with your self changing and more often than not friends and family (because they do not feel the stress of your dead-end job or the pain of those extra twenty pounds) will be extremely reticent towards you changing. People are fundamentally pack animals and like all social animals everyone has a role in the group. The problem with someone wanting to improve themselves is that it usually changes their role—going back to school or taking up kick boxing can do a great deal to one’s self esteem—perhaps causing them to leave their doormat persona, well, at the door. Consequently, when someone changes enough to where their roll or at least their complacency with their current role shifts then the entire group must adjust and sadly in some cases (though they do love you) friends and family will prefer the “old you”.
My other caution in telling friends and family is: be weary of extra pressure in the beginning. Honestly, one of the most stressful aspects of making a change is the pressure one puts upon their self to succeed. This pressure usually comes in the form of a perpetual inner dialogue that is either a nag, drill sergeant, or a worry wart. My point is that in the beginning a lot goes on in one’s mind and adding the dialogue of friends and family might prove to be too much. The other problem is the “nag factor”. Sometimes friends and family can prove to be too enthusiastic and can become oppressive through nagging, offering up too much advice or being too harsh when you slip—which will happen and is absolutely normal and healthy. In fact sometims a slip can prove positive as it can give you a brief reminder of the "old you" which can become hazy over time. Going to bed with an entire extra large pizza in your belly can get you running back to the gym whereas before you found yourself dragging yourself there.
With those two cautions I will say that telling friends and family remains a potent way to draw a line. However, I believe that you should be very—very—very—selective and cautious with this activity. Truly pick people that you already have a healthy relationship with. I will write that again because I believe it is absolutely crucial: truly pick people that you already have a healthy relationship with. Secondly, perhaps you might want to pick only one or two people at first. Lastly, it is important to set boundaries for the people you tell before you tell them. To be honest we have merged “drawing a line in the sand” a little with “building a supportive environment for change” which is most definitely a whole other column. For now my main point is that when wanting to make a change really your mind should be the first focus. For one must change their mind above all else. I believe that changing one’s mind begins with drawing a line and it is my hope that some of these suggestions will help.
Today marks yet another column regarding change—or rather making positive changes in your life. I will say again that this time of year, I believe, is one of the best times to really buckle down and build a better you…whether it means to bring more laughter into your life, lose weight, get fit, or return to school in order to finally pursue your dream career. All of these types of changes, however, require great effort. Great effort though does not necessarily have to be fully arduous—for there are things one can do to make change easier, more fun, and most of all permanent because in reality, more often than not positive changes are short lived.
In yesterday’s column I discussed the importance of “drawing a line in the sand” when it comes to making a change. I truly believe that drawing a line in the sand or making a firm stance regarding what you are about to do is imperative. Though there are most likely many ways one can draw their line and say “no more…today marks the new me” I have decided on the three that I think are really doable and wildly effective. On Monday I wrote about the first one and that is mark your calendar. I believe that the simple act of marking your calendar with a starting date is a great way to really draw a line between the old you and the new you.
The second great thing one should do before they begin to change their life is to draw up a little contract. Yes, a contract. It does not have to be very complicated. All you have to do is write down what it is you want to achieve and then sign and date it.
If you look around at every religion, every nation, every sport…they all have many rituals that go along with them. Tennis players shake hands after a match, racecar drivers receive a bath in champagne if they win, and Christians hide eggs and eat ham on Easter. All of these rituals help bind and strengthen the people to the underlying activity, group or philosophy. By taking the time to draw up a contract with yourself and then signing it you are making a ritual out of your commitment to change. And by making a ritual out of you deciding to change your life you will deepen the experience and strengthen your bond between you and what it is your hope to achieve.
The other great reason to draw up a contract is that is gives you something to hold on to (sometimes for dear life) when the going gets tough. We all know quitting something, adding something, or changing something is extremely difficult. We are creatures of habit, comfort and predictability to be sure. However, this does not me that we are not also good at making great changes—for surely humans are wildly innovative. By having something like a signed contract it can help reconnect you to your wildly innovative side when your need for your old life comes on strong. I have in my life made such contracts, and I will tell you that even looking for the darned thing can be just enough to keep one from snacking—for while I turned my house upside down my thoughts of chips disappeared.
Lastly, seeing your signed contract can be a moving experience through out all phases of your journey. In the beginning it helps you draw a line in the sand. In the middle it helps your stay committed. And in the end of your journey or at least when your new positive habit or change has become an old, comfortable habit reading your contract can be an amazingly moving experience. I will only say that the swell it brings will be richer and better than simple pride.
That is all I have room for today. Tomorrow I will be sharing with you my third great way to draw a line.
On Friday I discussed the importance of using a journal as an aid in making any kind of positive new change whether it is quitting smoking, exercising more and losing weight, or finding a better job. There is a baseball season, football season, and for me this is the big season for change. So again, I would like to discuss a few more things that I believe should be present (like a journal) if one really wants their new life to take hold.
Drawing a line in the sand…. There are three great things that everyone should have in place before they seriously embark on a changing journey. I say journey because in truth making a lifestyle change whether it means adopting a new habit or leaving one behind will take time and it will take you very—very—far away from the person you now are. This can become not only stressful but also a little frightening and you may very well have days where you barely recognize yourself. With all that being said “drawing a line in the sand” is a great way to commence—it will help put you in a good mindset that hopefully will support you during your leaner times of resolve. Essentially, there are three major aspects that I believe are integral when wants to draw a line in the sand.
The first way is to have an absolute start date and if possible make milestone dates in which you give your self some type of reward. It is also helpful for many to actually have an end date (which can always be renewed at the end…I’ll explain). A calendar is actually one of your greatest positive change tools. When you commence any type of change I believe having an absolute set date is invaluable…and really I think it is good to give yourself a week or two before you begin…so you can see the date, think about the date and really get yourself excited. Also, quite frankly, it gives you a chance to acquire some real closure with your old self and lifestyle—because even though you seek to change—there will be a deeper sense of loss that perhaps you would imagine. Secondly, you should mark little milestones on your calendar with a little reward written underneath. This will help as time drags on…which leads to my last calendar marking and that is an end date—yes—an end date. It seems strange that one would want an end date when one hopes the lifestyle change will be permanent, however, I have found that giving yourself an endpoint can be easier to mentally handle—meaning you have succeeded if you manage to exercise and hour a day for twelve weeks versus trying to deal with the whole of your life. The truth is that if you did exercise for twelve weeks straight—I assure you it would have become a habit. A new twelve-week period can begin a week or so again after your old one, but in general I find it better to give yourself a “mental finish line”.
Well that is all I have room for today, tomorrow I will be continuing my discussion of “drawing a line in the sand”.
It is hard to believe that the holidays have come and gone and now it is time to just live a little. However, what often makes this time of year more intense and perhaps even dramatic than one might suppose is the want for change. For many—myself included—this is the time of year in which we give it our all in fulfilling and New Year’s resolutions. As someone who not only is in full search mode for the Champagne Life but as taken on the challenge to bring people with me via my column I must say that this is my “big season” with spring being the explosive finale. All in all I suppose my point is that when it comes to change and self-improvement I am a true veteran…and a true believer.
Now with all of that said I will state flat out that change can be extremely stressful—so much so that after a few weeks one can find themselves screaming back to their old lives. The problem is that when one is in the early phases of change a great deal of distortions can arise. One can quickly forget why they wanted to change or how burned-out they had become by an old habit or lifestyle. Another distortion is what I call piling up the negatives. A new habit like daily exercise might after awhile prove to be very stressful particularly when you really start feeling the time it uses up. However, there might be other great things your new daily exercise habit brings as well like more energy and better sleep (which might, by the way, end up giving you more time). What often happens though is that during a moment or even a period of extra stress or frustration one can begin to focus only on the negative and be unable to see or recall the positives and the balance between the two. There is a way, however, to avoid or at least lessen the problem of distortion and that is keeping a journal.
Keeping a journal could be and should be an amazing life habit in and of itself and I cannot stress to you all enough the goodness that comes from keeping a daily journal. Today though I would like to impress upon you one of the great things a daily journal can do for you and that is keeping honest. Yes honest. Too often it is distortion that sabotages us any time when want to make a difficult or significant change in our life. Particularly when “the going gets rough” for it is at that point we fog our memory and began to think our old ways were not so bad as well as delude ourselves into only seeing complications and negativity surrounding our new lifestyle choices. Keeping a daily journal and then re-reading our entries as we go along is a way to keep in touch with the reality of the situation: for on Friday you may feel that eating a lighter dinner feels like a punishment…but you read your own words stating just the week before how you have not felt this young and filled with energy in the evening in years…bringing very—very good results at bedtime. By keeping a daily journal you can genuinely see change for what it really is and you can also remain connected to the reasons why you wanted to change in the first place.
So for all my beloved sailors and patrons today it is my heartiest recommendation that you all go out and get yourself a journal. It really is important that you make an entry—no matter how brief—every day. I say every day because that really is your best chance at making it part of your daily rhythm like brushing your teeth. Personally, I like a little spiral notebook found everywhere, and I believe it is good to pick a journal that is small or convenient enough to take with you everywhere you go. It can then be used to inspire you at any time or to write at any where you may be, which can be unbelievably soothing during a stressful moment.
Finally…The Better Drink’s Winter Issue is done and boy am I tired…. It seems perfect that as I write my introductory column the weather is cold and snowy. A good snow though, with large flakes and little wind so the trees remain heavily covered with the white stuff. Winter is a strange time…. It can be restless, cozy, fatiguing (depending on how much snow you had to shovel or how bad your commute is), beautiful, and a great time for making changes for a butterfly-like unveiling in spring. It is my hope that this newest Winter Issue will be of help in all aspects of winter so during these days of early, chilly nights and roads unsafe to traverse I implore you to throw in a thick sweater, some great slippers, pop a cork of some good bubbly and enjoy the mag.
Our sparkling wine section is a little different this time in that our Interview and Feature are not about sparkling wine—rather a great, historical American wine region in Ohio. John Euclid returns as our intrepid sparkling wine reviewer trying out “new wines from new places”. For the first time we had a co-author (alongside Dr. Timothy Smith) in our Arts & Sciences section. Dr. John Curtis is an esteemed entomologist. Together both scientists explain Phylloxera—the potent vineyard pest.
Our First Person section is again, amazing and perfect winter reading. Rebecca Uhlhorn and J. Blake Gordon return to The Better Drink with fantastic “Hellos” and “Goodbyes”—both pieces are stunningly honest and entertaining. My very own co-founder Dr. Timothy Smith is the writer of this issue’s Passion Forum. He writes the story behind his long-time love for rivers. In our “Under the Goldlight—true tales of drinking champagne” we all get treated to an amazing tour of New Orleans during Mardi gras. Finally, David Sirois shares his memories of favorite presents over the years in our “Life Before Ten” column. These are all great essays and I implore you to check them all out!
Our Art & Literature section for this issue is fantastic and I am proud to introduce two new writers to The Better Drink. LaVonne Schoneman is a prolific and award winning writer from the Northwest and is this issue’s featured poet. Becky Mate is also an award-winning author and is based in California. Becky is the writer of this issue’s fiction. Her story is not only entertaining but also interesting from a literary point of view. For this issue’s art show in our Marcia Reed Virtual Gallery I am honored and excited to have Gilles Mascarell back with some of his newest works. Again, the works are amazing, and I really implore you to take a little time away and “stroll” through the gallery. Gilles Mascarell’s work is also the cover art for this issue. For our Film in Review section I am excited and proud to announce that Anna Luciano has been hired to be our very first official movie reviewer and will be the magazine’s only reviewer of new theater releases. Anna has worked hard for us at The Better Drink since the magazine’s infancy, and I am completely excited to have such a gifted and energetic writer to be our reviewer. Don’t go to the movies without seeing what she has to say…for underneath that gorgeous exterior is a very alert and critical mind! As for those nights when we want to stay in Fritz Voigt returns with a new DVD release review and our very own wine reviewer John Euclid shares with us a great flick to rent when all the new releases are picked clean.
I want to first say thank you to all of contributors of the Winter Issue. Last night before the magazine was sent out I went through and read the magazine “cover to cover” and found myself not only entertained but also touched by all of the writers’ honesty and integrity to their craft. I felt so honored to be publishing their work and to have built along with Dr. Timothy Smith a venue for writing and writers that has not been ultra processed and pasteurized for mass consumption. I also would like to thank all of our loyal readers. The Better Drink has grown and continues to grow due absolutely to such great reader support. We are a tiny operation and have little time or money to invest in promotion and yet our readership continues to expand—this I know is due to amazing contributors and very loyal readers—so I thank you.
Lastly, I would like to thank Dr. Timothy Smith for not only all of his hard work and dedication but also all of the great emotional support he lent me as I struggled with a very ill loved one over the Holiday season. In truth, the Winter Issue would not had made it out if it were not for Tim’s gentle (and lighthearted) prodding and bribes of amazing wine—if only I would put on a little lipstick and get back to work. And was I ever glad he did—this is one of our best issues yet, and as I read through all of the essays and put together all of the art—I found myself upbeat and in the moment and farther from my loved one’s sickness than I had been in nearly a month. So, genuinely believe me when I say take this issue for a spin any time you need a little good soul food.
For all my Daily Column fans I thank you for your patience and continued support, as I was unable to pen my usual amount of columns over the holidays. I plan on returning, full steam, to my column this season. The adventure begins Friday, January 27 th…so definitely (if you have not already) come and join me as I set sail prepared to face whatever comes my way in my search for the Champagne Life.
Happy winter everyone…enjoy the newest issue….
Jennifer Barnick, Editor