An Argument for Thinking

rodin_thinkerRodin's Thinker

 

    “To Think or Not to Think”

Over the past decade or so, it has become fashionable to talk about “being in the present,” or “being in the now” and “not thinking.” Some of this is for meditation, some of it is for performance enhancement, some of it is for better awareness and some of it is for active listening. This all came to a peak with Eckhart Tolle‘s ground breaking book, The Power of Now, which was a guide for spiritual enlightenment but became the layman’s mantra for “being present.”

Much of this new revelation about being in the present (which has long been a Zen Buddhist ideal), is to stop the epidemic tide of “worrying” thanks partly to our world of information overload. Even I recommend meditation in my book, Putting Fear in Reverse Gear to help thwart worrying,  and included links to a site where you can hear my voice delivering guided audio meditations and visualizations (one I called The Power of Wow – sorry Eckhart) 

No one knows better the damage worrying has wrought on our frail systems. Worrying is anxiety. It is stress. It overtaxes our adrenalin reserves and puts us into fight or flight responses that were meant only for life threatening scenarios that lasted only minutes (not days and weeks). Some of you have trouble sleeping because of worry. Worry doesn’t work for us. It is a very bad, nasty habit that doesn’t even have the highs that other bad, nasty habits have.  So what’s up with that?

But through all this fascination with the idea that we should exorcise our worry by meditating, staying in the”here and now” and “not thinking,” I have a concern.

an_argument_for_thinking_Kathrin_Lake

A yoga instructor recently cooed to her students, “Wouldn’t it be great if we could reincarnate as animals and stop thinking?” To which my instant response was: “Hell, no!”

I don’t think people should stop thinking. Thinking, is one of the things that put us at the top of the food chain in the first place. Let me give you my take about the joys and treasury of thinking and why we should be thinking, and even at appropriate times, daydreaming, to better all of our lives.

Point 1:  Those of us who sit and think are happy

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When asked to ruminate and reflect on the happiest moments of your life, you may go to specific events, and happy milestones, but, I confess, some of my happiest moments are when I just had time to sit and think.  Just look at all those people lined at street side cafes and you will notice that some are reading papers, some are on the inevitable electronic device and some are just sitting there, sipping a coffee quietly, perhaps people watching and thinking. I would have to say that person is me, when I am at my happiest.  It doesn’t matter where I am, Paris, New York, Mexico or Vancouver, this sitting and thinking is blissful.  And, I am not alone. We don’t have to be at a cafe, we can be walking on a beach, sitting on a porch or bench, or laying in bed staring at the ceiling. These moments are not only soothing and warm but they are also when some of our best ideas come to us … which leads me to argument two.

Point 2:  Thinking and great ideas go together.

napkin_ideaThis may seem obvious to say you have to think to get great ideas but many of us don’t have time to think. We have to get away, stop and allow ourselves to have a time and space to think and for our brain to meander as it were. Perhaps we are in a semi-dream state too as sometimes great ideas come when we are thinking before bed, or when we get up. But it is thinking. I knew of several great thinkers that liked to go on a drive and get away in order to think. This is more than a meditation. It is thinking in a relaxed state. The true inventor of the modern computer, John Vincent Atanasoff, was said to have been trying to work out the details that had confounded him to make it work when he decided to go on a drive. He ended up crossing a number of state lines and kept driving for over 12 hours, but by the end he had figured it all out.  This idea of a relaxed state and thinking is important and brings me to another argument.

Point 3: What if day dreaming (or positive visualizations), are in truth, a high form of thinking?

I was always accused by my mother of being a daydreamer. Especially in the mornings over breakfast. I would be lost in thought and she would ask me questions and I would always answer, “yes.” Then she would put another piece of toast on my plate and I would say, “why are you giving me more toast?” She would say, in an exasperated voice, that she had just asked me and I had said “yes.”  Well, that’s about as un-present and unaware as you can get. My mother called me a daydreamer and made it clear it was something to be ashamed of. Now, however, I see that day dreaming may be the best form of positive visualization and creative thought that you can get. Granted, you don’t want to be doing it while doing something that should take your focus. No heavy machinery, or brain surgery, or any of those small tasks in anyone’s jobs where you have to “pay attention.” However, it has also been proven that visualizations are critical to success. From entrepreneurs, artists, generals and sports legends have all projected their thoughts into the future to see a positive outcome. Wayne Gretzky said that he would see the puck going where he wanted it to go. Walt Disney visualized his famous theme park. Performers and speakers take time before they go on-stage to visualize a fabulous performance. And it works. I have done it, and many others. You can dream your success. So next time you shame a day dreamer, and I admit, I have done this myself, be careful. It begs the inquiry, what is poor dreaming and what is good dreaming? To me, poor dreaming is unthinking. It is not grounded in some plausible reality. One has only to see the auditions of some of the more humorous and heartbreaking American Idol contestants to know some people are not that grounded and are only dreaming without the thinking part, which is the prudent and judicious part. I applaud their courage, but to get the stupendous benefits of dreaming you have to balance your dreaming, or positive visualizations, with a thinking or critical mind, beyond mindless faith. Which brings me to my next argument.

Point 4:  Critical thinking is what we need on this planet to thrivecritical_thinking

Maybe it is easier to do as the yoga teacher wished and be an unthinking animal, only focused on survival, but to thrive personally, communally and globally we sure the heck need to be thinking. When we embrace not thinking, or mindless faith, we do not have a curious and open mind. When we do not explore and make connections for problem solving it can have horrible political results where there is much suffering. The antics of the Tea Party on the American political scene is a case in point. There are so many prejudices, pat beliefs and blind religious dogma being touted that they are willing to let their people suffer rather than listen to reason. Canadians watch this in horror. Beyond Tea Party members embracing unthinking, partisan beliefs (beliefs not arguments), we actually see Americans going against their noble Declarations and censoring people who are challenging thought and shedding light on real issues. People like Michael Moore and Bill Maher. Why have these people been censored? Why do my American friends tell me they have never been able to find any of Michael Moore’s films in U.S. theatres when they come out? Why did Bill Maher get kicked off public networks to finally go to the paid HBO channel? This is censorship. Argument and dialogue is something everyone says they want, but you will also want it to be grounded in logical and reasonable facts to ensure health. We need to have interaction and a “group think” to really get cooking. This group thinking should be based on informed, thinking arguments and dialogue. What is the opposite? Well, terrorism depends on unthinking  intimidation. To be afraid to speak “your mind” because it might be either unpopular or punished is very much like the environments in Nazi Germany or in China, or other places where freedom of speech is curbed and threatened.  Yes thinking is not easy; it may even be dangerous, but worth it. 

So here are some tenets on great thinking:

  1. Make sure you are thinking not worrying. You will be able to tell by how it feels. If it stresses you, it’s worry, if it soothes you, and gives you relief or solves some problems, then you are likely thinking. Avoid worry, embrace thinking.
  2. Find out how and where you can go to get away and just think. Give yourself time and space. Is it in the bathtub, on a walk, at a cafe or going on a full retreat? Keep returning to this; if you don’t have enough of this time to think, you are missing something special.
  3. When you have the time, place and space, give yourself lots of permission to day dream.
  4. Use positive visualizations to dream your way to success.
  5. Let your thoughts wander and meander.
  6. Interact with others and apply your critical thinking skills.
  7. Open your mind and say yes to someone else’s well thought out argument, or debate using some of your own. This is freedom of speech for all.
  8. Be proud to be a thinker.

Get into the glorious mud of thinking and make yourself happy. Your next great idea awaits, or perhaps your next best dialogue (or a good blog post), and who knows, you may even save the planet, just by thinking both freely and well.

The Community that Cooks Chilli Together…

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Yes, Jim and I are in Mexico once again. Theoretically, I am preparing for facilitating my writing retreat here in February, but let’s face it we are here to get out of the cold and rain of Vancouver and come home to our southern community.

I love it here for multiple reasons and Jim and I are starting to get inquiries of how we pull this off every year and how they can do it to, so maybe we will have to create a fun seminar about this.

DSCN3159Meanwhile, here we are in our little winter paradise, but this year is hotter than usual. Lucky me that this just happens to coincide with my getting hot flashes. I have both our ceiling fans going right now, but it’s not bad enough to want air conditioning on, but thankfully it is cooler this week than last. It forced me to learn my latest Spanish word, abanico, which is a hand fan. I tend to fall in love with 4-syllable Spanish words. My first year here it was desayuno, which means breakfast. Right now, my mantra during my hot flashes is abanico, abanico, abanico. I now have a few pretty Mexican Abanicos for 30 pesos each.

So, amid all this heat you wouldn’t think I would be looking forward to eating a ton of chilli, right? But I always am. Let DSCN3121me tell you a little bit about one of the events of the season here, The Annual Chilli Cook Off.

The cook-off is run by the Rotary Club here as a fundraiser for needed projects, mostly for improvements to local schools; children and literacy being a concern, but it is also one of the town social events for the season and brings together both Mexicans and Gringos, mostly Canadians and Americans or ex-pats now living here.

DSCN3154The competition itself brings in 30 competitors for two coveted prizes for the Best Chilli Awards, one for the professional restauranteurs, and one for the amateurs. There are also awards for the Best Salsa and the Best Decorated Booth.

These awards are given by the crowds who come and cast their ballots, not by professional judges, so it does become a bit of a sales and marketing and popularity contest too. But lets face it if your Chilli sucks, no one but your family will vote for it and they might lie about who they really voted for to your face as the ballots are secret and only one ballot per person.DSCN3141

So there are 30 Chillis to taste and this year Jim and I tasted a record 17 (that’s right you don’t have to taste them all to vote… hey folks it’s a fundraiser). Wow they were good, and so different, so I had to keep track on my notes and we developed a rating system. However, not to alienate any of our friends who had entered pots this year, who we voted for will remain unstated.

DSCN3134-001There always seems to be one person who does the fatal mistake of burning the bottom. Anyone who has made chilli knows that if you burn the bottom, even a  little bit, it will taste like someone threw cigarette butts into your precious pot.  Ugh!

The chilli tent row is a cave of booths and when they start serving it is so crowded you can barely move. Jim and I luck out as one competitor never showed up for their booth and we nab the table and chairs and start a tag team system, of one holding our great spot while the other brings in more sample cups of chilli.

Most are in styrofoam cups but some are in more creative containers, tortilla shell cups, Mexican clay pots (see the ballot photo above) and one comes with the chilli on a chilli dog. Yummy!DSCN3150

Sure this is about the Chilli competition, but really its about the community and a lot of gabbing and socializing goes on, and of course the musica, from a great Mexican band this year. Later on a duo from B.C. will keep us dancing all night long.

I love the MC brother and sister pair this year. His sister speaks the Spanish and he  translates to English or vice versa. After a barrage of Spanish the translation becomes, “same in English.” And we all laugh.

Later at the dance, I find myself as one of the ones initiating a conga line with my real estate friend, Sara, her employee, Alfredo, and our favourite maid, Nana.  In no time we have dozens lined up behind us trying to reproduce our crazy moves. It was hysterical and a great work out too.

Yes, mi Amigos, the sign of a healthy community is food, music and dancing.DSCN3136-001DSCN3143DSCN3152DSCN3149 With a little cerveza and margaritas thrown in for fun.

Dining in the Dark

How was your Halloween? Scary, frightening or fun? Most of us are going to say fun, including myself, but it was also an adventure because I dined in the dark. No, that doesn’t mean that there was a power outage, or a forgotten electric bill, this was a very constructed experience lead by a good friend of mine, Kerry Ward, who is an adventure trainer.  This was not a “eating Big Macs with the lights out” kind of experience, but a posh, gourmet dining experience that was preceded by other “adventures.”

I love learning in two ways. The obvious one for me is by being told a story. The next way I like to learn is by doing it myself. Then it becomes my story. This is experiential learning, and whenever I can, I try to use this to teach others.  It might even be fun. But, sometimes you do things to expand your horizons and perceptions and get yourself out of your humdrumness. This is essential for writers and artists so they can tap that creative side that likes playfulness, where all rules go out the window.

The first part of our Halloween evening was a masked storytelling.  We were instructed to wear masks and dress in black. I preferred to remain anonymous and give myself a mask name, but most people gave their real name and told a personal story of something that frightened them and could be described as an adventure.

In the past, I have hosted ghost story sessions on Halloween, where we told our scary stories with nothing but Jack O’ lanterns lighting the room.  The stories were so spooky that they sometimes really freaked people out, but this night’s  storytelling was with the lights on and more about our experiences with adrenaline rushes, from near-drownings to being held up at gunpoint, from wild animals to black ice car slides. The scares of our lives. We were then asked to think about our future adventure.

So, that was all very nice and safe.  Myself and my 30 masked companions were now ready to sit down and have a gourmet meal brought to us, even if it was in the dark. That’s what we expected.  But like our real-life stories that is not exactly what we had signed up for. The plot thickens.

We were sent out on a bogus scavenger hunt to a hotel two blocks away. The package we received at the concierge was a bag of blindfolds. Oh! I thought to myself, I guess our dining is going to happen at this hotel. Wrong-o. We were taken back outside and blindfolded and put in a conga-line formation, with only our leader at the head of the line being fully sighted.

The adventure began as the blind lead the blind through our downtown waterfront spaces, across crosswalks, into car parks, up stairs and through lobbies.

“Slow down!” “Stairs!”Door” “Incline, going down.”

This was an exercise in communication, trust, teamwork and using your other senses that we would need later for the main event. But for now, we shuffled along, and by the honks we received from traffic, our human chain-gang of blindfolded diners made quite an unusual sight. But, hey, it’s Halloween. (Never mind that Kerry does this all year round). In any case, we arrived at our destination completely disoriented. Still blindfolded and now in a blacker darkness than outside. We were lead to our chairs to sit down at round banquet tables. Long before we got there, the smell of food was all around us and we had now built an appetite.

Unlike my expectations, where I thought that each course would be delivered as it was ready, as in traditional dining, here we were told that a three course meal with all utensils and accoutrements had already been laid out in front of us. We were allowed to eat it anyway we wanted to.

Once again, communication and teamwork was essential.

“Found a scallop at ten o’clock!”

“Beware the shot glass on the left.”

“Hurray, we’ve got ribs!” “Yippee, we’ve got chicken to the left!” “Oh joy, we’ve found chocolate on the right!” “Oh, oh, we’ve got liver.”

“I’ve got the butter, who’s found the bread?”

“I’ve got the bread and I’ll pass it clockwise, and you can follow it clockwise with the butter.”

Then there was the guess work, as in “what was that creamy stuff, next to the crunchy stuff?” It was both a collective detective experience and a primitive fumbling, yet sensual exploration. Some people admitted that they went to fingers pretty early, but I tried to stick to the knife and fork as much as I could, but the way I ate would have made my mother turn over in her grave. Thank God no one could see us in the dark.

For once the talk was completely about our experience in the moment, no polite dinner conversations. But, there was plenty of laughter and funny comments. It was to the point that I didn’t want to take the blindfold off when asked to at the end of the meal and they gradually brought the lights up.

Now this is where the dead chicken meets the road. What were we actually eating?  The chef and sous chef came out to show us the absolutely elegantly plated dishes that we had demolished like a bunch of vikings. The visual was totally lost on us, obviously, but did we guess our flavours right…

At first, I knew it was a taste I hated, and I had to go way back in my memory banks for the last time I ate it, because I have been studiously avoiding it for decades. Liver. Other than that, I actually knew surprisingly little for sure. I had no idea I had downed a quail egg with my fingers, for example, and that thing we thought was chicken… sweetbreads.  What are sweetbreads? Someone told me it was calf gonads! OMG! But I Googled it later and it is the thymus gland or pancreas of a young calf or lamb. As my vegan friends retch, I am only glad it wasn’t what my dining companion originally suggested. But there were also wonderful things like muscles in gaspacho, olive brioche, a yummy ravioli, bacon and scallops, chocolate mousse, orange ganache, as well as standards like lovely mashed potatoes, green beans and rolls with butter (served clockwise).

I think the chef really enjoyed challenging us and seeing our reactions at his reveal. Partly sadistic perhaps, but more out of curiosity I think. He really thought about textures as well as taste for us. Personally, I was amazed at how my sense of taste was not what I thought it was. We marvelled at how pretty the meal was that we had destroyed so unconsciously. We applauded him and his sous chef for the wonderful job.

So we sat with our dining table and dissected the adventure of the meal all over again, and all our crazy manoeuvers. Like when I took a scallop from a woman who was not able to eat shellfish (she had been pre-warned), and then later I thought how weird it was to negotiate that in the dark having never even seen her face, and having a scallop passed to me by hand. Rules out the window. And that was the true adventure of the evening, not how we interact with food, but how we interact with people. Isn’t that most of our adventure in life, in fact?

I love my ghost stories, but I would not have missed this scary Halloween adventure for all the scallops in the world. If you get a chance, try it!

The CLC

Other than a mutual hatred of the cold that takes us to Mexico every winter, what Jim and I share is a love of having dinner parties. Jim denies it, but he first fell in love with me at his own dinner party.  How did I get there?  Well he was dating my best friend, Elektra, or trying to, as we were all part of a Sunday night dance crowd at The Yale, infamous Blues Bar in Vancouver. I even told him, they made a cute couple on the dance floor, but I didn’t know him well.  One night, after sharing a laugh together he asked Elektra  if she knew me well, and she said I had been her best friend for 18 years. “Invite her to my dinner party,” he said.  

At the party, there was increasingly noticeable  attention paid to me, and less to Elektra. Not that it worried me a lot as Elektra had already told me that there was no sparks there for her, but it was a little embarrassing.  I was not looking for something, I was just enjoying being at a dinner party that wasn’t my own for a change.  But when I made a comment that indicated that I not only knew the artist Jim had on the stereo, B.B. King, but I knew the name of B.B. King’s guitar, Lucille, he started to fall heavy for me, and asked me out right then and there in front of all his friends. His friends, by the way, I had liked so much I had already invited them to dinner at my house in three weeks time, so it was kind of hard to say an outright no.  The whole story of the final pairing of us is longer, but here it can be said that a mutual love of dinner parties was a launch pad, and continues to be a main stay in our life together.

Fast forward seven years and we are in our beloved town in Mexico for another winter and we want to have a dinner party. We want to introduce two American couples together that we know and love but they don’t know each other…yet. Huff and Eileen, former Californians, and Jimmy and Juanita, living between Texas and Mexico are all great people, but I am curious to see if they are going to hit it off, because you never know. In particular, I am concerned because Jimmy is a expert level surfer but, Huff is a jet ski expert.  I don’t know enough about the battle over the surf, but I believe surfers and jetskiers are not always compatible. Am I setting up two species that don’t belong together?  Like the faux pas of asking a very right-wing Republican to dine with very left-wing Democrat, but instead of political differences, am I setting up a surf turf war at the dinner table?  I know that these are things Jim never considers or stresses over, so I take a page from his book and leave it alone.

The party starts with some beverages at the pool and gets lively quickly.  Not only do these two couples get along but the stories and laughs are flying.  Jim and I are not introverts at all, yet for the first time I felt like we were being polite Canadians and could barely get a word in edgewise to these gregarious Americans. Then the subjects of jet skiing comes ont he table, I look carefully at Jimmy, who I’ve known a little longer to see if he is trying to mask any disgust… Texans do play poker right?

Well, did I call that concern wrong, pretty soon it is out in the open that we have a jet skier with a surfer and they start to talk about the love of the waves that they have in common.  Now, in addition to being a surfer Jimmy is a business owner in Texas and Mexico, and suddenly I see a side of this man who is in great shape in his 50s partly due to his avid surfing, in a whole new light.  I had never heard him talk surfer dude talk before, suddenly if I had a dollar for every time he said “gnarly” and “bitchin” that night I would have made a tidy profit.  But I don’t recall ever having heard him say these kind of words before.

Huff and Jimmy start to launch on their tales, tragedies and triumphs of the tides, and I am reminded of the scene in Jaws where they are comparing shark encounter stories (coincidentally, I just heard that 75% of shark attacks are on surfers, and I am sure jet skiers aren’t far behind). I bone up on all kinds of surf talk like Pointbreak and a Barrel and in the process learn that jet skiers often tow surfers out to their favourite surf spots. “Less paddling, dude!” The long and the short of it is, I did not need to worry about these two not getting along.

Well, so starts our friendship of couples… or maybe it can best be called dating.  As Nora Ephron said, “couples date each other.”  Well, if that was true we seemed to be having a threesome dating experience.  Even when we were alone over at Eileen and Huff’s, inevitably Juanita & Jimmy would bang on the door and we’d all be together again.  It was Juanita who noted that all of us owned corner lots within two blocks of one another. And while we have yet to build on our lot, Juanita said “Let’s form The Corner Lot Club.”  Thus The CLC was born. Just for fun. I was so hoity toity and contradictory to the people there, that we just had to do it.

Out to the coolest, cheapest or best places to eat, sometimes all three in one, in our town or the four or five surrounding towns in the area, was part of our new group social adventure. Or having dinner parties and feeding each other, or one evening we fed the crocodiles together (see photos). The CLC is now our little institution.  I Skyped with Jimmy the other day and they just went to a Chinese restaurant run out of someone’s house, someone who was actually Chinese which is a little more rare in our small Mexican town then say…Vancouver.  See there are good things about Vancouver.

I guess the reflection today is how people’s lives change when you invite them over to dinner. Breaking bread with others will always be on of the great rewards of anyone’s life, from the poor to the mega-wealthy, aren’t we lucky.

The Mexican Chistmas Burro Boogie

Do you ever wonder what your Christmas would be like if you weren’t doing any of the traditional things you usually do, perhaps in a far away land… perhaps in Mexico for example?

I did not have to wonder this year. This Christmas eve, I spent trying to speak in three different languages: English, French and Spanish.  We were surrounded by our Québécois Mexico friends, Guy, Ramona, Alice, Luc and Joanne. Each person had different levels of fluency in different languages but we muddled through, and of course alcohol tends to help.

They took us to a restaurant in the neighboring town famous for its service where they make quite a show of it.  For example, we had seven people at dinner, so, when our orders are ready, seven waiters come to the table. They synchronize it perfectly and put each order in front of each of the guests simultaneously.

We laughed, told stories, in multiple languages, and then we walked through town where all the families were having their parties; lights, fireworks and firecrackers galore.  All night long, music, fire crackers, and party, party, party.  Everyone.  All ages. This makes for a pretty quiet Christmas morning, since everyone is sleeping in, or at least until we heard something we had never heard before.

This was the moment that I really knew I wasn’t having Christmas at home. We both heard what we thought at first was a very strange horn. Jim poked his head out the window and said, “Get a look at this, you won’t believe it.”  I did, and if I hadn’t seen it myself I might not have. To the entertainment of the neighborhood a donkey, really a burro, had gotten lose and was galloping down the middle of the street braying at the top of his lungs.  I had never heard an animal, relatively small, make such a big sound.  It was like a call to Christmas morning. With all the parades and re-creations of the nativity we had witnessed in the weeks leading up to Christmas, with a donkey always carrying a Mary and a baby Jesus, it was like the donkey was yelling its freedom from all this Christmas stuff at the top of his lungs. Everyone in the neighborhood was laughing.

After our novel alarm clock, we decided to go to brunch at my favourite breakfast place, La Casa de Mi Abuela, The House of My Grandmother.  I rode my little vintage folding bike that makes me feel like I am twelve again while Jim walked.  Despite the recession making a noticeable drop in tourism this year, the street side Abuela cafe is packed. Good food and service always attract.  There is always a range of 7 to 10 different kinds of fruits on their fruit plate and I always have to have the pancakes.  By accident, Jim and I discovered a new taste sensation.  Since the Mexicans put lime on everything, one day I tried it on my pancakes with maple syrup.  Damn if that wasn’t the best taste combo discovery I have ever made in my life. The sour lime and the sweet maple syrup compliment each other perfectly, and with Abuela’s fluffy pancakes, it is “to die for,” as my sister would say. Well I could go on about their spiced potatoes and their excellent complimentary condiments like granola, yogurt. jams and marmalades, and cookies with your coffee, but I think you get the idea.

We were also sitting beside Bonny and her partner, also here from Vancouver. She is a Jazz singer who comes here every season and will be making appearances in some of the nicer restaurants.  We make small talk and the usual gratitudes of how lucky we are to be here.  She admires my bike.  Again, I feel as proud as a preteen.  We talk about the Vancouver music scene and I mention to her that I noticed that in the women’s washroom  in the restaurant, on the back of the stall door is a fan club bumper sticker for a local Vancouver band, Brickhouse, from The Yale.  We both think this is pretty funny that it wound up here, but given how many Canadians are here maybe not so strange.

We return home to encounter the donkey across the street eating garbage at the empty lot.  I am worried for the donkey.  They will eat anything and we hatch a rapid plan to catch it.  Fortunately, we document the whole event with video and photos, and I add some music and commentary and post it on YouTube, calling it the Christmas Burro Boogie: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MszDtbqE_L4 , it has a moral to the story which I will let you discover on the video rather than repeating it here.

The big revelation is that this was definitely not a “normal” Christmas, and while I love traditions, I am very happy forging new ones and discovering Christmas Mexico style.  Feliz Navidad and Feliz Ano!

Kathrin Lake, Story Coach, helping others discover themselves through stories and to write amazing books and speeches.  See our online group coaching for a low rate and our February writing retreats in Mexico: www.survivaltothrival.com

Letting Go of a Baby Tortoise

Well we are back in our beloved Winter home in Mexico. For a full week now we are perpetually meeting and greeting all our friends and fellow snowbirds, and do the usual settling in and putting things in order.  The gringos here help each other out, and Guy lends us his van to collect supplies in Manzanillo and coincidentally also allows us to pick up our friend Danielle who is travelling through Mexico.  Like us, Danielle cannot tolerate the lack of sunshine and warmth that a Canadian winter forces us to endure, and is here to get her dose of ultraviolet, vitamin D, and give the sinuses a break.

We have been showing off our little town to her and she is much impressed.  Not just with the scenery but how we drop in on people at any time and they welcome us in.  Even people who we don’t know invite us in, as long as we say the name of someone that they do know.  This is our Mexico, filled with friends, lots of info sharing, many small adventures that give us amusing and interesting stories that would never happen back home.  One of the best for me happened to us tonight.

Tonight, while having a drink in our favourite bar at the end of the beach, a volunteer from the Tortuga (Tortoise) Shelter came in and asked us if we understood Spanish and if we would like to help release the baby Tortugas that were hatched only an hour ago.  We all jumped at the chance.  Coincidentally, Jim and I had been by the shelter two days before.  We peeked in at the fenced off section of the beach with the little flags indicating where the tortuga eggs are buried below the sand. We had often done this before, but this time we read the cards on the flags. On the cards it said “Proximo Nac.” and a date.  I tell Jim that this means the next time for their birth, but we look at the dates and Jim notices that the dates are all this week and over the next few weeks.  But we continue on our merry way, not knowing that we will be pressed into service two days  later in the early evening to release these babies to the ocean. 

Now a bunch of us gather around a bin of sand with dozens of baby Tortugas, only and inch and a half long, all struggling to get out and move forward to the ocean.  The volunteer gives us a little history.  The babies are only one hour old and they release them after sunset, about seven p.m., so that the birds won’t pick them off. They show us that in the tummy of these little creatures is the area that contains the mysterious locator that will ensure these tortugas will return to this exact spot, fully grown, in 15 years, and ready to lay more eggs each season. Over their lifetime, (which is up to 150 years old) they will hatch 900 eggs, of which only a small percent will survive.  They ask us to never take part, or condone in the consumption of Tortoise eggs (a delicacy). 

They tell us to take off our shoes and socks, and roll up our pant legs as we will be getting wet. They prepare the palms of our hands by smoothing a bit of sand across them, so the tortugas are oriented with the sands they will be returning to in 15 years.  Then we each get a baby tortuga, so small and new, placed in our palms. They try to wriggle up the mini beaches of our sand-laden palms, instinct pulling them to the ocean.  We have to keep re-placing them to the bottom of our palms or they will get away on us.  I am amazed to think that this wee creature will one day be as large as the kitchen table I am now typing at.  Out of Jim, Danielle and I, Jim is the only one who has seen the magnificence of a full grown Tortoise in the ocean, while he was sailing in these waters a few years ago.

Now the volunteers are taking us down to the ocean and explaining that we have to go to the edge of the surf with our wriggling babes, and after a wave the volunteers will tell us when to release our tortugas to their fates.  The wave comes crashing in and christens our ankles up to our knees. “Ahora!” the volunteer calls, “Now!” In we place them, and as the water from the wave withdraws the undertow sucks the babies out into the ocean, the small creatures left up to their destinies in the vastness of the Pacific.  I am overcome with emotion, and call out “Good luck!” the only thing I can think to wish the small babe that was entrusted to me for mere minutes before I had to release it. My voice is lost in the waves, but I put up a silent prayer as a surrogate mother wishing a long and happy life to this one. And that is all any of us can hope for.

I reflect how nature has prepared these little ones to go straight out into the world and handle all that befalls them immediately, unlike us humans.  After nearly 50 years I still don’t know if I am prepared for all that life may throw at me.  But perhaps we always do have everything we need. A little luck and our persistent wriggling through is the only thing we ever needed and ever will need.  Whatever our life here on the planet will be, I am once again eternally grateful to be part of the mystery, the adventure, and yes, even the struggle. For life is a vast and deep ocean which none of us can fully fathom, yet to help others, all creatures great and small, seems to give us an ethereal joy, and may be our highest purpose.

Kathrin Lake, author of From Survival to Thrival www.survivaltothrival.com

See Writing retreats to Mexico on sale now at: www.survivaltothrival.com/services/retreats

The Upcoming Big Gala

Kathrin Lake, author of From Survival to Thrival documents her first Tango lessons inspired by Tim Ferriss’s book The 4 -Hour Workweek.

Tango lesson #8 – three big lessons for everyone.

Once again Gabriela has pushed me to learn intermediate steps and pieces of choreography beyond what is normal for beginners, but Jim and I have finally figured out why she is doing this. I am not quite the Tango protegé she and my ego wants to believe. We figured that she is trying to get me to catch up to Jim.  Why? So we can dance together in the big Tango Gala next weekend. OMG this sounds like the plot of a schlocky Hollywood film!  No, it is not a competition just a dance, and also a demo of some of the  world’s best tango artists.

So we learned a classic slinky tango sequence that draws all the focus to the woman and her gams. Now, a word about this. I like my body.  And it has taken me years to feel that way about it, but I still envy women with nice legs.  Even when I pare down to my skinniest I have stocky legs – they are not horrible – but they are far from classic dancer’s legs.  My mother used to say, “Just be thankful you don’t have a set of toothpicks and some knobby knees.”  And I am thankful for that. I like what I have. But, what is a girl to do when coming up to the big Gala?

In another chapter in my life E got me into taking bellydancing. She had been taking it for awhile and I was a beginner. We were practicing one afternoon and I was trying hard to get it right and finally she said, “Just fake it, ’til you make it.”

“Really?” I said.

“Just think of everything you thought bellydancing was when you were a girl, and would play at it. Whatever you thought of it then, exotic mystery, harems, the Dance of the Seven Veils, Barbara Eden and I Dream of Jeannie, you should still use.”

In essence, just play it as if you are it, not as if you are learning it.  So, I let myself go to that place, and had fun swinging my hips more and using my arms and hands more fluidly.  Is it surprising that my dancing got much better?  So, the same thing goes for tango. Be as sensual and mysterious as you like.  Pretend you are a double agent flirting with another secret agent.  Whatever it takes.

Two lessons to get out of this one… no three. First,’ fake it ’til you make it,’ is a terrific practice when you are learning. Second, don’t let go of your fantasy about things because it keeps whatever it is beautiful and alluring. Even as you are adding the reality, keep the fantasy. Third, you can’t dance well if you worry about what you or your gams look like, so just love them and make everyone else love them, not by how they look but by how you move them.

These are all lessons you can transfer to just about everything in life, even the last lesson. If you worry too much what others think you are not moving as fluidly as you can in life.  Whenever you realize you are doing this to excess, pause and do a rethink. Check in and see if you might be creating something that is no longer worth creating.

Kathrin Lake, author of From Survival to Thrival www.survivaltothrival.com See retreats to Mexico on sale now.

Don’t Think Just Live

Kathrin Lake, author of From Survival to Thrival documents her first Tango lessons inspired by Tim Ferriss’s book The 4 -Hour Workweek.

Tango Lesson number 7. 

Rodin's ThinkerI thought I did much better tonight in my tango lesson, and I attribute it to one critical thing. Don’t think. Just go with the lead, go with the flow.  Another example of how my tango lessons can be transferred to life lessons. Especially as women, we do tend to  over analyze everything. Perhaps that is why it is a man’s world.  Men can run it without thinking. Okay that was a little sexist joke… or not.  Perhaps the tango allows me to embrace irreverence.  The tango may not be irreverent, but neither is it at all conventional. It is about sex,desire, seduction and the dance between lovers.  It gives me an irreverent feeling because with my North American upbringing it is fun to be blatantly going for the sex appeal.  In the Argentine tango, this is all in the feet.

All my life I have been told “don’t drag your feet!”  Now I spend hours doing nothing but dragging my feet and it looks good, real good. Gabriella teaches us all the tricks, like how a slightly cocked ankle during a pause can look drippingly sexy. Subtle but sensuous.  Argentine Tango is not like ballroom tango that goes for showy effects and double take flipping of the head at every turn.  The true Argentine tango is like the new found couple in the corner of a noisy wedding reception, leaning into one another, oblivious to the others yet making subtle come-ons in their moves. What is going on there is far more sexy than the brash groom and bride, making a big production of the kiss and dip with the clinking of glasses.  That is the difference between the Argentine and the ballroom tango.

When I danced tonight with another woman who was trying to be the lead for our practice, she tells me what a great leader/dancer Jim is. Jim, my partner, is in the next level up.  I have to confess to her that we have danced very little tango together at this point. I am told that Gabriela, our teacher, with her magnificent, outrageous Argentinian personality, apparently put on a little demonstration using Jim to lead her. Jim performed it so flawlessly that at the end of it Gabriela yelled out, “Jim, take me now!”  Everyone laughed and Jim blushed to his toes, but was flattered. 

Tonight, at the end of the class, and because it is my birthday, she makes me do a demo for the class with her.  Nerves!  I started thinking, and then just decided to stop. Results? I didn’t do too badly and Gabriela is heavy on Spanish praise “Eso!” “Muya Bien!” Thankfully, there was no sexual references.  Not bad for an old girl of…never mind. But while I am here , I live.  Stop thinking people, start living.  As they say, if you are not living, you are dying.

Find out more about what Kathrin does to live a full life at: http://www.survivaltothrival.com/

Bucket Lists, Tango #5, Eat Pray Love

I loved the book Eat Pray Love, and it is with anticipation that I will be seeing the movie this Friday night.  But, what is it about this experience of Elizabeth Gilbert‘s that has all of us so intrigued?  What are we thirsty for?  Not all of us identify ourselves as spiritual seekers, but many of us are seeking a way to “be” in this life with grace and happiness. Let me ponder this and try to connect some dots.

The term bucket list is not new, but has found a new trend of popularity of late .  One could say my taking tango lessons is a bucket list kind of adventure, or maybe it won’t qualify until I am dancing in Buenos Aires with people who really know the tango.  One could also call it a pastime.  An interesting word pastime.  Essentially, pastimes can be anything we do in life, voluntarily, to chew up time.  Living with Jim, I discovered a critical difference in our thinking.  When we are on vacation, or just when thinking of our own mortality, we come from two different places.  When I have limited time, I say, “I have limited time so I want to fill it with as many things to experience as possible.”  Jim says, “I have limited time so I want to do as little as possible so time slows down [or feels like it does].” Jim has a point; perception is reality.  So we both come from different points of view and we do take a little from each others philosophies. Sometimes we must be strongly “encouraged” to, but we do enrich each others lives this way.  Neither is wrong, neither is right. 

Even Gilbert, who had a profound inner journey of beingness, was also travelling to three different countries experiencing all the people and differences in culture while this was happening.  Another new and perhaps appropriate mantra for our busy world is that we are human beings, not human doings.  It is a good reminder, yet I would also argue that part of human nature is to do.  It seems we want to balance these inner and outer worlds of being and doing.  And when it is really balanced we choose only quality ways of doing, as grand or as humble as they may be, and only quality ways of being, as quiet or as interconnected as they may be.  But what are those quality ways?  Aye, there’s the rub. But, perhaps we are doing more of those quality ways than we want to perceive, simply because of the grass is always greener phenomenon.  Listen to this story that Jim and I enjoy. 

A businessman was visiting a small village by the sea in Mexico and watching the fisherman. The businessman complimented one fisherman on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took to catch them. The Mexican replied only a little while. The businessman then asked why he didn’t stay out longer and catch more fish? The Mexican said he had enough to support his family’s immediate needs. The businessman then asked him how he lived. The Mexican fisherman said, “I fish a little, play with my children, take a siesta with my wife, drink wine and play guitar with my amigos.”

The businessman said, “But my friend you are missing a great opportunity here, I am a Harvard MBA and I could help you. If you spend more time fishing, with the proceeds you could buy a bigger boat. With the proceeds from the bigger boat you could buy several boats; eventually you would have a fleet of fishing boats. Instead of selling your catch to a middleman, you would sell directly to the processor and eventually open your own cannery. You would control the product, processing and distribution. You would be running an expanded enterprise.”

The Mexican fisherman asked, “But señor, how long will this all take?”

To which the businessman replied, “15-20 years.”

And the fisherman asked, “What would it get me at the end of that time?”

“Oh, that’s the best part,” the businessman smiled with glee,”you will be able to go fishing, spend more time with your wife and kids and do fun things with your friends!”

Ah yes, the old keep it simple idea. Elektra and I were not together for our tango lesson #5 this week because she couldn’t make it, and darn I missed her. So there is doing, being and then sharing. But what I experience every time I return from Mexico is marvelling at how much “stuff” I own for no reason.  I seem to be addicted to this stuff which is not even “being” or “doing,”or “sharing,” it is “acquiring.” and “having.” Our pursuit, my friends, is not the pursuit of stuff, it is the pursuit of happiness and that is what I call thrival. It is why I write, why I teach, learn and coach. Because I love to do it.  Maximize the quality doings (tango to traveling), take an attitude that is healthy towards just being in life (sleeping, eating, working and loving), take care of your health (work-outs and fun-outs), and the big topper, share good company (love and be loved by your friends and lovers).

If you want to balance being, doing and sharing, why not plan to come with me and Jim to Mexico for my Writing Retreats in Winter – go to my site: http://www.survivaltothrival.com to find out how.

Tango Lesson 3 – Getting the Cross – I am a Horse

Kathrin Lake, author of From Survival to Thrival documents her first Tango lessons inspired by Tim Ferriss’s book The 4 -Hour Workweek.

Tango Lesson 3

Last night was lesson number three and amazingly E and I are still being told we are Tango naturals. My LSE self (low self esteem self) has a sense of doom and tells me this cannot last, and at some point we are in for a great crash. Being one of those people who in gym class was always picked near last by team captains, I still have it in my head that I am uncoordinated. I face the fear of being found out every time I go to a dance class. My HSE self (figure it out) however, says, enjoy it, and enjoy the dance itself.  So I try to focus on that.

But the truth is, I attribute much of our progress to our teacher, Gabriela Rojo, who says,

“I’m not lying, you both pick up very fast.” She shouts across the room to the beyond beginners filing in, “Look at what they do after three lessons!”

I’m blushing. Please don’t build us up so much, Gabriela. We are getting semi private lessons which progresses a person much faster.

When I dance with Gabriela (all dance teachers must be able to lead and follow) she is a fabulous leader, but when I go to one of the men helping us I am less confident. Everyone has a different style of leading and the physical cues are not always the same or as clear. You must surrender to your partner’s style. Mental note: try to include this skill in my relationship with Jim. It also reminds me of horseback riding. No one can see the subtle cues that the rider gives to the horse to make it spring into a canter. In this case, I am the horse, and it is not the cue for a canter but the cue for a “cross.”

The “cross” belongs to the women and looks so classy and clever that it makes any woman into an instant goddess. It really makes the tango the tango. But the man must lead the cross. Gabriela shows me that when she is directly in front of me I will be lead into a cross, but slightly to the side and I cannot cross. However, with other partners I find it less obvious of when I cross and when I am just supposed to walk.  I get it right at least 75% of the time. When I misstep Gabriela makes a sound, “chh,chh,chh” that tells me I am not crossing when I should. It again reminds me of the clucking or verbal sounds a rider does to help their mount get their cues when they are less competent.

This also reminds me of another horse/human parallel. Dressage horses, the dancers of the equine world, reach their peak at 10, 11 or 12 years of age after intense training, and live to a ripe old age of 24 to 30.  Race horses, however, have finished their careers in year four and are often dead by the age of 12.  Likewise, they say that couples who do partner dancing are far, far, less likely to develop dementia as they age or Alzheimer’s. They also live longer, and are generally healthier.  Alzheimer’s runs in the female side of my family, and I’m terribly afraid of developing it; another reason for me to continue facing the fear every week.

Gabriela tells me that E does even better at getting the cross and is “very coordinated.” I agree.  With her Spanish-like dark looks, and long lean body, she looks stunning as she dances.

Tonight E and I were lead through an entire piece of tango music from basic steps, walks, crosses, both forward and backwards ochos, and another move which I don’t yet have the spelling for.  We are truly dancing. For the joy of that, I am happy.

Find out more about what Kathrin does to live a full life at: http://www.survivaltothrival.com/