Friday, June 29, 2012

The Great Mandala

                                               The Great Mandala 

A while back, one of the local churches in Laguna Beach sponsored the visit of a team of Tibetan Monks to make a Sand Mandala. A Sand Mandala is a Tibetan Buddhist tradition involving the creation and destruction of mandalas made from colored sand. A sand mandala is created over a period of time and then ritualistically destroyed once it has been completed; the accompanying ceremonies and viewing symbolize the Buddhist belief in the transitory nature of material life.

Think about it: all around us the world is changing and most of us are trying to find something to hold on to; the media is filled with stories nearly too incredible to believe and those who watch are struggling to make sense out of the noise; and the institutions we’ve been raised to believe in are acting in ways that are beyond belief. The tradition of the Sand Mandala stands as a reminder to refocus on the belief that holding onto things you really don’t need is a bad thing, and that transitions can be a good thing.  And because we’re hard wired to hold on to what we know and have, it takes something like a Sand Mandala to get us to re-think our priorities.

The Sand Mandala we went to see took a group of eight Monks 5 days to painstakingly create, and as soon as they were done they carried it to the shore and cast that beautiful creation into the wind and sea.  I can’t imagine a more powerful way to portray the belief that we should always be ready to give up the material things we collect in order to find the freedom to move forward.  Those monks were thrilled to have the chance to create a beautiful mandala, and they were just as ecstatic to give it to the wind and then have the opportunity to do it all again.  As I write these words I am again moved by the depth of their belief in this simple principle.

How much have you accumulated – physically and psychically, personally and professionally, appropriately and inappropriately, thoughtfully and foolishly?  At the end of the day, there are only a few things, and friends, and keepsakes that any of us really need to hold onto, and all the rest just weighs us down.   Think how much better our lives would be if we were able to adopt this belief, and how much more prepared we’d be to look at the future openly and be ready for what happens each day.  It’s a lofty goal, and while it’s probably impossible to get there fully, just think how much better we’d all be if we at least tried and achieved even a portion of this idea.  Take a moment today to realize what’s really important in your life, and then cast all that’s not really needed into the wind and see how much better you’ll feel and perform.

My message this week is about being ready to create something great when the opportunity presents itself:

“When you are inspired by some great purpose, some extraordinary project, all your thoughts break their bonds.”     Patanjali

Patañjali (150 BCE – 70 BCE) is the compiler of the YogaSūtras, an important collection on Yoga practice.

When's the last time you were inspired by some great purpose?  Was it at home, with a loved one, at work, or maybe when you were tinkering with something? Inspirations can come at any time, and when they do it's best to stop and consider them fully.  And don't think that they have to be something that's out of this world - they can be simple improvements to things that could revolutionize what's been done in the past.  They don't have to be fully thought out and formed - most likely you'll have to work on them to figure it all out.  But don't just dismiss something because it hasn't been thought of or done before - if that were the case then nothing new and great would ever get created.  Just remember to not let past thinking limit your new thinking, and when something extraordinary inspires you today, make sure all your thoughts break their bonds.

Stay well!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Growing Like a Weed

Growing Like a Weed

Our little apartment in Brooklyn has a rooftop patio – a definite bonus in this big city.   And last year on that patio we grew tomatoes and herbs. We weren’t so ambitious this year, but out of the soil we used last year now grows a very healthy and large weed.

Now my point is that no matter what we do, and often in spite of what we do, life goes on.  Even when we don’t do anything, or don’t intend to do anything, or forget to do things, or even when we try not to do anything, nature has a way of continuing with its own plans, at its own pace, following its own schedule.  We may think we’re in charge, but the force of nature, the luck of the draw, and the rising and falling of the moon and sun all push things along.  Last winter’s solstice and this week’s summer solstice attest to that.

As I walk along the tree-lined streets and through the wonderful parks here, the changes that occur throughout the year are very apparent.  In the fall and winter, nothing much grows, and that which does, grows slowly.  But in the spring and summer (now) the buds and leaves on the trees, the grass, the gardens, and all the friendships spawned by being out with others grow and are there for all to enjoy.  And for me, here on my patio, all of that is symbolized by this weed that is growing tall, seemingly all by itself.

So what’s this mean in the overall scheme of things?  Simply, that while life continues no matter what we do, we can add to it – if I watered and fed that weed it would be like Jack’s beanstalk.  Now apply this to our lives and what we could do to make who we are and all we have bigger and better: working more closely with others, communicating more effectively, adding our efforts and energies where they’re most needed, being open to the new things that present themselves every day, caring a lot about what others do and letting them know, listening to their needs and issues and responding appropriately, saying please and thank you, being sensitive to all that’s going on around us, and reacting calmly and humbly to it all.

Doing all of these things nurtures the growth of things and people, of feelings and dreams and hopes.  Take a moment today to help yourself and those around you grow like a weed.  Because even though weeds, like people, can and do grow on their own, they can be so much more with the love and support we give.

My message this week is about passion and how to let it help you and others grow:

Arte Nathan“Develop a passion for learning. If you do, you will never cease to grow.”

Anthony J. D’Angelo

As the #1 Contributing Author and Editor of The NY Times Bestseller, Chicken Soup For The College Soul, Anthony D’Angelo has been featured in several national media outlets. At the age of twenty five, D’Angelo was hailed by CNN as, "The Personal Development Guru of His Generation".
Passion is really important – to employers, friends, lovers and colleagues.  But it’s not something that you can ask about, as in: “hey, are you passionate?”  Everyone will answer “Yes!”  But it’s not what you say, but rather what you do and how you act.  Most people know and recognize passion when they see it, but it’s hard to explain.  That’s why you need to definitely be in the moment with everything you do, why you need to pay close attention and gesture with your hands and eyes and overall demeanor, why you need to be expressive in your answers and your actions, and why you need to be interested and attentive to all the details.  That’s how passion manifests itself in what you do. Be aware of your energy and your actions today – that’s what will show whether you’re passionate or not.  And once others see that you have it, you’ll never cease to grow!

Stay well!

P.S. The picture above shows how my granddaughter and her garden vegetables are growing.  And I’m really passionate about that!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Father's Day

Father's Day

This weekend is Father’s Day, a time when guys with kids get recognized for who and what they are, and all they’ve done.  It’s also a time when guys reflect back on what they’ve done as fathers.

Many of us lament the fact that we didn’t do more. That kind of shoulda, woulda thinking is only healthy if it leads to a commitment to do more, or try harder, or pay more attention the next time; otherwise it can get kind of depressing. The time when being a father means the most is when our kids are young: when they’re full of wonder at what we know and how we do things.  That wears off too quickly and turns into the years when we know too little, care too much, and try too hard.  Or so it seems.

But the best is when our kids become adults and we get to interact with them more as peers than as parents – maybe because that’s when they start to experience life in the context of maturity, responsibility, and accountability. And seeing what our kids become is fascinating because that’s when we realize they were paying attention, learning right from wrong, and being able to think logically and independently. Maybe all those conflicting feelings we had (between holding on and letting go) turned out not to be worth the bother.  Our kids grew into adulthood just like we did… duh.

My Dad’s been gone more than 20 years, and not a day goes by that I don’t think about him, or wish I could talk to him about something, or wonder what he’d have to say about what’s going on.  I hope I did enough of all those things while I still could, and try not to be regretful that maybe I didn’t.  That’s what I think about on Father’s Day.

And now, on this Father’s Day, as I get to see my daughter become a parent, I know that she’ll now start to realize what I did so many years ago: that parents know a lot, and the more we realize what our parents know and how hard they work at being good at parenting , the more we love and respect them.  It makes me recall a plaque my Dad had that said: Too soon old, Too late smart.  Ain’t that the truth!

So for me, Father’s Day is not about what I get, but what I’ve learned.  It’s not about what I want, but what I have.  Because it’s not about me, it’s about the family that makes me what I am.

So for all you fathers out there, have a great day.  You deserve it!

My message this week is about the saying what you mean and meaning what you say:

Arte Nathan“I meant what I said and said what I meant—An elephant’s faithful One hundred percent.”

Theodor Geisel

Theodor Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss) wrote most of his books in anapestic tetrameter, a poetic meter employed by many poets of the English literary canon. This is often suggested as one of the reasons that Geisel's writing was so well-received.

If there’s one thing I know it’s that most people say, that an elephant’s memory never ever goes away; and the things that elephants remember in their heads, are all the things good and things bad that are said.

So think your words carefully before you speak them out loud, because friends who are like elephants will take what you say and remember them clearly on some other day.

And just as important as the words that you speak are the things that you do every day every week, because if your words and your actions are not exactly the same then if someone misinterprets them they’re really not to blame.

So when it comes to your loyalties remember this verse, and make sure that your words and your actions all match; because that’s how others will judge if they’re true, and then they will know the who and the what that is really the real YOU.

And by saying what you mean and meaning what you say, you’ll have loyalties to bank for the next rainy day.

Stay well!

p.s. The pic above is of me and my daughter taken more than 30 years ago.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Nature versus Nurture

Nature versus Nuture


Nature or nurture is an ageless debate.  Are the things we do and the people we become shaped by our DNA, or does the environment mold us? It may be one, or the other, or both?

Years ago I watched a dolphin give birth, and within a minute the mother gently pushed the baby to the water’s surface so it could start breathing.  I’m fairly certain that mother dolphin didn’t attend pre-natal parenting classes to learn that.  1 point for nature.

Four weeks ago I witnessed my new granddaughter and her parents begin their lives together.  That little girl knew all about breast feeding without having to be told or shown how.  Maybe Olive was listening and somehow understood when her mom was being coached about this.  Maybe, but more likely that’s another point for nature.

This little girl is a really happy baby – eating, sleeping, traveling, looking around, loving being held by lots of adults – and through it all she’s a really happy baby.  She’s calm because her parents are calm, she’s happy because she’s surrounded by happiness.  Her parents learned and understood that “happy is as happy does”, just like “cranky is as cranky does”….that’s a point for nurture.

I don’t remember being this good or aware when my own daughter was born, and thus this is one of the benefits of being a grandparent: I can see the nature versus nurture comparisons more clearly because I’m not so caught up in the responsibilities of the moment.  And l can also see the parallels to how these same issues play out in the world of work:
  • New employees know they have to learn the culture and get along with others – that’s a deeply rooted human instinct meant to avoid conflict (nature).
  • Supervisors have to develop trust and respect in order to promote recruitment and retention – this may be both nature and nurture: the supervisors know intuitively that they need to do this to get people acclimated effectively and to promote morale (nature); but it’s a learned set of skills and competencies that require training, coaching and practice (nurture).
  • Employees need to work hard, care a lot, and do more with less every day – people may intuitively know and understand this (nature) but it’s not going to happen unless effective leadership is present (nurture).
The lifecycle of an employee and the lifecycle of a child are very similar.  And the basic stuff we learn in psychology class supplements our instincts when it comes to getting the most out of each.  We all know this; but for me, this membership in the Grandparents Club is reinforcing some of the key things I’ve experienced and known (nurture).  And then I find myself showing everyone I meet – friend or stranger – pictures, like the one above, of my little granddaughter (nature)!

My message this week is about our habits, and how we develop them:

Arte Nathan“First we make our habits, then our habits make us.” 
-Charles C. Noble

Charles C. Noble, (1812–1885) was the organist of St Martin's Church, in Stamford, and also at St Ann's Church, in Nottingham.

What are you made of?  You’re born with certain traits and some of these grow into habits.  These traits are mostly in your DNA, but they can also be developed by the environment you’re raised in: being ticklish is in your DNA, but your accent is learned.  Over time you may learn to modify your traits – you may learn to suppress a ticklish laugh; but over time you also may develop your habits – being kind, observant, communicative or wise.  And it’s these habits that usually define the person you are and how others perceive you.  Since we all want to be seen in a positive light, it’s important that you shape your habits to the people and world around you, and in some cases that world may require new habits.  Be mindful of your habits and make sure they apply appropriately to your circumstances.  And don’t forget that you can always learn, or unlearn, your habits.  They’re yours, so make the best of your habits and let your habits make you today!

Stay well!

Sunday, June 3, 2012




Look closely enough at the passenger side mirror of any car you’ll see objects in mirror may be closer than they appear.  Seems fairly self-evident.  So why do “they” need to put this on every passenger side mirror?

I mean, do we really need to state the obvious, like: coffee in the cup may be hotter than it appears, or water in pool may be deeper that it appears, or glass in the window may be more breakable than it appears, or dogs may be more vicious than they appear, or cigarettes may be more deadly than they appear, or people you encounter may be more boorish than they appear, or…. you get the point.  Life, in general, may be tougher than it appears, and politicians generally less truthful and forthcoming, and more bi-partisan than they appear, but nobody feels compelled to post those fairly obvious warnings.

At some point, aren’t we responsible for our own behavior, safety, and well-being?  Think about it: all these warnings have done little to protect society in general from itself in spite of the fact that many know the warnings are pretty much true.

Now think about some of the suggestions that have changed behaviors in our lifetime: the Mothers Against Drunk Driving’s Don’t Drink and Drive campaign – do you know anyone who drinks and drives anymore; Lady Bird Johnson’s Beautify America campaign in the 60s - people really did stop throwing trash out car windows and on the ground; or the Buckle Up seatbelt campaign – everyone wears one today. That’s because these, and many more suggestions (not warnings), made the kind of sense that people quickly understood and supported.  No constant reminders or government regulations were needed.  That’s because people generally take note and do the right things when, in fact, they are the right things to do.

So, in my humble opinion, there are only a few things that should be a little closer than they appear: family, friends, loved ones, favorite books, things that make you smile, and an empty taxi in the rain.  And here's, my favorite: that cute little baby in the picture above – she can’t appear or be close enough (sorry, this grand-parenting thing is closer than it appears :).

My message this week is about personal responsibility and the dynamics of getting anything accomplished:
Arte Nathan“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
- Margaret Meade

Margaret Mead (1901 – 1978) was an American cultural anthropologist, a popularizer of the insights of anthropology into modern American and Western culture, and a respected, if controversial, academic anthropologist.

How thoughtful and committed are you?  To the things you do, to the people you’re with, to the ideas you have, and to the dreams you share with others?  Without your real and total commitment, there’s not much chance you’ll be successful enough or make a big enough impact for anyone to notice, or anything truly great to result.  And without your thoughtfulness, hard work and commitment, there’s no way that others will believe and trust you, or that they’ll make the same kind of commitment as you. This is especially true when whatever you’re doing is part of a team, because in that situation others rely directly on you to do your part.  The group dynamics of a team are very sensitive to the concept of reciprocity – everyone believing, feeling, sensing, acting and working at each individual’s very best – for the benefit of all.  If you’re part of a team today, never doubt that a group of thoughtful and committed people can change the world.  Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.

Stay well!