Farewell, Dad

My father passed away this week, at the age of eighty-eight, may he rest in peace.

They say the best way to lead is by example, and that’s exactly how he did it. In a way that was firm, but also warm and straightforward. Through his attitude, his habits and his personal and professional code of ethics, he was a superb example for my siblings and me, and later on, for his grandchildren as well.

Many remember his good memory, his manners (rather serious, though good humoured), and the quality of his work, always impeccable. But the topic that comes up most frequently in conversations when we remember him, the thing that’s etched in the memory of those who knew him, is the way he used to congratulate them on their birthdays.

In these times when many of us seem to spend our days “collecting friends” on social media, and keep sending each other superficial messages, he used to dedicate time every day to sit down and write cards by hand, to personally wish happy birthday to the many friends, relatives and acquaintances listed in his notebook. And then for the closest family members, his happy birthday wish arrived in the form of a text message, delivered to our phone exactly at midnight, so that we could start celebrating our day from the first minute.

He kept a place in his thoughts and his heart for each person that came along in his life, regardless of whether he saw them frequently or hadn´t seen them in decades. A beautiful example, which I would like to follow (even if it is in more modern ways), not only for what it is but also for what it represents: giving importance to what is important. And work is important, of course, and it´s important to do it as best as we can. But people are, always, more important.

Thanks for your example Dad, for so many things I´ve been so lucky to learn from you. And farewell.

Energy

Sometimes at certain times of the day, or the week, or even the year, we find ourselves with low energy levels… Like for example, on a Sunday night in January.

Proof of this is that I´m publishing this on a Monday, after having fell asleep in the middle of writing this post on Sunday 😀

red and black car speedometer at neutral

Beyond the basic solutions of resting and sleeping, which are great, and much needed, ways of recharging batteries (apart from good nourishment, hydration, etc.), it helps a lot to find out what things in particular give us energy, not only physically but emotionally as well. Identifying those things from everyday life that lift our mood and motivate us, so that when we are in those moments of lower energy, we have resources at hand that can help us.

Here are a few suggestions that give me energy when I need it, I would love to hear yours:

  • Listening to music, singing and dancing.
  • Doing yoga or stretching.
  • A few good laughs with my daughters, or with friends.
  • Finishing my shower with cold water (I’m sure this one’s going to spark conversations worth another post!)
  • Walking, in a variety of versions: by myself or in company, in the street or in nature, by the sea, in the mountains, in a park, exploring a town or village…

And just by coincidence (or not), today Google has chosen to show me a quote that’s perfect for today’s topic, by Howard Thurman, I hope you like it:

Don't ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.

Dare to shine

Today I got my present from the family Kris Kindle (thanks Mercedes!), and I´m really excited about it, here it is:

It´s the kind of thing I would never have bought for myself, but that I loved receiving as a present… It´s my letter! With shining lights! And I think it looks super cool on my bedroom shelf 🙂

But why do I know that I would never have bought it? Because I don’t normally like being in the spotlight, I prefer to avoid standing out… That’s been my style in most situations for as long as I can remember: going unnoticed insofar as possible. But also doing my job really well, hoping that others would notice (which of course, sometimes happened and sometimes didn’t).

Reflecting on all of this now, I realize that I’ve spent many of my years tiptoeing through life, so as to not be an inconvenience. And now that I am conscious of my way of being in this world, I have the option to keep it as it is or change it, as I see fit.

That’s why I like this metaphor of switching “my light” on, to start shining. And I remembered this quote, attributed by many to Nelson Mandela, though in reality it is from Marianne Williamson:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, 'Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?' Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

What about you? Do you dare switching on your light? 😉

Arab proverb

Cáceres, like many other towns and villages across the Iberian peninsula, has a multicultural historic past: the Romans were the first ones to settle here, and later on during the middle ages, Arabs, Jewish and Christians lived together in relative harmony for several centuries.

A few days ago, the girls and I went to visit a traditional Arab house from the 12th century, now turned into a museum. We were able to walk through the different rooms in it, and admire objects from daily life back in the day, many of them found in excavations around the area. I have to say we thought it was very cool, and the guide told us a ton of interesting facts.

This Arab house-museum, in case you ever want to visit it, is called Yusuf Al Borch. I´m not a big fan of taking pictures, but I did take one of this courtyard window (I love Arab style arches):

And I also took a photo of this proverb, which I remember having written somewhere, years ago:

Do not say everything you know,
Do not do everything you can,
Do not believe everything you hear,
Do not spend everything you earn.
Because…
The one who says everything they know,
The one who does everything they can,
The one who believes everything they hear, 
(And spends everything they hear)
Often…
Says what is not convenient,
Does what they should not do,
Judges what they do not see,
And spends what they do not own.

Choose your stones with love

The year 2021 is about to finish, and very soon we´ll be welcoming 2022.

But that´s still a few days away, so before we start celebrating the New Year, we have some time to reflect a bit on the past twelve months. I propose we use an acronym for this, a few words in Spanish whose initials spell the word AMOR (LOVE):

  • A for Agradecimiento – THANKFULNESS: What do I feel thankful for this year? What events do I want to give thanks for?
  • M for Mejorable – IMPROVABLE: What did I set out to achieve and was not able to? What would I do differently now, and how would I do it?
  • O for Orgulloso – PROUD: What did I achieve this year, that I´m proud of? What obstacles did I overcome?
  • R for Reflexión – REFLECTION: Which things turned out as I expected, and which ones didn´t? What surprises did I find along the way? And what did I learn?

Now, having looked back for this little review, and knowing where we come from and the path we’ve followed to get where we are, we will find it easier to look ahead and decide where we want to go now, what goals we want to set for ourselves in 2022.

But be warned, I’m not talking about making new year’s resolutions, changes that last only a few days and then fade away, leaving us the same as we were, or even worse… I’m talking about being honest with ourselves and consciously deciding our priorities, the things we consider valuable and important in our life, because once we connect with those things and they´re clear in our mind, motivation and success will come naturally, or at least with a lot less effort than if we tried to change just using our willpower 😊

And speaking of priorities in life, I´d like to share with you a story that you’ve probably watched or read already, but I think there’s no harm in remembering it. Now is the perfect moment for choosing, from a place of love (AMOR), our big stones (or according to this version of the story, our golf balls, although I have to say it doesn’t sound nearly as poetic as the stones…)

Uncertainty

Christmas is almost upon us, and I don´t know about you, but this year I´m finding it a bit difficult to get into the holiday spirit. In a time of the year when people usually make lots of plans, uncertainty feels heavier than usual... And I mention "than usual" because I would dare say that over the last two years, we have all adapted to a certain level of constantly not knowing what´s going to happen. And we know that at one point or another, we´re going to keep bumping into uncertain situations.

snowy pathway surrounded by bare tree

But given that our brain doesn´t like uncertainty at all, what happens is that if we leave it in auto-pilot, it spends loads of energy staying alert and imagining the worst case scenario, causing us unnecessary stress until we end up exhausted. And that´s not sustainable in the long term.

The solution? Learning to feel comfortable with the discomfort of not having absolute certainty, of not knowing how things are going to turn out, of not having everything under control.

And what can be super helpful here? Trusting.

Trusting that everything is going to turn out in the best possible way, in the way it's supposed to turn out, even if it's not the way that we want, or we´re not able to understand why. When we dare to let go and trust life, the story changes. The uncertainty may still be there, but the fear disappears.

Let me copy here a few words from Brené Brown on this, linking with the topic of vulnerability:

I spent a lot of years trying to outrun or outsmart vulnerability by making things certain and definite, black and white, good and bad. My inability to lean into the discomfort of vulnerability limited the fullness of those important experiences that are wrought with uncertainty: Love, belonging, trust, joy, and creativity to name a few.

Happy holidays. May uncertainty not prevent you from living them fully, perhaps this year in a new and different way.

Emotions

Easy question for Pixar fans: can you name the five characters in this image?

Exactly, they’re the five emotions that appear in the movie Inside Out, which in Spain got translated as Del Revés: Fear, Disgust, Sadness, Joy and Anger.

What you may not know is that it´s not a coincidence that those five emotions were picked for the movie. They´re what experts call the universal emotions, that is, the ones that every human being possesses from birth, regardless of their origin or cultural environment. There are two additional emotions, surprise and contempt, that are considered universal by some experts but not by others; what´s clear is that they all agree on these five.

Cool, right? Even cooler is the fact that each of these emotions goes with a characteristic facial expression that´s also universal: we can all recognize them instinctively, and in fact we do it all the time, interpreting how others feel based on the expression on their face. Focus on the characters in the image for a moment, and you will clearly see the emotions they each represent.

We know all this because Paul Ekman, a psychologist specialized in emotions (and Pixar´s advisor for Inside Out) travelled in the 1960´s to one of the most remote and isolated civilizations on Earth, in Papua New Guinea, where modern advances like photography or television were unknown, to study how the locals managed to express their own emotions and recognize them in others.

Which goes to show that sometimes we may seem very different on the outside, but on the inside, deep down, we´re all made of the same stuff, even after us adding extra layers of personality, cultural references and learned behaviours that sometimes cause us not understand each other very well.

Personally, I think the movie is very funny and really interesting for all ages, worth watching if you haven´t done so yet. My favourite scene is a super cool example of empathy provided by Sadness, one of the main characters, but there are many, many other memorable moments.

If you´ve already watched it, do you have a favourite scene? What would you highlight from the movie?

And if you want to learn more about emotions, have a look at this atlas: http://atlasofemotions.org/

The journey and the destination

We´ve heard it multiple times: it´s the journey that counts, not the final destination.

But sometimes we need to set a destination, even if it´s not clear to us if we´ll ever arrive, because otherwise we won´t even start the journey...

man facing road

Does it have to be the perfect destination? No, it doesn´t, what it has to do is get us excited, give us the strength that we need to get started.

And from that point onwards, it´s all an adventure: what will we find along the way? How will we be able to adapt and learn from it? What will we discover that we didn´t know before we started?

Sometimes during the journey, we may feel a bit lost or demotivated, and in those moments it´s a great help to be able to count on someone to walk alongside us for a while, encouraging us to get over that fallen tree trunk that´s blocking the way and doesn´t let us see what´s beyond (sometimes quite literally, thanks Rasmi! 🙂 )

And even after getting over that obstacle, we may not be able to see the whole path, but we don´t really need to. As Martin Luther King said:

You don't have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.

Awareness

Today I invite you to reflect on this quote by James Thurber:

Let us not look back in anger, nor forward in fear, but around in awareness

What a challenge! Letting go of the obsession for what has already happened or is still to come. Switching off the auto-pilot, stopping for a moment, and really looking, becoming aware, being present in the here and now.

Right now, at this very moment, what is happening around me? And what is happening inside me? What am I thinking? What am I feeling? How am I experiencing this? And what does this all mean to me?

That´s the first step towards transformation: becoming aware.

Another phrase up on the wall

Continuing with the art tour around my house, let me show you another phrase that´s decorating the walls, in this case in my daughters´ room. It was a present from their cousin Isabel:

No te estoy diciendo que será fácil, te estoy diciendo que valdrá la pena / I´m not telling you it will be easy, I´m telling you it will be worth it.

“I´m not telling you it will be easy, I´m telling you it will be worth it.”

I love this phrase for two reasons: one, I really believe this is true in many situations, and two, I think the choice of words here is very very clever. Because even though in theory this is telling us that, whatever it is, is not going to be easy, given that our brains find it difficult to process the “not” bit, deep down what this is telling us is that it IS going to be easy… or at least, not that difficult.

The words that we use when speaking (and thinking) do matter, and they matter a lot. Saying that something is difficult is not the same as saying that it´s not easy: the latter is somehow a “lighter” expression than the former, and our brains find it easier to digest… In fact, the practice of using the word “not” this way is a little NLP trick that I´ll tell you more about some other time.

And for you, what is this thing that may not be easy, but will surely be worth it? You decide 🙂