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Thursday, November 28, 2013

Body language

Francisco Javier Ruz, Flickr

I was watching the movie Hugo recently, and noticed that right before he walks up to his "crush", one of the characters straightens and smooths his hat and jacket. I said to the kids: "This, my friends, is how you know if someone is interested: they make sure they look their best right before they present themselves to you".

It got me thinking of the whole body language phenomenon. Did you know that up to 93% of what we communicate is non-verbal? It can be in the way we move, but also in the way make eye contact and smile, as well as in our tone of voice. There are all kinds of other manifestations of how we feel in certain situations and toward certain people. For example, when someone hides their mouth or scratches their nose while telling you something, it might be a lie. And people who really want to engage with you will face you completely, feet included. If their feet are turned toward the side, it means they are getting ready to leave, and therefore not fully present.

Being able to "read" others before they even say a word can come in very handy in a lot of situations.

The space one takes is another evocative manifestation of non-verbal communication. I have talked about it before: some men take an awful lot of space, by sitting with their legs wide apart, for example. It is also said that a man trying to flirt might lean with his hand up on the wall, as a way to appear bigger and manlier. Women, on the other hand, are often seen taking as little space as possible. Today, I saw a video interview that is a potent example of it.

Melissa Rauch (Bernadette from the Big Bang Theory)
 "properly"  keeping her limbs to herself and sitting tall. Pay attention to her knees and elbows.
Don't you think it must be uncomfortable and awkward to "act so straight and small"?

Do you allow yourself all the space you deserve? Do you feel entitled to more space than you deserve? How does your use of space affect the people around you? And how about the way you communicate to others non-verbally? Have you ever stopped and wondered what kind of message you were sending, even unconsciously?

As I was mentioning to someone recently, not communicating anything is also a form of communication. In sociology class, I learned that in order to avoid interacting with strangers in public spaces, one must be particularly attentive to others. Counter intuitive, isn't it? By averting our gaze and moving out of another's way, we communicate something: we communicate that we don't want any interaction with them! 

By the same token, someone who does NOT move out of the way on a narrow sidewalk or passageway, and ends up banging into you, is also communicating something. He is making a status statement: I am more important, so YOU have to move out of the way. Have you ever tried to maintain your trajectory in cramped spaces, just to see what would happen? I tested it while a student in Montreal. An astonishing number of men walked straight into me (some hurting my arm and/or side in the process). It was a - disappointing - eye opener.

Speaking of non-verbal communication, I personally have a hard time with people who don't smile or who don't make eye contact, in situations that would normally call for it (unless shyness explains it, which happens). People who behave like that basically tell others "I will not acknowledge your existence, I will not use basic manners with you, and I will certainly not show any pleasure in seeing you". 

Then again, people who lock their gaze with yours and stand a couple inches away from your nose aren't any more pleasant. There are certain tacit expectations when it comes to body language, and when someone doesn't comply to them in one way or another, it usually makes their interlocutor uncomfortable.

This is important. After all, don't they say "People will forget what you said... but people will never forget how you made them feel." (Maya Angelou)

How do YOU make others feel?
How easy is it for you to read other people's non-verbal language?

Monday, November 18, 2013

Your mission: finding balance

marcus_jp1973, Flickr

If there's one thing I have come to realize in my thirty-something years of life, it's that you cannot have it all.

Thanks to the ubiquitous American Dream discourse and to parenting that focuses on empowering kids by boosting their self-esteem and telling them they can achieve anything if only they want it hard enough, we come of age persuaded that the sky is the limit.

Don't take me wrong: the sky IS the limit to those who are willing to work hard and consistently. Being an asthmatic who runs half-marathons, I know that for a fact. But the sky is the limit only in a few areas of our lives. Not in all of them. That would be just plain impossible.

Difficult choices have to be made along the way. An example: in my early twenties, I was very ambitious, career-wise. A yuppie wannabe. I had wild plans. I would wear a Rolex and drive an Audi or BMW. That was among my priorities. At some point, despite the fact that I have always loved children, I did not even want to have any of my own, for fear that motherhood would interfere with my climbing of the corporate ladder. If I had kids, I thought, I would hire a full-time nanny to look after them. I could already sense that if you want to do it right, it's one or the other: motherhood OR career. Not both. You cannot be there for your kids a lot and work a lot.

What I could NOT sense yet was that once I had children, I would want to be with them pretty much 24/7. There are different reasons for that, but from the moment I became a mom, I strongly felt that my place was beside my kids, and that their place was beside me. This is my experience, and I'm not saying all women feel that way; to some, it seems like staying home with the kids would be akin to be thrown in jail. But as far as my own choices go, I decided to put my career on ice for many years in order to be present for my kids. I knew right from the start that it would have repercussions on my whole adult life. Yet I did not hesitate. After almost 10 years of motherhood, I can say without hesitation that the benefits for my kids, myself, and the family as a whole were well worth it. I thought I would be back "on the market " long ago, yet I still work the bulk of my week from home (as a self-employed translator), spending only 10 hours a week teaching outside the home. I don't see when this is gonna change. It works for us. It doesn't feel like a sacrifice. I actually like it.

Again, this is my own, personal experience, and I understand and respect that other mothers have a different feeling and approach to the work-family reconciliation dilemmas. Honestly, I think we all look at each other wondering "What if she has it right, and I have it wrong?" I know I sometimes (often) wonder if I'm not wasting some of my career-related potential. But the truth is, none of us has it right and none of us has it wrong; we all do what works best for ourselves and our family in our own personal and unique situation!

I have also made the choice to prioritize my health and fitness. This takes time and energy away from other endeavors. But it's important to me, and so I "just do it". The rare times I had to interrupt my weekly routine of workouts because of sickness, I was amazed with how much time I gained... but nonetheless very aware that I am most happy when I spend a good 7 hours a week or more exercising (plus the inevitable stretching and showering that follow).

Another obstacle in the way to a full-fledged career is that - oh! surprise! - I also need free time. Time to read, time to write, time for my friends and family, time to just get lost in contemplation. It is a luxury I do not want to let go of.

I quite like the balance I have achieved in life. (To be exact and completely honest, I should say "I quite like the balance I struggle like crazy to maintain in my life"! But hey, no one said it would be easy.)

JerOmmm, Flickr

It's all about choices. Constant choices. My mother, who makes everything from scratch when it comes to food (she grows her own food in her garden to begin with), has offered to give me the same yogurt maker and bread machine she uses. My reaction was along the lines of "No thank you. If I start making my own yogurt and my own bread, I can pretty much say adios to my precarious life balance! Way too time consuming!" On the other hand, I have acquired a high-energy breed of dog, who needs long walks and runs every day. That, I was willing to do. It's all about putting your priorities in order.

There is no foolproof recipe in this world, so I never cease to reassess my life and my choices. I do NOT want to wake up at 65 feeling that I gave my time and energy to the wrong things. Sometimes, I have doubts. I question myself. But who doesn't?

Whenever you feel like you might have a "small", uninteresting life, remember that 1) you simply are choosing to prioritize different things; and 2) those who seem to have it all lined up don't necessarily fare better. One of the girls I went to high school with first became a lawyer, and is now a judge. Sounds impressive like that, but the first thing she adds after answering "I'm a judge" to the "What do you do?" question... is the very sincere "It was my dream job, and I thought I would love it, but in fact I do not enjoy it at all". A judge, but an unhappy one. Who wants that?

This post is NOT an apology of a simple, unambitious life that would solely focus on everyday domestic bliss, and I do NOT want to demonize big accomplishments. Not at all. What this post is is an inducement to look at your life honestly and to decide what your priorities are going to be, implementing them right now and with conviction.

If you still feel like you might not have lived up to your own expectations, remember this: we tend to forget our successes and take them for granted as we go. Sometimes, stating the facts by focusing on the positive can help make our life sound "impressive" again... bringing back a well-deserved sense of satisfaction and even pride.

I, for example, could say, and it would all be true, that I started my own translation/editing/writing business and that in said business, I have clients and/or associates all over North America, plus in Europe, and even in South America (e.g. Argentina) and Asia (e.g. Singapore, China, etc.). I could also mention that some (most) of my clients are among the biggest names in pharmaceuticals, nutrition and cosmetics. Makes it sound big, doesn't it? Yet in my everyday life, siting alone in front of the screen, painstakingly translating away hermetic medical terms, my career feels anything BUT big!

More importantly, what I enjoy the most in my everyday life are those moments that bring about no money, no recognition and no prestige: I love chatting with friends or family members, I love cuddling with my kids or with my pets, and I love getting lost in my own existential thoughts. This won't get me to the top of the ladder, for sure. I does get me to a serene and happy life, however.

How do you reconcile all your goals, aspirations and needs?

Friday, November 15, 2013

The great paradox

Your feet can take you places... if only you let them.

It hits me more and more often. The great paradox of North American ways.

We are "supposed to" be very slim - and ideally very lean too - as any North American media will tell you. Need I say the North American media is everywhere?

... all the while following the North American way of life, which includes:

  • eating whatever you want in whatever quantities you want, whenever you want;
  • centering celebrations and most of your social life around food (and we're not talking green salads here);
  • patronizing restaurant chains, including fast-food and doughnut joints and coffee shops (sugar and cream, please!), on a regular basis;
  • unwinding with alcohol;
  • taking your car to any and all destinations, even within a kilometer;
  • working full-time, mostly in a seated position;
  • spending most of your free time in front of the TV or another screen, e.g. the computer, tablet, smart phone, etc.;
  • exercising "a little bit" at best;
  • having kids.

Well, in case you hadn't noticed...

Those two things are NOT compatible! Having a thin, "media-style" body while leading that kind of life is an impossibility.

The only way people remain slim and lean, especially past their twenties and after having kids, is either by

  • smoking (which I DO NOT recommend);
  • being sick: most very thin adults I know, if not a smoker nor a fitness/nutrition fanatic, have a disease that explains their small waistline. Please don't assume someone is healthy unless they tell you; health issues are more common than we think. In this case, I'm thinking Celiac Disease, Crohn's Disease, Hypoglycemia or any other condition that has an impact on the digestive system;
  • becoming a fitness/nutrition fanatic. I am using the term "fanatic" on purpose because the "healthy lifestyle" that some of us adopt is indeed interpreted by many as "extreme". I beg to disagree, as we will see in a moment.

Yes, most people think it's "extreme" to eat wholesome foods and no (or very little) junk. I have heard someone comment, upon seeing a table covered with fresh fruit, veggies and seeds/nuts, that there was "no human food there, just bird food".

Well, I have news for you: start eating that "bird food" on a regular basis, cut down on the rest, and you will see your life take a whole new turn, for the best. I PROMISE.

Drizzle a little bit of olive oil, and that's a meal.
I have 6 similar meals a day. With water, no dessert. I used to think it was spartan. Not anymore.
I have learned to appreciate the feeling of lightness in my stomach after eating smaller portions.
And no, I'm not hungry. I used to think I was. It was an illusion.
Another need wanted to be filled. Not hunger.

Most people think plain water isn't very palatable. Yet downing a glass of water every 2 hours or so, avoiding other types of drinks, can significantly increase your physical and mental well-being. Who would have thought?

Most people think it's extreme to get up early to workout, or to use your lunch break or evenings to exercise. Yet it's the only way to get it done. And it has to be done. The body was made to move, and if you allow it to move daily, it will payback in a hundredfold!

Most people think it's unusual, or weird, to not take your wheels everywhere. An example: from my place to my workplace, it's a 15-minute walk. And so I walk to work, rain or shine, sun or snow, whatever the weather. It's refreshing, it's calming, it's my alone time with myself to notice nature while taking in some oxygen. I love it. Yet every single time someone realizes I walk there instead of talking my car like everybody else, they invariably have a jaw drop, look at me with a bewildered look on their face, and say "You walk?!?!?!" They seem to think I'm the latest weirdo in town.

Okay, I do know a couple of lean thirty-something people who have kids, who do not smoke, who aren't sick and who are not fitness/nutrition fanatics. But they are few and far between. And even if they are no fanatics, they do have an "abnormally" small appetite, and/or they do not tolerate food or alcohol excesses very well (I wish I knew their secret).

But for most of us who can easily eat half a dozen doughnuts or down half a dozen beers without feeling much discomfort, it ain't so easy! And even if we sometimes do end up feeling yuck, resisting temptation can be quite a challenge. I know I love my chocolate ice cream and glass of wine (not together though).

I certainly feel like I'm going against the current with the way I eat and the way I exercise; it might not be extreme, but it certainly isn't mainstream. Yet it's the only way I can stay fit. I don't care so much if I look like what the media throws at us, but I do like the fit of my clothes. More importantly, I sincerely feel that my "extreme" way of life is what has protected me against our modern age's predicaments: I do NOT suffer from either anxiety, depression, insomnia, high stress, low energy, low libido, name it. I have in the past, when I was leading a "normal" life. I do NOT long to go back to that life. Food for thought...

To me, the choice is easy: "extreme lifestyle" all the way! Even if it means getting up at 5 to go to the gym!

It's fun, too! Here's a sample of the music I heard at the gym this morning:

Please share your thoughts!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Writer's block, blank page


“Writing about a writer's block is better than not writing at all” ― Charles BukowskiThe Last Night of the Earth Poems

Writer's block, blank page

Writer's block, blank page

No words walking onto the stage

Blank page, writer's block

No boat showing up at the dock

Writer's block, blank page

Be patient, said the sage

Blank page, writer's block

Muse is late, says the clock

Writer's block, blank page

Frustration turns into a rage

Blank page, writer's block

There's no way around it: I'm stuck

... and this is the best I could come up with! (I know, it's bad. In my defense, I wrote it in about 5 minutes. WITHOUT the help of my muse.)

But worry not, cherished readers! As I was digging for inspiration, I did some research on the dreaded writer's block and blank page phenomena. If you're a fellow writer, the following quotes from accomplished writers might come in handy... or at least reassure you that you're not the only one struggling.

Never sit staring at a blank page or screen. If you find yourself stuck, write. Write about the scene you're trying to write. Writing about is easier than writing, and chances are, it will give you your way in.Laini Taylor

You might not write well every day, but you can always edit a bad page. You can't edit a blank page.― Jodi Picoult

“Who is more to be pitied, a writer bound and gagged by policemen or one living in perfect freedom who has nothing more to say?” ― Kurt Vonnegut

“Discipline allows magic. To be a writer is to be the very best of assassins. You do not sit down and write every day to force the Muse to show up. You get into the habit of writing every day so that when she shows up, you have the maximum chance of catching her, bashing her on the head, and squeezing every last drop out of that bitch.” 
― Lili St. Crow

“Biting my truant pen, beating myself for spite:"Fool!" said my muse to me, "look in thy heart, and write.” ― Philip SidneyAstrophel and Stella

Monday, November 4, 2013

A final take on mindfulness (Part V)

zoonyzoozoodazoo, Flickr

Good Monday!

This is the last post of our mindfulness series (although we will most definitely come back to it on a regular basis).

By reading and writing about mindfulness, I have come to realize that mindfulness can apply to pretty much anything. Even Jean-Claude Van Damme claims he is AWARE. (Aware of what, that's another question, as he tends to go in a multiplicity of directions at the same time.)

Mindfulness is a powerful tool to self-development and well-being. It could even save us from a miserable life. One does not need to be deeply spiritual to experience the power of mindfulness, as you will gather from the following example:

Mindfulness leads to well-being

Lately, I had been feeling... well, maybe not miserable, but low on energy (both physical and mental). I didn't know why, since my life is pretty good these days. So I put on my "mindfulness glasses", paid attention to how I felt deep down inside, and realized that I hadn't been very serious about Maslow's pyramid of needs: I was fulfilling all my needs... except for the ones at the bottom of the pyramid, the physiological ones, and the most important of all! More precisely, I had been neglecting my rest (not enough sleep) and my food (too much sugar). As soon as I realigned my priorities... I started to feel better.

Then, interestingly, I realized I also had emotional needs to attend to, needs I had been oblivious to. I tackled those. I can say I feel MUCH better now.

Have you been ignoring some of your needs from a lack of mindfulness?

Mindfulness as a self-defense mechanism against... the mass media

I have to say I love how mindfulness has an application in everyday life. It can, for example, help one transcend the mass media and advertisement we are constantly bombarded with (quotes by Thich Nhat Hanh again!):

We know that perfume is an item of consumption and a bait. In the bait there is a hook, and we are the innocent fish. The products are advertised so skillfully and the bait is so appealing that, with one bite, we're caught. What do we have as self-defense? Nothing except our mindfulness.

How do you use mindfulness in the way you respond to advertisement and the mass media in general?

Mindfulness as the first step to respecting the environment

Human beings look down on other living beings. We think animals are created for us to eat, and that we can do whatever we want with animals, vegetables and minerals. We are not very healthy in that respect. But we cannot protect human beings unless we protect non-human beings.

When you stand in front of a tree and practice mindful breathing, you realize that you and the tree inter-are. You know that if the tree is not there, you cannot be there. This kind of wisdom leads to the end of all wars and discrimination. It is not something to just talk about. It is something that we can live in every moment of our lives.

So, mindfulness leads to a deeper and wider understanding of how the world functions, including empathy for all living things. When I see children try and destroy spider webs on purpose, I explain to them how much work was involved in the creation of that web, and how spiders can be useful to nature. This applies to pretty much any live creature, even if as humans we are not always aware of it.

Are you mindful of the life around you? How does that affect your actions on an everyday basis?

Mindfulness is to be shared

Now that you have learned about mindfulness, and have started practicing it... you have a brand new role: share the good news! Tell other people about it! Help them raise their levels of consciousness. See how this man shares his own kind of mindfulness (on the topics of fitness, aging, and the importance of play) with the world!

Be sure to look for the previous posts on Mindfulness (click on any):

About fears
About relationships
About lucidity
About health