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Food for Inspiration (on the Art of Conversation)

December 22, 2010

Some of the most inspiring or thought-provoking articles I’ve read over the past week, have had to do with the ways we communicate and how well we are understood. Unfortunately, real dialogue is often missing in action these days.

One of my heroes, the poet and writer John O’Donohue asks,

“When is the last time that you had a great conversation, a conversation which wasn’t just two intersecting monologues… in which you overheard yourself saying things that you never knew you knew, that brought the two of you on to a different plane… a conversation that continued to sing in your mind for weeks after wards? I’ve had some of them recently, and it’s just absolutely amazing, they are food and drink for the soul, you know?”

I can honestly say that I have had these kinds of conversations with close and trusted friends and they are food for the soul. But do they have to be so rare?

On my page, The Lost Art of Conversation, I outline the following steps as necessary to prepare the ground for good conversation. They are:

  • Slow down. Stay open to opportunities for good conversation.
  • Listen. With your eyes, ears, mind, attention, and especially heart.
  • Have courage to share your deepest self.
  • Be open. Everyone and everything has something to teach us.
  • Don’t judge. Everyone is going through something.

If you’re interested in this subject too, here are the articles I mentioned previously (found mostly through Twitter).  The first two are quite short, the last a little more meaty. All are excellent.

You Will Be Misunderstood – Seth Godin

On the importance of clarifying what you say, and understanding others’ paradigms.

In the Tokyo Subway – Paulo Coelho

How to understand and handle aggression.

The Spirit of Authentic Dialogue – Dr. Alex Pattakos for Fast Company

Here is an excerpt, part of which I tweeted this week. A very thoughtful look at dialogue.

“You can never enter into a relationship with others if you believe that you have a monopoly on truth. True dialogue will only occur if the participating stakeholders are willing to enter the spiritual realm of the logos and “converse,” if you will, on this deeper level. Cognitive, so-called “knowledge-based,” interactions are not sufficient for authentic dialogue to occur. One must be open and willing to entertain a diversity of thought and discover a common ground by going to a higher ground.”

Wishing you great conversations this holiday season.

Related Books
Turning to One Another: Simple Conversations to Restore Hope to the Future by Margaret Wheatley
Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom by John O’Donohue

Would you rather motivate or inspire?

December 20, 2010

Yesterday, sports announcer Tom Jackson said something that I can’t stop thinking about.

He was talking about Michael Vick’s performance as quarterback of the Philadelphia Eagles this season as nothing short of inspired. Explaining that there is a difference between a leader who motivates and a leader who inspires, he said that a leader who inspires lets no obstacles keep him or her from doing what they were meant to do. In this case, his performance on the field inspires his teammates to do the same. And this certainly seemed true yesterday with the Eagles come from behind win over the New York Giants.

Now, I am not here to talk about football, because I know very little about what other teams are doing, except for my beloved Indianapolis Colts. But I am interested in this difference between motivation and inspiration and am wondering what you think.

First, some definitions.

To motivate, whether yourself or another, is to provide a motive or motives. And a motive is something that causes a person to act in a certain way. Synonyms include incite; impel; induce; provoke; prompt.

To me, this implies something external. You provide an external reason for yourself or another to act in a certain way.

To inspire is to exert a stimulating or beneficial effect upon yourself or another. Synonyms include animate; invigorate; enliven; exalt; revolutionize.

To me, this implies something internal. You call up something deep inside that allows you to perform in a way that may not have seemed possible. Your performance then inspires others to call up something deep within themselves.

For example, a coach who motivates offers his team these extrinsic benefits – approval (from the coach and fans), a winning season, financial rewards, etc. A coach who inspires makes their team believe that anything is possible and brings out qualities and skills in his or her players that they did not know they had. The motives are intrinsic.

A motivated team may or may not let obstacles that arise deter them. If the obstacles are too great, a once motivated team may easily become unmotivated. An inspired team lets no obstacles deter them. I think this is why people love sports so much, for those rare occasions when we see a performance that seemed impossible.

In the case of an artist, inspired art comes from deep within and is not dependent on the reaction of others. Paradoxically, the more the art comes from within, the more likely that it will connect with others.

A motivated person or team has shorter term goals and, when achieved, moves on to new goals. An inspired person acts from something inside them that is always there to draw upon.

With these differences in mind, would you rather motivate or inspire?

Related Reading:

Living Inspired

Let’s Be Frank

December 17, 2010

Frank Sinatra - She Shot Me Down

Frank, as in Frank Sinatra. One of my heroes.

Frank Sinatra, a hero? Before you move on, please consider this. If a hero is someone ordinary who does extraordinary things, then Frank Sinatra is a hero. Actually, he is one of the best examples of a hero, because his flaws were also right out there for the world to see.

Aren’t we all a mass of contradictions?

Sometimes, we resort to the lowest level of human behavior and sometimes we can give all we’ve got in kindness. Sometimes, we waste away our talents and other times we’re in the flow of being ourselves, and making a difference. That’s life. (a Sinatra song!)

Back to Frank Sinatra. He is a hero to me because he was given an extraordinary gift and he developed it to the fullest. He gave it all he got. He did it his way (in the best sense of the word).

Now, I am lucky in that my father was a huge Sinatra fan and we heard his music constantly growing up. It has become ingrained in me. But my Dad also took the time to tell me why Frank Sinatra was so good.

  • His phrasing, or the way he worked the words around the melody in a unique way.
  • His breath control, which he said he learned by watching Tommy Dorsey play the trumpet. “He could blow a whole song on one tank of air.”
  • And the subtle emotion he evoked in his songs.
  • Another thing I discovered on my own was his incredible connection with the band. While singing it was as if he and the band were one – very mystical!

The casual listener may not be aware of these incredible gifts because he made it look so easy. Many just think of him as a good singer of standard love songs. But there were all kinds of successful singers that sang what Sinatra sang and even had better voices, but he rose above the rest.

There is only one Frank Sinatra.

If you want to learn more about Frank Sinatra as an artist, I would recommend the book, Sinatra! The Song Is You: A Singer’s Art, by Will Friedwald. It focuses on his career completely through song and is a delight to read. Not much mention (that I can remember) of wives or mob connections. The focus is on the music.

Last Sunday would have been Frank Sinatra’s 95th birthday. He died twelve years ago. Yet, his music lives on, and even the very young are still discovering his work, as can be read on Twitter. I collect favorite tweets about Sinatra on my page – Best of Frank Sinatra on Twitter.

Here are a few of my favorites.

  • Listening to summer wind by frank sinatra. why can’t music still sound like this?
  • You know what kinda day it is? It’s a listen to Frank Sinatra kind of day.
  • Listening to Frank Sinatra on my first full day at 25yrs old. That’s what you do when you get older right?
  • There is no such thing as too young/hip for frank sinatra, i promise.
  • Is jayz the modern day Frank Sinatra?
  • Frank Sinatra and apple pie. It’s like both things you’d do on a rainy day. I have Franky on, that’s why I bring it up. =]

Who is a hero that you believe completely developed their gifts?


Related Reading

Top 10 Frank Sinatra Love Songs

Frank Sinatra Concept Albums

Fly Me to the Moon

Can You Learn How To Be a Hero?

December 15, 2010

What I love about Twitter is finding gems among the mass of tweets. While scanning the tweets, something catches my eye, I click and sometimes stumble across an article that is unique and inspiring. Today was one such day.

I clicked on Dr. Marsha’s tweet, which said “The Hero Project | Wired Science |” That’s it. Many of you know that I like writing about heroes, but it was the “Wired Science” phrase that really caught my attention. Dr. Marsha is a neuro-psychologist, and I love any kind of research that has to do with the brain.

The link was to an article from written by Jonathon Lehrer (who also wrote a similar article for the Wall Street Journal). It asks the question, “Can modern science help us to create heroes?” And then Lehrer cites a new non-profit led by Phil Zimbard0, The Heroic Imagination Project, that is trying to determine the answer to that question.

To digress a little, a hero is defined here as an ordinary person who does extraordinary things when a situation arises; a person who acts on behalf of others or in defense of integrity or a moral cause. It has nothing to do with worshiping someone and everything to do with recognizing their actions for what they are.

So, how does one go about cultivating heroes?

The underlying premise here is that in each of us is the potential for causing suffering and, on the flip side, we all have the capacity for deep empathy and compassion, in a way that supports others. In other words, we all have the potential to be heroes. The ABC show, What Would You Do?, demonstrates the choices ordinary people make when faced with extraordinary situations. For example, if you saw a drunk man or woman getting into a car with several young children, what would you do?

Through research and education, the Heroic Imagination project believes that they can help develop the next generation of heroes. With four-week pilot projects in schools in San Francisco, they address the psychological impulse to ignore a situation, teach skills in empathy and compassion, and examine the qualities of real heroes.

You can also participate in the research and develop your own heroic imagination in the comfort of your own home.

On the Heroic Imagination Project website, there is a four week mini course you can sign up for to learn about the research and help develop your heroic capabilities. Can you spare 15 minutes a week? It’s called the Hero Challenge. Each week they’ll send you provocative video clips and short lessons on key concepts, with a follow-up email later in the week with questions to find out how you are progressing.

I just signed up and also subscribed to the Heroes blog.

Who do you consider to be a hero in your life?

Related Reading:

Heroic Imagination Project

What is Compassion?

25 Ways to Teach Kids Compassion

My Top 10 Heroes

How to Write Blog Comments that Inspire

December 13, 2010

And help yourself at the same time.

How do you feel when you get no comments on a post you sweated over? Or get the common comment, “Great post! Thanks for sharing.” Nice of them to comment, but does it help you become a better blogger?

I was inspired to write about how bloggers can help each other grow as writers after reading a fantastic article on literary criticism sent by my step-sister, Julie. It is called “The Care and Feeding of the Work in Progress” by Catherine M. Wallace and was published in The Writer’s Chronicle in March/April 2008.

Wallace begins the article with a fabulous story about the difference between harpies (those who criticize) and muses (those who inspire). Constructive literary criticism is not about finding errors. It is about inspiring the writer to continue and to grow rather than crush their spirit. I encourage you to read the article in its entirety to appreciate the arguments she makes.

What does  this have to do with blog comments?

Well, in her article, Wallace asks readers to notice “words, phrases, or passages which strike them as memorable, evocative, effective, or just plain fun.” Then tell the writer what struck you. This will help the writer know where they are making contact, the “growth edges” as Wallace says. It is also very helpful if you can explain why it struck you a certain way. Everyone is different, so reactions will vary.

She writes,

This kind of feedback, whether given or received, helps all of us to hear the voice of the Muse. Just as writing reaches deep into the unconscious, so does sensitive reading. In such underlining, two souls can meet at an intensely creative level. The spark of the sacred in me can connect to the spark of the sacred in you.


I had that kind of feedback this week from a friend, Cheryl, who wrote that my post inspired her inner Thoreau. I told her that it was great to get that kind of feedback because that was my intention for the piece and it was revitalizing for me to know that we connected on that level.

For a writer you know well, it is also helpful if you let them know, preferably in a private message, areas that were question marks for you – where you were confused about what they were saying. Wallace explains that these areas are not something you need to fix for the writer; rather ask the writer to clarify their expression, and something profound may result.

But here’s another cool thing.

This type of sensitivity to what you are reading and the resulting comments not only helps the blog writer but the reader as well. It is a generous and compassionate act which comes back to you.  A thoughtful reader feeds his or her own writing.

So, the next time you read a blog post, take the time to notice what strikes you. Think about why it struck you that way. Give feedback that is thoughtful and inspiring and see what happens.

Related Reading:

Nine Muses of Greek Mythology for Artists

Care and Feeding of the Work in Progress

Notice what you don’t Notice

John Lennon Lives on in Prague

December 10, 2010

The Lennon Wall in Prague

This past summer, I had the chance to visit the gorgeous city of Prague in the Czech Republic. One of the lesser known attractions there is a wall of graffiti dedicated to the memory of John Lennon. The image above is from one small portion of the wall.

But this wall is so much more than a memorial.

  • It represents the power of free speech. The wall was begun during the Communist era and the police could not prevent the people from continuing to paint on the wall.
  • It represents the power of non-violence to create change. Some say the wall contributed to the fall of Communism in the Czech Republic, the Velvet Revolution of 1989.
  • It is a piece of art as a whole, consisting of pieces of art within; a true expression of the hopes and dreams of everyone who contributes.
  • It represents constant change, as it is continuously evolving.
  • It shows that even though John Lennon is no longer with us, his spirit lives on.

We’ve all heard a lot about John Lennon in the past weeks, leading up to the 30th anniversary of his death this past Wednesday. I watched the CNN documentary, Losing Lennon: Countdown to Murder. I still remember where I was when I heard of his death.

What struck me most was when I heard Brian Williams say that there was a whole generation of people under the age of 30 who have never known a world with John Lennon in it. It’s hard to pin down exactly what his legacy is, but he definitely continues to have an impact.

He was an ordinary man with extraordinary gifts, but I think his greatest strength was that he was not afraid to speak about his dreams for this world and he did not see them as impossible to attain.

Imagine, all you need is love.

To learn more about the history of the wall and see more images like the one above (available as posters on Zazzle), please visit my page – The Lennon Wall in Prague.

Tapestries in Nature

December 8, 2010

Last Saturday, I woke up with a headache and a mood to match. But I got up and got moving, only to find that we were getting our first real snowfall of the season.

My husband and I went to the winter farmer’s market nearby to get some eggs and a Christmas arrangement for above the fireplace. It is held at a local artisan dairy and when I saw a little girl outside the barn door making snowballs, I knew I had made a big mistake in not bringing my camera.

My mood was beginning to lift.

After arriving home, I knew that I really needed to go out and photograph! Heading out in my car with Paul McCartney’s Band on the Run Radio (Sirius/XM 27 until mid-January) playing, I started feeling lighter. After stopping at several places in my neighborhood to take photos, I headed over to Eagle Creek Park.

35 photos later, I was a new person.

The photos weren’t stellar, but that wasn’t the point. I was outside. I was alive. I was connected!

It’s a pretty good rule for photographers that out of a roll of film, you’re lucky to get one good image. This was the case for me.  I did get one photo that I like or at least made me think.

For many years, abstract images of nature have been among my favorites. To me, they blur the edges of our separation. This whole world ecosystem we live in is like one vast nervous system, with every single part serving a purpose and connected to every other part. This is what this image, which looks like a tapestry, represents to me.

Image available on Imagekind

Tapestry – a fabric consisting of a warp upon which colored threads are woven by hand to produce a design, often pictorial, used for wall hangings, furniture coverings, etc.

It’s important to know what inspires you. How do you shake those moods and get a little dose of inspiration?

A Woman to Know

December 6, 2010

Jacqueline Novogratz Inspires Me

What happens when a woman from the U.S. sees a child in Africa wearing the same blue sweater she had as a child? It changes her whole view of the world.

This is exactly what happened to Jacqueline Novogratz, founder of the Acumen Fund, which combines business and philanthropy to lift people out of poverty. Novogratz’s story is told in her fascinating memoir, The Blue Sweater. You can also hear Jacqueline Novogratz interviewed by Krista Tippett on the NPR radio show, Being, under the title “A Different Kind of Capitalism.”

The different kind of capitalism referred to here is patient capital, or “a debt or equity investment in an early-stage enterprise providing low-income consumers with access to healthcare, water, housing, alternative energy, or agricultural inputs.” (Acumen Fund website)

Watch the short video below to learn more.

If you are inspired by Jacqueline Novogratz and the Acumen Fund, why not make an investment this holiday season. You can also donate in the name of someone else, a truly unique holiday gift.

Donate to Acumen Fund

Related Reading
The Blue Sweater – a book review
Holiday Gifts to Heal the World

Impactful Books 2010

December 3, 2010

This was the year of the e-book! And a few of the most impactful books I read this year were in this format. The running theme for books that had an impact on me this year would have to be non-conformity or thinking outside the box.

But going back to the beginning of the year….

It all started with Linchpin by Seth Godin. Some of you know that Seth Godin is the co-founder of Squidoo, where I do most of my writing. He is an internet expert and business writer with one of the most popular blogs in the world. His book, Linchpin, is about indispensable people who follow their dreams and make things happen. In other words, they do more than dream, they ship the product.

In true Seth Godin fashion, he announced that, although he has published dozens of books, Linchpin will be the last in the traditional bound book format. I continue to learn from him every single day.

Mindsight by Dr. Dan Siegel

In late 2009, I attended a workshop given by neuroscientist, Dr. Dan Siegel, at Kripalu in Massachusetts. His book, Mindsight, which was the subject of the workshop, came out in early 2010. Mindsight is the ability to observe your mind through meditation, creating neural connections that integrate different parts of the brain. I was so taken with the topic that meditation has become a part of my life. I wrote a book review for Mindsight, and my photography project, The Everything Series, also evolved from the workshop.

Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality by Richard Rohr

My faith-sharing women’s group discussed this book and finally, I was able to see the connection between some of the newer themes in spirituality and science and their connection to Scripture. Richard Rohr is a Catholic priest who really thinks outside the box. He shows in this brilliant book how the Bible outlines the evolution of human consciousness. Really!

The Not So Big Life by Sarah Susanka

I am interested in a not so big house and Sarah Susanka, an architect, coined that phrase and turned it into several wildly popular books. My husband and I went to hear her speak in April and she mentioned her latest book, The Not So Big Life, where she took her principles for a not so big house and applied it to life.

She is very much into meditation as well, and this book has well-developed exercises for paring your life to what really matters. I originally got the book from the library, but after finishing it, I downloaded it to my iPad for reading again.

And Now for those E-Books

My iPad came into my life in June and I love it! Having a built-in highlighter and dictionary is heavenly. But not all of my e-book purchases were through my iPad.

Here are some of the best e-books I read this year.

Have you heard of a Vook? It is a video e- book, consisting of a regular e-book, usually with a short video to begin each chapter. You can even highlight an excerpt and send it through your favorite social media platform. This year I read Karen Armstrong’s “12 Steps to a Compassionate Life” and Deepak Chopra’s “Buddha” with this format.

I downloaded Chris Guillebeau’s “The Art of Non-Conformity” to my iPad and I keep going back to reread parts of it, as well as continuing to follow Chris on his blog and Twitter. If there is anyone in your life, no matter what age, who would like to follow their dreams and live an unconventional life, this is the book for them.

Another book, The War of Art by Steven Pressfield, I downloaded from the author’s website using Adobe Digital Editions. Another free program by Adobe, it allows you to read e-books on your computer. Pressfield is funny and smart, and talks about resistance and muses in the process of creating art.

What book had the greatest impact on you this year?

Squidoo Pages that Emerged from this Reading

I Nominate Mimi as my Linchpin

Mindsight, a book review

The Not So Big Life, a book review

What is Compassion?

Nine Muses of Greek Mythology

Five Favorite Novels 2010

December 1, 2010

Those of you who know me, know that I am an avid reader. I keep track of what I have read on Squidoo – My Book List 2010. As it is almost the end of the year, I’ve been reflecting on the best and most inspiring books I’ve read this year. Today, I will talk about novels. On Friday, the books that had the biggest impact.

Actually, I don’t read a lot of novels, but when I read a good one, it just lights me up. And speaking of novels, you will not find one Stieg Larsson book here. Not because I have anything against them, they just haven’t come up on my radar as a must read. So, should they?

Here are my favorite novels of the year.

1. The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova

I recently finished this book and loved it! Written through the lens of a psychiatrist, Andrew Marlow, this is a mystery in disguise. Dr. Marlow’s patient, Robert Oliver, is a painter and a man obsessed with a woman who lived two hundred years before. But he will not talk.

Marlow, in his attempt to get to the bottom of Oliver’s mental illness, becomes obsessed himself. The characters are all fascinating, and I did not know the meaning of the title until I was 90% into this 550+ page book.

Kostova’s first book was the best seller, The Historian.

2. The Bishop’s Man by Linden MacIntyre

I always get excellent Canadian book recommendations from my friend Norah, another fellow reader who lives in Toronto. The author, Linden MacIntyre, is a distinguished broadcast journalist in Canada.

The story, which takes place in Nova Scotia, is from a priest’s perspective, while the sex abuse scandal was just coming to light. This priest was known as the exorcist because it was his job to deal with priests who had committed abuse. It turns out he had his own demons to deal with.

Very well written, relevant, but a little depressing. I am glad that I have experienced priests who love their job, and seem quite well-balanced.

3. The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Lars0n

First of all, this is not a novel, but I am including it here because it reads like one.

The fascinating story of the creation of the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893 and a murder mystery going on at the same time. Daniel H. Burnham was the architect behind the fair and H.H. Holmes was a serial killer who used the fair to find his victims. You will learn about careers that were made or broken by this fair and how it put the United States on the map, so to speak. Interesting tidbits about electricity, ferris wheels, and more.

I have talked to others that found it hard to get into this book and, to tell you the truth, I was amazed at this because I found it spell-binding from beginning to end. Now, that could be because I have an interest in Chicago having lived near it for the past 22 years. Or, because I had read the book “Galway Bay” the previous year, which dealt with the Irish potato famine and Irish immigrants to Chicago in the mid-1800’s. That book ended when the Chicago World’s Fair started.

4. Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann

I picked up this book at a Canadian bookstore because of the interesting picture on the cover, the title, and the sticker that said “Heather’s Pick,” Heather being a staff member of the bookstore. Written by an Irishman about New York City in the 1970’s, it won a National Book Award, but what really sold me was the quote inside which said,

“All the lives we could live, all the people we will never know, never will be, they are everywhere. That is what the world is.” ~ Aleksandar Hemon, The Lazarus Project.

The story is about ten different people in New York City and how their lives intersect on a morning in 1974 when a tightrope walker stuns people by walking between the twin towers. Real people and real stories. I found myself looking at people I pass every day differently after reading this book.

5. Woops! When I looked at my list of books, I couldn’t come up with a 5th to recommend. So, I’m asking you to fill in the blank.

What was your favorite novel this year?

Related Reading: Book Lovers Accessories