The end of an era

Maya prophecy

December 21, 2012 has come and is soon gone without any sign of armageddon thus far. Seriously, did anyone really expect cataclysmic events of biblical proportions to unfold because the Mayan calendar had to end at some point and that point was now. Our calendar ends every year in Champagne-fueled disasters that for some may make January 1 feel like doomsday, but every year the world moves on more or less as we know it. Thank God.

I do not however think that the end of the Mayan calendar is an omen completely without its significance.

“The world is changed, I feel it in the water, I feel it in the earth. I smell it in the air” -marks the opening of the Lord of the Rings-trilogy. Maybe our world has not changed dramatically yet but I do feel (or rather hope) that we are standing on the threshold of great changes.

Anyone who has the ability to be honest and to think a thought through to its conclusion must see that humanity cannot and will not go on forever on the track we are now on. It just doesn’t add up. Sooner or later we will cause our own downfall and extinction unless the world of man changes. Dramatically. We cannot go on hurting, molesting, killing, robbing, torturing and hating one another. This happens on all levels of human relationships and it is rampant. From bullying in primary schools, cheating on one’s spouse, pocketing what isn’t rightfully ours and mundane raping and pillaging, up to the global political scene where nations are at war with each other creating disasters affecting millions upon millions. Not to mention what we are doing to our home, the only planet we have access to in the foreseeable future. Earth can be a gloomy place indeed, and to far too many their life experience here is an existence that falls nothing short of descriptions of hell found in the scriptures.

YogaWomanTreesSo how is the world changing? I believe that humanity is slowly but surely waking up to a mindset that is completely different from what we have seen in all of our years up till now. This change has been described as entering the age of aquarius or as the awakening that many are experiencing through the New Age or New Thought movements that are attracting new followers in all corners of the world every day.

These movements may sound like hippie-mumbo-jumbo to many. I mean, floating around believing that love is the answer to every problem, that your thoughts create your reality, that there are no coincidences and that everything actually could and should be well. What’s that about? I mean, shouldn’t these annoyingly harmonious people just wake up, smell the stale coffee stench and take the world for what it is? A harsh reality where you need to stand your ground and fight to get the life that you want? Or perish in the attempt, like good people have been doing for millennia already?

I don’t have the answers or truths for anyone but myself. But I am grateful that life has shown me a path where I have the opportunity to more and more choose how I want to view the world. And that I am able to and willing to question the so-called truths that we take for granted in life. If you hit me, do I have to hit back? If you do something hurtful to me, do I actually have to get hurt? If you betray me, do I have to get angry or upset? If I love you and you don’t love me back, do I have to feel sad?

To me, this is what the end of an era is all about. It doesn’t really matter whether the Mayans actually were predicting this shift in human consciousness or just coincidentally got bored of writing the calendar at this particular point in time. The world is slowly changing, with more and more people leaving the chains of dogmatic religion, and destructive and codependent mindsets to embrace ways of thinking, living and loving that do not limit themselves or others. New people are added every day. Until the 100th monkey effect takes care of the rest and makes the change inevitable. Well, or that’s the master plan. More or less. The old ways may have served us well in getting us out from the caves to where we are now. But now I believe we are ready to take our existence to the next level: Introducing Humanity 2.0.

This slow transition is  the significance I see for the new era that we are entering.

Wishing you all a wonderful Christmas!

Spiritually Yours,

Kristian

Shining lighthouses

Lighthouse

Lighthouses don’t go running around an island looking for boats to save; they just stand there, shining.  -Annie Lamott

Many of us have an almost innate urge to help (read: save) others from toxic relationships, difficult life situations, destructive addictions or just simply themselves and their (in our humble opinion) faulty judgement. We want to give them much needed guidance and help to get back on the right path. I hate to admit that yours truly is no exception.

So why do we do it? The motives are of course plentiful and not all of them are based in an unhealthy desire to control our surroundings to fit our idea of what is right and good. Watching someone you care for facing difficulties can be truly painful and trying to help is often the most natural thing to do. But what do you do when the stray person declines your help? Do you just mind your own beeswax and get on with it?

silhouetteBeing at the receiving end of someone’s good intentions may not exactly be a confidence booster. We all want to proudly showcase that we are in control and to display the best possible façade we can (even though the cracks may be visible from space). After all, who likes to admit defeat? That they actually cannot do something alone? Receiving help gracefully is an art not mastered by the many.

But does someone’s refusal to accept your good assistance mean that you should just walk away? Leave them be?

Unless related by blood, walking away is perfectly OK in Chinese Confucian tradition. As a matter of fact, it is not just OK, it is the right thing to do and complies well with the Chinese attitude of not interfering with the internal affairs of others. By all means, observe it and talk about it. But get involved? Hell, no! What happens in other people’s houses, businesses or countries for that matter is their business. Not yours. Gossiping about it is however very much allowed.

In Catholicism however you are given a totally different licence to act. The Sin of Omission says that the bystander of injustice is as guilty as the perpetrator. Knowing the right thing to do and failing to do this is in other words not just morally questionable; it is in fact sinful. And helping someone, albeit unwilling, would probably be classified as the right thing to do by the righteous. That there in most cases exists no universal truth for what is right and wrong is of course highly irrelevant.

I don’t think that either of these extremes offers much help when it comes to helping the ones close to you if they don’t want your involvement. I think it is very important to be honest about one’s motives to do this. Who are you actually trying to help? Are you trying to help someone solve a problem or are you in fact trying to help yourself feel better about yourself? Are you trying to show yourself off as the saviour of unfortunate loved ones? That many people are trying to help others in order to avoid looking at their own problems may be a well known phenomenon. However, admitting that our unfortunate friends in fact are tools primarily used to deal with our own pain or boost our own egos may be hard for most of us.

Nobel Peace Price Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi once said “If you feel helpless – help someone”. Noble indeed, but seen in this context this excellent quote is not without its flaws. What is your motivation? Is it to actually make a positive difference in someone else’s life? Or is it to feel better about yourself? Really?

Many people’s noble intentions may be rejected by the recipient with the result that the generous helper may get upset, insulted or both. After all, we are only trying to help. Again, who is this really about?

Marshall Point Lighthouse at sunsetThis is where the metaphor of the lighthouse comes in and beautifully sums up what I believe to be the more loving approach. I believe that when someone you care for needs help, the only thing we can do is to gently and steadily put our hand out and let them know it’s there. That’s all. If they choose to grab onto it, then that’s wonderful. But if they don’t grab it right away or even push it away we can still keep it out there. Close enough for them to grab onto if they change their mind, but far enough away to give them space to find their own way. We don’t help people by forcing them to fit into our perfect picture. We help them by standing by them with compassion, not pity, as they face their own consequences, make their own experiences and paint their own picture of the world.

Loving our friends, family and partners only when they act the way we want them to, is not love. Loving them in spite of their human flaws is. We love them for who they actually are and not for whom we would rather have them be. This is unconditional love.

Till next time: Love before you help!

Kristian

What do you get someone who is…you know…dead?

joss paper for after life as ghost moneyRegretting all the things you didn’t say to a loved one while they were still alive is pretty normal, I guess. But have you ever regretted not getting grandpa that camera he had his eyes on while you still had the chance? Because when someone has passed that means you can’t give them presents, right? This may well be the case in Western culture. In Chinese culture however, death is by no means any excuse to stop spoiling the people you care about.

One of the most fascinating aspects about living in Hong Kong was experiencing a culture that is very different from the one I knew from home. The British influence from colonial times is obvious but by no means dominant; Hong Kong is first and foremost Chinese. Along with a culture come its own holidays and celebrations, and the Chinese have a set of festivals and rituals that was unlike anything I had ever seen before. Also death is treated quite differently in Chinese culture with rituals that in my Western eyes were almost morbid. In all fairness though keeping in mind our innate sensitivity towards anything that has to do with death, I guess that any deviation from what we are taught to think of as normal would be considered somehow morbid.

The Chinese did never strike me as religious. That however does by no means mean that they do not believe in spiritual concepts. Far from it! The afterlife, ghosts, numerology, feng shui and other things that modern science would label as superstition are extremely important in the lives of very many Hongkongers.

One of the most intriguing aspects of this mythology I found to be the importance of making offerings to ancestors and other spirits. One way of doing this is to put out food and drink on little altars on the streets along with burning incense. You see these tiny red altars with bowls of rice, fruit and glasses with water if you look down on almost any street in Hong Kong. Keeping the spirits happy is of utmost importance, because if they get upset they could cause you great misfortune.

The more materialistic way of pleasing the supernaturals of the neighbourhood is to give them presents. And I am not talking about just any presents. I am talking about the good stuff. Like iPhones, cameras, flat screen TVs, iPads, cars (with a caucasian private chauffeur, mind you!), designer shoes and everything else you would need to have a comfortable life. But how do you send a pair of Gucci loafers over to the other side? Easy! You take a paper replica of whatever you want to give, burn it and voilà! Grandma is now walking around in style in the afterlife making all of her ghost friends jealous. Well, I guess that’s the general idea.

CandlesRedMosaicFor those of us who are not particularly proficient in the art of creating paper replicas of things, luckily there are plenty of shops that sell nothing but gifts for the dead. Anything your heart or stomach can desire is available in paper: massage chairs, table fans, Chihuahua dogs, laptop computers, propane bottles, wok sets, soda cans, air-conditioners, houses and anything else you can think of. All scaled down to a practical size for convenience of course. And if the one you are buying a present to is one of those who has it all and is impossible to buy to? No worries! You can also buy stacks of ghost money and burn that instead. Cash is apparently king in the on the other side too.

What I found the most refreshing about this is that it challenged my own perceptions of what the world is supposed to look like. Up until the age of 28 I had lived my entire life living and breathing Western culture with very few real life impulses from other parts of the world. Therefore seeing that other people other places had different ways to organize life really taught me that the world  is never black and white. Different is not necessarily more right or wrong. Sometimes it is actually just different. Nothing more, nothing less.

Although the culture shock of moving to Asia was very real, I learnt that keeping an open mind and maybe more importantly a sense of humour took me a very long way. This may sound like a cliché but you never learn more about your own culture than when you are away from it and notice the heaps of cultural programming that you never thought you had whilst at home.

Livingly Yours,

Kristian

It’s nothing personal

Dreaming of the Sun.“Don’t take anything personally – Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality”.

I remember the first time I read these words ten years ago in The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. Recommended to me by a tarot lady. At the time I was working in a trendy Notting Hill restaurant in London and on Saturday nights the owners had hired Sanya from the Balkans (believe me, she looked and sounded the part) to do after-dinner readings for the guests. You know, Sanya to the rescue in case the date got boring. An excellent idea actually.

Nothing others do is because of you! I was baffled. How could this be? This went against everything I thought I knew. Isn’t it my behaviour that decides how others treat me? Isn’t it the way I look that decides whether people are attracted to me or not? And isn’t it so that if someone likes me I should feel good, and if someone doesn’t like me I am supposed to feel bad? This is how the world works, right?

Imagine that you walk down a busy street and give the finger to three random people. The first person laughs at you while number two asks you what the hell your problem is. Unfortunately for you the third person pulls out a gun and shoots you dead. You did exactly the same thing to three different people, but got three completely different responses.

This example should make it pretty obvious that you by and large cannot control how other people in fact will react to you. Experience makes you able to predict, but still you can only do the input, the output is entirely out of your hands. It goes without saying that flipping someone the bird is not a very nice thing to do and most people don’t like it, but their actual reaction is not because of you. It only depends on them and where they are.

I am sure everyone has talked to their friends about who is hot and who is not. Probably more often than not you and your friends don’t all fancy the same person. And thank God for that. While one friend may be head over heals about a guy, another may think that although he may look ok he’s not their type. The person in question is the same, but different people react differently to him based on their personal taste, preferences and priorities. All things that can vary individually to each and every person. The it’s-not-you-it’s-me-excuse may actually be true more often than we think.

Not taking other people’s opinion of me personally is truly liberating. It has however taken me a long time to be free of this. Years actually. It is only when I speak to people who are truly upset about other people’s opinion of them that I realize how far I have actually come. If someone tells me that someone else thinks this and that of me my instant reaction is normally nothing more than a shrug and who cares? Yeah, really! Because I don’t.

I remember talking to a friend a while ago who was doing really well at work. Unfortunately he was feeling down because some of his colleagues were jealous of his success and wouldn’t talk to him as much any more. I remember asking him why on earth he was feeling down about this. There is absolutely no doubt about who has got the problem here, and it was not him. He could rise above this, but their pathetic reaction made something that should have been a wonderful thing bittersweet instead. What a waste!

Of course with this way of thinking it doesn’t matter whether people think good or bad thoughts about you. Neither is personal. While this may be liberating for the bad stuff, it can feel like a bit of a waste on the good stuff. Shouldn’t you feel good if someone says something nice to you? Sure, by all means. But it is still not really because of you, it is because you happen fit into their image of what is good. The key is to feel good about yourself regardless of other people, only then can you be free to really be yourself. And still, I am pretty sure that most people find it a lot easier to believe the bad things people say about them compared to the good things. So believe the good things if you want. If you are like most people, chances are you’ll forget them soon enough anyway. Just a hunch I have.

Not caring about what others think of me is of course not a carte blanche to behave badly. I still want the best out of life and I know that this normally happens when I’m on good form with the world around me. Moreover, treating people inferior to how I myself want to be treated doesn’t feel good. And I’m all about feeling good!

I don’t need tarot cards to recommend The Four Agreements to anyone though. A great read that I can warmly recommend to anyone.

What other people think of me is none of my business. 

Personally Yours,

Kristian

When the going gets tough

Disastrous Business

I recently heard that one in three people will suffer from anxiety, depression or both at some point during their lives. That’s a lot, but hardly surprising. Almost everywhere I turn I see people struggling with life. Not saying that life should always be easy, but for many it seems to be a bit too gloomy and scary for comfort.

Few things are more stigmatizing in our society than psychological illness, even the relatively mild cases that a large number of people suffer from in silence (Just to clarify, I am not talking about heavy cases of mental illness in this post). You hardly ever meet anyone who openly talk about their problems with anxiety unless it is someone very close to you. Because no one must know that the perfect façade hides a person who is afraid. This is very different from physical conditions that (too?) often seem to be excellent topics for social conversation. People enthusiastically share their problems with migraine, aching backs or cancer with whomever wants to hear, even complete strangers. This is taken to the extreme when people even go on TV to have their hemorrhoids and verrucas exposed and broadcast to the whole world in British reality show Embarrassing Bodies.

Suffering or having suffered from  psychological conditions is oftentimes something that people carry with them as a shameful burden for the rest of their lives. A bit like a broken vase. It may well be whole again, but it is forever scarred and considered more fragile compared to one that has never been broken.

I believe one reason we have trouble dealing with anxiety and depression in a healthy way is that these problems by many are not considered health problems, but rather character defects. Sufferers and bystanders alike may therefore think that these are simply weak-minded people who even also may be partly to blame themselves for their problems. Well-meaning advice often includes solutions like pulling themselves together, just cheering up or to not worry so much. Gee, I am sure they hadn’t thought of that already!

Why is it so hard to view this for what it is, namely health issues? You would not tell a cancer patient or someone with chronic back pains to pull themselves together and get well. Yet, telling a teenager struggling with anxiety and depression to do just this seems legitimate to many.

HandsHoldingGrowingPlantIf one in three develops anxiety or depression during their lives it goes without saying that the causes are numerous. It may be traumatic experiences, stress, substance abuse, abusive relationships, simply being genetically predisposed and lots of other things. My point is that I do not think that the average sufferer from mental disorders is any more responsible for their own condition than patients with more physical troubles. So why the taboo and stigma? Why do people wait in the longest to seek help for their constant sense of impending doom? Or even worse, why do people tolerate this as a natural part of life and deal with it themselves instead of seeking professional assistance? Dealing with this oneself may include self-medicating on drugs and alcohol, becoming abusive themselves or holding it together until total collapse. These are all things that would almost inevitably affect family, friends, colleagues and everyone else around the sufferer.

I am not a health professional and am therefore not really qualified to give any advice on psychological problems, apart from encouraging people to seek help if they feel that life is a bit more difficult than it should be. Seeking help could start with talking about it to a friend or seeing a doctor or therapist. You may be surprised at how many who have experiences to share, either from their own lives or through someone close to them. Experiences that can give hope, guidance and the knowledge that things will get better.

Life is way too short not to be happy. And I am convinced that a lot of people could improve their quality of life if they only would give themselves a break and respect their own limits. Because we all have limits, and depression and anxiety may be your body and mind’s way of telling you that you are pushing it. If you keep pushing it chances are it will say stop in a big way a bit further down the line. And let me tell you: No one will be thanking you the day you hit the wall! Neither your friends, family nor your boss.

I don’t see anxiety and depression as signs of weakness and I don’t think that people who have suffered from this and recovered are more fragile than others. The contrary may actually be the case. In fact some of the most sorted people I know have made their very own personal experiences in this area. People who have felt their own limits, and are aware of them may in fact be living healthier, happier and more sustainable lives in the long run.

As for the vase-metaphor mentioned above, I rather like to think of it as a seam. For isn’t a seam that has been repaired often stronger than the original seam?

Mentally Yours,

Kristian

The beauty premium

Beautiful girl with clean fresh skinBeauty is in the eye of the beholder is a pretty worn out phrase we have all heard countless times. But is it? Is beauty really subjective? Or is this just mumbo jumbo to make lesser looking people feel better? According to a lot of studies, this may actually be the case. During my last year of university I wrote a paper on if good-looking people were better negotiators, and consequently plowed through a lot of research on the field.

Although it is nice to think that someone considered ugly by one person may be found beautiful by another, this is may not be how the world works. At least not objectively. If you ask people from all over the world to arrange ten portraits of random people in order from ugly to beautiful, they are likely to make similar judgements. This means that if people think that your sister is more beautiful than you in Alaska, she probably will be considered more beautiful than you in Thailand too.

I can only speak for myself, but I quite like being surrounded by beautiful things. By things I also mean people. Shallow I know. But I do. By saying that, I don’t dislike being around not so beautiful people either. But beautiful people add an extra visual bonus to any setting. And I am convinced this attitude is far more common than most people care to admit.

What may come as a surprise to many is that persons endowed with an attractive exterior also make more money than the rest. Yup, that’s right. Physical beauty affects wages. At least statistically. Economists talk of a beauty premium, and this premium may in fact be twice as big as the corresponding, what should I call it, ugly penalty. In other words employers are willing to pay more to hire an attractive person than someone average looking or less. How unfair the world is. I can however see some rationale in this, if the worker will be face-to-face with customers and clients. People are actually easier persuaded by good-looking people. This was once tested on a campus in the US where both handsome and not so handsome campaigners were trying to have people sign their petition against meat in the cantine. Not surprisingly the good-looking ones were far more successful at convincing people, regardless of gender (I only hope the campaigners were not informed of which category they were in). Also, anyone who has ever worked in a bar has probably noticed how attractive bartenders often sell more and get more tips than the ones looking average. Because who doesn’t want to be served by someone dreamy looking if we have the choice? That’s only human, right?

Another finding is that good-looking people often communiate more efficiently than the rest. A possible explanation here is that beautiful people have received more attention from relatives, teachers, peers and others even from childhood. Being popular in their early years may therefore have made them more skilled in interacting with others, simply because they have had more opportunities to practice with more friends and attention. I remember speaking to a mom once who totally aware of this made a point of dressing her daughters in fancy clothes so that they would get more attention in kindergarten.

Ok, as I am writing this now I feel that this is enough. Because my point with this post is not to make beautiful people feel even better about themselves and leave everyone else feeling down. There is of course more to a person than his or her exterior. Another well-known phrase is that A beautiful exterior catches my attention while a beautiful interior keeps it. Because I really don’t care how beautiful someone is, if their attitude stinks, they can really piss off.

Beauty is not only what you have been given from nature; There are countless things each and everyone can do to up their market value, so to speak. Clothes, hair, teeth, make-up for the ladies, physical fitness, personal hygiene and more can be just as essential as genes. And my point is that I think many can benefit from caring a bit more about how they present themselves to their surroundings. Not only on a personal level, but also in their careers and elsewhere in life. Because the one losing out if you don’t is probably mainly yourself.

Since dashing out beauty tips is not really my thing, I will only give this one: You are always dressed with a smile. Even if your smile is not taken from a Colgate commercial.

Well folks, this has been an edtion of superficial Kristian. Next time I am going to write about war and peace and politics and stuff. You know smart thingys. Kinda. I think.

Beautifully Yours,

Kristian

The easy way to stop smoking

stub of cigarette

I used to smoke like a chimney. Literally. I used to say I smoked 20 a day but being completely honest, I was probably more of a 50-a-day smoker. Yeah. That bad! I am happy to say that in January it had been five years since I smoked my last cigarette. Reactions I get when I tell people I have gone five years without a smoke are normally along the lines of:

Wow! That’s amazing! You should  be really proud of yourself!

Which of course is very nice to hear and excellent for boosting my ego, but truth be told I almost feel like a cheat taking credit for it. Why? Because it has been dead easy! Yeah, that’s right! Quitting smoking was easy peasy. And had it not been that easy I would not be writing this post today. I am constitutionally incapable of not enjoying myself and I have no resilience whatsoever against sweet little habits that give me instant satisfaction. None. Nada. My willpower against cigarettes was (and probably still is) virtually non-existent. If I had wanted a cigarette even once in the last 5,5 years I probably would have smoked it. But I haven’t wanted one.

Anyone who has ever been addicted to nicotine knows that the mere thought of quitting is overwhelming. Like looking into an endless, unhappy abyss which is the rest of your life. What doesn’t really help is that smokers constantly hear how incredibly hard it is to give it up. You may have heard the expression Once a smoker – Always a smoker. You know, the ones who even after 20 years still want a cigarette, and who go through the rest of their days feeling deprived of something that used to bring them great pleasure. How sad! Really. What in God’s name is the point of quitting if you cannot enjoy it? Make no mistake: I am here to tell you that when I quit smoking I thoroughly enjoyed every step of the process.

So what is this miracle cure? Hypnosis? Antidepressants? Jesus? Nope. I went to a 5 hour workshop (with smoking breaks) one late afternoon in Oslo on January 11, 2007. That was all.

You may have heard of the book The Easy Way to Stop Smoking by Allen Carr. I had read that book five times prior to January 2007. All five times I had stopped smoking but started again after everything from 2 days to 2 months. I liked the method but somehow it just would not stick. Luckily, there were also workshops available where you could learn to quit using the same method, but from a live person instead of a book. You cannot ask a book anything if you want something clarified, don’t understand something or let it know that you disagree. With an instructor you can, and I believe that made all the difference. The workshop was led by a former smoker by the name René who the whole experience very enjoyable.

The method is no hocus pokus. You learn why you think you smoke, and why you actually smoke. You may think you smoke because you like the taste, it relaxes you and so on. But honestly, anyone who has ever smoked a cigarette knows that they don’t exactly taste like strawberries and cream. And cigarettes as a relaxant? Try to notice your pulse before and after lighting up a cigarette in the morning. Can something that increases your heart rate really be relaxing? I will not go further into the method here, because I want to leave that to people more qualified than I.

As I said I had no willpower to resist smoking. My willpower can be strong when it comes to many things but in the face of smoking it was useless. It was like trying to climb out of a 10 meter deep hole using a 5 meter long ladder. Nothing wrong with the ladder. It is just not long enough.

I quite simply hate being miserable, and wanting a smoke and not allowing myself one is pure misery. I could never do that, so therefore I thought I was forever stuck in the nicotine trap. Albeit not being armed with sufficient willpower I did have a very strong desire to quit, but I had no idea how to do actually do it. My primary motive to stop was that I felt I was selling myself short by smoking. It was (and still is) important to me to be all that I can be, and constantly inhaling poisonous gases, coughing and not exactly smelling like roses would not exactly pull me in the right direction.

I am not writing this to showcase my success. I am writing this because I want to tell smokers who think they must choose between continuing smoking and being miserable that there is a third option: Quit smoking and be a happy non-smoker. I normally hate the phrase If I could do it, anyone can, but it is actually very true here. Try not to buy into so-called universal truths that surround you telling you how hard it is, because it doesn’t need to be. It certainly wasn’t for me, and it does not need to be like that for you. 

So if you (or someone you know) want to quit smoking I can warmly recommend these workshops. I went to one in Oslo but they are available all over the world. In case you are wondering if I am getting paid for this the answer is no. I am doing  this solely because I want others to experience the wonderful feeling it is to quit smoking.

It is time to leave the sinking ship!

Non-Smokingly Yours,

Kristian