Why We Need Time to Think and Reflect

Woman looking cityscape from the roof of a tall building in Bangkok.

While visiting Sacramento, CA, this week (where I was inducted into California’s Hall of Fame), I had the opportunity to speak with two great public servants. One Democrat. One Republican. Both men who I deeply admire.

California Gov. Jerry Brown and George Shultz (former U.S. Secretary of State, Secretary of the Treasury and Secretary of Labor… I mean, wow), are two men who have seen a lot and done even more. They are gracious and generous in sharing words of wisdom.

We had a wonderful conversation about politics (yes, we did). We spoke about our country, our new president-elect, about the value of experience, about the power of words and about the danger of empty threats.

But what struck most during our conversation, and what I wanted to share, was that both of these men spoke to me separately about how important it has been throughout their careers and lives to allocate uninterrupted time in their busy days. Uninterrupted time to think, to be, and to reflect. Both of them went on to explain how difficult it is to safeguard that time, but also how critical it has been to their thinking and their ability to create and lead.

I loved that simple, but profound advice. No matter how busy you are, carve out time in your day to think. To be calm. To reflect. To be present.

I’m grateful that they both mentioned that advice to me right before I went to the Hall of Fame ceremony because it helped me stay present. It helped me stay in the moment. It allowed me to take in what was actually happening in my life at that moment.

As I sat on the stage looking out, I was overcome with gratitude. Gratitude to my parents, gratitude to my family, and gratitude to all who have helped me in my life. There are so many people who have helped me, and who continue to help me in so many ways. Being present also allowed me to take in the love that I felt was, and is, there for me in my life. I didn’t push it away like I might have done in the past. I let it in and it felt beautiful.

It was a moment in my life I will never forget because I was present for it. When I went back to my hotel that night, I made a vow to myself. I promised to create more empty space in my days. More time to think. To dream. To be calm. To just be, so that I can be more present in my own life.

I think we are at a unique moment in our fast-paced, ever-changing world. I think our world needs us all to be more present in it. To be calmer. To be more reflective. More creative.

I think all of us could take a beat before we react to every tweet, every post and every conversation. I think our national discourse and our personal discourses are in need of the same things: Breathing space. Thinking space. Presence.

If we each made an effort to carve that out in our daily lives, I have no doubt that our interactions with one another would be different. I have no doubt that we would see different things, hear different things, and realize different things. I have no doubt that we would show up in our lives in a different way, speak up in a different way and perhaps move our country forward together in the way that we all say we want to do.

So, I’m going to take the advice of two great public servants who have worked across the aisle, and who continue to work to make the world a more conscious, more collaborative, and more caring place. They are men of ideas, men of thought… and busy men who make time to not be busy.

That’s something worth thinking about.

‘We Are the Ones We’ve Been Waiting For’

'We Are the Ones We've Been Waiting For'

In the last few days, I’ve tried to spend less time thinking and more time reflecting. Not just reflecting back, but reflecting on how I want to move my life forward.

I know I want to move forward with hope. I want to move forward with faith. I want to move forward with conviction, with passion and with purpose. I know I want to use my voice clearly and confidently on behalf of the people and issues that I care about. I want to use it to elevate others who are using their lives to Move Humanity Forward. I want to use it to move the needle forward when it comes to understanding the mind and why we are losing so many beautiful minds to Alzheimer’s. This disease is wiping out our mothers, our daughters, our sisters, our brothers, our fathers, and our families. It’s wiping them out financially, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. I firmly believe that we can wipe out this mind-blowing disease, and I will not rest until we do so. I do this because each of us can play a role in creating a more caring, conscious and compassionate world.

In fact, I don’t find myself discouraged by the enormity of that challenge. I find myself invigorated by it because I believe the goal is attainable. On the wall in my office hangs a poem that deeply inspires me every time I read it. In fact, it moves me to get moving. It gives me a sense of urgency and it speaks to my heart and to my mind.

It’s written by a Hopi Elder, and I loved it the moment I discovered it. Why? Because it speaks to the urgency of the hour. It speaks to the leader that lives in each of us. It speaks to the power of the individual and the need for community.

And perhaps most importantly, it challenges us not to sit by and wait for another to lead us forward. It calls on each of us to believe that we are in fact the ones we have been waiting for.

This is the hour, it tells us. And there are things to be considered.

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So, if you find yourself at this moment in your life reflecting on what was and what is, take a page from the Hopi Elder. Speak your truth. At this time in our history, we are to take nothing personally, least of all ourselves.

I agree that all that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration. I agree that the time of the lone wolf is over. We are indeed the ones we have been waiting for. As this holiday weekend comes to a close and a new holiday season begins, I hope that we can all remember that profound truth.

That’s what I’m reflecting about, thinking about, and inspired by this week. What about you?

What I’m Grateful for This Thanksgiving

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Almost everywhere I went this past week, I heard a lot of soul-searching. I heard continued disbelief and continued anger from people who voted for Clinton and/or Trump. I heard people who were baffled that others didn’t seem to understand, or had mischaracterized what they thought to be true.

I had friends who invited me to gatherings saying, “We are organizing. Will you come?” I would say, “Organizing to do what?” They would respond, “We don’t know yet, but we have to do something.”

Do we? Or might this be a moment to sit in what I refer to as a place of unknowing?

In my life, I have been certain about some things and uncertain about others. I have felt strong. I have felt vulnerable. I have seen the path ahead clearly, and at other times, I have stood at a crossroads, unsure of which path to take. At moments like those, I have learned that it’s okay to sit or stand in my unknowing. I’ve learned that it’s okay to pause—to wait to breathe—so that the answer and my knowing can rise up to meet me. I’ve also learned in times of uncertainty or unknowing to direct my focus to what I am clear and certain about, to what I do know.

What I do know is this: This upcoming week is my favorite week of the year. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday because it’s about knowing what’s important in life: family, friends, my faith, and food. I could even throw in watching football because that will be going on a lot in my house this week (Go Blue!).

Thanksgiving is about gratitude. It’s about gathering. It’s not about wrapping and/or unwrapping presents. It’s about being present in our loved ones’ lives. It’s also such a uniquely American holiday. I’ve often had people at my table who weren’t born here, and who weren’t raised on this holiday, but who have come to love it because it’s about being welcomed to the table. It’s about acceptance. It’s about being invited in. That’s powerful.

So if you are still reeling from our election, or if you are wanting to gather or organize, gather first at the table. Invite people in. Gather with people you love and care about. Listen. Learn. Love. Focus on what you know makes you feel good, and what makes you feel certain. Focus on your gifts. Focus on your gratitude.

I know that’s easier for some than others. But I’ve learned that focusing my attention forwar—on what I’m grateful for, and on all of the love that exists in my life—helps me focus on all the good that is around me in my home. At my table, in my life, and, yes, in my country. There is so much good in our beautiful country.

Today—right now—it’s okay not to know, and to know, all at the same time. That’s life, and I’m thinking about how grateful I am to have one that I know is blessed.

That’s what I’m thinking about this week. What about you?

Talk of Love, Not Hate

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“Talk of love, not hate. Things to do. It’s getting late. I’ve so little time and I’m only passing through.”

Those are the words of singer-songwriter and poet Leonard Cohen, who passed away on Thursday during this tumultuous week.

My brother Bobby shared his words with me as I sat struggling with what to write this week. Leonard Cohen’s words are perfect—perfect for me, and I hope, perfect for you.

“Talk of love, not hate. Things to do. It’s getting late.”

So little time, and it’s true, we are all just passing through. So, on this day, I’m choosing to follow Leonard Cohen’s words. There is so much we can all do to move humanity forward. There is so much we can all do to be the ones we have been waiting for. There is so much to do.

We are a divided country. Millions feel invisible, left out, forgotten. Millions more are scared, angry, and confused. Millions cheered this election. Millions more are outraged. Yet here we all are.

We have a choice to talk of love or hate. To give up or get things done. To find purpose or to throw in the towel. To scream and yell, or stop and listen. To reach out or close down.

We are indeed all just passing through, but I don’t believe that we aren’t meant to make that time matter. Each of us is meant for a distinct purpose and I believe that purpose is to make our world more caring, more conscious, and, yes, more compassionate.

How can you do that? By seeing yourself as an instrument of peace. By seeing yourself as someone whose light is what the world is looking for. By seeing yourself as an architect of change. By seeing yourself as someone who can move humanity forward.

So, if you’re feeling down, confused, or shaken this week, read the Prayer of Saint Francis (click here). If you’re feeling elated, vindicated, or boastful, read the Prayer of Saint Francis.

May each of us—regardless of what party we belong to or candidate we voted for —think about spreading love, not hate. May each of us think about how to spend our days here making other people’s days better.

And while you’re at it, may you absorb these other words of Leonard Cohen’s: “I greet you from the other side of sorrow and despair. With a love so vast and shattered, it will reach you everywhere.”

Greet someone from the other side. Greet them with a love so vast that it will reach them everywhere. It’s getting late.

That’s what I’m thinking about this week. What about you?

My Birthday Gift to Myself

Happy Birthday on fondant topped cookie on sprinkles

Today is my birthday. I was born in Chicago, IL, now home to the World Series champions!

The Cubs winning the World Series this week was THE bright spot in what felt like an otherwise dark, depressing week. I’m usually a pretty upbeat person, but I’ve gotta say, this past week—with all the divisiveness, the insanity, the anxiety, and the screaming—well, it got me down.

I actually haven’t been down or nervous this whole campaign season, but this week I have to admit that there was a day when I didn’t even want to leave my house. Everywhere I went, people would say things like, “Oh my God! Have you seen that latest poll? Did you hear what they are saying now? Did you see what that email said? Oh my God! What’s happening? What do you think is going to happen?”

Gosh, people!

In times of crisis and panic, I make an appointment with God. (Yup.) I check in with God daily anyway, but this past week, I checked in several times per day because everyone’s anxiety was spilling over onto me and I don’t care for that (especially since it’s my birthday).

He said (yes I say he!), “Tell the people to breathe.”

I said, “I already wrote about that. It’s not working.”

He said, “Well then tell them to be silent.”

I said, “I wrote about that too, and everyone just keeps screaming. If you don’t believe me, just turn on the TV.”

“God,” I said, “Give me something new. Give me something I haven’t said, because I’ve been writing about breathing and silence and the mystics and the Jesuits and the process of discernment and people still aren’t calm and still aren’t hopeful. They are panicking. What more can I share?”

I got silence. I got nothing.

Not good, I thought. So, I did what any nervous, anxious Catholic would do. I went to my back-up: the Pope.

Yes, when in doubt, I go and check out whatever Pope Francis is riffing about. It’s bound to be interesting. It’s bound to change your perspective.

Lo and behold, this week Pope Francis was talking about the Sermon on the Mount. (He also riffed on the fact that women will never become priests! Lord, I’ll deal with this ridiculous stained glass ceiling another week, after the other ceiling comes crashing down next week.)

But, back to the Sermon on the Mount. The pope has actually added some new, updated challenges/beatitudes for our modern times.

Now before you freak and say, “I’m not Catholic. I don’t believe.” Trust me here. You don’t have to be Catholic to get some solid life lessons from The Sermon on the Mount.

So today on my birthday, my gift to myself (and to you) is to re-read the Sermon on the Mount.

“Blessed are the peacemakers” is one. I’m sure there are at least a few beatitudes that will work for you. Read the originals, and also check out how the Pope modernized them (see here).

Then ask yourself, what could/would you add for these turbulent times? What could/would you add that would bring peace to your turbulent mind?

What could/would you add that would make you feel it’s all going to be okay? Because it is all going to be okay.

Just remember: Breathe in. Breathe out. Discern. Decide. Seek silence. Seek peace. And vote! For God’s sake, don’t forget to vote. It’s a gift!

That brings me back to my birthday. On this day, I’m grateful for so many gifts. The gift of my life. The gift of my health. The gift of my faith. The gifts of my friends and family who I know love me. The gift of living in the greatest country on Earth. The gift of my four incredible children and the gift of being able to vote.

Just writing out everything I’m grateful for makes me feel better already, and I’m 61. I’m 61? Oh my God. Now I’m depressed and it has nothing to do with the election.

I’m going back to my room and re-watch the Cubs clinch the title. That will make me forget about my age and the election.

Happy birthday to myself!

Finding Peace in Your Decisions

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In the last few weeks, I’ve written about the power of silence, the importance of taking a breath, the art of listening, and the mystics (yes, the mystics).

Today, I want to take a page from the Jesuits (yes, the Jesuits). I was educated and deeply shaped by the Catholic sisters and by the Jesuits. Pope Francis is one of the individuals I admire most in the world, not just because he is a Jesuit, but because of the way he walks his talk, lives his life, speaks his mind, and embraces change.

When faced with difficult decisions or life-altering change, the Jesuits have a process to help guide them to the answer. Devised by Saint Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, it’s called the discernment process (see here). The process of discernment walks you through a step-by-step process that’s meant to help you come to the decision that is right for you.

The truth is, some of us are better than others at making decisions. Some make snap decisions. Some labor forever, weighing the pros and cons. Some take too many other people’s opinions and feelings into account (that would be me). And some just know how to deliberate, discern and decide.

I share this process of discernment today because so many people I’ve spoken to lately about the election tell me that they are struggling. Struggling to decide. Struggling with whether to vote or not. Struggling with what’s right or wrong for them and/or for the country.

Making big decisions is tough for everyone. So, I thought, why not take a page from the Jesuits and follow the age-old, tried-and-true formula: the process of discernment. I’ve used it myself, and I’m using it to make other decisions (although not about this election, because I’m very clear about that decision). I’ve found the process illuminating and helpful in times of turbulent change or indecision in my own life.

All of us who have the opportunity to vote for the next president of the United States have a personal decision to make. It can be hard with all of the noise and back and forth to know what to do. All I know is that this great country of ours has always been a melting pot—different religions, races, and political affiliations—living together in pursuit of the common good. It’s important at this time to remember that there is a common good, there is common ground, and there are common dreams we all share.

So, before you lose your mind in reaction to someone who is voting differently than you, or who tells you that they’re not voting at all, remember what I wrote about the mystics. The mystics go to a place beyond words. They go to that wordless space, that place within all of us. It is there, they believe, that we all meet our compassionate, loving, honest, non-judgmental selves.

In this final week before Election Day, get quiet and clear about your own decision, your own vote. Get clear about your own process. And if you’re still struggling— if you still feel undecided— check out the Jesuits’ discernment. I share it with the goal of simply helping you to find clarity and peace in these turbulent times.

Discern. Decide. Be at peace with your decision and allow others to be the same.

It’s Time We Take a Breath

Take a Breath Maria Shriver

The debates are behind us. The candidates have spoken. The pundits have weighed in. The campaigns that have engulfed us and divided us are in the final stretch.

This is called crunch time. Get-out-the-vote time. Time to double down. Make calls. Find the remaining undecided voters. Hurry, hurry, hurry!

I suggest otherwise. I say, it’s time for all of us to take a breath. Breathe in. Breathe out.

That’s what I’ve learned to do when there is really nothing more to stay. Breathe. No more talking. No more yelling. No more trying to convince your neighbor of this or that. Just breathe.

This, I would argue, is a moment for each of us to ask ourselves how we can be a part of bringing our country together. This is a moment for each of us to think about how we can heal the division in ourselves, in our families, and in our country.

I thought it was interesting that Canada released a video this week reminding Americans of how great we already are. I thought it was worth noting that a letter written by former President George H.W. Bush for Bill Clinton went viral. Why was that?

George H.W. Bush Bill Clinton Letter 3

 

I believe it is because we all long for our leaders to be decent, well-mannered, and classy. We all long for examples of good sportsmanship, good character, and goodness. We want to see it in our leaders because we want to know that it’s within ourselves. The truth is, decent good people are all around us. Good, strong, well-mannered people. People with R’s next to their names, and good people with D’s, and I’s, and G’s.

This week, I hope we all take a breath (a big one). I hope we each take a moment to see ourselves as Healers, because we each have that capability within us. We really do.

Perhaps we could all think about what kind of handwritten letter we might write if we were one of the two presidential candidates. May we take a page from those who have gone before—be it George H.W. Bush, Al Gore or the many, many others. Those who went down to the wire, accepted the will of the people and then rose up as healers.

Breathe in. Breathe out.

Get out a piece of paper, breathe in and breathe out, and start writing.

That’s what I’ve been thinking about this week. What about you?

 

The Power of Silence

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There was so much for all of us to think about this past week that it’s almost impossible to single out one thing. It’s almost impossible to know where to start.

My brother Timothy reminded me that the mystics like to speak of a dimension of experience that is “wordless.” He told me that in the wordless space, our truest identity is revealed. He went on to say that at some level, we all exist first in silence, and only after that, in words. He said maybe searching for the right word (as I wrote about last week), or the right thought, is first an invitation to go to a place of no words or no thoughts. Clear your mind of the distraction of words and thoughts, he said, and discover what emerges from that place. Whatever words are likely to emerge will come from your deepest self.

As I sat and tried to clear my mind of all that I heard this past week—from the now infamous hot mic bus video, to the back and forth of the debates, to the screaming on cable TV, to the panic I heard in friends’ voices about the division in our country, to the stories of gloom and doom that bombard us on an hourly basis on social media—this is what I discovered:

I discovered a feeling of hope, a feeling of joy, and a feeling of peace. I found myself feeling inspired by all of the people who used their voices this past week for good. I was especially moved by the multitudes of men who spoke up about what masculinity is and isn’t, and about what it means to them to be a good man. I was inspired by the millions of women who bravely used their voices to recount their own experiences with sexual assault. That gave us a chance to see bravery in real-time and it gave us a window into the prevalence of these kind of experiences.

This was indeed a teachable week. This was a week to be quiet and a week to be heard. It was a week to talk about gender, about manners, about behavior, about what is and isn’t “locker room behavior,” about language, about bullying, about right and wrong. It was also yet another chance to talk about our politics, our divisions, and yes, our common humanity.

It was a week where a female presidential candidate complimented the man on his children, and the man complimented the woman for being a tough fighter, for never giving up or giving in. It was a week of no words, and also of so many using their words to inform and to inspire.

As the week came to a close, we heard speeches telling us that this is indeed our moment and that we are all approaching a day of reckoning. Where do we stand, the speechmakers asked? What do you stand for, they wondered? Can you stand up?

This is indeed a moment for all of us. It is a moment to take a page from the mystics. Go beyond words. Go beyond thoughts. Go beyond politics, fear and rhetoric. Go into your own wordless experience. Be quiet. Be still. Then, and only then, will you know where you stand, what you think, and how you will be able to make sense of what was and what is.

That’s what I’ve been thinking about this week. What about you?

Who Do Our Words Reflect, If Not Ourselves?

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“Choosing the right word, and the right word order…could make an enormous difference in conveying an image or idea,” so said Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in her new book entitled, “My Own Words.”

Justice Ginsburg is right. Words do matter. The right words. The right order.

As we all know, words have been a “hot topic” this election cycle. They have been thrown around with reckless abandonment. They have stung. They have caused tremendous pain and anguish. They have also become rallying cries, perhaps no more so than in the last 48 hours. 

The poet Maya Angelou once wrote: “People will forget what you said…but people will never forget how you made them feel.” The last 48 hours have made people—men and women—feel everything from outrage and disgust, to embarrassment and shock. 

We’ve all used the wrong words at the wrong time. I know I have. Sometimes I speak without thinking (yes, I do that). Sometimes my tone changes how my words are received. Sometimes I put the words in the wrong order. Sometimes I’m tired and in a rush and I text or e-mail my words, only to discover that they landed in a totally different way than I intended. Sometimes I can’t even find the right words, much less the right order, and that’s from someone who’s a word lover and a wordsmith.

On Saturday, Donald Trump used his words to apologize. He said, “Anyone who knows me knows these words don’t reflect who I am.” Then who do his words reflect? Who do any of our words reflect, if not ourselves? What I have seen in the last 48 hours are men and women speaking out to repudiate Trump’s words—words that not only disrespect women, but men as well. This is not a political issue. This is a question of whether we want somebody representing us who says their words are not an indication of who they are. (Melania Trump used her words on Saturday to say this: “The words my husband used are unacceptable and offensive to me. This does not represent the man that I know. … I hope people will accept his apology, as I have, and focus on the important issues facing our nation and the world.”)

Finding the right word, or set of words, is a challenge for any of us. But as Maya Angelou said, words make people feel. They can make people feel seen, accepted and understood, or they can make people feel rejected, judged, shamed and embarrassed.

So, in the final few days of this election cycle, it’s not just the candidates who will be “watching their words.” It’s not just the pundits and the journalists and the bloggers who will be measuring their words. We will all be thinking about our words and whether they actually reflect us and what we feel. If they don’t, we need to ask ourselves, “do we know who we are?”

If you find yourself feeling frustrated or exasperated, look to these other words from Justice Ginsburg: “Reacting in anger or annoyance will not advance one’s ability to persuade.” In my own words, what does persuade is a vote.

The right words, in the right order. May we all find a way to use them this coming week.

That’s what I’ve been thinking about. What about you?

It’s Time We Question Our Beliefs

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The other day I was thinking about how clear everything used to be to me. How sure I was about what I believed. How sure I was about what was right and wrong, true and false, acceptable and not acceptable. The list goes on.

But if you are awake in life (especially in your own), you find yourself asking, is that really so? Is there a different way of perceiving something? A different way of looking at something? Could a long-held belief actually turn out to be wrong?

Our realities and beliefs are shaped by many things—by our parents and our upbringing, by race and neighborhood, by media choices, by our own individual minds and experiences.

Yes, our minds create our realities. That was certainly clear to me this past week as I listened and watched the presidential debates and followed the ensuing reaction to it. Reading social media and listening to the candidates and their surrogates made me more convinced than ever that everyone is living in their own reality.

I wonder what, if anything, can get them or us to change how we view the world. For example, I heard Mike Pence and others say that Donald Trump took command of the debate. I and others experienced something different altogether. And then there was Elon Musk. While many of us were focused on politics, he was simply talking about putting people on Mars like it’s totally normal. Wow.

Mars aside, I was struck by the two starkly different realities that our candidates—yes, they are our candidates—painted of our country and the people in it. I’m struck by that almost daily. Everyone’s different views. Different realities. Different beliefs. I’m not saying mine is right. But I do know that I’ve spent quite a bit of time trying to ask myself what beliefs I have today that are no longer accurate—no longer true, valid, helpful or rooted in reality.

I try to ask myself: what am I closed off to, and why? It’s a valuable exercise for any of us to go through.

-Can we really refute climate change if we look at the facts with an open mind?

-Can we really refute that we have a race division in our country if we look at the facts?

-Can we really refute that our nation is divided if we look at the results of the debate? (A newspaper in Arizona endorses Mrs. Clinton and subscriptions get canceled at a record rate.)

-Can we really refute our own bias about the other party?

The list goes on.

Labels divide us. Zip codes divide us. Our beliefs divide us. But, they don’t have to. We must have the courage to ask ourselves if there is any possibility that what we believe could in fact be wrong?

My friend Elizabeth Lesser, who just wrote a book called “Marrow” (and who I’m excited to be speaking with for our Architects of Change Live series), often uses the quote, “We don’t see things as they are. We see them as we are.”

BAM!

We see things as we are. Campaigns give us a window into who we are and into our divisions. Our anger. Our different realities. Our perceptions. Our assumptions. They give us a window into how our fellow Americans see their lives and see their futures. They give us a window into ourselves. They give us a window into how much healing we all need to get busy doing.

So this week, I hope each of us can open our eyes, our minds, and our hearts and try to see how others see things. I hope each of us can take a beat and consider that there might be some truth in other people’s beliefs or realities. I hope we can each start the business of finding some common ground. Because no matter who wins this election, we are all going to have to challenge what is—what is outside of us and what is inside of us.

We are all going to have to imagine anew if we want to move humanity and our country forward together. Or then again, we can always move to Mars!

That’s what I’ve been thinking about this week. What about you?