Food – the Best Medicine?

Last night I had a conversation with someone who had spent some time in Hong Kong. One of her biggest takeaways from the experience was the way that people looked at what they put in their bodies on a daily basis.

Food was not just food, but also medicine. Whatever was going into their bodies, mattered. And could energize you as much as it could cure ailments.

While I never spent significant time on Hong Kong, this was something I appreciated about my time in Mainland China.

The chance to see a different perspective on every day things.

Food as medicine? You mean, it matters what we put in our bodies?

Growing up as a runner it was always important to have a meal of chicken and pasta the day before a race – you know – for extra energy.

I suppose that considering the impact eating could have on the way our bodies perform was not a foreign concept.

But finding the balance of hot and cold foods, was always so interesting to me. Particularly when foods that appeared to be cool as cucumbers – like a mango or an ice cold beer – should be carefully balanced with cucumbers and an assortment of green vegetables with “cool” properties.

How do we find balance in our diets?

What does a balanced diet look like?

What do we know from our own cultures – and what insights might other cultures offer to us when it comes to right balance for daily eating?

10 Minutes with UFO

I rode in Frank’s cab today. Time was going to be tight to make my train. And Frank’s car just happened to be there. Serendipity is a beautiful thing. As was our chat.

When he learned I go by my initials, he laughed while telling me that if he followed suit I should call him, UFO.

Uzoka Frank Okey.

Uzoka. It’s my last name. Sounds Japanese, but it’s from Africa.

Where is that? I asked.

I’m from Nigeria, he happily stated.

Uzoka (pronounced oh z’ahh kuh).
Okey (pronounced ‘okay’).

And people are never saying ‘okey’, the right way. But this name is actually okechukwu (okay chew koo), chuku meaning God.

We’re a very Christian country, Nigeria. Lots of names like this.

Okechukwu, God’s creation.
Ikechukwu (ee’kay chew koo) God’s power.
Obichukwu (obee chew koo), God’s heart as in heart warming.

One of my favorite questions to ask just about anybody is, “What should I know about _____________, if I don’t know anything about it.”

I asked UFO what I should know about Nigeria.

It’s a place with a large population. Used to be ruled by the British. A nice warm pleasant country that mismanages its resources. Oil is quite an important one of these resources. And there’s corruption.

But there’s good food. And good weather. People are friendly and can be very boisterous. Often ingenious, always looking for ways to make things better.

Frank mentioned the civil war in the late 60s between Christians and Muslims. And during that time the Christians (the minority group) built a submarine, with only basic tools, which helped to bring peace to the country.

He was proud about his people – people who take pride in making something special happen, with limited resources, in order to make things better.

There was much more to chat about with UFO, but our time was up. Amazing how much ground you can cover with someone in 10 minutes. We both went on our way with smiles on our faces after a few quality moments of sharing stories.

And it’s also amazing how easy it can be for a couple of strangers to share a warm, positive interaction that can make a world full of unidentified foreign objects – or others – feel just a bit smaller.

What was your last warm, positive interaction with a complete stranger? What did you share? What did you learn? How did you feel when you walked away?

Can’t remember? No worries. I bet you’ll have another chance for one of these conversations soon 😉

The Photo Albums of Our Lives

There’s something about the past couple days that have me building on ideas around opening up to fear and change.

Why do we sometimes choose to freeze others in time?

Why do we sometimes insist that things can’t change because we’re looking at someone with the same lens today as if the past – that moment or those moments in time – were ‘it’?

This got me thinking about our lives as a large photo album. Our photo albums – analog, digital, or in our minds – are full of snapshots from different times and places.

We’re with different people and we’re different people ourselves.

Think about it –

When you look back at those photos – some memories that are fond, others that are not – are you that same person?

Are you the same person you were taking a bath as a toddler as you are today?

Are you the same person you were on that excursion out and about with your family as a teenager exploring new territory and having a blast?

Are you the same person you were when you moved away from home that first time?

Or when you started to establish roots as you grew into the early days of adulthood?

And though it can be hard to think about such changes on a day-to-day basis, as the weeks and months and years start to go by, we may not be giving ourselves – or those closest to us – enough credit for the changes they make as they continue to evolve.

And do we extend the same credit to ourselves for our changes, as well?

What snapshots do we continue to focus on in the photo albums of our lives?

How do they influence the way we see the world, those closest to us, and ourselves?

What new pictures do we plan to take? And what will be our favorite photos moving forward?

Or will we only look back to focus on what was in favor of creating the photos of our future?

Our Evolving Status Quo

Last night I wrote about fear.

And there was one particular line in there that sticks with me this morning.

“Why does she prefer the status quo when the power is within her to change?”

Why do any of us prefer to believe that things stay the same when we know that the only constant in life is change?

We’re constantly evolving, As are others. And the world around us too.

So when we define our present by the past and the opportunity for something better stands before us, looking us in the eye, what do we say?

“But we’ve always done it that way.”

Always?

How long is always, anyways?

And what allows us to forget about this only constant?

What allows us to forget that even our “status quo” is evolving?

What would it take for us to believe that change is possible and it will be good?

That today is not yesterday and tomorrow is not today?

Fear is the Root of Your Problems

Have you considered the relationship between procrastination and fear lately?

These days, I’ve been giving “fear” a fair amount of thought. This post is the first that comes to mind from some of my recent writings.

Today I was introduced to Leo Babauta, who writes a great blog called Zen Habits. Click on Leo’s name above, you’ll see he does some other cool stuff too.

The title of this post comes directly from his post, Fear is the Root of Your Problems because I’m not sure it can be said any better.

I linked to Leo based on a conversation that started with the relationship between fear and procrastination. Though this is a connection I’ve made before.

The connection I hadn’t made before, and my larger takeaway from Leo’s post, is that fear isn’t something to be conquered, but to realize that it’s something within us.

In other words, it’s something for us to recognize, understand, and accept about ourselves.

The next time fear arises inside of you, what will you feel, think, do?

Instead of the need to go battle against your fear, what if you joined forces with your “enemy”?

Or what if you let your fear fuel you?

Instead of a need to conquer, how about you chose to coexist, even allow the fear to fuel you?

Where might this take you? Your work? Your relationships with others? And your relationship with yourself?

Leo’s got some terrific suggestions in his post that are worth a gander.

—–

This evening at dinner I was chatting with a friend about her friend who is going through a challenging time. Family member with cancer. Job down the tubes. No relationship in sight.

All complaining, all the time. No sunshine in sight. And my friend wasn’t exactly sure what she could do for her.

I wondered was causing her to feel and act this way? What was this friend of my friend most fearful of?

I shared with my friend my new learning about fear and my intention to write about it tonight.

She immediately mentioned the way Elizabeth Gilbert talks about fear as something you invite to come along on your journey, but don’t give voting rights to for any decision.

What a beautiful thought. Do you need to read that again?

My friend described her personal fears as this wounded part that needed extra care and attention.

I thought back to this friend of my friend who seems to be having a rough go at it.

It seemed like she was trying to convince my friend – and likely others – that she wasn’t going to make it.

But why?

Why does she prefer the status quo when the power is within her to change?

And if she’s having trouble, help is at her side. What keeps holding her back from moving beyond the pain and the fear?

No matter who we are or however well-adapted or well-equipped to deal with any and everything life throws at us, it seems to me that fear will never really leave us and will always be a part of us.

It’s like a person – one who is a mainstay in our lives. They may come and go, but they are always there. Maybe we like to interact with them, maybe not. But either way, we must. They are a part of our lives.

But how would you choose to interact with them?

And how do you choose to interact with your fear?

Do you try to conquer?

Do you just take away its voting rights?

Or maybe there’s another way?

What role does fear play in the story of your life?

Why choose fear when you can choose love?

No matter where you are or with whom you’re with.

How might a different way of interacting with fear influence your work? Your relationships with others? And your relationship with yourself?

You Are Welcome Here

During a recent talk I heard someone say:

“No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.”

Simple. Warm. Inviting. Inclusive. Open-minded. Accepting.

Sounds like the way I wish others could always treat me.

Sounds like the way I wish I could always treat others.

How would our lives change if we accepted this and made an effort to welcome all those we meet with the same warmth in our time with them – be it a split second, a lifetime, or some amount of time in between?

When You Aspire

Today I got to thinking about what it means to aspire.

I think of aspiration as something that supports you to get from A to B when the pathway isn’t so clear.

While aspiration may exist thanks to inspiration, it also may exist because you were encouraged and/or supported to reach, to grow, to be better than you are, perhaps even better than you had imagined before.

Aspiration encourages and empowers you to feel that possibility is within your grasp.

It may not show you the route, but it does show you that such a route exists.

That you can find it, if you so desire.

And that possibility can be your reality, if you so choose.

Voices

Many voices compete for our attention.

How do we choose which voices to listen to?

How hard and/or how carefully do we listen to these chosen voices?

Is there a difference between hearing voices and listening to what’s being said?

Is there a difference between listening to what’s being said and listening to what someone actually means?

WHO do we choose to listen to? WHAT is being said? WHAT do we hear? WHAT do they mean? WHAT does that mean for us?

Now what?

Authentic Sustainability

There is a lot to unpack from one of the quickest 3 hour workshops I’ve been to in recent memory.

And though I can’t break down all of my takeaways from this afternoon at Yale FES, I wanted to start with where we started and where I ended.

As usual, it was a question:

What does it mean to be authentic?

I worked at a hotel in Southwest China’s Yunnan Province for 2+ years. At The Linden Centre, there was always talk of “the Real China” and/or experiences that were authentic.

This was always hard for me. Because of this same question:

What does it mean to be authentic?

Well, today I may have advanced my thoughts on this just a little bit.

By considering another question:

What does it mean to be inauthentic?

Many of us have ideas of what it means to be authentic. Based on my experience in Yunnan it’s a taste or a feeling of something that seems to be quite real.

Perhaps it’s something we haven’t experienced before.

Because, when you have had something “authentic” before, it sure feels hard to have something equally authentic again.

And so I have been exposed to more people thinking of authenticity as something exotic or fantastic rather than something as real as what’s in front of them on a regular basis. How could everyday life be authentic?

In my former case – how is everyday life in Beijing or Shanghai any less authentic than everyday life in Yunnan?

But when you re-frame the question to explore what is inauthentic, it’s very hard to argue one place being more or less authentic than the other. Provided everyone is being themselves.

I don’t exactly see Beijing pretending to be Shanghai any more than it would pretend to be Yunnan.

So when we re-frame that question to explore what’s inauthentic, it brings something quite different to me to the question of what is authentic.

Perhaps these opposites provide balance to the conversation. If we are to define what something is, then we need to define what it’s not. And by defining both, it enables us to come to greater clarity on what something is.

Given that our conversation was about authentic sustainability and now that we’ve established that definitions are good, one definition of sustainability used today was that attributed to John Ehrenfeld:

“Sustainability is the possibility of human and other life flourishing on earth forever.”

Sounds a bit hippy-esque, but essential it boils down to how people and other life forms can be awesome and at their best all the time and for all of time.

Stated in another way, sustainability is a pathway to planetary, organizational, and human flourishing.

As the conversation warmed up about how we understand and perceive authentic sustainability, we discussed as a group about conversations between people we labeled either as “effective” or “stuck” conversations.

 

And as we listed takeaway soundbites from the conversations around effective and stuck conversations we had with our neighbors, as a group we started to see the patterns where effective conversations were often when both sides focused on the mutual benefits.

Whereas in stuck conversations, there were always feelings and background conversations in our own heads that we were not dealing with openly that seemed to halt progress – often on both sides.

What really started to come out for me from there on out is that it doesn’t matter if you’re talking about sustainability or something else. The type of thinking we’re talking about with authenticity comes down to whether or not we’re ready to get real with ourselves because this has a major influence on how we relate to and interact with others.

My thinking started to drift into thinking about my authentic self. My relationships with others. How things were working and how things were not? What mattered to me and what mattered to another in this moment or that? I tried to bring a balance to both sides, both arguments, both thoughts, feelings, and words, in order to bring greater clarity to a particular situation from days gone by that was never resolved.

And I considered how I could have chosen to act – or react – differently.

One thing I realized over the course of today is that I can be quite emotional about the people and things I care most about.

And when it comes to those people and about those things, I am probably the least vocal about expressing my emotions.

I’ve never really admitted this to myself before.

And when I think of what I actually want out of life. It’s not to not communicate what I’m thinking and feeling, especially when it matters most.

This is an important part of who I am. When something matters, it matters. Holding that in doesn’t appropriately enable me to communicate to the people I care about or to others about the things I care about. And that was lost during my time in the dark.

Fortunately I came to realize that the only way for this to change is for me to more regularly express. Which is what this 60-days of writing has been about. Practicing expression. Being vulnerable with myself by opening myself up to these conversations with myself and with others.

But enough about me for the moment, how about you?

What is authenticity for you? What does it mean to be inauthentic?

What is the authenticity that you experience and appreciate?

Is there anything about your authentic self that you’re keeping locked away?

It might not be something you – or others close to you – even realize. But if you take some time to look, to listen to yourself, and to others, you may find something unexpected that might make you feel just a bit more sustainable i.e. fully and completely and extra alive.

i.e. an even better version of your best self.

Didn’t think it was possible?

Well, you’ll never know if you don’t take the time to look and listen.

—–

Interested in more on Authentic Sustainability? Learn about Gabriel and Jason’s work here.

“Sustainability”

Over the past few months I’ve had a chance to talk to quite a number of people around New Haven – and beyond – about the topic of “sustainability.”

People sure love to buzz about it.

Sustainability this. Sustainability that.

Both through reading and conversation, it seems like there’s a lot of people out there who seem to feel that “sustainability” is somewhere between a load of BS and something that just can’t really be defined.

But is this any different from anything else that’s hard to define?

As this concept continues to penetrate our mainstream mind and thoughts, it’s only more important that we think – on our own and in groups – about how we define it today with an eye towards something, somewhere further into the future.

That’s why these recent conversations have been so excellent. Conversations with thoughtful people who are also struggling around what “sustainability” is has been great.

Because when one tackles something so large, something that you can come at from so many different angles, a range of perspectives shared between strangers who share a mutual interest in understanding and doing something with this enhanced understanding is invaluable.

It can be through the struggles and through the hard times, where the future is hard to see or know, that can result in the greatest momentum, of growth, and outcomes.

It would be hard for me to put together everything I’ve learned in these past few months right here, right now, and combine that with the amount of thinking I did about this while living in China’s biggest northern city and one of its smaller Southwestern villages over the past decade.

But my answer today, is a lot like answers look on Jeopardy: in question form.

Given the magnitude of the conversation around sustainability, it’s hard to find that an answer that’s one size fits all.

And perhaps that’s the point when we’re thinking about what it means or what it can mean.

So yes, of course, everyone has a different definition.

Which means the real question is: what can and does it mean for us?

And what can we do about it today as we think a bit about tomorrow?