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Ode To Berlin

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If Berlin were a woman, she would be undeniably sexy…and enigmatic. She’s the type of seductress who pairs pink, silk lingerie with combat boots. Smudged eyeliner and tousled hair betray evenings at the nightclub. Her scent (vanilla + leather) represents the masculine and feminine of her persona.

Berlin is creative, gritty and independent-minded. Similar to Brooklyn, there is an electric energy that makes a visitor feel alive and young. One week was barely enough time to scratch the surface. But, here are some favorites:

1.   Vabali.

When an old back injury flared up on Day 1 of my trip, I did what any intelligent traveler does—I headed straight to the spa. 

Saunas are an integral part of my wellness routine—and Germans have elevated sweating to an art form. Vabali is a slice of Indonesia in the center of the city. This sprawling spa complex beckons the weary traveler to BREATHE. With a terrific and affordable onsite restaurant, don’t be surprised if you lose hours here. Check your inhibitions at the door, as the facilities are co-ed and clothing-free.

2.    Chiro House.

Feeling a bit more limber, I was lucky enough to score an appointment with one of Berlin’s finest chiropractors, Dr. Joan Monserrat. Dr. Joan is not a regular practitioner, but a healer of the finest order. His gifted hands (and kind bedside manner) eased my aching back immediately. We talked effortlessly of the mind-body connection—including the importance of exercise, an anti-inflammatory diet and mindfulness to ease chronic back pain. 

3.    Holzmarkt.

Dr. Joan’s office is located in an urban village (on the River Spree) called Holzmarkt. This self-contained community—conceived by Berlin’s best nightclub owners—is a hodge-podge of recycled wood, old windows, and swinging hammocks. Grab lunch at Fame Restaurant and experience real diversity as you watch punk artists and businessmen dining side-by-side.

4.   The Food. The Glorious Food.

Speaking of food…

Berlin has no shortage of culinary treasures on every corner. German bread is the stuff of dreams—coarse and dense, it’s composed of whole grains like rye, spelt, millet and wheat. Their organic salads were similarly transporting--brimming with buttery lettuce, bulgar, tomatoes, beetroot, grapes, chia seeds and a tangy avocado dressing. The fruit (especially tiny, jewel-like strawberries) was bursting with summer sweetness. Chinese teahouses, vegan gelaterias and Vietnamese hole-in-the-walls all beckoned my palate.

5.    BeCycle.

After embracing the culinary delights, you’ll want to burn some calories. 

No better place than Gundula Cöllen’s boutique cycling-yoga-barre studio. Styled like a West Elm showroom, this body-positive space hosts community events aimed to elevate physical, emotional and spiritual health. Gundula’s warm, effusive personality beckons you inside. The adjoining café serves healthy fare and invites you to linger for a while.

6.    KaDeWe.

As a minimalist, I curate my closet carefully. Berlin’s most exclusive department store is every woman’s dream—resplendent with beautiful, tailored, and stylish European clothing. More foodie than fashionista? Head to their top-floor food hall, where the abundance of culinary treats will make you think you’ve died and gone to heaven.

7.    Berghain.

No visit to Berlin would be complete without crossing the hallowed threshold of Europe’s most exclusive and notorious nightclub. With one of the strictest door policies in the world, solo travelers allegedly have an easier time gaining entry. Worth the hype? 100%. Phone and camera-free, you can enjoy the thumping beats and positive vibes without distraction. Eleven hours later, I still hankered for more. 

8.   Public Transportation.

As NYC suffers under an infrastructure apocalypse, Berlin’s expansive train, tram and bus network is the perfect antidote. Affordable, clean and efficient, I rarely waited more than three minutes for a train. Totally crush-worthy.

9.   Monkey Bar.

One of Berlin’s hippest bars, the views over (you guessed it) the monkey cages at the Berlin zoo leave you slack-jawed in delight. A great place to see and be seen—I coincidentally stumbled upon the same international travelers I met on my walking tour a few days prior. The adjoining restaurant, NENI, serves decadent food with Persian, Russian, Arabic, Moroccan, Israeli, Turkish, Spanish, German and Austrian influence. 

10.  Public Parks.

On an afternoon amble surrounding Hackescher Market, I stumbled upon tiny Monbijou Park. Joining other Berliners, I sprawled out on the grass to gaze at the azure sky. As I contemplated my good fortune—I prayed this visit would not be the last time I saw Berlin.

**Round-trip airfare and 8-nights in Select Hotel Ostbahnof—a 4-star hotel in the heart of the city—cost $900.

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Lifelong Lessons From Living In Kyoto, Japan

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A woman never forgets the first time she falls in love.

It was 1994—long before Skype or Google Maps—when I boarded a plane headed to the other side of the world. Only 23, I was (to put it mildly) completely clueless, albeit ready for the adventure of a lifetime. Nothing could have prepared me for the heady rush of that yearlong affair.

While I’ve gotten many passport stamps since, Kyoto remains irreplaceable in my heart.

Kyoto was the Imperial Capital of Japan. Spared the atomic blitz of World War II, it retained the Old World beauty of a different era. Imagine Japanese temple complexes, geisha walking on cobblestone streets, and picnics among the cherry blossoms. Simply put, the city was—and still is—stunning. I could attempt to describe the beauty of Shinto architecture or Zen rock gardens, but why? These places aren't for reading about—they're for experiencing firsthand.

That foray into Kyoto proved to me that travel expands consciousness. As we forge friendships in different countries, we find not only our similarities but ways to learn from our differences. These are some of the most poignant universal lessons from the people I met in Kyoto that continue to shape my life back in the states.

1. Kindness + Hospitality Make Way for Miracles.

The Japanese are consummate cultural ambassadors. Take, for example, the older businessman who gifted me origami cranes during my morning commute one day. When he invited me to visit the kimono factory he owned, he unveiled a showroom of intricate wedding kimonos—some costing hundreds of thousands of dollars.

When he urged me to try one, I picked up a lavish number laced with gold thread and learned it was apparently a favorite of Princess Diana! It was a unique experience I'll remember forever and a reminder that miracles happen every day when you’re open to them.

2. Food Should Be Simple & Seasonal.

Largely macrobiotic, the Japanese diet is unprocessed, plant-based and seasonal. When in Kyoto, I ate everything—eggplant marinated in miso, chirashi sushi over rice, and nabeyaki udon—a hot soup filled with fish, egg, and vegetables. I drank everything, too! Unbeknownst to me, I was a budding sake and Kirin Ichiban connoisseur waiting to be born.

Japan also introduced me to the delights of probiotics long before they were trending in the Stats. Daily miso soup and pickled vegetables became a favorite. While there, my acne cleared, my mind became calm and focused, and I lost two dress sizes without trying—a true testament to the power of real, whole food packed with probiotics.

3. Love Comes from Hard Work & Discipline.

The Japanese are master craftsmen. While today’s American culture lauds instant success, in Japan they strive to be artisans of a different kind. "Shokunin" implies working not only with technical skills but with an attitude of social consciousness. The artist has a social obligation to work his or her best for the general welfare of the people.

This approach to life really stuck with me. As a writer, teacher, and lawyer, I understand that mastery is the result of daily discipline. The Japanese taught me that mastery isn’t built over weeks or years but over a lifetime of service.

4. Less Is More.

The Japanese embrace the notion that less is more. Living in a small studio apartment while I was in Kyoto taught me that things don’t make happiness, but experiences do. Admiring the local way of dressing—a "stylish utilitarian" vibe that values quality over quantity—inspired me to adopt a capsule wardrobe of my own. 

They were on to something, because now minimalism is taking over everywhere. Figures like Marie Kondo are famous for spreading the gospel of throwing everything out and keeping just what you need for the sake of your sanity. There are also practical reasons to live simply: It's cheaper to be a minimalist. And because Japan is regularly beset by earthquakes, it doesn't make sense to have a lot of valuable possessions lying around in your house.

As a result of my trip, I now live a decidedly minimalist lifestyle. When friends ask how I’ve managed to travel the world, I reply that I simply don’t spend money on things that bring me little return on the investment—clothes, gadgets, etc. Rather, I put money toward experiences that I know will make an indelible impact--like transformative trips abroad.

 

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Forgiveness Through Blessing: Author, Pierre Pradervand, On Letting Go of Old Hurts

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Several months ago on the NYC subway, a young woman alleged she was being assaulted by a group of young men. She begged for help, so I spoke up in her defense. As these men exited the train, they spit all over the both of us. No other riders said a word--they were glued to their phones. 

Profoundly sad, a friend suggested I read Pierre Pradervand's book--"The Gentle Art of Blessing: A Simple Practice That Will Transform You and Your World." 

The book was a revelation--and I immediately started blessing as part of my daily meditation practice. 

1. Please describe the art of blessing--and how it works?

Blessing is the sending of focused love energy to a person, a situation or an event, always reversing the material image and claiming the spiritual perfection behind the material appearance. For instance, if I see a depressed person, I bless them in their joy and serenity. If I see a drunkard, I bless him in his dominion and deep inner contentment. If I see a person raving mad, I bless him in his peace and serenity.

2. You mentioned that your blessings (including to those people who have caused harm) begin with the statement, "I love you." Why?

I have been blessing people for over 30 years. I started saying the "I love you" statement only in the past year because it makes me feel closer to those I bless. An old Aramaic version of the 2nd commandment (Jesus spoke Aramaic) states, "Love your neighbor WHO IS yourself." It totally annihilates any sense of separation when I start the blessing in that manner.

3. In my business, I coach women and men who have suffered profound heartbreak. Many feel angry, wronged and helpless.  Forgiveness, I believe, is an integral part of their healing. What's your advice on forgiving the unforgivable?  

Four years ago I published a book (in French) called, "Making Oneself the Gift of Forgiveness." Forgiveness is FIRST AND FOREMOST a gift one makes to oneself. And, the most helpful approach to forgiving has been for me to see that EVERY SINGLE PERSON--including the Trumps, Assads and Putins of the world, the racists and child rapists--is at every moment at their highest level of consciousness.

When you really see that--not in the mind, but understood in the heart--you can simply not harbour any more resentment.

It gives such deep peace. The great American mystic of the last century, Joel Goldsmith, said, "No one can enter my consciousness who needs forgiveness because I HAVE ALREADY FORGIVEN HIM 70 times 7."

There just is no unforgivable deed--unless one decides one is not going to forgive. In my summer workshops at 7,000 feet in the Swiss alps, I get people who are working on forgiveness to walk around 15 minutes with a very large stone in their arms on a steep uphill incline, thinking one single statement: "I am carrying the stone, the stone is not carrying me. The minute I wish to put it down, I CAN do so." 

It is extremely powerful. And it works!

4. You have said, "Trials are blessings in disguise, and hosts of angels follow in their path." How can we develop deeper insight into the blessing that extreme hardships confer? 

Such insights, I believe, only come through passing deep trials--and coming through victoriously. At one moment in my life, everything crashed in a matter of weeks: My superb marriage to an amazing woman (whom I am still with!) and my health. I had the greatest health challenge of my life with dire predictions of a specialist if I did not follow his advice (which I didn’t!). My energy crashed. My workshops and then my finances crashed. My spiritual path of 35 years blew to smithereens!

For three years I was in the valley of the shadow of death. Today, I give thanks because I needed a deep inner cleansing…and I got it! My marriage has never been so good. But when I was in my tunnel, I couldn’t even see a way out and didn’t think I WOULD ever come out of it!

5. Gun violence. Global warming. Mass genocide. Economic disparity. Racial Injustice. Gender inequality. Many people are overwhelmed and beleaguered in today's political climate. How is blessing a radical act for social change? 

The reply to this question is in my latest book, "365 Blessings to Heal Myself and the World: Really Living One's Spirituality in Everyday Life," which has blessings for almost every imaginable situation. The most important and urgent thing in the world today is raising of the level of consciousness of humankind. EVERYTHING depends on this. Blessing is one of many approaches to raising this level.

For more information on Pierre Predervand and his work:  www.gentleartofblessing.org

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Best-selling Author, Chris Yates, On Violence, Redemption & Empathy.

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Asked his idea of perfect happiness, David Bowie replied, "Reading." I couldn't agree more.

When best-selling novelist, Christopher Yates, invited me to breakfast at hipper-than-hip Atla in NYC to discuss his newest book, Grist Mill Road, I jumped at the chance. 

Grist Mill Road tells the story of 3 friends--torn apart by a violent act. A 14-year-old boy (Matthew) shoots his 13-year-old crush (Hannah) 49 times with a BB gun, leaving her for dead. Nearby, their 12-year old friend (Patrick) watches, but fails to intervene. The book effortlessly weaves between present and past--detailing the events that lead up to that fateful day and how their lives as adults remain connected.

Over mao feng tea and chia seed pudding (so creamy and decadent I wanted to lick the bowl), Chris and I talked love & relationships, higher consciousness and gender roles in modern society. 

1. You call Grist Mill Road a "love story." Many consider it a suspense thriller that ends tragically. Could you explain?

Grist Mill Road does end in tragedy (death), it’s true, but it also ends very strongly with love--the moment two people gave themselves to each other. For me, these are the two goalposts of life—love and death. One of them is immutable because, spoiler alert, we’re all going to die.

But my feeling at the end of Grist Mill Road (and this is just my own opinion, readers shouldn’t ever feel bound by the writer’s thoughts) is that there’s an expression of the idea that life, no matter when it ends, has been worth living if one has loved—properly loved. At the end of the novel, this is portrayed as romantic love, but it doesn’t have to be. It could be love for family, or love for a cause, a passion, a hobby, even. The quality of a life trumps its length.

2. You said that you originally based this book in the United Kingdom, but moved the setting to the USA. Why?

Three words: guns, guns and guns. I knew that this novel would begin with a BB gun and end with a real one. In the UK, we have seriously strict gun control laws that we tightened even further after a lone shooter killed numerous schoolchildren (Dunblane, 1996). In the United States, someone can snap and be the lawful owner of a lethal weapon thirty minutes later. This is very helpful for a novelist. Arguably, it is a less good thing for humanity.

3. I believe true love calls us to be better humans--for the sake of our relationships. How did each of your 3 main characters  evolve in consciousness because of love for others?

Patrick is a lost soul—at the age of 12 he stood by while a terrible crime took place and he feels guilty in adulthood. He finds solace in devotion to his wife, caring for her, cooking for her most nights. As he states it in the novel “food does not have to be only sustenance, food can be love.”

Hannah is a harder case—she loves her husband, but when he sinks into depression, she finds herself all at sea and, not knowing how to help him, she withdraws into her work as a crime reporter, a job that she loves. (Oh, the sinuous nature of love.)

Matthew is an interesting case. Without spoiling anything, he has a complicated view of human sexuality, something summed up by his frequent invocation of the phrase “labels are for soup cans”. His love is the most tragic of all—for someone who might have but can’t love him back. Yet he devotes himself to this person. It’s his own personal form of redemption. Whether the reader accepts such redemption is entirely up to them. Matthew did something truly terrible when he was a teenager. Is that something we can ever forgive?

4.  What traits in Hannah inspire such admiration (and bravery) from the men in her life?

There are many ways in which women are attractive to men, some of them more obvious than others. Hannah taps into one of the lesser known powers that a woman can have over a man—she relates to men as if she were one of them. And this is a superpower she can very much turn on and off because she’s not pseudo-masculine, quite the opposite, it’s just that she can play their games, joke their jokes and laugh their laughs. It’s not dissimilar to the allure to young men of a tomboy. What this says about the ludicrous nature of straight male posturing, I’ll leave alone for now. 

5. Healthy love (grounded in higher consciousness) calls us to examine our childhood. We break unhealthy cycles passed down generationally, while retaining those traits that are positive. Your main character, Matthew, is the anti-hero who commits a heinous crime in the beginning of the novel. He grew up with a co-dependent mother and an abusive father. How did his childhood impact his ability to love? How did he reinvent himself and grow for love's sake?

Wow, I could write a completely new novel about this topic. Matthew is abused as a child and becomes a carer for someone he loves as an adult. I think Matthew would tell you that this is coincidental—but Matthew is furiously independent and would refuse any analysis of his choices as an adult. As he says in the novel “I won’t ever let another human being label me. I love who I love, that’s all there is to it.” Is he right? This is one of the things I love about literature—we all get to play amateur psychologist.

6. Your main character, Patrick, loses his job and suffers a crisis of identity. He becomes the "homemaker," cooking elaborate dinners for his wife. How does occupation (or being a provider) influence a man's identity? Do men (and women)  benefit from an expanded conception of traditional gender roles? How can women positively influence men to step into their greatness, especially if they suffer after downsizing or job loss? How can women help men assume more domestic work, especially as if forces them to go against traditional gender norms?

So this is true of me—I am a homemaker who cooks elaborate dinners for his wife. She works full-time at a very demanding job. (OK, I also write a little.)

However, I wasn’t helped to this position by my wife—it’s just what I like to do and I don’t give a damn what anyone thinks about me in this regard. (I’ve been trolled about this—honestly, it made me laugh like a drain.)

This is certainly not to say that my wife hasn’t helped me. Quite the opposite—I wouldn’t have two novels under my belt were it not for my wife’s support. I don’t know, this is a really tough question—I think neither me nor my wife care one little bit about expected gender roles.

How do you convince a very traditional guy that non-traditional guy things might be worthwhile? I don’t know—you could find those non-traditional guy things attractive, alluring, or even sexy. Even traditional guys don’t live entirely in a testosterone vacuum. When it comes to cause and effect, women have to take responsibility for being part of the cause.

7. In today's world, it's important that we develop empathy for those who are suffering--including those who commit crime. Your book does an amazing job of expanding a reader's consciousness, as each character's childhood had profound influence on their behavior. Can you expound on this in relation to the characters? How can we expand our empathy for the complicated plight of many children who commit crime today?

I studied law for four years and qualified to be a barrister (those are the lawyers who wear those wigs in UK courtrooms), so hopefully I understand what a complicated area this is.

I believe in empathy for criminals, but I also believe incredibly strongly in empathy for victims and completely understand a desire for punishment.

Grist Mill Road begins with a terrible crime and the most common thing I hear from readers is that, at the beginning of the story, they can never imagine feeling sympathy for the person who commits this crime. And yet, the last third of the novel is devoted to explaining what led to this terrible, violent, seemingly senseless act of violence. How each individual reader responds to this is very much up to them—but I have been moved and grateful to learn that many readers have found their opinions changed by the last third of the book.

Criminal acts are rarely entirely black and white.

8. What are your thoughts (as a British expat) about dating and relationships in the United States?

Point number one: I know a lot of wonderful American men.

Point number two: I live in New York City and therefore see many, many dates-in-action when I’m out at restaurants. So I’m not sure why I don’t see more people like the wonderful American men I know on these dates. What I see are a lot of self-satisfied dude-like guys making absolutely no effort, sitting opposite tremendously attractive, tremendously strong women. These men are schlubby, effortless, charmless and seem somehow utterly entitled.

I know a number of whip-smart, hilarious, powerful American women who are single—I am constantly marveling at these women and wondering how they are still single. (I happen to know they don’t choose to be). I lived in London until I was in my mid-thirties and I swear if these women were in London they would be swarmed over by English men. Perhaps I should set up a trans-Atlantic dating agency.

Or, perhaps I’m just blinded by the fact that my wife is American, whip-smart, hilarious and powerful. After twenty years, I’m still besotted by her.

*. *. *  *

Over the next coming months, I'll be interviewing thought-leaders on higher consciousness, boundaries, gender roles, and relationships. As School of Love NYC grows, I hope you'll come along for the ride.

 

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10 Non-Negotiable Rules for No Contact (Part VII)

Deidre called me bawling. Three months had passed since her former fiancé, Mac, had sent her a text message ending their engagement. She still hadn’t heard from him. In our previous session together, I counseled Deidre to stop all contact with her ex. Deidre was in detox and starting to regain her power. But, she still strugggled.

“He popped up in my Facebook feed this morning. There’s a picture of him, raising a mug of beer and laughing with his friends,” Deidre wailed. “He is having the time of his life; meanwhile I’m picking up the pieces after he threw a bomb in my life and walked away.”

Who hasn’t experienced Deidre’s anger and despair after an inexplicable and heart-wrenching breakup? Social media (especially Facebook and Instagram) can pour salt on fresh wounds—intensifying the pain.

In my upcoming book, “Take Back the Power: The Art of Breakup,” I teach the importance of strong and non-negotiable boundaries. “Commando-Style” No-Contact Rules are the foundation of regaining your equilibrium:

1.   Stop trying to maintain a “friendship.”

You were lovers. Now, you’re not. Stop pretending to be friends, especially if you’re secretly hoping to re-establish a romantic relationship. Not only does this rarely work, it’s also completely disingenuous.

If you share children in common, be polite, but short and to-the-point in your communication.

2.   Drop your ex (and all his friends on social media).

I know, I know. This feels harsh. You like his friends (and hate to hurt their feelings).

But, it’s time for you to prioritize your own feelings. Your mental and emotional sanity come first. Re-injuring yourself—with a stream of pictures of your ex and his friends—will ruin your day unnecessarily. Although social media rarely paints an accurate picture of another person’s inner reality, grief makes it hard to stay rational.  

 For now, you don’t need to know anything about him. And, he doesn’t need to know anything about you.

 3.   Don’t do anything!

Do not call. Do not text. Do not drive by. Do not invent emergencies (e.g., “my dog is sick”) or fake holidays (“e.g., our 3.5 month anniversary”). Do not do anything. DO NOT—and I mean DO NOT—initiate contact.

 4.   Do not do anything.

Go re-read #3. Re-read it 10 times. Then, read it some more.

Yes, asking friends, “How’s he doing?” is contact. If you’re wondering whether you’re breaking the rules, you probably are. In the early stages of detox, call a good friend and ask her advice. She’ll tell you, “Don’t do it!”

5.    Circle the troops.

Speaking of good friends, you’d be wise to tell your inner circle. Let them know that you’re hurting. You may need to spend the night. Ask for a shoulder to cry on. They will fill you up with love. And, laughter. Your heart will ache a lot less. In the place of the hurt, you’ll feel grateful that God loves you so much as to bless you with a tribe of friends as good as these people.

6.    Exclude the frenemy.

Frenemies will act sad when they hear your bad news. But, as soon as you turn away, their fingers will shake-- from a desire to text the world. Spare yourself this pain. Keep these frenemies so far away from you that they are literally sitting in Antarctica. (Sorry, Antarctica, but they had to sit somewhere.)

7.   Do not ask to meet.

Let him reach out to you. In advance. Like a week in advance. Two weeks if you’re still mad. Because you’ve got a life! Busy people never accept last-minute invites.

 8.   Do not compete with other people.

At some point, you will hear that he’s been seeing someone new. Be cool. Relax. By that time, you’ll be seeing other people too. Hotter. Cooler. More spiritually-evolved people. (Win!) Or, by that time, you will have knocked 9 things off your “bucket” list, including learning to surf in Hawaii. (Win!) Or, you’ll have done one thing that was off-the-charts cool, like penning an album about heartbreak. (Win!)

 9.   Know your worth.

Have you ever pined for an item at the Dollar Store?

No, I didn’t think so.

People long for that which is precious and rare. Remember how you had to mow 4,322 lawns is buy your first MacBook? I bet you still consider that the best computer you ever owned.

Never lower your value or act as if you could be on a shelf at the Dollar Store.

Hold your head high. And, always know that you’re a rose in a sea of thorns.

10.   Find a creative act that you love.

Transform your pain into something beautiful. Paint. Sing. Write. Magic happens when pain and artistry converge. You transcend to the next level of consciousness because you’re doing something valuable and positive. (And, you’ll skirt around the typical vices like drinking to oblivion or falling in “love” a week later.)

Instead, vulnerability and sadness are your muse. Your heart breaks open. You feel everything. From death, life springs forth again.

P.S., If all else fails, play Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive” on repeat. Heed the words:

At first I was afraid, I was petrified

Kept thinking I could never live without you by my side

But then I spent so many nights thinking how you did me wrong

And I grew strong

And I learned how to get along

 

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