Another Triumph Over Adversity
For the third time in the eighteen months I’ve been in Panama, Tuesday night I took an overnight express bus to arrive at the border exit at Paso Canoas at 5:45. The windows didn’t open until 7am. My first hassle began then as you get a cursory luggage search before presenting your passport. I was first in line, but then wanted to check something and came back to find I was now 6th. Getting off the bus I had met a young fellow traveler from Chile, José, and then a lovely young woman from Austria, Sonia. I introduced them to each other. Since they were 2nd and 3rd in the search line, they gestured to me to come get in at the head of the line. I said there was no need as they let in about 10 people at a time, so I would still be in the first batch. A dumb decision as it turned out.
The guy just in front of me had a hard-shelled little suitcase that had a combination lock and would not open as he kept trying for at least ten minutes. There was just one agent searching, so I was forced to wait. It finally popped open, and I was next in line, when a sudden surge of about thirty members of some tour group rushed in and the agent started to search them. I went to the man in charge sitting at a desk. I complained, but he spoke not a word of English. Finally, as it looked like at least another thirty minute delay, an English speaking and efficient agent came in, heard my plight–that I had been first in line and my two amigos already were at exit window. He glanced at my backpack without opening it and waved me on through. (I have no idea why Panama does this search, as they don’t take your name or give you a receipt or stamp your luggage, and the customs agents don’t refer to it once they tell you to go get it done. One could easily bypass the search and just pretend to have had it done, walking back up to the window.)
I then officially left Panama and walked two blocks to the Costa Rican border facility where I attempted to get my passport stamped to enter that country, and then turnaround and go through the exit process and then walk back and get approved to re-enter Panama for 180 days. My tourist visa would then be automatically extended for another 180 days.
Each time I’ve done this, either Panama or Costa Rica has changed some of the rules. This time, the Costa Rican agent demanded I produce proof that I was leaving Costa Rica. She said I had to walk a couple of blocks to buy a bus ticket going from any point in CR to any point in Panama. I chose a bus going from San Jose (I’ve never been) to David, Panama. I would bet some of that $21 I paid for the bus ticket ends up in the pocket of the customs agent.
I immediate went to the exit window, but they now have a new $5 tax that has to be paid before they let you out. A small bank office a few feet from windows was closed, set to open at 9am. It was just after 7am, and this meant I had to wait almost two hours for the bank office to open so I could pay the tax. A young Costa Rican told me the bus tour company he works for can do the tax processing and give me a valid receipt to show at the window, so I walked with him another couple of blocks, paid the $5 plus $3 service fee, then went back and passed through the exit process. Several Panamanians went out of their way to help this hapless Gringo with a very small Spanish vocabulary. One man even left his place in line to walk with me to get the bus ticket.
It was sticky hot and I could have easily started shouting at the agent, but I stifled my temper. The agent at the Panama exit window was a whole different story. She gave me no grief about doing it all in an hour, just glanced at the Copa airline ticket I had printed out (they give you a confirmation number and then two days to finalize and pay for ticket), and when I took out twenty-five $20 bills folded, she quickly gestured for me to put it away without any count.
But I was still steaming from the hard time given me with the brand new rules by Costa Rican agent. And as I walked over to bus area (as has always happened before, a bus was loading and I was invited on without buying ticket (this may be a little moonlighting operation by the driver who told me the price would be $16.90) I was making promises to myself that I would never ever return to Pasos Canoas. It is nice to do it all in less than 24 hours, but the ever-changing rules are ridiculous. I played over all the unpleasant things that happened, and then something pretty amazing happened, providing me with a valuable lesson–and the whole point of this post.
I decided to widen my focus, and see if there were any silver lining, good things I might be overlooking. In other words, I did a mental/emotional turnaround. Instead of continuing to replay all the yucky things that had happened, I started counting the good things.
1. Having arrived at 5:45am, I was on bus back to Panama City before 9:30am without having to stay overnight in Pasos Canoas.
2. The great agent who kept me from being stuck in the little search room as I was leaving Panama.
3. Several Latin Americans who went out of their way to help me deal with the Costa Rican border agents.
4. The fact I didn’t have to show an airline ticket back to the U.S. from Costa Rica, which would have probably turned me around in a terrible way, forcing me back to Panama City without having accomplished my visa requirement.
5. The friendly agent at the Panama entrance window who made it all lighthearted, friendly, and almost fun.
6. Meeting José and Sonia. I have a feeling they are attracted to each other enough to spend at least a very pleasant weekend together in Costa Rica.
7. I am out only another $29, for the CR bus ticket and the $8 tax and fee. This is less than it would have cost to stay overnight, as I had to do in January.
So, seated on the bus headed back, my whole mood shifted to a very upbeat and triumphant one. There was great scenery on the way Eastward through Chiriqui Province, and I got some good photos out the bus window. And when we stopped at the Los Toucanes restaurant in Santiago, a large buffet place. I got one serving of boiled potatoes and one of a sweet and sour beef dish–both spicy delicious. And, finally, my iPhone charge lasted almost until the end of the trip.
Looking back thirty hours later now, I view the whole thing as a mostly positive set of experiences. But I still am determined to find an alternate route next January when I do it all again
Confirming The Power of Words
For many years I (and many others) have been citing the immense power the words we hear and read have–with a tremendous effect on our consciousness. This is one of the reasons, even as a former broadcast journalist, I have suggested watching, listening, or reading the news every day can be harmful to our mental health. Primarily because, in order to build large audiences, news media tends to focus on negative, violent, tragic news. This can tilt one’s view of the world, and even create the attitude, “If the world is so rotten, why should I bother to make it a better place?”
There’s been an uproar in recent days after it was revealed that for one week in 2012, Facebook, without telling anyone, fed positive postings or negative postings only to about 700,000 of its one billion members. The cries of “Invasion of privacy!” have been shouted, but I think there’s some missing of the point here, perhaps due to some widespread paranoia about the influence and data gathering of the large online entities like FB, Google, and Amazon. Yes, they know more about us than they probably should, and this should be regulated to some degree. So far, however, the most evil use this data has been put to is to try to sell us the latest new weight loss fad, etc.
The response to the experiment was then given to researchers at Cornell University, who came to the following conclusion.
“Emotions expressed by others on Facebook influence our own emotions, constituting experimental evidence for massive-scale contagion via social networks.”
In other words, what our FB friends send out has an emotional impact which can lead to a widespread up or down mood. No kidding! As to not telling the people involved, I doubt it would have worked if everyone knew their news feeds and timelines were being tampered with. This is one case where I think the means justifies the means. Apologies have been issued, so it’s time to get a grip and get a life.
I have, over the past few years, unfriended several folks on FB who tended to rant, rave, whine, and pontificate about how terrible the world is. Life is challenging enough without having to put up with an avalanche of negative verbal energy. I sometimes worry about people who don’t have the sense of humor I do. Of course, we feel bad if a close friend is suffering, but we don’t need a play-by-play of every symptom for days on end, so that we have the same emotional reaction as if it were happening to us. I don’t think this is what empathy is supposed to be about.
While I agree there are too many adorable cat photos and videos on FB, no one ever got depressed watching a playful kitten. And don’t get me started in the opposite direction with all the reports of torturing of dogs, cats, and sometimes even people.
What does this have to do with my main topic on this blog, how to have a more prosperous, happier, meaningful and fulfilled life? A lot, as the words we surround ourselves with act as an army of support in our efforts to make life better for ourselves and others. For most people I know, life is basically good. Perhaps this has something to do with the choices I’ve made as to who to bring into my circle. I do this out in the world, and I am trying to do the same on social media. It makes life a lot easier.
Because of who I am and the books I’ve written and philosophy I’ve taught for over 40 years, I do tend to attract hopeful, optimistic, upbeat people into my sphere of influence. I feel blessed this is so. If Facebook’s transgression on our privacy rights helps make more people aware of the importance of this, then I’m all for it.
Getting Ready Is What Determines Success In Any Activity
The Merriam-Webster full definition of foreplay:
: erotic stimulation preceding sexual intercourse
: action or behavior that precedes an event
When I recorded my bestselling Nightingale-Conant cassette program, Moneylove, in 1987, I titled the first segment, Getting Ready For Wealth. I might just as well have called it Prosperity Foreplay. The same components that make for successful sexual foreplay: Intention, Attention, Playfulness, Imagination, Emotion, Commitment–are exactly the same components one needs in any major project or important/successful activity.
I would venture to say that if there were a study of a group of men and women to determine how good they were at sexual foreplay, the ones who didn’t do well in this very common human event would prove to not do well in a number of other areas in their lives. Whether you talk to a chef or a surgeon, you will get the same answer: a lot of determining how it all turns out depends on the prep. Prosperity Prep (which I may have originated right here) involves knowing what you want, deciding how you want to go about getting it, taking action to make it happen. Prosperity Foreplay is all about getting ready to do this.
One aspect of sexual foreplay should be added to this mix: excitement, stimulation, arousal. For your Prosperity Foreplay and Prosperity Prep to bring you all you desire, you need to be excited, stimulated, aroused (fully awake and fully turned on) during your foreplay. Look back on your past ventures and you will find that the most successful ones are those you were really excited about. Passion is the term used a lot in today’s world–finding your passion, living your passion. Well, what leads to successful manifestation and activation of your passion is thoughtful and committed foreplay.
I just received a great compliment today in which a woman said that the original Moneylove cassette album was the biggest factor in her success to date. She ordered the new version of that program in a digital mp3 file and is planning to become a coaching client. However, I beg to differ with her–that audio program is not what led to her success–her statement that she nearly wore out the cassettes listening to them over and over again was the essential comment in her email in terms of what made her successful. She is very good at Prosperity Foreplay, doing it over and over again, realizing that each time you listen to any motivational program that calls for action you are hearing it in a different way. We change so rapidly, that it is almost impossible to get the same exact result every time.
And like sexual foreplay, you can’t be doing it because someone else demands it, or some book or teacher or therapist tells you it has to be done. You must enjoy the process and make it your own. The more you put your energy into getting ready, and the more you enjoy it, the more ready you will be.
You’ve Had Clues As To Your Passion All Along
There’s a lot of advice being given out nowadays on finding your passion and your perfect path to fulfillment. This has led some people, not feeling passionate about what they are doing at this time in their lives, to discard a lot of good stuff in addition to whatever may be holding them back.
Whenever I do personal coaching for someone, I like to explore three questions:
1. What were your earliest strong aspirations in terms of a career?
For me, the answer is always writing. I probably got the first spark in the lighting of this fire within from my mother, Minnie Gillies. She was a voracious reader as I now am, and she was a frustrated writer. Mom had written a number of short stories before she was married and even sold one to a small magazine. She taught me to read at the age of three. She was no longer writing stories, but confined her efforts in that area to a daily diary.
2. When you were a child, what was the thing you were most praised for doing well.
For me, it was writing again. I did very well in English classes, rather poorly in gym and shop. I think I decided to be a writer at nine or ten, and by Junior High School, I had my own humor column in the school paper.
3. What is something missing in the activity that motivated you and other people appreciated?
For me, that was social skills and just generally interacting with others. Playing the class clown was about my only real interpersonal contact through high school. Writing is a lonely activity and I was definitely very shy and socially inept through most of my teens.
Now, here’s the important piece: I never discarded my sense of humor and writing skills. They served me well as I added speaking to others to my repertoire, first as a radio broadcaster/newsman, and then as a public speaker and workshop leader. But I kept reading and writing. I didn’t eliminate one thing to go on to the next, but incorporated what I was already good at into any new passion.
Of course, this is the basic premise of the old saying, “Don’t throw out the baby with the bath water.” Wikipedia defines this as: “something good is eliminated when trying to get rid of something bad, or in other words, rejecting the essential along with the inessential.“
When finding your passion and ideal path in life, you do have to let go of some inessential things. It is important to be sure you don’t reject the essential at the same time. Also, holding onto some of your earliest passions and successes will make it a lot easier to deal with the uncertainty and occasional disappointment when you bring new potential passions and successes into your life.
I Welcome And Enjoy Change In My Life
In over thirty years of teaching personal growth and prosperity, I have become convinced that one’s relationship and reaction to change is a major factor determining whether he or she has a happy and successful life.
We all have some anxiety and fear when change looms. When I was a newsman in radio, I remember vividly the horror with which I would greet covering any story in an unfamiliar area. For example, I was working at WRVA Radio in Richmond, Virginia and felt very comfortable covering city council meetings and the Governor’s press conferences–but the first time I was called on to cover a fire, I almost had a panic attack. I didn’t know any of the protocol or culture of firefighting, had no idea what to ask firemen. In other words, I was being thrust into unfamiliar territory, and was afraid of making a complete fool of myself by doing it all wrong. This is probably the same kind of fear that kept me from learning to dance as a teenager.
Since then, I have learned to live with and embrace and even look forward to change. I have often moved to a new location where I didn’t know anyone and enjoyed the adventure of getting to feel at home as fast as possible. This was especially true when I moved to Panama without speaking Spanish last year. Yes, I felt a bit anxious when I had to make my first trek to the border, cross over into Costa Rica, cross back and re-enter Panama. This is required of all expats, who have to Panama every six months to maintain their tourist Visa. There were some scary stories online about customs officials suddenly changing the rules, but I was calm and collected as I went through the process.
What’s my secret? It’s really simple. I have been saying the “welcome and enjoy change” affirmation for many years, and learned through the experience of just living life that change is the one thing you can depend on. I allowed that to really sink in, and was able to see change as a comfortable old friend.
A big question I ask myself from time to time, “Am I avoiding change so I can feel safely within my comfort zone.” We all do this, and to the degree which we allow it to run our lives, it can be a very destructive position. I would go so far as to say we need to create change if the universe isn’t delivering it fast enough. There are many and varied ways to accomplish this, which I’m sure you have heard before, but not so sure you have been willing to do.
We can learn something new. New research shows this fires up certain neurons in the brain useful in staying youthful. Learning a new language and then speaking it are particularly effective ways to make a major change in a life that may have settled into a comfortable rut. Leaving the San Francisco Bay area definitely was a way of waking myself up from a comfortable rut. In 1994, when I moved into a commune without knowing any of the other residents, it was a huge change for me. I also was moving from Southern to Northern California. I definitely felt some anxiety and discomfort at first, but these vanished pretty quickly as I got to quickly feel at home.
Adding a new person or group of people to your circle of friends can be a fantastic way to experience major change in your life. Change can revitalize you. When I used to counsel couples, one strategy I suggested seemed to always give the relationship a booster shot. I suggested, if like most people each person had a favorite side of the bed to sleep on, that they switch sides. Amazingly, it’s almost like you have a new partner. You get to relate to a new side of his or her body, and it can be filled with discovery. And when you are not quite as comfortable as you were, you tend to play closer attention to what’s going on around you.
It’s useful to explore which areas of your life may have sunk into a comfortable rut, which things you are avoiding changing because of fear, and which parts of your life you may be kidding yourself about. In other words, there probably are some situations and conditions of your life right now that you are lying to yourself and others about–telling everyone how much you love this or that part of your life, when you actually would like to replace it with something that scares you because it is unfamiliar.
It’s sometimes even scary to ask ourselves the question, “Is it time for a change in my life?”
Finding Your Passion is Not Enough
This post was triggered by my getting a bunch of emails from various motivational coaches and prosperity teachers (so-called) who said they could help me find my true passion in life. The underlying message in all of them was that once I discovered my passion, everything else would fall into place. Not true.
I found my true passion at a very young age, ten or eleven. It was writing. I loved putting words on paper, and learned to type at that early age so I could do so more easily (plus my handwriting has always been atrocious). Yes, I was fortunate to find my passion without any help from personal or prosperity coaches–though my Thomas Junior High School English teacher, Edward Karr, helped a lot when he put me on the staff and gave me a humor column in the Thomas Tribune.
After we discover our passion, we have to find the best ways to do it out in the world, do it so other people will appreciate it and maybe even pay us for doing it. The passion itself is like a fuse, and once lit, we then have to figure out what we want the firecracker to explode into. The passion is the energy that keeps us going, the glue that holds it all together until we figure out how we will manifest and express our passion.
My love for words and expressing them did not tell me how I would use them. Would I become a playwright (I have never figured out why that isn’t spelled “playwrite”)? Or a novelist, or a newspaper reporter or magazine writer or television writer? I just didn’t know, but decided to take radio and television writing classes after high school, and ended up as a disc jockey, writing gags for my show, and soon became a newsman, writing news and commentary. I had been leaning, before this, toward writing fiction, and even thought of going to one of the colleges known for their fiction programs. Then I ended up writing nonfiction books. But more recently, I have been a multifaceted writer. Turning out material for my monthly audios and this blog, writing comedy for a stand-up act, writing my first novel, a murder mystery, and working on several more nonfiction self-help books and a memoir. For me, my passion didn’t lift me up and set me down in a very specific place. That’s evidently the way I like it.
Finding your passion is great, but it isn’t the be all and end all of your journey to ultimate fulfillment.
Advantages to Thinking and Doing Nothing At All
Though I infrequently have used the term “Diddly Squat,” I can see where it could be a powerful phrase in tuning up one’s brain and consciousness. In today’s worldwide 24 hour-a-day information-gushing culture, a lot fewer people seem to have mastered the ability of emptying the mind of all thought once in a while. Fewer yet are skilled or willing to spend even a few hours in idle relaxation. I observed recently, as I was lying on a beach chair at Playa Blanca resort on the Pacific Coast here in Panama, that I was the only human being who seemed to be doing so. People were walking, checking out the water, chatting while standing around in small groups. At first I had the thought that it was like some horrible thing had happened (I flashed on the movie, Jaws), and they were reacting. But, no, this was just the norm for them.
When I was a kid and my parents and I would spend my father’s two week vacation (usually my mom and I would stay an extra two weeks with him coming down for weekends) on the Jersey Shore, the beach was mobbed with people stretched out on blankets and towels. Of course, no one had a phone or other device with them, perhaps a novel at most, and never great literature or a self-help book.
When I got to my first big city radio station and joined the AFTRA broadcast union, at KYW Newsradio in Philadelphia, we got five weeks vacation. This was unusually generous at the time, and in the workaholic, Type A culture of the U.S., it is rare even today. In Denmark, six weeks is the norm. In fact, the U.S. ranks near the bottom of industrialized nations in terms of vacation time enjoyed by workers. The average family vacation has now been whittled down to four or five days. The average worker now gets ten paid vacation days a year, but many are afraid to take their time off in a shrinking job market. Doing diddly squat nowadays can be scary.
There is, in some Latin countries, the Spanish tradition of siesta, a mid-day break of several hours. I was hoping this might be part of the culture of Panama when I first explored living here. Alas, that was abolished a generation ago when business interests decided they were losing too much money by shutting down in the middle of the day. One Panamanian told me how delightful it was when everyone went home for a large and festive family lunch, and then took a nap before returning to work in the late afternoon. Like so many things that are counterintuitive in today’s world, the siesta has ended in many places just when modern brain research has shown the huge benefits of taking a daily nap.
Of course, any individual can choose to buck the system, to have a contrarian view that it’s important to have non-busy, inactive times in one’s life. I’ve talked in the past about how, when I was teaching stress reduction to executives in the corporate world, I would have them take a day off in the middle of the week. Just a day to meditate, reflect, relax–and do absolutely, positively, unequivocally nothing. In other words, diddly squat! Almost without exception, someone taking on this exercise in letting go of busyness, would find they could be even more vital and productive and creative in the remaining four days. It’s an easy experiment to try on your own. You can even celebrate a Diddly Squat Day once a week.
What Are You Willing To Get Rid of Right Now?
If you’ve been keeping up with the culture, you probably know there is something called the “tiny house movement.” In fact, in yesterday’s NY Times, there was an article about a woman who lives in a little cabin in the woods that measures 84 square feet. She also keeps her possessions at a minimum, a little over 300 at last count. I think I have her beat in that area, as I arrived in Panama, February 1, 2013 with everything I owned cut down to fit into two suitcases, one backpack and a carry-on. Since then, I have added a printer to replace the one I left behind, a toaster, a blendor, and a scale. Having lived in an RV, on a small houseboat, and in an 8 x 6 foot prison cell, I am used to and quite comfortable with small spaces–and my modest one bedroom apartment here feels spacious.
But I don’t think it’s the amount of possessions and the size of the space one lives in that is really significant. Those are just physical symptoms of a new kind of mindset. I would venture to say that those people who have changed their lifestyle in this way are thinking differently, in a more focused way. In this world of information and sensation overload we all share, the ability to pick and choose becomes an empowering one. I’ll bet there isn’t a lot of multitasking going on in those tiny houses. The woman in the NY Times article was diagnosed with a serious heart condition, and therefore had a powerful motive for assessing her life and lifestyle, and deciding what was really important. We all don’t really need such a shock to the system or wake-up call to move in a different direction.
Each one of us can choose to think smaller and perhaps create more wide open spaces in our minds.
I Please Myself By My Consistency
I recently found in an old hardcover copy of Moneylove, a sheet of paper with this list of Ten Moneylove Laws of Success and Wealth. I imagine it was something I came up with for a workshop and that, in that workshop, I expanded and elaborated on each law. The interesting thing to me was that I still consider every one of these laws or declarations valid.
This also made me think of a ubiquitous quote:
“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”