Monday, September 18, 2017

Disarming anger

This month I was going to write about why I think that at least 80% of all politicians who are over 60 years old should resign. However, a few days ago I had an interesting little experience which I'd like to share and so the bashing of the politicians has to wait till next month.

I was waiting at the bus stop, sitting next to a tree and having a moment of peace. At some point a car approached and parked about 20 meters away from me. A guy in a bus driver uniform stepped out and while sipping at a can of coke he went over to another parked car and started talking to a colleague. While I was staring at them, daydreaming about something else, I saw that the first guy finished the coke and then, totally unexpected, he threw the empty can into the bush next to him. At once my daydream stopped.

I whistle, he turns round and smiles at me.
Do you think this is normal?”, I wonder, not hiding my indignation.
What?”
Throwing your rubbish into the bush!”
He seems surprised and smiles again.
I'm serious”, I say with a louder voice, “what if everybody did that?”
As if you never throw anything away”, he replies, a little louder still.
Yes, but into the bin and not just...”
He snaps.
Listen, I got up at 5.30 this morning and worked the last 7 hours. I don't care what you think and I don't give a fuck where I throw this can!”
We start to shout at each other, both angry that someone has destroyed our peaceful moment. After a minute of silly insults the battle ceases and we proceed to ignore each other. Shortly after I get up and head to the bus. With a shaking head I'm cursing the blatant ignorance I have just come across.

While the bus rolled onto the motorway I kept thinking about this idiot and how there are far too many people like him in this world. Anger and frustration took hold of me and I felt my whole body being poisoned with negative energy. And then I suddenly realized how pointless this confrontation had been. I was angry and sooner or later I would pass this anger on to someone else. Same with the other guy, probably he went home and let his agitation out on his wife or his kids. There was only one winner and that was anger itself.

Sitting by the window and watching the passing fields and mountains I started to think about a book I recently read, about non-violent communication. Like many other books it contains all sorts of wonderful advice for a better and healthier co-existence but all this advice is of course totally useless unless it is applied. So, what if I had used non-violent communication in this situation?Expressing my own feelings and needs AND listening to the other person with empathy. Could have been something like this:

Look, I understand that you are tired after a long day's work and that you don't want to be dealing with some random guy who tells you what to do with your rubbish.”
My voice is calm and the bus driver doesn't know how to react.
I'm sorry for getting on your nerves”, I continue. “But I would appreciate it if you could see my perspective too. I was sitting here peacefully, surrounded by a little bit of beautiful nature, and then you appear and throw your empty coke can into my little paradise. I'm sure you meant no harm but I'm also sure that you'd agree that nature is nicer without rubbish.”

Maybe he would have punched me right in the face. Or maybe he would have nodded in agreement and we both would have left the scene with a smile. Who knows... There's only one way to find out and that's by trying it out in the next situation of conflict.






Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Tobacco, reggaeton and other health hazards

I smoke. I know it's not the healthiest thing but I still do it. Call it addiction, stupidity or a fucked-up passion, all fine. But while I'm doing it I rather enjoy it than giving myself a hard time. Whatever you do, do it with love, right?

The other day I was in my local tobacco shop and had a conversation with the owner about those nasty photos of black lungs and rotten teeth that now cover every single tobacco product. Apparently the photos are meant to keep young people from starting to smoke and perhaps even encouraging some older smokers to quit.

Let's assume for a moment that photos could indeed change our behaviour. The big question would be this: Why only on cigarette packets?
The tobacco shop owner told me that his niece said to him that she had learned at school that smoking is very harmful and that she's worried because her parents smoke. An understandable concern. However, one week later he met his niece in town with a Big Mac in her hand. “They didn't tell you about McDonalds at school, did they?”

Okay, so let's put shocking photos on cigarette packets. But then there should be also photos of ill people on every burger from a fast food chain. Photos of fat diabetics on every bottle of coca cola, close-ups of destroyed livers on every alcoholic beverage, dead heads before 90% of all TV shows and images of crying souls on every album of reggaeton. And every DJ playing reggaeton should be shot for prophylactic reasons!

One day I'll quit again. And when I do, it will be because of deep self-love and a desire to live healthier. It won't be because I've seen some scary photo. Because if photos really changed our behaviour, there would be no war and terror in the world by now...



Friday, July 21, 2017

Adolf and Buddha

Parents – you gotta love them! Because without them, you wouldn't be here. But apart from this loving gratitude for ones creation, how comes I don't know a single person who has a sane and harmonious relationship with their parents? It always seems to be a struggle, often bordering on sheer madness and sometimes even going beyond that. Why can't it just be nice?

Recently a friend summed up two days with her mum and dad like this: “If Buddha had had my parents, he wouldn't have succeeded with enlightenment.” It's a funny reflection, and a very sad one. Being a dad myself, I really hope that my daughter will never have to say something like this about me. It doesn't always have to be super easy, the relationship between child and parent, but surely it's not meant to be as complicated and depressing as it often is. Not such an everlasting drama.

There's a great quote that I read somewhere: “If you think you're enlightened, go and spend a week with your parents.” Amen to that!

I wonder what would have happened if Buddha had not left his parents in the royal palace? Perhaps he would have become an angry ruler, letting his frustrations out on his people. A vicious tyrant instead of a peaceful saint. Who knows...

Sometimes you come to crossroads which determine your whole life. Like moving away from your parents, getting married or quitting a job. When he was 18 years old, Adolf Hitler applied to an art academy in Vienna. He was a passionate painter and dreamt of pursuing a career in the arts. His application was rejected. He stayed put and tried again one year later but again without success. The rest is history. But imagine he would have been accepted in the academy? Instead of a ruthless dictator he might have become a new Picasso. Who knows...

I deeply believe that no one is born evil. It's life that forms us and sometimes life is not very kind. Or at least it seems that way because life itself is neither kind nor unkind. It just is. And it's each one of us who chooses to learn and thrive, or to ignore the lessons and give up. For some it's harder, for some easier – but everyone chooses.

Everyone creates his or her own path. And everyone also chooses how to look at others. Do you just see what a person has become? Or do you also try to see why a person has become what he or she is?

With regards to parents: They also have had parents and they too have to cope with all the challenges of life, with all the ups and downs and with the big uncertainty that lies ahead. Sometimes it helps to remember this. Not that it justifies every madness but it helps to understand and through understanding you end up feeling more sorry than angry. Not perfect, I know, but pity is preferable to anger – because pity can lead to forgiving and love, while anger only makes everything worse.




Thursday, June 15, 2017

Creating hope

Chapter 8 of the new book I'm working on is entitled HOPE. I had just started writing it when a friend came to visit. He sat down on the chair in front of my computer while I took a rest from sitting and got comfortable on my bed. Straight away we began a conversation about the miserable state of the world. Corruption, pollution, ignorance – all the usual suspects.

At some point my friend sighed and stared at the computer screen.
“Hope?”, he wondered, as he read the headline of the page. “No, there ain't no hope.”

I looked at him and could see the indifference and emptiness in his eyes. Deep and dark despair that covered up even the brightest sunlight. Everyone who has felt similar before knows that this kind of hopelessness is not fun at all. A feeling that everything will get worse, that there's nothing good to come. A bit like giving up on the future.

Some days are just like that and probably it's best to simply accept them as they are. However, the dangerous thing is to feed the dark despair and thus staying in a downward spiral. The human being is quite good at this type of self-torture, diving head first into one's own misery. And while we're busy painting everything black we forget that we always have a choice...

Here's an example of my own life: Sometimes I also feel disillusioned with all the greed, poison and exploitation in the world. Then I suddenly remember that I need to buy some food and without giving it any further consideration I head to the big supermarket. And guess what? After twenty minutes in the shopping factory I feel even worse! It's as if my inner darkness had been looking for a match in the outside world.

There are other times when I choose a different experience. Instead of feeding the darkness, I take a deep breath and consciously refuse to play this destructive game. So instead of going to the big supermarket I head to a small organic shop. And when I come out of there, the world looks much brighter again. Always! I can't remember a single time that I've left a small organic shop feeling depressed. It just doesn't happen – for darkness can't survive in light.

Long story short: To feel hopeful you have to help creating what you are hoping for. You want more natural food? Buy it. You want fairness? Support those who are fair. You want less pollution? Don't produce so much. You want generosity? Share what you have. You want peace in the world? Become peaceful yourself.  




Sunday, May 21, 2017

Summer is coming

Complaining about social injustice and environmental destruction and wearing t-shirts from H&M, Zara or Primark – doesn't make much sense, does it? Hence a few years ago I started to gradually buy more organic and fairtrade clothes, because I was and still am one of those complaining about the widespread exploitation of people and nature.

Every time you buy something, you choose the world you want to live in.

In order to provide another ethical shopping option to others (and to satisfy my own entrepreneurial heart), I founded COTTON POET at the end of last year. It's a clothing label offering soulful t-shirts made from organic cotton and under fair conditions. And...well, not much more to say really, other than: Summer is coming – are you prepared?






Get yours @ www.cottonpoet.com - organic, fair & soulful!


Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Tick tock

We're running out of time. In one way quite literally, since we're all moving towards the end of our lives, every day a little bit closer. But in another way the growing sense of acceleration and the resulting stress is an illusion that we have created ourselves and that we keep fuelling with our modern 'civilised' lifestyle.

When did time begin to run out? I've asked this question a few friends and most assumed that it all started to go downhill during the industrial revolution. But an article I've recently read (in FLOW magazine #10) suggests that the all-too-familiar feeling of 'lack of time' began already 500 years before the first factories were built. Here's what happened: At some point in the middle ages, clocks started to appear in public places, especially on towers. Suddenly everyone always knew the exact time and everything was organized according to the new pulse of life: the ticking beat of the clock. Tick tock, tick tock.

Before the arrival of this controlling beat people used more organic measurements of time. “Let's meet in the morning after we've taken the cows to the field.” There was much more flexibility which meant that you had no reason to get stressed just because you might be ten minutes late. There was less pressure to be on time and so you had more freedom to enjoy beautiful moments (which tend to appear spontaneously, ie. unscheduled). The sun and the stars provided all the guidance – no clocks, just blowing wind and beating hearts. Almost like a timeless paradise.

I guess those romantic days are long gone. Nowadays it's important to know the time, and to be on time – it almost seems like a matter of survival. The generous rhythm of nature has been replaced by the tight rhythm of the clock. And wherever we are, whatever we do, we hear it ticking, the clock. Tick tock. Tick tock.


Perhaps with fewer clocks we'd have more time again.

Listening less to the constant ticking. 
Focusing more on simply being. 



Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Cheap, cheaper, dead

At least 75% of the times when I talk to someone about an ethical lifestyle the other person argues that it's simply too expensive to shop ethically. Honestly: I'm tired of this argument. Of course a t-shirt made with organic cotton and under fair conditions is more expensive than one that is made with toxic materials (polluting the earth, the workers and your own good self) and paying the workers just enough to buy petrol to set themselves on fire. It would be strange if the organic and fair shirt was cheaper, right?

Sometimes I get the feeling that people think it's easy for me to talk about ethical shopping decisions because, naturally, I'm rich. And you gotta be rich to buy organic broccoli, how else would it be possible? But guess what: I'm not rich.

There are a few people who can use the money argument, like a single Mum with three kids on benefits, struggling every day to get by. For a person like this I feel sorry that society has evolved into a system that produces these dire situations. Everyone else: Are you seriously trying to tell me that you don't have money to buy organic food (healthy for the planet, the farmer and the one eating it) but you have enough money to get drunk every week? What kind of priority is that? And before anyone is calling me a smartarse again, no, I'm not perfect.  Every time I end up choosing something non-organic I also ask myself that question of priorities. And the more I ask, the more often I choose the wiser option.

Here's another example: My ethical bank just obliged me to open a business account because there is a tiny bit of business movement on my private account. Stupid regulations and inflexible minds, but c'est la vie. For a moment I was considering to change back to my old bank, I'd save over 50 Euros per year. But my old bank invests money in arms companies and other dubious business models. Didn't I say I was against war? What would I say to a guy who lost his legs from a German-made bomb, financed by me? “Sorry mate, I preferred to spend the extra € 4,50 per month on big bags of crisps to get fat.” Like that?

The real problem is that ethical products aren't too expensive but all the toxic shit is far too cheap! We start thinking it's normal that everything costs so little; we are misled by shiny advertisements telling us that we're still buying quality stuff when really more money is spend on the ad campaign than on the actual product. But hey, if everything is getting cheaper all the time it means I can have more of everything, and more, and more, all for me! Paradise? Em...no, not quite.

If all products and services carried a price tag with the true cost, taking into consideration polluted rivers, disappearing soil, bombed cities and starving families, what you'd have to pay for food and clothes and bank accounts would be very different. Really it's quite simple: For most of the stuff we spend our money on, the less we pay, the more damage we do. But here's the twist: In a hyper-connected world, sooner or later we'll get the bill... Cheap, cheaper, dead!





Tuesday, February 7, 2017

A beautiful tomorrow

My 14-year old daughter asked me the other day about my opinion regarding Trump. I gave her the analogy of a huge spot on the nose: It makes you a bit more ugly, and if you're trying to fight it by squeezing it, there's a small but real chance of getting blood poisoning and dying. But the spot is not the main problem. The whole body is sick – the spot is only a sign telling you that something ain't right.

This is the world today: a disturbing increase of right-wing politics, more and higher walls on the land and in the mind, ever greater gaps between rich and poor, more division, more hatred, more fear. Yet none of these are the causes for the drama we're in, they're all symptoms. Symptoms of a sick society.

These days it's very easy to paint a grim and apocalyptic picture of our future. Even without taking into account all the environmental issues, there are plenty more dark colours available. Here's my favourite one at the moment: Due to automation and digitalisation half of all jobs will disappear in the next 20 years. Just imagine our current situation with unemployment rates of 40-50%! Unfortunately this is neither science fiction nor overly pessimistic thinking, it's exactly the reality which we're heading towards. Take a moment and really think about what this means... The problems we're facing today might be just the warm up for a dreadful nightmare that is unfolding right in front of our eyes.

To avoid this rather painful and depressive scenario, ie to avoid getting more and more ugly spots, three things need to happen:

1) We need to identify the real causes for our sick society. I don't have all the answers but I'd say that greed, excessive pride and lack of empathy are some of the things that got us into this mess. In other words: We are a bunch of very selfish beings who love competing and consuming and we've forgotten to care – for each other and for the planet we live on. So instead of looking for the great evil scapegoat OUT THERE, each one of us must look IN HERE and remedy the dark forces that lie within. You, me, everyone! Because world peace starts with a peaceful home.

2) We need to become visionaries and paint bright and colourful pictures of the future we want to live in. This is really important because it's so easy to imagine that everything will end in a horrible way – and because it's so easy, it's so often done. Yes, it's quite possible that it will get very nasty on our little rock, but it's not the only option. There is so much human potential to do good, we just have to make it visible. Hence we need to create visions of a beautiful tomorrow.

3) We need to start today. Because...


T-shirt available @ www.cottonpoet.com – organic, fair & soulful!


Monday, January 16, 2017

Labels are for clothes

Humans love to divide. We tend to think in terms of black or white, rather than enjoying the whole range of available colours. I assume it has to do with fear – in a totally insecure universe we are looking for something to hold on to, something that gives us stability. So we put labels on everything and identify ourselves with these labels in the most ridiculous and rigid ways.

“I'm not a Vegan so I will order the steak”; “I'm a Christian, therefore Muslims are wrong”; “I'm European and so I prefer to help a European arsehole instead of a nice person from Africa”. Sadly, these are all real life examples.

Given that we all live on the same ball of rock though, spinning through space, it's probably not the best idea to divide everything into little groups and spend our precious time fighting over who is right and who is wrong. Competition won't save us – cooperation will. And cooperation starts with dropping all these rigid labels that keep us separated and trapped. Remember, limitation is a creation of the mind!

You don't have to become...

  • a Buddhist to be inspired by Buddhism
  • a Vegan to enjoy and benefit from vegan food
  • a Communist to support communistic ideas
  • an Eco-freak to start eating organic food
  • a Social worker to help others
  • a Nationalist to shop locally
  • an Environmentalist to clean up the Earth
  • a Feminist to speak up for women's rights
  • a Writer to tell good stories
  • a Farmer to grow food
  • a Utopian to hope for a brighter future
  • a Hippie to spread love
  • a Saint to lead by good example

Just do your best and try to make the world a better place, each day a little bit.

When you're not attached to any beliefs or to a character that you've created for yourself, you can face everything without fear.” (José Martin)