Inside Iran

I travel a lot. Today I counted for the first time, I have visited in 33 countries. Yet today I was somewhere completely different: Tehran, Iran. It oddly reminded me of Castro’s Cuba in 2004. In both places, urban disorder is not tolerated, information does not necessarily fly freely, yet there is peace in town. Families fill the parks with picnics, couples sit about just enjoying the pleasure of a good conversation, valuing each other, a group of young people, 6 guys and 1 girl, practise kick boxing and the girl beats up the guy she’s playing against, yehh!, people do small competitive runs together of different ages and body types. I let my head scarf or my cleavage or my long skirt a bit out of order a few times, nobody seems to mind. A woman tells me I have a beautiful face and asks where I’m from and says I’m very welcome to her country and her eyes show she means it. I meet a group of young people who want to practise speaking English. They meet regularly. The topic of this week’s meeting is Happiness. Boys and girls explained what makes them happy. Two guys declared themselves happy. 2/10! I had never met anyone who said they were happy before. They had happy eyes and happy skins too, their words matched them. This week’s organiser had prepared a TED talk and questions for the group. Then one of the attendees, a girl, asked her own question: “does religion help or hinder happiness”? I touched points in Christianity and Bhudism, they were delighted to hear a foreigner’s point of view. On the streets, women who wore more traditional clothing did not seem oppressed by their outfits, like they sometime seem in the UK, they just wore them as anything else. And if anything it actually felt there was more respect towards women. No rap songs devaluing them. Young men wanting to marry and make a family. Like our parents generation might have been.

Maybe my story is naively idilic. But idilic is how it felt. The Iran I have seen is unrelated to the stories in the news.


New age family structures

In the last year and a half I have been offered babies three times. Seriously. This drives me up the wall. I think because I am 41 men men who fall for me think I must be desperate for babies and if they offer me babies I’m theirs forever. Big mistake Dude!

I am travelling Italy on my own this weekend. I have just climbed up from sea level to the height of the photo then down again to the closest town, straight into the water before and after, now a sweet meal, and another hike to the next town of Cinque Terre. All around me are couples and groups of people who wouldn’t go to the supermarket on their own. Well probably. And even if I do prefer having company to go to the supermarket , cos it’s soooo boring!!!, out here I had a world of fun walking at my choice of speed (fast:), avoiding all the shops, and not having to coordinate with anyone else’s loo stop.

I’ve always been this way. I’ve never been one not to search for group approval for the fun I fancy having. I’ve always followed my own fun recipe. I’ve learnt to enjoy my own company early on. I have had lonely times, but I’ve outgrown them and evolved a long time ago already!

I do like friends, don’t get me wrong, but I enjoy quality time with them, deep heart felt conversations, then off to another adventure on my own. What I don’t like is superficiality. And hanging out just so as not to be alone.

The other day I fell in love. Bang in love. All we might have had is two days a fortnight and that somehow suited me fine. A life where I do my thing, then meet for a deep heart-felt connection every so often, as long as it’s regular, then go do my thing some more.

Why do I have to give up my independence to fit traditional prescriptions of a life path? My life is awesome already! I enjoy my own company, I have rebuilt my life to have access to loving hugs when I want them, and be there for my own when they need me, I’m only going to give this up if I am so totally in love that I want him around me all the time! This hasn’t happened in years! It’s really unlikely that I’m gonna find someone who likes climbing mountains my style. Or for whom I’d like to climb my mountains differently. 

Why should I have to? I’m not in a hurry! Are you?

Warm pebble beaches, the power of now and the importance of self-massage

Yesterday I was at a beach with warm pebble from the sun like Brighton but gorgeous in every way except the pebbles.

Some people were lying on 12 euro chairs, some were reading a book, most were chatting. Great though books are, and I do love them, they do take your thoughts away to a place that only exists in your head, which is a shame when you’re in a place like this, that is probably more gorgeous than the ones in your book. Sometimes I find it a shame the way people search for mental stimulation rather than mental relaxation, myself often included…

 I lied there and felt a pebble right against the back of my head. I picked it up and it started, a full day of self-massage with warm pebbles: head, neck, shoulders and lower back, even a bit of sacrum. Nobody at the beach seemed to mind 🙂 Now my back is sooo happy and my headaches are nowhere to be found.

Self-massage is one of the most precious and powerful resources we have. Whether you have chronic pain or just a stiff neck every so often. No one knows our body like we do, no masseur can get to those naughts like we can and none will do it quite like we need it. My trick is to search for the point that hurts the most and declare war. Gently of course. And allow for anything that wants to click or readjust on its own to just do so, for example your foot may want to be in a different position now, don’t overfocus on the massage, let your foot go, give yourself any stretch your body asks for, anywhere else in the body, feel your whole body enjoy the relaxation you’re bringing to your point of stress. Experience your body as a fully connected organism.

In meditation, they tell you to focus on your breath as you empty your mind of thoughts, but they say you can focus on anything really. For me, self-massage is a form of meditation. You can’t think of anything else but what you’re feeling. And noticing what you’re feeling, not what you’re thinking, is a great way to let the now envelop you and to find your inner peace. My take on mindfulness for the day.

But you don’t need a warm pebble beach for self-massage, great resource though it is. On the lift to work I found a corner that is just perfect to reach my upper back. On the lift of the subway I found an amazing corner that reaches the sacro-iliac joint like nothing else. Be creative. Use your environment.

How to communicate with the opposite gender

I blame it on evolution that men and women seem to have different communication approaches. Outin the savanna hunting buffaloes I guess it was important to play as a coordinated agile and very quiet team, lest the prey hear! Women on the other hand had the whole house to themselves and the task to understand the emotions of the people therein. Words help to that.

By virtue of the mere chromosomes, some families are gender balanced, and others are mostly girls or mostly boys. And if that’s your case, you may well be screwed for life my friend. Thing is, if you grew up in a gender balanced family, chances you developed gender balanced communication skills, meaning you can get men and women almost just as well. If you haven’t had that luck however, please keep no judgment about how you think they should be like, you are probably wrong.

Women, if you want to be heard by men, here’s the deal:

– Men are not as orally verbose as we are. They go on actions and the meaning of actions more than on words. Listen to their silences. 

– Don’t expect them to get your silences. It’s not that they can not use words, they do use them when it matters. So they assume if whatever it is mattered, you would have spoken about it, verbose as you are and all.

– Speak once, state your aim clearly.

– Never ever repeat. Leave your words to settle and create roots on their own accord. They will but only if you do not repeat. If you repeat, men go into overwhelm mode and you’ve lost that battle altogether forever and ever. 

– If he annoys you, make a sarcastic joke of it and throw it in straight away! Once! Sharp! Don’t go on and on about it. Don’t let it pass.

– Never have serious conversations on what happened yesterday. Your point is to be made when things happen otherwise men interpret an acceptance and that is what they remember, no matter how many times you say otherwise later, cos they don’t remember words quite as loudly as actions.

– When you say you will do something, stick to it. Anything else is interpreted as weakness. I know we are brought up to be nurturing and therefore yielding is loving, but not for them, yielding is defeat and they don’t respect that very much. So be careful what you say. This tip works on children as well, only make menaces you can keep 🙂

– Ask direct questions once, say you’d like to know if he wants to tell you, do not ask again, walk away. He may not have words for your answer and needs to process it himself. Give him time. I know, speaking to men is an art form 🙂
Men, if you’re not getting your women, here’s a few tips:

– Women tend to be more verbose than men. So, if you’re not getting her, try listening. She is very probably trying to say it. Stop and really listen. She will feel understood. Do what she asks if you can. Then offer a hug.

– Don’t bother bringing flowers if you haven’t been listening. Flowers are good for happy times.

– When women get really upset: 

1. incoherent though it might seem to you, women stay silent! They take time to process the significance of what just happened. Unfortunately, men interpret silence as acceptance. Upst!

2. once the full blown situation has sunk in, women start trying to explain themselves in words, which is when you switch off, because “well, they had tacitly accepted it and now they’re going on nagging! Isn’t she incomprehensibly emotional?! And weak, why didn’t she say so yesterday?!” Dude, this attitude doesn’t help! She wasn’t being weak, you aren’t a buffalo she has to sneak upon!, she wanted to think before she acted. Out of appreciation for what you two have together. Now she has decided it did matter and she wants to act. She won’t bite. Just listen a little. I don’t mean sit there and sulk and pretend to listen. I mean try and understand things from her point of view.

3. a long later, women stop complaining. Lord and behold, don’t you take a deep breath! Little do you know that by this time she has given up on you a little more and is starting to cut her ties to you. May leave soon. So do try and listen while she’s speaking, especially to the stuff she is repeating. She will stop repeating after you really listen 😉

– When you listen, look deep into her eyes, to show you are really there, then answer in words. Use words. I know it’s hard but you’re a man, you can do this 😉

– Try to use words to express how you feel when you can. Women really love this, makes them feel appreciated and loved that you trust them that much. And you may feel relief that you are finally understood. The more you share, the more understood you are.

Hope this helps 🙂

Family structures and Gender communication biases

By virtue of the mere chromosomes, some families are gender balanced, and others are mostly girls or mostly boys. And if that’s your case, you may well be screwed for life my friend. Especially if at unawares. I explain with an example.

Mum grew up in a mostly girls family. Her Dad died when she was 14, her 12 year old brother went to study in the neighbourhood boarding school (visiting every day and playing lots of football, so he loved it :). So Mum grew up among women, who communicate like women: many words, people who listen and process and answer back more words, all explicit. Dad was brought up in a man’s house: four brothers! His Mum was short but remarkably strong, capable of smacking her abusive sizeable brother out of his drunken torpours in no time! But in the house reigned a man’s communication style, full of silences and sparsity, probably inherited from the need for silent coordination that comes with hunting large mammals.

Basically, that marriage was doomed before it started. Dad expected Mum to be in peace with her place and share his given values. Which would have been fine had she not mistook his communication with terrible things and turned to repeating herself over tears of frustration for years and years. To me, Dad was so clear. Yet she didn’t get a word. And vice-versa. I’ve seen this around a lot in so many other couples!

I think that if we grow up in a gender balanced family, where both genders are not just well represented but also have balanced power, we are more likely to develop balanced communication skills, not just of how to speak but also how to listen! And we are more likely to understand the other gender not as a box of surprises but as people who have very similar needs to our own and similar means to search for satisfaction. And that is a huge head start in all walks of life, having intuition in understanding closer to 100% of humans rather than just about 50%!

If you haven’t had that luck however, please be aware of this and put extra effort at studying how the opposite gender behaves. Read up, have other gender friends, and keep no judgment about how you think they should be like, you are probably wrong, just enjoy how they are actually like.

Now go and read my next post 🙂

Today I feel like singing

“I’m coming home, I’ve done my time, and now I gotta know what is and isn’t mine, I’m really still in prison, and my love she holds the key, a simple yellow ribbon is what I need to set me free, I wrote and told her please ‘tie a yellow ribbon round the old oak tree, it’s been three long years, do you still want me’ […] I can’t believe what I see, a hundred yellow ribbons round the old oak tree”, Frank Sinatra. Count down to go home. Hope do find 100 yellow ribbons, one for each friend who is happy to have me back. I’m all smiles already.

The different flavours of pervasive macho’ism

Macho’ism is expecting women to have a behaviour that corresponds to what society expects of them as followers of the “stronger” men.

People tend to think that Islamic societies are about the most macho’istic. Women having to cover their hair even if they do not want to, or even if they do, is quite macho’istic. And there are countless other examples that we see on the news every day.

But I would argue that macho’ism is present in all cultures, just expressed over different axes:

– in Scotland it’s ok for women to get drunk, as long as it’s not from full pint glasses, cos that’s for men!

– in Northern European countries, many women give up their maiden names when they marry. I explain. If Mary was called Mary Smith, where the Smith name came to her through an endless line of her forefathers, when she marries her name becomes Mary Goldsmith and her identity disappears to be overtaken by her man’s family line.

– if a woman in the UK gets a divorce, she gets half the house, half the money and full parental rights. You may call this feminism. I call it macho’ism. The law assumes we are poor little helpless girls and protects us beyond need and reason. We are equal, Law!!

– on a date, many cultures expect the man to pay. “Dude, I’m a working woman, I make more cash than you, I pay my own shit”! Many women accept this as right and take profit from it. They are macho’ists!

– a woman is expected not to interact much with restaurant staff in way too many places. “Dude, I know how to order my own meal, sorry you can’t handle that!”

– in Southern Europe, where I’m from, men will not ask a woman for help at a man’s job. Assembling furniture is a man’s job. A wonderful Lebanese friend of mine once asked his wife in front of a Spaniard her opinion on how to assemble that IKEA stuff. Macho’ism point goes to Spaniard here.

– a common mistake Western marriages do is, when babies are born, men are unaware that women are biologically programmed to mind only the baby and expect their men to mind the environment, keeping threats away and needing nothing at all. I have seen many marriages eventually die cos the poor little Western couple had no idea this would happen and did not know how to handle it! So when a baby is coming I make a point to tell this to future parents. My Lebanese friend told me “I know, my brother told me”! Uauh! Point for you Dude, for knowing how to care for women’s needs without putting them down.

– US songs are all about bitches and their presidential candidate says all the things you’ve heard. Brazilian politicians are also going on about “stay at home look pretty wives”. Disgusting men whose mothers didn’t teach them anything, maybe cos they too enjoyed all those free drinks at turn out to be so expensive to our place in society, selling us all out for nothing!

Before you throw rocks at other people’s cultures, first check your own. And all the ways you’re lying to yourself about the things you take for granted. There are no superior cultures. Just differences that weigh each other out. And if you think otherwise, you and your peers are very very silly and closing off to great learn potential that comes from observing others with an open mind.

A personal account of (im/e)migration

I’m an immigrant in the UK. Some might call it ex-pat cos I don’t struggle. The point is I’m away from home. And have been for 11 years. 

Emigration was not the plan. I came to study abroad for a while, have the big adventure. But the here and the now have so many innercia points holding you back. Especially when, when studies finish, you have a job here you like better and pays better than the one waiting back home.

But here I am a foreigner. Not by choice of others. Just my skin doesn’t resonate here. Everything is foreign to me: from the look of the houses, the choice of carpets, the love of alcohol, the flowery dresses, the breakfast, the flirt style, the sense of sensuality, the sense of humour, everything is not natural to me. And so all the time I must find an inner comfort despite all the things around me that, pretty tho they are, are not natural to me. It’s tiring.

When I go home, everything makes sense, nothing needs explaining. It’s like the exchange of my skin cells with the environment is a take and receive of the same chemistry stuff. I don’t think everything is pretty there, but even the less pretty I understand, a bit of lack of taste from the 80s explain that building just like my mother used to have puffed up hair. I know why the lady in the caffe looks like she has some old sadness in her eyes. Why the man makes loud jokes. Why that couple walks like they own the world from their house to a hundred metres each way. How the ocean has sounded that way from the beginning of times. And what weather to expect at the beach when it’s warm in town. And I get the jokes. And the poetry. And the heart moving songs. And the modesty. And I just rest.

I am finally going home on Wednesday. I’m here now in my favourite London caffe thinking that I just have to wait a little longer to feel immersed. Immersed in a mess that is all mine. Ugly here and there but mine. Filled with people who will be angry with me and love me immensely with the same profusion. And so many of them. People whom I have known my whole life. People who have been friends for generations. Made of the fabric that I get!

I deserve that already.

The process of creativity

… is slow 🙂

I have been working for the same company for 3 years. I often present at events. Yesterday for the first time I have managed to weave together all the points of my story to make a quick-ass presentation! Over 100 people were with me every step of the talk and the stand was swarming with questions in the end.

Getting to this nice way of weaving those ideas took me three years!!! When I decided to rewrite the talk, I spent one day just writing the abstract. Then I procrastinated. Loads. I read other people’s slides and progressed sloooowly. And felt very very lost. Then, the night before the presentation, I put it all together over a couple of hours. Slept on it. And the 30 minutes before the event I shuffled a few more slides around to finally get that one perfect sequence.

I think when we start early then procrastinate before completion, we leave space for our brains to fill in the gaps of what we do not know explicitly yet. Make a few more neural connections. And when it is finally ready, it all blurts out in now time.

When I was writing my thesis, which took 4 years, I had a similar experience. For one month I couldn’t approach the conclusion. Weaving together independent pieces of information that I worked on over all that time just seemed impossible. Yet intuitively I knew they were not independent, they were connected somehow, I just couldn’t verbalise it yet. Then one day, I was due at a Greek Easter lunch at the house of this amazing cook! And I didn’t go. Instead I jumped straight out of bed and spent 9 hours pouring out my full conclusion on pen and paper. It was amazin, seeing it all come together so elegantly!

I am hoping the same will happen on this blog. I have been wanting to write up my experience with self-healing in a congruent way, so that it might make sense to others the way it intuitively makes to me. I want to maybe turn it into a research project so that I can mathematically prove what I have learnt. So that this knowledge will not be lost with me, like the wheel, which got invented soooo many times.

Btw, what I say about creativity and procrastination is no news. A Ted Talk just the other day spoke of this. And also the movie Adaptation (2002) was on this topic. Oh the moments of profound doubt and pain creativity involves. Profounder still when you have no idea pain is part of creating 😀 Worth a watch

Accepting imperfection

When I was about 14 years old, I discovered nothing was black and white, not my parents, not school, not me. “Grey” was one of the hardest concepts I have ever had to learn. Nothing’s all good nor all bad. We are all all the time a shade of grey in search of improvement.

Milan Kundera in his unforgettable “Unbearable lightness of being” put it nicely. To deprive the memory of a person of his bad traits is to disrespect him. We are all white and black mixed and the unique manner each of us balances that imperfection is what makes our core. The way we embrace ourselves and try or fail to make the most of us is what makes us us.

A Ted Talk the other day said how boys are brought up to take risks whilst girls are brought up to be perfect. And the expectation of perfection makes us give up in front of difficult tasks where boys take difficult tasks as a challenge that entices them. Expectation of perfection is probably what makes us too stuck in intolerance and probably what made Thatcher and Merkel such fowel leaders.

Once in a sermon my favourite priest spoke of forgiveness. Forgiveness of ourselves and forgiveness of others. Being able to forgive ourselves is key to self-improvement. Being able to forgive others is key to love.

I have trouble forgiving others. I tend to take the hurt the first time people hurt me and just give up on them. Something deep inside me breaks and I struggle to rebuild anything after that. I tend to slowly but surely cut them out of my life. But the hurt is no better friend than the friend him/herself so I’m the one loosing in the end.

This is of course wrong. None of us are perfect and innevitably everyone will one day let us down. We must be willing to discuss it, to expose ourselves and our emotions, to reach out, to complain if need be, to give people a chance to do better by us, or not, accept them with their divergences and love their convergences anyway, have the humility to understand our ways are not the only good ways, and have the love to love other people’s greyness like we hope anyone out there will love ours.

And if our friends can’t be bothered to hear our point of view, so be it, at least we didn’t give up without a fight. Happiness is worth fighting for.

I’m trying to learn this now. Again.