Party of 4 » Letting Go http://partyof4blog.com one family's yearlong dare to live their dreams Tue, 27 Dec 2011 15:54:46 +0000 en hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.0.1 Wrapping up a Year of Living for Our Dreams /2011/12/wrapping-up-a-year-of-living-dreams.html /2011/12/wrapping-up-a-year-of-living-dreams.html#comments Tue, 27 Dec 2011 15:54:46 +0000 Michael /?p=930 Amelie on the Beach in Virgin Gorda, BVI

It’s been a year since we set out to live for our dreams. Our project has been to dare each other to do all those things we’ve always wanted to do but somehow couldn’t find the courage, the money, the time for. We gave each other and ourselves a year with the idea that we could probably do just about anything we set our minds to for a limited duration.

We started by plotting out a series of adventures, and pushed each other out the door to experience them. Wendy went to India. I started flying lessons. We made friends and made music. We clutterbusted, loved, meditated, traveled, played, and then the most amazing thing of all began to happen. We opened ourselves to new possibilities.

We found that by giving each other license to live more fully, starting in specific, well-defined ways, we set ourselves free in spirit as well as in body, opening ourselves to opportunities that we couldn’t have imagined in advance. No longer confined by our perceived limitations, we we began to feel a strong sense of abundance in our lives that wasn’t related to the size of our bank account. We began to live each day with a renewed sense of adventure, and increasingly to let go of plans to allow the unexpected to happen.

Our last great adventure of the year was to travel to the Caribbean as a family. We enjoyed bright sunshine and warm water for a December week completely disconnected from the Internet, with our computers left at home and our iPhones locked away. Without the distractions of work, school, household chores, and electronic media, we had the time and the space to reconnect with each other in beautiful surroundings, with lasting results. We’ll be back next year.

We’ll return to other adventures we began in 2011 as well. I’ll take another retreat, though likely not to meditate this time; next time I put my life on pause I want to finish a novel. Wendy will return to Asia, but this time I’ll come along. We’ll hit Singapore first, and then probably Bali. We’ll keep paring down the clutter in our lives, leaving only what’s important, which continues to be each other, our dreams, and the things that bring us and those around us joy. The space in our lives is there, and the opportunity, to live adventurously for the rest of our lives, thanks to our year of living for our dreams.

What will you do in 2012? Where will you go?

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Working on a Dream /2011/09/working-on-a-dream.html /2011/09/working-on-a-dream.html#comments Fri, 30 Sep 2011 16:45:31 +0000 Michael /2011/09/working-on-a-dream.html This is where I’m working this week. I and 1,999 other space geeks. Yes, I’m really getting paid to sit by a pool in Florida and talk about interstellar travel. Disneyworld is only a few minutes’ drive away, but the real imagineering is going on here at the Hilton Orlando, at the 100 Year Starship Symposium. This is definitely one of those “I can’t believe I’m getting paid to do this” moments.

When you set out to live for your dreams, sooner or later, you run up against one inescapable fact: unless you’re independently wealthy, most of your available time is taken up with earning money. And unless you love what you for for a living, how can you be said to be living for your dreams?

This month I chose work for my focus as Wendy and I continue our year of living boldly project.

The shaky state of the economy makes this especially scary, but I’ve determined to let go of work that doesn’t feed my soul. Instead I’m loading up on the work I do enjoy.

Freelancing as I do makes this process easier than being captive in a “real job,” but I think anyone can benefit from asking themselves the questions I’ve been living with this month:

-What do I want to be doing most of my waking hours?

-Does the work I do feed my soul as well as put food on the table?

-Can I replace income from work I don’t like with something else?

-Will what I’m doing lead to interesting/exciting/fulfilling work down the road?

-Does my work benefit others?

Which is why I’m riding on a starship right now instead of writing junk mail.

You can see my reports from the starship on my other blog at http://michaelbelfiore.com/category/blog and at http://popularmechanics.com.

Engage!

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Revisiting Our Dreams /2011/09/revisiting-our-dreams.html /2011/09/revisiting-our-dreams.html#comments Sat, 10 Sep 2011 10:58:52 +0000 Wendy /?p=889

“Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.” – Goethe

Many years ago I put these words on my college application, alongside a pencil drawing of an open hand that was not half bad. I chose my school, Vassar College, in no small part because I fell in love with an amazing tree that defied gravity to stretch a single solid limb across the lawn in front of the amazing, cathedral-like library. I spent a lot of time in that library.

Now the quote comes back to me with all the force of its exhortation. All year long, this Party of 4 project has incited my family to live with Goethe’s brand of boldness. It’s not easy to maintain that, but we’ve accomplished a lot. A trip to India. Flying lessons. Ten days of life-changing meditation. But round about midsummer we lost a bit of momentum, or at least, I did. My guitar teacher moved to Colorado. A nationwide franchise took over Michael’s flight school. Our finances were feeling the pinch of my India trip.

To get back the spark, I feel it’s time to revisit our original plan and make a few changes. The blogging diva Gwen Bell creates a “life list” of sorts every year, and then around midyear she revisits and revises it. I think this is wise, because we are not the same people we were in January, or even last week. We’re always changing, and this is a good thing. It’s a sign that life, energy, and the creative spirit are flourishing within us.

So I’m reevaluating. I’m letting go of a couple of the dreams that feel too much like type-A deadlines to me. Learning French, for one. This just might not be the year for that one, and I can let that balloon go. Instead of pressured goals, I’m opting for experiential dreams. I have discovered that I simply do not need one more item on my to-do list.

So my family has replaced French lessons for now with a plan to unplug together in a beautiful and inspiring place (I’m rooting for an obscure Caribbean island, or off-the-path Mexico). And above all these past couple of months, we’ve realized that feeding our creative spirits is as essential to us as food and sleep. Michael and I have both rededicated ourselves to creative writing–yet without those type-A demands and pressurized goals. It’s about creative play, and we’re taking cues from our 6-year-old, who is amazingly adept at this art. Now I’m writing poems again, Michael is back to penning his children’s book, and we’re both loving the process, the experience of creating itself, for its own sake.

Letting a dream go can feel just as bold and exciting as setting one into motion. Try it: Take a look at your life list. What can you edit out? What can you put in its place that really captures who you are right now, fully engaged in the intoxicating flux and flow that is life on Earth?

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What to Do the Day Before Armageddon /2011/08/what-to-do-the-day-before-armageddon.html /2011/08/what-to-do-the-day-before-armageddon.html#comments Wed, 31 Aug 2011 12:54:27 +0000 Michael /?p=856 Tree smashes car during stormSaturday very much had an end-of-the-world feeling to it. Hurricane Irene was cruising up the East Coast at a stately 14 miles per hour. It would hit us the next day. Filling stations were running out of gas. Supermarket shelves were emptying. Parts of New York City were being evacuated.

I decided to take Amelie to the county fair. Unfortunately the folks running the place were shutting it down. Hell, I thought, there’s a full day left before the end of the world, why end the fun prematurely? I squinted up at a glowering sky. It hadn’t even started raining yet. Amelie was howling with disappointment.

So I took her out for pancakes. See below as she demonstrates proper pancake-eating form. She had a stomachache afterward, but it was worth it. Just the sight of those pancakes and that pastry cheered her right up. This, I thought, this is how to spend the day before the end of the world.

We shopped for toys and books, and then we hit the movies with popcorn and ice cream and then took a turn on some coin op rides at the mall. Rain was spitting down on us as we left, but we were feeling no pain by then.

Amelie demonstrates the proper way to eat pancakes. Don't forget to drink your syrup.

The wind tore down some tree limbs in our yard during the night, but thankfully did no further damage. The power went out throughout our town around five in the morning. We got a flat tire driving through the debris-filled streets after daybreak.

Three days without power, running water, or a flushing toilet have tested our patience, but I keep thinking of those pancakes and Amelie’s delighted laugh as she hoisted that mug of maple syrup, the first-grader’s ale.

By this morning, power had been restored to the town, thanks to help from utility workers imported from Kansas (I felt like cheering when their trucks rolled in like the tanks of a liberating army). We still can’t flush the toilet at home or take a shower, but at least now we can work at our office. We’re back in business. I have a backlog of work to do, but I’m writing this post instead.

How would you spend the day before the end of the world?

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Pulling the Plug /2011/07/pulling-the-plug.html /2011/07/pulling-the-plug.html#comments Sun, 24 Jul 2011 13:12:31 +0000 Michael /2011/07/pulling-the-plug.html
Wendy and I have been talking a lot lately about pulling the plug on our various digital devices. We all of us in our family experience the frustration that comes with trying to connect with someone who is physically present, but has their attention on a smart phone, computer, or TV. Jacked in, they called it in the science fiction circles I used to run in. Then it referred to a plug hardwired into your brain that you would physically plug into “deck,” some type of computer.

Turns out you don’t actually need a cord dangling out of your head to turn off the outside world and do away with all those pesky human interactions like paying attention to your kids or playing with your sibling. Any old device with a screen will do just fine.

Last weekend we stayed near the beach in Rockport, MA, courtesy of homeexchange.com. We hunted for shells and beach glass, spent time with friends, and explored a new town. We still had our devices with us, but their hold on us was loosened. We connected more with each other, and we thought about possibilities.

Now we’re plotting our escape to somewhere with no cell phone coverage, no Internet access, and no TV. Somewhere inspiring, somewhere warm in winter, somewhere to get tune with each other. Then, when we get home, we’ll put the TV in storage and leave our smart phones and computers at the office for a while and see how that goes.

Have digital devices begun to take over your life? Do you have a place to go to unplug? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

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Rider By My Side: Living Large on the Road /2011/06/rider-by-my-side-living-large-on-the-road.html /2011/06/rider-by-my-side-living-large-on-the-road.html#comments Wed, 29 Jun 2011 01:17:33 +0000 Michael /?p=663 “Travel is all about surprises.  If you want things to be predictable, stay at home.” So begins a typical blog post by a traveling threesome living a dream life. This family—a husband and wife and their five-year-old— cut loose from their predictable digs in L.A., and went abroad for five months, stopping in Australia, Egypt, Thailand, South Africa, and many other destinations. Catch them at riderbymyside.com.

They’re back in the States now, but still on the road, touring the country for the nicest possible place to settle down.

They epitomize the free spirit our family is cultivating this year. I asked them what was hardest about cutting loose and how the journey has changed them. Said dad Bryan Kamenetz:

“I don’t really feel like we gave anything up in order to travel, much more that we have gained a tremendous amount. Everything that we don’t have as a result of our travels has turned out to be meaningless, or something we did not have anyway. We gave up an apartment—it was more like we gave up paying rent on an apartment, which was something that was easy to do. We gave up a lot of things we didn’t really need. The biggest challenge was just getting started, getting rid of all the stuff we didn’t need and finding someplace to keep the few suitcases with things we wanted to hold on to.”
Their travels brought them home, wherever they found themselves.
“My perspective has changed in how I feel about home—that it is not a physical place. It is where my family is.  It is where I am comfortable. It is where my friends are. I have felt completely at home in Bangkok and completely adrift in Bakersfield.”
For others looking for a way to live a dream, he offers these words of encouragement:
“It’s easier than you think. The hard part is what you’re doing right now.”
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Vipassana Meditation: The Art of Living /2011/05/vipassana-meditation-the-art-of-living.html /2011/05/vipassana-meditation-the-art-of-living.html#comments Tue, 31 May 2011 14:57:19 +0000 Michael /?p=622 May was my month for exploring matters of the spirit. For my focus I chose meditation. Specifically Vipassana meditation, a 2,500-year-old practice taught by Siddhartha Gautama, otherwise known as the Buddha. I was first drawn to this practice years ago when a good friend of mine came back from a 10-day meditation course a changed man. Calmer. More poised. Less reactive. I’ve been thinking about that transformation ever since, but never quite got up the nerve to try it myself. Until now.

Vipassana meditation is not religious, but it has a strong spiritual component, which makes it a good choice for me as a spiritual practice. I grew up without a religion, but I guess I’ve always had a seeking nature. This year, the year I turned 42, the answer to life, the universe, and everything, as defined by Douglas Adams, seems an auspicious year to find what I seek.

Vipassana means “insight.” Vipassana mediation is a technique for recognizing and turning away from lifelong habits, called sankharas, that result in unhappiness. Buddha is said to have achieved a complete understanding of not just himself, but of the true nature of the entire universe. I guess you could say that he saw God. That’s the goal of Vipassana meditation, the end of the path. I don’t have such lofty aspirations, but even in ten days, the benefits are extraordinary.

I gained a greater sense of calm and equanimity than ever before; a deeper mind/body connection that leads to a sense of well-being and happiness; a perspective on my life that helps me stop sweating the small stuff (i.e., just about everything); a greater sense of compassion for my fellow humans and other beings; a daily practice that helps me realize these benefits every day; and techniques for gliding through life’s inevitable rough spots in the moment, as they happen.

For ten days I and my fellow students arose at 4:00 each morning, sat down to meditate at 4:30, eventually racking up a total of 10 hours of meditation each day. We maintained Noble Silence at all times, not speaking or communicating with each other in any way. The lodgings at the Center were very comfortable, and the food was excellent, though we went to bed without supper each night to keep our minds sharp.

At one point I experienced a gentle cascade of vibrations over my entire body, as though I was immersed in a carbonated beverage. “What is the significance of the vibrations?” I asked the assistant teacher (who we were allowed to talk to). I expected him to answer something along the lines of, if not actual contact with God, at least a peek into His domain. “Nothing,” he said. “It doesn’t mean anything at all. It’s just a sensation. You are to observe all sensations without reacting to them.” Okay, so I was a little disappointed, but also relieved. Contact with God would be a serious challenge to my calm.

The course I attended was at the Vipassana Meditation Center, Dhamma Dhara, in Shelburne, MA. No payment or even donations are accepted from new students; everything—lodging, food, instruction—is free without strings attached.

Here are a few simple techniques that I learned during my ten days as a monk to help you stay calm, focused, and happier in your life:

-Periodically, throughout the day, make an effort to be aware of physical sensations you are experiencing. For instance, as you walk, try to become aware of your clothing rubbing against your body. Also do this for five minutes immediately on awakening in the morning, and before you drift off to sleep in the evening.

-Observe your breathing without deliberately changing it, particularly during moments of heightened emotion. Pay attention to how it changes as the emotion peaks and then subsides.

-Forgive everyone who has ever done something that you don’t like, whether deliberate or not.

-Relax your grip on the material things in your life and observe, without acting on it, your craving for new things.

-Recognize the impermanence and constantly changing nature of all things, including you, your loved ones, every object and life form around you, and all of your emotions and those of the people around you. Repeat to yourself, through good times and bad: anicca; “this will change.”

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Less Clutter, More Joy /2011/04/less-clutter-more-joy.html /2011/04/less-clutter-more-joy.html#comments Mon, 04 Apr 2011 19:26:50 +0000 Wendy /?p=527
Illustration by Annie Internicola for Less Clutter, More Joy in Chronogram

Less Clutter, More Joy for Chronogram magazine by Annie Internicola

This month marks my first as health and wellness editor for Chronogram, one of the Hudson Valley’s most popular magazines. I’ll write a feature story just about every month, and for April I’ve dug even deeper into decluttering as a path to a healthier, more balanced life.

As Michael has mentioned, letting go of the clutter in our lives has become very important in our year of living adventurously. I interviewed five experts on decluttering working in our locale. One of them, Sarah Stitham, does amazing work combining her training as a certified professional organizer with her talents as a life and wellness coach. Stitham says that the key to staying organized is to have a clear vision of what brings you joy, purpose, and vitality. Once you have that vision and are ready to bring it into being, decluttering is easy. You’ll know exactly what can stay in your life and what needs to go.

Here are three tips from Sarah that didn’t make it into my article.

1. Take mini vacations. Give yourself retreat time (even if it’s just a few hours) so you can really think about how you can live in sync with your true passions and values. Bring a notebook.

2. Schedule in time to really complete a task. Mealtime should include clean-up (bye-bye, sink full of dishes) and laundry should include folding and putting away items (sayonara, piles of clothes). You’ll see how living without loose ends does wonders to reduce your stress level.

3. Leave time in your schedule every day for spontaneity. Go on a bird walk with the kids, have coffee with a friend. Think of decluttering as a way of making room for a life of balance and joy.

Sarah lives in Olivebridge, NY, but she works with clients nationwide on Skype. Read more about her and others in my full article, “Less Clutter, More Joy,” in Chronogram.

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Tsunami survivors show what’s important /2011/03/tsunami-survivors-show-whats-important.html /2011/03/tsunami-survivors-show-whats-important.html#comments Fri, 25 Mar 2011 14:59:22 +0000 Michael /?p=489 Tsunami damage in Kamaishi, Japan

Destruction in Kamaishi, Japan. Photo: Department for International Development/Ed Hawkesworth

The BBC’s Roland Buerk filed an audio story this week in which he interviewed survivors in the tsunami-ravaged town of Kamaishi.

Listen to “Silence reigns in shattered Japanese town” on the BBC website.

The story made me sit up in bed at 2 a.m. when I heard it lying awake with the flu. A man and his wife pick through the ruins of their house. The man also had his company office in his house. All gone. He picks up a saucer, perfectly preserved, an artifact from a life irretrievably gone.

“What is this plate?” asks Buerk. It’s a saucer given to the couple by their daughter from her travels in London. But the cup that went with it is gone. “This plate,” marvels Buerk, “it’s perfect. There’s no chips. No crack. Nothing.”

Next the man shows Buerk a safe he has managed to salvage. “Are the documents in there?” asks Buerk.

“Many,” says the man.

“Where’s the key?”

“Key? Haven’t,” says the man, and laughs.

“You haven’t got the key, only the safe.”

“Yes.”

“And no key.”

Hai.”

“You seem very cheerful, surprisingly cheerful.”

“My family all safe. And company member all safe.”

These people, in these extremes, know what’s really important to them. Strip away everything: the house, the business, all, or almost all of your possessions, all that really matters is your family and the people you spend time with. This Japanese couple know that they are fortunate compared to their neighbors who lost friends and family in the disaster. They know that life for them will go on.

While nowhere near as extreme as that faced by the Japanese, it was a crisis that launched Wendy and me on our path to live more adventurously. We lost half of our income in the Great Recession. We didn’t know how long we’d be able to make our mortgage, how long it would be before we lost the house like hundreds of thousands of other families who couldn’t make their payments, when or if our income would recover. That coupled with the onset of serious illness was what caused us to reexamine our lives.

We discovered that home was not the physical structure we lived in. It was where our family was. As long as we were all together and could stay healthy, we had a life worth living. All the stuff we owned, what we did for a living, how many cars we had, none of that really mattered. All that mattered was that we were together. Now that we have recovered, in all senses of the word, we’re keeping our focus on what matters: each other, the people in our lives, and the experiences we have.

There’s real power in this. As the Japanese teach us, if you focus on what’s truly important in life, you can laugh in the face of disaster.

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Depressurizing Time /2011/03/depressurizing-time.html /2011/03/depressurizing-time.html#comments Mon, 14 Mar 2011 18:50:39 +0000 Michael /2011/03/depressurizing-time.html
Greetings from the Albany International Airport, where the Meditation Room beckons nerve-jangled travelers just beyond the security lines.

I found a few minutes there before a flight to breathe, contemplate life, and get off the treadmill long enough to take stock.

Our project to live large, to live dangerously, to enjoy life more, is in its third month. Each month we pick a theme–some area of our lives to give our positive attention or pursue a passion. This month I’m making friends, for instance with the woman on the plane next to me, heading back with some trepidation to her teaching gig in Japan.

But Wendy and I keep returning to our very first focus: decluttering. It turns out that none of our other plans is possible without it.

In a recent New York Times column called “The Happynomics of Life,” Roger Cohen quotes so-called happiness economics expert Andrew Oswald, from the University of Warwick, on one of the most important questions to ask in gauging someone’s relative happiness: “How pressurized do you feel your time is?”

Professional clutterbuster Brooks Palmer defines clutter as something in your life that no longer serves you. This can include anything that occupies your attention, not just physical objects.

Now that I’ve conquered the Shed of Doom, I find my attention increasingly focused on decluttering my time.

Productivity tips can be great, but they only get you so far if you’re just trying to do more efficiently things that don’t serve you. Kind of like trying to declutter physical objects by putting them in organizing bins–attractive trash cans, as Brooks calls them. Either way, the clutter is still in your life.

So now, as Wendy and I add more of the good things to the limited hours available to us each day, we’re finding it increasing hard to push forward, because our time is pressurized.

Biggest pressurizer of our time: the work we do to pay the bills. No surprises there; I suspect most employed people in our society face the same challenge. But we can do something about it. We are living in an age of abundant opportunity. The Internet makes it possible to work just about anywhere, any time. At the same time, paradoxical as it may seem, face-to-face interaction can command a premium. A judicious rebalancing of working at a distance and facetime may just relieve the pressure enough to keep our project moving along.

Often just setting the right intentions, and clearly enough, can put you on the right track. Case in point, my reason for traveling today: to earn as much on a two-day consulting gig as I normally would in a month of hard work at my desk. Now we’re getting somewhere!

How about you? How pressurized is your time? And how might you relieve some of the pressure?

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