Happy 2013

Wishing you all a peaceful, interesting, healthy and inspiring New Year!

My blogging will be irregular, because life has become very busy – in a good way!

Have a wonderful 2013 and I’ll see you here soon.



Golf Balls and Beer

It’s almost December and as usual, despite promising myself every year that I’m not going to let it get to me, here I am again.

There is a story, that helps me create an anchor for the end of the year. It’s the story of the professor and the golf balls.

A professor stood before his philosophy class, placed a large jar on top of his desk and filled it to the brim with golf balls. When the students were asked if the jar was full, they of course, said “yes” and wondered what this was all about.

But it wasn’t full. The teacher then added pebbles to the jar which filled the cracks and asked again if the jar was full. “Yes”, most students replied, but a few were hesitant.

Of course, the jar wasn’t full yet, so the teacher added some sand, until nothing else would fit and everybody agreed, that now, it was full indeed.

However, he wasn’t done yet. He opened 2 cans of beer and poured them into the jar over the sand. The class laughed.

The professor then explained: “The golf balls represent the most important things in your life. Your passion, your family, your health and your friends. The pebbles stand for other things that matter, like the roof over your head, your job, your kids education etc.
The sand is the small stuff. The potluck dinner you’re invited to and don’t want to go, the dirty apartment or house that needs cleaning, the little worries that get in the way and everything else in between.”

The metaphor is obvious. The jar represents your life and if you fill it with sand first, there is no room for the golf balls (or the pebbles). In other words, make sure, your priorities are clear and  straight. Passions, love, family and health come first. There is always room for cleaning the house and dealing with the small stuff.

So what hat are the beers for?

The professor smiled and said, “Well I’m glad you asked. The beers show that no matter how full your life may seem, there’s always room for a couple of beers with a friend.”

We all have busy lives and most of us feel at times, that one more thing will cause the cup to overflow.

I’m writing this, because the other day I was freaking out. So much to do and so little time. New work and challenges, the frantic nature of self-employment with all its worries, no time to play or to blog . However, once I read the story, I had a beer with myself and put things back in perspective.

After the beer, I sat down and did, what I thought I didn’t have time for….writing this post.

Did I find my “inner” calm after that?

No, but I did pick up some fabric glue, now that I have my priorities straight.

Dopamine and Empathy

Yesterday night I discovered the answer on why I’m so driven to find questions and their answers on the internet; questions, that arise while looking for answers. And where did I find it? On the internet, of course.

We are all addicted to information and there is a reason. Taking in and processing  information was essential for survival such as scanning the landscape watching for predators or other dangers. And nature has made this an incentive by giving us a warm ‘fuzzy’ feeling through the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine. It’s  the same way nature rewards sexual behavior to ensure the survival of the species.

Scanning the horizon yesterday has been replaced with browsing the internet today and that bar that  B.F. Skinner‘s rats hit over and over again for the reward of food has been replaced by the “Enter” key that we press all day for our dopamine fix.

However, what do we do with all that information that we strive so hard to seek? Isn’t it all too much? And what else suffers as a result of this?

Nicholas Carr, who has written extensively about the effects of the internet on cognition, talks about the consequences of information overload in this 15-minute lecture. Hopping from article to article is a lot like multitasking, something we’re all familiar with. But multitasking doesn’t actually exist, it is rather the process of shifting from task to task, adjusting constantly to the new stimulus in front of you.  It’s not an efficient process, because it interrupts a more sophisticated exploration and leads to a lack of important processing skills required for creative  and systemic thinking.

And guess what else it affects and this was a surprise to me…..Empathy!

Research suggests that along with the decline of book reading, college “kids today are about 40 percent lower in empathy than their counterparts of 20 or 30 years ago” according to Kevin Dutton’s article “Psychopathy’s Double Edge” in the Chronicle of Higher Education. Isn’t that scary?

Here is why the 500+-year old art of reading a book is today more important than ever:

Reading a book carves brand-new neural pathways into the ancient cortical bedrock of our brains. It transforms the way we see the world—makes us, as Nicholas Carr puts it in his recent essay, “The Dreams of Readers,” “more alert to the inner lives of others.” We become vampires without being bitten—in other words, more empathic. Books make us see in a way that casual immersion in the Internet, and the quicksilver virtual world it offers, doesn’t.

- Kevin Dutton

Usually when reading a book we become immersed in the story as the protagonist and imagine life from the viewpoint of the hero/ine. How about reversing this? What about imagining your own life and the people around you through the eyes of a Jane Austen, or William Shakespeare. Isn’t that an interesting thought?

Trying to see the world through someone else’s eyes is not only an entertaining experiment but also applied empathy. Often I try to see life through the eyes of someone I don’t like that much. That usually helps me understand the motives of the other person’s actions and helps me to stay calm.

Empathy is important. And not only for the ones at the receiving end.

Credit for finding Kevin Dutton’s fascinating article and the video above go to Andrew Sullivan at the Daily Beast.


Image from the book “Time” by Andy Goldsworthy From an artist’s perspective: “There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and there is only one of you in all time. This expression is unique, and if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium; […] Read more »

Home Again

Usually, when I come back from a long trip, my house seems to me rather… improvised (read shabby) and I get anxious…..very anxious. This time was different. The improvised state of my home is the same as always, but my attitude has changed. While I usually see the imperfections, this time, I see the possibilities. It […] Read more »

Travel and Food

What do you eat when you’re on the road? Yesterday I cooked some food for our upcoming trip. In the past, I used to eat whatever it is that they serve on the airplane because I never planned in advance and  always ended up being hungry during the flight.  I would wait anxiously for the […] Read more »

Backpacking or Bourbon Packing

“Our battered suitcases were piled on the sidewalk again; we had longer ways to go. But no matter, the road is life.” – Jack Kerouac Did Jack Kerouac travel with a suitcase? Only one week left until I’ll pack my own bag to spend the summer in Germany. But we’re still here and in transition. […] Read more »

Earworms, Patterns and the Zeigarnik Effect

Do you sometimes have a song stuck in your head; a song insidiously intruding into your thoughts, one that you can’t get rid of?  In German that condition is called an earworm and according the Wikipedia they last longer (and are more irritating)  for women than men. Someone has to study that further. When I […] Read more »

Spring Break….

It’s spring break, Easter, Passover and we’ll be celebrating with family on the East Coast. Later in the car, we’ll be singing with Pete Seeger.  I’ll be stitching more petals (although I’m still debating if the light thread is right…) and sit patiently with stiff legs while the road stretches endlessly in front and behind […] Read more »