On Becoming Aware and Present

On Wednesdays, I share posts, fables, songs, poems, quotations, TEDx Talks, cartoons, and books that have inspired and motivated me on my writing journey. I hope these posts will give writers, artists, and other creatives a mid-week boost.

In 2008, I participated in a ten-part series presented by Oprah Winfrey and spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle. Oprah and Eckhart took millions of viewers on a chapter-by-chapter journey through A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose (Eckhart’s seminal work).

Their intention: To teach viewers how to focus and become more aware and present.

Since that time, I have reread A New Earth several times and also picked up Eckhart Tolle’s other book, The Power of Now. I highly recommend both books.

Whenever Oprah hosts Eckhart on Super Soul Sunday, I make a point of watching and taking notes. I was inspired and entertained by the following interview segment from the November 12, 2012 broadcast:

Oprah: How do you accept an unpleasant situation, if change is not possible?

Eckhart: You must accept a situation, even if change is not possible. The basis for effective enlightenment is to come in alignment with the present situation. When you accept the “isness” of life, greater intelligence arises. If you are angry and resist the unpleasant situation, you will remain stuck in it.

Oprah: How do you calm the voice in your head?

Eckhart: This question implies you know that your mind can’t stop. This is a good first step. Take the energy away from these thoughts, by asking yourself if you can feel the energy in your hands. Wait and you will feel it. Then move to your legs and other body parts. The inner body serves as a wonderful anchor for a sense of presence. This allows you to be distracted from your other thoughts.

Oprah: How does one clear the mind of bad memories?

Eckhart: Recognize that these memories are thoughts only in your head. They are not realities because they have already happened.

Oprah: How do you have fun?

Eckhart: I enjoy the present moment wherever I am and that’s fun for me.

Oprah: Are you happy?

Eckhart: I am in a state of peaceful aliveness.

Oprah: What do you believe in?

Eckhart: I believe in nothing in particular. LOL

Oprah: What are you grateful for?

Eckhart: I am grateful for always this moment…the now, no matter what form it takes.


Oprah and Tim Storey


Yesterday, Oprah sat under the oaks with spiritual teacher, life coach and author Tim Storey. Throughout the telecast, Oprah quoted from Tim’s book, Comebacks & Beyond: How to Turn Your Setbacks Into Comebacks.

For the first ten years of Tim’s life, there was joy and a definite rhythm to life in the Storey household, but all that changed when his father died. Tim watched as his siblings medicated themselves to deal with their loss. Even at an young age, Tim sensed that setbacks could be transformed.

At age seventeen, he received the calling to become a pastor and decided to devote his life to helping others find meaning in life. In 1992, Tim started a Bible Study at the home of actress Dyan Cannon. Seven people attended that first meeting and today the group known as “The Study” attracts more than 1000 attendees. In the past three decades, Tim has shared his inspiring message in seventy different countries.

When asked about a common denominator to setbacks, Tim pointed out that some people tend to live in the shame and guilt of their experiences. Frustrated by their inability to go back and “fix” the situation, they “nurse it, curse it, and rehearse it.” Instead, Tim urges everyone to accept the Now and take an inventory of what is working.

Another common thread is a sense of unworthiness: “I don’t think I deserve to experience this because of past setbacks.” Tim reminds us that God has forgiven our past mistakes and we need to renew the way we think. When a challenging situation arises, we should ask: “Why is it here? What is my lesson?” God often steers us into unknown corners (spaces and places we’ve never been) as part of his divine plan.

Tim also stresses the need to turn up the volume on our lives and get our “shouts” back. Disappointments can knock out the shouts and reduce our voices to whispers. To prevent that from happening, Tim advises shouting on purpose. He takes a moment each day where he inwardly shouts about what is going well in his life.

Quotable Quotes

Your dream has a voice.

A comeback is not a go-back.

Your life isn’t about a big break. It’s about one significant life transforming step at a time.

Play it down, pray it up, and look for the wisdom.

Darkness will surround, but it doesn’t have to get in.

If you’re trifling, the real YOU will say, “Get it together.”

There is a lesson in all our failures: We can fail forward.

Oprah and Pema Chödrön


Yesterday, Oprah welcomed prolific author and world-renowned Buddhist teacher Pema Chödrön to Super Soul Sunday.

Born Deirdre Blomfield-Brown in 1936, she followed a conventional path, attending a prestigious prep school and college before marrying and having children. Later, she divorced and married a second husband who, in turn, left her at age 35. Shocked and traumatized, it took her three years to grieve and then forge an extraordinary spiritual path from wife/mother to ordained Buddhist nun. Pema learned to embrace her authentic self at Gampo Abbey, a monastery on Cape Breton Island (Nova Scotia) where she is resident and teacher.

Throughout the telecast, Pema focused on what to do when one’s life falls apart. The knee jerk reaction is to run away. Instead, Pema recommends the practice of compassionate abiding with oneself: Breathe in the suffering (unwanted discontent) and be open to it. Be right there with the feeling, taking note of all thoughts. Then, breathe out and create a lot of space. She gently reminds us that nothing wrong has happened. Life is simply pointing us in a different direction.

Quotable Quotes…

If you don’t know the nature of fear, you can’t be fearless.

Fear is a natural reaction to moving closer to the truth.

The sun is always shining in the rain. It never went anywhere.

Let go of fear and ego to embrace your authentic self.

If you’re invested in security and certainty, then you are on the wrong planet.

We are one blink away from being fully awake.

Spirituality—Going beyond beliefs vs Religion—Holding onto beliefs

Fail. Fail again. Fail better


Oprah and Elizabeth Gilbert


Oprah welcomed author and spiritual trailblazer Elizabeth Gilbert to Super Soul Sunday.

The telecast focused on the lessons inherent in Eat, Pray, Love, the book that sparked a revolution and inspired a generation of women around the world to start their own journeys. It is not surprising that the book was translated into 46 different languages, sold over 15 million copies, and spent over 200 weeks on the best-seller list.

Interestingly enough, Elizabeth had not planned on starting a revolution. At a critical juncture in her own life, she realized that staying in her marriage was scarier than choosing to honor the call: What have I come here to do with my life?” Elizabeth’s call took her on a transformative journey—a hero’s journey— to Italy, India and Bali.

The hero’s journey starts with a call, a call that you can choose to pursue or ignore. If you decide to answer the call, the trials will begin. You can expect to feel hurt and challenged at every turn, but if you persist, each obstacle will prepare you for your battle.

In India, Elizabeth faced her demons while spending grueling hours in meditation. She finally realized she was the mother of all those orphaned parts—failure, fear, anger and shame—and that she was in the driver’s seat.

While touring and speaking to women around the world, Elizabeth is often asked: “How can I go on my own quest?” She struggled with the answer until she heard the following story about an Irish Catholic woman who grew up in a restrictive home during the 1950s and 1960s:

At age 28, the woman’s husband walked out, leaving her with five children, aged two months to ten years of age. Alone and poor, the woman made a promise to herself that someday she would see the world. She took out a coffee can and started depositing $1 each. She continued for twenty years, not touching that money. After all her children left home, she bought a ticket and sailed the world.

This story sparked a “Coffee Can Revolution” among Elizabeth’s readers and fans.

Quotable Quotes

Eat, Pray, Love provided women with a permission slip: Honor your own life and ask what serves you.

Perfectionism is a haute couture form of fear…fear in really good shoes.

Any inner voice that attacks you is not your highest self.

Good whispers will exalt you, and bad whispers will appall you.

You usually don’t choose change until the status quo is scarier than the transformation.

God is Grace…God is whatever lifts your face out of the dirt.

There’s always another level up. There’s always another ascension.


Oprah and Paulo Coelho


Yesterday, Oprah welcomed bestselling author Paulo Coelho to Super Soul Sunday. Paulo is celebrating the 25th anniversary of a true phenomenon: The Alchemist. Since publication, this magical allegory about an Andalusian shepherd boy named Santiago who travels from Spain to Egypt in search of treasure has broken all records. Over 65 million copies have been sold and it is the most translated book in history.

I was fascinated by Paulo’s early history and the near-death of The Alchemist.

Born into a middle- class family in Rio de Janeiro, he was expected to follow in his father’s footsteps and become an engineer. When Paulo rebelled, his parents bribed him and, when that failed, they committed him to a mental institution from which he escaped three times before being released at the age of 20. Paulo made it clear that his parents truly loved him but were not comfortable with the idea of a son following a creative path.

thealchemistOriginally, Paulo launched The Alchemist through a small Brazilian publishing house. Initial sales were dismal and the publisher decided not to reprint. Passionate and committed to its success, Paulo found a larger publishing house and from there the book took off. Both Oprah and Paulo stressed the book reached the critical masses because of famous (Bill Clinton, Madonna, Will Smith) and more importantly, anonymous readers.

Throughout the telecast, Paulo shared wonderful observations and insights.

We all have a personal legend. And the key behind that legend is enthusiasm. We need to ask ourselves what gives us enthusiasm, keeping in mind that we betray our personal legend whenever we do something without enthusiasm.

We become fluent in the language of the world by daring, and we learn this language by paying attention and making mistakes. Omens and signs are everywhere. We need to look at everything as if we are seeing it for the first time.

Paulo believes that God will ask: “Did you love enough?” Here, Paulo is not referring to romantic love but whether we are able to open our hearts to embrace every grain of sand.

Quotable Quotes

Remember that wherever your heart is, there you will find your treasure.

The heart is like a flower. It can be very brave or easily hurt.

Always listen to your heart, even when it scares you.

Before a dream is realized, the Soul of the World tests everything that was learned along the way. It does this not because it is evil, but so that we can, in addition to realizing our dreams, master the lessons we’ve learned as we’ve moved toward that dream. That’s the point at which most people give up. It’s the point at which, as we say in the language of the desert, one “dies of thirst just when the palm trees have appeared on the horizon.”

And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you get it.


Oprah and Russell Simmons


Yesterday, Oprah sat under the oaks with best-selling author and philanthropist Russell Simmons. Throughout the telecast, Oprah referred to the many other hats this Renaissance Man wears–spiritual teacher, business yogi, hip-hop pioneer, and enlightenment peddler. She also quoted from his recent book, Success Through Stillness.

I was impressed by Russell’s clear and simple approach to meditation: Give yourself 20 minutes and sit there, no matter what. Acknowledge all the thoughts and accept that your mind may behave like a crazy monkey in a cage. Eventually, the mind will settle and transcend these pesky thoughts.

A gentle reminder from Russell–You don’t get muscles with one push-up, so be patient and let your meditation practice evolve.

Quotable quotes…

Reboot the mind and see what God has given us.

Meditation can reintroduce you to that part of yourself that has been “missing” for so long.

God’s miracles are floating in front of us.

Neediness is the cause of suffering. i.e. Needing things to be different.

Needing nothing attracts everything.

We have to define success; we can’t let the world define it for us.

You should need for nothing, but if you do need something, let it be enlightenment.


Oprah and Shawn Achor


Yesterday, Oprah welcomed Shawn Achor, author of the international bestseller, The Happiness Advantage, and Before Happiness, to Super Soul Sunday. Throughout the telecast, Shawn shared concepts and strategies from his books and the Happy course he teaches at Harvard. With one out of every six students enrolled, the course is more popular than economics.

According to Shawn, we must define happiness before we can be happy. And therein lies a major obstacle. Most people mistakenly believe happiness will be experienced when goals are reached. Unfortunately, success is a moving target. Shawn urges us to get rid of this scientifically-broken model and redefine happiness in terms of joy. He admits that happiness is an easier choice for some people, but each of us can improve our baselines for happiness by rewiring our brains.

To promote happiness hygiene, Shawn recommends we try the following two-minute habits for 21 days:

When you wake up, come up with three different things for which you are grateful.

Think of one meaningful thing that happened in the last 24 hours and write every detail you can recall about it.

Send a thank-you email, tweet or FB message to one person you know.

Simple meditation–Watch your breath go in and out.

Quotable quotes…

Happiness is the joy we feel striving toward our potential.

Joy is inextricably linked to meaning.

The opposite of happiness is apathy.

Being successful doesn’t make you happier. Being happy makes you more successful.

Happiness is a choice and a practice.

It doesn’t matter if the glass is half-empty or half-full if there is a pitcher nearby to refill it.