Bright Spots: Insight from Martha

I’m all blissed out because I just returned from this year’s African STAR (Self-Transformation Adventure Retreat) at the Londolozi Game Reserve.  It’s impossible to describe the joy and enchantment of coaching incredible people at a place devoted to “Restoring Eden.”   

Occasionally, people tell me that they don’t want to go to Africa because it’s a place of such terrible human suffering and poverty.  This always makes me think of Chip and Dan Heath’s book, Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard.  In Switch, the Heaths describe how masters of change create miraculously positive results.  

One key is looking for what the authors call “bright spots” in every situation, no matter how difficult. In all the doom and gloom about how the natural world is being destroyed by human activity, Londolozi is a “bright spot” that shows how humans can restore nature even after we’ve destroyed it.  But Africa is full of bright spots.  For every terrible atrocity, there are hundreds of thousands of acts of kindness.  For every corrupt dictator, there are a million gentle, wise, kind Africans.  For every jerk who kills an elephant and puts it on YouTube, there are dozens of conservationists who love the animals and want them to survive.  

Now that I am back from Africa, I want to be even more mindful of bright spots than when I left.  Change experts like the Heaths assure me that this, not doom and gloom prognostications, will help me be part of the positive change I want to see in the world.

Right now, think of something about your life that is troubling you, something you want to change.  It might be a child who is not doing well, a business that is in the red, an underwater mortgage.  For the next five minutes, instead of worrying about this thing, find a bright spot in the situation.  If your child doesn’t have a job, or has landed in solitary once again, at least she’s off the street.  Seriously, think of all the bad things your loved ones might be doing that they have avoided and the positive things, however small, that they may have accomplished:  truly loving a pet, being loyal to their friends, getting your jokes.   

As you start to make the list, you’ll find the bright spots start to pop out more and your negative judgments fade.  I believe that in that very moment, you have begun “feeding” your attention to a situation you want instead of a situation you don’t want.  Attention is a powerful nutrient.  It amplifies and accelerates the situations on which it is focused.  Now think of a second problematic situation.  Find the bright spots there. Make this a practice whenever you feel yourself growing anxious or angry.  Try this for a month.  If you don’t like the results, go back to looking at the dark spots. 

Shortly after I decided to try this practice, I met a hockey player in an airport.  We got to talking and, for some reason, he told me, “When you’re trying to score a goal, never ever look at the goalie.  Look at the spaces around the goalie, no matter how small they might be.  Where your eyes go, the puck goes.”  I got on the plane and sat down beside a kayaker.  As we chatted, he told me, “When you’re in the rapids, never look at the rocks.  Look at the water around the rocks, no matter how small it may seem.  Where your eyes go, the boat goes.”  I remembered my first embarrassing riding lessons with Koelle Simpson, the master horse whisperer.  “Look in the direction you want to go,” she said. “Where your eyes go, the horse goes.” 

OKAY, I GET IT!

Your life follows your attention.  Wherever you look, you end up going.

That’s why I think that as you try the “bright spots” exercise, your life will start heading in happier more productive directions.  Your relationships will be more relaxed and less contentious as you stop criticizing your loved ones and begin enjoying their positive attributes.  Your customers will be drawn to the energy of a business based on optimism.   

The world really is full of dark spots.  Of course, we’re aware of them.  Of course, we want to change them.  But where our attention goes, the world eventually goes.  So our task is to keep the negatives in our peripheral vision while focusing our full attention on joy, kindness, love and peace.  This is the way to “Restore Eden” in our own hearts, minds and lives so that we become the agents of restoration for everything we hope to change.

The Language of Letting Go

(Of All Hope of Sounding Comprehensible)

Well, I’m back in the States again after another amazing trip to South Africa.  I had a wonderful time connecting with many of our fabulous SA coaches, helping run the wilderness STAR (Self-Transformation Adventure Retreat) and beta-testing a plan to help some brilliant educators transform a small African village.

sa flag lion cubs zebras drinking

It’s always a bit of a bummer to be an American overseas, because everyone else seems to have been brought up in a regular Babel of linguistic influences, and they all speak a little of this, a tad of that.  It’s bad enough in Europe, where the local lingos, whatever they are, at least have English cognates.  In South Africa, everyone but me seems to speak approximately 80 languages, none of them remotely similar to anything I’ve ever heard.

To remedy this situation, I am once again trying to Teach Myself Zulu.  I’m serious.  I ordered some Teach Yourself Zulu CDs from Amazon.com and everything.

teach self zulu

The first CD is sobering; not only is Zulu from a language family about which I know nothing (Bantu), it’s also a tonal language AND a click dialect.  The concept of tones is fine with me, since I’ve studied Chinese.  But the clicks are going to be a real challenge.  I’ve asked click-dialect speakers to help me pronounce Zulu words, and after a few repetitions they always look at me with despair in their eyes, like people trying to teach a chicken to knit.

Fortunately, my Teach Yourself CDs have a careful description of all the click variations in Zulu.  Some South African languages are so click-laden that native speakers sound as if they’re simultaneously talking and operating tiny keyboards with their tonsils.  Zulu, I’m glad to report, has only three basic clicks, each of which has four variations.  I couldn’t distinguish between the variations to get out of hot-tubbing with Dick Cheney.

cheney and queen

Fortunately, the three basic clicks are described in Teach Yourself Zulu with a cozy clarity that makes a lot of sense.  To wit:

The first click, says the instructor on my CD (who sounds like Queen Elizabeth with an Afrikaans accent) is “the sound many people make when annoyed.” I know the sound I make when annoyed: it’s a high, whimpering gasp, like a dog who desperately wants something it is not allowed to have.  “Hnnng, hnng, hnng, hnng.”  Like that.  Good.  One down, two to go.

The second click, says Queen Elizabeth, is “the sound a cork makes popping out of a bottle.” This is vaguely familiar to me, but I’m at a disadvantage because I grew up Mormon, and never heard a cork popping out of a bottle until I was past the language-development years.  So I’ll make the sound of a cap coming off a root beer bottle: “PFFFFfffff.”  I figure that will do.

The third Zulu click, according to Queen Elizabeth, is (I am not making this up) “the sound commonly made when urging a horse.”  I assume this means a horse that one is riding.  The sound I make to urge a horse I’m riding is as follows:  “Please don’t run please don’t run DON’T RUN!  STOP!  STAY!  SIT! HELP!

So this is how my Zulu practice dialogue would sound if you translated the meaning into English:

MARTHA’S ZULU PRACTICE DIALOGUE

“Good morning, Queen Elizabeth PLEASE DON’T RUN!  So nice to see you hnnng hnnng hnnng.”

“Good morning, Mr. Cheney PFFFfffff.  I would like to hnnng hnnng hnnng buy some edible grubs SIT! HELP! such as those I have seen DON’T RUN! on the PFFFfffff Discovery Channel hnnng hnnng hnnng.”

“Of course PFFFfffff, madame STOP!  HELP!  Would you hnnng hnnng hnnng like a large one PFFFfffff?”

“I’d prefer PLEASE DON’T RUN! two small ones hnnng hnnng hnnng PFFFffff.”

“An excellent PFFFfff choice, madame SIT! STAY!  The large ones sometimes pupate hnnng hnnng hnnng if not refrigerated HELP!  SIT! PFFFffff.”

And so on.

grubs

I just can’t wait to show my Zulu-speaking friends how much I’ve learned!  I’m sure they’ll be motivated by the amount of progress I’ve made, in the sense that teaching chickens to knit will suddenly seem easy by comparison teaching me to talk.

So now I must go practice my clicks.  A huge thank-you to all my dear friends around the world for their tolerance, generosity, and companionship.  The network of the Tribe wraps itself all the way around this delicate planet of ours, and I am so grateful.