The day that I became a Millionaire

“To get the price in Euros, take the local price and remove the last three zeros and then multiply the remaining number by 1.5”, it was my first day in Dakar and my boss was sharing some Dakar life tips with me. Like most people who first arrive in Senegal it was initially sluggish work converting the local currency of CFA French francs to a more familiar currency like Euros or Dollars. His mathematical trick was very useful and relatively accurate too. I considered the room rentals I had seen for 100,000 Francs and realized it was equivalent to about 150 Euros. I practiced too with our current taxi fare: I took 4,000 Francs and arrived at 6 Euros. With some more practice during the next few days I was quickly seeing through the numerous zeros to values more readily understandable to me.

With the passing months in Senegal I enjoyed new meetings with expats and locals some of which developed into great friendships. We lived in the same neighbourhoods close to each other and would often meet for surfing or drinks at the local beach. Dakar being more like an overgrown village than a city you can easily bump into people you know without ever using your phone to message or call them. While observing and enjoying our colourful, African surroundings one Sunday afternoon a friend and I began musing on wealth. It clearly isn’t just about financial comfort. What good is money flow in an environment devoid of the pleasures of life, namely friendships, peace, sunshine and free-time ? What does wealth mean to me ?

We both agreed that living in Senegal we felt very wealthy in regards to human relationships, for friendships and for the sense of community. In Dakar you can easily be with people and engaging with people and surrounded by people all of the time. If you want your private and alone time you can carve it out for yourself (or learn surfing like I did and hang out alone in the peace of the ocean!) and when you’re ready you can go back to the people. In a tropical climate we spend more time outside anyways, so we’re constantly¬† seeing each other. We were seeing the same smiling faces and growing in our sense of community. This difficult to measure feeling of belonging and unity was real and present. I was mentally counting all of my good friendships, like gently shifting precious jewels in a vault, and feeling very wealthy indeed. And I was rarely considering the realm of Facebook “friends” measured not by true friendship’s real weight in gold but by the penny hundreds. Few of these were close friends, many more were simply acquaintances. Facebook friendships converted to real-life friendship in a similar way as the local Francs shifted in my mind to Euros.

We counted among our other measures of wealth our physical good health and the abundant warmth and sunshine, these last undoubtedly adding to our mental health and happiness. I looked to a new painting I had created a few weeks earlier and considered my artistic wealth. I had done my morning practice of yoga and meditation that day and felt abundant in peace of mind. We dove into a delicious dish of fresh fish and rice and our bellies rumbled their own feelings of wealth and contentment.

It wasn’t until I considered the abysmally low Senegalese wages that I converted my own salary in Euros to Francs and realized with a start that I was in fact a millionaire. Ha! I had some savings and together with my monthly income I was quite literally rolling in the millions! I could take this a step further and consider my access to credit in Canada which would bump me up into the category of multi-millionaire. Of course these were millions of Francs and not millions of Euros and we already know how these two relate to each other. It gave me a giggle all the same and half in jest, half in earnest, I wrote down on my daily to-do list that day “become a millionaire”, and then crossed it off. In that moment it wasn’t about the financial disparities shared between the relatively poor and the relatively rich in Senegal (that would require a separate blog post/novel of its own!)…it was about an additional break-down of the so-called Western and capitalist values. “Make my first million” is on the minds and the milestones of many entrepreneurs these days. If I were to play by their rules then my mission was accomplished. Without meaning to, I had arrived. I observed another facade shatter. With a laugh and a sigh we went back to our lunch and our sunshine and greeted a new friend come to join us for the meal.

The day that I fully realized all of the measures of my wealth was the same day that I stopped converting the currency of my own values to those of another world.

***cover photo: Praya de Arrifana, Algarve coast, Portugal

Disconnect to Reconnect: about Wifi’s fuzzy reminder

“We invest our time and energy into who and what we value.” Morning meditation and conversations at the Offline House can go real deep, real quick.

I’ve been happily resting and rejuvenating my body, soul and mind with surfing, nature, yoga and great books at a concept-Hostel in the south of Portugal called the Offline House. The concept is simple: we put our smartphones and computers away in lockers and lock them up. We then enjoy experiencing life without our gadgets. “Disconnect to Reconnect” becomes our daily mantra.

Turning off the Internet and data functions of my phone is not difficult for me. I happily put my iPhone in airplane mode during my work days and weekends too. Any time I want to have some time 100% for myself I do not hesitate to close off the Internet bridge connecting me to the outside world. I imagine a sentinel on that bridge blocking the way for those trying to get through. The various demands, shares, likes and questions sent via Whatsapp, iMessages, emails and social media quietly and peacefully line up and accumulate before the sentinel until it (I) decide that it is OK to let them through again – and there they flow, in an even tempo of beeps and vibrations – right to my phone when airplane mode is shut off again.

What I didn’t realize before and what has been a kind of revelation to me during my first week at the Offline House is the trade-off that I make every time that I look at and use my smartphone in my “regular” daily life. The trade-off is simple yet profound: I am trading the present moment for an interaction with my phone.

“Ah – gah – stop!” you may cry out. You will argue that you are not interacting with your phone, you may very well be interacting with another person, with a friend or a family member! Or you may be working on a new blog post! (haha, how ironic ;-). Well yes, but the medium of communication is still cold metal in a place where I have living, breathing human beings around me, not to mention beautiful nature, the breath in my lungs and my ever present heart beat. I’m choosing a device over living life…and that is totally OK…as long as I’m aware of what I’m doing.

It turns out there is nothing more valuable than the present moment. As someone who has spent plenty of time in my head musing and thinking about the past and wondering about the future I can assure you that I’ve tried to find peace and happiness in moments outside of right now. At best I have found neutrality. At worst I have found great confusion and many fears. The best feeling ever – the feeling of being fully alive – I have only ever found in the here and now.

I shan’t bore you with more Here and Now talk – this is a subject discussed and re-discussed and re-played many times these days. Simply, I wanted to share that I recently found this trade-off with the usage of my smartphone.

There are ofcourse many positive aspects of the Internet and of technology. When we are wise users of these tools I believe that we have the opportunity to become brighter, better communicating and wiser people. The problem is that this tech and Internet connectivity is all quite new for everyone, so that few of us actually know how to use these tools in a way that is good and healthy. Coupled with our minds’ tendencies for addiction and obsessiveness and tools like email and social media can quickly become a problem to manage, an annoying mosquito buzzing in our ears night and day never allowing us a moment’s peace.

I have a small hammer in my home in Dakar. I’m a pretty handy gal (or so I like to think) but I tried and tried and couldn’t hammer in a simple nail into the concrete wall of my living room. The carpenter happened to stop by and quickly picked up the hammer and put the nail in its place. It’s the same tool, but we obviously have very different capacities with it. What’s more, used wrong, a hammer could easily smash my finger and hurt me. A hammer is a tool, albeit a very simple one. The Smartphone is also a tool, albeit a highly complex one. Both have the capacity to serve us when used correctly or to hurt us when misused. It’s up to us to make the difference or to call on someone who does know how to use it right.

In my two weeks of Internet and smartphone-free days I’ve realized that I use notifications and notes way too much. It’s almost like I’ve distrusted my own capacity to remember basic things to the degree that I set up daily, weekly and monthly reminders for every little thing. It’s not a bad thing in and of itself, but in my opinion if this kind of behaviour comes from a belief that I’m not able to remember and manage my life and the direction I want it to take on my own then it’s potentially a problem.

In general:

If the Internet fulfills the same function for us as a bridge would for a city, our connection to the outside world, the question is what is the healthy relationship to have to this bridge? For starters, is the bridge an extension of the city? Can the city be defined on its own terms without the bridge? The paradox is that the city and the bridge co-exist and without each other have no real purpose. What’s the point of a bridge leading from somewhere to nowhere? What use (or joy) can we find for a city disconnected from the world? When I think of the smartphone and the Internet as the bridge I can see that all of us, at one point or another, have stopped on this bridge and have become so engrossed in the shiny lights and bright jewels encrusted into its fancy woodwork that we’ve forgotten about where we come from and where we are going. I’m all for pretty bridges, and God knows some of those beautiful pictures and engaging Apps are really fun, but once I nudge the imbalance and realize that I’m using the bridge with no real objective in mind…I take a step aside and re-evaluate. You can choose to hang out on a bridge with no real agenda if you want to, but I intend to keep using it for its primary purpose which is to get from one place to another. It’s in the real places where I find real people and real moments and real life which I want to engage in.

Call me old-school but I still feel that it’s rude to sit down for a face-to-face conversation with someone and check your phone and messages at the same time. Especially if you only have a short period of time to share with this person. It sends a clear message “I value more what other people, known or unknown to me, are communicating to me now than I value this one-one-one time with you”. Yes, I get it that we are busy and we have many priorities that we need to juggle at the same time. I also think that having so many people making demands on our time forces us (in a good way) to evaluate our priorities and stay very honest with what we do and do not value in our lives and what we allow and do not allow into our space. “I don’t have enough time” is a sad excuse, not a reality. We all have the same 24 hours and guided by what we prioritize in life we choose how to spend that time. The responsibility is ours. The capacity for misuse and wasted time is tremendous. The trade-off is extremely significant: an exchange of the present moment for an interaction with a device. By all means, let’s continue using (and learning how to properly use) these great tools. But for goodness sake let’s not just talk about how much is gained. Let’s not forget the real value of what we are giving up.

*Cover photo credit to Offline Portugal

I’m happy to share that although we enjoy Internet-free time at the Offline House we are also accompanied by the house dog named Wifi. It makes me smile every time to hear a guest ask “Where’s Wifi?” or to hear someone looking for and calling out for the pooch. If they ever get a speckled dog I’m keeping my fingers crossed he or she will be called Spotify ūüôā

On blessings, dreams, new beginnings and giving myself the recognition that I long for

I count myself as one of the blessed on this planet, the oh-so-very blessed. Not only because my cup overflows with good health, happiness, a quick wit and an ease and pleasure for contact with others. These are infinite blessings in and of themselves, you might think I have it all already… and yet I humbly recognize that there is more. My greatest blessing I believe to be this one special something, this mystery, this force, this connection that allows me to dream my dreams, plan their realization and then – I shudder with happiness and amazement just to type the words – live my dreams in reality.

It is a sudden, heart-stopping surprise to realize in this moment that I am living a reality I dreamed of and planned for in my past. When thought becomes material, when my heart recognizes that it has been heard and is being cared for… this is pure magic to me.

This week, a new dream I have dreamed has taken form. I have moved to Africa, I am living in Africa, and I am blessed with work that fills my career values in a most beautiful way, in Africa. Yes, I dreamed of Africa (lol). My fourth continent, a new expatriation, my desire to feed this curiosity and longing to understand the world and its people is being nurtured. I feel fulfilled, and it’s only the beginning! I am in the sunshine of Dakar, Senegal after a vibrant week of meetings, training and integration. My boss who accompanied me during this first week has returned to France, and I am here now to continue the work with our local team, clients and partners. I also have the time and opportunity to pursue so many other pleasures, be they music, travel, culture, sports or activities or places I have not even heard of yet. Again, I marvel that all of this can really be true.

Also, I am amazed and humbled to see some of my own wisdom and life experience and especially all that I have learned from Tara Shakti, my study and work as a coach with Awakening Coaching and my beginning steps into the exploration of Buddhism serving me oh-so-very well. All speak of practice and of looking inside to recognize the comings and goings of the internal Universe. In the last years I have been slowly and surely incorporating many practices into my days – different forms of meditation, yoga, internal dialogue and regular nudges out of my comfort zones are a part of my world now.

This week my practice has been simple and profound: it is the practice of recognizing and loving myself.

For as I find myself living my dreams and connecting with my gratitude for all that I have, I also find myself in completely new surroundings, in a place I do not know yet around people who do not yet know me. In addition, I am new to the industry I am working in (maritime insurance and merchandise surveying) and this triggers ancient beliefs of “I’m not good enough” or “I am not competent” which in turn trigger a profound desire to shout from the Dakar rooftops into the hot sun all of my prior accomplishments. I am competent and smart in so many other things, darn it! Perhaps if I force-feed this information into whoever cares to listen then and only then will all of my intelligence, big heart, sensitivity and depth be recognized. “You do not know me yet Dakar, so let me scream to you my value so that you will recognize me now!” …and when I realize this internal desire, this feeling like a bruised ego, I chuckle to myself. The chuckle turns into a smile. Perhaps this is exactly the opportunity my heart has been asking for. The opportunity to give recognition and to give love to myself.

And so, in the midst of this bustling work week, in the pauses in the back of taxis as we inch our way through traffic, I close my eyes and I pray and speak to myself. “I see you, I recognize you“, I remind myself. “I can see your bravery, I can see how much in your life is new right now”. Brand and shining new, from location to work to people. and “I recognize you and your journey”. I take a deep breath and let the recognition sink in. And I recognize you again, and again and again, Katalina. I speak to me.

And I needed (continue to need!) to hear and to feel it again.

It it not so much a mantra, as a strong reminder. Beyond the reminder it is a big, internal hug to myself. A bear hug.

This is turning into a profound exploration of what it means to be my own best friend. What it means to be my own anchor, my own center. It is also the first time in my adult life that I am single. This too is an opportunity! Before, it was one kind of a teaching to share my life, hopes and dreams with a partner and to be recognized in his eyes…and it is a whole other kind of teaching to share my life, hopes and dreams with my own light and to recognize myself and my own wisdom in my own eyes. It fills and fulfills me in a way that feels right and healthy. And, what’s more, I believe it greatly influences all of my relationships, new and old. I hope that it means that meetings with others and sharing can be enjoyed for their own sake and for the complementary nature and pleasure of another energy and heart. It all shifts, doesn’t it, when I’m not seeking outside of myself to fulfill my own basic needs.

So here I am…stepping out yet again to meet and discover this new place and new people. I continue to pray and to recognize that Universe always has my best interests at heart. I am well cared for, and I am exactly where I need to be right now.

And, I am discovering, I already carry within me all that I have so deeply longed for.

Photo by Jonathan Kos-Read

The Greatest Gift

I couldn’t ask for a better dose of inspiration this morning then to work on compiling all of my notes, materials and recordings from the past 8 months of Awakening Coaching…and to finally write this blog post that has wanted to express itself for some time.

It’s Christmas.

Some time at around this time in 2014, I was sitting on a stone wall in the sunshine of Cap-Haitien, in a courtyard green with palms and shrubs, a wall away from a busy street.¬† Hot, afternoon haze, women walking by selling fruits, peanuts, soap and underwear, and stray dogs barking, motorcycles flying by and horns honking.¬† I was visiting the office of my first host institution in Haiti; I had come there a year earlier on an internship.¬† Now, I had a different job, but I was still in that area, keeping touch with the dear people who had first introduced me to their unique country.¬† I had an afternoon off, or perhaps the week (I think in the Caribbean it’s harder to tell when you’re working and when you’re not!) and one of my favourite drivers had a moment free too. So, we had a chat.

We had always had good conversations, this driver and I.¬† He tells me about his big family and extended relations.¬† We both love the mountains and the Haitian countryside as well as the more festive and party atmosphere of the city. And we both enjoy driving. He’s just one of those people, those kindred spirits, that I can see eye to eye with right away. Every time we cross paths he embraces me warmly, as if I were one of his many daughters.

He’s a smart guy; he’s curious and an observer. That day, he got me going on¬†a familiar topic: The how and why of the Haitians in Haiti dreaming a singular dream – get the heck out of their country and find a “better” life elsewhere.

“You know, people are people, so it’s not like it’s so very different elsewhere”, I began, “It’s love, life, work, daily activities, and people’s emotions wherever you go.”

I continued.

“Your problems don’t just magically disappear when you leave Haiti (contrary to popular belief). Yes, these other countries are much more organized.¬† Physically, they are more comfortable.¬† There is plenty of electricity, water and food.¬† You can get these things when you have some money. You can also rely on the police when you call them in an emergency; the systems work, the government is pretty stable and we don’t have political uprisings every week.¬† Then again, I assure you, people in Canada, the USA and all over the world, have many problems of their own. Simply, they usually have problems of a different nature.¬† People have depression, anxiety, they live in a lot of mental fear. They often feel very alone. Some people commit suicide, some¬†young people too.”

Thinking back on that conversation now, it’s as if I were saying that a migration out of Haiti is a move towards freeing oneself from material-based problems and going deeper into thought-based problems. ¬†Like fighting less external demons and facing more inner demons. ¬†Point being, for most, the fighting continues.

We continued our talk. I was not surprised when I asked him,¬†that a¬†suicide occurring in Cap-Haitien is a very rare event. ¬†A once-in-every-twenty-years kind of thing. In this city bustling with activity, full to the brim with youth and with the adamant need for¬†survival, no one is seriously considering taking their own life.¬† Communities know each other, families interact constantly, many people live together in close quarters and privacy is an occasional concept. Then again, you never feel alone or separate.¬† In general, people don’t struggle with existential questions of what they should or shouldn’t do – they simply do.¬† When you’re poor, daily survival takes up a lot of time – getting the water, hauling it in buckets, making your food, taking a shower and washing the dishes all take more time and more logistical creativity.¬† By the time you’re done surviving, it’s time to sleep again.¬† The intellectual or the spiritual realms are rare treats, to be dabbled in perhaps, but for which there is little time left over and relatively few resources available. ¬†Sitting around and asking big questions is a luxury left over for the wealthy.

But do we, as the wealthy ones, actually take advantage of this luxury? Or, instead, do we set the bar higher for what is considered “survival” (an annual salary like this, a sizeable home like that, a nice vehicle) and continue in this crazy dance forever?

We as Westerners, live in a world of thought-based problems. Problems that can be argued are real (planning for retirement, choosing a career and doing our part to halt global warming) and that, in this very moment, for you, exist uniquely in your mind.¬† As you are reading these words, you are simply here.¬† You are hearing sounds around you, you are seeing shape, colour and texture in the images that are before your eyes, and you are experiencing sensations in your body.¬† None of these experiences, of hearing, seeing and feeling¬†actually take any effort or thought to occur.¬† How often do we experience the present moment as it is? How often are we in our thoughts, thinking of a past we have a skewed memory of and dwelling on a future we can’t predict? And for what? One might say, to work hard now to gain the freedom for resting later. ¬†In my experience, however, this is simply not true, because constant doing and thinking are forms of addiction. If we do not practice being present with what is real now, today, we will not master it for later… and our mind will continue to create problems and introduce more fear regardless of whatever security we think we have gained. ¬†We will be caught in the endless cycle of surviving our mind’s increasingly inventive insanity. We will very likely change our standards for survival to continue the addiction we have grown used to.

Right now, some¬†of us¬†have a unique opportunity to live in comfort, in relative luxury, and to learn the nature of mind and connect with our hearts’ inner longings.¬† I wonder how many of us are actually taking advantage of this luxury. I wonder how many of us are squandering this incredible gift.

It’s Christmas.

Rest assured, I wonder this for myself also.