Sunday, January 31, 2016

The New Year's Resolution Solution

With the New Year come those Resolutions that many of us earnestly make. And break. January is over and it's likely that some readers have already seen a well-intended "commitment" fall by the wayside. Then there are those folks who say, "Oh, I don't make New Year's Resolutions." Translation: "I've failed so many times that I don't even bother anymore."

I've been going to gyms for most of my adult life and I see the pattern repeat itself year after year. January brings a flood of new members fired up about getting in shape and losing weight. We regulars know that come February things will be pretty much back to normal as the newbies find any number of excuses to return to their old behavior.

What's going on here? People are taking a look at their lives, focusing on an area that needs improvement, promising themselves that they're going to do something about it, then-----not. Are folks really that lame? Do they lack sufficient willpower? Why do they give up so quickly?

The late great Dr. Wayne Dyer wrote a book called, "Change Your Thoughts--Change Your Life: Living the Wisdom of the Tao" that eloquently addresses these questions far beyond the level of broken New Year's Resolutions. In summary, he shares that before lasting change can manifest on the outside we must first improve our internal dialogue.

For example, it's all well and good to declare, "I want to lose 20 pounds," and with sufficient diligence that goal is certainly achievable. But without examining and changing the thoughts that have led to the actions resulting in being overweight, what chance is there for the loss to be permanent?

Make no mistake, thought precedes every action we take. Or don't take, whether we are consciously aware of the thoughts or not. Staying with our overweight example, let's face it, accumulating that much extra body weight takes a sustained effort over a long period of time. Nobody wakes up one morning and says, "Holy ____!! What happened?? I was twenty pounds lighter when I went to bed last night!!"

Many people attempt to analyze through therapy or deep introspection the consciousness that results in undesirable behaviors. This journey into the “Land of Why” can be productive in uncovering hidden origins of dysfunction but runs the risk of wandering aimlessly in one’s mental wilderness. Exploring the ramifications of "I have an unhealthy relationship with food" or "My self esteem is so low" or "I had such a horrible childhood" is ultimately wasted effort unless you finally reach the point of asking, “Okay, now what?”

A more direct route to behavior modification is to simply overlay your existing counterproductive thought patterns with new ones that support the actions, behavior, and results that you desire. I say "simply" for a very simple reason--we are the sole owners of our thoughts, every single one of them, so thinking different ones is as easy (or difficult) as we believe.

A lot of what goes on between our ears isn't really "thinking" at all. It's more like cruise control/auto pilot murmuring that keeps us from having to actively engage in every moment of our lives. To a degree that's fine because those moments sure come and go quickly, and all of them may not be particularly significant. What gets us into trouble is when we allow such habitual thinking to keep us from engaging with any moments.

Then we don't notice that we're constantly overeating and under-exercising. As bellies protrude women fasten their pants below their breasts and guys above their manhood while proclaiming, “Hey, I still wear the same size!”. Looking in the mirror after a shower somehow all that is seen is a head and a neck, perhaps because it’s just too painful to notice the parts we don’t like.

The key to permanent weight loss, better eating habits, and getting proper exercise is making this declaration: I AM HEALTH.

That's it? Yes, because when you embrace and become these words then consistently act upon them, your choices automatically align with your beliefs. When you are health, would you consume a poor diet? Never exercise? Weigh too much? Of course not, because such behavior does not support who and what you are.

"Come on, nothing's that easy," you may be saying. You know what--if that's what you believe, then you're right. But the truth of the matter is, nothing permanently changes until there is a fundamental shift in thought. Consider the plight of a hopeless alcoholic or drug addict. Friends and family try to help--counseling, intervention, rehab. But all outside attempts of assistance are in vain until that person declares once and for all, "I cannot do this anymore." In that moment everything changes.

If someone that far gone can turn his life around by an unwavering shift in consciousness, so can we all. Being healthy and physically fit at any age is no accident. Manifesting the "I am Health" mantra influences consistent behavior that supports a vibrant lifestyle. “Consistent” doesn’t have to mean “fanatical.” Enjoying occasional indulgences creates no sense of guilt and can contribute to an overall sense of well being when doing so is the exception rather than the rule.

These comments and suggestions have been related specifically to health but can be applied to any area of life. Examine your own life and circumstances and have fun creating solutions to challenges that have in the past been burdensome.

New Year's Resolutions don't have to be a guilt trip. Wouldn’t you love instead to celebrate a personal victory? Try a new approach this time. Focus on "being" instead of "getting" and watch what happens!



Friday, January 22, 2016

If I Could Turn Back Time

I turned 67 today and it's kind of a weird feeling. No, not that I'm getting older. Actually just the opposite. Since we moved to Ecuador over 5 1/2 years ago I believe I look and know I feel younger than when we arrived (the same is true for Cynthia, but it's not her birthday).

Since this development was totally unexpected I've been thinking about how it's been possible to defy the aging process, and three things come to mind. First is our food supply and diet. Due to the temperate equatorial climate Ecuador is blessed with an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables year round. Not only that, our constitution forbids GMO's, so we don't have apples the size of softballs like in the States.

Processed foods are almost nonexistent here. We prepare all of our meals at home from scratch, and restaurants make everything fresh each day as well. Combine these factors with cows, chickens, and pigs not jacked up with hormones and God knows what else and it's clear our overall diet is vastly superior to what we used to consume.

Second, our fitness has improved drastically. Not owning a car and walking almost everywhere makes exercise a necessary part of daily life. We also make weight training, yoga, and cardio an important part of our schedule. In fact, these activities are the only things that we set aside time for every week in our otherwise spontaneous expat world.

Last but absolutely not least, stress has vanished from our consciousness. Our previous lives had more stress than we realized until we removed ourselves from it, and the period leading up to our arrival here was extremely trying. Our life here is relaxed and carefree, and we've developed extraordinary levels of patience from immersing ourselves in a culture that's just not in much of a hurry to do anything.

So it's amazing to find myself growing older and younger at the same time. Happy Birthday to me!!

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Good to Be Back!

Hi, everyone. After spending a long holiday with our family in the States and getting our life in Cuenca rolling again I'm back to blogging. I've got a lot of topics I want to share with you, so I'll start with a little vignette from this afternoon that's on my mind and work backwards in time over the coming days.

One of the things we like to do upon returning home is buy fresh flowers for the apartment. You would never do that right before leaving, right? So we view this as a small gesture demonstrating that we are here for awhile.

Our local florist is Betty, a lovely woman who speaks not a syllable of English. Her assistant, Patchi, knows about as much English as I do Spanish, so every transaction is a bit of an adventure. When I came into the store Patchi was with a woman I assumed was a customer, leaving Betty and I on our own.

I quickly found one type of flower I had in mind but the calla lilies I wanted weren't in stock. So here we go, trying to talk, gesturing, and generally having a good time figuring out what else I should buy. Inevitably Patchi got involved, we all picked out some gorgeous roses and greenery, and I went to the counter to pay ($8 for 24 roses and an armload of other flowers, by the way).

I apologized in Spanish to the woman still sitting there and she said, in English, "Oh, that's OK. Patchi and I have been friends since kindergarten and we were just visiting. I enjoyed listening to you all trying to communicate. It's fun, isn't it?"

Fun. I'd never really thought of it that way but, yes, it is fun (most of the time) navigating your way through a foreign culture. Of course this wasn't always the case. In those early days when everything was so new, so confusing, so exasperating, so damned hard, "fun" wasn't a word that at all described the experience.

Now we don't let our lack of fluency bother us. We don't really let anything bother us, to tell you the truth. In our five and a half years of living abroad we've encountered and overcome so many obstacles that when something goes sideways we simply get through it.

Take this morning. Cynthia went to take her shower and discovered both of our gas tanks are empty. Translation: no hot water. I throw on some jeans, go around the corner to the tienda where I paid for a tank a week ago that hadn't been delivered, bought a second tank while telling the proprietor that my wife wanted to kill him, and we had new gas an hour later. No big deal--we take showers in the afternoon.

It's the day for our maid to show up and she does. To tell us she can't work today and will be here Saturday afternoon. We've got guests coming for dinner tomorrow night, but again, no big deal. We'll do a little spot cleaning and things will be fine.

I can imagine either of these incidents causing us (well, me at least) to go ballistic in the "old days" back in the U.S. and even in our early days here. No more. What's the point? Getting all jacked up only makes you feel lousy and does absolutely nothing to change the situation.

So it's great to be back, having fun and not stressing over minor inconveniences. How was your day?

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Our Bus Trip to the Coast

We just got back to Cuenca today after a long vacation at the beach. I've been meaning to write about our trip over there on the bus but was too busy doing, well, not much of anything. Isn't that the whole idea??

Let's be honest--in the States taking a trip on a bus is one rung up on the ladder from hitchhiking. In this third world country where most people don't own cars and certainly can't afford to fly, buses are the primary way of getting around the country.

We ride buses all the time in the city but hadn't actually traveled on one out of town in years. Not because of any negative previous experiences. Simply that whatever we've been doing and riding a bus to get there haven't coincided.

This time they did, so we took a taxi to the terminal near the airport to buy tickets to Guayaquil. Once there we would switch to a different line for the ride up the coast to our final destination, where friends we were staying with would pick us up.

It's hard for me to convey how different our mindset is after living in Ecuador for so long. I can remember how early on walking into this same bus terminal was extremely intimidating. There are taxis and people everywhere. Inside are many windows where you buy tickets, each line servicing a different part of the country. Sensory overload kicks in, and this is just in Cuenca. The terminal in Guayaquil is HUGE--three stories of apparent chaos and over 100 windows!

Having "survived" innumerable situations of all sorts over the years, we know that by staying calm and centered we will board a bus and be on our way. Sure enough, someone asks us where we going and points us to the window of the company with the next departure. We purchase two tickets on an Executivo--nicer quality and assigned seats--express bus for $12 total (I was so excited by the low price I forgot to ask for my 50% discount!) and head to the proper lane to wait for our chariot to arrive.

What looks like chaos at first glance turns out to be a well-organized operation. There are people at the entryway constantly asking passengers where they are going and pointing them to the correct lane. The buses come and go on time.


After only about a five minute wait our bus arrived.


You give the driver your luggage and he stores it underneath. Since it's an express route there are no worries of someone at an earlier stop walking off with your suitcase, but we still took our computers and smaller bags inside with us. As you can see, the interior is quite nice and there's plenty of legroom.



Since we were the first passengers to purchase tickets (15 minutes before the bus departed) we got the bulkhead seats on the first row which meant even more legroom. Nice! In the ten minutes we sat before leaving we were serenaded by a blind musician,


offered the chance to buy newspapers from another guy, and visited by a candy vendor


who apparently wasn't part of the "system" because he was escorted away by security guys.


As soon as we pulled out of the terminal music started playing from the speakers. I knew it was coming and I brace myself for this because, hey, we're in Ecuador and salsa normally blares in whatever mode of transportation you find yourself. Surprise! The very first song was Wham's "Never Gonna Dance Again," followed by Kansas' "Dust in the Wind." Bee Gees, Eagles, and Billy Joel were also in the mix. Compliments to the DJ!

Although we were on an "express" bus we stopped to pick up a few stray passengers while heading out of town. They were never at what you would call a normal stop, so we figured they were friends or relatives of the driver. Who knows what kind of regular shenanigans take place when you're only riding that one time?

Speaking of the driver, I was glad to see he was a middle aged guy. The young bucks tend to careen through the Cajas mountains, which is an hour of the three and a half hour trip, like they're behind the wheel of a sports car. We've had too many nauseous journeys with van services but this time the ride was smooth and comfortable.

I had paid a dime to use the restroom at the terminal before we left. I thought it was kind of cool that the attendant had his own little convenience store set up inside for last minute purchases. But nature called en route because of too many cups of coffee before leaving the house. Fortunately the bus had a tiny toilet room in the rear.

Hold that thought about "fortunately." We were in the mountains by then and the bus was lurching to and fro, which was going to make taking care of business a challenge. Worse, I couldn't get the damn door closed. I slammed it and slammed it, until with one especially vigorous yank the bottom of the handle broke off the door.

Oh, boy-----.

So picture this. I'm trying to pee in this little bitty space, bracing myself against the wall and holding the door closed with the broken handle. The bus is weaving back and forth which is making it impossible for me to "concentrate." I wedge the door into the frame several times to use two hands but it keeps flying open. I'm pouring sweat, my aim is less than stellar, and this whole ordeal is taking forever. When I finally finish and return to my seat Cynthia says, "My God, what took you so long?!?" Well-----.

After we emerged from the Cajas our resourceful driver stopped along the way to let a guy selling empanadas on board, getting a complimentary lunch for himself. That guy got off in the next town and was replaced by another fellow selling ice cream. You guessed it--free dessert for the driver. What a country!

The remainder of the trip was uneventful. At the Guayaquil terminal we knew which window to buy our next set of tickets from, and according to the schedule I had read online the bus wasn't leaving for half an hour. Great! We would have time for Cynthia to use the restroom and grab some lunch.

Except the lady behind the window said the bus was leaving in five minutes. (Sigh.) When I told Cynthia this she was, shall we say, less than pleased. Keeping it real, she was furious. I said, "Look, go to the bathroom. If the bus leaves before we get there we'll catch the next one." "What about lunch?" "If we make it we'll eat some of the food we brought."

Amazingly the driver somehow knew we were coming and waited for us. We threw the luggage underneath, climbed aboard, and were out of there a minute later. Starving, we tore through an apple like it was put through a wood chipper. Not a lot of conversation took place between us the rest of the way------.

I wanted to share this story because it represents a microcosm of life here. Did the journey go smoothly? No. Does anything go smoothly in Ecuador? Rarely. Bottom line: we got there.

Did we have a fabulous vacation? Absolutely. See--all smiles now.







Friday, November 6, 2015

Alone

I sat on the beach this afternoon alone. When I say alone, I mean alone. As in not-a-single-person-in- sight-as-far-as-the-eye-can-see-in-every-direction alone.

The beautiful 24 unit condo building Cynthia and I are staying in has twenty three empty units right now. The pool, the grill, the hammocks, hell, even the beach is all ours.

Is something wrong? Hardly. We're in Punta Blanca, an exclusive enclave on Ecuador's Pacific coast where successful residents of Guayaquil (1 1/2 hours away) have second homes for weekends and holidays. When we arrived on Sunday in the midst of a big national celebration kids were in the pool, cabanas were set up on the beach, and parties went late into the night.

Now everyone but us has gone back to their lives and we've got the joint to ourselves. With IL conferences, a busy social life in Cuenca, and visits with our family in the U.S. we're around other people a lot. So it's been revelatory, renewing, and surprisingly relaxing to just hang out with each other and our thoughts. No agenda, no plans.

Oh, there's plenty to do nearby. Salinas, Ecuador's most developed resort area, is a half an hour south and Montanita, the coast's renowned surfer party town, is the same distance to the north. Since we're here for about ten days we'll undoubtedly get out and about at some point, but so far a trip to the nearby supermarket has been our entire itinerary.

Sitting on the beach with my eyes closed, I felt the wind on my face and the soft sand beneath my feet--smelled the salt air-- listened to the crashing waves and an occasional sea bird overhead. I felt myself enter a meditative state without the need to repeat a mantra.

Being there was enough. Being here now is enough.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Halloween Superheroes

OK, I gave you an advance glimpse of the Halloween costume party we went to last week. Our good friends and hosts Michael & Cheri Edwards had the brilliant idea to challenge us guests to come as superheroes. But nothing easy like Superman or Batman--nope, we had to invent our very own superheroes!

I decided to go as The Incredible Sulk. My superpower was the ability to make everyone miserable by complaining about any and everything "certain" expats love to point out. Example (in a whine-y voice): "I just knew it would rain again today. The weather here sucks. That darn taxi driver tried to rip me off. I wish these people spoke more English!" Of course I didn't stay in character all night or none of the other guests would have come near me!

Cynthia was Supermaxi, in honor of our grocery store as well as those sanitary pads everyone thinks of when they first hear the name. Decked out in red & white, she sported a Supermaxi card earring and a Supermaxi purse filled with coupons. Her dress was adorned with said pads plus flowers ecologically fashioned from the used wrappers. Fishnet stockings, a black wig and tiara completed the ensemble.

Michael and Cheri love to dance, so along with their incredibly inventive video invitation they sent along links of instruction for line dances like The Electric Slide, The Hustle, and even Thriller! I actually practiced awhile before going to the party, with decidedly mixed results.

Their home was filled with cool Halloween decorations, food and alcohol were in abundance, and everyone truly had a blast! Here are some photos from the evening to give you a taste of the fun.







Aren't we silly??

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Cuenca Independence Day Festivities

This weekend our hometown hosts its biggest party of the year celebrating Cuenca Independence Day. All hotels are fully booked as 100,000 visitors have poured into the city to participate in the festivities. Displays, activities, fireworks, and concerts are happening day and night all over town.

We attended an outdoor kickoff performance by the Cuenca Symphony Thursday evening in Parque de la Madre. How awesome it was to enjoy such quality entertainment for free while sipping a nice bottle of wine we brought along. Afterwards we strolled home talking about how great our life is here.

Last night we went to an awesome Halloween party at the home of some of our dearest friends. I'll tell you all about it in my next post. In the meantime here's a preview pic.


Oh, my!!

Today was the first official day of the festival. Since we needed to return the capes we'd rented for the party we decided to wander around and check out the action. Along the way I took a few photos to share.


A small segment of those 100,000 visitors plus 500,000 residents.


Loads of colorful merchandise for sale.





It was damned hot today. Not sure why these candied apples weren't melting.


Artwork tends to be on the colorful side as well.



No more festivities for us as we're off tomorrow morning for a week and a half at the beach. Tough life, huh? Can't wait to tell you about last night's party. Stay tuned------.