Breakfast with Anaxagoras

Anaxagoras 2

I had a brilliant Saturday morning breakfast with Anaxagoras of Clazomenae.

No, this ancient Greek is not a neighbor.  While savoring my green smoothie, I was deeply immersed in conversation with a book of his writings and speeches from 480 BC.

There are so many things I love about the ancient Greeks.  One of them is that an ordinary person could become a philosopher, provided he had a new and interesting view of the world.  Along with that great opportunity, 500 BC was a time when philosophy was considered a respected and important profession.

Today if you study philosophy (does anyone even study philosophy today?) you’re mainly reading about others people’s philosophies, most of them long dead.

Back then you were exposed to many emerging philosophies.  You could study directly in person with the philosopher, walking together around a lovely scented tree-filled grove.  But even more importantly, you were encouraged to create a new philosophy.  I love that.  It was an exciting time for philosophy.

What’s notable for me about Anaxagoras is that he was the first recorded philosopher to state that a human being has a mind. He called it Nous.

Anaxagoras saw the mind as not having a material substance. He saw it as separate from the physical universe and believed it was senior to, and the power behind, everything in the physical universe. He believed that our Nous controlled the cosmos.

Anaxagoras was one of the first to make a study of thought, of mind over matter. To me, such a vital subject.

There’s a world of difference between studying the mind and studying the brain.

Today scientists are uncomfortable studying anything they can’t dissect with laboratory instruments or plug into a machine, so they are obsessed with the brain.

Not so back then. Back then they were discussing and studying things that I personally find more intriguing, like awareness.

For me it’s the things you can’t see that are the most compelling, the most worthy of study.  Like love, hope, courage, friendship, intellect, playfulness, creation of beauty, the desire to reach out, affection, kindness, understanding, the human spirit.

Anaxagoras taught Socrates’ teacher, he preceded Plato and Aristotle and influenced all of them. He was a very close friend of Pericles, the architect of Athens’ Golden Age and the greatest leader the ancient Greeks ever had.  He hung out with the best.

And today we had a sunny breakfast together in the Montclair hills of Oakland California, feasting on a deep discussion of the human mind and spirit and their relationship to the cosmos.  A most fascinating breakfast companion.

Wishing you an abundance of all those good things we can’t see but do deeply experience, especially happiness.

Love,

Ingrid

To refuse to be tamed

New Jersey Pine Barrens

It was a perfect hot August summer night.  My foot was pressed flat on the accelerator of a small green Italian sports car.  I was too scared to look at the speedometer to see how fast I was driving, convertible top down to the open air, wind ripping my hair, summer music blasting on the radio.  I was 16 and learning how to drive.

The car belonged to David, an 18-year old guy I met who was teaching ice-skating at an outdoor rink in Center City Philadelphia the winter before (just a friend, but a good one).

I grew up in Medford Lakes, New Jersey, a lovely, wooded lake-filled village with no sidewalks 20 miles east of Philadelphia.  We were about an hour from the Jersey shore.

We locals knew better than to take the highway to get there. We had the coolest back roads, absolutely nothing on them except for the New Jersey Pine Barrens which are miles and miles of endless pine trees.  No street lights, no houses, no stores, no buildings, no nothing.

The only “town” between Medford Lakes and the shore was a hamlet called Chatsworth (population hardly anybody except for some hermits living in the woods).

Except for a left turn at Chatsworth, it was a straight shot to the shore.  Straight road 17 miles to Chatsworth, turn left and then another straight road for 32 miles with nothing to see but pine trees will get you to Long Beach Island, which is where I was headed.

Best driving back roads in the world.

It was a road that was most likely to be completely deserted at night.

David drove us to a spot where no one was around, got out and had us switch places so I was in the driver’s seat.  He showed me the accelerator and the brake and taught me nothing about shifting gears.  He said, “Just put your foot on the clutch when I tell you to and I’ll do the shifting.”

Easiest lesson I’ve ever had.  When he got us into high gear he told me, “Okay, now go for it.  Floor it.”

I knew what he meant and I did.

It was pure high school crazy freedom.  And it felt so good.

I was thinking about it today, when I was thinking about what a wonderful sensation it is to do something completely unleashed.  To be wild, to be free.

There’s still something inside me that refuses to be tamed.  Feels so good.

I hope you too have something inside of you that refuses to be tamed and feels so good.  Something wild.  Something free.

Love,

Ingrid

How to transform your life

Munchkinito assisting at computer

Life is transformed when you have a kitten in the house.  This particular one is extraordinarily adept at making every moment unforgettable.

He’s been here for a month now.  Nothing is ordinary to him or with him.

He follows me everywhere and investigates each thing I do.  If I’m reading, he climbs all over the book and gets in between the pages. If I’m working on my computer, he is all over the keyboard. When I’m eating, he practically climbs into the bowl. When I’m walking, he walks between my feet to make sure we don’t get separated.

Every moment is exciting to him. He greets each new activity with an astonishing burst of enthusiasm.

He’s always alert. Always on the lookout. Interested in everything. Curiously examining the littlest motion.

His spirit of play is inexhaustible. Everything is a game. Putting on my shoes, making the bed, turning the page of the newspaper (one of his favorites).  Just give him a paper towel and stand back. He will turn shredding it into an Olympic event.

He’s the easiest being in the world to make happy. He starts to purr when he sees me coming. Rub the top of his head, he closes his eyes in ecstasy.  Bury your face in his soft fur and the purr turns into a deep rumble. Invite him to sit on your lap, his sudden look of joy will flood your heart.

He’s an unwitting entertainer. I’m sure he has no particular desire to be funny, but his playful antics are laugh-out-loud comedy skits. A professional couldn’t get this many laughs. He goes upside down into pillows with his hind legs pedaling in the air, creates a one-man soccer game the length of the house with anything smaller than a tennis ball, gleefully attacks the broom … well, truth be told, he gleefully attacks anything that moves (and many unmoving things too).

Having a being this alive, this joyous, this engaged, this loving, this small, this soft, this fluffy, turns the ordinary into extraordinary.  He fills this little world full with laughter and love.

May your world too be filled with laughter and love.

Love,

Ingrid

How to grant yourself true freedom

Signing Declaration_of_Independence_(1819),_by_John_Trumbull

In Philadelphia 243 years ago, 51 men stood in line to sign their names on a bold document intended to change the course of human history. It was an act that could easily have cost them their lives.

The final sentence in the Declaration of Independence, the one right above all their signatures, ended with: … we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.”

They didn’t consider their lives sacred, nor their fortunes.  But their honor was, and that compelled them to openly communicate their beliefs, to clearly state where they stood, regardless of the tremendous risk to their lives.

William Ellery of Rhode Island, recognizing the tremendous significance of the moment, positioned himself so he could observe their faces as they signed. He described their expressions unanimous in “undaunted resolution.”

As a result, tomorrow we celebrate one of the most important holidays here in the United States.  July 4th is a tribute to the courage these men had on that day, to their sense of sacred honor which threw the doors open to democracy and the freedoms that form the very core of our country.

What is honor?

It is integrity in our beliefs and actions.

Honor almost always requires communication, necessitates our speaking up to bring it fully into being.

We may not have one big moment in our lives that requires us to “risk it all” for our honor. But we have many important moments that do require courage and resolution.  It’s the seemingly small, daily tests of our truths and dignity that either chip away at our honor or keep it sacred and build it up to powerful self-respect.

In these moments, it’s our decision to step forth and communicate what we observe, where we stand, what is true for us, that enables us to live lives of true freedom.

My wish for you is the ability to communicate as these men did, without fear or restraint, to communicate powerfully and successfully in a way that sets you free in your vigorous pursuit of life, liberty and happiness.

Happy July 4th!

Love,

Ingrid

Meet my greatest public speaking coach

Ingrid and Tetukas

My love for my father is deeper than the ocean.  I remember when he decided to retire as a VP of an international insurance company where he was responsible for handling the major claims which ended up in lavishly expensive court trials. He had made insurance law his specialty.

He called me from Philadelphia to say they’d asked him to give some talks to attorneys in major cities around the country before he retired.  He was coming to San Francisco and wanted to have dinner with me.

I was delighted and asked if I could come to his talk.  He told me I wouldn’t find it interesting, but I was very welcome.  I asked where it was and he casually said the Mark Hopkins Hotel and I said, “Dad! The Mark is a super fancy luxury hotel on Nob Hill in San Francisco!”

That’s the first glimpse I had that his talk was important. The second was when I arrived and the hotel receptionist directed me to the ballroom.

He had already started when I walked in. I don’t know how many hundreds of attorneys were in the audience, but they filled the immense room.  It was a way larger crowd than I was expecting.

I took a seat in the back with no idea what was in store.

I was floored listening to him. At home he had never really talked much about his work. He had come here as an immigrant escaping the suppressive Soviet occupation of Lithuania and, although he spoke three languages, English wasn’t one of them. He taught himself English and created a successful career. We could see this somewhat at home, but he never really talked about it.

Watching him, I was staggered by his ability to communicate, his ability to captivate an impressive group of attorneys. He was effortlessly charismatic. Eloquence seemed to just flow from him. He wasn’t dramatic, but he had a powerful presence and dignity that filled the room.  His words, his ideas, were clear, compelling.  His pace, his pauses, his timing, his delivery were impeccable.  He was in complete control.  He infused the room with a quiet but rich enjoyment.

Even in that large ballroom, listening to the melody of his voice, you felt he was talking directly and intimately to you, as if you were in the comfort of his living room, sitting by a fire, slowly sipping a snifter of brandy (something I had the good fortune to experience many times).

The audience was utterly enthralled and so was I.  We all hated when it was over. The Q and A went on forever.  I didn’t think they would ever let him go.

The moment he was done, he was mobbed as a very long line formed to talk to him. He saw me standing off to the side and told everyone in line, “I’m so sorry! I wish I could talk to you but I want to see my daughter.” He took my arm and we left.

I had no idea my father had this amazing ability for public speaking. Without any bias, to this day he is one of the top three best speakers I have ever heard in my life.

We had a wonderful dinner and I asked him if he would coach me on my public speaking. I already had a career giving presentations, and even teaching presentation skills workshops, but it was evident he was much better than I was and could teach me a lot.

He said, “Oh, Ingrid! That would ruin our relationship!” I laughed and told him I really wanted his honest feedback and coaching.

I videoed a couple of my talks and when I went home to visit, we watched them together. He didn’t need to see much, I immediately could tell from his face he didn’t like them.  He was very reluctant to tell me what he thought, but I persuaded him.

He looked at me sadly and made a simple statement:  “Too much effort.”

I asked him what he meant and he said, “You’re using too much effort. You’re trying too hard.”

That was it.  He was done. That was all the coaching he was going to give me.

I realized he was right. I was trying too hard to be compelling.

I worked on that for months, created a new video and brought it home. He looked at it and said, “Better.  Still too much effort.”

This went on several more times.

It took me about a year to get all the effort out until I was communicating effectively, yet effortlessly.  By then I had learned about intention and I experienced an energy and a flow, a power – one I had never felt before.  I had a dignity I never thought was possible.

I took my latest video home, he looked at it and said, “Yes.”

Since then I’ve had many people say to me, “You’re a natural.”  I answer them by saying, “Not at all.  I made myself a natural.”

I’ve had many coaches throughout my career, many very good ones, but this was the most valuable coaching I ever received.

Simple.  Direct.  Focused.  Accurate.

The difference it made in my presentations was profound. He nailed the one thing that, once resolved, changed a million other, lesser important things and brought out my full talent.

In his late 60’s my father went on to become a trial attorney and successfully argued cases in court until he was 80, including winning a case judged by the resplendent Pennsylvania Supreme Court.  When he was 77 I asked him what had been the high point of his career and, after giving it some careful thought, he answered, “I actually think it’s ahead of me.”

There’s no way I can capture all the richness my father gave me in one blog.  Emotionally, spiritually, intellectually.

I just know he was the greatest presentation skills coach I ever had and I have dedicated my life to being that for others. To finding what it is that unlocks and releases their special powers to the world, just like my father did for me.  And to be able to do that in 2 days so it doesn’t take a year.

We spoke Lithuanian at home and I called him, “Tetukas”, the Lithuanian word for father.

As we head into Father’s Day, whether you have a father or you are a father, or both, or perhaps you are in my shoes and you had a father you will never forget who lives in your heart, I wish you a very loving and special celebration of this very extraordinary day.

Love,

Ingrid

 

It’s not hoarding if it’s books

It's not hoarding if it's books

My response to that sidewalk sign is, “Amen!”

I live in more of a cottage than a house.  I’ve always been more of a “cottage person” than a “house person.”

Ironically, I’ve also been someone who would love one of those spectacular libraries like they have in Downton Abbey.  Only spectacular mansions have them.

You know the kind I mean, you see them in movies.  They have 100-foot ceilings, books lining the walls floor to ceiling, wooden ladders to reach the really-high-up books, plush chairs you can disappear into and read for hours while the sun streams in through leaded-glass windows. Mansion library 1

I’ve always wanted one of those.

I adore books.  Opening a book, I step into and inhabit another world.  So many worlds to explore!

I have books in every room of my house and, at any given time, I have three or four of them going.

I also love to listen to books on CD while driving and I always have one of these going too.

I often fall in love with the author.

I find bookstores and libraries magnetic.

Bookstores

My village (yes, I live in a village) has the cutest storybook library and I’m in there every weekend.  I love the librarians.  They are pleasant, kind, helpful, always happy to see you.

Montclair Library

I especially love the small independent bookstores, the owner behind the cash register, ready for an enthusiastic discussion of any volume or author in the store.

This is Kathleen, the owner of A Great Good Place for Books.  Go in there even once and she’ll know your name and remember what you most like to read.  Everyone in the village adores her.

A Great Good Place for Books bookstore in Montclair

I love good stories, novels, imaginings, essays, biographies, letters, wanderings, poetry.   Also great detectives (like Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe and Louise Penny’s Armand Gamache).

I started reading at a ridiculously precocious age. By the time I was 10, I had read all of my 18-year-old sister’s books (she’s also a prodigious reader), often to my father’s great consternation because, for example I had read the biography of Dylan Thomas, a Welsh poet who led a debauched life and drank himself to death.   I understood his immortal lines:

Do not go gentle into that good night,

Old age should burn and rave at close of day;

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

I understood his fury with mortality.   I liked that he would not go quietly.

My father, however, tried to have little talks with me about “suitable” reading material, but there was no controlling my sister’s growing library and if there was a book in the house, I read it.

In the summers when I was in school, I easily read a book a day and still got out to swim and play with friends in the lake where I grew up.

At some point I decided fiction and movies must have a happy ending for me to read or watch them.  I don’t like anything depressing or violent.  I want to be inspired, to laugh, to learn something amazing, to enter a beautiful new world or the realm of an extraordinary mind.

Here are some books I’ve loved in case you’re out there looking for something new to read for yourself.

For inspiration: Following Atticus. I listened to this on CD read by the author and hated having it end. He followed it up with another incredible book called Will’s Red Coat, through which I wept profusely.  Absolutely love these books.  Have been giving them to friends who love them too.

For lovable characters and can’t-put-down quirky fun, yet with a profound message, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society is one of my absolute favorites that I’ve read several times.  Also incredibly good to listen to on CD while driving.

I love old books and many written before this century.  For example, one of my favorites is Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog), a marvelously entertaining and humorous account by English writer Jerome K. Jerome of a two-week boating holiday in England, which was published in 1889.  I love both reading and listening to it on CD, especially because it’s read by the brilliant Hugh Laurie who has a fabulous British accent, really gets the humor and delivers it well.  It’s laugh-out-loud funny.

A surprisingly fascinating book on the history of how color has been used throughout the ages:  Color:  A Natural History of the Palette.

For incredibly good writing, characters you’ll never forget and really good storytelling, John Steinbeck‘s Cannery Row and Travels with Charley.  Cannery Row opens with what I consider to be the best first sentence and paragraph of any book:

Cannery Row in Monterey in California is a poem, a stink, a grating noise, a quality of light, a tone, a habit, a nostalgia, a dream.  Cannery Row is the gathered and the scattered, tin and iron and rust and splintered wood, chipped pavement and weedy lots and junk heaps, sardine canneries of corrugated iron, honky tonks, restaurants, and whore houses, and little crowded groceries, and laboratories and flophouses.  Its inhabitants are, as the man once said, “whores, pimps, gamblers and sons of bitches,” by which he meant Everybody. Had the man looked through another peephole he might have said, “Saints and angels and martyrs and holy men,” and he would have meant the same thing.

For poetry, Louis Swartz’s Constructed of Magic (which we are) and Magic Realized (which we’re capable of).  I keep these always by my bedside and read a little before going to sleep. Sometimes also when I wake up in the mornings.  Unbelievably uplifting, they fill me with inexpressible optimism and joy.

Wishing you wonderful worlds and books to journey to!  Remember, it’s not hoarding if it’s books!

Love,

Ingrid

Ancient Words

Philology Ancient Words

I just discovered I am a philologist!!!

At least, that’s what Daniel Webster would’ve called me back in 1828 when he wrote the American Dictionary of the English Language and defined a philologist as:

A person with a love of words and a desire to know their origin.

That describes me perfectly!  I have a vigorous love for words and am especially enamored with where they came from.

If you’ve read my previous posts, you know I’ve written about what time and world travelers words are.  Most of our words are very, very old and have traveled far.  Many go back thousands of years having trekked to America from the other side of the world.

The study of word origins or derivations is called etymology.

The word etymology comes from the Greek word etymon meaning “true source of a word”, and that grew out of the even older word eteos meaning true.

So, etymology is the study of the birth and first meanings of a word, chronologically following its trail as it spread from one language to another, gradually changing in form and meaning.

I have found that reading its history or derivation (which every good dictionary gives) enables me to discover the truth of a word.  A truth I often find charming.

For example, I find it fascinating that the words friend and free both come from the same Indo-European root word which meant to love.   It turned into the Old English word freod which meant affection, friendship, peace.

Love, freedom and friendship.  Such a beautiful combination.  So deeply ingrained in humanity’s genetic code.

It makes sense to me.  A friend helps free you from pain, sorrow, worry, loss.  A friend helps you be truly free in the fullest sense of the word.

Free to be yourself, free to laugh, free to say anything, free to tell everything, free to believe, free to grow, to try, to go for it.

A friend helps set you free.

Another is the word journey from the Old French journée which meant a day’s travel.  That was considered quite a journey back then.  It’s the same root as the word journal, which is where you wrote about your day’s travel.

A fun example is the word Sophomore, which currently means a 2nd year student in either high school or college.  It comes from the Greek sophos “wise” + mōros “foolish”.  Anyone can see these students are described well, as they are both wise and foolish at the same time.

Back in Socrates time they eagerly studied word origins.  They believed the original meaning was put there by ancient name givers.  Etymology was the way to find the message in a bottle the name givers had placed inside.

Whatever way you look at it, the derivation of a word takes you straight to its DNA.

If you’re interested, here are some blogs I’ve written on the history of several words I’m particularly fond of:

Inspire:  https://ingridgudenas.com/2017/04/17/inspire/

Kindness:  https://ingridgudenas.com/2017/03/25/the-history-of-kindness/

Gratitude:  https://ingridgudenas.com/2017/11/22/gratitude-is-older-than-sanskrit/

Philology came from ancient Greek where it meant love of the word.

And, you are not going to believe this!  Today, May 25th,is Philologist Day!!!!  A whole day dedicated to Philologists!!!!

Of course, it’s only celebrated in Russia, but nothing’s going to stop me here in California!  I join them in spirit!

Wishing you not only a beautiful holiday Memorial Day weekend, but also a very Happy Philologist Day!!!

Love,

Ingrid