Photo courtesy Inge Duin. See more of her quilts here.

Have you ever done stretching exercises?

If so, then you know the wonder of going with the stretch. When you stretch, let’s say, you bend your spine down while keeping your knees straight till your hand reach the floor. Put the palms down.

This stretch should be experienced through the spine as well as the hamstrings. If it is easy for you, walk your hands further on to increase the stretch, till you can barely handle it.

Here comes the key point.

When you are stretching you are challenging the muscles for elasticity. If you get tense at that moment, the stretch is painful or, uncomfortable, to say at least. But… when you relax with the stretch and into the stretch, this very discomfort becomes nearly pleasurable. It is still discomfort, mind you, but your body is both allowing it and accepting it. It sees the purpose of such a conscious extension.

The ease follows, which is not the ease from discomfort, but a meta-feeling of a higher level acceptance and understanding. In the stretch, in the very pull of the muscles, the body sees a promise of something greater. The promise of graceful movements. It is a joy in disguise.

The extension gives hope for supple joints and the flexibility. The body loves it deeply.


When a problem or a challenge occurs in your life, you may choose to attack it head on. You may want a solution and you may want it fast. This may work out in some cases, but it does not, when the solution involves your transformation.

If the solution cannot be worked out straight away or soon, what do you do?

Well…  Perhaps…

You gather more knowledge.
You collect more understanding.
You test various approaches and try new ones.
You research and investigate.
You seek help from others.
You move beyond the obvious, the standard and the norm.

Yet, the progress is negligible. When you manage to solve an aspect of your problem, a new angle arises to complicate the whole picture even more.

You feel like paddling a canoe in a raging river.
It is wild and unpredictable.
The harder your try, the more difficult it gets.

Imagine now, for a change, that your problem is not a wild river, but a small pond that you have already investigated pretty well. The solution you want is a bright coin lying at the bottom.

When you attempt to paddle like crazy, get better equipment (say, knowledge) or techniques (say, understanding) or ask friends to paddle with you, you only stir up the mud and create the foam.

Perhaps …  in all your eagerness of paddling and the splashes you created, you have indeed mistaken a pond for a river. All these efforts, well-intended of course, and optimized for effectiveness, all the anxiety, and the action are in vain.

They all obscure the surface of the pond. The waters are murky. There is nothing to be seen.

How can you look for the coin?

Stop your paddling and stand still. Stay still long enough for the waters to get calm and clear.
Relax into the stretch.

Just allow things to be.
Live as if you have everything you need.
Live as if your problems have never existed.

Maybe it will take one day, a week or a year.
Let your coin reveal itself.

It will.


Have you ever had a child or a family member with an overwhelming health problem?
Have you ever encountered a sudden limitation,  a serious lack of money or a loss?
Have you ever had so much on your plate you could barely make from day to day?

What do you do then?

Do you get angry and rebel?
Do you keep hacking the problem?
Do you educate yourself to come out with new solutions?

Relax instead.

Relax into your challenge.
Open your chest.
Accept what is and live as if the solution has been found.

This simple step takes the pressure of you to come out with action or plans to hack it.

Sometimes loving attention is all that is needed. To yourself, your family member or a friend.

In the state of relaxation, your parasympathetic nervous system is at work. This is your optimal state.

Your intuition is enhanced.
Love comes freely.
You live in the zone.


Cherish your intentions.
Calm your emotions.
Look around.

The coin is there to be found.


Some weeks ago I decided to treat myself with a full-body massage. It was not a usual Swedish massage I sometimes go to, but a special healing massage. It was something new for me.

When I arrived at the place, the Lady, I saw for the first time in my life, welcomed me with a smile. After the courtesy hello’s and a small talk that happens on such occasions, she asked whether we could start. I said “Yes”.

“What is your intention?”, she looked into my eyes. She was all ears, giving me a full attention.

I was surprised, perhaps even shocked. No masseur / therapist has ever asked me this question, neither in this way. And all over the years I visited various therapists on various occasions. The standard question usually evolves around “What’s your problem?”, “What brings you here?”, or “How can I help?”

I was surprised because asking about the intention is a coaching question. I loved it, of course. And you may imagine I’ve immediately liked the Lady too.

She was tough though.

“I want to release all negative emotions from my body”, I answered.

She looked into my eyes and said:

“No, this is not your intention. Look deeper. “

She was right. Negative emotions were only at the surface. They were important but not the real thing. So, in order to move closer to the real issue I decided to name the main emotion.

“It is about anger”, I said, “I feel it all over me.”
“I’m angry about the chain of events in my life that knocked down all my foundations.”, I added, “I am empty-handed. I have nothing to built on.”

Then I started to describe my issue in more detail. She stopped me half way.

“I’m not asking about the details.” She said. “They are not important.”

“What do you mean?”, I asked.

“What you describe is not about your intention”, she continued.

She was right again.

First, an intention is not about problems. It is not about what you don’t want or what you want to avoid or release. Intention is about whom you want to become, what you want to have, what you want to do or experience.

Secondly, I was not sufficiently specific. I moved deeper under the surface of my skin, so to speak, but what I was describing was not my intention. These were issues around my intention.

“Search deeper”, she commanded. “Name it.”

Of course, I knew what my intention was. I did not formulate it with words, but I knew what I came with. I was simply afraid to bring it into the light and to name it.

I was afraid because the intention was huge. The intention was encompassing the unknown. The intention was about something totally new. I was scared.

“Name it.” She repeated.

And I did. I made it explicit. Personal and positively stated. 

Suddenly my eyes were filled with tears. I touched the real thing in myself and I felt both relieved and vulnerable in that moment.

“That’s the point”, she said. “I recognize this is the truth.”

Then she continued,  “Let’s work on it.”

And what followed was an amazing massage.


I want to make two points with this story.

Point 1. First, there is the initial thought and/or the initial intention behind our actions. It is impossible to be conscious about all our intentions, but I believe that growth becomes natural when we realize our key intentions. We need to make them explicit.

What is your intention for this day?
What is your intention for this work?
What is your intention for this action?
What is your intention for this meeting?
What is your intention for this relation?
What is your intention for this complaint or excuse?
What is your intention for this visit/travel/journey?

Point 2. Secondly, massages act wonderfully on the whole person. It may seem that they only work to relax the body,  but it is a partial view. You may think that we can achieve similar or better results by other means, e.g. fitness, team sports such as tennis, football or volleyball, stretching exercises, prayer, going to the movies, meeting with friends and so on. I don’t think so.

Massages are a different modality that cannot be easily replaced. While regular exercises make wonders, while friends can lift our spirit, we cannot address all tense and difficult areas in the body.

In the very old times, the (healing) massage techniques were kept secret. They were available to the privileged ones, such as kings, gurus, leaders or priests. Why? Because massages were meant to re-model the person: help her to get rid of all patterns and beliefs impressed by upbringing, experiences or community. The goal was to prepare a person for an advanced and fast learning.

Nowadays we have a plethora of manual therapies and massages available, but we don’t treat them with respect. They can help you change, abandon limiting beliefs and transform the patterns that hold you in the past.

Give it a go and enjoy the flow!

I encourage you to ask around for a great masseur. Great massages can literally change your life for nicer.


The image above shows a beautiful quilt by Inge Duin. See more of her works on


Other inspirational or educational posts:



What is learning for you?

Please pause for a second and define it for yourself before reading on. Is it about books?

English was difficult

Let me start with a story. When I was in the secondary school I was poor at English. I could not understand it why. I was very good at math and chemistry, and I was able to understand structures well. Such skills should have helped me to master languages. Unfortunately, this was not the case. Languages posed a challenge for me and I found English especially difficult.

At some point during my study I had to learn the difference between the Simple Past and Present Perfect tenses. This was difficult, despite my best efforts and long hours spent on studying the examples. The teacher made a test and I failed. I was very disappointed because I had the best intention to understand and I put the time into learning.

So, I said to the teacher “I disagree with the note. I have been studying hard for a few days.” Yet, she answered, “Perhaps you have been studying for days, but you have not learned it yet.”

The moral is this:
Learning is more than memorizing. Learning is more than studying examples. Learning is more than understanding structure.

What about a change in your life?

Let me now ask you. What would you like to change in your life?

Do you want to solve your health problems?
Do you want to loose weight?
Do you want to become fitter?
Do you want to start a new carrier?
Do you want to become an entrepreneur?
Do you want to find a mate?

How successful have you been so far?

Let’s say that you want to solve your health problems, e.g. heal from the irritable bowel syndrome.

How much have you thought about it? Perhaps a lot.
How much have you educated yourself on the subject? Perhaps a lot.
How deep is your understanding? Perhaps deep.

Perhaps you have read many books or articles on diet, nutrition, digestion, elimination, stress and so on. Perhaps you have inquired people around, asked for suggestions, listened to seminars, and so on.  Let me now ask you.

How much have you changed as the result? Perhaps not much.

Can you think your way out of poor health? Can you learn driving by reading a book or watching a video? Can you reason your way out of debt?   No.

The moral is this:
Thinking is not enough. Understanding is not enough. They are helpful, even necessary, but insufficient for learning to occur.

As long as you stay on the level of thinking, there is little chance for growth. Why? Because you need to integrate the knowledge into the working of your body. You need a direct experience.

Pattern recognition – how we learn from data

Let me now briefly tell you about pattern recognition. In a basic scenario you want to discriminate between two classes, say apples and pears moving on a conveyor belt. The task is automatic sorting. A camera makes a photo of a passing fruit and the system needs to detect which fruit it is and sort it accordingly.

To solve the problem you first start with the labeled data: a set of raw images with individual apples and pears. They are labeled. In addition, you may be given other measurements such as weight or size.

You start by finding a meaningful representation of the raw images in the form of mathematical descriptors. These are often characteristic features, e.g. related to various shape characteristics. Next, the challenge is to choose a function that will discriminate between two classes based on the extracted features. The task is to learn this function.

There are multiple approaches and models possible and within each approach there are multiple, even infinite, candidate functions. How do you start?

You make a selection of a few promising models based on your experience, literature (what other people reported that worked for them for similar problems), understanding of the problem and initial data analysis. Then, for each approach the labeled data is used to train the related discrimination function, which means that the data is used to define the parameters of that function.

But it is not as easy as it sounds.

Some measurements of particular apples are more important than others as they influence the parameter values more strongly. Perhaps these are examples of typical apples.

Some measurements may also be faulty and lead to poor estimation. Perhaps these are examples of other fruits such as small mangoes that were mistakenly labelled as apples.

Some features may be meaningless (unspecific), giving similar response to both apples and pears.  Ideally, these concerns should be incorporated in the way the parameters are estimated.

Let’s say we have learned the function. Now, it is the test time.

This is often the most time-consuming step as various scenarios, strategies and sub-strategies are tested with respect to a number of selected functions. During this validation time, the function is being tested on the labeled data but unused in the learning of the function. In this way, we evaluate how good the function is at predicting the correct labels for fresh data.

In real problems, the results are sub-optimal, even poor, at this stage. It is just the first reference.

What you do next is to go through a repetitive cycle of small improvements on all levels. You investigate multiple factors. For instance, you look at the data to understand the incorrectly assigned cases. Perhaps these are border cases that need a separate treatment (i.e. another function to be learned).

You also look at the appropriateness of the data used for training, the usage of atypical or problematic examples, choice of discriminative features: adding new ones, extracting better ones or removing some, the usage of multiple functions that focus on specific aspects of the problem and use a voting scheme for the final labeling and so on. Or perhaps you even abandon the model you have chosen first and select another one.

And you test extensively all simple updates made. This all happens because a function can be learned perfectly on the given training data (give zero error) yet behave poorly on new, unseen data.

It is a tedious process in which you go through the cycle of sequential changes to find small improvements at each stage so that the overall performance is greatly enhanced. Yet, this process still requires a conscious human partner – the one to set criteria, observe, make choices and decisions.

If you now think that sorting apples and pears is an artificial example I can assure you that similar tasks are being automated on all levels in real life. These include sorting luggage on airports, detecting faulty planks in a factory, automatic recognition of post codes, computer aided diagnostic for malignant tissues in X-rays or ultrasound, speech recognition and so on.

How do automatic systems learn from data?

The moral is this:
Learning is a process in which informative data is collected and represented for the task (data and knowledge organization), the discriminating function is chosen and its parameters are well estimated such that the whole system performs well on new data, i.e. the discriminating function makes little or no error. This is achieved through a repetitive cycle of improvements.

The development of pattern recognition techniques was inspired by human learning. Isn’t now the time for us to be inspired back? Learning is practised through little updates.

What is learning?

In the light of personal growth, learning is about the change in behavior. We now understand behavior broadly as abilities, skills, habits, practices or actions to be taken.

There is no learning if there is no change in the behavior. We often make the mistake thinking that we are learning when we are reading books, memorizing techniques, analyzing problems or thinking about them. But we are merely collecting information and organizning it into structures or perhaps knowledge. Even understanding complex phenomena is not yet learning.

Learning truly occurs when there is an update or a change. Think about it. We can study all the books on driving and analyze road scenarios, but unless we simply start driving and practice, there is no way to develop this skill. The same principles apply to all areas in our lives. Be it becoming healthy, loosing weight or running a business.

We can understand the problem and know what to do to solve it. But unless we do what needs to be done, observe the results, reflect, draw the conclusions and update our approaches for the better results, our situation will not change much, even though we hold the best intention possible. So, let me summarize.

True learning is about

  1. Information collection. (Data collection)
  2. Observation and thinking. (Visual inspection of the data.)
  3. Understanding and knowledge organization. (Problem understanding. Data representation. Selection of features.)
  4. Action or practice. (Learning the discrimination function)
  5. Reflection. Drawing conclusions. (Testing! Analyzing what needs change. )
  6. Change.
  7. REPEAT the steps 1/2 – 6 until satisfied.

In order to learn we need all the steps above. We may also need to go through these steps multiple times to find a satisfactory change.


So, I’ve learned to discriminate between Simple Past and Present Perfect when I started to practise their usage in real scenarios. I’ve learned about the impact of green smoothies by making them and drinking them daily. I’ve learned to listen actively by coaching others especially in conflict situations. I’ve learned cooking simply by doing it.

What about you?

Are you a data collector, knowledge organizer or a learner?

If you choose to be a learner, it makes sense to adopt a practical approach. Select one aspect that you want to change in your life. Choose one book or one idea relevant to your situation. Which one to choose? Take the one which is either the most attractive or the easiest to implement.

Then simply do what they suggest. If there are multiple choices – simplify as much as possible. Your goal is the first direct experience. You will improve later on.

Test the idea and reflect on how it affects you – your energy levels, your emotions, your thinking, your physical being, your relations and so on. See what the results are. Make your best guess how to update the idea towards an improvement in the final result. Apply. Test it. Reflect. Repeat.

If the idea works, improve it further on. If it doesn’t work and you see no way of improvement, abandon the idea and move on to another one. If it works well, make it a habit.

If you want to create a change in your life, learning is the necessary step for transformation.

You need to make the ideas tangible by integrating them with your being on the physical plane. There are so many insights and observations you can gain from a simple application that no reading or thinking will ever provide. Testing gives you the real taste. It is much better to take one idea and test it than staying knowledgable but stuck.

Embrace change. You need to become it in order to be it.


Photo copyright by Moyan Brenn. Photo available under the Creative Commons license on Flickr.


Learning and generalization posts:


When you give, you are in a position of power and control. You have something to offer. But perhaps the act of giving is not of a pure intention.

When you receive, you are in a position of humbleness. You have something to welcome and accept. But perhaps what you are receiving is not what you really like, want or need.

The smallest gift

Can you receive the smallest gift possible, a complement?

Imagine your colleague says “You look great in this outfit!” or “A great presentation, indeed”.
What is your response?
Do you diminish yourself by saying, “Oh, I bought it really cheaply” or “Well… I guess it was fine.”
Or, you simply answer “Thank you. It’s nice you are telling me that”

How to receive

If somebody offers you a gift, express him/her gratitude for the time and effort spent to organize your gift. Pause for a moment, look into the eyes of the giver and say “Thank you”. It will make a difference.

Allow yourself to accept gifts from others. Appreciate what is coming. If somebody offers you a lift or paying your bill, say “yes” and be happy about such a lovely surprise. Forget about being vulnerable or owing them something in return. If you don’t like the gift or don’t need it, pass it on to someone who can enjoy it. Barter. Give it to a charity. Sell on ebay. Whatever.

As you do this, you support the flow of life going effortlessly. Everyone gets to win. When you refuse a gift, in that moment you block the flow of blessing in your life, and perhaps also in the lives of others.

True giving is always out of love. Accept the gift if it comes this way. Remember there is something majestic about receiving. A queen receives ambassadors or prime minsters. A noble man receives honors. A hotel receives guests.  Begin to see the act of receiving as an act of welcoming and accepting something special. Because it is so.

When not to receive

You may choose to decline the gift, if someone is giving for the wrong purpose. This means givning in order to make you dependent or force/expect you to do something in return that is not to your advantage.

“How do you know this is the case?”

You’ll simply notice it or sense it. There is a perplexing feeling that something is not truly all right. The best is to show appreciation while rejecting the gift. You may say something like that  “I appreciate your thinking about me and the effort you put to buy/make this gift. I cannot receive it, however. I feel this will create an extra pressure on me to do X [whatever X is in this case] which I don’t want. I am sorry if this is hurting you. I hope you can use this lovely gift for another person”.

You may also choose to accept a gift when the person is giving for the wrong reasons though. If your heart is pure, you can still help the blessings come.

How to give

Are you a joyful giver? Are you giving freely, with the purest intention possible?

True giving comes from the heart.

You give because you want to express gratitude.
You give because you want to help someone.
You give because you want to enrich the other person.
You give because you want to bless yourself and the other person.
While this may all be true, ultimately, you give because you want to grow as a conscious being.

Give and forget about your gift.

Release any expectations. In your mind set the person free to do whatever he/she wants with your gift. They are free to use it, abandon it, throw it away or give it away. The gift serves you as an outlet for your love, for sharing what you have.

Give with joy and the intention of blessing the other person. It will transform you.

Where to give

You should give to a person, place or organization where your giving is going to contribute the most.

Give to support a meaningful goal of the people you know. This may be an education of a kid.

Give to your friends to help them go through difficult times. This may be money when they desperately need it or teaching them a skill while they are looking for a new job.

Give to support where you are personally involved. This may be your local quilting club or climbing club. Give where you receive the most joy.

Give where you receive the spiritual growth. This may be your local community or your local church. Give where you receive guidance.

Give where you learn a lot. Give to people who inspire you, help you and love you. This may include your parents or siblings, your neighbours or friends, teachers, mentors, schools, universities, and so on.

Giving and receiving

If you give something to others, you should also allow them to give something back to you if they desire to. But you can perfectly receive from another source 🙂

Giving and receiving are a part of an ever-active circulation of value exchange and blessings. You cannot give that what you don’t have. When you give, you need to receive something in return to continue to give more. When you receive, you need to give something to continue to receive more. And so on.

Remember that what you give may be totally different than what you receive. You may give your efforts to teach a person a skill and receive a life-transforming book from another. You may give your knowledge and receive a place to live. You may give your laptop to a child and receive a dinner invitation from friends. Simply give and receive.

You contribute to others and you are supported by them. You bless others and they bless you. You enrich others and they enrich you.

Giving is a skill of conscious outflow. Receiving is a skill of conscious inflow.

The key is to live a life of balance and be happy with yourself. Then from that place you can reach out and help others even more.

And the final message is …

Giving and receiving are the two opposites of abundance. Your task is to maintain the flow.

{Give → Receive} × REPEAT


Photo courtesy Fe Langdon, available under the Creative Commons license on Flickr.




If there is one thing to make you an effective communicator, it is active listening

This is a sequel to this post on active listening.

In active listening, the magic happens because you shift your attention from yourself to the other person.

You listen with the intention to understand. It is not an intellectual understanding only, but a deep understanding of the person as a whole. You simply make an effort to think and feel like the other person, at least with respect to the issues presented or discussed. You accept the other person by who (s)he is. By doing so, you create the space in which the person can relax and become at integrity with oneself.

There is no judgement, no criticism and no advice.

Setting-up the stage

There are two planes of operation in active listening: setting-up the stage and caring for the message. In this post we focus on how to improve the first plane.  The basic steps of setting-up the stage are:

  1. Acknowledge distractions
  2. Set-up the intention
  3. Keep eye contact
  4. Build rapport
  5. Raise curiosity and maintain interest
  6. Give full attention


Before we can actually practice active listening, first we need to become aware of numerous distractions that are on the way. You may need to overcome some in order to create conditions that support you in active listening. Example distractions include:

  • Environment: too noisy, too dark/too bright, uncomfortable chairs, disturbing textures, …
  • Mood or health: bad mood, sleepy, hungry, emotionally aroused, feeling pain, …
  • Poor eye contact: the other person moves eyes away
  • Internal self-talk: a stream of thoughts
  • Unresistable urge to tell own message
  • The message: too boring, too long, too far fetching, …
  • Delivery of the message: accent, use of language, way of explaining,
  • Defense mechanism for e.g. criticism
  • etc

Just by becoming aware what is in our environment and how we feel, we can recognize the distractions and acknowledge them. It is not necessary that all the distractions are solved, although it helps enormously, of course.You may just simply notice things along the line “I’m a bit angry after this email. I’ll be back to it at the end of the day. … Oops, I’m hungry… These curtains are really ugly…. I hear voices on the street. ….I’ll buy something to eat and move to another table… Hmmm, I am a bit cold.  I will take a tea….” Note that this process can be very fast, in a matter of seconds.

This paying attention to distractions is important because we bring them from the subconscious mind to the conscious mind. In doing so, your conscious mind recognizes the distractions and can now focus more freely on listening without perturbations of hidden processes.


Setting up the intention for active listening is to align your subconscious and conscious mind to support each other. You simply decide to be present in the moment, every single moment. A 15-20 second (or minutes before if possible) of quieting and calming the mind is an essential practice here.

Eye contact

Eye contact is important as it practically reflects whether you are interested in the conversation or not.


Perhaps, rapport is the mystical word here. Rapport basically means a harmonious relation, when two or more people are on the same wavelength or ‘in sync’. Some people create rapport at ease, others need more practice. The goal of rapport is to build trust. Hence it is crucial.

The good news is that you can create rapport consciously. The two main techniques are mirroring and finding similarities.

Mirroring. In the first approach you mirror the person’s outside. That is, you match breathing pattern, voice (speed and pitch) and body language (sitting, posture, gestures, face expressions). You do it in a gentle way to reflect the general pattern about the person, not every detail. For instance you may choose to speak faster or modulate the tone of your voice if the person speaks fast and with a high pitch. You may choose to lean to one side and cross the legs if this is what the person does.

All the changes you apply are in a small degree from your natural being, not the exact neither extreme copy of the other person. The reason is that you want it be as natural as possible as you need to maintain it. You can only do it consciously if this is a small step for you. Gentleness is the key here.

Why is it important to mirror the body language? The key here is that our physiology,our body language supports us in creating specific feelings. When you mirror the physiology of the other person, you can perceive some of the feelings and better understand what is going on for her or him. In addition, the person is subconsciously more able to relate to you. See the exercise below.

Finding similarities. In the second approach to building rapport, first you spend the time to find either common interests or common experiences. The common interests can be things such as golf, fashion, computer games, quilting, cooking, dogs, etc. The common experiences include specific hardships or fun experiences, living in a foreign country, studying art, learning to ride a horse, etc. The key is to find something that evokes strong emotions. They help us connect and facilitate the creation of the platform of understanding.

If you really want to learn more, observe people who are powerfully engaged in a conversation. Observe rapport in practice and take the learning points on stage.

Curiosity and interest

The next step is to arise your own curiosity. Just forget everything you knowand see the person or hear the issues as if for the first time. You are on a discovery journey. If you are curious to learn about the other person, rapport comes more naturally.

Full attention

Make a decision to give your attention fully. In doing so, your internal dialog should be killed. If this is not the case, there is a simple trick that can help you. Please keep your tongue on the roof of your mouth. If you maintain this set-up of your tongue, you will notice that internal dialog disappears. If there is however a moment you catch yourself busy with your internal dialog, acknowledge that and return to listening. Please say to the other “I’m sorry, I’ve lost my concentration. Can you repeat what you’ve just said?” The key is to be curious and interested. If you do that, your focus will naturally follow.

Finally, truly engage in listening. Start simple and make one change at a time. You will experience the magic. No doubt.



If you don’t believe that your body posture and gestures induce feelings just try to get into this position:  stand up, feet close to each other, head down, look down, shoulders down and towards chest, slouch, arms down and palms pressing against each other.

What are the feelings that accompany this posture? Keep this posture and generate the feeling of true happiness. How easy is it?


Photo courtesy Fe Langdon, available under the Creative Commons license on Flickr.