Posts by Sybil Ottenstein

Just a Brooklyn gal trying to make sense of all of the wonder in this world. Sybil’s were oracles in Ancient Greek mythology, but the name also means mustache in Persian. I’m probably somewhere in between. One part logic, two parts mystery. As much as I learn, I know next to nothing…but have always feel close to everything. And I like it that way. Been on a journey for the past several years and recently things feel different, life junction of sorts. As such, I have returned to this blog as a platform to create, express, collaborate and allow whatever needs to flow through me the space to do just that. Read it, don’t read it, connect, don’t connect…it’s all good. This is for me, this is for you, this is for Tim in Timbuktu. Whatever it is and wherever it goes, I’m grateful to have you along for this journey with me. Let's dive down the rabbit hole together.

30 thoughts on 30

For the past few months, with my 30th birthday looming on the horizon, I began a running list on my phone. The list contained a collection of thoughts, messages I’ve received and things I’ve learned. Despite the list’s seemingly random nature, the unifying factor amongst all entries is that, in my experience, they are expressions of truth. These thoughts have led me to beautiful places inside of myself and throughout the world around me. They have set me free of thoughts and beliefs that no longer serve, and directed me towards greater understanding and light.

I haven’t published anything on this platform for years (and frankly the title no longer reflects my worldview!), as my preferred forms of expression have turned more inward as time has gone by. But over the past 6 weeks while backpacking around South America, the clarity and pertinence of the messages have intensified. This time, something told me that it may be worthwhile to jot these down for others to see. So here they are, my 30 thoughts on 30…

  1. Everything and everyone is a mirror
  2. No sex is better is better than anything less than divine sex
  3. Morning rituals make for better days
  4. The nature of our thoughts determine the nature of our reality
  5. God bless the conscious man
  6. Our true power exists between extremes
  7. You always know where to go and you are always exactly where you need to be
  8. First we must know ourselves. Only then can we love ourselves. And ONLY then can we truly love others.
  9. Lean into fear
  10. Time takes time
  11. Compassionate boundaries
  12. It is our responsibility to observe our habitual behavior and break toxic cycles of addiction
  13. People can feel how you feel about yourself
  14. Creation is not merely the act of the painter. Creation occurs in every moment, every choice, every interaction
  15. Life is a journey from head to heart
  16. Humility is so fucking important
  17. Avoid the energy suckers
  18. Eating vegetables changes the way you think
  19. Restriction is an illusion, scarcity is an illusion
  20. Imagine a spectrum, and on this spectrum there is love and there is fear. Fear is merely the absence of love. So therefore, there is only love
  21. Gratitude leads to presence
  22. Choose love (it’s a choice)
  23. The more we give gratitude, the more we receive abundance
  24. Self love = our most important mission
  25. Life will throw storms our way. Anyone can drown. Some can float. But only a very few can swim
  26. We must live in full embodiment of our truth (no cheating, no excuses)
  27. Choice! We have it
  28. Every breath is a ceremony
  29. Through sisterhood, we rise
  30. Open heart: Open mind

Flamingo

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Incoincidental Coincidences

Every now and then, a series of coincidences occur that are so unusual, serendipitous or downright bizarre that you are forced to weave the little bits of logic you are able to gather together, and read the signs that something, somewhere, somehow is transmitting. According to renowned psychiatrist Carl Jung, these instances represent a case of ‘synchronicity,’ or the occurrence of two or more events that appear to be meaningfully related but are not seemingly connected.

 carl

These ‘meaningful coincidences’ reveal some sort of underlying pattern that encompasses a wider theme, bringing certain events to the forefront of our consciousness. We’ve all been there. Think of that moment when you are thinking of a certain person and suddenly see their name on your caller ID. Or those moments when you see a stranger on the street that so vividly resembles someone you know that you are overwhelmed with a jolting sense of recognition in your gut.

coinc

Recently I have found myself hyper-aware of synchronicity’s presence in my daily life. Now, more so than ever. I just returned from a long Christmas weekend in Paris with a dear childhood friend. For the most part, the weekend was exactly what one would expect from a magical winter weekend in Paris. However, in the span of a few short days, we experienced a series of three uncannily bizarre experiences on the Parisian underground that at first sight appeared to be coincidental, but with a deeper look, may be part of a greater synchronistic force.

flow

On our first metro ride into the city, we settled into our seats on a comfortably full train. Suddenly, we heard a woman begin an energetic diatribe that immediately captivated the entire car. Ranting to a faceless perpetrator, eyes glassed over and voice unreasonably loud, this woman was burdened with a blinding anger that only a public outburst could remedy.

With our limited French, we could piece together hints of racial frustration and a painful revulsion to social discrimination. The woman simply couldn’t hold it together anymore and used the car full of strangers as her involuntary public soapbox. We left the subway feeling heavy, as if we carried some lingering particles of her rage out of the car with us onto the street above.

rant

The following day, as we entered the platform we saw a blind man waiting for the oncoming train. As the train approached, I began to venture over to assist him to enter the car. My friend held me back, and in a moment of confusion, I was pleased to see that another stranger guided him safely into the car. A compassionate humanitarian in her essence, my friend’s reaction surprised me and left me wondering.

Finally, as we were waiting on the platform a few hours later, a young man suddenly approached us with a 50-euro note, which he said had dropped from one of our bags. My friend looked in her bag to discover that, in fact, it was hers. In awe, we thanked our superfluous savior.

metro

Contrary to everything one hears of urban underground behavior, this man briefly restored our blackened faith in broader human goodness and spurred our reflection of the previous incident, as my friend explained her initial assumption of the man’s duplicity after hearing countless stories of Paris subway scams using similar tactics.

Three powerful experiences within a few short days, all on the usually unremarkable Parisian underground. Blinding burdensome anger juxtaposed with graceful generosity and fundamental human kindness. Were these three random events or the human manifestation of hidden forces actively at work, which appeared to us in a string of events, begging us to absorb, assist and appreciate?

pauli

Jung and his long-term patient and intellectual muse Wolfgang Pauli were convinced that synchronistic events reveal an underlying unity of mind and matter, of conscience and sub-conscience, of the universe lifting the curtain to reveal its infinite wisdom. What appears to be random coincidences are in fact the manifestation of the mechanisms which govern the whole of human experience and history, as the universe has a way of delivering exactly what we need at the very moment we need it. Since ‘everything happens for a reason’ is trite bordering on crude, I’ll end with one of Jung’s favorite quotes from Through the Looking-Glass in which the White Queen Says to Alice, “It’s a poor sort of memory that only works backwards.”

white queen

Born to believe

 

As a society, we have lived and will continue to live through war, experience tragedy, witness injustice, and walk amongst people who wear socks with sandals every, single day. With such overwhelming information challenging any resemblance of an upbeat forecast, how is it that sane and seemingly rational people still maintain hope for the future?

We like to think of ourselves as rational creatures. We look both ways before we cross the road and smell the milk before we drink. But both neuroscience and social science suggest that our so-called rationalism is a mere misconception. Overall, we expect things to end up better than what statistical probability indicates. We hugely underestimate our chances of being diagnosed with cancer, losing a job or getting divorced, and overestimate our future achievements and total lifespan.

So how does optimism about our personal future remain so incredible resilient?

come

Perhaps it’s because we all carry within us an evolutionarily engrained susceptibility to what is known as the “optimism bias.” The optimism bias causes a person to believe that they are less at risk of experiencing a negative event than what statistics imply.

The optimism bias is such a powerful force that it not only acts to protect us, but it inspires us to achieve great heights. Without optimism, we would look at our odds in life and recognize, realistically so, that we might as well just jump from the nearest high-rise and end it all right now. Without optimism, our ancestors may have never ventured far from their tribes in search for a better life. Hell, we could’ve all still remained cave dwellers pathetically huddling together, freezing cold around a fire.

Optimism encourages us to be adventurous, to love, to take risks and to hope. Studies show that divorced optimists are more likely to remarry than their pessimistic counterparts – an act that is considered to be the “triumph of hope over experience.” Apparently, even the illusion of a better future can provide those cursed with the optimism bias clear benefits in the present.

so far

While it sounds like a harmless pair of rose colored glasses, the optimism bias does have a dark site. Oftentimes, overly positive assumptions can lead to disastrous miscalculations. They can make us skimp on sunscreen, avoid the doctor’s office or act careless towards our retirement accounts. Unrealistic optimism can lead to faulty planning, risky behavior, and even financial collapse.

In the end of the day it may not matter if it’s a good thing or a bad thing. Evolutionarily speaking, it may be simply a thing. A growing body of scientific evidence has found optimism is hardwired by evolution into the human brain. It makes sense when you think about it, as positive expectations naturally enhance our odds of survival.

darwin

Positive thinking about our prospects requires us to imagine ourselves in the future. Optimism starts with what is perhaps the most fascinating of human talents: cognitive time travel. We possess the ability to move back and forth through time and space in our own minds.

Cognitive time travel is truly the jewel of natural selection. It allows us to plan ahead, save resources for times of scarcity and endure hard work in anticipation of a future reward. It lets us conceptualize how our current behavior may influence future generations. If we could not engage in cognitive time travel, would we save money, eat healthy, or recycle? Would we even have children?

grim

While cognitive time travel has some clearly awesome survival-oriented advantages, it came to us at an enormous price: the understanding that somewhere in an imagined future, death awaits around the bend. Without hardwired optimism, the awareness of mortality would have easily led to the end of evolution as fear and despair would have interfered with our daily functioning.

However, thanks to the beauty of conscious mental time travel, knowledge of death emerged side by side with the persistent and irrational ability to picture a brighter future. As such, death and hope have evolved into an inseparable twosome, a complex yet complimentary duality without which, the cycles of humanity would come to a halt.

1990, BACK TO THE FUTURE PART III

Just because we are aware of the optimism bias does not dilute the power of its illusion. And I think that’s a good thing. Instead, it allows us the opportunity to actively find the balance between attempting to protect from its follies while allowing ourselves to fall blissfully prey to its hopeful melodies.

Sometimes everything has to fall apart

We are, from the earliest of ages, programmed to plan. We start mapping out our entire lives before we’re old enough to spell. We knew then, without a doubt, what we wanted. Whether it was in the short term (sleep, candy, or attention) or in the long-term (to be an astronaut, or a superhero) – we were absolutely certain that we would get everything we wanted. The first time something didn’t go our way, we immediately resisted. The confusion and anger we experienced at these moments symbolized the atom-bomb caliber clash between and our preconceived notion of our world and the uncontrollable reality we live in.

astro

However, life is a complex series of moving parts, an elaborate behind the scene process of people, places and things coming in and out on a schedule of their own. Our personal reassurances of programmed serendipity act as nothing more than an elaborate illusion of comfort and permanency.

And still, as adults, we struggle with the understanding that everything doesn’t always go according to plan. We naturally prefer to believe that what we experience is fixed and absolute. This provides us with the promise of safety and permanence. I will finish my studies, build a successful career path, have a perfect marriage and 2.5 children, travel the world…

And then it happens. We get slapped in the face with a seemingly lethal dose of reality. We lose a loved one. We experience financial crisis. Our health takes a turn for the worst. A long-term happy relationship turns sour. Our once certain future becomes riddled with confusion, chaos and doubt.

confusion

These are what we can call “truth moments.” They come into our lives to let us know that we are not in control, that in fact, we haven’t had control since day one, and our plan has been nothing but a silly musing of the ignorantly blissful. Sometimes we received hints along the way, little whisperings in our ears that a truth moment was just around the bend. Maybe we didn’t pay attention, or chose to look the other way. Other times they appear to come out of left field. Regardless, when the truth moment comes, it hits you like a swift punch in the stomach.

After the truth moment comes the stages of transition. First there is loss. You have shed an old behavior pattern, part of your identity, status or a relationship. The realization of this loss predicates the next stage, uncertainty. That’s the “what the hell am I supposed to do now” moment. It’s that deeply terrifying moment when you think about tomorrow and see nothing but a blank screen.

jump

Uncertainty is preceded by discomfort. It hurts. The energy from your outdated persona is being released in a painful birthing process, a necessary step to prepare you for what’s to come. When you are deep in this phase, you think the pain will last forever. But nothing lasts forever, not even pain.

Afterwards, we experience insight, understanding and finally, integration. The crisis becomes sewn into a revived and resilient new version of ourselves, slowly but surely fading into a relic of the past.

marilyn

As my girl Marilyn Monroe says, “Sometimes good things fall apart so better things can fall back together.”

A lot of what holds us back around a truth moment is anxiety about the future. Suddenly what we thought was so familiar and clear became foreign and masked in a dark cloak of mystery. Little do we realize, but this unknown place is the place of greatest human potential. When all anchors, comforts and road maps are stripped away, we suddenly realize that the person we previously referred to as “me” was merely a reflection of all that was around us. We were a compilation of the external things that make up life as we knew it. When they are removed from the equation, what’s left is who we really are.

So now what? Well f*ck if I know. But I’ve been told the key to building positive momentum is by exercising serene patience. Sounds paradoxical, but in reality, patience within crisis begets wisdom. It allows us to welcome difficulty with strength and endurance rather than letting it drown us with fear, anxiety and the most dangerous of all: avoidance. So what do we do? The only thing we can: weigh the options and put one foot (slowly) in front of the next.

Ask around. The only way out of a breakdown is through.

 

To the lonely girls on the poorly lit roads

Last week, I got out of a cab after a late night, with two short blocks between my apartment and me. It being dark but for the street lamps, I made out two male figures standing together at the upcoming intersection. Immediately, I scan the scene. There’s no one else around. From afar, they appear to be rather intoxicated, joking around with beer-infused gusto.

street

“You’re being paranoid, its fine,” I tell myself, as I go and stand at the intersection with them, waiting for the red hand at the stop walk to turn green.

They turn and face me, like hungry lions who just picked up the scent of a lone hyena. They engage. What started out as friendly niceties immediately turned to crude sexual advances and blatant harassment. They made a game out of me, flexing their muscles between themselves as I morphed into an inanimate bystander in their drunken quest for entertainment. As their comments got racier, my heart felt it was at the point of implosion.

In moments like this, the body goes into fight-or-flight response, an automatic physiological reaction which occurs in response to a perceived threat to our survival. Like animals, we react to threats by producing hormones that prime us to either fight or flee in response to the external stresser.

fight

My immediate reaction: flight. They are two men, I am one woman. I’m alone. They are bigger than me, they are drunk, and they are hungry.

But then something happened. Fear evolved to frustration and rather inexplicably, flight morphed into fight.

“Tell me,” I asked them, “Do you honestly think its okay to speak like this to a woman who is alone on the street in the middle of the night?

Puzzled, they froze. My onslaught continued.

“No, I want to understand. Would you want someone to talk like this to your sister? To your girlfriend? To your mother?”

They were stunned. All I heard was a muffled “We didn’t know.”

And then came the icing on the cake. “You didn’t know that I’m a person, too?”

They huddled with their metaphorical tails between their legs as I abruptly walked away, feeling vindicated in a way that words truly don’t do justice.

yo shorty

The situation I described above is one with which many of us are intimately acquainted. Street harassment is nothing new. Invasive and inappropriate catcalling has become a societal norm practiced against females (and males) worldwide.

Street harassers use their words and their actions as a statement of power. These men were trying to let me know that they had sole rights to my body and my being. They were using their power to intimidate and dehumanize. The second that I reminded them that I too, was a person, suddenly their game bore a face.

person not object

Our rejection disrupts their entitlement to our bodies, which society has convinced them to believe that it is nothing less than their given right. Like many forms of gender violence, the ubiquity of the phenomenon acts as a reflection of the toxic power structures inherent in modern society.

As women, we often times walk down very different streets than others walk. Our streets can sometimes feel like a minefield, scattered with unpresuming obstacles and things that go bump in the night. No I am not flattered, and no, it is not a compliment. And god damn it felt good to say that out loud. In today’s concrete jungle, women around the world are taking back the night, and putting a face to the game.

cartoon

 

 

 

 

 

Why it’s all about me ‘Me’

Welcome to the reign of “Generation Me.” Now in order to understand our foundations, motivations, and why we take so many damn selfie’s, let’s take a quick stroll down memory lane to understand the evolution of the realities of our generation and what the hell it all means.

silent

Let’s start with our grandparents. They lived through a World War, witnessed the downfall as fascism and marveled as their parents work through the Great Depression. The combination of successful political leadership and the paranoia of McCarthyism pressured them to conform, as the values of individualism fell by the wayside in favor on the all-encompassing ethos of patriotism, love of country. Forever dedicated to the collective, they were nicknamed the “silent generation” as they quietly and loyally adapted to the world around them.

Then came our parents, the baby boomers. Coming to age during the great social changes of the late 60’s and early 70’s, this generation lived through a period of sheer and utter chaos. Their faith was tested and shattered by the war in Vietnam, civil strife and political assassination. Simultaneously, they were eyewitnesses to expansions in civil rights and the economic boom of the 90’s. Such confusion made the formation of a cohesive world-view amongst a generation nearly impossible. Instead, Gen-X funneled into a general sense of disillusionment.

poor

Now we fast forward to today. According to recent polls, we are the first generation in the modern era to have higher levels of student loan debt, poverty and unemployment, and lower levels of wealth and personal income than our two immediate predecessor generations. Our generation has arguably been the hardest hit by the recession, are have grown increasingly skeptical (bordering on cynical) of even the best-laid retirement plans. Only 6% of us expect to receive the kinds of retirement benefits that today’s retirees enjoy, and with good reason.

To quote Ronald Reagan, “I didn’t leave the Democratic Party, the Party left me.” The way Millennials see it, our institutions are no longer worthy of our trust, and have left us out to dry.

reagan

We have grown up in an era where dirty money spent by the shadowy few dictate our ever-bleak futures. We have watched the toxic vapor seep out of the bodies that are meant to govern us while we sit on mountains of student debt with desolate employment prospects and grossly overpriced diplomas rotting in our hands. It comes as little surprise that we aren’t running to congratulate our elected leaders and salute our respective flags. No, instead, we have become alienated from our society’s major institutions. Turned off by religion and disgusted by politics, we are less trusting, less patriotic and generally a pretty jaded bunch.

Nicknamed “Generation Me,” us Millennials figured it out from an early age that we would be going at this whole life thing alone, with no government or institutions to provide for us or provide a cushion to fall back on.

With verifiably less attachment to group cohesion or classically defined community, we have been consistently taught to put our own needs first. Think about it, we grew up to the matras of “you’re special” and “you can do whatever you want.” These aphorisms emphasized individualism, and have been reflected in the attitudes of a generation who put an insane amount of time and energy into maintaining our “uniqueness.” When left unchecked, individualism has the tendency to lead to blatant self-absorption and narcissism. Generation Me takes turns being both the victims and the perpetrators of aggressive self-promotion of all things mundane via the Internet, from your cat taking a nap to an elevator selfie.

Take, for instance, your facebook newsfeed on mother’s day. Did it or did it not turn into passive aggressive warfare, a battle of who can put the most heart-warming photo collage of them and their mom (who may or may not even be on facebook), singing her praises and asserting that she is, without a doubt, the best mom ever. Just who is this post for?

Gilmore Girls

 

But individualism isn’t all bad. In fact, it has provided our generation with the opportunity to explore, discover and develop aspects of our lives that our parents and grandparents didn’t even know were possible. For Generation Me, we are on a life-long quest to self-actuate. Straight from psychologist Abraham Maslow’s famous pyramid of the hierarchy of needs, self-actualization represents the realization of a person’s full potential. According to Maslow, “What a man can be, he must be.”

maslow

Following our generation’s individualistic modus operandi, we work, study, eat, dress, travel and socialize to be the best possible versions of ourselves. Take, for example, our travel patterns. Instead of waiting to cash out on a retirement plan we have no faith in, Millennials have recognized the logic in traveling now. In fact, the Millennials are now the fastest-growing age segment in terms of money spent on long-term travel. The way we see it, better to travel now instead of saving the fun for a future that is far from guaranteed.

travel

Alienated from the institutions which served our parents and grandparents, we recognize that we only have ourselves to rely on. For better or worse, we chose to have the freedom to chose, the opportunity to have options, and to experience the world in a way generations before us never have.

 

 

The world is flat, but all I want is you

Information is abundant, overwhelming and constant. We have the ability to know just about anything we could ever possibly want to know – whenever we want, however we want. Our information “accesser” molds conveniently in the palm of our hand. It’s so easy, it borders on the absurd.

phone

Yet surprisingly enough, we turn our heads away from the endlessness of the tech-fashioned universe. Instead, we find ourselves looking to the earth touching our feet: at the people, places and things that surround us. We’re looking for what’s close. For the local groups that speak to our unique interests, for opportunities to connect with our neighbors, to buy locally made products and generally, to enjoy the comforts of the familiar.

ground

Why, when we have access to everything and anything, from the highest of heights to the farthest of distances, do we want what is closest and most presumably accessible?

Is it because we all, as a collective, want what we can’t have? Is this a case of societal FOMO? Or is it that we have what we don’t want?

fomo1

How does the saying go? In order to know your future, you must first know your past. Before the Internet (which spellcheck just told me deserves a capital “I”), before modern technology, before machines replacing humans, before big data…we were a community. Neighbors talked to neighbors, face to face. They borrowed eggs from one another. They shopped in the neighborhood market. They celebrated and mourned life events together. They knew the local shoe-maker.

Today, we snapchat and whatsapp our hundreds of very closest friends from halfway across the world. We buy eggs from our mega supermarkets, online, and we don’t ask the shoe-maker his name, because frankly, we don’t have time (or care).

good old days

Am I romanticizing the “days of lore” a bit too much? Perhaps.

But regardless, I think something interesting may be happening here. The world is flat, yes. But it appears we are each looking for our little lump of community.

Why do I go to a yoga studio when I can practice off of YouTube videos at home and save humiliating sums of money? Why do we huddle around farmers markets, brushing shoulders with like-minded foodies, when online grocery delivery services work just fine? Why do co-working hubs have such long waiting lists, when working from your laptop from home, alone, is so much easier and cheaper? Community, physical interaction and a sense of belonging to a place can’t be provided from YouTube, PeaPod or, believe it or not, Google.

Yes, something big is happening here indeed. We thought a flattened, globalized, and interconnected world was the end all be all. We’d figured it out, the world had changed and we’re never turning back. However, it turns out, it might be one stop of the cycle of society. For it appears we are returning to what is local, physical. Here and now.

hug