‘Zen Under Fire’ Author Marianne Elliott: Fear Became My New Normal

‘Zen Under Fire’ Author Marianne Elliott: Fear Became My New Normal

Human rights lawyer Marianne Elliott knows the true meaning of “Zen Under Fire.”

That’s the name of the book she wrote about her harrowing experiences in Afghanistan, where she was stationed with the United Nations in 2006 when a tribal leader was assassinated.

Being in Afghanistan put a strain on Elliott’s relationship with her boyfriend, friends and family. Eventually, a state of extreme fear became her new normal, she told HuffPost Live’s Nancy Redd.

“It’s interesting when I look back to realize how accustomed you become to the dangers you’re living with,” Elliott said. “It wasn’t really until I left Afghanistan that I looked back and realized there was this constant level of fear that affected me in a physical and nervous-system level that I had just become used to.”

Check out the full conversation at HuffPost Live HERE.

Thoughts on Karma…
Our intentions are the clearest way to determine the energy we put forth into the world. It was in 2004 that I remember feeling this for the first time. I gave a gift* and it came from a place of obligation. I realized that if I gave a gift from a place of guilt, it lost its full potential. I didn’t feel good about giving it and I was a little resentful. The receiver may have still used it to its fullest functional life, but the act of giving can always be a gift to the giver as well.

In my opinion, the often overused and under realized idea of Karma is like gift giving. It is our intention we put out into the world with our actions, thoughts and our words. I have often felt guilty for my thoughts. I don’t necessarily mean them, but they pop up and I find myself thinking, “Am I really such a terrible person for thinking this? Am I only tricking myself into believing I am kind and compassionate?” This is something I have wrestled with for quite some time and I have come to accept that Thoughts Happen. What we do with them is entirely our choice as is most anything in life. These ideas of choice/free will and whether or not we are predetermined to be good or not-so-good people brings up a a parable that I often cite and draw on. I am not sure where along the way I picked it up or who to credit it to.

I envision a sage, an old Chinese teacher with round spectacles propped upon his nose. His thick, silver overgrown eyebrows rest atop his spectacles as he squints over his pupils who vary in age and size. All of the students sit at their desks with tablets and sticks of chalk as they await the answer to the question posed by a precocious boy about the age of five who struggles to reach the top of his one-size-fits-all chair-desk combination.

“Teacher, what determines if a man is good or bad?” The teacher replies, “Student, within each person lies twin dogs. One good, one bad. They fight. Whichever one wins determines the outcome of the person’s character.” The student quickly perks up and says, “But what determines which dog wins?” The teacher smiles deeply and knowingly, he squints his eyes ever more tightly and says, “Student, whichever dog practices more.”

The meaning of this, to me, is that we all have the potential to be better human beings. The flip-side of this is we all have the potential to be not-so-good people if we are not present in our actions and our thoughts. We cannot control the impact of our thoughts, words and actions, but we can be aware of our intentions behind them.

* A gift can be words of praise, a blender, time, etc.

Merriam-Webster’s definition:

1 : a notable capacity, talent, or endowment

2 : something voluntarily transferred by one person to another without compensation

3 : the act, right, or power of giving

Legacy Letters and Charitable Giving
Except for the beauty of the richly-colored leaves fluttering to the ground announcing the season, Columbus Day, and Halloween, October seems a quiet month preceding the chaotic holiday season.

However, my mail is filling with gift catalogs with product I nor anyone I know needs or even wants. Their shiny pages shimmer and gleam, luring me to buy. The other envelopes clogging my mailbox at this time of year are requests for annual donations — and a legacy gift — from every charitable organization I know and more that I don’t know.

I stack some of these envelopes for later consideration, and for October focus on my values to be expressed later by financial gifts. Whether we’re secular or religious, we’re bombarded by those who tell us we’re responsible to help the homeless, feed the hungry, advocate for peace, women’s and children’s rights and literacy — and on and on.

Often we feel overwhelmed and defeated by the size and numbers of needs and requests. Rather than throw up our hands in despair, we must do what we can and then a bit more.

“It is not your obligation to complete the task of perfecting the world, but neither are you free to desist from it.” — The Talmud

Being grateful for my blessings and knowing how privileged I am is where I begin. Whether I have $1, $100, $1,000, or $100,000 to give is not the issue — what is significant is that I give myself time to muse, to consider my values, to clarify for myself which causes reflect those values, prioritize and take action with my time, effort, and money according to those values.

Here’s where the legacy writing is dually purposeful. In legacy letters we can express what causes matter most to us, giving us a foundation and direction for our philanthropy and volunteer commitments. Second, if it’s true that our kids and theirs are less interested in our stuff and our money, and more interested in knowing who we are, our mettle, why we act and give what and to whom we do, a legacy letter to accompany our legal wills is one way to share our values with them.

Though you may begin with a list stimulated by your full mailbox at this time of year, the essence of this legacy letter will express your values, including reasons for your choices — most engaging when told as a story. Here is Doris Klayman’s 70-year-old memory, a story about her grandfather who taught her to value generosity:

Although it’s almost impossible for me to remember anyone before the Holocaust, I do have a vivid memory of my grandfather — the Rabbi of Ludbreg.

In that town beggars came knocking on doors and asking for alms every Saturday and Wednesday — market days in that small town. But of course, they didn’t come to our door on Saturdays, since my grandfather could not respond on that day — Shabbat. But on Wednesdays my grandfather would set up a little table in the garden when the weather was good and in the hallway in bad weather. On the table he would arrange little piles of change, and as the beggars, accustomed to this, and sometimes a Gypsy (Roma) or two came by, my grandfather would greet them and hand them each a little pile of money.

I was fascinated by all of this then — and have remembered it always as a lesson “to be kind to the less fortunate, and always be as generous as possible.”

Learning generosity from a great, great grandfather, and passing it forward to grandchildren and great grandchildren is a way to honor your values and solidify the covenant between the past and the future.

Suggestions for Action:

1. Reflect and write about who and what means most to you in the world. Then take a step beyond the personal and ask yourself and write about the causes you hold most dear and why.

2. Write memories and story snippets that explain to yourself why those specific causes matter, and how they connect you to the meaning of your life.

3. Take some time to go through the envelopes of requests — discarding those that don’t touch you (no need to feel guilty — there are enough people in the world with a variety of experiences and commitments so that all causes will be attended to) — and keeping those envelopes that represent the causes closest to your heart.

4. Write a legacy letter to your family or someone close to you. Share your discoveries about what makes you generous with particular causes. If your reflection reminded you of specific events or snippets of your history, share those in your letter.

5. You may choose to attach your letter to your will, read it at a family gathering to initiate conversation about the taboo topic of money, or both. Remember that if you don’t speak about these values, your legacy will be passed down to include another generation of silence about money and values, and the importance of giving.

May you be blessed with courage and compassion, and may your gifts to those in need be generous in this season and in all seasons.

Rachael Freed

NEW “Your Legacy Matters: Harvesting the Love and Lessons of Your Life, A multi-generational guide for writing your ethical will,” is now available everywhere. 2012 editions now available of Rachael Freed’s “Women’s Lives, Women’s Legacies, Passing Your Beliefs and Blessings to Future Generations,” “The Legacy Workbook for the Busy Woman” [also available as pdf downloads at http://www.life-legacies.com/books and “Heartmates: A Guide for the Partner and Family of the Heart Patient,” and “The Heartmates Journal.” Senior Fellow at the University of Minnesota’s Center for Spirituality and Healing, Rachael is a clinical social worker, adult educator and works with financial, health, and religious organizations focused on legacy principles and practices. She has seven grandchildren. Her home is Minneapolis, Minn.

For more information, visit her website: http://www.life-legacies.com.

Experienced Entrepreneurs Know The Value Of Taking A Break: CU-Boulder Study
When it comes to taking a break from a stressful situation at work, it might be a good idea to take a page out of an experienced entrepreneurs’ book and step away from work without piling on the self-guilt.

A study led by the University of Colorado at Boulder’s Leeds School of Business and published last month in the Journal of Business Venturing found that the ability to step away from the office is such a valued tool among experienced entrepreneurs that it actually improves their psychological well-being. Researchers call it “avoidance coping.”

Think “avoidance coping” sounds irresponsible or unproductive? Maw-Der Foo, the associate professor of management and entrepreneurship at CU-Boulder’s Leeds School of Business who co-authored the study, argues that it’s really not.

“Avoidance coping sounds negative, but it’s not,” Foo said. “It means getting away from the problem for a moment. You go watch a movie, go have coffee with friends or go on a vacation, for example.”

The study contrasted a combined group of 156 experienced and less-experienced entrepreneurs and found that the less-experienced in the group tended to view taking a break negatively and it causes them more stress because they tend to do more “active coping.”

“We think that well-being is important because we know that many entrepreneurs are stressed and many ventures fail, not because the business is not profitable, but because many entrepreneurs just cannot take the stress, so they give up their venture in order not to have that lifestyle,” Foo said.

entrepreneur fig 1

Uy, M.A., et al., Joint effects of prior startup experience and coping strategies on entrepreneurs’ psychological well-being, J. Bus. Venturing (2012), doi:10.1016/j.jbusvent.2012.04.003

As shown in Fig. 1, the upward sloping line indicates that for entrepreneurs with more startup experience, there is a positive relationship between avoidance coping and PWB. In contrast, the downward sloping line suggests that for entrepreneurs with minimal prior start-up experience, there is a negative relationship between avoidance coping and PWB.

“Inexperienced entrepreneurs actually become more stressed when they take a break from their work because they’re not able to completely remove themselves mentally and they feel guilty about stepping away,” said Foo.

“If you are an experienced entrepreneur, you know the value of stepping away from the problem for a moment,” said Foo. “No one has really studied whether experience in a venture actually helps in coping, so these are new and somewhat surprising findings.”

“In active coping, you take the bull by the horns,” Foo said. “If you have a problem, you face it. If you lack sales, you make sales calls. If you lack funds, you seek out investors.”

Every successful venture, the researchers argue, requires some combination of active coping and avoidance coping. But the key to truly making avoidance coping work for you and allowing it to have a positive impact on your psychological well-being, is to know its value.

From the study:

Importantly, while entrepreneurs need to address venture problems directly, they also need to obtain temporary respite from stressful situations at least in the immediate term to prevent the risk of burnout (Blonk et al., 2006).

As one famous entrepreneur and author said, “Without a break, there may just be no breakthrough” (May, 2011). The importance of active coping is something that entrepreneurs could easily embrace, but perhaps the case is different for avoidance coping. The value of temporarily distancing from the stressful situation in the immediate term might be less evident especially for novice entrepreneurs who may be more reticent to take breaks for fear that if they take their eyes off the venture for one moment, problems will worsen. To excerpt from an entrepreneur’s blog: “As entrepreneurs, we tend to feel guilty about taking breaks. In the past, I used to be riddled with guilt when I took a full hour for lunch. We somehow got misinformed that the more we time we spend working, working, working…the better off we are” (Riley, 2011). Our study suggests that incorporating short breaks and temporary respites could also be beneficial to immediate PWB particularly for individual with more start-up experience. At least in the immediate term, one could use avoidance coping in an effective way by not worrying or feeling guilty while being temporarily away.


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