Artful Living in the Present – Intensive Retreat in Guatemala 2006

In June of 2004, we were looking for an exotic, not too popular and remote place overseas for a summer meditation / yoga retreat and vacation. My partner Stan who teaches a form of yoga and qi-gong which he developed called qi-yoga and myself, a teacher of Living in the Present / dynamic mindfulness meditation, found Villa Sumaya (heaven on earth in Arabic) – a retreat center at lake Atitlan – which turned to be the ideal place for ourselves and the three busy New Yorkers (in desperate need for an end summer get away) who joined us.

From the moment we arrived to Guatemala and started our journey to lake Atitlan, we kept falling in love with the beauty, colorfulness, simplicity and diversity of this country. The weather in August is perfect for those who don’t like it too hot, too humid and who don’t mind a little afternoon shower.
Villa Sumaya is a combination of simplicity, elegance, exoticness and impeccability. While respecting the Mayan cultural motifs of “Her Majesty the lake”, (as they refer to it there), Wendy Stauffer’s personal accent and taste is felt throughout the premises. (Wendy, the owner and founder of the retreat center is a talented American ex-patriot artist and shaman herself)
There are seven simple and comfortable double occupancy and single rooms, including a delux suite, which are all named after the animal totems they represent. All the rooms face the lake through an incredible garden and each room has it’s own hammock. The first light of dawn and the setting of the sun in the evening, are particularly breath taking. I fell in love with the lake instantly, and found myself mesmerized watching the stoic seaweed gatherers on the lake in boats that look like they were built 2000 years ago.

The only way to travel around the lakes is by public (or private) boats, which because of the size of the local people tend to be very low, and for a tall westerner can be an adventure, as they dock at the small towns around the lake, and people travel in them with their live stock, children and incredible local garments – which differ from town to town, as do their indigenous languages. We learned very soon that the lake dictated our activities and it was no wonder why was it is so revered and respected by the locals. One evening, we got all decked up to go to Panahchell, (the closest town” – for a performance, the lake which is usually calm and pristine, got very turbulent, and as we looked out and saw our boat being tossed up and down, we took a look at each other saying “you’ve got to be kidding me…” and decided to skip the trip and give each other massages at the meditation hall – as we were watching mother nature displaying a dramatic storm. (we later learned was the aftermath of Hurricane Ivan..)

The people are modest and friendly to Westerners. As in any developing country, it is apparent how poor they are in comparison to us, and yet, there is a mutual exchange that can be worked out based on mutual repect – which is an art by itself. Keeping a determined, yet honoring smile and saying ‘hola’ is crucial. It’s not unlikely to arrive to one of the towns surrounding the lake and be flocked by local people who are trying to sell their goods and offer their services. It is however easy to communicate interest or disinterest without too much of a hassle. These trips to the towns around the lake, which we offer are centered around visiting the indigenous cultures and experiencing them first hand: the churches, the people, the food, the art and some shopping. Our favorite towns are San Marcos and Santiago. Traveling in Guatemala as in many other developing countries can be a challenge and a great lesson to the ‘control freak’ in us. Last year, after the group left, Stan and I stayed on for a couple of days, and took a trip to Xella, a town with hot Springs, which we wanted to experience. We rented a van for the day, and as we were making our way through the incredible mountains, we noticed that the traffic was stopped for kilometers ahead of us. When we left the van to inquire what happened, we found out that the local villagers blocked the road with rocks and trees in protest to the privatization of their water – by the government. Three hours later… we found ourselves flowing with the unexpected change. We engaged in conversation with the people, who were too eager to tell us their story, and when the road opened up finally, it was too late to go to our original destination, and yet, it was one of our most memorable experiences of our last year’s trip to Guatemala. We transcended being consuming tourists to having made a connection with the people.

Our retreat last year had 11 participants who started their mornings with qi-yoga, conscious breathing and mindfulness meditation. A delicious breakfast was followed by a lecture and a hike around the lake. After lunch there was free time to catch up on rest, reading, a healing session or a boat tour. Our evenings started with another qi-yoga and meditation practice followed by a candle light dinner; sharing time in conversation, videos, jacuzzi and sauna or just quiet time listening to the crickets.
The retreat started with a blessing ceremony of a local shaman. One of the eight days was a day of silence, which started right after breakfast and ended at dinner. During that day we had plenty of free time to roam around the property, swim in the lake, journal and just lounge in the garden, and just be… Yes, being present – that lost essential art of being – which in our busy ‘doing’ lives in the 21st century is probably the most calming, enriching yet challenging benefits available in the retreat. Spending quality time with yourself, reflecting on your life – far enough from it, yet closer to it than ever before, because of the surroundings and the incredible beauty of nature, the guidance and demonstration of the teachers, and support of the other retretians, can be an investment of a life time; a discovery of the Self – we are always looking for, yet often too busy to find.

It was amazing and humbling to see the participants upon arrival, and witness their transformation and flowering over eight days. Our last night of dance and celebration was particularly joyful. We were happy to share our presence and felt close and accepting of each other. And while we felt sad to leave, we were ready to take the experience with us and integrate it into our daily lives.

As we are preparing for our 2006 retreat, we realize how much the trip impacted our lives, and how long the effects of it stayed with us since we have been there last. We are thrilled to go back to Lake Atitlan and share its splendor and innocence with the next group.

5 Negotiations That Save You Money on Equipment Leases

While companies slug through this financial crisis, their equipment ages, frequently breaks down and needs replacement. Business owners and customers want technology that runs faster and leaps tall buildings in a single bound.

How do you pay for these Superman wonders? What financing is best for your business?

After you decide to replace the five-year-old “antique” digital press, add new production capacity or update your computers, you enter the confusing finance world. Traditional payment options are cash, the bank or leasing.

What’s right for your business? You want to invest your money wisely. No surprises! No “Gotchas.”

There are five negotiations in every equipment decision that will save you money.

1. Equipment Cash Purchase Price. Focus on the right equipment, not the monthly payment. Keep your eye on the total cash purchase price. Every $1,000 discount reduces the lease payment. The lease negotiation is the fourth step not the first. To receive the biggest discounts, negotiate as if you are a cash buyer.

2. Trade-In. Check out used equipment dealers, online sites or talk with  industry experts to determine values. Face the hard facts. The used market is flooded with equipment, so don’t expect much for yours. Do not mix the trade-in negotiation with the new purchase.

3. Existing Lease. If you still owe on the old equipment, negotiate the payoff yourself. Do not allow the new equipment supplier to negotiate with the incumbent leasing company.  Early termination payoff discounts may be possible if you negotiate yourself. Reread the old lease contract to uncover possible discounts.

4. New Equipment Lease. All leases contain “Gotchas.” All leases are negotiable, if you only ask. If you are uncomfortable negotiating complex lease lingo, find an advocate to negotiate for you. The negotiator who will save the most money will be familiar with your equipment, current market lease rates and equipment lease contracts. After ink is on paper, options shrink.

5. Maintenance Agreement. Some leasing companies bundle the lease and maintenance costs into one payment. This can cloud early lease buyout and termination payoffs. Keep maintenance payments on separate contracts. Ask questions if service is not satisfactorily defined.

The 5-Minute Prep Before You Present: How To Calm Your Nerves

First off, know that it’s completely normal and natural to be nervous before speaking in front of a group.

We are born with two natural fears: loud noises and falling. The other fears are products of our environment including public speaking.

But you can come across as being completely sure of yourself, even if you can’t completely shake the jitters.

Here are a few tips to help you keep your calm before you take the microphone.

1. Wiggle your toes

Studies show that wiggling your toes reduces stress levels and decreases anxiety.

2. Chat with Your Audience Before Your Presentation

Meet and greet people before you get on stage. Talking with audiences makes you seem more likeable and approachable. Ask event attendees questions and take in their responses. They may even give you some inspiration to weave into your talk.

3. Claim the three “audience realities”.

One: They believe you’re the expert, so don’t tell them otherwise.
Two: They want you to succeed, so they’re on your side.
Three: They won’t know when you make a mistake, so don’t broadcast it.

4. Find a Pre Talk song.

Athletes and entertainers use this strategy to focus before they take the stage, or start their sport.

Find a song that gets you pumped up and listen to it backstage before every talk. It has to be “your song”, a song that gets your adrenaline to the perfect level: It has to give you enough so you’re saying “You’ve got this, (insert your name), they are going to love you”. Any song that can make you feel that way is worth taking a few minutes to listen to before jumping on stage. Many athletes do it, why not you.

5. Visualize your success.

Sports psychologists have proven that an athlete’s ability to vividly visualize his or her success creates a higher win rate.,Before your next presentation, mentally walk yourself through the presentation. Picture yourself speaking with confidence and poise; see your audience responding positively.

Nervousness is a natural reaction to speaking in front of large groups. However, try to think of this emotion as a “readiness to share you”, and a type of excitement that is necessary for you to speak. You’ve been sub-consciously programmed to think that you fear it, so how about intentionally creating how you perceive your nervousness? It’s within your control. That simple change of view can change your whole attitude.

It’s time to use the strategies above and take back control of you nerves each and every time you speak.