Friday, September 30, 2011

The Keys to the Castle

I was recently sitting with two of my women friends talking about men, women and relationships. I mentioned an article by Arjuna Ardagh that creates the analogy between a woman and a temple with concentric circles. The more you are devoted to the temple, the deeper into the center of the concentric circles you may go. That is, if you are just visiting the temple once, you are allowed to enter the outer circle/room only. But as you spend more time devoted to the practice and worship, little by little, access to the inner most circles become granted.

Arjuna talked about how this is no different for women. The more you worship and honor a woman, little by little, more access to her inner most secrets, beauty, grace and intimacy is granted, sometimes, most of the time even, she doesn’t even consciously know what will unlock those doors. (I also wrote a blog further on the subject as I was so moved, Hopefully Romantic).

This got us talking about the keys to the castle. So what are the keys that open up the door to the castle of a woman’s heart, trust, love and beyond? We got down to something that is so simple and yet it is so elusive. Finding a partner who studies us, who watches when and how we shut down and learns to see the signals and see the warning signs and embraces us any way. Someone who doesn’t shut down or walk away when we shut down. Someone who doesn’t drive off when we are frustrated and throwing oranges at them. But rather someone who embraces ALL of us – our flaws and our imperfections as much as our strengths and our glory.

A man recently said to me and a friend as we were discussing this exact subject, “It is about authenticity not perfection.” He said he would rather have an authentic partner than one who is trying to be perfect. That when we are throwing a fit, early on, learns how to shut down or even in the future, prevent it from ever happening. This doesn’t mean being a doormat. It means being observant enough to learn and truly study and know us, or worship as Arjuna says.

The true keys to the castle aren’t lavishing us with things or taking us to fancy places or introducing us to important people or showing off certain skills. Rather, they are taking the time to know who we are, where we came from, why we act and react in certain ways.

You can find me at and and twitter @pilarstella.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Surfing: A Great Metaphor for Life!

As we enter the fall, and conclude the summer season, we may find some lessons from this summer that may inform us as we move forward. For me, what better place than starting with surfing. Surfing is a great metaphor for life. I have done many different sports. I have been an athlete my whole life - from swimming to lacrosse to gymnastics to soccer to tennis to cycling to triathlons to track and field to skiing to mountaineering to rock climbing and beyond. Yet, none have translated more to my life than surfing.

Many of you know my passion and excitement for surfing. It has been a transformative force in my life since I moved to LA three years ago (can you believe it?)! When I got here, I knew I wanted to learn how to surf. I heard about several surf programs like Youth Mentoring Connection ( and Stoked ( that took at risk youth to the beach to learn to surf. That was it - a perfect combination of my passions - giving back, youth, the beach and, hopefully soon, surfing! I attended one event my first summer and decided to come back out the following summer. I "co-taught" the youth to surf and learned in the process - what could be better. It wasn't until fall of last year 2010 that I became hooked and officially bought a board, wetsuit and became a "real surfer."

It has been in these last nine months of surfing that I have learned so much from surfing that has helped me grow in my personal, professional and spiritual life. Here are a few lessons that I have learned from surfing that can be translated to life.

1.Every time you fall down, get back up. There is no other sport I have done that you fall off EVERY time and have to get back up to go again. What an incredible reminder for life. So many of us are trained to be afraid of trying things because we are afraid to fail. Yet with surfing, it is expected that you will fall off over and over again. Very quickly it teaches us to try things and be ok with risk and failure. It becomes second nature and teaches us that failure leads to learning and opportunity which then leads to improvement and success.

2.Patience pays. How many times in life do you want things to happen now and on your time and they don't? The waves are no different. There is nothing like sitting out on the water on a day when the waves and sets have a mind of their own and decide to come on their own time. You can get upset and frustrated that they aren't coming or you can accept it and look around, enjoy the scenery, breathe, feel the wind in your hair, the sunrise or sunset, the people chatting and laughing around you and fully take in the moment. Exercising a little patience goes a long way in life, as well as surfing.

3.Be present. Surfing forces us to be present in the here and now. If you get ahead of yourself and think about the last wave or what you need to do for the upcoming wave, it can throw you off from being able to respond to the changes with each wave because every wave is different. By staying very present in each moment, you are able to adapt and adjust your paddle, pop up, stance or otherwise to make magic happen. This is no different than life. When we are really present to what is right now and not what was or what will be, we begin to enjoy the journey and find the miracles in every moment.

4.Persistence and perseverance pave the way. Taking that extra paddle and making that extra effort paves the way for that pay off of the wave you catch. If you fail once, fail twice, fail thrice, try, try again and keep at it. Your effort will pay off. In life, if you take that extra step and persist and persevere, you can't fail. You may "fail" but what you gain in experience, opportunity and learning will put you ahead of the curve the next time you get out there. So don't give up, keep going until your effort paves the way for more joy, success and excitement.

5.Ego is no amigo. This one I credit to one of my dear surfer sisters. Just like in life, you can come to anything with your heart open or you can come with an ego. In the end, which will make you happier and which will get you where you are going faster? One of the most famous surf quotes is, "The best surfer is the one having the most fun." Then for sure I am the best surfer as I am constantly laughing, giggling, singing and enjoying the waves. Imagine if more people could approach their lives and work with a little more heart and a little less ego? Imagine the world we would live in.

6.Your mind creates your reality. Our attitudes shape our reality. If you think you can't, you won't. If you think you can, you will. It is that simple. In surfing, if you get in the water and think you can't handle this or you are not going to have fun or if you are paddling for a wave and think, "I am not going to get this," you won't. It is that simple. In life it is no different. If we act as if and even continually repeat to ourselves, I can do this, I will have fun or whatever positive affirmation can replace a negative, over time it will stick and will become our realities. It just starts with the right positive mental attitude.

7.Choose love over fear. Fear is a state of mind. We all have fears in life and surfing. It is what we do with that fear that is most important. In surfing, if we see a wave or a break or a set that we are afraid of, do we shrink in the face of our fears or do we face them and allow ourselves to stretch, grow and expand beyond. We each have a bubble that makes up our life experience and over time we can expand the bubble (and the fears within it) or we can allow them to contract and constrict, and ultimately imprison ourselves from our own making. Every time we stretch and choose love, we are choosing to overcome our fears. We break the patterning that holds us back and we free ourselves more and more each time. When we lean into love, we reinforce a pattern of trust and faith that further enables us to overcome future fears.

8.One as a part of a whole. The ocean consists of many waves and one wave, while singular, is part of the greater whole. We as human beings are no different. We each have our own unique characteristics, passions and fears. Yet the actions that we each make have an impact, or ripple effect, on others. With surfing you have to be present and stay focused on yourself and your wave, yet you also have to have an awareness of the others in the water. So is the case in life, while we may focus on our own needs, we must also pay attention to the ramifications for others and the planet at large and be considerate and compassionate of the whole.

These are just a few of the lessons from surfing that translate to life. Surfing brings out your true essence and authenticity. It is as though it requires us to rekindle that inner light, that inner child and shine it bright and share it with others to radiate out in the world and remind others to do the same. As I say to many people I know, "Surfing is the new golf." Really surfing is much more than that and has been a gift in my life to rekindle my own inner child, inner giggler and inner guru. How might these lessons translate in your own life?

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

A Look at Giving in 2011: Part 2 of 3 in a series…Giving Strategically!

As I mentioned in my past blog, Part 1 in the series...
...we still have a long way to go in philanthropy!

It is really exciting that everybody is giving. That is where change begins. But after having worked in strategic philanthropy for nearly 15 years and across sectors for social, economic, education and health reform, the pattern is a familiar one.

When companies, individuals, celebrities, media, foundations or nonprofits get into giving – they start off in what is considered charitable giving. This is more feel good giving. This is a good place to begin – it feels good and it is doing good that wouldn’t have been done otherwise.

However, just as if you were to invest your money, you wouldn’t just hand it off to your friend and say go invest my millions, you’d hand it to a seasoned investment expert (at least most people would). The same needs to happen in giving - donors working with giving experts to create more strategic, impactful and leveraged giving. While giving feels different than investing because we all want to give and it feels good to give, we want to give thoughtfully so that our dollars actually make a significant impact.

Therefore, before starting our own nonprofit or giving to a nonprofit, it is good for us to do our homework. Find out what else is going on in the same giving space. If we are interested in nonprofits serving children in Los Angeles or the environment in Latin America or human trafficking in Asia, we need to learn what else is out there and build upon what is there, not duplicate. It can be helpful to find out what nonprofits are already serving that need, what foundations are funding those target causes and regions, what celebrities and corporations are backing those causes. You get the idea.

You also want to have a sense for what you want to support. For example do you want to support direct services - like education for youth in an orphanage or health services for malaria or HIV/AIDS or for homeless people or do you want to deal with advocacy efforts to raise awareness and address systemic issues underlying those direct services – like changing health policy or economic development issues or education? And then you want to think about do you want to volunteer, do you want to give money for general operating or specific services, programs or wishes of an organization?

Just as you would invest your money for a return on investment with your investment portfolio, with your donations you are investing your money to have an impact, leave a legacy, get the most return on perhaps not profit – but definitely people and the planet. That is, when you donate, you want to consider how your donation to have the most bang for the buck and the most social and/or environmental impact.

What people sometimes don’t realize as they get into the world of giving and become humanitarians and philanthropists themselves, is that how you give can sometimes be as important as what or whom you give to. Finding resources, tools and experts to support you in your efforts is a critical consideration to maximize your impact and the legacy you leave behind!