The hotel description said, “3 minute walk to the Monkey Forest.” We thought it would be a great chance to see wildlife in Bali while we stayed a few days prior to our cruise. Little did we know just how up-close and personal our experiences with monkeys would be.
We might have gotten a clue when our hostess, showing us the villa accommodations, pointed out the sling-shot provided to each room. These were for our convenience to chase any monkeys away from our villa. It soon became obvious that monkeys do not read signs to know where the monkey habitat begins and ends.
At one point, we were visiting a Hindu temple and saw a monkey walking around with a very expensive pair of sunglasses. This put us all on edge as we quickly removed our glasses and put them away. However, Rob later decided he wanted to see something and put on his glasses. Very quickly, a monkey jumped up on his shoulder and grabbed the glasses off of his face. He managed to grab them, however, leaving the monkey with just the rubber covering that protected Rob’s ear from the wire piece. The monkey sat there chewing on this rubber piece. Rob was glad he still had his glasses for the remainder of the trip.
One day we walked about 15 minutes around the fenced perimeter of the monkey forest to a grocery store. Seeing a rotisserie chicken for sale at the store, we decided to buy it and bring it back to our room. What were we thinking? A local, sitting on the sidewalk, looked at us and said, “That will not work.” He was absolutely correct. There was no way we were going to get that chicken past the monkeys to our room, so we bundled it up in a canvas backpack and hoped the monkeys couldn’t smell it. As we entered the monkey area, two monkeys were on a tree limb directly above us, watching us carefully. Somehow we got it past them and all the way to our room.
Prior to our 7-day sailing cruise, we decided to spend three
days in Bali itself. We are so glad we did. Not only did we see some amazing
sights, we also learned something about the strength of family and faith. It
was a lesson we’ll never forget.
While Indonesia as a whole is largely Muslim, the people of Bali are largely Hindu (83%). We arrived at Bali’s Denpasar airport late at night and saw no hint of the magic that awaited us. Our driver drove through non-descript streets for over an hour before arriving at a narrow, unlit alleyway in what seemed to be the middle of nowhere. We exchanged some worried glances at each other, wondering what we had gotten ourselves into. After all, we had not relied on any recommendations to choose our hotel . . only those on Hotels.com.
We needn’t have worried. No, we were not at a major hotel,
but we did manage to snag the coziest slice of paradise on Bali. The 11-room Bali
Bohemian turned out to be a destination unto itself. The friendly night hostess
greeted us with smiles, a cool mint drink, and no urgency to run our credit
card or even discuss money. “Let’s just worry about that tomorrow when you’re
rested,” she said. Who DOES that? We were very impressed.
She walked us around a beautifully lit pool into our villa,
an eclectic and authentic Bali experience. As she showed us around, one of the
most notable items in our room was a sling-shot. She explained that it was
because of the monkeys. If we should ever need the sling-shot, we could simply
point it at a monkey and pretend it was loaded. The monkey would scamper off. I
smiled, thinking this was a quaint “gimmick” to impress visiting tourists.
The next day, we learned how practical those sling-shots
were. The online listing for the villa mentioned a nearby “Monkey Forest” that
was within walking distance. In reality, the monkey forest was literally adjacent
to our villa and we also learned that monkeys do not care about signs or
fences. They were an amusing and sometimes exciting punctuation to our trip.
Our time in Bali was dreamy, to say the least. We thoroughly
enjoyed visiting various temples, waterfalls, woodcrafting shops, painting
shops, jewelry shops, coffee plantations, and much more. Everywhere we went in residential
areas, we noticed very ornate architecture and decorative elements. One day,
our driver/guide was driving in an area and said, “I live right over there.” We
were impressed with this driver and his gentle spirit. He then asked if we
would like to come see his home. We jumped at the chance.
Every home in Bali consists of a walled compound in which ornate
pavilions are carefully placed. The way these structures are laid out is
determined by culture and religious conviction. Each home has a pavilion for
the grandparents, a sleeping pavilion, a kitchen pavilion and some kind of
ceremonial hall. In addition, each home has its own temple. These properties are
not simple; they’re extravagant and well-maintained.
Multiple generations occupy the same property and the strength that comes from participating in daily religious rituals and having strong family support is obvious in Balinese society. Balinese people who are blessed to enjoy these strengths are largely protected from the difficulties we’ve seen in other Asian and western countries. We felt humbled and blessed to have witnessed this strength in action. The abundance felt by all family members seemed much higher than one would expect in a country with meager incomes.
The experience reminded us how faith and family can work together to bring greater abundance and prosperity.
We passed through the world’s most active volcano zone and were not disappointed. The ship parked about a mile away from an active, belching volcano. We saw several smoke eruptions before we set sail again. See the ship’s captain (below) checking out the progress of an eruption.
Our 7-day Indonesian sailing adventure and additional 10 days visiting southeast Asian countries produced some life lessons about human nature and the difficulties we all face in simply trying to remain safe amid serious threats.
Our clipper ship sailed to within a mile of Komodo Island in
Indonesia before anchoring. Briefings by the ship’s officer the night before
warned us of the dangers of Komodo Dragons.
“You can’t out-run them; they can chase down a deer. And
guess what? You can’t out-climb them because they are excellent climbers. If
you think you can head to water and outswim them, think again. They are
After a nightmare-ish discussion about how they kill using
anti-coagulating venom and super-deadly flesh-eating bacteria, we were, to say
the least, a bit anxious about our excursion onto Komodo Island, home to
approximately 3,000 deadly dinosaur-era leftovers. These 10-foot long creatures
are called “perfect killing machines” by some. According to our cruise
director, if you are bitten and can get medical help within two hours you have
“a chance” at survival.
“The problem,” he explained in his thick German accent, is
that “getting medical attention ees difficult because ze island ees wery
Our plan was to get onto the island early in the day because
the dragons are more active in the cool of the morning. We also learned it was
mating season and dragons would be busy and unlikely to be as visible to us
along the pathways through the forest. We would be traveling in groups of 10-12,
guarded by “armed” park rangers and we were warned to stay close to them (I
didn’t think that would be a problem for any of us. I was wrong).
Landing on Komodo Island was a “dry landing” as compared to
the “wet landings” we had experienced. There was a well-built dock, welcoming
visitors to Komodo National Park. We were anxious and nervous to begin our trek
through the flora and fauna of the park, home to numerous birds, snakes, wild
boar, fruit bats, deer, and of course—dragons!
Our “armed guards” consisted of three young men holding long
forked sticks. They again briefed us in broken English about what to expect and
how to stay safe by staying behind the guide. The quote of the day came after
one woman in our group asked, “Could dragons sneak up from behind our group and
The guide’s answer: “Yes, of course. That’s why it’s
important to stay behind your guide.”
The implications of that uncorrected answer echoed in our
skulls as we moved forward along the narrow dirt path. But thankfully, one of
the guards (or guides) positioned himself behind our group, one in the middle
and one in front. As long as we stayed with the group and with these local
experts who knew the disposition of the dragons and how to deal with them, we
would be safe.
Our 90-minute walk began quietly, as we were urged to keep
our voices low. Occasionally, the lead guide would stop and point out a tree or
animal. We soon saw a wild boar, dangerous in its own right, rummaging in the
trees to our right. It seemed uninterested in us. There were occasional deer
sightings, but no dragons. Eventually, however, our lead guide whispered quietly,
“dragon!” and we all scampered ahead to join him, both to see what he was
looking at and to take advantage of his superior dragon-fighting skills.
Coming straight towards us was a 6-foot female in search of
water, and we were standing next to a watering hole. The creature seemed
deceptively slow and plodding, it’s long forked tongue periodically “sniffing”
the air for our scent. It seemed oblivious to the gawking tourists respectfully
clearing the path ahead of it. Its manner of movement seemed odd: right front
paw and left rear paw moving first in unison, then left front paw and right
front paw moving together to catch up. This gave it a strange waddling gait
that seemed alien. Clearly, it was not searching for prey, but only for water,
so we did not see it shift into running, hunting mode, which would have been a
Having sighted our first dragon, we were all more at ease.
After all, these animals didn’t always have food on their minds. In fact, they
seemed pretty harmless. In fact, after our group stopped a short distance away
to look at a poisonous snake, one young mother and her two small children
continued walking the path ahead, in front of the lead guide.
After snapping pictures of the snake, we were shocked to
look up and see this mother continuing ahead with her children. We yelled to
her and fortunately the mother realized what she had done and returned to the
group. She and her youngsters were fortunate. With thousands of unseen dragons
in the area, however, we couldn’t understand what had happened in her mind to
think it was safe to proceed without a guide. It could have been a deadly
The next dragon was much larger, but nearly motionless. This
10-foot male was basking in the sun and made very little movement to show it
was aware of us. The rising heat probably had an impact on the dragon’s
As we concluded our trek, unharmed, we couldn’t help but recall
the young mother and her children. How often do we ignorantly wade through
dangers, naively thinking, “I’ve made it this far; certainly nothing bad could
happen”? With some dangers there are no second chances. As parents living in
the modern world, we are aware of this when it comes to playing on busy
streets. When it comes to other, less obvious or foreign dangers, however, we
can be just as naïve as our children.
It was a lesson in humility. We need to admit that we don’t
know much about most of the world. There are those, however, who have
specialized knowledge and expertise . . particularly those who have lived and
survived dangers we can’t imagine. Each of us has a piece of the puzzle and we
need to share our piece to help others navigate the world more safely.
As we get ready to launch our new book about
surviving and thriving in turbulent times, we recognize the fact that others
are much more knowledgeable than we are, but we have had a unique set of
experiences we hope to share with the world.
Is it possible to get past regrettable acts or
conversations? Regret can lead to remorse, an often-useful feeling, especially
when we’re trying to become a better person. But there comes a point when our
regret and remorse can be taken too far. When our regret about an incident
becomes an unproductive obsession, it’s time to fix the problem. But what “fix”
could there be?
Take for instance this entirely fictional, hypothetical
Sarah sat quietly on the couch
with her head in a book. Across the room, Bob glanced up at her from his
laptop. With her head down, the scene reminded him of the conversation nearly
five years earlier when he had admitted pursuing another woman. Sarah had seen
some questionable evidence and rather than lie, yet again, he finally came
clean. Bob grimaced when he recalled the look on her face as she had stared at
the floor for what seemed an eternity. Memories
of Sarah’s eventual emotional collapse still pierced his heart. Bob knew it wasn’t
just the cheating and “confession” that had caused her so much hurt, it was the
way he had rationalized, telling her it was her fault.
Bob squirmed in his chair as his
mind traveled back again and again to the pain he had caused. “How could I have
hurt her so badly by cheating on her, and then push more pain on her with my
lame excuses? This is the woman I’ve always loved. Sarah is the one I promised
to love with my whole heart, and I’ve blown it!”
Over the years since that
horrible experience, he had replayed the scene repeatedly in his mind, knowing
that he had changed but not knowing how to get past the grief he had caused in
the relationship. Sure, they had found a way to continue in the marriage. Sarah
seemed every bit in love with him as she had always been, and Bob had proven to
Sarah that he could be trusted. Sarah had forgiven him and moved on, but
something was holding them back as a couple, and Bob suspected it was his own
If only Bob could go back in
time. First, he wouldn’t have cheated on Sarah. “Oh, if I could just go back
and take a different path,” he would say to himself incessantly. But even if
removing that transgression wasn’t possible, he would love to have another
chance at the conversation in which his hurt pride and lack of respect pushed
him to say things that hurt Sarah even more deeply.
Maybe your regrets are not as serious as Bob’s, or maybe
they are worse. Maybe the affected relationship is with a sibling, parent,
child, friend, or co-worker. We all have regrettable conversations and actions when
we interact with others. When emotions are running high, human beings are
notoriously lousy at carrying on productive conversations. The sad reality is
that the more important the conversation, the less likely we’ll handle it
Zuangzi, an ancient Chinese philosopher once said, “When
shooting for himself, an archer has all his skills; when shooting for a brass
buckle, he gets nervous. When shooting for a gold prize, he sees two targets.”
There are physiological reasons why we do not think clearly
when we’re under stress. Adrenalin gets involved and our bodies literally pull
resources away from the higher and more refined parts of our brains.
In their book, “Crucial Conversations” the authors discuss
ways to make future conversations emotionally “safe.” The book states, “If you
spot safety risks as they happen, you can step out of the conversation, build
safety, and then find a way to talk about just about anything.” (Kerry Patterson,
Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, Al Switzler; 2012; Crucial Conversations: Tools
for Talking When Stakes are High, second edition; chapter 5; New York, NY; McGraw-Hill)
The concepts in this book are extremely useful in any relationship, which is
why we refer to key elements of the book in our leadership development work in
China. This is all well and good, but what if the proverbial horse has already
left the proverbial barn? What, if anything, can we do after the fact?
If communication isn’t challenging enough, when it comes to poorly
executed conversation, sometimes the regret itself can become paralyzing and
destructive. When we have deep regret about something, our minds continually access
and re-live stored information in our brains. In fact, we develop entrenched
pathways to that information, essentially keeping it fresh and ready to go at a
moment’s notice. The key to dissolving debilitating regret is to “reframe” the original
conversation or action, essentially forming new pathways in our brains. How is
In our brain-science based Creative Journal Expressive Arts
(CJEA) work with clients who are experiencing horrible regret, we’ve found a
very effective method to reframe prior acts and stop the tortuous, obsessive
re-living of prior acts. It involves a simple yet powerful exercise:
Step #1: Preparation:
2 Large pieces of blank paper (or blank pages in
a standard-sized journal)
Colored fine-tip markers, pencils, or crayons
A pen or pencil
A private, secluded location (make sure you won’t
be interrupted for an hour)
If possible, play some soothing instrumental
Step #2: First Drawing
With your dominant (writing) hand, draw a
picture of the regrettable incident or conversation including the setting, people
who were present, including yourself. Use colors that feel the most comfortable.
Stick figures are fine!
If the situation involved conversation, draw
captions like what you would see in a Sunday morning cartoon. Draw “dialogue bubbles”
for each person who said something. Now fill in the dialogue bubbles with the
actual words spoken, using your dominant hand. Then create “thought bubbles”
and fill in the feelings you had with your non-dominant hand, even if those feelings
contradicted your words. If the dialogue was lengthy, just capture the essence
of the painful conversation. It is not necessary to recreate the entire
Step #3: Process Emotions
Around the picture you just drew, with your dominant
hand, write ALL the thoughts and words you say to yourself now about that
situation. (Use whatever writing tool feels comfortable)
With your NON-dominant hand, write the feelings
you continue to have about yourself and about the incident. Do this around the
picture you’ve drawn. Be open to any new feelings that have propped up. (Use
whatever writing tool feels comfortable)
Sit for a few moments with the drawing and words
that you’ve created. Recognize that you’ve gotten all these feelings out of
your head and onto paper. If you need to do more drawing and more writing, do
Step #4: Second Drawing
Using your dominant hand, draw the situation again with the same setting and same people. This time, however, draw and write what YOU WOULD HAVE LIKED to have said or done. What might you change if you could do it over again? What might you have done differently or said differently? With your non-dominant hand, write the feelings you would have had in the “thought bubbles.”
Step #5: Process Emotions
Around the second drawing, with
your non-dominant hand, write the feelings you now have about the situation as
you’ve just re-framed it.
Step #6 (Optional): Share
It is possible that by simply putting your regret out of
your head and onto paper, then re-framing the incident in your mind you can
move forward in life without debilitating regret. However, if after some
cooling off period following this exercise you decide you want to share your
drawings with an injured party, you might find additional benefit in doing so. Only
consider doing this if you are certain it will not bring further hurt to that
person. Be mindful that others have not been bothered by your regret; it has
been entirely yours. They may be indifferent or worse, antagonistic towards
your efforts to reduce your regret. You must decide if sharing this information
with an injured party is beneficial or potentially troublesome.
Our God-given, powerful brains can assist us in healing from
past mistakes. We have the ability to re-shape the way we think in order move
forward with more energy and confidence as we learn how to have more fulfilling
If you have any questions after working on this exercise,
feel free to contact us at:
While working with clients in a court-mandated anger management course, one of the surprising things we learned, (as some volunteered to share with us) was the fact that so many of them had experienced the same family characteristic– secrets! We were shocked to see this apparent connection between family secrets and dangerous anger.
We recently completed a 2-day trip from Beijing to Xi’an where we saw the 2,200 year-old terracotta warriors with our son, Jeremy, and his wife Rozana. We were amazed to learn the lengths to which China’s first emperor Qin Shi Huang went in order to keep a big secret– that he had built an extensive underground world, a massive tomb mirroring his above-ground world.
How did he keep the site secret? He killed anyone who knew about it! Workers who brought the life-sized army, horses, chariots and weapons to the site were tragically buried alive with them. Thousands of concubines, those failing to produce children for the young emperor, were also buried alive and the entire site was buried many meters deep.
In 1974, farmers in the area were digging a well and came across some pieces of the buried army. Today, a massive archaeological effort is still underway, and apparently most of the site is still buried.
It makes one wonder: Who and what do we sacrifice in order to keep secrets? The motivation for most family secrets is “protection.” In our experience, when we try to protect those whose actions should not be condoned, we end up violating or betraying others. At the risk of sounding overly dramatic: when we bury our secrets we need to ask ourselves who is being buried alive with them.
A friend of
mine is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. In a recent Facebook post, he
included the statement: “The truth is . . healthy marriages require work.”
respectfully disagreed and posted my comment:
I agree with everything except the
word “work.” Great marriages require effort. It may sound the same,
but there is a profound difference. No one wants to hear that their spouse will
have to work hard to love them, but who wouldn’t want to know their spouse will
put a lot of effort into the relationship? We often put as much effort into our
vacations as in our vocations, but we call one play and the other work. I don’t
want my wife to think it will be so difficult to love her that I will have to work
at it every day. My 42-year marriage is a lot of fun and enjoyable effort.
Every time I
hear the seemingly common-sense statement that a good marriage requires “work,”
I tense up. Words are important. In fact, if it weren’t for a handful of words,
none of us would be married. As a lay religious leader a few years back, I was
suddenly granted the power in the state of New Jersey to marry people. I felt
anxious when, after the first marriage ceremony I performed, a couple went away
“believing” they were married. I thought to myself, “Is it something I said?” I
couldn’t wrap my mind around it.
saying the words, “I now pronounce you husband and wife,” two people were
joined together for the rest of their lives. My words to them were so powerful,
they caused the formation of a new family unit. A new “family tree” was planted
and generation after generation of posterity would owe their existence to seven
required “work,” I would need to attach that word and all of its connotations
to my experience with my wife. So, let’s see if the word fits:
it “work” when I look into her bright blue eyes, see my dearest and most
intimate friend, companion and lover, and remember those early dates when we
would talk late into the night about our dreams and ambitions?
it “work” when I spent two years away from her, serving overseas, and couldn’t
wait to get a letter from her in the mail? How about when we were finally
reunited on the sidewalk of a college campus, tearfully running into each
other’s arms as her classmates cheered?
our wedding day, was it “work” when I was unable to catch my breath because she
walked into the room dressed as a queen in white, and I knew she would be with
it “work” when we joyfully, eagerly and unitedly accepted the challenges of parenthood and welcomed six children into our
home who stretched and expanded our love for each other?
it have been called “work” when, hand-in-hand, we held each other up to face
financial disasters, the life-threatening illness of a child, physical
disabilities, a missing child, kidnapped grandchildren, persecution and
violence? The trials themselves might have been work but having her by my side
to face those challenges certainly was not work.
it called “work” when I am able to share my deepest fears and struggles with
her and she responds with amazing strength, wisdom, and an occasional kick in
doesn’t fit. From my perspective, the word “work” is not appropriate to
describe a healthy marriage. It is true that we need to put forth effort in
marriage, but with love in our hearts, that effort can become enjoyable, fun, stress-reducing
and even lifesaving.
When a dour college professor taught about the difficulties and hard work of marriage, my wife spoke up. By then she was a 55-year-old student completing her degree in Family Science. Surrounded by marriage-phobic twenty-somethings, she raised her hand and from years of marital experience that far surpassed her professor’s, she confidently stated, “Marriage is NOT hard! LIFE is hard! It can be so much easier when you have someone to share it with.”
Marriage is a force that combines the strengths and cancels out the weaknesses of two people. Marriage is greater than the sum of its parts, and therefore a powerful catalyst for change in a world that desperately needs it.
Marriage isn’t a liability, it’s an asset. Young people contemplating marriage often think of it as a future drain on their finances, emotional well-being, and freedom. Consequently, they look for the ideal time to get married—a time when they are flush with cash, have accomplished enough of their “fun” goals, own their home, have completed their formal education, and feel ready for the “liability” of marriage. Nothing could be further from that scenario than when two committed people love each other and experience the power of a truly life-affirming marriage. Not only are they more likely to enhance their temporal situation, but also their emotional, spiritual and physical well-being.
When we adjust our words about marriage, we can adjust our thinking, and ultimately access the power of our marriages. Let’s plan to put effort into our marriages, but let’s not mistake it for work.
But what about those who feel their marriage DOES require work? Maybe they haven’t found their spouse to be the supportive, loving person they had anticipated. We need to remember that a checklist of behavioral “do’s and don’ts” will not a great marriage make. It’s not what you DO, it’s how you feel about what you do that counts. Remember the vocation and vacation analogy. When, in our hearts, we know we’re on vacation, we can expend a great deal of effort while feeling refreshed and exhilarated. If your spouse saw you as a refreshing and exhilarating partner, do you think she/he might exhibit a different attitude and have different feelings about you?
Stay tuned for more articles and helps on how to improve relationships through better emotional literacy. What are some tools you can use to change the way you feel inside?
China Foreign Affairs University took several foreign teachers on a weekend trip to Qingdao (or Tsingdao). Sometimes, we couldn’t tell if we were in southern California or China. Our highlights start out with an amazing harbor light show that surpasses any we’ve seen in Asia. Among other things, exterior building lights showed dolphins and whales “swimming” from one building to another in a coordinated show of lights.
Next, we hit the beach and found many surprises.
LaoShan is a massive park devoted to remembering Laozu, the founder of China’s only native religion–Taoism (pronounced Dow-ism). Laozu lived in approximately 600 BC and his sayings have been revered for many centuries. Laozu himself emphasized the bond between heaven and earth, and his sayings promote peace and non-interference. This cite features the world’s largest statue of Laozu and a circular temple with a scene of creation and stars in the cosmos inside. It was incredible.
Guess what? More beach fun!
The food was incredible.
Back at the main pier, the tide was low but the hope of getting some crabs was high. This is a favorite local past-time.
On a hilltop, you can enter a revolving lookout station and view the harbor, the surrounding hills and even the governor’s mansion. Qingdao is known for its clear weather, red roofs and greenery.
It’s fun to interact with the locals, especially the children.
Laraine took some very heavy bags full of ingredients and utensils to the new campus to teach her students how to make American food, such as deviled eggs and layered bean dip. They were amazed (lots of “ooh’s and “ah’s” and many had never seen a cheese grater. Check out her pics: