Taking a Look at Your Feedback

I recently presented at a Caregivers Conference in Maryland, where I gave my talk entitled “Laughter and Other Monkey Business: Transformative Life and Business Practices”. In this one hour session, I discussed therapeutic laughter as a practice to relieve the huge amounts of stress that caregivers often carry and invited the audience to join in some playful laughter exercises. In the second part of the talk, I shared some stress relieving techniques from my book, Monkey Business: 37 Better Business Practices Learned Through Monkeys. The audience participation was magnificent and the verbal feedback was profound and deeply validating. I received feedback from the conference chairperson a few days later. I was in awe of the lovely comments, feeling quite happy that people seemed to have experienced at least some temporary relief from stress. And, as you read the feedback below, please notice that one of these comments is NOT like the others:

• Great stress reducer while having fun! Laughter is the best medicine.
• Enjoyed the practice of how to relieve stress and how to make a negative a positive. (makes a happy person) • Ho ho ha ha ha • Loved that she gave some ideas of what we can do to bring laughter to our lives – very physically engaging • Excellent (2) • Ho! Ho! Ha! Ha! Ha! Yea!
• Fun
• This is excellent. Love the laughter and stress relief • Ms Heather is a very delightful, caring person who makes one laugh.
Thank you!
• Truly enjoyed the laugh lessons. Heather is the perfect person to present after lunch.
• Laughter is good for you.
• Great
• I would love to go to a laughter workshop. Will check it out.
• A fun time for laughter to handle my stress & pain.
• I loved the way she showed how to release stress.
• Very good
• Invigorating & learned much
• Great exercises & relief of tension
• This was a great session. Ms Wandell knows her stuff. She makes you feel like you are the only one in the session. The laughing exercises were great. I will use them.
• Hard to relate to most of the information • I thought the session was going to be about laughter; the exercises were not really funny. The act of the exercise made me feel childlike.
• Good
• Very informative

Did you notice that the third comment from the bottom had a completely different tone from the rest? There will always be some percentage of the people who will not resonate with your message. Even in a room full of laughing people, this person did not recognize the presence of people laughing and engaging with each other (comment: I thought this was going to be about laughter?!). And, that is ok. I offered a practice that may help to relieve stress. For some, a different approach may be needed because they are not in a place to even be willing to laugh. You must start with the willingness. People are unique and there is no one approach that will work for 100 % of the people 100% of the time. This is true for every teacher, every manager, everywhere throughout history. This must be kept in mind. If I stop delivering my message because of the person(s) I could not reach, then I would be depriving the rest from the the practice that served them so well that day. I allow this person to be where they are and I carry on with my message, putting my energy into those who are willing and those who respond.

The Monkey’s Student

We have all heard the cliché “We are One”, yet, it is for most of us a very difficult concept to grasp. We tend to see things as separate from our earthly perspective—a tree, a dog, a star, a man, a child, etc…

Yet, as many before us have understood, there is only ONE collective subconscious or universal mind.  And, we all have access to it.   It does not play favorites. Every thought that has ever been thought is contained in this one subconscious mind.  Individual human thought is like a stream whose original thought is unknown.  If you think about how many radio stations are broadcasting simultaneously, we know that whatever we set the dial on is what we receive.  The same goes for our thoughts.

A reviewer of Monkey Business: 37 Better Business Practices Learned Through Monkeys claims frustration that I have quoted many authors.  Yes, indeed!  Tapping into the ONE mind, the subject connected me to their brilliant words.  In each chapter of Monkey Business, I report back all the hints I have collected from the ONE universal mind and springboard from these thoughts, seeing the connection between human behavior and monkey behavior.  I simply add another piece to the wisdom already written and observed, joining in the conversation that started way before any of us here today.  I am not only the author of this book, but a student of it. 

Is Your Message Sticky?

Willy and Me

Got a call from my husband who presented yesterday on a panel at the Information Technology Security Entrepreneurs Forum in Palo Alto, California.  He was still feeling energized from the panel discussion with several brilliant minds in the same field.

I asked him if anybody commented to him privately after the session was over.  “Yes!”  He answered.  “Someone thanked me and said that I was the only one who gave any advice.”

Even though you may be interesting and knowledgeable on a topic, people will forget the majority of what you said, either by the end of the day or by the end of the week.  But, your message will remain with the participants much longer if it has some “stickiness” to it.  Offer something “sticky”, a piece of advice, a first step, a phrase, or a practice to take away, and your message will remain much longer. 

My monkey friend, Willie (wedge capped capuchin) will take my hands, not worrying at all about the juice from the orange that he just ate, and I walk away with the “stickiness” on my hands that I cannot forget about until I get to the soap and water.  This is not the kind of sticky we want to leave in a person to person interaction, but this is Willie’s brilliant plan to get the point across.

Is There a Connection Between Eating a Blueberry and Finding Lodging in Sedona?

grisha and mirror

It was my responsibility to arrange the lodging for our trip to Sedona.  My husband had already purchased the airline tickets weeks before.  I put that task on my “to do” list, but did not see any great urgency to get it done that day….or the next….or the next…..

I woke up two days ago and the urgency had finally arrived in my mind, in my body.  Gotta get to that today!  The trip is two weeks away.  I got online and started searching.  Oh yes, that place looks nice.  As I checked on the availability of room after room, I found no suitable room available.  By suitable, I mean, rooms that fit within what I was willing to pay and photos of the room and views that gave me a sense of comfort and relaxation.  I reached out to friends on facebook to ask for recommendations.  A couple of people responded and for one reason or another, these places did not work out either.  I gave up on day one and went to bed, figuring I will have a fresh start in the morning.  Yesterday, I decided to check the VRBO website (vacation rentals by owner) and found the perfect little place!  I called the owner, feeling certain that it would be available.  It was for the most part.  The first night of the four nights I intended to book, there was availability in the smaller room only.  The second night there were no available rooms at all, but they could have the king room available on the third and fourth night.  Oh dear, this just isn’t going to work out, I said.  The lovely proprietor offered a suggestion.  There is a little hotel on the same street as us that some people stay at for part of their stay because all nights are not available at our place.  “Hmm, I could think about that.” I was not convinced. But it was what she said next that made me see this as a viable option:

“We’re all so busy here in Sedona starting in March, that we have to get creative.”

All of a sudden, this felt like a brilliant plan.  So I booked both places, having fun with the idea of us walking back and forth with our suitcases.  After all, one of the things I want to do out there is hike.

My monkey friends at Frisky’s Wildlife and Primate Sanctuary are always coming up with creative ways to use things.  Grisha is a marmoset monkey who loves to look at himself in the mirror.  He has also been seen using the same mirror as a way to see around corners. Diana, a guenon monkey, used to peel her blueberries before she ate them.  Are they being creative or just not limited in their thoughts? 

Monkey on My Back

me holding Isadora“O for the touch of a vanished hand.”(–Alfred Lord Tennyson)

One of the very hardest parts of my six year book project was when I had to add the name of one of my monkey teachers to the In Memory page.  I would put it off, because filling in the date at the end of a dash makes it so real.  I can no longer pretend that they are still physically present. Reality hits that I will not see this sweet little face the next time I show up at the sanctuary. Instead, there is the painful emptiness of the enclosure where they so vibrantly had helped me learn my lessons.  In Monkey Business: 37 Better Business Practices Learned Through Monkeys, which was published in June 2012, there is no date at the end of the dash by Isadora’s birthdate.

I could count on the hand in hand interactions with Isadora on my regular work day at Frisky’s.  Well, almost always.  Isadora could also do a fabulous “ignore”, where one begins to question, “Am I really here?” She could literally see right through you and carry on as if you were not at all visible to her.  Although that always made me giggle, this was not the frequent reaction.  It was usual for us to play and dance, mirror each other’s moves, and do awesome Donald Duck imitations. Her ardent playfulness filled my heart with joy.  She was more interested in grooming me (a sign of affection amongst primates), than she was in taking the grapes I had to offer.  She would eat them later; our time together meant more.

For two years, my husband and I lived in the United Arab Emirates, where I was mailed daily updates from Frisky’s Wildlife and Primate Sanctuary to keep me in the loop.  On each of our home visits, I frequented the sanctuary, jumping back into my duties of animal care.  It was Isadora that would prove to me that monkeys have a definite sense of the passage of time, as she celebrated excessively when she saw me heading towards her enclosure.  This was above and beyond just her usual playful greeting, just as we may greet friends differently that we have not seen for quite some time than we would those we see often.  There is a heightened rush of adrenaline, perhaps, for a moment or two. Isadora gave the most wonderful “Welcome Home” greeting that a heart could ever receive.   On my next visit during the same week, the greeting was much less exaggerated.

Isadora was very fond of Colleen Layton-Robbins, for she was the hand that fed her and tended to her every need from the moment she arrived at Frisky’s in 2001.  Colleen was her 24/7 “nurse, maid, and waitress” (her words).  In the later years of her life, she even received daily insulin injections from Colleen, as she had developed Diabetes.  But Isadora also had a very special place in her heart for Colleen’s husband, Scott Robbins.  She looked forward to “having a drink” with Scott when he arrived home from work at night.  Only he was allowed to change her water bottle in the evening.  Colleen came away with many scratches on her hand when she tried, due to Isadora’s insistence that it must be Scott in the evening.

In the winter of 2009/2010, Maryland was hit with a couple of back to back blizzards which left up to four feet of snow in some parts.  I remember her coming through her tunnel that connected her indoor enclosure to her outdoor enclosure, and yelling at the snow!  Once she had done this, she calmed back down and her feeling of anger and frustration seemed to have passed.  Isadora honored each of her emotions as a guest in her house.  Had she read Rumi?

Isadora (a black and white capuchin monkey) passed away on Janurary 29, 2013 at the age of 17.  She is one monkey I am honored to now carry on my back, with arms gently wrapped around my neck, her cheek next to mine, as I carry on with my duties at the sanctuary.  Her spirit has no weight, but her friendship was of heavy importance in my life.  But, the heaviest thing of all is the date at the end of the dash.

Emerson’s Office



Currently enrolled in a class on Ralph Waldo Emerson, I post my reflections this week on Nature, the first reading assignment from  Emerson’s Essays (First and second series, Harper and Row, Publishers, New York, 1926).

Upon first reading of this essay, it honestly sounded like rambling to me.  It did not seem to flow.  I did some underlining of sentences or thoughts that seemed to jump out at me, but I had trouble piecing together what he was trying to say.  But, ah ha!  Determined to understand, I took the essay outside in the early morning with my cup of coffee, bundled up and looking like a recluse in the woods, and gave it a second read.  Amongst my trees, with the sun managing its way through the pine branches, it became so much clearer to me.  First thing I was reminded of is that when the mind at first does not understand, it wants to turn to criticism.old blue chair in the woods

Emerson has worded so much more poetically than I, the feelings I get when I am outside, in seclusion and away from my beloved material objects.  On page 382, I relate to his last paragraph “It seems as if the day was not wholly profane in which we have given heed to some natural object.”  Each morning, I meet with my trees and am welcomed by the climate as I trudge outside in the wee hours with my coffee and my journal.  I feel cheated and irritated if some early morning event takes me away from watching the world awaken.  I am “shamed out of my nonsense” when I let the wisdom of the outdoors penetrate my mind and spirit, often giving me a pep talk and reframing my “stories”.


Text Message from a Primitive Ancestor


“Imagine that your office cubicle is a living, breathing entity—created by nature, rather than civilization.  What would you sit on?  What would a voicemail from Mother Nature sound like? How would you get paid?  For millions of years, the main occupation of humankind was “hunter-gatherer”.  Now that we live in a world where the majority of us are employed in office settings, has our connection with nature been eradicated or simply altered?”

The above paragraph was written by Cara Ober, Urbanite Magazines online Arts/Culture Editor in August 2012 as she describes sculptor Lisa Dillin’s Working in the Cloud exhibit that was on display at the Baltimore Museum of Arts Sondheim Exhibit this summer past.  As I sat waiting last Saturday at the Port of Baltimore for my parents and brother to disembark off their cruise ship that returned from the Caribbean, I received a phone call from my Dad saying they would be at least another thirty minutes.  I reached between the car seats for something to read, and to my surprise pulled out the August 2012 edition of Urbanite magazine that had sat there unread and forgotten since the summer.

“I am interested in comparing the psychology of the individual in contemporary culture with our ancestral primitive psychology,” says Dillin.

Wow!  My heart started to pound a bit.  This woman is interested in what I just spent the past six years writing about in Monkey Business: 37 Better Business Practices Learned Through Monkeys.  Only I’m envious—she uses much better prose in her opening remark.  But envy put aside, I am keeping an eye out for future exhibits.  Well done Lisa!

I am He and You are He…


 Today I offer an excerpt from the introduction of “Monkey Business: 37 Better Business Practices Learned Through Monkeys”–

Oogie sobbed with abandon the day we lost little Cindy Lou. She was the first one to know it, as their enclosures had been catty-corner to each other for the last several years.

Colleen, the manager of the sanctuary and primary caregiver to these monkeys, woke up to the saddest sound she had ever heard coming from her cinnamon capuchin monkey. Little Cindy Lou, a gothic squirrel monkey, had passed away just before sunrise. After removing Cindy Lou’s lifeless body from her enclosure, Colleen coddled Oogie for two hours, trying to console her. But exhausted and grief-stricken herself over the loss, she called in Janice, the administrator for Frisky’s Wildlife and Primate Sanctuary, to see if her visit could console Oogie. Janice’s presence did help Oogie, as a visit from a friend after losing a loved one would be a comfort to any of us.

Unaware of all of this, I arrived at Frisky’s that morning to say good-bye before I flew back to Abu Dhabi for the final months of my husband’s two-year work contract in the United Arab Emirates. When Colleen answered the door, her eyes were swollen and the look on her face made me freeze, bracing myself to hear bad news. I’m not sure a second even passed before I broke into tears. I embraced Colleen, and then Janice, and listened as they let the events of the morning unfold.

I could hear a few faint sounds coming from Oogie in the other room. I offered to go visit with her, if they thought it would be of some help. Colleen told me that it might be worth a try. So I began to sing to Oogie. She was quiet and then offered me her tail, a ritual of our friendship.

We were all there for each other that morning, one being helping another being to get through an event that brought us great suffering.


This piece came to mind this week because of a phone call I received from our son in Kansas in the wee hours of the morning.  He was on his way home from the emergency room, having gone due to concern over a racing heartbeat. He had just seen an opossum get hit in the road and he stopped to see if the poor fella could be saved.  When he described the condition to me, having worked in wildlife rehabilitation for several years, I suggested that he could call the police (who have delivered many animals to Frisky’s Wildlife and Primate Sanctuary in the middle of the night). I also told him it sounded like he was not going to make it. He was losing fluids fast. With permission to share from my son Brad, this was his facebook post when he returned home:


“Just witnessed one of the saddest things I have ever seen—“

“watching an injured possum with a broken leg look me in the eye as if to ask for help and when i pull my car to the opossum<a side of the road and try to find rescue #… clipped by another car, still lived for another min or 2 and just looked at me painfully before it buried it's head into its' chest and stopped breathing”


My eyes filled with tears as I read his post, for I could feel his heart.  I have also experienced sharing the last few minutes of breath with a fellow earthling as I held it in my hands.  But my heart was deeply moved, for it really hit home for me that I had a teensie weensie miniscule part in raising a really decent human being.

“I am he and you are he and you are me and we are all together.”

                                                                 –John Lennon (from the song ‘I am the Walrus’)






How Underpants Can Inspire


 It seems that underpants are ubiquitous this week. Laughing out loud at that thought, since they are present everywhere, every week; they just seem to have reached my radar this week in many different ways.

It started out by reading a blog post somewherekittens in underwear

about how the writer’s business practices are bolder and more confident when he wears his red underpants.  Of course, nobody else sees them, but he knows their power.

Second time was a couple of days ago when I was in a shop in Hampden (Baltimore), browsing with a friend after having met for lunch.  There was a unique and fun mix of furniture, stationary, household décor, and quirky gifts.  One bin contained “handerpants”, underwear for the hands.  They literally looked like a pair of white BVD’s for men.  Only, women could wear these gloves as well.

The third time was this morning.  My husband reads me the techopedia word of the day over coffee.  He gets it emailed to his account each morning.  This morning’s word  was “Vendorware”.  I smiled as I repeated the word with a question mark.  “That’s w-a-r-e”, he said.  Thanks for the clarity, I answered back.  The definition is “any piece of commercial software you may buy (such as Microsoft Word, Turbo Tax, blah, blah, blah).  I asked him if I had mentioned the word “underwear” or if it made him think of undergarments as well?!  He said, “No.  You never mentioned it.  It came to my mind as well.”

That’s it, I thought.  Underwear is the inspiration for this morning’s blog.  I will soon be heading off to the sanctuary to see my monkey friends, as I do every Thursday.  Not quite sure what a monkey would do with a pair of skivvies; I’ll have to get back to you on that one!

How to Answer a Disparaging Question

Listening to the radio on Sunday morning, there was much talk about the Baltimore Ravens player #52.  Ray Lewis, linebacker, had announced his plans to retire at the end of this season( his 17th), closing one of the greatest Ray Lewis careers in NFL history.  Lewis was the face of the Baltimore Ravens, and I believe, a committed mentor to his teammates. This past Sunday was to be the last time he would ever walk through the tunnel to play on his home field.

In an interview regarding his decision to retire, the interviewer asked Lewis the following question:

“At the peak of your career, you were at 100%.  Where would you say you are now?”

I could hardly believe the question and I am sure the scowl on my face showed disapproval.  Was the question designed to make Lewis feel old, worn out, “less than”?  Had age finally gotten the best of him?

Lewis didn’t hesitate a moment and answered, “Bout a hundred and five.”

The interviewer, Ray, and I all laughed.  At least two of us did not expect that answer.  This was an answer full of possibility and confidence. His boldness was empowering.

In Ch. 5 of Monkey Business, my friend Kiko, a rhesus macaque monkey, is unapologetic and totally “without story” when he grabs for more than one cupcake off the tray. No guilt and no regrets.  He smacks his bottom to let you know how happy he is with himself.  Read the entire chapter, entitled Guilty for the rest of the story.

Practice boldness.  It will open up a world of possibility for you.