Category Archives: perspective

Change your Story, Change your life

Do I live in a friendly or hostile universe?

I was riding the train into Manhattan when a man sitting opposite hailed me.  He showed me his purple heart metal and said he had two of them.  Apparently,  he wasn’t being given enough common courtesy from the woman taking the tickets. His father came to the US from Italy and, as soon as he had landed, signed up and fought in the Second World War.  He, himself, had served in Vietnam but ruminated that, with the people coming into the country now and the way folks acted, he wouldn’t do it again.  I said there were a lot of good people. His opinion was that there are only a handful. We agreed that a little common courtesy went a long way. Just talking with him seemed to sway his view that this society was no longer worth serving. He boarded the train with a story in his head that he was verifying. That story was capable of being shifted.

When I got home, I found a letter from a close friend. She said someone had given her an unexpected sum of money and she was sharing it with Julia and I because she believed in who we were and what we were doing. This kindness and consideration blew us away. Even though our friend could have certainly used this money for herself, she felt she could afford to offer a portion of it to us. She believed sending us this gift would enrich her being. Knowing this friend, I can say that she does feel that this society is worth serving.  It is another story that can be verified.

One of my favorite quotes is from Albert Einstein:

“The most important decision we make is whether we believe we live in a friendly or hostile universe.”

I do have to remind myself often that I live in a friendly universe.

However, I have demonstrated the validity of this decision to myself innumerable times. When I find that my mind is taking me down a rabbit hole, and I am becoming anxious about the state of the world and what might happen if this or that occurs, I declare that I live in a friendly universe. I can actually feel the story I am telling myself start to shift. The outcome, for me so far, is that I continue to live in a friendly universe. For that, I am immensely grateful.

I believe the mythologist, Joseph Campbell, would have agreed with Albert that our beliefs and reactions to the world around us reflect the stories that we subscribe to.  Each religion, spiritual practice and culture revolves around a set of stories.

People in power with vested interests, and salesmen in the media, often try to convince us that we live in a hostile universe. This belief leads to fear of others whose stories are different from our own. It can also lead us to take our own stories literally and become ridged in our thinking. Once our hearts are closed off, we often find that we do, indeed, live in a hostile universe.

I also believe we can get to a place where we are able to share our stories to mutually benefit one another.

I know someone whose basement was flooded one year just before Christmas. All of her families’ presents were destroyed. On Christmas day, her doorbell rang and when she answered it, instead of finding a person, she discovered a mountain of presents for her family. When people ask her if she has told her kids that Santa is not real, she says that he is. Someone used their story of a jolly man who brings presents and good cheer to others, to help this woman’s family; they became Santa Claus. Santa is a story that we can take to heart, that we share to mutually benefit one another.

There is a Jewish legend of the Lamid Vavniks, that predates Santa and describes 36 anonymous folks who are so pure of heart they keep the whole world in balance.  This story makes it a virtue to do something wonderful for someone else in secret.

How many other myths or stories outside of our comfort zone could benefit us in ways that we have not even considered?

Being willing to not only shift our own story but recognize something beautiful in someone else’s story, can help us to decide, on a daily basis, that we live in a friendly universe.

The Story I Can Hear

“If we see it all as literal, it might end up in a fight.

If we see it as a story, it might work out alright.

Let’s go out and meet the modern, willing to embrace-

See the gold inside the dust, be the change that’s taking place.

I long to tell the story I can hear.

One that fills my eyes and opens up the skies.

I long to tell the story I can hear.

One that fills the skies and opens up my eyes.

Not just for believers, or those who think its true,

but that holds me in its arms as it reaches out for you.

We’re busy telling stories. Meanwhile, life goes on.

It listens to our verses. It sings all of our songs.

One song. Our songs.

Not just for believers, or those who think its true,

but that holds me in its arms as it reaches out for you.”

The Levins  (inspired by Joseph Campbell)

May your story place you in the center of a friendly universe.

Promoting your Self (with a capital S)

A working artist’s guide to staying grounded in the grind.

 

Our world changes so fast, you have to be superhuman in order to stay ahead of the curve. Keeping up with trends is exhausting, especially if your livelihood depends on it. 

 As musicians, my wife, Julia, and I try to strike a balance between being grounded and soaring.  Accordingly, each morning we take time to activate our bodies, read books that soothe us, and we sit in silence to connect with non-duality and taste timelessness. Then, we get on Facebook, make phone calls and promote the heck out of ourselves.

Aye, there’s the rub, me hearties! Musicians must eat and pay the rent. Even if it is our intention to play music that helps others slow down so they recognize the beauty within and without, we are part of the fast-paced world and must sing for our supper. Self-promotion does not come naturally to either one of us. While we are grateful to have an agent, there is always more work to be done. We have learned to step up to the plate.  

It is fair to say that we dance with our ambition, which provokes the actions that secure gigs. Then, there is our mind’s daily “To Do” lists, along with the ego’s assertion that there is always an image to project, to brand, to define, to deliver, to uphold.

Fear pipes in and says that we’re not getting any younger. It paints anxious, detailed murals of the future trying to get us to be proactive.

While our minds, egos, and fears all vie for control of our vessel, we are aware there is another part of us that is merely observing, watching it all happen from moment to moment.

I remember having a lovely conversation with my father one night. As we were talking about getting older, he remarked that inside he didn’t feel any different in his later years than he did when he was a child. His wonder at this observation left a lingering impression.

When my dad said he didn’t feel different inside, he wasn’t addressing the physicality or realities of growing older. It wasn’t about the aches and pains that start to appear, the life knowledge he has acquired or even the wisdom he exudes. I marveled that without labeling it, he was recognizing and acknowledging his conscious awareness; the part of him that is observing unconditionally. His body is not the same, his cells are not the same, his thoughts and desires are not the same, but his inner awareness has been untouched, despite all of his experiences, good and bad. 

Pondering this further, I recognize that while our minds are constantly busy, labeling, judging and classifying every little thing, there is always a part of us that is silently witnessing.

While we are going through the rise and fall of one cycle after the next, our being regards us.  It watches us react, reminisce, regret and reach out for more, or in some cases, less. It behooves us not to identify ourselves with any of these things, (e.g., pain, regret or even success.) This thought was reinforced at a conference recently when I heard an esteemed musician say that “if we can’t handle a standing ovation or if we need the standing ovation, we are in trouble.”

It is with the slightest shift of perception that we can identify with our observing presence. This presence offers peace, a freedom that opens us up to understanding, even gratitude for everything that comes in.

So, even though I carry on with my goals and my daily practices, I don’t have to postpone expanding into the calm and stillness streaming through me.

I remember seeing the group Beirut at the Treasure Island Music Festival.

Their lead singer, Zach Condon, blew me away, not for his master showmanship or for his incredible prowess. It was his openness. It was as if the music was streaming through him. 

His happiness was like a tranquil breeze. Something that reached us without effort. He was fully content and radiating a quiet bliss without attachment.

 

I say he blew me away and that is accurate. I was swept into the music; there was a merging, not a ‘me’ confining and codifying the experience.

In the midst of our daily dance, the slightest shift of perspective can transform the rat race into smooth sailing. So, if you are tied up in the riggings of your mind, quietly start connecting to your inner awareness and know that you are the boat, the sea and beyond. It makes the journey much more interesting and the treasures easier to find.

Hook, Line & Thinker

Navigating Through an Overload of Advice

“I’m all lost in the supermarket I can no longer shop happily I came in here for that special offer A guaranteed personality”- The Clash

Some days it seems the floodgates have opened and we are all but drowning in information tossed at us. We do our best to swim, but then it can seem like we are fish swimming through a gauntlet of hooks.

Even something that is supposed to bring you peace, like meditation, can ironically cause anxiety if it becomes an intellectual exercise. There are so many ways to meditate that vary from teacher to teacher.  Do I keep my palms up or down? Do I keep my eyes open or shut? Am I focused on my breath, the mantra, my heart or my “third eye”? Is walking in the woods or doing the dishes my form of meditation, or do I need to sit for ten minutes or three hours in order to calm my being?

The thing to remember when going through the mega-store of advice with the 5 ways to get this and the 10 ways successful people to that, is that you have an internal guidance system that allows you to choose what is right for you. This internal guidance system operates below the mind’s chatter.  Some call it intuition, some call it discernment. Whatever you call it, there is a calm part of you that offers to help you make the right choice moment to moment.

As someone who loves to investigate and splash around in various practices, I see the value in many things simultaneously. There is a comedic group called The Firesign Theatre that used to sing:

“How can you be in two places at once when you’re not anywhere at all?”

The book Autobiography of a Yogi by Yogananda, talks about a yogi who is said to have actually appeared in two places at once.

While that seems impossible, the truth is we just do not know what is possible because we become prisoners to our intellect, and our fear of missing out on what the other kids are doing, (the old FOMO). Perhaps that yogi just realized he was not confined to anywhere at all, so he could simulcast himself like a wandering hologram, or, to borrow from Firesign Theatre again, “a holy-gram.”

So, what am I getting at? I believe we each have something grounding that constantly streams through us. This stream is at once unique as a snowflake and universal as water.

We have an innate sense of peace when we encounter something that rings true for us. We feel the resonance. For example, you might not be a Buddhist but hearing the Dalai Lama laugh might make you feel, “Hey, this guy is alright!” That doesn’t mean your inspiration is telling you to become a monk, but you may agree with him that kindness is key to happiness. You file that notion away and it becomes a part of you.

When we begin to trust the natural flow within us we can navigate through the world without being paralyzed by advice.  Accessing our inner wisdom starts with making peace with all of ourselves. For example, the ego is a part our wholeness in the same way that a  two-year-old having a tantrum can be a beloved part of a family. You can cherish the two-year-old and still not let him drive the car to work.

Calming the part of us that is scared is key. We each can become susceptible to doubt and flop around like a fish out of water wondering if we are ‘doing it right’ (Whatever ‘it’ happens to be in this moment). We may have a good friend that has a practice that gives them great peace, insight, or allows them to travel around in the “astral plane”. We might want to jump on that magic carpet ride. However, if we rush in because we are afraid of not only missing out, but feel that if we don’t follow this particular path, we will remain forever incomplete, then we will not allow ourselves to become grounded enough for any practice to work. There are times when I am overwhelmed, consumed by doubt, and search around for an answer. Then, there are moments of clarity when I allow myself to be where I am and I feel open, flowing, connected to all there is.

I would like to suggest that there is always a part of us that is consciously observing. It watches us freak out, be “brilliant”, and everything in between.  It is open. There is no journey or time needed to access this part of ourselves.  When we are stumped, blocked, misguided by things like fear, depression, or rage, that part of us that is silently observing is still there. The slightest shift of perspective allows us to lovingly reassure our rampaging two-year-old that they are alright.

My uncle Jeff used to say that people and things will try and put their hooks in you but you can let them pass through. It is only in reacting that we get snagged.

By observing ourselves as we swim through a flood of advice, we can keep calm, remain in the flow and give ourselves good advice.

 

A Creative Reframing of Stress and Superpowers

Overcoming your fear of utilizing your creativity.

Frame: noun  – “a ridged structure that surrounds or encloses something.”

“Reframing…Your frame is the house you live in.  That which you tell yourself on a regular basis.

What you talk about, you make real. Words are magical incantations.

Create a home that works for you, that brings you peace, that makes you calm.

Frame something that makes you feel good, makes you more patient, more kind.

It’s not a destination, it’s a way of living.”- Drake Powe

One of the advantages of being a travelling musician is getting to listen to audio books and podcasts on the way to various gigs.  Two recent highlights have been Elizabeth Gilbert’s wonderful resource book about creativity called Big Magic and her follow-up podcast Magic Lessons.

In episode 12 of her podcast, she has a dialogue with author Brene Brown. During that discussion, Brene noted:

“Without (creativity) I am not OK and without having access to everyone else’s, we are not OK.

I absolutely understand, personally and professionally from the data, there are no such thing as non-creative people. There are just people who use their creativity and those that don’t, and unused creativity is not benign.”

Brene Brown

My friend Drake Powe is someone I think of whose living presence is an expression of creativity. Drake was the best man at my wedding. Each interaction I have with him, brings me fully into the present and shifts me back to what is vital in this moment.

Even before he had an outlet for his creativity, Drake’s canvas was interaction.

Drake is a big persona. He is not only larger than life in personality but also in stature.  You might be surprised that despite being over six feet tall with a barrel chest that houses his immense heart,  Drake has wrestled with a fear of being attacked. This might stem from growing up in a rough neighborhood, however, fear of being vulnerable extends to being criticized as well.  Anyone with a presence on line, risks being attacked by mean spirited individuals with a lot of time on their hands.  Both Elizabeth Gilbert and Brene Brown talk of having to deal with trolls who antagonize them for being powerful women who choose to demonstrate their creativity in an empowering way.  Drake has pushed past his fears and the stress of being an empowering black man in his community. As a yoga instructor, he has felt comfortable dealing with individuals and small groups but recently he has challenged himself to begin speaking in public.

In one of these presentations, he talks of accessing his inner superhero whose power is being calm and optimistic in stressful situations. He has managed to reframe his story, (fears of attack) by applying this superpower. He has recognized that very thing that stresses him out, simultaneously has the power of fueling his gift.

“Conflict is our opportunity when we realize how powerful we are… We are stressed because we feel vulnerable…You are not what you are stressed about…our true state is calm and loving…

Change the size of your framing, make yourself big, make yourself magnificent, because that’s who you are.”- Drake Powe

When I think of what super power I want to have, it is the ability to step outside of time, to be able to experience and bestow a state of timelessness. What pushes my buttons and causes me stress are, most often, fear based time-related issues, such as deadlines and ‘to do’ lists, even if they are self-imposed. When I react from a time-stressed center, my frame becomes small and, as my wife would say, “I am not my best self.” I have experienced that my creativity is heightened when I activate my superpower. Timelessness brings me back to benevolence. Benevolence extends the frame of my being beyond space. The music that flows from that, reduces stress and dances without constraint.

I wonder if each of us has a superpower that is restrained by stress, fear, or not fully utilizing our creativity.

Just for this moment, allow yourself to step out of time, reframe. Go beyond the self you know.

There really is no frame to what we actually are.  Being able to sit within our natural state of being gives us access to our creativity, our ability to be Faster than a speeding negative thought- More powerful than criticism -Able to leap stress at a single bound!

 

A different 1% – Expanding our perspective

Here is a talk worth viewing:
Best Explanation Ever! To A Fascinatingly Disturbing Thought! Dr. Neil DeGrasse Tyson  
https://youtu.be/aTZyVZBtP70 
 
Dr. Neil breaks down the thought that we are composed of the same elements as we see in the night sky, that we are not separate from what we see all around us.  He makes the point that we share 99% of the same DNA  as a chimpanzee.  The one percent difference is what allows us to compose symphonies and launch the Hubble Telescope into space. Talk about the 1%!  What if we were to meet beings who had one percent higher than us?  Their children would have an explanation of the string theory magnetized on their refrigerators.  We think we are so special but it is all relative.
“A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”-  Albert Einstein

Child in Space
 
We are all part of – a child in space.
One body, one mind, one race.
           
We are all atoms dancing  face to face
and the bond that we can’t see between us-
keeps us in this place.
 
While the left hand wrestles with the right,
belly goes hungry, eyes shut tight.
If i could reach accross the great divide,
our tears would become nurishment to heal us from inside.
  
And the darkness would fade.  If I could hasten the day.
We are all part of – a child in space.
One body, one mind, one race.
We are all atoms dancing  face to face
and the bond that we can’t see between us-
keeps us in this place.
One body, one mind, one race. 
– The Levins

We may overcome our need to strive to be part of the socio-economic one percent and collectively reach out to touch the next percent in our understanding.

 

360 degrees around Harper Lee

Last week I finished reading Harper Lee’s prequel sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird which is called Go, Set a Watchman. (It is a sequel but was written before her famous, award winning novel.) For a good ten years, Julia and I religiously watched To Kill a Mockingbird to remind ourselves what it means to be human. For me, that is nearly a perfect movie and it stirs not only my emotions but my conscience. 
Julia and I went on the first day the new book was released and bought it from the local bookstore which is happily called Pickwick’s.  We remembered being at Pendragon books in Oakland, CA at midnight to get the last of the Harry Potter books.  Pendragon was packed and there was an excitement and comradery in the air.  There will be very few times in our lives now where being in bookstore for the release of a physical book will be an event.
There has been a lot of controversy and criticism of Harper Lee’s new book and I did my best not read or listen to it before I read it myself.  I was worried that Atticus Finch, who said,  “I do my best to love everybody… I’m hard put, sometimes—baby, it’s never an insult to be called what somebody thinks is a bad name. It just shows you how poor that person is, it doesn’t hurt you,” would be dethroned as a literary God of justice and stalwart humanitarian. Harper Lee manages to find her own conviction as a young woman and upholds what Atticus has taught her.  But this book is about understanding what it means to be fully human. 
My father taught me when I was a child to walk three hundred and sixty degrees around a person’s point of view.  When I was a teenager, I would come home ranting as if I was a sixties radical and my father would sigh and do his best to help me walk around the additional hundred and eighty degrees. 
There is a way to protest injustice while remaining compassionate and being empathetic to our own shortcomings. 
Here is one of my favorite protests:
One man with a Sousaphone ruins an entire KKK march
by providing them with a silly soundtrack.
Here’s to the prankster that is able to lighten the load of our collective folly.
Here’s to merging our conviction with a loving heart.

Signal awareness

Become your own assistance, not the drowning victim but the rescuing vessel. In the acceleration of madness, we can be the islands of sanity that come together to form a new continent of hope that supports life and kindness.

My Uncle Jeff was a humorous and noble sage.  One day he warned me to put a protection around myself while listening to sad music. He said that music was one of the most powerful conduits of energy and while it had the ability to transport us into higher realms, connect us to our essential selves, it could also keep us trapped in a limited perspective.

This was a time when I was enjoying riding around in the car listening to Joni Mitchell and early Steely Dan, reveling in a lonely melancholia.  He wasn’t telling me not to listen but to put a protection around myself so I didn’t take on the emotions internally and be influenced by them without awareness.

This can be applied to movies as well. Yesterday was Monday, which is often the weekend for Julia and I after lots of gigs.  We made wonderful brunch and watched a beautiful movie that was incredibly depressing. We had to consciously pull ourselves out of the vortex.  The day before we saw Tomorrowland which has a similar take-away message.  We are taking in a stream of messages from entertainment and media and it is helpful to put a protection around us; to consciously remember and choose where we would like to be within and without.

Conscious Choices and heightened results!

How can I help?

Stream of Light 12-22-14

Where love imposes new ideas we cringe but in a more malleable state, concur.  
What is the essence of fear and dread?
Becoming inconsequential, as if we never were, insignificant.
Being separated, isolated, alone; 
Losing Love.
 
Bring what you have to the table.
 
Increase what is given to you by implementing the grace into something that is transferrable.
 
Listen to what comes through without needing to bully it into submission.
 
Contemplate what makes us recognizable to one another.
This voice, this smile.
Why are they different?
Who does the distinguishing?
 
Where our roots lie our potential for connection is deep but we vibrate at various frequencies. 
What catches us in fullness and allows for our greatest outpouring maybe outside of our heritage.  
(There is no outside within.)

 

Stream of Light 12/1/2014