Thursday, March 26, 2015
Multivariate Statistics has taken a toll on writing in my blog. Back in high school I did well in math but I have never been a lover of numbers and especially statistics. The course almost made me want to give up on my Ph.D. in Psychology with Capella University. Thanks to a fantastic professor that made statistics interesting with his Dr. Trunk's wisdom, knowledgeable tutoring help with Susan the rock and roll tutor, and IBM SPSS software that made the output of tables and graphs sensible I was able to pass the class. Then knowing I just have two more research classes before dissertation, helps in keeping a mindset to finish the goal of the Ph.D. So I am now back to my blog.
Before the last week of class, the college I teach at had their Spring Break so my wife, daughter and I went back to Immanuel Prayer House in Belton, Texas. A couple of days of rest and quiet were mindful reminders of the need to pull aside and enjoy communion with God and nature. One of the mornings, we took a hike over at nearby Stillhouse Hollow Reservoir. The morning air was still chilly as one of the hopefully last cold fronts from the North was wearing off in Texas.
The hike gave us a much needed workout along the trail. Being a workday there were only a few other people on the trail. One young lady from the area out for walk helped point us in the right direction as we had become lost due to the trails not being clearly marked. The paths are clear but there was very little signage to let new people know the direction back to the parking.
As we started on the trail we were moving along fast then I spotted a flower growing out of the trunk of a tree. That is when we slowed down and began to notice all the new growth beginning with the coming of Spring. The young lady who helped us with directions had told us that the park is much nicer after Spring has fully come and the trees are filled out with leaves. So we decided we will need to take another trip there in April or May to see the park again.
As we came home we notice Spring was beginning new growth on our fruit trees with blossoms on our peach and plum trees in our backyard. This viewing of the start of Springtime reminded me of what we can learn from the Seasons in our self-growth. Just as Spring is when there is new growth to be seen in trees and flowers we can see the importance of new growth in our own lives. In Living More Than OK we need to appreciate continual growth so that our lives are not stagnant and dying. I saw a video recently from a psychologist mentioning a way to keep a healthy brain. Her idea was to take 15 minutes a day to learn something new. Take just a short time each day to read up on some new information to keep the mind growing. I prefer reading but you could also listen to an educational video on the internet as another way to learn new information.
As you enjoy the newness of Spring around you this time of year think of ways you can bring New Growth into your lives.
Reflection: Take some time to plant some flowers or vegetables in your yard. Their growth can be a reminder to grow yourself. Enjoy a weekend stroll at a local park or nearby State park to enjoy nature in Spring. What new ways do you want to grow this Spring?
Wednesday, March 4, 2015
At the beginning of February my family went with me to the 2015 South Padre Islands Counselors Institute. It was organized by the Tip of Texas Counseling Association of Brownsville, Texas. When we lived in Brownsville I regularly attended most of the years. It was a privilege to be able to present again there as well as to learn from other presenters.
On the last day I left the conference early as my wife and daughter wanted to visit a couple of nature activities on the Island before traveling back to New Braunfels, Texas. The first place we visited was Sea Turtle Inc. The purpose of this group is stated on their website as “to aid in the protection and recovery of the endangered Kemp's ridley sea turtle.” The workers and volunteers are very knowledgeable about sea turtles. They had a number of turtles in tanks that they had rescued and that were being medically cared for until releasing them back into the waters. They had educational information for all ages. Turtles as you watch them come across as very Zen like. As they float through the water they have a peaceful look about them as if they are meditating about life. On their website they mention they offer internships to biology majors so they can learn and study about sea turtles. In talking with the workers there it was easy to see their passion for turtles. Sea Turtle Inc. would make a nice family learning activity or a learning experience for all ages.
We then moved next to the South Padre Island Birding & Nature Center that was nearby. The SPI Birding Center is also educational, as well as a peaceful way to enjoy the natural beauty of South Padre Island. From their website here are some aspects of their facility: Over 3300 linear feet of boardwalk, 5 Bird Blinds, A five story tower with spectacular views of Laguna Madre, Beaches & dunes of South Padre Island, the Gulf of Mexico, & the South Padre Island Skyline , Auditorium showing a short Richard Moore documentary movie about the wildlife of South Padre Island , Nature Gift Shop.
We took our time strolling the boardwalk to view the various birds and even a few alligators. There were a number of photographers who by the look of their equipment were very passionate about their hobby of photography as well as their interest in birding. This visit we were up against the clock as we needed to make a long drive home. They enjoyment of the birds, the sun reflecting off the water, and the views from the tower made us realize the next visit to the Rio Grande Valley would include another stop here.
South Padre is a beautiful relaxing get away spot. Nature centers are one way to enjoy the magnificence of creation. If you are ever visiting SPI make sure you take in the Sea Turtle Inc. and the South Padre Island Birding & Nature Center. Look into Nature Centers and parks in your state and local vicinity for enjoyable relaxing days with family and or friends. Nature Centers can be a break from the same old going to see a movie or simply staying stuck at home and playing with electronic gadgets. Taking time to visit those two spots brought added value to our visit to South Padre Island.
Reflection: Do a search on Nature Centers and Parks in your local vicinity. Plan a day picnic trip to a park of your choosing.
Monday, February 23, 2015
Last week I took a break from my PhD Multivariate Statistics studies to enjoy a jazz concert with my wife and daughter. We went to One World Theater in Austin, Texas to hear Keiko Matsui. The evening was an enchanting night of appreciation of creativity as well as thinking about my Soul Quest.
The One World Theater is a small intimate music venue. You experience the music there as even in the back rows you are still seem to be close to the artist. They bring in a wide variety of musicians throughout the year. If you find yourself visiting Austin do check out their concert listings.
Hearing Keiko and her band always helps me to appreciate the creative mind. We have heard her numerous times but never tire of her music. She has such variety of styles in her compositions. Watching her play the keyboards and piano it is clear that she is one with her instruments. The band she assembles has the same spirit of professionalism in their creativity with their instruments: guitar, sax, bass and drums. To see and hear 5 musicians play with such a unified spirit and selflessness of the give and take of solos is enjoyable to experience. You can hear it in a studio track on a CD but to see the interaction of the creative process live in concert is amazing.
It is her creativity in her song writing and keyboard playing that has kept her as one of my favorite musicians. That is why I list in my creative thinking chapter of my book, Living More Than OK. Her creative gift is one that she shares with the world in her calming and inspiring music.
I mentioned as well, that her concert made me think of my personal Soul Quest. Primarily because she played that evening many songs from her Soul Quest CD. Her music was a refreshing reminder that even though we are in a material based world the alternative reality of the spiritual world is with us if we are open to listen and see. I have always felt that the creative nature that we each carry in us and the creativity of the world around us points to a Creator behind all things. We all have our personal Soul Quest that is part of our journey as pilgrims in this short life on Earth.
Take a listen to Keiko’s song Soul Quest (click on the title) and think through your Soul Quest as you listen. The song begins with a soft mystical beginning and moves into a light meditative melody. It reminds me of the scriptures in Psalm 46:10 “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth." We need to quiet ourselves and have an open heart in our Soul Quest. It is in those times God can reveal Himself to us. Her song builds in strength just like we move further along in our Soul Quest our spiritual life can move higher up and further into deeper communion with God. Then at the end the song returns to quiet and calmness which reminded me again of the be still and listen aspect of the spiritual life.
If you ever have a chance to hear Keiko Matsui in concert do take the opportunity. You will not be disappointed.
Reflection: Go to YouTube.com and search for Keiko Matsui’s music videos. Listen to one of her songs of your choice and think through what do you appreciate about the song? What do you appreciate about creative musicians and the gift they offer in enriching our lives?
Monday, February 16, 2015
This past weekend by family and I attended a “Biblical Spiritual Disciplines for Real People” conference at our church, Oakwood Baptist, in New Braunfels. Texas. The Speaker was Dr. Donald Whitney of Southern Baptist Seminary in Kentucky. The topics focused in on two disciplines of prayer and Bible study. Dr. Whitney spoke with a sincere passion for the importance of spiritual growth. This week in the blog I want to share some thoughts from his talk on prayer.
My favorite section was his teaching on prayer as he opened my mind to a concept of prayer I had not heard of before. The concept was “Praying the Bible”. He started by saying we commonly pray about 6 main categories: family, our future, finances, work or school work, Church or ministry and current crises we find ourselves in. These 6 relate to our lives and that is fine as our lives are important to God. Yet he kept repeating the idea that we slack off in prayer because of a common problem. The problem is we continue to pray often the same words day after day saying the same old things. Therefore prayer tends to become boring and we give up praying, thinking the problem is us. Instead of self-blame he encouraged us to rework our method of praying to add vitality to it. That is where “Praying the Bible” comes to play.
The prayer method of “Praying the Bible” is not complicated. Actually it came across as simple, which I like as my mind likes simple methodologies. Before your prayer time you simply choose a passage of scripture from the Bible. Dr. Whitney encouraged the use of the Psalms but mentioned it can be used with other passages from the Bible as well. After you choose a passage or Psalm you read it over and then start your prayer using key verses from the passage God places on your heart to guide your prayer.
For example let’s say I choose Psalm 63 (NKJV)
1 O God, You are my God; Early will I seek You; My soul thirsts for You;
My flesh longs for You In a dry and thirsty land Where there is no water.
2 So I have looked for You in the sanctuary, To see Your power and Your glory.3 Because Your loving-kindness is better than life,
My lips shall praise You. 4 Thus I will bless You while I live;
I will lift up my hands in Your name.5 My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness, And my mouth shall praise You with joyful lips.
6 When I remember You on my bed, I meditate on You in the night watches.
7 Because You have been my help, Therefore in the shadow of Your wings I will rejoice.
8 My soul follows close behind You; Your right hand upholds me.
9 But those who seek my life, to destroy it, Shall go into the lower parts of the earth.
10 They shall fall by the sword; They shall be a portion for jackals.
11 But the king shall rejoice in God; Everyone who swears by Him shall glory; But the mouth of those who speak lies shall be stopped.
With this Psalm you may want to begin praying how you are thirsty to experience the reality of God’s presence in your life. Possibly God will bring to mind some friends or family who are experiencing a desert time in their lives so pray for refreshment for your spirit and theirs. You may then move into a section of thankfulness for God’s loving-kindness and seek to be an example of God’s love to those you meet in your workplace. With these few thoughts, you probably get the gist of what the concept of the method is getting at, in praying through a scripture passage.
Dr. Whitney gave everyone a time to try the method out with various passages of scripture. Many felt it was like a true conversation with God. Which if one believes as we Christians do, that the Bible is God’s Word to us; then by using a passage of the Bible as the foundation of a prayer it truly is an opportunity to allow God to speak to our hearts and minds spiritually. This also solves the initial stated problem of people giving up on prayer as they get bored with praying the same old things in the same old way day after day. With a different Bible passage each day we are allowing God to guide our prayers in new ways each day.
Dr. Whitney has several excellent books on spiritual growth that can be found on his website. He also offers free articles on a variety of spiritual growth topics. His website is biblicalspirituality.org. I would encourage you to check out some of the information he has available for your spiritual growth journey.
Reflection: Try “Praying the Bible” out by choosing a Psalm and using that as a guide for a prayer. Go to Dr. Whitney’s website and click on Resources and then click on Articles. Read an article of your own choosing and reflect over what is being said in the article.
Sunday, February 1, 2015
One part of reading I miss as I am immersed in my Phd studies is leisure reading. I was reminded of this as I was reading a segment in Louise DeSalvo’s book, The Art of Slow Writing. In it she has a chapter on slow reading. Growing up slow readers were considered those who had trouble reading. Her chapter takes an important look at a type of reading – reading slowly. I find myself with my classes for my doctorate having to speed read through journal articles. Of course my statistics book I read slowly as I am not keen on numbers, so I need to take my time to learn the information. That is a part of what she is getting at but there is more to slow reading.
She starts off the chapter discussing Bill Gates, reading habits. She mentions how he regularly takes reading retreats each year. I looked into what she was saying through an internet search and found out Bill Gates is an avid reader. Most articles mentioned the week away is called a “think week”. This is where Mr. Gates secludes himself from his family and workplace in a restful retreat setting for a week. He uses the week to read papers of ideas from his employees and other readings. I like both terms but I prefer how Louise DeSalvo describes it as a reading retreat as he is secluding himself away for the purpose of reading. Of course “think week” is a good term as well as he takes breaks from his reading to think and reflect over what he reads. The idea is very appealing to me as a Bookhead.
The idea of slow reading fits well with the retreat idea. Taking the time to savor what is being read be it a novel or nonfiction work of literature can be beneficial. I miss too often having a relaxed time to sit and read among my reading for studies and reading for my work as a professor and counselor. Thankfully I am down to just a few classes and my dissertation left on my Phd in psychology. That should free up time for enjoyable slow reading. Of course I do enjoy my work and study reading as I am a Bookhead. Any reading is enriching but I do look forward to more free time to read books I really want to slowly immerse myself into the material or story.
Louise DeSalvo mentions that writers should be readers. In the short chapter on slow reading she shares thoughts from the author, Henry Miller. She shares how Miller was a proponent of slow reading in that he took about a year to read Thomas Mann’s, The Magic Mountain. Her comments about him makes me want to read his, The Books in My Life. Reading slowly allows us to delve into the minute details and truly ponder and meditate on what the author is trying to say. The best thought she shared from Miller about reading is a quote from him that leisurely reading opens up, “a new life, (filled with) new fields of adventure and exploration.” One way to enjoy a better spiraling upwards life is through slow reading so as to learn new ideas for new life directions.
I can imagine the benefits of slow reading from even being more relaxed and allowing the body to be calm from the day’s pressures. Taking even 30 minutes for a slow reading break with a book you enjoy can help ease the tension of the day.
Going back to the idea of the reading retreat, how much could we improve our lives is we took a mini reading vacation to expand our mind and thinking.
Do you need to take a full week like Bill Gates? I know I like the idea and can see myself trying it out in the future. I even foresee myself using breaks between my Phd classes to do a reading retreat on my dissertation research articles I have accumulated. Also make use of your local library for a reading retreat. Many libraries have reading study rooms. Maybe take a reading retreat day at your library. Reserve a study room and select some reading material to work through for a day. See what new adventures in your mind and life occur from savoring your reading in this way.
Reflection: What do you think about Bill Gates’ “Think Week” concept? How would you do a reading retreat? What are some books or reading materials you would use on such a retreat?
Friday, January 23, 2015
In this early part of the New Year improving our thinking is one way to keep growing on our Living More Than OK journey. The quality of our thinking aids in our enjoyment of life and personal successes. Richard Paul and Linda Elders in their book Critical Thinking: Tools for Taking Charge of Your Professional and Personal Life state this of the need for sound thinking: “There is nothing more practical than sound thinking. No matter what your circumstance or goals, no matter where you are, or what problems you face, you are better off if your thinking is skilled. …in every realm and situation of your life, good thinking pays off. Poor Thinking, in turn, inevitably causes problems, wastes time and energy, engenders frustration and pain.” (page 7)
If we look at the problems and difficulties of our lives and are honest we can see where most our negativity can be traced back to faulty thinking. In the Living More Than OK life we want to live more of our time spiraling up to abundant living instead of spiraling down into stagnation and problems. Each of us can find room to improve in our thought lives.
Improving our thinking begins with a choice to continually learn and improve our minds. We need to take time to make time to do things to improve our thinking. Take mental growth breaks during the day or on the weekend. Paul & Elders in the aforementioned book reveal that critical thinkers need to work on building intellectual habits and traits into their thought lives. The traits they mention are: “Intellectual integrity, Intellectual humility, Intellectual sense of justice, Intellectual perseverance, Intellectual fair-mindedness, Intellectual confidence in reason, Intellectual courage, Intellectual empathy, Intellectual autonomy.” (page 19) Look over those terms and first reflect over which areas are you already strong in and which areas do you need to grow in at present time.
How can we grow in these areas? Probably no surprise to you my first response is to tell you to go to your local library and select a book on Critical Thinking. I highly recommend any of the writings by Richard Paul and Linda Elders. Their writings are sound and also practical. There are other good writers on critical thinking but those two are my favorites. My book, Living More Than OK, has one chapter on the need for critical thinking. So this Bookhead is telling you books are one of the best ways to grow your mind and thought life. For reading material you can also go to www.criticalthinking.org and click on their Library tab and read various articles about critical thinking.
Beyond reading you can also search on YouTube or Ted talks for video lectures on thinking and critical thinking. Here is an example of a short video of Richard Paul on thinking from YouTube -- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gNCOOUK-bMQ . You may also want to look into Continuing education courses at local universities and colleges. Find an area of mental curiosity or interest to you personally, and take a course in that subject.
Growing in improved good thinking will add value to your life. The process may lessen the number or intensity of problems that you may be facing. By growing our thinking it helps keep the mind open to possibilities and new solutions to adversity and new areas of growth. Give improving your thinking a try in this New Year.
Reflection: Go to the Library link of the critical thinking website http://www.criticalthinking.org/pages/index-of-articles/1021/ and read one article of your choosing. Take time to reflect over the message of the article you chose.
Thursday, January 15, 2015
This discussion is not about Lasik eye surgery or our physical vision. The idea is to look at our spiritual vision. The inner mental vision that focuses in on what is the most important in your life journey this New Year you find yourself traversing. It considers what values are important and what goals you are aiming for and keeping your eyes on. What is the foundation of your values? A song by For King & Country relates well with what I am thinking about this week.
So as always first take a listen to the song by clicking on the song title and reflect over the lyrics I have listed here:
Fix My Eyes by For KING & COUNTRY –
Hit rewind, Click delete, Stand face to face with the younger me.
All of the mistakes All of the heartbreaks. Here's what I'd do differently.
I'd Love like I'm not scared, Give when it's not fair, Live life for another,
Take time for a brother, Fight for the weak ones, Speak out for freedom Find faith in the battle, Stand tall but above it all Fix my eyes on You On You
I learned the lines and talked the talk 'cuz the road less traveled was hard to walk It takes a soldier who knows his orders
To walk the walk I'm supposed to walk
Love like I'm not scared Give when it's not fair
Live life for another Take time for a brother
Fight for the weak ones Speak out for freedom
Find faith in the battle Stand tall but above it all
Fix my eyes on You On You
The things of Earth are dimming In the light of Your glory and grace
I'll set my sights upon Heaven I'm fixing my eyes on you
Love like I'm not scared Give when it's not fair
Live life for another Take time for a brother
Fight for the weak ones Speak out for freedom
Find faith in the battle Stand tall but above it all
Fix my eyes on You On You Fix my eyes On you
The beginning of the song looks backwards at mistakes in life. We can hit rewind in our minds as we look at the past but in reality we cannot go back and redo the past mistakes. We can do things differently in our present choices and grow by moving ahead with better values. The song presents positive values of living out acts of love, caring for others and standing tall which I believe relates well with ethical living.
Is living out our values easy to do? The song writers are honest in how living rightly is difficult. The phrase “'cuz the road less traveled was hard to walk. It takes a soldier who knows his orders” reminds me of the M. Scott Peck book, The Road Less Traveled, that begins with the statement, “Life is Difficult”. Living the best life of positive values is often difficult as the negativity of the world says to take the easy selfish approach.
This song is written by Christian writers and they show the key to getting over the difficulty is by fixing their eyes on Christ. By keeping a focus on Christ’s example and His love and grace those of us who believe in the Christian worldview, can move beyond the past mistakes and move forward in loving our neighbors and stand tall above the difficulties of life. Not that the difficulties disappear but we have extra strength spiritually in the battle with the difficulties.
Fixing the eyes, which is the most repetitive concept in the song is the reminder of the importance of focusing our minds. To conquer and win in sports for example there is a need for a focus on the goal of winning. So if you have come across this post and you are not a Christian I would first say take a serious look at not the myths of Christianity, but seriously take a look at who Christ says he is by reading on of the books Matthew, Mark, Luke or John.
Of course I feel the thought of “fixing your eyes” can relate to any belief system. Think through what or who are you fixing your eyes on. As this New Year starts to move on one way to live it for the best experiences is to examine your values that are important to you.
Reflection: What is the basis of your personal value system? What does it mean to you to “Fix Your Eyes”? How do you overcome the difficulties of living the best life? How do your values relate to the goals you have for the New Year?