My New Book Living More Than OK

My New Book Living More Than OK
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Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Revealing Pain Through Beauty




Last week while I was at the Texas Counseling Association conference in Dallas, Texas, my wife, daughter and I went to hear the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. They were performing Concerto in E minor for Cello and Orchestra, Op. 85 by English composer Edward Elgar. They also performed Pavane, Op. 50 and Requiem, Op. 48 by French Composer Gabriel Faure’. I had never heard of these composers so we attended the lecture prior to the performance to learn more about the composers. I highly recommend taking advantage of any community lectures before a classical performance as the information adds to the enjoyment of the performing of the musical works.

With Edward Elgar I was surprised that I was familiar with one of his works. Matter of fact anyone who has graduated would be familiar with his Pomp and Circumstance No. 1 that is played as a march at most high school and university graduations. His cello concerto was composed in his later years. It is a dark emotional work reflecting the mindset of Elgar, who had become disillusioned like many after WWI with the atrocities of mass killings and mustard gas killings. Also his wife that he loved dearly was gravely ill and he was facing illness as well. The program listed a quote from a letter he wrote that showed Elgar’s mindset, “Everything good and nice and clean is far away never to return.”
Knowing what his mindset was, I was setting up myself to hear a depressing sad piece. Yet as the young cellist, Alisa Weilerstein, performed her magic on the piece, I was captured with the beauty of the notes and emotion rising from the music. Yes, melancholic and dark, but still beautiful at the same time. It made me think of the wonder of the creative mind of Elgar to be going through personal pain yet creating music that could showcase the beauty of the range of tones from the cello.

With Gabriel Faure’ he was a contemporary of Elgar and the pre-performance lecture noted they had even met. Faure’ was trained in his schooling to go into church music and he started as a church organist. The requiem was a funeral mass piece Faure’ composed. So again at the lecture I was thinking another depressing piece about death. A difference was mentioned though compared to regular funeral mass music Faure’ wanted to take a different view of death. Most requiems that were popular at that time period, emphasized judgment in death. His requiem focused on solace and rest. The program notes listed a quote from Faure’ “It has been said that my Requiem does not express the fear of death and someone has called it a lullaby of death. But it is thus that we see death: as a happy deliverance, an aspiration toward happiness above; rather than a painful experience.” What a powerful statement as a way to look at death. It caused me to think back to my mother’s death years ago and the joy that was expressed at her home-going celebration at her church, remembering hymns she enjoyed and also as people shared kind thoughts about her.



When we heard the Requiem performed the Dallas Symphony choir performed along with the piece. The piece was far from depressing instead sections were majestic and powerful and other sections where light and airy. The solo “Pie Jesu” was performed by soprano Susanna Phillips. Her voice was amazing in capturing the emotion and lightness of the piece. In the reflection section below I have a short video clip of Barbara Bonney performing this solo. Do give it a listen.

Pain and death are subjects we don’t like to consider but they are part and parcel of our life journey. It helps us to understand these negative aspects of life through the creative mind of the artist, poet, or music composer as they bring bring beauty and different ways to understand the topics.

Reflection - What solace do you turn to during times of pain or grief through loss? To these composers who lived in difficult times of the hardships right after WWI music was a solace to use as an outlet. Take a listen to “Pie Jesu” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PJanc3-a320 and think over what you felt after listening to it

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Encouraging Reading to Create Booklovers


At the recent Texas Book Festival in Austin I found myself conversing with a librarian and a sales rep for Penguin Publishing while waiting in the long line for Crepes in the outdoor food court. Part of the discussion was the decline in reading in the country especially among young people. The reality of our discussion I read in an article I found online where Jordan Weissmann speaks in The Atlantic (2014) about the decline of reading. He pointed out that recent research showed that about 25% of American adults had done no book reading in the previous year. He pointed out a Gallup study that showed in 1978 that 42 % of adults read 11 books and then a recent Pew study showed that percentage had declined to 28%. He correctly points out that a major difference is that in this modern era there is an increase of technological gadgetry to sidetrack from reading. Students at the college level that I speak with in classes agree that most of their technology time is spent watching videos or chatting through texting not reading.

Weissmann is optimistic in his article, in that he shows that the statistic of readers had stabilized so he is not seeing further decline. Myself I would like to see the 28% go back up to 42%. His article ends with bar graphs in response to a question “How many Americans Read a Book for Pleasure Last Year?”. The years reported were 1992, 2002, 2008, and 2012. The last two years showed a stable mid 50s percentage. One problem I have is the question is stated in the singular “book”. How about working on getting people involved in their local library reading more than one book a year? I think that can happen if we encourage the importance of reading. That is why I promote reading in the classes I teach to college students.

I also came across a column by Dr. Howard Gardner back in 2008 he makes good points that even in our digital age that literacy will continue to grow. He doesn’t worry because “it’s essential to read and write fluently.” That is a point I discuss with my college students. They do get it. They will tell me they prefer just watching videos to entertain themselves and an easy way to get information. Yet they admit the work it takes to read pays off in a stronger thinking capacity and better creativity.

Gardner brings out important differences in our modern quick hi-tech media. One is that it limits authors’ ability to organize complex arguments that takes time for the reader to work through. He uses Kant’s “Critique of Pure Reason” as an example due to what he calls “The Web’s speedy browsing.” I see it more that the web makes the mind lazy in that everything has to be written in short sound bites of low mental fluff. I have actually had students admit to that point that the quick information and videos make them mentally lazy. That is why I encourage building up the mind with critical thinking skills.

Gardner also looks at another aspect of reading that is changing with technology and that is the solitude of reading where an individual would spend hours alone being absorbed in their book reading. I remember as a child enjoying hours of reading in the Summer. He points out rightly that young people today because of social media cannot enjoy solitude, but need to be continually connected with checking social media with their network of friends. I question whether this is really a good thing? Isn’t there a benefit to encouraging a break away from the connection to staring at the tech gadgets that control so many lives? Why not encourage a balance between using social media and web surfing to also include a 30 minutes a day of reading of a book?

I was encouraged on a recent Sunday evening at a Bible study where a young couple walked in and their little girl was holding several children books. She is just a one year old but they are incorporating books into her life by reading to her. They told the group about the 1,000 book challenge. It is a program to encourage parents to have their children starting at age 1 to be involved in reading to their child and having the child read up to 1,000 books before kindergarten. That sounds like a positive way to be creating future booklovers. If you want to know more information on the program here is the website for the organization behind it -- http://1000booksbeforekindergarten.org/

Reflection - How can you encourage others around you to read more? Do you enjoy reading a book in solitude? If you have difficulty finding time to read start out with reading a book just 30 minutes a day or even every other day.

References

http://1000booksbeforekindergarten.org/


Gardner, H, (Feb. 17. 2008) The End of Literacy? Don’t Stop Reading. In the washingtonpost.com

Weissmann, J. (Jan.21.2014) The Decline of the American Book Lover. The Atlantic.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Turning From Nowhere Man Into Somewhere Man


It has been a couple weeks since writing here as I have been busy with the College classes I teach. So with a few of the classes I teach just being finished as they were half semester courses called Flex classes I thought I would share an activity that I do with my College Success classes. It is where I have the students reflect on the song, Nowhere Man, by the Beatles. Then I have them write a letter to Nowhere Man pretending he is a student on campus who is failing because he is going nowhere. Their purpose is to give suggestions and ideas to get him moving to Somewhereland. Many students enjoy doing this and I have been surprised over the years how many young people enjoy the Beatle’s music still. Let’s see what we can learn from the song.

Nowhere Man , Lennon & McCartney (Click on the Title for a video)

He's a real nowhere Man, Sitting in his Nowhere Land,
Making all his nowhere plans for nobody.

Doesn't have a point of view, Knows not where he's going to,
Isn't he a bit like you and me?

Nowhere Man, just listen, You don't know what you're missin',
All the world's at your command.

He's as blind as he can be, Just sees what he wants to see,
Nowhere Man can you see me at all?

Nowhere Man, don't worry, Take your time, don't hurry,
Leave it all 'till somebody else lends you a hand.

Doesn't have a point of view, Knows not where he's going to,
Isn't he a bit like you and me?

Nowhere man please listen, you don't know what your missin'
Nowhere Man, the world is at your command

He's a real Nowhere Man, Sitting in his Nowhere Land,
Making all his nowhere plans for nobody.
Making all his nowhere plans for nobody.
Making all his nowhere plans for nobody.

What I have enjoyed about the song is that it reminds me of the importance of choosing a life of purpose. If we want to go somewhere in life we need to intentionally choose to make plans so we can go somewhere not nowhere. It helps to take time to understand our point of view and have a firm understanding of who we are, and what we want out of life. Too many are missing out on all life has to offer as they don’t take the time to think over where they want to go. It is very true “Isn’t ‘he a bit like you and me?”. If we are honest we all have desert times where we don’t know and sit in nowhere land. We need to think is that where we want to stay?

“He’s as blind as he can be, just sees what he wants to see”. As we sit around staring at the plastic rectangles we carry around with us, or sit in the comfort of home staring at the larger plastic rectangles that entertain us to death, we become as blind as Nowhere Man. I am glad to see more calls in research and news reports to encourage parents to watch the amount of time they allow their children stare blindly at the little plastic entertainment rectangles of technology. At the same time how about the parents? It upsets me to see children at restaurants or outside playing and the parent instead of interacting with the children are staring at the little plastic entertainment rectangles of technology. Do they really have to be staring at the phone and texting that much? Do they understand the children learn from their actions? Don’t they understand what they are missin’? Don’t we understand what we are missin’? That is one point the Beatles are getting across in the song. The idea relates well to my book Living More Than OK and this blog. Do we want to come to the end our life journey only to see what we have missed?

Reflection: Think over the words to the song and reflect on your life. Are you moving towards Somewhereland? Are you blind to the purpose and opportunities in your life? How can you make better choices with your time to make the most of it? Is technology controlling you in mindless entertainment or do you use your time wisely on the internet to read life fulfilling blogs such as this? (Sorry just had to add that in!)

Monday, October 6, 2014

Soothing Stress Relief Through Music


When I recently spoke with my College Success course students about anxiety and stress, I brought up the subject of music as a stress reliever. I enjoy music immensely and believe in the power of music to calm and energize. Several of the students shared how music helps them to focus their minds on their studies so they can concentrate better. Other students shared how before tests there are certain songs that help motivate them to do their best.

Music helps to create moods that can aid in improving our emotions for relaxation or excitement. At times I have made the mistake of playing soft relaxing music prior to my 8 am lectures and students tell me to toss on some rock or country music to wake them up. Music can have a powerful effect on us. I want to share a couple of my favorite music choices when I am stressed out that help calm me down so you can think over how to use music as one way to deal with your life stress times.

First of all is a jazz musician I have mentioned many times in the past and in my book, Living More Than OK. Her name is Keiko Matsui. She is a smooth jazz pianist and composer of her music. She has songs that energize as well as songs that calm and heal the soul. Even her upbeat songs I can enjoy while I am relaxing while reading a book or simply trying to calm down from the worries of the day. I primarily listen to her cd’s yet sometimes if I have my computer on I enjoy some of the creative videos that have been created for her songs. Check out this example of a video based on her song Deep Blue:

Keiko Matsui song Deep Blue

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DTRiXtP7lkA

Then one musician/composer I bring up each semester to my students when speaking about beating stress is Dr. Jeffrey Thompson. He is a chiropractor in his primary career path who has also had a passion for studying the healing qualities of sound and music. He is an expert in the field of acoustic pacing frequencies that he adapts into his musical compositions. His music is relaxing as the basic tempos match the breathing patterns in mindfulness meditation. So one reason I listen to his music is to slow down my breathing and to remind myself to take deep slow breathes. This type of music is helpful in de-stressing and lowering blood pressure. I have tested it out for myself when my blood pressure was high after listening to his music for 15 minutes or so, I have checked my blood pressure and it has gone down. Dr. Thompson’s music comes across as rather spacey so the first time listening it may take time to be used to it but the effects of relaxing of the body is noticed by most students when I try it in classes for them to listen to his compositions. Try listening to a sample of his music from Youtube:

Sleep Flow Dreaming by Dr. Jeffrey Thompson

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-1KthVjxDAA

Of course in speaking to students about relaxing music I bring up Classical Baroque music as well. Don Campbell in his book, The Mozart Effect, points to research after research that has shown the health benefits of classical music on the body, mind, emotions, and spirit of people. I do make use of my classical cds as well in relaxing while I am working in my office. It helps in being more productive with busy work if I have music such as classical music playing. I tell my students you do not have to break the bank of buying classical music as Youtube has collections of classical music for concentration and studying. Here is a sample here:

Study Music for Concentration:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3AKLiYeaHgk



Hopefully this post has given you some ideas about using music to conquer stress or improve your concentration. I hope you tried out the samples given here. Think through your favorite music and reflect on how it helps in your life and your moods.

Reflection: Listen fully to one of the three music samples above and reflect on how it made you feel. What is your favorite music style or favorite musicians? How does your music help you in your life?


Friday, September 19, 2014

Sharing The Beauty of Creativity


From Ruma's blog

I enjoy taking photographs but do not consider myself that good at it. I am often enamored by photos taken by professionals as they capture the true artistic skill with their cameras. With their talent they brighten our lives by sharing the beauty of the world they capture with their camera lens. The creativity revealed in their photography can help us in appreciating the world around us in new ways.

One blog site I have enjoyed for the past couple years because of the beautiful photos that are listed there is Calligraphy in the Landscape:

http://www015uppso-netnejpcalligraphy.blogspot.com/
The blog is put together by Ruma, who is from Japan. The blog by Ruma provides a visual tour of Japan using amazing photographs to capture the beauty of the country. The photos are amazing to sit and view. Most are nature photos which show the beauty of creation. Ruma also provides positive thoughts that encourage the soul. These thoughts or poems fit well with the photo that is being displayed. Since I list the weblink to Ruma’s blog I encourage you to go view some of the photos and reflect meditatively on some of the writings there. Two of the pictures I list here come from Ruma’s blog.


From Ruma's blog

I enjoy the cloud picture the most as it reminds me of the Cloud Appreciation Society. Ever since I have visited their website, http://cloudappreciationsociety.org/ it gives me an appreciation and reminder to relax and enjoy the beauty found in the skies. There is something peaceful and relaxing about looking up at the blue skies and the clouds.

Thinking over photography as art because of the beauty it captures reminds me of the power of art to enjoy and to heal. As Rollo May in his book, My Quest For Beauty states, “Good art wounds as well as delights. It must, because our defenses against the truth are wound so tightly around us. But as art chips away at our defenses, it also opens us to healing potentialities that transcend intellectual games and ego-preserving strategies.” There is healing potential in photography. I hope you experience some healing as you enjoy Ruma’s website.


Photo I took with my camera

Reflection: What are your favorite types of photos? As you looked over Ruma’s blog site which photo and saying touched you the most?


Thursday, September 11, 2014

Learning to Thrive in Life



The Christian music group, Casting Crowns, is one my of wife’s favorites. Their latest CD is entitled Thrive. The title song relates well with what I write about in my book, Living More Than OK, and in this blog. Merriam Webster defines thrive as “to grow or develop successfully : to flourish or succeed”. That thought makes me immediately think of Dr. Seligman’s book, Flourish, where he describes how concepts within positive psychology can aid in our humanity so as to develop to fully flourish and enjoy life.

Let’s see what we can learn from the song to be thriving in our lives. First look over the lyrics and take time to listen to the song by clicking on the title:

Thrive by Casting Crowns ( click on title to view the music video)

Here in this worn and weary land Where many a dream has died
Like a tree planted by the water We never will run dry
So living water flowing through God we thirst for more of You
Fill our hearts and flood our souls With one desire
Just to know You and To make You known
We lift Your name on High Shine like the sun make darkness run and hide
We know we were made for so much more Than ordinary lives
It's time for us to more than just survive We were made to thrive
Into Your word we're digging deep To know our Father's heart
Into the world we're reaching out To show them who You are
So living water flowing through God we thirst for more of You
Fill our hearts and flood our souls With one desire
Just to know You and To make You known
We lift Your name on High, Shine like the sun make darkness run and hide
We know we were made for so much more Than ordinary lives
It's time for us to more than just survive We were made to thrive
Joy Unspeakable, Faith Unsinkable, Love Unstoppable, Anything is possible
Joy Unspeakable, Faith Unsinkable, Love Unstoppable, Anything is possible
Joy Unspeakable, Faith Unsinkable, Love Unstoppable, Anything is possible
Joy Unspeakable, Faith Unsinkable, Love Unstoppable, Anything is possible
Just to know You and To make You known
We lift Your name on High Shine like the sun make darkness run and hide
We know we were made for so much more Than ordinary lives
It's time for us to more than just survive We were made to thrive
Hey! We were made to Thrive

Mark Hall and Matthew West the song writers look at life from a Christian worldview which is the same viewpoint I look at life from. The ideas though can relate to all people I believe. We all have times where we are living in a worn and weary land. Matter of fact recently I have been feeling that way on many days. It can also be argued that as a country we have been facing worn and weary times, economically, socially, and war-wise with the Middle East turmoil. What is pointed out in the song is that is not the way we were meant to live our lives. Our purpose in life is not to just survive. Being purpose driven we thirst for more than just survival mode.



Just as the definition of thrive states, we need to look at ways to grow. The song starts out with the vision of a tree planted by water so it has a continual source of growth. Throughout the Psalms in the Bible is the idea of thirsting after God. For example in Psalm 42:1 & 2 “As the deer pants for the water brooks, So my soul pants for You, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.” As well in Psalm 63:1 “O God, thou art my God; earnestly will I seek thee: My soul thirsts for thee, my flesh longs for thee, In a dry and weary land, where no water is.” From a spiritual point of view the answer is looking outside of ourselves and connecting with God. Tapping into the Spirit’s power source we do not have to run and hide from life. We can move beyond our ordinary lives and thrive as we are meant to be.

The repeated line at the end, “Joy Unspeakable, Faith Unsinkable, Love Unstoppable, Anything is possible”, speaks to joy, faith, love and endless possibilities. For me this looks back to the initial line where the lyrics say:

“Where many a dream has died”. If we are open to God’s work and power in our lives dreams can be renewed. We can shine in the worn and weary land being lights of joy and love to those around us. God can open new possibilities that are blocked when we settle for living in survival mode instead of thriving mode.

Reflection: What does “Joy Unspeakable, Faith Unsinkable, Love Unstoppable, Anything is possible” mean to you? What worn and weary land are you facing right now? How can you move more towards a thriving life?


Thursday, September 4, 2014

A Living More Than OK Look at One Nation



As a family we recently finished reading Dr. Ben Carson and Candy Carson’s latest book, One Nation. After several weeks after dinner we would sit in the living room and our daughter read the chapters to us. This was an enjoyable way to work through the book so as a family we could think through the ideas of Dr. Carson and his wife. We had the privilege to meet Dr. Carson and his wife at a San Angelo, Texas book signing a couple of months ago. His wife is delightful as we had about a 15 minute discussion with her that evening at the store concerning the state of affairs in our country.

The first part of the book covers and looks at the roots of problems that are causing America to decline. Topic such as the economy, political correctness, bigotry, and of course health care from a doctor’s perspective to name some of the problems mentioned. The discussion of the problems are well reasoned out. With each problem discussion he provides action steps for readers to consider in helping to correct the problems at the end of each chapter.

After focusing on real problems the country is facing he moves on to discuss more in-depth and overarching solutions to help America regain the greatness it once had in the past. Topics here are such as learning to have mutual respect even when disagreeing. Political correctness implies everyone must all believe and say the same talking points. Respect doesn’t mean we all have to agree on everything. He speaks of learning to compromise which relates well with having a civil and honorable respect for each other. He rightly brings out that both sides in Washington cannot get anything done as they all are focused on doing it “my way” -- then nothing gets done.

In his brother’s keeper chapter he brings out that we need to move beyond the government nanny state to having we Americans, truly care for those less fortunate across the land. Allow the people in their communities to come up with ways to move from the dependency mentality to compassionately aiding their neighbors to be more responsible and rise up to being charitable and compassionate. He makes an important point that a spirit of charity disappears in a Socialist state where an impersonal governments gives handouts paid for by tax payers.

from foter

My favorite section is that America needs to build a more informed populace. He begins that chapter with a verse from Proverbs 14:15 “Only simpletons believe everything they are told! The prudent carefully consider their steps.” I emphasize the same thinking in my book, Living More Than OK, in the essay on Critical Thinking. His chapter emphasizes the importance of education and having an educated populace. To solve the problems we face as a nation we need to have an emphasis on lifelong learning.

Throughout the book he uses his life story as to how a well-rounded education helped him to succeed in life. He points out that it not only helps in financial terms but enjoying life to the full. In other words education and a mindset of learning helps us to keep spiraling up to abundant living. An important part of this process he rightly mentions is the reading of books. He encourages the use of local libraries to read books on a broad array of topics. Of course being a Bookhead I had to say amen to that as my daughter was reading that section of his chapter 11. Dr. Carson’s experience again shows the importance of libraries and reading from when his mother had him and his brother when they were young read two books a week . Being poor they did not have cash to buy books so they made use of the local library. I am glad he continues to promote libraries in his books.

With a public that continues to grow in their learning and knowledge we may be able to turn this Titanic of country around. I must say Dr. Carson and Candy are more positive than I am at present on the issue of the country making a comeback. His final chapters look at the need for vision, renewed understanding on the roots of morality, and the need for positive role models. Many are discussing Dr. Carson as a presidential candidate in 2016. He wisely remains hesitant. He would be a breath of fresh air with his common sense wisdom. His running may help the dialogue of real solutions rise in the discussions that are needed. Part of me still wonders if it is too late with too many Americans not wanting to learn, or to be responsible. It is so much more comfortable for too many voters to sit and take handouts of goodies from the government. Time will tell. I will keep writing about individual personal growth and see what happens in 2016.

Reflections -- What do you think of the current state of our nation? How can an attitude of lifelong learning help in improving your life and maybe America? If you have not read Dr. Carson and Candy Carson’s book do so and encourage others as well to read it.