Categories
joyful living

A great question to ask someone when you first meet

I wasn’t comfortable speaking to people.  My whole childhood was trying to fit in.  So I didn’t really want to be noticed for being unique.  I was too unique.  The only Asian kid in a whole community.

Over time, I began to get some comfort.  Awkwardness fell away and I <gasp> became attractive to girls.

One thing I’ve always been, is insatiably curious.  I’m curious about too many things!  If I could only just concentrate on one discipline.  But no!  I had to be curious about music, art, history, how to build stuff, how to cook, what are the secrets of the Universe.

Over time, I’ve come up with a few favorite questions I like to ask people when I first meet them.

Here’s one:

What’s your favorite word, and why?

You can learn a lot about people from their favorite word.  It tells you about their personality, their breadth of knowledge, even their reading history.

When I was a journalist in the music business, I had a lot of access to rock stars, producers, managers and record executives.  Most were not that interesting.  But I learned a lot about the biz, the good, the bad, the ugly and the rare beauty.

My favorite word is “resonance.”

I love how the sound of the word is so resonant itself.  It permeates my body, mind, my thoughts.

We are all vibrating beings and to resonate means we are in harmony, in tune, vibrating together.  We are on the same frequency.  Or perhaps a complimentary one.  Like an octave, a fifth or some other beautiful interval.

Maybe that’s why I’m a musician, composer and music teacher.  But I believe resonance goes beyond that.  It goes through our thinking, being, feeling.  It’s in my cooking.  It’s in how I walk, I laugh, I run, I ride a bike.  Resonance.

What’s your favorite word?  Why?  Please share below.

Categories
growth joyful living

How To Design An Exceptional Life

Are you feeling stuck?  There’s a way to take control of your life.   Whether you are looking to increase your wealth, health or happiness, this will make a difference.  You can design an exceptional life.  And you can get started right now.

To begin, let’s clear  the decks.  Your mental space, physical space;distractions ,noise.

Take a moment.  Shut the door.  Turn off all the sounds.  If you need to, get outside of your normal environment.  Nature can be therapeutic.

Let It Go

Using breath awareness can quickly transform your emotional and mental state.
Sit comfortably.   Take in a deep breathe and let out all the stress and anxiety of the day.  Breathe in, let it out, and do it again.  Flush out all the toxins by breathing out as long as you can until your stomach caves in.  Try to make your lungs as empty as possible with each breath.

Get Yourself in A Resourceful State

Breathe in deeply.  Now let it out slowly to a count of five.  Do this 5 times.
Now you are ready to tap into your greatest resources with questions.

Ask A Better Question

To improve the quality of a life, it begins with questions.  Isn’t thinking just questions?  (Hey, that’s a question!)

Most of us have the same average questions running in the operating systems of our minds.  They were installed long ago without us even thinking.

It’s funny when comedians say it, because they give voice to what’s inside our heads.
“Ugh, why do I have to go to work today?”
“Is he looking at me weird?  Why does everyone hate me?”
“Ugh, I can’t believe I did that.  What’s wrong with me?”

These types of statements and questions are so common and yet so damaging.  They make you feel terrible.  Would you speak to someone you care about in that manner? Then why do you speak to yourself that way?  These negative questions set a standard because the way they are phrased make it seem that they contain truth- but they don’t..

“Why does everyone hate me?”

Really?   I am hated – is that really true?  Of course not!
“What’s wrong with me” presupposes that there is something actually wrong with me.

These types of questions take you down a certain path that do not lead you to your best resourceful self and to your own exceptional life.

Here’s some daily questions I use to put myself in a fantastic state.

1) What Is My Mission?

Do you have a goal or goals?  What about more than a goal, do you have a purpose?  A mission?
By writing it down daily, it steeps into your consciousness.  It gets into your blood, your body, and triggers the magic.

2) If I Could Live Today Over Again?

Time is fleeting.  When I became a father, I became much more aware of time.  It’s incredible how fast it goes.  When my son was two, it was difficult as I was sleeping very little.  But then it was gone so quick.  He went from crawling to standing to walking to running and riding a bike.  It’s crazy.  By answering this question BEFORE the day begins, I become aware of what’s important right now and what I  NEED to do to make my use of this time complete.

3) What Is My Theme For This Year?

For the past few years, I’ve been using a theme to motivate myself.  It’s different than a goal which is usually external.  This is how I will act, be and feel as I move towards this goal.   Example, “The year of compassionate kindness and loving myself.”

4) What Do I Get To Enjoy Today?

You ever feel like everyone is having all the fun?  That everyone really is living like their Instagram and Facebook feeds?  To quiet this part of the mind, I use this question.  By answering it, I get to know that I have taken time to choose an activity that I too will enjoy today.  It’s important to have time to do what you enjoy.

Read a detective mystery.  Walk in the park.  Sit by the water.  Have a cup of tea.

5) Who or What am I Most Grateful For?

Gratitude has been shown to be the most important feeling for happiness in life.  So ask yourself a question that makes you feel grateful.  Start your day with gratitude flowing through your whole body.

I spend a few minutes giving thanks to my Creator.  My family, our well-being, our love and health.  My mentors, angels, teachers and associates who guide and help me every single day.  My Mom who left the world way too soon and gave me so many talents, gifts and confidence.  Thank you.  My mother-in-law, who taught me about kindness, compassion and welcomed me into her family.  My friend, mentor and teacher, Andy Blackett who has shaped my life in so many ways.

But Isn’t This Just Talking To Myself?

I know there is skepticism as to how asking yourself different questions  can actually do anything.  “I’m just talking to myself” you may say. But the way you talk to yourself, your “self-talk” or thoughts actually shape the way you experience your reality. Nothing is more important than learning to ask yourself the right questions to begin designing your exceptional life!

In future posts, I’ll delve into the metaphysical magic that makes this all work.  And I’d love to know how you get on with your lifestyle design.  Please share in the comments below.

 

Categories
focus joyful living purpose

How To Stop The Mental Focus Deprivation Torture

A Kafka-esque World

Everyone’s racing around trying to get more done.  Faster. More, more, more.  It’s a system of torture kind of like a Kafka-esque world where we don’t know why we’re rushing around but we know it’s important.  We are becoming shallow and it’s all because of focus deprivation.

Uber Generation

Hard to believe only ten years ago, the iPhone was introduced to the world.  And it’s changed us.  It’s made us always “on.”  Caffeinated, pumped-up, arrogant, “Uber generation.”   Whomever pushes further, faster with the sharpest elbows wins.

There are lab rats who would rather ingest cocaine than even food.  Every few seconds, a beep, buzz, chime alerts them to another dose.  It’s the same with the modern smartphone user.

I’m no luddite or ditching my phone anytime soon.  (I’m an Apple fanboy since 1985!)  But to truly make an impact in the world (and isn’t that what we all want?) we need to slow it down.

And we need blocks of uninterrupted time so we can work with deep focus.

This is impossible when we have a lifestyle that encourages shallow thinking.   Open office plans may be great for sales people or customer service.  These folks need to be reacting to others all day.  But for anyone who needs to think deeply, it’s torturous.  It’s kind of like sleep deprivation where someone pokes you every 5 minutes.   Focus and deep work can never happen with constant interruption.

So How To Get Mental Focus?

For getting impactful, meaningful work done, we need blocks of deep focus time.  And that requires you to…

Turn off your notifications!

Try it for a day.  A week.  You just may want to continue longer.  You don’t need someone else telling you that they are important.  You need to preserve the sanctity of your focus.

Turn off your notifications!

And see your productivity soar.  Do not continue this self torture by being a lab rat for Facebook.

Turn off your notifications!

 

Categories
awakening growth joyful living process spirit

A new mantra to smooth out your day

What is a mantra?

A statement or slogan repeated frequently.

Many times, the words I hear in my head were not consciously chosen.  They just keep cycling through.  Things my Mom said or my Dad told me.  Sometimes they are not so good and I really need to excise them like a bloody tumor!

But words have power.

By designing the words that are in my human operating system, I can begin to change from within.

When I became a father, I consciously deleted all cursing from my vocabulary.  It wasn’t easy, but I really wanted to be a good role model for my son.  I used  to curse like a sailor.  And it wasn’t conscious.  I just picked it up from the environment I was in.  After a few months of catching myself, it became easier.

A new mantra

Everything that happens is neither good nor bad.  It just is.

Next time you feel frustrated, impatient and angry, realize that it is based on a judgement.

You are perceiving that something is not happening the way you think it should be.

No judgement.

Strike Should

The word “should” is a clue.  Whenever you hear it, run away.  Strike it from your vocabulary.  There are no shoulds.  Stop shoulding on the world.

No judgement.

Start using that phrase as internal mantra.  Your new self-speak.  Hear it in your head.  “No judgement.

Just let the moment pass over you as if you were watching from afar.  What used to cause you pain will have no effect anymore.

No judgement.

 

Categories
awakening big picture inspirational quotes joyful living spirit

What favorite quote has changed your life?

What favorite quote inspires and uplifts you? 

Do you have a favorite quote you live by?

Mine comes from a Zen Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh.  It has resonated throughout my being for decades now.

“My actions are the ground I stand on.”

It is so powerful yet simple.  Stop talking and do it.  Do the right thing.  For if you do not, you are standing on quicksand.

“My actions are the ground I stand on.”

At the end of a life, what else will you have? 

All the material possessions, they turn to dust.  They are just trinkets, baubles or as Robert Kiyosaki calls them, “doodads.”  Meaningless.

But to have live a life of right minded action?  The experiences, results, all flow from how we be and do.

A few thousand years ago, Siddhartha Gautama, a man, became known as the enlightened one.  The Buddha.  His teachings became what is now known as either a religion or a philosophy depending on who you talk to.  One of the most powerful teachings is the Eightfold Path.

These 8 steps lead to a path of a good and successful life.  It’s a Middle Way – not too hot and not too cold.  Just right.  It’s like the original 7 Habits of Highly Successful People!  Only one louder!

Here is the Eightfold Path

  1. Right Understanding
  2. Right Intent
  3. Right Speech
  4. Right Action
  5. Right Livelihood
  6. Right Effort
  7. Right Mindfulness
  8. Right Concentration

These are not rigid rules or commandments.  It’s not authoritarian.  It’s a self-help book.  It’s the original coaching program.  Thanks Sidd!

Anyone Can Use Them

And you don’t have to call yourself Buddhist to benefit.  These days I call myself Catholic and Buddhist.  Perhaps one day I’ll expand that to other labels too.

But there’s no conflict.  All spiritual paths are good.  There is no difference.

Really.

Sure there are religious practices that look different from the outside.

  • Making the sign of the cross.
  • Bowing to Mecca.
  • Chanting in Hebrew.
  • Chanting in Latin.
  • Chanting in Sanskrit or Pali.

It’s all the same with minor external differences.

The real culprit in the world is absolutism

Puritanism.  Fundamentalism.  Holding too strongly to anything.  I’ve seen it in all areas of life.  Snobbery leads to arrogance leads to condescension and separatism.  It’s tribalism.

There are coffee snobs who would never ever drink Dunkin’ Donuts coffee.

Wine purists who do not drink Merlot.

Music teachers who have frozen in time all methods of certain master teachers as if time stood still.

People who judge others by the shoes they wear, the cars they drive, the words they use.

Hmm.  That’s it.  Judgement

“No judgements.”  That’s another good quote to live by.

It gets in the way.  Acceptance is the new middle way.

And to accept I need to change my thinking, being and doing.

“My actions are the ground I stand on.”

Categories
growth joyful living musings photography recommended reading

Summer Is A Time For Renewal – Inspirational Input for Creativity

A glass of rose on the roof in Brooklyn, NY
Time for wine – rosé on the roof

Life is good.  I’ve been having an excellent summer.  Why?  Mostly because we planned some great recreation like a trip away to Puerto Rico, time on the beach, visit to the vineyards and just time to think and read.  Summer is a time for renewal, re-creation and getting inputs to creativity.  You can’t create if you’re empty!

Here’s some of what I’ve been thinking and reading lately.

Categories
growth joyful living

Using Power Poses To Transform Your Life

So most people living in the year 2014 know by now that there is a mind-body connection, usually in that direction. How you think and feel is manifested in your body and the material world. For example, you are feeling depressed and therefore you gain weight, feel sluggish, sleepy and your immune system breaks down and you catch a cold.

Research has now proved that there is a body-mind connection. Meaning, you can change how you feel by changing the way you move and hold your body. Tony Robbins has been saying his for years but recently Amy Cuddy, a social scientist and professor at Harvard Business School conducted an experiment. She wanted to test whether there were measurable changes in people depending on how they moved and held their posture.

Power poses are universal expressions of confidence and power and look like this:

Power Poses - High Energy Poses That Will Change Your Life

Low energy poses are also universal and look like this.

Low power poses diminish you from the outside in
Dr. Cuddy discovered that in nature and in humans, the dominant leader usually has a high testosterone level and a low cortisol level. Testosterone is usually associated with masculinity, aggressiveness, and power whereas cortisol is related to stress levels.

The subjects came in, they measured their hormone levels from their saliva, they held either a power pose or a low energy pose and then they ran a risk behavior test with a gambling experiment and then took another saliva sample.

The results were astounding. Just holding a power pose for 2 minutes can dramatically change the hormone levels either way. This can dramatically change someone’s life!

But will the results last? Will “Faking It Until You Make It?” truly transform one for good?

As someone who grew up very shy and awkward, I can attest to this, though I didn’t know that was what I was doing. I had found some “charisma” exercises in a book  and found them quite empowering. One of them was just standing looking at yourself in a mirror for 2 minutes with total love and acceptance. This was surprisingly difficult at first. We are programmed not to love ourselves and to nitpick and find all our faults. By doing this for a few minutes everyday, I can tell you I was a different person. Within a few months I was actually going on acting auditions and taking classes as an actor! This was unbelievable to my former self! Within 2 years I was a television host with millions of viewers every day.

So this can have huge effects on our children.  Just this morning was the first of 3 days of standardized testing for my son’s middle school.   So, what did we do besides a good breakfast and a sound night’s sleep…power poses!

My next student’s recital will definitely include some power posing before performance.

You should definitely watch the TED Talk. It’s one of the 50 most viewed!

Categories
art drawing joyful living lettering

Giving Myself Permission…

Or Releasing The Fears And Rules Of Others To Get Back To Your True Self

I’ve recently realized I need to draw/doodle  for my own sanity.  Back in high school, I was a pretty good visual artist and actually had to choose art or music as a career path.

I chose music, but I’ve felt something amiss in not drawing anymore.   I didn’t feel like I had permission to waste time doodling or drawing – there was work to be done!    [Note:  You could insert any activity here really: drawing or painting or writing songs or anything you passionately love.]  But yet, it was like a part of me kept bugging me, like a piece of grit in my gut that was forming itself into a pearl.

Cartoons

I’ve always envied the life of the independent cartoonist.  I was never really into comic books like Spiderman or Marvel stuff.  Instead, I was attracted to people like Bill Watterson (of Calvin and Hobbes fame) and Gary Larson (The Far Side)  who could command their own worlds and enjoyed international fame and fortune.  But problem is, I couldn’t really see myself writing and drawing my own comics.

A Seed Is Planted

Years ago, I read Hugh Mcleod‘s amazing book Ignore Everybody.  I was so envious, jealous even!  How did he escape the big ad agency and claim his own life!    At the time I was still involved with interactive advertising world.   And to think that Hugh was not even an Art Director, but a Copywriter who drew these crude cartoons!  Though I didn’t do anything about it, it planted a seed deep within me.

 

 

ZenTangling

About a year and a half ago, I came across a book about this process called Zentangle which had this entire process of making simple abstract art from rules.  It was like a drawing meditation and I started to play around with it and found I really liked it.  I also got to buy myself some really cool pens and pencils!

This was fun, but it still felt a little bit like I was wasting time and needed to go and do real work.  It’s amazing what your previous programming does to you.  I was hearing the voices of authority in my head from parents, teachers, society, etc.   But, it felt so fun!  And, I was only doing a little bit each day.  It’s like my version of sitting on the couch watching television, which I don’t really do.

IMG_1282

SketchNoting

Then I came across this great book, the Sketchnote Handbook about note-taking using drawings!   This was so cool!  It’s kind of like giving myself permission to draw because I was doing some thinking work at the same time.  (Or I was note-taking at a meeting or I was learning a new subject.)  This also re-awakened in me an awareness of hand lettering and calligraphy, something I used to know about back when I was a teenager.

Starting to feel a little inspired, I bought this great book called Creative Lettering, Techniques and Tips from Top Artists by Jenny Doh.  It was actually hard for me to justify doing this, so I think I used some points to purchase this book.  And what a breath of fresh air!  It is a review of beautiful lettering by many different artists.  I loved it so much, I started to add little lettering features to my daily list of lesson plans for my music students.

Here’s some examples.

IMG_1324 IMG_1319 IMG_1290

IMG_1289

IMG_1318

Then about a week ago, I was in a coffee shop and came across an artist sketching some beautiful abstract designs in his notebook.  It turns out, he does this just for fun too.  He has a real job in technology, but you could tell this really turned him on.  We spoke a long time about ideas, letting go, pens, paper and giving yourself permission.

It seems that we often don’t honor our true nature.  Instead of doing what feels good and right, I was trying to do the “right thing,” which paradoxically is not so.    The other thing I haven’t been doing enough of is writing fiction. But that’s another long post!

I Give In

So I’m going to start a series of hand lettered designs.  I live in Brooklyn and it’s apparently the center of the Universe, according to those who live here. 🙂    So stay tuned for my series of hand drawn Brooklyn.   I’m feeling better already.  It’s like going through life with one arm tied behind your back.  Now to get the kinks out and get the blood flowing again!

 

Categories
art joyful living musings

Creating a personal mission poster

I found this cool tool called Wordie that allows you to create a typographic poster of words you put in it.   It also allows you to put in a URL of your website to create a word poster of your website.  Very cool.

I was thinking that I could use this to create a self-motivational poster using Dr. Stephen Covey’s ideas of roles.  In his 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, he talks about planning your day/week/month using the roles of your life such as Father, Employee, Husband, Church-goer etc.  This allows you to plug in an activity in each of your role areas ensuring you don’t give one short shrift, like say Husband.  “Bring home flowers!”

Here’s something that I made today.  I’ll probably make other ones that make me focus on my goals and ways of being, example “Loving kindness.”

roles poster

I’m also planning on using this with some of my music students to help motivate them to practice more.

Check it out here: Wordie

Categories
art film/video food joyful living

Empanadas – a film, a life, a recipe

My mother in law Beatriz passed away 3 days before Christmas 2010.  It was a long hard year when we heard the diagnosis of her late stage brain cancer.  She was such a well loved, vibrant, energetic and insatiably curious soul who could befriend someone in an instant.  So many of our friends who met Beatriz became instant friends.  One time at a beach in New Jersey, we met an acquantaince with a child adopted from Colombia.  She was excited to meet Beatriz who grew up in Medellin, in the state of Antioquia.  Within 20 minutes, it was like they had known each other for years.  When my wife and I lived in Hong Kong, Beatriz came for a weeklong visit.  Right away, a dear friend of ours made plans to visit her and to share recipes and shopping adventures.  The age difference of 30 years did not make any difference! They kept up writing letters to each other for years.

A few years ago, I had a sense that perhaps we should preserve and capture one of “Abuelita’s” signature recipes.  So armed with a basic point and shoot digital camera (a Fuji FinePix F20) I shot and edited this film Empanadas Antioquenas (in iMovie) and now it’s gone past tens of thousands of views on YouTube.  Beatriz has become everyone’s mother and Abuelita. I still need to add English subtitles, but you can pretty much follow along even without knowing Spanish.

In Loving Memory of Beatriz Valencia Agudelo

May 31, 1940 – December 22, 2010

Categories
joyful living

Joy arises from simplicity

The Buddhists have always described a process of emptying one’s self of all desires, wants, ego, pride, lust.  This has always seemed so depressing and…well, dare I say it?  Pointless.

Well, a few months ago I started a radical purging of my life.  This was sparked by an article in the NY Times on a woman who responded to a challenge of living with just 100 things.   This is in a country that worships Walmart!  The idea electrified me!  What a concept!  To really choose what belongs in and also out of my life.   Delving deeper, I found the article in Time magazine describing the 100 things challenge and the guy who started this, Dave Bruno.
When my wife and I backpacked around India in the mid 90’s, we packed the most basic of possessions- 2 outfits to wear each, toothbrush and paste, a journal, a book, a camera, a first aid kit, sandals on our feet and a sun hat.  We budgeted for $15/day for our entire trip.  This would allow me to sometimes have an ice cold tall Kingfisher beer (just one) at the end of the day as it was about $1, a rather large portion of the daily budget which included lodging, food and travel.  Even with the most basics or perhaps because of the simplicity, we always remember this trip as the best of our lives.
So a few months ago, I started selling a bunch of my stuff beginning with the big items that were already making it difficult to move around my small apartment.  An electric bass that though was in excellent condition, I had hardly played in the 10 years I’ve owned it.  I sold a lot of recording equipment which I wasn’t using much either.  I gave away extra pots and pans.    Old computer equipment donated to my sister and even just put on the curb – they were gone within a few hours.
Books have long been a store of emotional baggage.
“How could I let this one go when I loved these words so dearly?”
But as I started selling, giving away, purging, donating, a strange thing happened.  I was feeling a natural rise in joy.  Sometimes it was almost giddiness for no apparent reason.  Other times, just basking in the newfound realization of understanding what’s really important in my life.
I also benefited in that I feel like I have a larger living space now having cleared it of so much clutter.  It’s not finished yet, but I feel like I’m onto something.  Perhaps I couldn’t comprehend the emptiness when I was so full?
So I dont’ really have a list of stuff yet, but I’m going through the piles and simplifying.  And each time I lighten my load, ping!  I get a rise in joy.
I’ll start posting my list soon.