Friday, June 24, 2016

We Don't Walk Away

To live one's life without having known The Doctor, Dr. Who that is, would be like missing the last ten minutes of the third movie in the Lord of The Rings Trilogy, walk off home runs, three pointers at the buzzer, or any of an infinite number of inspirational moments.

Granted, I've come late to the classic BBC series, but that doesn't mean I'm not as devoted as any Dr. Who fan who came before or will come after me.

In case you've not met The Doctor, click the arrow and invest fifteen seconds of your time and you'll understand what I'm talking about.

"Listen.  There is one thing you need to know about traveling with me... well, one thing apart from the blue box and the two hearts, we don't walk away."

After it's all said and done, the only legacy that matters is knowing that you never failed yourself - that you never walked away.

That's not something one can explain to another.  It is only something one can live.

And, best of all, it's never to late to stop walking away.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Don't Confuse Success With Excellence

Ken Burns, filmmaker, delivered the commencement address at Stanford this spring.  I wouldn't have known that had his topic not been Donald Trump, which caught my friend Ralph Miller's attention, who forwarded the presentation to me.

I'm not going to make a political statement, however, I've included the video if you'd like to hear it.

Instead of taking a whack at Trump, which is way too easy, I'm going to take a noteworthy line from the presentation and share it with you.

The line is "Don't Confuse Success With Excellence." That seems self-explanatory... or is it?  I've thought about it a lot since I heard Burns' presentation, and though it might be self-explanatory, as is often the case with self-explanatory things, there is a lot more to it than meets the eye.

Thanks to television, smart phones, social media and other instant electronic entertainment presentations, there is little time left for contemplation.  Information; right, wrong and neutral, is flying at us at such speed that we have established filters which automatically sort and file it without consideration to content, accuracy, or importance.  All that matters is grabbing enough from it to carry on a thirty-second conversation about it at work or at the gym.

Yes, Mr. Burns, we do confuse success with excellence.  We also confuse right with wrong and black with white.  We don't do that because we're stupid.  We do it because we're into information overload, and we're afraid if we back away from the deluge we'll miss something important.  Or, to put it another way, we are drowning because we don't believe we have time to learn to swim.

The issue isn't confusing success with excellence.  The issue is taking the time to consider the issue.  It's time, and way past time, for us to withdraw, breathe, and remember what matters.  That's right - REMEMBER.  Because, Mr. Burns, we do know the difference between success and excellence, right and wrong, and black and white.  What we don't seem to know is how to step out of the river of bullshit and relax in what matters.

Tomorrow we'll look at a timeless way to do just that - it's called Mindfulness.


Insist on heroes and be one.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

When You Matter

As I searched, with little success, for the right illustration for this post, I remembered The Storyteller, a print I purchased in a Seattle mall during an art sale more than thirty years ago and that was the end of the search.

The look on the fairy's face as she gazes at the storyteller is what this blog is all about.

I saw the same look on Joe Bonamassa's face as he described how he felt when he first heard Eric Clapton.  As he told the story, he was standing on the stage at the Royal Albert Hall, an ambition he'd held since being inspired by Eric.  Then he introduced Eric Clapton, and the two performed Further On Up the Road together for a packed house.  Take a look:

Note for Ralph, who, in response to yesterday's blog, This Train Stays on the Track, said he would like to see Joe Bonamassa and Buddha perform together - at 2:19 in this video, Buddha granted your wish.

As I watched the video for the fourth or maybe fifth time, I thought of the first person, outside my immediate family, who inspired me as the Storyteller inspired the Fairy and Eric Clapton inspired Joe Bonamassa. Her name was Ms. Tillman and she was my first grade teacher.  Had it not been for her, I'd not be able to write this post because moments after being dragged into her class by my mother, I made up my mind that I'd die before I'd let that happen again.

As I look back almost sixty-years to September 1947, I realize, not for the first time, that Ms. Tillman knew how I felt.  She understood the resolve behind my commitment to never return to her class or any other class even if it meant death.  To her  credit, she didn't decide to put my resolve to the test.  Instead, she showed me the value of reconsidering my vow, and she did it in a way that made it easy for me to understand and take a different position.

That's what a person who cares does for one they care about.  First they make it clear they understand your position, and then they show you other possibilities.

Take a moment and think of the first person who did that for you.  Now, think of someone you've done it for.  Before you leave those thoughts, consider sharing them with us in the comments.  We're looking forward to reading them.

Now go out in your world and inspire someone.

Monday, June 13, 2016

This Train Stays On The Track

I found Joe Bonamassa because I heard a few lines of a Beth Hart song on a now all but forgotten Google search. Though I've forgotten the object of the search, I'll not forget Joe and Beth.  If you look at this video you'll know why.

Yesterday I was poking around YouTube and found Joe and Eric Clapton on a video recorded at Prince Albert Hall.  I'm not including a link to that one (it's easy to find) because it will be at the heart of my next blog post, When You Matter.

So, how did I get from Beth to Joe to Eric to Buddha? That's easy.  I took This Train - another Joe Bonamassa song/video.  I'll put the link below.  As you listen to the song and watch the fantastic vintage train film clips, listen for the line, This train stays on the track.   That line was my link to Buddha, or to be more specific, The Dhammapada.

  If you aren't familiar with The Dhammapada, here's a note from the Dhammapada - The Sayings of the Buddha, rendered by Thomas Byrom, that describes the classic:

"The Dhammapada is a collection of the sayings of the Buddha (563 - 483 B.C.E.).  They were probably first gathered in northern India in the third century before Christ, and originally written down in Sri Lanka in the first century before Christ. Dhamma means law, justice, righteousness, discipline, truth; pada means path, step, foot, foundation.  The Dhammapada was transmitted and recorded in Pali, the canonical language of southern Buddhism, and it has become the principal scripture for Buddhists in Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia.

When Joe sang, This train stays on the track, my mind flashed to The Buddha's teaching:

We are what we think.
All that we are arises with our thoughts.
With our thoughts we make the world.
Speak or act with an impure mind
And trouble will follow you
As the wheel follows the ox that draws the cart.
           (Chapter 1 First passage)

Joe and Buddha are clearly on the same page.


Sunday, June 12, 2016

Guiding Hands

A few minutes ago my buddy, Ralph Miller, emailed this note, under the subject line, A Blossoming New Business Venture."

"I’m thinking this might be something to earn me a couple extra bucks in my retirement!"

I know Ralph is never going to retire, and I know it isn't a possibility for me either.  However, with Ralph you never know for sure, so I thought I'd better take a look at his "blossoming new business venture."

In case you missed the opening line of the video, here it is again:

  "In today's modern world, you can watch what you're doing or you can watch where you're going, but you can't do both."

Years ago the word "multitasking" was coined by IBM to describe a computer capability.  At some point, it was applied to the actions of human beings.  That we can't do it, is the point of the Guiding Hands Video.  Despite the overwhelming evidence that we aren't up for multitasking, we continue to try, and try, and try; to the point that, though I'm sure neither the National Safety Board nor the Center for Disease Control consider multitasking a threat to humanity, I believe it has become the major threat to the long range possibility of the survival of humanity.

How many people have to die while driving before multitasking is identified as the cause of the fatalities?  How many marriage have to end?  How many wars have to rage?  How many kids have to take their lives before we do something, or more appropriately, before we stop trying to do so much and simply stop, take stock, and realize that simpler was better and best of all, it's still ours for the taking?

I suppose it isn't natural for a human to stop and smell the roses.  It takes self-honesty to stop cold and say "This isn't working.  There must be a better way."  And, it takes a hell of a lot of courage to find that way and take it.

I'm convinced that it's time for us as a species and as individuals to backtrack to the forks in the road and pick one instead of trying to multitask our way down all of them.

It probably wasn't the fork that Robert Frost chose that made all the difference.  In fact, I'm willing to bet that if he reconsidered his words today he would say that choosing only one made all the difference.

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Robert Frost, poem published 1920


Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Haunting Poems - The Ones That Cross Time And Wake You...

I dreamt last night that there was wind and rain.
I got up and looked out, but all was strange;
A muddy track across a wooded plain;
A distant tumult; angry cries, exchange of fire.
And then, out of that dreadful night,
Appeared a scarecrow army, staggering,
Defiant, famished.
In the quenched starlight
They marched on to their bitter reckoning.

Their sleepless, bloodshot eyes were turned to me. 
Their flags hung black against the pelting sky. 
Their jests and curses echoed whisperingly, 
As though from long-lost years of sorrow— 
You’re weeping! What, then? 
What more did you see? 
A gray man on a gray horse rode by.

That is a haunting poem.  One that reaches a hand through time, shakes me awake and drags me to the bookcase, where I search for an obscure book that I'm sure holds the haunting poem.

Ozymandias was my first haunting poem.

I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said - "Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert... Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains.  Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Percy Bysshe Shelley

Since I met the King of Kings, there have been other haunting poems for me.  Bold time travelers all. And, they have another commonalty.  They don't hide their true nature. For example, recall for a moment, your first reading of "She walks in beauty like the night..."  I'll bet you didn't think you'd just stumbled on to nursery rhyme when you read that, and I'll bet you didn't stop reading there. 

You don't have to be asleep to be visited by a haunting poem.  You can be idly reading the blog post of friend, like David Atkinson, and happen on "There was a man who dwelt alone beneath the moon in shadow..." which is a line of a poem written by JRR Tolkien.  A poem long forgotten, now rescued, and dragged into the twenty-first century, where it just might trigger the appearance of another of my haunting poems, like the one at the beginning of this post.     

That poem, was written by Richard Adams, the author of Watership Down, and is from the first page of my favorite Adams book, Traveller.  The gray man of the poem is Robert E. Lee.  The gray horse, Traveller.  Two  historic figures, who, when portrayed in poem became one of my haunting poems and as such, not unwelcome midnight visitors.

Just in case the woman who walks in beauty like the night haunts you, I'll leave you with her, thereby possibly saving you from a midnight fall as you search your bookcase for her... 

SHE walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies,
And all that's best of dark and bright
Meets in her aspect and her eyes;
Thus mellow'd to that tender light
Which Heaven to gaudy day denies.
One shade the more, one ray the less,
Had half impair'd the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress
Or softly lightens o'er her face,
Where thoughts serenely sweet express
How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.
And on that cheek and o'er that brow
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,—
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent.
Lord Bryon

Sunday, February 14, 2016

First Valentine Card

"How do you know what's inside?" He asked.

He'd spoken so softly I wasn't sure he was talking to me.

I turned toward him.  Probably late thirties or early forties I thought.  He was peeking cautiously out from under a battered blue baseball cap. Hiding, I thought.  He'd probably rather be caught in a saloon or even a church rather than the local Hallmark shop.

  He stuck a Valentine toward me and asked again, "How do you know what's inside?"

I took the card and thought I detected a tremble in his hand, but I wasn't sure.  The card was hermetically sealed in cellophane, to protect it from damage.  Over zealous shoppers can be a problem in a card shop.

I flipped it over and took a half-step left until our shoulders touched and pointed to the paragraph on the back that began, "The message inside is..."

He snatched the card back, before I could read the next words.  He held the card close to his face stared at the now revealed message, shook his head, and in an even softer voice, almost a whisper, he said, "We've only been dating for two months.  I don't want her to get the wrong message."

He dropped his eyes, and I slipped the card out of his hand and read the message.  I looked at him and he raised his eyes to mine, "You're right, you don't want to give her this one," I said.

For a moment, I thought he was going to cry but he didn't.

"What should I do?" He asked after a couple of seconds of staring at the card?

I looked to the right and spotted a card, also hermetically sealed, that I had just put back on the shelf. The front depicted a stylized eyelid, closed in a wink.  I flipped it over and said, "This message is pretty noncommittal."  His eyes glazed for an instant, and I clarified my statement, "She won't get the wrong idea from it.  It just says, 'You make me want to wink.'"

His eyes went blank and he handed the card back saying, "It's a girl's eye."

"You're right," I said.  "I hadn't thought of that."

Actually, I had thought of it but didn't think it would matter.  Silly me.

Before I could suggest another, he moved away, and with the secret information I'd given him began searching on his on.  I don't blame him, I thought.  Obviously a grizzled old guy like me could get him in serious trouble.

Later, we checked out at the same time.  He'd found a Valentine that met his conditions, but he didn't bother to let me read the message inside.

However, he did ask about the Olivina lotion and soap I was buy, and before I could mislead him on that, Therese, the shop owner said, "Mr. Carson's wife loves Olivina product, so he buys a lot of them."

Hearing it from Therese made Olivina a safe choice.  I paid for my Valentine's, lotion, and soap and moved away from the counter to spend some quality time with Spook, the Hallmark cat.

A few minutes later, the shy cap guy left with his card and lotion but no soap. Probably didn't want to appear overly committed I thought and then I thought, It's a damn good thing I didn't tell him about the vase of long stem red roses I'd purchased Friday.

I'd almost forgotten the incident until this morning when I read Caleb Pirtle's Valentine blog, Why Love Hangs Around So Long.  Then the Valentine conversation slammed back to my mind and I laughed.  The guy at the Hallmark Shop was playing volleyball and had already lost the game.

Thanks for the blog Caleb.  And thanks to my lovely wife, Christina, who plays one-sided tug of war and with me and who gave me two Valentine Cards, the messages on each went way beyond a wink.

Happy Valentine's Day Everyone