Saturday, December 12, 2015

As Thyself

  Having a hard time just being you today? It's okay, me too.

Really.

  There is a winter storm warning this weekend here in the Rocky Mountains where I live. But every joint in my body already figured that out during the night, long before I picked up my phone this morning to check the weather forecast. So I just finished smiling and waving as I watched my family walk out the door to go to our church Christmas party. And now I think I am one plate of red and green cookies away from throwing a totally legit (pity) party right here in my house.

Like I have said before, authenticity is the spice of life, so here comes a dash.

  I crave authenticity, I want that spice sprinkled all over everything I do... like grated cheese on an awesome plate of nachos. Okay now I am just making myself hungry. I can hear that carton of ice cream calling to me from the freezer: "Give in to the blues Chuck! All you need is a spoon and your journey to the dark side will be complete!" NOOOOO, I will not listen to you, Darth Vanilla-Caramel-Cashew! Don't eat your feelings kids, it inevitably comes back to haunt you. Especially if you have acid reflux like me. HAH! See what I did there?

[ This is the part where you shake your head, and reluctantly decide to read on just in case I get around to making a point sometime soon. ]

  So anyway... have you ever been reading my stuff and had the thought: "This guy sure writes a lot about staying positive. I wonder if he is one of those annoyingly optimistic people you can't help but want to kick in the shins just so you can see how positively they respond to THAT..."

If so-- come in and sit down, we need to talk for a sec.

  I don't write about things like kindness and staying positive because I think I am incredibly good at being a perfect example of those things (though I do put sincere effort into them) or because my life is free from the significant struggles that make it genuinely hard for a person to have peace in their heart. I write about the things I write about because that is what my life requires from me, and consequently from my amazing wife and kids.

  I write about taking one day at a time and loving people because that is what makes the biggest difference in my world, and I want to share that ideology in the hope that it might help even one other person in some small way. Despite how inherently short-sighted my concept of another person's suffering may be, I believe that every single act of kindness matters because that is ONE MORE moment of compassion in a world that NEEDS all the love it can get.

  Go back in time ten years, and you would not see the same dauntless perspective I carry around with me now. The things I share with you are meaningful to me for many reasons... reasons which even my closest friends do not always get to see. My sweet wife makes it a point to mention that even with everything she knows about my daily life, she "can only imagine what it takes to be you every day." Gosh, I love her.

  Similarly, the things that mean a lot in your life are important to you because there is a story there! And If we ever meet in person, I am being 100% serious when I say that I would love to hear that story and talk with you about the craziness and beauty of mortal life.

  I have a tendency to talk a LOT once I decide to open up, but (believe it or not) I don't even come close to explaining every element of my thought process, or all the details of how I got there, let alone everything it takes to hang on to that perspective each day. (Mostly because nobody wants to read a 27 page long blog post.) But there is something I DO want to make sure to share about what goes on behind the scenes: Just because I win most of my battles these days, doesn't mean they aren't still battles. I still have to fight them. 

  There is a frustratingly ironic phenomenon that occurs when we have invested countless hours into becoming better at something: when someone is really good at what they do, they make it look easy. Everyone has their own personal set of challenges; some are visible and some are not... and those battles don't win themselves. Victory comes to those who stay in the habit of learning and continually work on finding new ways to apply that knowledge.

  But what happens on the days where we stumble and get scraped up? What about the times when we feel flawed and inherently "less than"? Moments like the one I am experiencing tonight as I sit here feeling embarrassed that I'm not at the party singing Christmas carols with my family. It's okay to be disappointed when life doesn't go the way we want it to. But I haven't come this far to let something like being physically incapacitated paralyze me emotionally. My respect for that kind of mindset grows deeper every day.

  That being said, I am still considering staging an epic duel between my mouth and Obi-Spoon Kenobi. But let's watch this video first...




"For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part;
but then shall I know even as also I am known."  (1 Corinthians 13:12)

  So let's stop waiting for other people to tell us that we are good enough. There is nothing wrong with going through the process of honestly coping with what we feel; bottling things up is unhealthy. It's what we do next that makes the difference! We must learn to self-validate if that is not already a strength we possess. We must make a habit of being kind to the person in the mirror at least as much as we would be toward someone else.

"Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself."  (Matthew 22:39)

  Let's invest in the process of making those thoughts into a habit and watch for the ways that habit is influencing our personal lives. By learning to see ourselves more clearly as the infinitely valuable soul that we are, the warm glow of that light will naturally affect the way we treat others.

  So the pity party is over, everybody out! Go home and think about being nicer to yourself. Hey, don't forget your coat... somebody always winds up leaving a coat on my couch when I host these things. Oh and someone please take this dish of seven layer bean dip with you, or I will eat the whole thing and no good can come of that.


Monday, November 30, 2015

Full Immersion

Henri J.M. Nouwen wrote:
Compassion asks us to go where it hurts, to enter into the places of pain, to share brokenness, fear, confusion, and anguish.

Compassion challenges us to cry out with those in misery, to mourn with those who are lonely, to weep with those in tears. Compassion requires us to be weak with the weak, vulnerable with the vulnerable, and powerless with powerless.

Compassion means full immersion in the condition of being human.


Tuesday, September 8, 2015

The Genetics Of Music

  Back in 1999 I was studying music composition as a freshman in college. In the early 2000's, I learned of an ambitious new endeavor called The Music Genome Project. What exactly is a "music genome", you ask?
The Music Genome Project is an effort to "capture the essence of music at the most fundamental level" using over 450 attributes to describe songs and a complex mathematical algorithm to organize them.
[ Wikipedia: Music Genome Project ]

  I immediately fell in love with the idea and couldn't wait to see if they were really going to be able to pull it off. Little did I know that what was coming would revolutionize the way people interact with the music listening experience.

  Six years later, thanks to the work of Music Genome founders Tim Westergren and Will Glaser (and scores of professional musicologists) they launched an amazingly customizable music streaming service called Pandora, and introduced the world to the joy of being able to create and curate your own personal selection of digital radio stations. Pandora learns your taste in music as you give each song it plays a "thumbs up", a "thumbs down", or just let it slide with no input. After just a couple listening sessions, the software begins finding artists and songs it thinks you will like... with an unreal level of accuracy.

  Pandora does not use machine-listening or other forms of automated data extraction. The typical music analyst working on the Music Genome Project has a four-year degree in music theory, composition or performance, has passed through a selective screening process and has completed intensive training in the Music Genome's rigorous and precise methodology.

  While listening, users are offered the ability to buy the songs or albums at various online retailers. Over 400 different musical attributes are considered when selecting the next song to play. These 400 attributes are combined into larger groups called focus traits. There are 2,000 focus traits. Examples of these are rhythm syncopation, key tonality, vocal harmonies, and displayed instrumental proficiency.

  What do I think of Pandora now that I have been using it myself for so many years? I absolutely love it and can't imagine ever being without it.

  Wednesday, September 9th is Pandora's 10th birthday. Over the last decade Pandora has grown into a $3.6 billion company, as it's users have listened to over 74 billion hours of music tailored to even the most eclectic of personal tastes. So anyway- this month I, and more than 250 million other Pandora listeners across the United States, Australia, and New Zealand have occasion to celebrate the awesomeness of being able to discover new music we already like, that we simply haven't heard yet.




Thursday, September 3, 2015

Anyone Can Make A Difference

True joy comes from learning to be a fearlessly positive influence on the world around you.

It's hard sometimes... so start with something simple, and take it one day at a time.

Practice integrity, be patient, let LOVE guide you,
and just keep putting one foot in front of the other.

Look for the good in yourself and in others.
And when you see it-- acknowledge it, celebrate it, support it.

Anyone can make a difference.



#DareToBeCompassionate


Sunday, July 19, 2015

Priorities

Time is precious and fleeting.

Dust if you must, but wouldn't it be better
To paint a picture or write a letter,
Bake a cake or plant a seed,
Ponder the difference between want and need?

Dust if you must, but there's not much time,
With rivers to swim and mountains to climb,
Music to hear and books to read,
Friends to cherish and life to lead.

Dust if you must, but the world's out there,
With the sun in your eyes, the wind in your hair,
A flutter of snow, a shower of rain.
This day will not come around again.

Dust if you must, but bear in mind,
Old age will come and it's not kind.
And when you go - and go you must -
You, yourself, will make more dust.


"Dust If You Must", Emily Rose
The Lady, September, 1998

  Keep in mind however, that everyone has their own story-- there is no point judging or comparing, so don't. Having priorities which stretch us and move us in the direction of our dreams is NOT about pressuring ourselves (or those around us) to make our lives look exactly like something straight off of Pinterest. Whatever our individual circumstances may be, we are born to walk the unique path we are on.

  "Perspective" is defined as: "the capacity to view things in their true relations or relative importance". We can only ever see from where we currently are, so putting our priorities in order naturally means making the best of the cards we have been dealt. Sometimes the healthiest thing we can do is redefine our concept of success. Look at your life and your circumstances, and give yourself credit for what it means to succeed in your world today.

STOP COMPARING YOURSELF TO OTHERS.

  Dream big, push yourself, be honest about what you can improve... but be authentically YOU, and don't treat your personal victories as any less than the beautiful triumphs that they are. Love yourself, be grateful for every day of life you are given, and love people more than things.

  So anyway, dust if you must- there is nothing wrong with having a clean house. I am very much a believer that a peaceful, pleasant living environment is less of a distraction and more a source of positive energy. Then do your best under your present circumstances to see life from a perspective which prioritizes the people and experiences you truly value the most.