Einstein On Increasing Our Compassion

27 11 2012

“A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”

–Albert Einstein

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Get Organized!

26 11 2012

I’m a very organized male.  I have many weaknesses, but disorganization is not one of them.  (My friends say I’m a retentive.)  Time is something that none of us gets back once we squander it.  And disorganization is a big time-eating monster.  When you are unable to find what you’re looking for, time is a casualty.

Being a messy is very costly.

There’s an old adage that goes “ a place for everything; everything in its place.”  This is a real key.  How many times have you gone to your local Wal-Mart or Home Depot to buy something you know you had around the house somewhere, only to find out when doing a thorough cleaning that you had three or four of the thing you were looking for?

Disorganization also costs money.  I bet that got your attention.

Our public and collegiate libraries have very specific systems for classifying books—the Dewey and Library of Congress decimal systems respectively.  Why? So patrons can get the materials they are looking for with dispatch and little stress.

You can implement the same kind of thinking to declutter your life and take better care of your stuff, your money and your time.  And as a corollary, your life.

Here are some suggestions that have helped me.  Perhaps they’ll help you.

  • Allocate drawers and specific spaces in your house for your tools, clothes, cooking utensils.  Try to keep each thing with its family.  Sockets with sockets, chisels with chisels.
  • Make files for nearly everything.  Emails, news articles, documents, spreadsheets.  Files are indispensible.
  • If you’re a collector, alphabetize your collections by author or artist.  I do this for my library and music.  You can also classify by topic.  I have different sections of my library—over 3000 books—and can point borrowing friends right where they want to look to find exactly what they’re looking for.
  • Use your smart phone, a PDA, or a day planner to organize your days and appointments.  If you use Microsoft Office Outlook, you can use the calendar to remind you with messages for upcoming appointments.  As far as day planners go, if you like bulk, go for Franklin Covey.  I used one for about sixteen years.  Moleskine and others have scaled-down versions that are very helpful.  Check out your local Staples or Office Max for a whole lot more.
  • Use spreadsheets.  Microsoft Excel has all sorts of neat features that allow you to keep track of everything from your stocks to collections to family budgets.

Get organized!  You will find you get a lot more done in less time and have less loss as you get things in order.

Have at it!

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Inspirations

25 11 2012

I read an interesting article some months ago about Viggo Mortensen and his influences.  Viggo is an actor of no mean accomplishment and a Watertown native.  He spent a number of his growing up years here in the North Country.  People who frequent neighboring Clayton see him from time to time as he comes back to visit family.

The article was not so much commentary as it was comprehensive lists.  Being a list junkie, I found it fascinating and invigorating.  You can read about it here.

I heard a wise speaker remark once that we are all a composite of the people who influence our lives, whether directly or through their work.  I resonated with this observation and it helped put to bed the nagging urge to “be an original.”

So I thought I would list some of my own, collected over forty-eight years.  I’d be interested in yours if you choose to comment.

Guitarists:  Phil Keaggy, Julian Bream, Christopher Parkening, Jeff Beck, Alvin Lee, David Russell, Jimmy Page, Jimi Hendrix, Brian May, Chuck Berry, Andres Segovia, John Williams, Earl Klugh, Larry Carlton, Ted Nugent, Paul O’Dette (lute), Joe Satriani, Eric Johnson, Slash, Steve Howe, Eric Clapton, Joe Fava, Konrad Ragossnig (lute), Tommy Emmanuel, David Gilmour, Rick Foster, Angel Romero, Wes Montgomery, Jacob Moon, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Anthony Phillips.  And many more.

Music and Artists: Dan Fogelberg, Keith Green, Richard Souther, Elton John, The Allman Brothers, Paul Clark, The Beatles, 2nd Chapter of Acts, Donovan, Honeytree, Sara Groves, Vineyard Music, Maranatha Music, Hillsong Music, James Taylor, Larry Norman, John Michael Talbot, Yes, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Luciano Pavarotti, Frank Sinatra, Michael Buble, Jethro Tull, Randy Stonehill, The Eagles, Billy Joel, Kemper Crabb, Lamb, Peter, Paul & Mary, Queen, Simon & Garfunkel, Twila Paris, Yo-Yo Ma, Michael Card, Bob Bennett, Cat Stevens (Yusuf Islam), Brian Doerksen, Debby Boone, Kenny G, Norah Jones, Andrea Bocelli, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Dave Brubeck, Ralph Sharon, Tony Bennett, Neil Young, Jascha Heifetz, Glenn Gould, Malcolm & Alwyn, Phil Ramone.  And many more.

Composers: Johann Sebastian Bach, John Dowland, Gaspar Sanz, Ralph Vaughn Williams, Erik Satie, G.F. Handel, Ludwig Von Beethoven, Jimmy Webb, Francesco Da Milano, Henry Purcell, Pyotr Illich Tchaikovsky, Domenico Scarlatti, Enrique Granados, Isaac Albeniz, Michael Praetorius, Joaquin Rodrigo, Antonin Dvorak, Ennio Morricone, Maurice Ravel, Claude Debussy, Rachel Portman, Felix Mendelsohn, James Newton Howard, John Williams, Mychael Danna, Stephen Schwartz, George Gershwin. And many more.

Film: Al Pacino, Meryl Streep, Robert Redford, Marlon Brando, Matt Damon, Robin Williams, Johnny Depp, Steve McQueen, Ben Kingsley, Anthony Hopkins, Liam Neeson, Sir Laurence Olivier, James Caan, Sean Connery, Harrison Ford, Alec Guinness, Steven Spielberg, Gus Van Zandt, Jim Caviezel, Franco Zeffirelli.  And many more.

Writers: Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Morris West, Will & Ariel Durant, Viktor Frankl, Chaim Potok, Ralph McInerny, M. Scott Peck, J.R.R. Tolkien, Michael D. O’Brien, William Manchester, Dan Brown, Daniel Silva, Leo Tolstoy, Randy Alcorn, Joel Rosenberg, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Elie Wiesel, Sol Stein, Mitch Albom, Mortimer Adler, Will Strunk & E.B. White.  And many more.

Leadership and Self-Development:  Jim Rohn, Peter Drucker, Michael Gelb, John Maxwell, J. Oswald Sanders, Jack Canfield, Dean Karnazes, James Allen, Napoleon Hill, Brian Tracy, Anthony Robbins, Stephen Covey, Earl Nightingale, Dale Carnegie, Warren Bennis, David Schwartz, Zig Ziglar, Warren Bennis. And a few more.

Politics and Economics:  George Will, Henry Kissinger, Abba Eban, Ronald Reagan, John Kenneth Galbraith, John F. Kennedy, George Schultz, Thomas Sowell.  And a few more.

Science and Technology:  Leonardo Da Vinci, Thomas Edison, John D. Rockefeller, Albert Einstein, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, E.F. Codd, Stephen Hawking.  And a few more.

Enough for now.  Who inspires you in your talents, work and avocations?





Occupy!

23 11 2012

When Jesus wanted to teach something, he usually told a story.  He used the stuff of everyday life in Israel—a country of shepherds—for his parables.  It’s hard to improve on stories for making a point clear.

The longer I live and think about these stories, the more I am struck by how they favor action and initiative, creative thinking and problem-solving.  In one parable, he commends a dishonest property manager for being creative in making for himself a soft landing place with some old clients when he is fired for incompetence.  He regards his initiative and problem-solving, if not his loose bookkeeping.

In one of his stories, a landowner gives portions of his goods to different people with the command “occupy until I return.”

Occupy?

The phrase “occupy” these days is freighted with all sorts of meanings and nuances.  Occupy Wall Street.  Occupied territories.  But what did Jesus mean when he used this particular verb?

His parable paints a picture of the kingdom of God.  And his command is to occupy—do business, be industrious, generate a return on investment.  Those who lazed about and did nothing got it in spades when the master returned.

There is a time to pray and a time to act.  That’s axiomatic.  But there are moments when to be on a kneeler is to miss the mark entirely.  When you are supposed to be hitting the pavement and drumming up business, your act of “occupying until I come” becomes an act of worship, even prayer.  I often wonder if God isn’t waiting for us to be the answer to a lot of our prayers.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Am I being passive in the pursuit of my goals?  Do you wait around for God and people to do for you what you are really supposed to do for yourself?  As one has said, you can’t hire another to do your pushups for you.
  • Am I quick to give up when I encounter resistance in the pursuit of my goals? Sometimes we flag and cave, thinking that “it wasn’t meant to be” simply because the goal we pursue doesn’t come easy.  Stuff that is valuable costs time, effort, money…blood, sweat and tears.
  • What would happen if I gave another hour or two a day to the pursuit of my goals?  We tend to plateau in our skills and objectives for lots of reasons.  But one is simply that we don’t give that extra effort to really master a thing.  It is the difference between dilettantes and professionals.  Professionals stay at it until they own it.

Enough now.  You get the picture.  Go occupy.

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Creativity and Discipline

22 11 2012

I’ve been thinking about  creativity, being “inspired” and self-discipline.  There’s a common misconception afoot that creativity comes primarily or solely in moments of unsolicited inspiration.  And that, somehow, to go about one’s art in a methodical and disciplined way is to stifle creativity.

But this is simply not true.  Inspiration and self-discipline are not enemies.

They are friends.

Consider the output of creative geniuses of our time and of history.

Father of the classical guitar, Andres Segovia used to practice five hours a day up until his death in 1987.  I saw him give a recital at the University of Michigan in 1986 and he was still performing like a virtuoso.  And he was 93 years old at the time.  Ninety-three.

Author Dan Brown gets up at 4 AM every single day and writes.  Every day.  Mega best-selling novelist Stephen King writes 10 pages every day.

Oscar Hammerstein II, the great Broadway lyricist, used to work regularly in the upstairs portion of his home from 8 to 3 PM.  Every day.  He insisted his wife keep the volume level of the children down during his work period so it didn’t interfere.  He had, by comparison with all his work, a handful of really successful musicals on which he collaborated.  But people will be singing his lyrics hundreds of years from now.

Leonardo da Vinci made sketches of human hands thousands of times before painting the Mona Lisa.

Someone once asked a famous composer, “What comes first, the music or the lyrics?”  His answer? “The phone call.”  All this to say that an artist simply cannot wait to “be inspired.”  The greatest artists have been disciplined practitioners of their craft.  They saw no dichotomy between inspiration and steady production.  Kiss of the Muse and a regular schedule.  And no panic when the phone call comes.

Can shifting your perspective even a little in this area improve both the output and quality of your work?  You will discover that creativity tends to favor the diligent as does opportunity!

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Providing A Superior Experience

2 11 2012

I once read something from renowned editor and author Sol Stein (Stein On Writing).  He wrote that the correct intention for a writer was “to provide the reader with an experience that is superior to the experiences the reader encounters in everyday life.”  I was really struck by that because, like many others who write and enjoy it, I do so “because I have something to say” or “need to get something off my chest” or “have a passion for this or that.”  Stein’s point is that the focus of our writing is to enhance the experience of the reader.  It’s not about me or any other writer.

I thought about this important reality.  What one does in writing one can do in daily life.  As a disciple of Jesus, I value Him, my relationship with Him and the experience of His presence.  When He is near me—especially that transcendent, “something more” sense–nothing else can even come close.

So I had to ask myself, “How do people experience my presence in their lives?”  Being honest, I’d have to admit that at times my involvement in the lives of the people I live and work with have energized them.  And at other times, frankly, I’ve drained them.  Usually the drain part comes when it’s all about me.  And the energizing quality comes when I forget about me and seek to “provide (name) with an experience that is superior to the experience (name) encounters in everyday life.”

Be honest.  How do people experience you?

The world has spent the past year reflecting upon the life of the late Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple Computers.  When Steve passed away, I happened to be reading Leander Kahney’s excellent book Inside Steve’s Brain.  The one thing that emerged very quickly from my reading was that the experience of the user was one of the absolute core values of Steve Jobs and Apple.  Still is.  Millions of dollars and countless thousands of work hours were and are spent to provide Apple customers with a superior experience in their interaction with modern technology.  Jobs examined every aspect of the experience of an Apple customer and, with his outstanding team, honed it endlessly to ensure that the complex was simplified and that the experience of the buyer—even down to the opening and assembly of a new computer—was superior to anything else out there.  Jobs’ solution to the problem of pirating of music (through illegal downloading) was to provide such a superior experience for one visiting the iTunes Store, that one would be willing to pay for the tunes and files they wanted, rather than pirate them.  A superior experience as a curative for a moral and economic problem.  Brilliant.

Challenge for the day: Ask yourself how people experience your presence in daily life.  Be honest and willing to make adjustments, shifts in thinking, learn new stuff, whatever.  You may be surprised how people jump out of the woodwork when they see how their lives are enhanced just by being with you—a superior experience.

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