Posted tagged ‘outlook on life’

New Words for a New Year

January 21, 2017

I haven’t written for ages here. Life became very busy–new job, less time at home–and a lot of things got put aside. Music was one, writing another. But working in an office every day, I find that my creative spirit needs exercise, otherwise it shrivels up and something happens to my heart …

So once again, I try to begin. I must play the music I can find time for and appreciate the people who play with me. I can strive to write more, put my thoughts down in some concrete form. Sure, everybody is doing it these days. The noise level is astounding! And who am I to think I have anything important to say to anyone else?

Well, I’m safe on that score! I only have my own experiences and perspective to draw on. But we’re all human beings sharing a seemingly shrinking planet. Too often, it feels to me like everyone is yelling louder and louder in an effort to convince anyone within earshot (including themselves) that they’re right.

We all have the capacity to be right or wrong, just as we all have the capacity to treat each other with gentleness. One can be civil without having to agree with someone. One can be compassionate without saying one condones another’s actions or decisions. One can listen instead of always trying to speak.

If we–and in that pronoun I’m including myself as the first person being addressed–would all do a bit more of these things, perhaps the rhetoric wouldn’t reach such a fever pitch. Conversations could occur. Compromises aren’t always comfortable because everyone is giving ground. But this is where I think we all must begin each day, even if we fall short by the second hour of our time awake (or earlier, as when I react with irritation to some small thing my partner does or says or neglects to do or say).

So I begin again today. It’s evening here in the northeastern United States, but it’s morning somewhere else on earth. Every moment in our lives can be counted as the first moment of something. This can bring a keen sense of renewal and refreshment. It doesn’t absolve one of past mistakes. But it does open the way for trying again. Compassion for others must begin with compassion for oneself. If I can’t give myself a second or fifth or hundredth chance, how can I do so for another?

If you are still reading, may you feel that renewal yourself. It is a small thing, not a all-encompassing sweeping away. But in the quiet I am trying to cultivate, the small things are just as profound and majestic and lovely as the grand ones.


Six Steps to Optimism: Day 6

October 4, 2008

“There are some people who live in a dream world, and there are some who face reality: and then there are those who turn one into the other.”—Douglas Everett

Optimism and living one’s dream is like planting tiger lilies in your garden. Once they take hold, they grow and spread, and pretty soon, the whole place is filled with the brilliance of their blossoms.

When you make the choice to be an optimist, and then follow that with a series of actions that will further your dream, opening yourself to the experiences and wisdom of others so that they become captivated and energized by your enthusiasm and begin to put their strength behind you, and when you consistently take the opportunities that come to you, optimism will become an integral part of you. Even in moments of doubt, indecision or hesitation, it won’t be suppressed.

Take a minute and think about someone you have known who always seemed to be in the right place at the right time. Perhaps she was a colleague in business whose passion for her work was infectious, and no matter who she was working with or what project she was assigned, she got bigger and better results than anyone could imagine.

Or maybe it was a doctor who spent years pursuing research that everyone else passed over because it was too tedious, too unglamorous, or just too damn hard. Yet he persevered and ended up discovering a breakthrough that no one expected.

It could be the kid next door who was terrible at every sport. Everyone made fun of him, and he always got picked last for teams at school. Yet he kept practicing, kept trying, kept asking coaches how he could improve and then went back and actually tried to put their suggestions into practice. He might never have gotten onto a pro team, competed beyond his small town, but he became a coach and led another group of kids just as unlikely and unassuming as him to victory.

Over the years, all these people probably heard, countless times, “Why don’t you just give up?” They were told, “That’s foolish, you’ll never make it.” People whispered about what a waste of time and talent these people’s lives were.

Still, every one of them heard those words and chose to ignore them. They followed their hearts and were rewarded by seeing their dreams materialize into their reality.

Living a dream isn’t walking through life in La-La Land, completely oblivious to anything outside yourself. Living a dream also isn’t fighting so fiercely for chances and then guarding them so jealously that you jeopardize other people’s dreams just to get yours.

There are enough dreams in the universe for every one of us. The universe is limitless in its abundance. So while we’re striving for our own personal crown, we can take moments along the way to help another person get theirs, too.

Dreams unfold and fill our lives. Just as some people see tiger lilies as a nuisance or an undesirable weed, plenty of folks will just shake their heads in befuddlement when you tell them what your dream is.

A few years ago, I had a thriving goat herd. I was passionate about it, and I was good at taking care of it. I loved trying to make each generation better, stronger, more beautiful, more productive than the last.

At the same time, I had a very busy and successful piano teaching studio and was beginning to do a lot more traveling for performances.

When I was away at concerts, I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. And when I was surrounded by the goats, I could think of no better thing to be doing.

But while I was able to reach a certain level of excellence in both areas, I had to choose between them. Goats need care every day. There are no vacations, no paid leave, no sabbaticals, no sick days. And the piano demanded time every day, and not always at home.

I loved my goats, and I still love goats. But I chose to follow the path the piano was leading me on, and for that, the goats could not go with me.

It took me months of internal struggle to reach my decision, and the first day I actually spoke it aloud, I cried. My heart felt as if it was being broken beyond repair. I had nurtured countless does and their kids from birth to their last days on earth, and wen the world seemed too crazy or confusing, the pasture and the barn was always a place of peace and reassurance. I could curl up in the hay and feel the warmth of whichever doe was herd queen at that moment, or I could channel anger and frustration into the hard, clarifying rhythm of stacking hay or cleaning stalls. Even the bucks accepted me with respect and without judgment, whether they were well-mannered about it or not. And for pure nurturing and expression of unconditional love, there is no replacement for carrying a newborn kid around nestled in my arms, or under my jacket if the day was cold, and feeling it nibble my chinn or nuzzle against my cheek with the milky velvet of its nose, feeling the fast, strong beating of its heart beneath my hands.

I still spend blissful moments among the goats at my mother’s farm, savoring the chances to milk or play with new babies or hear them bleat to one another from across the pasture.

But once the choice was made, the actions followed. Things began falling into place and carrying me toward much higher achievement at the keyboard. Now, aside from my old dog, there isn’t a whole bunch of critters who need me to feed them or, when I have to be away, find someone else who will.

I said that I wanted to be doing something musical every day of my life. I am living that dream now. There is no telling where my reality ends and my dream begins because they are one and the same.

My goats were invaluable companions on my journey. I learned countless lessons from them about compassion, integrity, perseverance, and any number of other attributes. I learned what unconditional love was so that, when I encountered it in another human being, I would recognize and appreciate it.

At some point, each person has the potential to have a life so filled with their dream that, to them, reality is not in a different sphere. There are many forks in the road to this dream, and each one can raise painful choices.

As I have often said, we make the best decisions we can with the information we have and the tools we possess in each moment. Hindsight has a way of making many people second-guess themselves or regret what they’ve done. But we have no way of knowing that, with a different choice, we would have unlocked a different outcome. People often get stuck in hard or unpleasant situations and react emotionally by saying, “I should have chosen differently—then I’d be happy”. Or they blame others, when in fact, we are the only ones who can choose or act for ourselves, and the consequences of our choices and actions must be completely owned by us.

Once the choice is made, the action begins, and the dream takes flight.

What choices have you been faced with in pursuit of your own dream? Looking back, how did the decisions you made shape the journey you experienced?

Six Steps to Optimism: Day 5

October 3, 2008

“Dreams pass into the reality of action. From the actions stems the dream again: and this interdependence produces the highest form of living.”—Anais Nin

It isn’t enough to just look at your window optimistically and say to yourself, “Life will be wonderful.” If you expect your dream to blossom but do nothing to cultivate it, then it won’t flower. We must each discover our own dream for ourselves. No one can give it to us.

Once discovered, it must be nurtured. Choices must be made, actions taken, each following on the foundations laid by the one before, but all aiming for the fulfillment of the dream.

So, when we look out the window of our perception onto the world, it is colored by all our experiences and interactions. The decisions we make and the actions we initiate all spring from this place of accumulated knowledge and wisdom.

To return to my own life as a pianist, I can say, “I want to play a concerto with an orchestra”. But first, I must learn how to use my hands to create the sounds at the instrument I will need to give the most expressive and artistic performance of that concerto. Even after mastering the techniques with my hands and fingers, I must then learn the notes of the concerto and commit them to memory, absorb them so deeply into my heart that the music becomes an extension of who I am and I become an extension of the composer who wrote it, so that it’s impossible to see any of the seams between where one ends and the other begins.

And once I have learned the notes and made them into a work of art, I must find an orchestra to play with and practice with them. Once the rehearsing is done, other people must come to the concert hall, fill up the seats and be quiet long enough to hear the fruits of all our labors.

So, I can’t just sit in my chair in my house and let the sounds from my CD player wash over me and think, “Oh, my dream is to play this piece”.

I must get up out of my chair, go to the piano, take out my music, and begin, step by step, to build the dream into reality.

Then, when the concert is finished and the applause has died away, after the hall is silent and empty and everyone has returned to their own home, I must take a few moments to savor the sweetness of what I’ve accomplished, take a clear look at what I could do better next time, and begin again.

Sometimes, beginning again is the hardest part. It is easy to become complacent and settle for “just enough” or “pretty good” or “almost”.

The optimist looks at their gold medal, or their standing-room-only concert hall, or their million-dollar book sales and says, “What can I do next?”.

It’s not that they aren’t satisfied or don’t appreciate the richness of their experiences. It’s just that they are always seeing further up the mountain, just beyond the place where the path bends in the trees and they’re not quite sure what lies ahead.

After all, “dream” is only a noun until, by choice, you make it into a verb.

What stage on your dream’s path are you in, and what action will you take next? What choice have you made today that has moved you a step closer to realizing your dream? And, if you are at a pinnacle in your mountain range, look out and see: Which mountain in the distance is calling your name, beckoning you to begin anew?

Six Steps to Optimism: Day 4

October 2, 2008

“Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier.”—Colin Powell

Optimism is something that can’t be held in check. You can’t restrict it or put limitations on it. Sometimes, in the medical profession, you’ll hear people say that they are “cautiously optimistic”.

If you are cautiously optimistic, it means that you are still struggling between optimism and doubt. This is fine, but true optimism inspires faith and encourages enthusiasm.

If one person is optimistic and they interact with others who share the same dream or even just the same space in the world, the optimism of one can often spread to another.

One person’s belief and faith in the rightness of things, even when they’re seemingly incomprehensible or unfair, is contagious. Before long, if you hold on to the certainty that comes with optimism that, yes, you can and will reach your goal, then other people will join you in believing this.

When multiple people believe the same thing, their power to manifest results becomes magnified. It’s like building a house. One person can do it alone and many have, but it’s hard work. The end result may be a beautiful house, but it might take five years for that one person to complete the task. If, on the other hand, that same person talks to ten other people, and of those ten, three get caught up in the first man’s optimism and decide to help him build the house, the task might get finished in two years instead of five.

Now, let’s say those three people carry their optimism and enthusiasm and passion for house-building and each talk to twenty people. Assuming twelve more people get excited and join the project, now, instead of just one man working five years alone to achieve his dream of building a house, sixteen people work together, complementing one another, encouraging and strengthening each other, and the house is done in a year.

You can see how this works. It’s not always clear how each person who gets excited and optimistic about your dream will be able to help you on your journey. But every time you share that dream with another human being, you increase your chances of gaining assets that will help you, and you also increase the chances that, inspired by your example, another person will make the choice to be an optimist and begin their own journey toward fulfillment.

Yesterday, I asked you to treat each person you encountered as “source material”, someone whose wisdom had the potential to change your life.

Today, contemplate and act on this: At the end of the day, what do you have that you didn’t have at the beginning, and which person did you choose to interact with to produce that growth in assets?

Six Steps to Optimism: Day 3

October 1, 2008

“Optimism is essential to achievement, and it is also the foundation of courage and true progress.”—Nicholas Murray Butler

What do you do once you’ve begun to change your mind?

Well, that depends. It varies from person to person. Just as there are many different ways to see a mountain, there are just as many paths to the top. They all start, though, at the same place and in the same way: at the bottom and with one step.

If you start at a place, as an optimist does, where you believe that, no matter how difficult something appears to be, you have the capacity to take on the challenge, then you will take that first step as a natural outgrowth of your perception.

The optimist doesn’t ignore obstacles or have delusions about what’s possible. The optimist just says, “I don’t know how I’ll solve this problem right now, but I’ll find out as I begin moving forward”.

And sometimes, “forward” might appear to be anything but. It’s very difficult to understand, for instance, how clearing away other people’s dirty dishes at a mediocre restaurant until all hours of the night will help if what you really want to do is write a best-selling novel. When you’re two months behind on your bills and your car dies, it’s really hard to know what these circumstances have to do with your passion for baseball. And when you’re sitting in the hospital waiting for the most recent round of MRI’s, x-rays and tests to come back so you’ll know what’s slowly robbing your mother of her ability to walk, it’s completely normal to have no comprehension of how this could possibly have any connection to your lifelong dream of performing on Broadway.

As I noted yesterday, optimism isn’t just a magic-wand feeling. It’s often hard-won over long periods of self-examination and self-discovery.

Optimism isn’t an impenetrable shield that protects us from life. But with it, we can move ourselves further along our path toward realizing the dream that is innate to every human being.

If I have optimism, even if I face adversity, I can find the courage either to reach deep within myself and persever, or, when I find my own reserves running low, reach out to other people for the encouragement I need.

For me personally, this lesson has been very concretely illustrated over the past ten months. As a pianist who is blind, I often listened to recordings or live recitals and thought of all players who were better than me as being beyond anything I could ever hope to achieve. I gave all kinds of reasons why I would never reach that level.

In short, I was a pessimist. My reasons were really excuses, and I remained stuck where I was because my perspective and perception weren’t changing.

If your mom says you do something well, that means a lot. After all, she’s your mom. But on the flip side, she’s your mom, and moms do that kind of thing, or at least many of them do.

If your husband says you do something well, that’s wonderful, too. You can derive a lot of satisfaction from pleasing first your mom and then your husband because you love them both and want to give them something to be happy about. But he’s your husband.

If you’re really committed to your dream, you won’t settle for a teacher who is just a yes man. You’ll want the one who can push the hardest and inspire you to go the highest. Whether that teacher is a “brand-name”, well-known person affiliated with a big conservatory and with lots of high-profile students or is just some seemingly average person living off the beaten track doesn’t matter.

When you go out in search of a teacher to further you along the path toward artistic greatness, that’s a choice you actively make. And if you really want your dream to progress, you won’t rest until you find that teacher, even if this searching isn’t in the forefront of your mind.

I know it wasn’t in mine when I climbed onto a bus at a music conference in Minnesota. It wasn’t on my mind when I first flew to Denver, then took the long drive into Kansas. It wasn’t even in my mind as a friendship blossomed through phone calls and e-mails.

Well, it’s in my mind now, and every day, when I sit down at the piano to practice, whether I’m doing basic technical exercises or working on repertoire, it’s impossible to escape. And, when a teacher you’ve spent a lifetime searching for tells you you can go so much farther than you believe and won’t let you wiggle out of that fact, insisting you take on the pieces you once thought would be impossible for you to play, well, that does something to one’s fundamental outlook, and everything else flows from that shift.

I’ve talked a lot about encouragement from the direction of inspiring people to reach beyond their own perceived capacity. But courage is also the displacement of fear and loneliness. Of course, we are alone within our own hearts and minds, and we are alone in our quest to attain our dreams. No one can share our journey completely with us.

Yet we are given companions who walk beside us, some only for the briefest of moments, others for decades. These companions are the people who, by words or actions, demonstrate to us in ways large and small that they salute our dreams and our calling to make them reality. These are the people who are there to encourage us and restore our strength when we are beset by doubt, fear, and all the other emotions that we carry with us always. By their belief in us and their expressions of faith in the rightness of what we are doing, we have our stamina renewed and our faith strengthened.

I used to think that Chopin’s Sonata in B-Flat Minor Op. 35 was something I’d never play. For that matter, at this time last year, the idea that I’d play Prokofiev’s Sonata No. 2 in D Minor wasn’t even registering with me. Even Beethoven’s Sonata Op. 57 (Appassionata) was just something I put on my CD player when I wanted to hear true drama.

Last November, my friend Anne started insisting I could play the Prokofiev. I ignored her until January, then decided I’d at least try.

I finished learning notes midway through February. I played it for informal music gatherings in April and May (or maybe it was march and April—can’t recall right now). I added it to a public recital program in August, and it’s still growing and maturing. But I own it. I live it.

I could not have achieved any of this without optimism. I may have had optimism in other areas of my life, but it took the encouragement of another person to rekindle it in my piano playing. With that as the foundation, I have the courage to take on new and bigger challenges and to do the daily, unglamorous work that’s necessary if I want success. And finally, because of all those elements arranged in that particular order, I am experiencing progress, and that progress is obvious to anyone who hears me now.

If you lose the courage within yourself, it doesn’t mean it’s gone forever. Look outside yourself and find someone who can spark it again. For me, one of the greatest joys of traveling is the possibility that I may meet someone whose interaction with me will change my life. Two years ago, it happened on a bus in Minnesota.

If this is true for me, imagine how many opportunities await all of us as we go about our daily lives. This is optimism at work. We are all “source material”. We are integral parts of the universe, givers and receivers of wisdom. Even if the wisdom isn’t in your particular area of interest or directly related to your passion, it’s wisdom nonetheless and is a priceless gift.

Today’s challenge: With every person you encounter in the next twenty-four hours, consider both what you can learn from them and what you may be teaching them.

Six Steps to Optimism: Day 2

September 30, 2008

“Pessimism leads to weakness, optimism to power.”—William James

It might seem like there is a big divide between pessimism and optimism. Often, they’re polar opposites. We’ve all heard the “glass half-empty, glass half-full” analogy before, or “seeing things in black and white,” or any number of other metaphors for the two viewpoints.

But as far apart as they seem, shifting one’s perspective from one to the other begins with a seemingly incremental shift. We have to change our thinking so that, instead of perceiving life as something that happens “to” us, we understand it as something that is “in” us.

Instead of thinking, “I have to work hard to get over this challenge,” we have the attitude that “I’m going to learn something by going through this”.

Pessimists see themselves as victims of circumstance. All is beyond their control. They are acted upon by outside forces. They are always reacting.

Optimists, by turn, see themselves as creative forces in their own existence. They take responsibility for their decisions and own them, and they live by action and interaction, but never confuse interacting with other people with mindlessly reacting to them.

Pessimism is a way of thought that so conditions the individual to feel powerless in the face of his or her own life that he or she gradually loses any ambition to change.

By putting the power to choose in the hands and heart of the individual, optimism fosters strength, encourages the cultivation of personal power and resolve, and propels us on an upward path.

If you think this is just idle talk, start talking to people. If you ask them about their lives and dreams and really listen to their responses, you’ll be able to sort out the optimists from the pessimists, of course, but you’ll also be able to tell who has the capacity to change from the latter group to the former.

Anyone who sees their current situation, no matter how dire, as a stepping stone and a necessary component on their path to realizing their personal dream is an optimist. This knowledge isn’t always immediate. The death of a loved one, the loss of a home, the disintegration of health are all painful and difficult. We all have emotional, psychological, spiritual and physical responses to these events—that’s part of being human.

An epiphany may be a single moment long, but enlightenment is gained over a lifetime. You don’t just wave a magic wand or flip a switch and say, “See, I’m not a pessimist anymore!”

You have to make that small shift and consciously choose to keep making it in every situation. At first, to do it one time in a thousand is enough. Then, your goal must be once every five hundred tries, then once every hundred, over and over until you are choosing to respond optimistically a majority of the time.

Notice I didn’t say “all of the time”. We all have the capacity for both pessimism and optimism within us, and no matter what, we will never always respond to things exactly the same way all of the time. This is also part of being human.

So what can we expect once we begin to consciously choose to respond in the powerful way of the optimist? I’ll discuss that tomorrow. In the mean time, think about this:

If, after you finished reading this, you were suddenly confronted with a life-altering experience that would completely upend all your assumptions about everything and its place in your world, how would you respond? More importantly, would your perception of your relationship to that event change over time?

Six Steps to Optimism: Day 1

September 29, 2008

“Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.”—Henry David Thoreau

How many people dou you know who, when asked, say something like, “Oh, I wish I could … “ and then follow whatever their wish is with, “But …”?

Millions of people spend their days working at jobs they have no passion for. Thousands are in living situations with people who are abusive. Hundreds of thousands find it virtually impossible to survive with a roof overhead and a meal on the table. In fact, many go to sleep unsure if they will even wake up in the morning.

For every human being on this planet, there is the opportunity to do exactly what they feel called to do. There is a chance to contribute to society in the unique way that only they are capable of.

And yet, for a vast majority of people, the chance is never realized because outward circumstances color the inner workings of the mind and heart.

If, every day, you are faced with nothing but labor that drains you physically and numbs you mentally, if you are constantly presented with situations that undermine your sense of security and sap your capacity for emotional and psychological growth, and you are ceaselessly bombarded with messages of lack, unworthiness, or other reasons why you shouldn’t or won’t ever achieve anything beyond what’s directly in front of you, then it’s little wonder that the zest for life and discovery and creativity that are inborn traits of all children get buried so deeply that they become almost impossible to unlock.

Notice I said “almost”. Even those that we, in America, with our SUV’s, flat-screen TV’s, mortgages and cell phones, consider marginalized because they don’t earn as much as we do, don’t eat or buy as much as we do, even they can live with dignity and hope.

It doesn’t take a 401(k) to make a person feel that they are assured a “good” life. Accounts lose value. Life happens to all of us. Even decisions that at first fill us with doubts and feelings of regret can be turned into something else.

Regret is nothing but living in a “coulda, shoulda, woulda” illusion. “Oh, if only I’d gotten there five minutes earlier …” Or, “Things would be so much better if I had … “

We have no way of knowing what might have happened. We can only live in the present and learn as we go.

These days, a lot of the news about “the economy” is “bad”. Certainly people are struggling as prices go up and paychecks go down. In times like these, some might say it’s pointless or foolish to be optimistic.

But optimism isn’t just burying your head in the sand and pretending nothing’s happening. Optimism doesn’t mean we see everything with rose-colored glasses that prevent us from getting clear, honest, unadulterated views of reality.

Optimism is an outlook. It’s a choice. At first, it has to be a conscious one, especially if you’re not used to making it.

It’s hard to change your perspective from, “I’m never going to make it through the month and pay all these bills,” to, “I don’t know this instant how I’m going to make it through the month, but there is a way, and I’ll find it”.

Optimism is the first choice we must make. All other choices are a consequence of this first one. By choosing optimism, we set ourselves up to continue to make choices along a similarly directed path. Each choice is a step, and each step builds upon the one that went before.

Optimism is the foundation. Over the next six days, I’ll share one way those steps can be ordered and how, simply by choosing optimism first, you can open yourself and your world to tremendous possibilities for miracles.