Tag Archives: peace

april 2013 collage with round om smallBlue Lotus Feet in the studio

Here’s a sneak peek at Blue Lotus Feet’s first studio album (currently in production): http://bluelotusfeet.bandcamp.com/track/peace-mantra-sample

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April 12, 2013 · 12:46 pm

Miles Davis: “So What” trumpet solo on guitar

All my life I’ve been mesmerized and intimidated by jazz guitar. I’ve wanted to play jazz so badly, but didn’t believe that it would ever be within my grasp.

Until now.

Turns out the only thing that had to change was my thinking. My beliefs. “I AM a thriving, talented, successful jazz guitarist.” “I AM able to learn jazz guitar.” “I AM someone who enjoys the challenges involved in learning new things.”

Over the past week or so I assigned myself a new challenge: to learn the first solo (Miles Davis on trumpet) of Miles Davis’ “So What” on the guitar. Note for note.

The last three bars on this page took me on a two-hour journey of exploration and discovery. (This is not my transcription.)

This solo is about 2 minutes and 5 seconds long. When I woke up this morning, I could play all the way through 1 minute and 19 seconds of it. After about an hour and a half of practice, I can now play through 1 minute and 23 seconds of it. An important lesson for me here: it took me nearly two hours to move forward 4 seconds. The cool thing is, I ENJOY that challenge. It’s fun and exciting to think that almost 2 hours of work is needed for me to gain only 4 seconds of the solo… when I’m able to do the whole thing, it’ll mean a lot more than simply 2:05 of guitar playing… It will represent my energy, my love, and my passion… my willingness to change my mind about how I see the world… about how I view myself and my abilities. 

Another interesting point: As I was learning that new 4 seconds of material, I found myself spending a lot of time on one 6-note phrase. I played it over and over. I explored different ways of playing that same phrase, and found THREE different places to play it on the neck. Now I had an interesting decision to make: WHICH way should I focus on? As I explored deeper, I found that one way seemed the most simple because I could base the entire phrase on two adjacent strings, but there was quite a horizontal reach with my pinky involved. This option kept me well within my comfort zone.

The second path took me farther down the neck, utilized three strings, and involved a whole-step upward slide with my index finger on the high “e” string. A little more challenging, but all movement was on adjacent strings, so this was still within my comfort zone.

The third path involved string skipping; reaching up with the pinky from the 2nd string to the 4th string, up 5 frets. This took me well outside my comfort zone and even made me stop a minute and wonder, “can I even DO this??” I can’t recall purposely skipping strings during a solo. Then I thought of Steve Vai. Steve Lukather. Larry Carlton. All of my heroes. What would they do? Do they skip strings while soloing? Or do they only move across adjacent strings? These guys don’t practice to success; they practice to failure. That is, they don’t simply practice something until they can do it right… they keep practicing beyond that, until it’s second nature… until the rare occasion of goofing up happens… then they practice it even more.

When I realized this was a limitation that was holding me back, I decided to practice it some more. I quickly ditched the first path. Decided the second path on the high “e” string sounded too whiny/trebley. Went with the third path. Worked on it for awhile… not sure how long, lost track of time.

Then, following my intuition, I backed up and practiced the approach and entry into this new phrase. Of course that felt completely foreign at first, but after a few tries, I began to see how the phrases connected. As I became more comfortable, I realized I was creating new neural pathways in my brain.

I’m not in a hurry. I’m not trying to get this solo down before Tuesday, or by any sort of deadline. At the same time, I do feel motivated to learn the whole thing and get it into my fingers… into my bones, so that it becomes mine. I’m practicing at least a little bit every day, even if that means just running through what I know once or twice to make sure it’s still there. When I was a young teenager at the local public swimming pool, I remember challenging myself to learn how to do a gainer off the high diving board. Not having any sort of lessons, I didn’t know how to go forward with any sort of formal process for learning this new skill. So I just ran off the end of the low diving board and threw myself into the air, trying as best I could to approximate that backwards flipping motion without cracking my head on the diving board.

After many false starts, I finally did it. Sloppy. Dangerous. But I did it. After doing that a hundred times or so, I decided to try it from the high dive. After facing down a terror that made me want to vomit, I finally did it. The interesting thing was that I was never satisfied with doing it only once. There was no victory in that for me. No. I had to prove to myself that I could do it repeatedly. So only after doing it dozens of times over the course of an entire summer would I allow myself to say, with any sort of confidence, “I can do a gainer off the high dive.”

This is sort of the same. It’s one thing to patch together the phrases of this solo and to execute them all in a row one time without making a mistake. It’s an entirely different thing to be able to visualize where my fingers will land and hear the notes in my head as I’m lying in bed. A whole different animal to be able to play it without analysis, without thinking about where the next notes will come from. Without counting beats.

Of course, this is simply one step along the path. Since everything in this realm is temporary, my ability to play this solo will diminish and disappear. The guitar I call ‘mine’, as much as I love it, will change hands. Disintegrate. Be destroyed, sooner or later. This body I call ‘mine’ will collapse and return to ashes. There’s no trophy here to be claimed with any sort of finality. Like everything we can see, hear, taste, touch, feel, or think, this experience is temporary. Finite. It has a beginning, a middle, and an end.

The joy for me is that, in the midst of this understanding, I can fully embrace the spirit and passion of learning this solo. Even as we know leaves on a tree will end up on the ground come autumn, in this moment they can blow wildly in the sunshine, glinting sunlight and brilliance. And understanding that we can’t make them shimmer forever, we can still appreciate their beauty in this moment.

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Angry Subaru Man VS Road Bike Guy

Wow. So I’m riding my bicycle on E. 3rd Avenue (near E. 31st Street) at about 5pm on Tuesday, April 12. I see a fellow cyclist riding toward me on a road bike, in full gear.

A guy in a Subaru passes him, then slams on his brakes and comes to a stop right there, in the middle of the street. His tires even kind of squealed a little. Like in the movies.

The door flies open. The driver jumps out, runs up to Road Bike Guy and begins screaming. Cursing. Getting right in his face. Yelling obscenities that you can’t print here. For about five minutes. Seriously ranting about how the cyclist had cut the guy off. I’m pretty sure I saw spit flying.

I was so shocked I simply stopped my bike, got off, and just stood there watching. I wanted to make sure Angry Subaru Guy knew there were witnesses.

Road Bike Guy, to his credit, kept his cool.

After about three minutes of yelling, cursing, and claiming ‘champion cyclist’ status (“I’m a cyclist, too!”), Angry Subaru Man turned and started to get back in his car.

Road Bike Guy asked, in a respectful tone, if Angry Subaru Man had seen the stop sign. Angry Subaru Man gets BACK out of his car, goes BACK up to Road Bike Guy, and starts yelling again.

Meanwhile, no fewer than 7 cars are stopped in traffic. I counted.

Road Bike Guy, thanks for keeping your cool.

Angry Subaru Man, if you really ARE a cyclist, couldn’t you think of a better way to address the issue with Road Bike Guy? Do you think that R.B.G. somehow agrees with you now?

Were you worked up about something else? Lose your job? Going through a divorce? Times truly are tough right now. We’re all hurting, in one way or another. We live in community. We’ve got to cut each other some slack from time to time.

I’m pretty sure that any children who were in the 7 vehicles you stopped were watching you, learning one (less than ideal) way to deal with conflict. You were teaching by example, intentionally or not.

Thanks for the reminder that I’m teaching by example, as well. Next time I’m in my car and frustrated with a cyclist, or on my bike and frustrated with the driver of a vehicle, I’ll think of you.

Tim Birchard,
Durango

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Setting and maintaining healthy boundaries with pet owners

“Oh, it’s okay… she won’t bite.”

As I open the car door and turn to step out of the car, I look up to see two dogs fast approaching. I raise my right foot and hold it in the air. The dog stops suddenly and takes a step back. The owner quickly takes hold of the dog’s collar and then, holding the dog’s collar, slowly brings the dog’s nose closer to my leg.

“She just wants to sniff you.”

I look at my fellow human being and wonder: Do I have any say in the matter?

Why is it that so many dog owners are happy to tell me that their dog is perfectly safe, and that I should have no concerns about letting this animal put its jaws and teeth right next to my leg to satisfy its curiosity? What happens if the dog smells something it doesn’t like and responds by biting me? Isn’t it then a little too late, now that I have to pay for a hospital visit and rabies shots, to run up, regain control of their dog, and apologize?

(I’m reminded of my routine bicycle ride to work last week, when I found myself face-to-face with an angry dog, up on its hind legs, teeth bared, straining against the leash as its owner struggled to keep it from lunging at my body as I rode by. Zen told me to keep riding, since the only thing that had been disturbed was my thought process. Still I find myself turning over and over in my mind the various other possible outcomes. So much for my Zen training.)

And setting aside safety issues and the potential unpredictability of mammals lower on the food chain, what if I simply PREFER not to have dogs rubbing their noses and fur against my body?

Whose needs come first: a dog’s, or a human’s?

It’s my responsibility to set and maintain healthy boundaries around my own body. It’s also my responsibility to make sure that my body doesn’t collide with anyone else’s body; by extension, it’s my responsibility to make sure that my dog doesn’t violate the personal boundaries around other peoples’ bodies.

So why is it that when a dog owner refuses to respect my personal boundaries and I’m put in the position to maintain them myself, she or he becomes so defensive and protective of their dog?

I’m sitting in the park minding my own business. A dog runs up and starts trying to sniff my body. I make adjustments to prevent the dog from doing so.

And suddenly, I’m the jerk?

In this case, I happened to be helping a dear friend with a project that involved being on the dog owner’s property. So I kept my mouth shut. More or less. But the more this pattern wore on through the day, the more unhappy I felt. Now that I’ve had some time to tease apart the issues at hand, I feel better prepared to articulate my concerns. I’m realizing that setting and maintaining healthy boundaries with people can mean making requests regarding how they control their pets. Now I understand that I need to be ready to make the following requests:

“I understand that you love your dog, and I respect that. I need to know what action you’re going to take to keep your dog at least three feet away from my body. If your dog gets closer to my body than that, I need to know what action you’re comfortable with me taking; do you prefer I move my leg quickly and make a sharp sound? Do you prefer I shake my gloves in your dog’s face? Because if you don’t care enough to control your dog and respect my personal boundaries, I certainly plan to maintain them for myself.”

“If you don’t like any of those choices, dog lover, then I leave it to you to maintain control of your dog.”

If that doesn’t work, then I make the choice to remove myself from the situation, whether other people experience emotional discomfort or not.

At the end of the day, this isn’t a ‘dog’ issue, or a ‘pet’ issue at all.

It’s a matter of respecting another human being’s freedom to choose whether to get close to animals or not. It’s a matter of recognizing that just because I love dogs doesn’t mean that everyone loves dogs. When I let my dog walk up and sniff you, I’m disregarding your freedom to choose that outcome. And when you protect your own freedom to choose by preventing the dog from getting close enough to sniff your body and I respond by chastising you, I’m demonstrating a total lack of awareness that your happiness may not include dog slobber on your clothing and body.

What do you think, fellow human being? Where’s the line?



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Leadership journey (part 1)

I remember the first time in my adult life I tried to get into ‘leadership’. It was back in the 90’s. I read a bunch of books that told me I should budget my time. I should be consistent, motivated, excited, energized, and ready to go above and beyond. They basically told me what I should DO and how I should BE if I wanted to be a good leader.

So I tried. Tucked my shirt in. Kept my hair cut short. Said ‘sir’ and ‘ma’am’. Tried to speak up and ‘do the leadership thing’. Trouble was, I was trying to be someone I was not. And it showed. I never got the sense that people were ready to follow me anywhere.

I also began to notice that the more books I read on leadership, the more books were published. There was no way to keep up with all of the so-called ‘authorities’ on leadership. Furthermore, the books I did read often gave advice that conflicted directly with other books I’d read. “Act like you’re not afraid of anything so people will have confidence in you.” “Show your weaknesses and share your feelings so people will see you as human and have confidence in you.”

Ugh. What a mess.

I walked away from it all. I just wanted to be able to be myself. Wanted to strive for improvement, sure… but not to put on some phony act. If that’s what it took to be a leader, then they could keep it. I wasn’t interested.

At this point, I had some serious internal conflict. On one hand, I looked up to powerful leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Ghandi, the Dalai Lama, and a host of others. I could SEE with my own two eyes that leadership was real, dynamic, and powerful. That good leadership could change the world.

Yet on the other hand, my personal life experiences told me that leadership meant being fake, inauthentic, and phony; that in order to get people to follow me (and why would I want that sort of head trip anyway?!) I’d have to pretend to be someone I’m not. I’d have to pretend to be strong, confident, and comfortable in my own skin. Because at this point in the game, I wasn’t.

The next 10-15 years were filled with personal growth. And when I say, “filled with personal growth”, I don’t mean to suggest a pleasant afternoon stroll during which I gently stumbled upon the answer to life. No. I’m stubborn, and I often have to learn things the hard way. It felt more like crawling through rusty barbed wire and broken glass.

I skinned my knees badly. And often. Went through years of pretty savage discomfort as I learned to stand on my own two feet in my mid-30’s. About fifteen years behind schedule. But better late than never.

Started really looking closely at the concept of healthy boundaries. Began to realize that the only truly ‘clean’ relationships were those that I could approach without wanting anything from the other person. And I’d spent all my life trying to get something from the other person… love, admiration, food, money, safety, sex, security, a sense of self-esteem… you name it.

Naturally, the things I was searching for could only be found within me. It took me some years of counseling, meeting with groups of people in rooms, and experiencing some personal transformation through intense personal work (check out “Energetic Awakenings” by Scott Beebe and “I Am That” by Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj) before I finally started to see some light, joy, and happiness in my life. At the heart of it all was the experience of sitting at the foot of the bed with my guitar, playing for a loved one as she died of brain cancer.

Finally I reached a point where I sense the presence of a force larger than me. And it’s not another person. I may have little time and patience for organized religion. But that feels very different from sensing something bigger than myself. Whether we call it ‘nature’, or ‘spirit’, or whatever… I know I’m part of it.

So how does this tie into leadership for me?

I was accepted into Leadership La Plata last fall, and over the past 7 months it feels like I’ve grown 7 years. As I dive more and more deeply into the concept of authentic leadership (using the concept of the Johari window as an illustrative tool), I’m learning that the intra-personal work I’ve been doing for 20 years — that is, learning about my limitations, my blind spots, the ways in which I’m selfish, arrogant, and insensitive as well as insightful, caring, and charismatic — is exactly the foundation upon which a good leader can stand.

But there’s more. There’s also a willingness to take responsibility. And that is a feeling that, in the past, I tried to dodge and deflect. It turns out that, for years, I’ve been giving about 20% of what I can give. More specifically, I’ve only been willing to reveal 20% of my gifts and talents to the world, because I was so afraid of getting ‘burned’; of not having what I need in life.

Now I see that my life is like the ultimate jazz trio… everything we need to make great music is right here in the room.

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What does compassion look like?

Friends,

If you know someone in southwest Colorado (or anywhere) who is considering getting a GED, I’m happy to answer any questions you may have.

And if you or someone you know has problems and thinks there is no way out except suicide, get help. TALK to someone. In the U.S., call 9-1-1.

I’m happy to help if I can. I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I can try to put you in touch with the appropriate community resources.

Here’s the catch: In order for any of us to get help, we’ve got to WANT to grow. We’ve got to WANT to make progress. If I make a call and then ignore the help that is offered and say, “Oh, well, they were no help at ALL!”, then I’m just copping out. Refusing to take responsibility for my own growth.

Tonbo (Dragonfly). Japanese calligraphy. Sumi ink on parchment. By Beth Wheeler.

I’ll be the first to say that growth can feel extremely uncomfortable. Like crawling through rusty barbed-wire and broken glass, on a good day. And there are sacrifices involved… once you grow and gain increased awareness, there’s no going back. You can never regain the ignorance that you once had. These are small prices to pay for the freedom, joy, and sense of power and self-worth that is available.

But no one can do it for me.

True compassion puts me in touch with this process and leads toward self-realization, inner-power and a true sense of self-worth. I think that’s why true compassion can take so many shapes. Someone getting in my face may appear to be unkind and uncaring. But if that person helps me to come face-to-face with my own avoidance techniques, my own pretzel logic, my own b.s., then it can help me move forward and grow.

If someone believes compassion simply means “being nice”, then they may lie to my face with a smile in order to prevent hurting my feelings. And to prevent experiencing the internal discomfort of taking that risk. Lie to me, tell me everything is fine… shield me from the truth… how can THAT be compassion?

I’m going to define compassion as ‘that which helps us, in any given moment, identify what’s needed to grow into fully-integrated adults’.

I guess we need another definition… I’ll define fully-integrated adult as “someone who clearly understands cause and effect and lives accordingly.”

What do you think, Gentle Reader? How do you define compassion? How do issues of compassion relate to your artistic process?

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Zen and the art of receiving gifts graciously

I don’t know about you, but I grew up hearing that it was better to give than to receive.

In fact, the way I learned it as a child, anyone receiving a gift without offering something in return was suspect. Selfish. Greedy. I realized quickly WHY it was better to give than receive: because then the other guy owes you one.

As a result, I’ve spent the better part of my life making sure that when it came to favors, I was always ‘even’. That way nobody could pin me down: “You’re just taking advantage of others!” Nope. Not me. In fact, I won’t LET anyone give me anything without reciprocating.

Talk about a head trip.

I’m learning that there’s more to it than my initial ‘black and white’ interpretation could contain. I have a good friend who has been lending me her bass and amp for the past few months. Last night while we were having dinner with them, she told me that she had decided to give me her bass and amp as a gift.

At that point, I had two choices.

One, offer her money for it. That would get me out of the bind of having to accept a gift and ‘owe’ someone. It would also kill any joy she might have had in seeing my face light up with delight at the thought of adding a bass to the musical toolbox.

Two, accept her gift graciously. From my old, ‘black and white interpretation’ standpoint, this was dangerous. But here in the land of the heart, where colors blend together in a beautifully human and messy way, it was actually the most loving response I could offer. It’s basically a way of saying, “I accept your gift. I accept your generosity. I accept your love.”

When someone accepts my love graciously, that’s the moment when the joy of giving washes over me the strongest.

Now I realize that there’s no time to waste with my old interpretation of the world, the one that demands that I protect myself and cover my ass by avoiding someone’s generosity. Someone’s love. Contrary to what I used to believe, it does not make me ‘a good guy’, ‘a fair and honest person’, nor a ‘martyr’. All it does is reinforce feelings of fear and distrust within me. And it’s a slap in the face to the person who opened his heart by offering the gift.

In fact, it’s a little ploy that many of us use on a daily basis to try to ignore the fact that we are all truly interconnected.

“Let’s pretend that there exists a separate “me”, independent of all living beings. That my position in the world and all of my successes are solely the result of my merit. Let’s make believe that all of my accomplishments and achievements are completely the result of my own efforts. That I’m not woven into the fabric of humanity; I simply observe it. In this ocean, I’m a drop of water that moves and acts independently of all others.”

When, in reality, simply opening our eyes reveals that we truly are all interconnected. There is no separate “me”. There never was. A bird sitting on a branch dies and falls to the ground. A flower blossoms in the daylight. Miraculous. And completely ordinary.

I wish I’d known this as a child… that receiving something graciously is a way of honoring the giver, and does not make me a bad person.

And now every time I play that bass, I can think of my friend, who gave it to me from a place of love. And I can smile. That joy can spill out into the music. Through the music. Interconnection.

How about you, Fellow Artist? How does giving and receiving influence your art?

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