Compassion...Necessity or Luxury?

I recently had to fly from England to the United States. Upon boarding the flight and well into take off, there was an infant crying and his mother doing her best to ease him during this transition. There have been a multitude of instances I have witnessed with similarity while traveling. Many of you who travel frequently undoubtedly experience this. However, this was the first time I allowed myself to become an observer instead of reacting right away. I was able to survey the other passengers nearby and take note of the various expressions imprinted on their faces. Some faces registered looks of annoyance or frustration. While other expressions embodied genuine concern and empathy.

What kind of expressions would your face have, (regardless of your own perception of applying your version of a poker face)? How would your feelings be towards the child’s mother? Would they be a projection of your reaction-regardless of the response? Or would your perception be one of feeling for her and the child-trying to connect with them and attempt to relate with a moment in your own experiences similar to the one unfolding?

The capacity for love and compassion exist within all of us. How often do we consider the bigger picture in our various experiences each day? Being aware and more importantly practicing empathy is the path to the embodiment of love and compassion! Once you make a conscientious and daily effort to connect and feel someone's experiences and relate them to your own, then the empathy muscle is being worked and strengthened. Do you remember a moment when someone told you, “I feel your pain.”?

We are hard wired to be seen, heard, appreciated, and loved! Sharpening your awareness to the conditions of others will allow you to connect with them, as well as yourself on a more visceral level. Your practice will then lead to a higher connection by virtue of empathy. Ultimately, compassion becomes the ingrained byproduct of exercising empathy. We will fruitfully exist because of mutual aid and cooperation-not as a result of the survival of the fittest. Embrace compassion!

Are You Prosperous?

A few years ago, I had the pleasure of being invited to hang out on the set of a popular American television show. It was amazing to bear witness to the inner-workings of all of the interactions that everyone had with each other behind the scenes. After the taping and broadcast of the episode, there was a pretty large gathering of all of the people in a backstage area, (contestants, judges, musicians, attorneys, press, crew, and families). I noticed that a star was in the area but was off to the corner. This celebrity looked unhappy and very lonely-a dark energy seemed to surrounding this person. There are moments when we can discern the difference between someone having a challenging day from those who carry a heavy energy around with them everywhere they go. This is someone who many people admire and may even look up to-someone who seems to have all the pieces in place for success. One who could be perceived as very “prosperous.”

If you are prosperous, what does it mean? Does it mean that you have a huge sum of money? Influence? Fame? Are you fulfilled? Are you busy engaging in a zero sum mentality?

Quite often, we sometimes get caught up in what we do not want. We all have the ability and responsibility to shift each of our paradigms to become congruent with a mindset of abundance. Let's concentrate our energies and focus on exactly what we do desire. Many of us may already have the bounty that we truly seek. Thus, we are already prosperous!…and continuously blossoming.

Do you?

-have a good education (formal and or informal)

-have reliable transport

-engage in your passions 

-know that you and those that you care about are safe

-have meaningful work

-have an adequate source of money

-have optimum health

-manifest what you dream

Are we truly grateful for all of the blessings that come our way? More importantly, have we purged the feelings, moments, and things that add clutter to our lives - in order to make the space for the abundance that we really want? Know exactly what you need and create the capacity in your life to receive the new gifts that will appear!

Do What You Say

I recall performing a show for a huge crowd of people in a known and respected venue a few years ago. Our band played three 55 minute sets and 2 encores! Everything about the moment fell into place. The sound and lighting were "spot on" and a packed audience was jumping throughout the evening. Feeling emotionally fulfilled and exhausted, it was time to pack up, collect our pay, and load out.

However, at the conclusion of this evening, the booking agent who we made the agreement with was no where to be found! One of the bartenders was calling his cell phone and sending texts...NO Response. This booking agent never returned any calls or texts thereafter. Needless to say, we were never compensated for that night’s performance.

Integrity is the currency that builds trust. Imagine if you are not making regular deposits into the bank? What will you have left to withdraw? What happens if you neglect reinvesting back into yourself and the others around you? Will your loved ones trust you? We have a responsibility to fulfill the obligation once we make a commitment. Integrity is manifested once we take action and deliver on our promise.

Cultivating any meaningful and fruitful relationships requires the exercise of integrity. I will add one addendum to this Mark Twain quote, "We ought never to do wrong when people are looking."...as well as when they are not looking.

Do you make promises? Are you delivering on those commitments? Do what you say and invest each time with integrity!

Changes in Perspective Unlock Ignorance

Was there ever a time you went to see your favorite artist perform live and walked away from the concert knowing that, what you just heard did not exactly match the recordings that you are accustomed to hearing? I have definitely had my fair share of these moments. Some questions may follow: Why did the overall sound seem muddy? How come I couldn’t hear the singer? Why did I just see the drummer hit the cymbal and I am hearing it a split second later?

It is convenient for many of us to make judgements hastily when we feel like our experience seems out of line with what we may have initially anticipated. 

“The singer is straining too much and a bit off…”

“All I hear is bass…or none…”

You are merely perceiving these moments from that one particular reference point! The venue that you are sitting in may have been better designed to have sporting events instead of concerts. Your seats could be located in a bass trap. Or, you my be nestled off to the side of the stage and picking up more stage volume than the full sound being pumped towards the front of the house.

What would the same music that you are hearing sound like from:

…behind the main sound board?

…behind the drums on the riser?

…behind the stage?

…the nose bleed seats way up in the back?

…the front row?

You will undoubtedly recognize a noticeable difference in how the music will sound in each of these various perspectives! So…How can you possibly have a complete and true understanding of any occurrence which is being presented to you if your perception is limited?

Make the effort to see, hear, touch, taste, smell, and feel a particular phenomena from different angles. Expand your awareness! This will sharpen your acumen.

Does More Freedom Lead to Independence?

Have you ever attended a jazz show? One, where all of the musicians on the bandstand are reaching for and expressing themselves at their optimum levels of creativity. They are making their own choices while collaborating! There is this flow to the music and overall energy which takes you to another place…it is transcendent.

The freedom of expression is magnificent, but comes with a collective understanding within thegroup: the performers, crew, and the audience. Such an event, like many similar to it, exemplifies interdependence. Being interdependent is to be mutually reliant upon one another. Human beings are inherently wired to do just that! 

Independence is the opposite. It is not reliant on support, control, or aid from others. Think about what occurs when a surgeon removes a tumor from someone's body. The tumor then becomes independent from the support of the networks in the body. It will then cease to grow.

In order to create…to innovate…to lead, you must accept great responsibility. More freedom is then acquired once you make that decision to own these traits and the obligations that materialize when exercising authority. You will gradually move away from allowing other people and systems to decide for you.

An effective leader realizes that growth is reliant upon connecting and synthesizing. Just observe any living organism. The overall collective of billions of cells depend on each other in order to thrive- the complete opposite of being independent. This means celebrating the small victories of others as well as your own. It also requires transparency and accountability when setbacks occur.

Decide! Choose to make choices! Obtain a greater degree of freedom. You will then realize the importance of interdependence amidst others as well as our environments.

Step Outside the Crease....Be a Pioneer!

December 8th, 1987 was one of the most notable dates in NHL history. I remember watching this game between the Philadelphia Flyers and the Boston Bruins and witnessing an event near the end of the game that none of us who ever followed hockey have ever seen. After lifting my jaw off the floor, I was still trying to process the first time a goaltender-my favorite goalie nonetheless, at the professional level actually shot the puck into the opposing team's net and scored a goal! This was never done before. Sure, Billy Smith was the only goalie ever credited with a goal on November 28th, 1979. However, Ron Hextall became the first one to take the puck onto his stick and fire it nearly 200 feet, placing the puck in the lower right corner of the 4 foot by 6 foot cage.

This feat provided a huge step towards the evolution of the game of hockey and the goaltending position. Goalies are tasked with making sure the puck does not enter their net from the opposition's shots- they are the last line of defense. There is a 6 foot by 8 foot area marked and shaded which is located in front of the opening of the net. This area is known as the crease. It is where the goaltender spends the majority of his or her time. One can think of this spot as a safe haven for the goalie- a place where he or she can not be interfered with.

Ron Hextall was the first one to have the audacity to leave his crease well beyond just stopping the puck behind the net. He would dart into the corners, as well as venture beyond the face off dots- unseen with goalies prior to his arrival. He chose to leave the comfort zone of his crease and add another dimension to his position. Eventually, the next wave of keepers became better puck handlers. It is now a requirement for an elite goalie to skillfully handle and shoot the puck in today's modern game.

Imagine if Hextall was not willing to leave his crease as often and as far as he did? Would today's game be more exciting and faster than it ever was before? Are you willing to endeavor outside your crease? Do you have the courage to innovate? Are you a pioneer?

TRUST...How can it be restored?

We are all living in times where many of us are scratching our heads and trying to evaluate what is true apart from fiction. The overload that we are constantly served on a daily basis has turned into a loud buzz of noise that dominates what is supposed be knowledge and or "discussion." Whoever is shouting the information the loudest-regardless of it's integrity and credibility, seems to be "winning." However, much of these offerings have become a murky pool of stratagem. So much so, that it personifies all of the background noise from a packed food court at a mall...the clarity is lost.

What if we choose to add value and make our current environments more improved by adding a dose of humility? How about if people are presented with empowerment for solutions-backed by action from within their own communities? This would make their lives better!

Misdirection is designed to make us feel like we do not have the power within us to make these priceless contributions. Do we have the chutzpah inside ourselves to unplug from all this chaos and honestly ask ourselves, "What can I offer to others to make their lives better?" Instead of, "What's in it for me?"

Each one of us has some sort of potential that needs be realized and then developed into an offering of ideas, (backed by the continuous sharpening of skills) so that the lives of others will be improved. I am urging you to realize that there is no real winner in a zero sum game-like the one we have been fed. If our intent stays true, (to others as well as ourselves) then the path to integrity gets paved. Once, we foster integrity, the truth driving the intent will be out in the open-there will no longer be a need to mask it! Trust will ultimately burn through the fog of all the white noise-provided we learn to say what we mean and do what we say-and more importantly for the benefit of others. The ability to remain sincere and vulnerable while giving, loving, and receiving takes real courage! How can you contribute? Will you build trust?

The Illusion of Security

 

Many of us who grew up in a typical middle class family in America over the past 50 years have been fed the following blueprint: 

- Do well in school (e.g. getting good grades)

- Get into college in order to pursue a "practical" degree

- Graduate and find a "real" job

- Work hard, get married, buy a house

- Set aside some money for retirement (e.g. 401k plans in my generation)

...wash, rinse, repeat...and then retire. This seemed like a pretty simple formula when our parents and teachers were drilling it into us. After all, it appeared to work for them and those that came before. However, those of us who had this model presented to us and are approaching the middle phase of our lives are faced with a rude awakening. A good number of us invested into a model that is obsolete and being phased out before our very own eyes. The industrial revolution consisted of a model that worked well for over one hundred fifty years. Human kind was able to make huge leaps in technology and streamline processes in order to create more for a larger number of people and cheaper. We found ways to do it so well that our industrialized societies ended up in surplus-which then led to the paradigm of consumerism, (which is a whole other conversation).

Now we stand at the threshold of the early stage of the information and connection economy. The game has already changed and wiped out many of the traditional hierarchical models that the Industrial Age instituted, (e.g. The music business). This world will require all of us to accept more responsibilities and lead. We can no longer clock in and clock out and just coast. 

This is our time to synergize our skills, experience, and passion in order to work along side one another and add greater value! Change is ongoing and will never cease. Life is movement and a willingness to adapt-unlike rigidity. Choose to develop yourself and then become a servant of many!

In the "Now Here"

Imagine going to a concert and witnessing a group of musicians who are virtuosos. Everything that they play seems so effortless and sounds fluid-you can lose yourself in the moment. Have you been able to recall an athlete who just takes over the game and accomplishes what most of the other skilled players in the game may have trouble executing so gracefully?

When you are able to be truly present in the moment, then you may be finding yourself accomplishing certain feats with ease...It's not that laboring is it? Too many of us are inundated with so much information and live incredibly busy lifestyles. Many times, we catch ourselves thinking about what has happened in the past. Or, we are fixated on the future and what may become...or not.

I remember seeing the words "Now Here" on the front step of a 17th century brass bell maker in Innsbruck, Austria. These words woven into the door mat instantly grabbed my full attention. It is as if the letters jumped out, grabbed a hold of me and shook my being. After pondering the significance of these two simple words, my playing and approach to the drums shifted drastically for the rest of the European tour that year! Nothing felt forced or too cerebral. A super conscious plane was reached! Needless to say, from the clouds of the past and the fog of the future, a clarity emerged that put each living moment into sharp focus.

Be in the Now Here! That is where the magic happens.

Comfortable Being Uncomfortable

 

The phone rings and it's an unfamiliar number. You pick up anyway. The person calling you needs you to perform with their group that same evening! However, there are no charts and no time to rehearse. They tell you that the spot will have drums and you will just need to bring a few things.

Once, you arrive at the venue to prepare, you notice that the drums are in poor condition and the bandleader who is hiring you is arriving just before downbeat. Now, you really need to try to catch all you can on the fly for the sets of music that await. Some minor adjustments and then it's time to take the plunge!

How many times were you called upon to deliver with: little to no prior access to proper materials, new environments, teams of people that you never collaborated with, and minimal to no supportive resources to guide you? ...while remaining centered and focused-yet flexible.

Stanley Cup winning coach Ken Hitchcock shared these simple words when asked about his players and how he helps shape their collective approach, "...be comfortable being uncomfortable." 

We are living in a time where scenarios, technologies, and decisions continue to change at an increasingly rapid pace. The ability to adapt and make decisions at the blink of an eye are now a necessity and longer a luxury. Those who get comfortable doing the same things and recycling the same strategies and paradigms are doomed! 

Changes are challenges. Continue to embrace being in uncomfortable terrain and you will eventually become comfortable in any situation!

Cultivating Discipline and Focus

The alarm sounds and the time reads 4:15am. These are the coldest parts of the day during typical New England winters. Then it's off to the rink after drinking something warm and putting the goalie equipment in the trunk of the car. All of us on the varsity hockey team have to be on the ice by 5:30am, immediately after off-ice dynamics. The pace and drills are always held at a rigorous tempo. The final part of practice, wind sprints, would wrap up around 6:40am. After practice, we had to squeeze in a shower and go to class. Off-ice training was held 3 days a week after school. This was a typical daily routine for my high school hockey team mates and me from November through March every school year. Oh...by the way I was also a drummer for the jazz ensemble and played percussion for the school's other ensembles in the music program. Yes...I did need to find some time to practice my craft and prepare for the performances as well.

So...if you have a passion (or a few), then how can you develop the discipline in order to sustain and grow once you do commit to pursuing your chosen endeavor? If you already have that discipline, then that is fantastic! You are to celebrate this strength! But...have you been able to sustain and build on that foundational discipline? Are you consistently re-investing your energy back into sharpening the focus which is required for long term excellence?

*Discipline!

Is this a trait that can be cultivated?

Value your time! Money is something that you can get back. Time is gone once it passes. No one is able to re-live the time that has already happened. Thus, you must begin by learning how to say NO! Saying no to certain requests that do not add value to you or your goals will provide the foundation of how you prioritize. You can begin by saying "no" to your snooze button! There were many Friday nights in college that I chose to go to my rehearsal studio and practice, instead of a night of hanging out at a bar and drinking. You can also decide to make similar choices too!

*Focus

Why are you not able to focus? Can you improve it?

Would it be realistic if I asked you to practice drums 4 hours a day if you are just beginning? Of course not! That would be overwhelming. I have found that the "how" you practice pays longer dividends than the mere duration of time and the large quantity of material you may think you are covering.

True concentration is not possible with distractions. No TV! No devices...(unless they are being used in Airplane mode). There are studies that prove that you will leave a "residue" on the brain from the distracting stimuli. Over time this residue of distraction will accumulate and make it more difficult to fully engage in the act of whatever you are practicing and or creating.

Set aside shorter chunks of time without the distractions. You will gradually add on more time to these durations. This will eventually extend the amount of time that you may be able to invest into your passion and purpose. Ultimately, your focus can become crystal clear!

To Serve is to Lead

What do Mahatma Gandhi, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Teresa, and Nelson Mandela have in common? Yes, they all stood for what they believed and brought many people together. These people also became leaders by the actions they took. However, when you look closer at the lives of these influential humans, they put serving others for greater causes before themselves!

The service is to provide meaningful contributions that are required in order to add value to the lives of those who are in need. The acceptance of doing the proverbial heavy lifting when no one else will, sets the stage for building that initial trust. Those who need you to lead them will see that you are taking the action and providing the value that is congruent with the movement of the tribe.

The most powerful and meaningful way to lead is to actually live the message and provide significant value for others in this world. Anyone can use lip service to demand respect, physical force, or throw a lot of money at others to do what is merely willed. These acts do not empower others. The aforementioned methods are finite and usually lead to imposing force upon others. This in turn can only lead to fear. Love, respect, compassion, and overall growth in human potential are severely stunted once fear is introduced into the same space.

The ubiquitous thing about leadership is that we all have the capacity within ourselves to become leaders! Finding ways to serve others beyond our own self interests becomes the ideal springboard towards influence. Ask yourself, does it really cost you to give? Or is it an investment?