My New Book Living More Than OK

My New Book Living More Than OK
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Monday, January 21, 2013

Take a Risk and Dive In

In everyone’s life journey we face turning points where we need to make a choice. That choice always involves a risk to some level as we do not know the actual consequences to our choice. We can speculate and strategize but bottom line we do not know exactly what will happen until we take the risk to choose. Even not choosing is a risk as we may miss out on great opportunities or relationship developments by not choosing.

Part of risk taking is getting to the point where we take a leap of faith. We then dive into the water of our choice and experience the results of our choice. As I was thinking about the risks that are involved in our choosing process the song “Dive” by Steven Curtis Chapman. Take a few moments to watch the video and soak in the ideas found in the lyrics.

Dive by Steven Curtis Chapman (click on the title to see the video)

long-awaited rains have fallen hard upon the thirsty ground
and carved their way to where the wild and rushing river can be found
And like the rains I have been carried here to where the river flows, yeah
My heart is racin' and my knees are weak as I walk to the edge
I know there is no turning back once my feet have left the ledge
And in the rush I hear a voice, it's telling me it's time to
Take the leap of faith So here I go
I'm diving in I'm going deep In over my head I wanna be
Caught in the rush Lost in the flow In over my head I wanna go
The river's deep The river's wide The river's water is alive
So sink or swim I'm diving in I'm diving in

There is a supernatural power in this mighty river's flow
It can bring the dead to life, and it can fill an empty soul
And give a heart the only thing worth livin' and worth dyin' for, yeah
But we will never know the awesome power of the grace of God
Until we let ourselves get swept away into this holy flood
So if you'll take my hand, we'll close our eyes and count to three
And take the leap of faith Come on let's go

It is interesting to me that this song came to mind as in my one Psychology course this week I have been doing readings in Existential Psychologists Victor Frankl and Rollo May books. Their thoughts revolved around in our human journeys they state we seek meaning and through our personal beliefs we create significance by our choices. The song in its context is looking at risk in the spiritual life. Hearing the voice of God and diving in to follow His calling. The analogy of water relates well to the spiritual life. In the Old Testament the children of Israel pass through the Red Sea. In the New Testament Jesus speaks of rivers of living waters. From my Christian worldview the life of faith is a risk. To me the risk is worth it as Diving in provides meaning and purpose in understanding grace and the faith walk with God.

In the sense of looking at these lyrics from the general standpoint of risk the concepts can relate to any risks we face at turning points in our lives. When we are at a turning point in our life the feelings about our environment are like in a barren thirsty ground. The choices we face in those times are a risk that gives us that weak in the knees sense like is described at the song’s beginning. It is at that point we need to use our reason and weigh out the choice we need to make. I know the song speaks of the “leap of faith” but we have been created as reasoning beings so the risk options should be weighed first. Then the dive occurs when we make the choice. Our choice is the leap of faith as we fully can not calculate what the consequences will fully be. Our choices bring meaning to the next direction in our life journey. Whether spiritual or non-spiritual a picture of flowing down a river is an effective metaphor of our life experience after major choices in our lives. Often initially we feel like life is floating by as a rushing stream. Are you ready to dive into life?

Reflect over a turning point in your life. What was the risk or risks facing you lat the time? What choices did you make? How was the river ride at that point in your life? Moving into this New Year are there major choices to make? Have you considered diving deeper into the spiritual realm of life?

Friday, January 18, 2013

Television, Groucho Marx and Reading

While I was working on putting together a newsletter for an association I belong to, I needed a quote on reading. I came across this one by Groucho Marx, “I find television very educating. Ever time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book.” I relate well with the comment as I have never seen much educational value in the television and would much rather read a good book than stare at what my mother always called the boob tube. Dr. Harold Bloom in his book, How To Read and Why, said this to the issue, “A childhood largely spent watching television yields to an adolescence with a computer, and the university receives a student unlikely to welcome the suggestions that we must endure our going hence even as our going hither: ripeness is all. Reading falls apart, and much of the self scatters with it.” (pg. 23).

I have seen this in the College environment as fewer students can be found reading in the lounge areas. Instead they are staring numbly at their phones or ipads. When I can steal a glance on their screens it is most of the time of videos or movies. Which is why I am glad Dr. Bloom brought up the computer as for High School and College students they get much of the media watching on the computer and now ipads. How does staring at these screens for hours help anyone develop stronger thinking skills or creativity? With the constant barrage of videos and movies the mind is mostly passive. They do not think through what they are seeing as there is not enough time to think as the images come too fast. So for the most part, this activity does not build critical thinkers. The students will even say they are not thinking just watching as they want to chill out. Where is the creativity of the mind as well? The videos and television spoon feed the creativity as there is nothing for the imagination to work with. All the creativity is given. In a book the mind is actively seeking meaning of what the author is saying. In a story the reader is encouraged to expand the mind and see the mountain scenery, what the space alien looks like, or the chase scene looks like. So reading builds creativity skills where the television promotes a mediocre mind at the best.

In a culture that does not encourage reading just mind numbing media watching we then wonder then why college students complain about having to read textbooks. Society wonders why these college graduates can not communicate professionally after they graduate when all they know how to do is stare at images on little squares of plastic? Of course it is not just young people as our culture is degrading away from being readers, and instead near all constantly are found to be mind numbingly staring at the cell phone. It is affecting all ages. Recently our family was at a restaurant and there was an older couple with most likely their older son in the next booth. All three had cell phones out either blankly staring at them or their thumbs were wildly moving texting. We all three just looked at each other shaking our heads in unbelief. Food was the only thing that could pull them from their little squares of plastic. What does the future hold with this activity increasing? As a Counselor -- possibly steady work in working with people with communication disorders. I would rather see people growing in their minds and self being, which is one by product of a society that encourages reading.

I am not totally against television -- there are some beneficial shows. There is also a point to the issue that for some a mind numbing show can be a stress reliever. My concern is do you need 3-4 hours of that kind of stress relief during the evening? Do you then need in every free moment to stare at one of your favorite shows or videos over and over again on your cell phone? Do you need that much passive input in to your mind without actively thinking? One news radio I was listening to in the car during a commute was mentioning back during the Party Conventions for the Presidential race more people were watching a show called Honey Boo-boo than the conventions. Here we were at a crossroads as a country economically and other struggles, and people wanted to watch a show called Honey Boo-boo? To me that is a sad state of affairs. My wife and I just once watched the show to see what people were so excited about and we quickly turned it off in disgust after 10 minutes. It goes back to critical thinking of what are people feeding into their minds? What we feed into our minds has an effect. I believe even more so for the passive media watchers there is an effect unconsciously. If it doesn’t why would companies spend millions for 30 second commercials?

This brings me full circle back to Groucho Marx’s comment at the beginning. How are you using your free time? What are you feeding your mind with? I am not saying do away with all media watching but to build your mind and personal creativity add some reading in to the mix. I will end with another quote by Dr. Harold Bloom, “Ultimately we read – as Bacon, Johnson, and Emerson agree – in order to strengthen the self, and to learn its authentic interests.”

Reflection: What are you reading as you start your New Year? Go to your local library and look through the topics you enjoy and find a few new books you wish to read this year. If you commute try listening to audio books as you drive.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Creating Your Happiness Road

Life is a journey and our power to choose helps to create the pathway. We can either trudge along stress-fully with a woe is me attitude that makes it seem like the road is rocky and painful. Or we can glide along a happy trail attitude where we may still have rocks along the way but life is smoother as we make wise positive choices.

This second mindset of happiness choices is a focus of a book of short essays by Tal Ben-Shahar PhD. He is one of the leaders of the Positive Psychology movement. I will always count it a privilege to have heard his lectures on Positive Psychology through a University of Pennsylvania Continuing Education online program a few years ago. His new book I am reading at the start of this new year is Choose The Life You Want: 101 Ways to Create Your Own Road to Happiness. It is a grouping of 101 thought provoking essays for living a better happier life.

In the very beginning he reminds the reader that in each of our moments we have a choice to make. Each of our choices have consequences. He states, “what we choose to do and how we choose to think directly impact how we feel.” When we are faced with difficulties we can choose to think that life is against us and continue in a negative life is a grey cloud pathway for understand rain falls on everyone and use the difficulty as a turning point to move in a positive direction. Some of the topics he touches on are: making a difference, forgiveness, focus on your strengths, look at difficulty as a challenge, appreciate good things, patience and success. In the tiny book there are 101 ideas on helping you have a happier life.

His title reminded me of an old Roy Rogers and Dale Evans song, Happy Trails. Here are the lyrics:

Happy trails to you, until we meet again.
Happy trails to you, keep smilin' until then.
Who cares about the clouds when we're together?
Just sing a song and bring the sunny weather.
Happy trails to you, 'till we meet again.

Some trails are happy ones,
Others are blue.
It's the way you ride the trail that counts,
Here's a happy one for you.

Happy trails to you, until we meet again.
Happy trails to you, keep smilin' until then.
Who cares about the clouds when we're together?
Just sing a song and bring the sunny weather.

Happy trails to you, 'till we meet again.

The lines that stood out to me were: “Some trails are happy ones, Others are blue. It's the way you ride the trail that counts, Here's a happy one for you.” This speaks to what Dr. Ben-Shahar is trying to get at in his book. Positive Psychology does not rule out the Blue days that some our way. But how are you riding the trail? Even on the blue days you can have a song in your heart or in other words work on positive choices that help the ride go more smoothly.

Pick up a copy of this book for yourself or encourage your local library to add it to their collection so you can start creating your happiness road in this New Year.

Reflection: What kind of road are you traveling presently in your life journey? What are three things you can do to make your road a little happier?

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Running After Your Dream

I always like to start the New Year looking at dreams I have had in the previous year and looking at new dreams I want to move towards in the new year. I am a believer in dreams as they are a motivator in living a more than ok life. Writer, Sara Henderson had this to say about dreams, “Always live your life with one dream to fulfill. No matter how many of your dreams you have realized in the past, always have a dream to go. Because when you stop dreaming, life becomes a mundane existence.” So how do you wish to start the New Year? Just existing or Living More Than OK?

I want to look at running after our dreams by reflecting over a song by Tom Petty, “Runnin Down A Dream”. If we are a dreamer we need to be active in following the dream process. We can’t sit passively waiting for life to happen to us, otherwise we will find time passing us by. Take a few minutes to look over the lyrics and listen to the embedded video

"Runnin' Down A Dream" by Tom Petty (click on the title to hear the song’s video)
It was a beautiful day, the sun beat down
I had the radio on, I was drivin'
Trees flew by, me and Del were singin' little Runaway
I was flyin'

Yeah runnin' down a dream
That never would come to me
Workin' on a mystery, goin' wherever it leads
Runnin' down a dream

I felt so good like anything was possible
I hit cruise control and rubbed my eyes
The last three days the rain was un-stoppable
It was always cold, no sunshine

Yeah runnin' down a dream
That never would come to me
Workin' on a mystery, goin' wherever it leads
Runnin' down a dream

I rolled on as the sky grew dark
I put the pedal down to make some time
There's something good waitin' down this road
I'm pickin' up whatever's mine
Yeah runnin' down a dream
That never would come to me
Workin' on a mystery, goin' wherever it leads
Runnin' down a dream

The beginning of the song gives a picture of someone driving down the highway with the radio blaring and he is singing along with the old 1960’s song “Runaway” by Del Shannon. I don’t know if you are a singer in the car. I can relate to this picture as many times when I am driving by myself I am singing to the music I have on. Often back in my college days of driving between Chicago and Ohio I would also use this time to think about life and plans I had and this appears to be happening in the story of this song.

Back to the idea of our dreams, the chorus states, “runnin down a dream that never would come to me”, goes to the thought that we must be active in the process. The dream will never come to us -- we need to work on it for it to come to fruition. A passive person who is not involved with life will not see their dreams fulfilled. We have to put the pedal down and start moving for what we want out of life. We need to create a goal out of the dream and make plans on how to achieve it.

The song also says “workin on a mystery, goin’ wherever it leads.” To me this relates to how sometimes our dreams change by events and Divine Intervention. Life is a mystery at times and if we are in step with God as we travel it we can marvel at the mystery and go with the flow of life. Sometimes that mysterious flow moves us right into our dream as we envisioned it. Sometimes there are the 3 days of rain and the dark skies mentioned in the song. In those times if we let go and let God lead; the dream result turns out better than we could ever imagine.

I like the attitude seen in the line, “There’s something good waitin’ down this road”. We need to start the year with a positive attitude that God will have good things in store in this year’s journey. It is easy to be negative by looking at the news of the troubles in our country and world. But the negativity of the news will only shut you down with passivity from runnin towards your dreams.

Reflection: Write down a new dream you want to run towards this year. Maybe take a drive and sing along with a song and a new dream may pop into your head that way. Also keep an open mind to God’s mysteries He may have in store this year on your life journey.