Live Your Life and Risk It All!

One of the more difficult life lessons to learn has been to open up and allow my true self to be known by others. For much of my life the feeling hidden inside was “if you know who I really am you won’t like me”. The lesson that came slowly was my uniqueness was not a liability and was actually what drew people to me. Trying to be what I thought others wanted either drove them away or caused them to be somewhat stand-offish of the facade I projected. They did not know in what measure it was fake for certain, but sensed an uncertainty that keep distance present. When I allow the uniquely original nature of my authentic way of being, seeing and perceiving to show through is when I am apparently the most interesting. Who would have “thunk” it!

A great benefit of learning to be more openly authentic has been a few strong and deep friendships have grown and blossomed. Of course, that bond between friends is usually with people who are just as distinctive as I am (or  as “odd” if you prefer simpler clarity). After living long without truly close friends, it is with great joy that I have a few dear souls with whom I enjoy a warm and deeply trusting relationship.

It is said today we Americans have fewer true friends than ever before, replaced by lots of acquaintances. Research shows that having a large number of “casual friends” has become a sort of status symbol. It seems in modern society it pleases us to be able to say some one is a “good guy or good girl” based on limited contact. The great majority of the time such a description is made with the speaker having no substantial knowledge of the person being spoken about beyond their general public demeanor (which as often as not is only a projection of an image like I used to do!).

My discovery is friendship comes largely by chance. One never knows when meeting a person if he or she will become a rare true friend or another common acquaintance. Such knowledge only comes with time. My perception is the seed of friendship comes randomly like life does from a wind-blown seed. Once planted it lives or not based on the circumstances and environment it has been placed in. A flower seed that has sprouted in the yard can grow naturally on its own for the most part but the right attention at the right time can help it bloom with strength and vibrance.  And so it is with people and friendship. Some of the greatest blessings I have are those few friends who, with few questions, would show to help if I called at 3am in the morning saying I needed their assistance.

It is beyond my ability to express my gratitude in words for my few close and dear friends.  No matter how hard I might try, I would still be short of the adequate quality and quantity of words.  So instead I will do what I have learned to do when I don’t know how to express my gratefulness and simply say  “thank you”.

“Portrait of a Friend” – Author Anonymous

I can’t give solutions to all of life’s problems, doubts, or fears.
But I can listen to you, and together we will search for answers.

I can’t change your past with all its heartache and pain,
nor the future with its untold stories.
But I can be there now when you need me to care.

I can’t keep your feet from stumbling.
I can only offer my hand that you may grasp it and not fall.

Your joys, triumphs, successes, and happiness are not mine;
Yet I can share in your laughter.

Your decisions in life are not mine to make, nor to judge;
I can only support you, encourage you,
and help you when you ask.

I can’t prevent you from falling away from friendship,
from your values, from me.
I can only pray for you,
talk to you and wait for you.

I can’t give you boundaries which I have determined for you,
But I can give you the room to change,
room to grow, room to be yourself.

I can’t keep your heart from breaking and hurting,
But I can cry with you
and help you pick up the pieces
and put them back in place.

I can’t tell you who you are.

Live your life and risk it all.
Take some chances, take the fall.
Take your time, no need to hurry.
Have some fun, and never worry.

As Young As Your Faith

My life has been rich in many ways and one I become more grateful for as I age is all the people I have met along the way. Most I have had contact with would be nameless and faceless to just about anyone reading this, but some are names known by many.  My profession has allowed me to spend a little time with quite a few of the famous and notable.

A fair number of celebrities I am thankful for the opportunity to meet were outside the music business like Muhammad Ali, Sigourney Weaver and Norman Rockwell.  However, the majority of my ‘brushes with fame” have been associated with my profession related to the music business. The majority were rock luminaries (such as Steve Tyler, Phil Collins, Bob Seger) alternative rock stars (like Scott Weiland, Moby, Gavin Rossdale) and country recording artists (such as Reba McEntire, Ronnie Milsap, Tracy Lawrence).  The music celebrities I have met run ran the full gamut like people from all walks of life I have come in contact with: some were very nice, some were assholes and others left me feeling ambivalent about them.

I regret the opportunity to meet Dick Clark never came along.

There are two things which are constant reminders of my own mortality: watching children grow up and seeing the famous age and pass on. Yesterday, the death of Dick Clark hit me harder than I would have guessed ahead of time. It pained me to see him in recent years struggle after his stroke, yet I admire him for his courage to keep going.  To me he will always be that smiling, handsome guy on American Bandstand who also brought me into each New Year for most of my life.

One of my dearest friends did spend a good amount of time with Dick Clark and says he was just as nice and genuine in person as he appeared to be on TV. My time will come one day like it did yesterday for Dick Clark, but for all my days I will be grateful for his presence in my life down to being one of the influences for my chosing the profession that has been so good to me.

Thanks Mr. Clark!  I will not forget you!

You are as young as your faith,
as old as your doubt;
as young as your self-confidence,
as old as your fear;
as young as your hope,
as old as your despair.
Douglas MacArthur

Power of Secrets

Every one of us has a portion of their self-knowledge known to no one else. Some things are believed to be not worth telling; others are just very personal or embarrassing. Then there are our most closely guarded secrets. These privately kept facts run the gamut from innocent ones left from childhood to the secrets kept as adults that have rarely, if ever, told. Within the latter are often the kind of untold secrets that psychologists say can be poison to a relationship if their toxicity is bad enough or allowed to grow long enough.

From my personal path I know well the damage secrets can bring. I hid secrets of childhood and the resulting dysfunction so well that others hardly noticed anything was not quite right within me. I became quite a good actor and allowed no one to see past the illusions I projected. While the ability at keeping my secrets hidden grew, the toxic nature of them only served to make worse what was wrong within me.

The creator of an eight year effort called The Post Secret Project is Frank Warren. This began as way of him dealing with his own issues and has grown to include a secret told to told no one but written and mailed anonymously on a postcard to him by over 500,000 people. Warren says the secrets run from sexual taboos and criminal activity to confessions of secret beliefs, hidden acts of kindness, shocking habits and fears. Since November 2004, PostSecret has been a safe and anonymous “place” where people can relieve the burden of their untold secrets

Frank Warren said, It was through crowd-sourcing…the kindness that strangers were showing me, that I could uncover parts of my past that were haunting me… Secrets can take many forms. They can be shocking or silly or soulful. They can connect us with our deepest humanity, or with people we’ll never meet.

Here are a few “secrets” on postcards received.


Here’s a link to the website (a favorite!) for Frank Warren’s moving video about the Post Secret Project:

Today I am not completely free of secrets, but the big ones kept longest and feared most are no longer untold.  By revealing my deepest secrets others have responded with everything from kindness and understanding to ridicule and contempt.  What matters is I no longer carry any of that darkness inside and am outwardly the person as the inward me.  What a relief.  I’m free!  And I’m very GRATEFUL!

What is love? Love is when one person knows all of your secrets…
your deepest, darkest, most dreadful secrets
of which no one else in the world knows…
and yet in the end, that one person does not think any less of you;
even if the rest of the world does.”

Beyond My Ability

In only seven days I will have accomplished what seemed like an impossible goal when beginning. On Monday, April 25, 2011, I wrote the first daily installment of “Good Morning Gratitude”. Through vacations, sickness, business travels and days of all sorts I have somehow been faithful in focusing on a source of gratefulness each day then sharing it here.

There was inspiration far beyond just my singular existence that moved me to action. I have NEVER been this dedicated to anything, EVER!  Quite simply upon waking on that Saturday morning near a year ago I knew was supposed to write a blog each day about gratefulness. That was quite interesting as I had never written a blog or even read someone’s on a regular basis. That weekend almost a year ago was largely spent learning how to blog, setting one up, finding an available domain name and things of that sort. Now here I am, but only because something bigger than me planted my feet on this path and has supported my efforts all the way (especially when I was tired and wanted to take a ‘day off’!).

“You Are Blessed”

If you woke up this morning
with more health than illness,
you are more blessed than the
million who won’t survive the week.

If you have never experienced
the danger of battle,
the loneliness of imprisonment,
the agony of torture or
the pangs of starvation,
you are ahead of 20 million people
around the world.

If you attend a church meeting
without fear of harassment,
arrest, torture, or death,
you are more blessed than almost
three billion people in the world.

If you have food in your refrigerator,
clothes on your back, a roof over
your head and a place to sleep,
you are richer than 75% of this world.

If you have money in the bank,
in your wallet, and spare change
in a dish someplace, you are among
the top 8% of the world’s wealthy.

If you hold up your head with a smile
on your face and are truly thankful,
you are blessed because the majority can,
but most do not.

If you can read this message,
you are more blessed than over
two billion people in the world
that cannot read anything at all.

You are so blessed in ways
you may never even know.

Due to having religion shoved on me in an abusive childhood, “church” has never been a comfortable place for me. Praying to “God” as a kid for the bad stuff to end brought no relief. So He/She/It and I were never good ‘friends’. Life experience has brought change, growth and wisdom which in turn has brought me to believe there is a power beyond the bounds of this Earth. It is best for me to not try to quantify or to put what I feel into any particular definition as logic tries to disprove my feelings. Instead, I just accept that my “Higher Power” IS.

 In so many ways as in the poem here and beyond, I am blessed. For the divine inspiration to write here daily and for the tens of thousands of times someone has stopped by to read my thoughts, I am humbly grateful beyond my ability to express those feelings.  I never dreamed in my wildest imagination what has happened could have come to pass.

I am no longer a part of the majority of the blessed that can, but mostly do not express gratitude.  With emotions strong while typing though misty eyes I can truthfully say sharing my gratefulness with the world each day here has profoundly and permanently changed me.

Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues,
but the parent of all the others.

A Hair in a Biscuit

It’s Monday and time to head back to work. Time to put on business clothes, ready my work face and get ready for “meetin’ & greetin” people.

When meeting someone for the first time or often after not seeing a person for a while most in the western world shake hands. This used to be a gesture used largely by men, but in this age of improved gender equality shaking hands is just about as frequent for women. The ancient Greeks shook hands in similar fashion to how we do today as a gesture of friendliness, hospitality, and trust. In Europe during the Middle Ages, kings and knights would extend their hands to one another to show that they were not carrying a weapon and bore the other party no harm.

A “normal handshake” is described as: Firm; shake once or twice, but no more than three times; lasts for 5 seconds maximum. There are variations and anomalies.  Sales Psychology Expert, Dr. Gregory Stebbins has categorized what he calls the “Top 10 Handshake Types”:

1. Sweaty Palms – When a person is nervous their sympathetic nervous system often becomes overactive, sometimes resulting in sweaty palms.
2. Dead Fish – Indifferent handshakes that feel like the person has no bones in their hand often indicate a passive or reserved personality.
3. Brush Off – This handshake type is a quick grasp and then a release that feels like your hand being shoved aside.
4. Controller – You feel your hand being pulled toward the person or strongly guided in a different direction, perhaps towards a chair.
5. Politician – Your hand is firmly grasped as in a normal handshake. However, their other hand may cover yours or be placed on your forearm or shoulder.
6. Finger Vice – When someone grabs your fingers and not your entire hand it is meant to keep you at a distance.
7. Bone Crusher – The message of squeezing your hand until you cringe is clearly designed to intimidate you.
8. Lobster Claw – Like the claw of a lobster, the other person’s thumb and fingers touch the palm of your hand.
9. Hand Wrestler – Your hand is taken normally and then aggressively twisted under the other person’s.
10. Teacup – This handshake feels normal except that there is no palm-to-palm contact. The other person’s palm is cupped, like a teacup.

Then there is the more informal greeting expressed to those we often see or as a telephone salutation. I wonder how many times today I will hear “how are you” or some derivative such as “how ‘ya doing'” or “how you be”. Today I am going to attempt to keep count. As I do, I plan to hesitate a second before responding so I can notice how many actually wait for a response.

My usual response is “every day is a good day; some are just better than others”. Today I am going to try some new ones that I found on-line and see what response I get back from people. On my list to possibly use today are variations on the theme of my typical response, some just for fun and others on the wacko side.

Typical Responses
Getting better by the minute.
If I were any better there would be two of me.
Living and learning.
Excellent, but improving!
Doing great, in fact I can’t wait until tomorrow.
I am getting better every day.
Living the dream!
Feeling lucky and living large.

Fun Responses
If I was doing any better vitamins would be taking ME!
I am so excellent, if there was a law against it I would be arrested.
If I was any better I would have to run backwards to keep from flying.
My Mom tells me to quit smiling’ all the time or my face will freeze that way!
I’m still pleasantly pushing a pulse, thanks for asking.
If I were any better you’d have to tie me down ’cause I’d flying.
Happier than a cat in a room full of catnip.
I am functioning within established parameters.

‘Out there’ Responses
If I were any better, I’d need pom-poms!
Having more fun than a human should be allowed to have with their clothes on!
 If I were any better, Energizer would give me my own drum.
Hanging’ in there like a hair in a biscuit!
Much better .. according to my psychiatrist.
If I were any better, I’d have my own page on Wikipedia.
A bit gaseous…oh.. wait… never mind.
Totally Charged. Don’t get to close though, sometimes sparks shoot out my nipples.

After writing this piece I am in an incredibly good mood. Thinking about seeing people, shaking hands and trying some of these response lines to “how are you” have enhanced my day already. How cool! I am grateful.

We sometimes encounter people, even perfect strangers,
who begin to interest us at first sight,
somehow suddenly, all at once,
before a word has been spoken.”
Fydor Dostoevsky

One of the Few Havens

A good friend who knows books are prized possessions asked, “if you could only keep a few in your collection what would you pick?” This morning I spent about fifteen minutes looking from shelf to shelf in my library contemplating which of these “friends” I most prize. Here’s what’s in the stack on my desk I selected:

1 – “The Family Mark Twain”. Most all of Twain’s work in one volume. Sam Clemens had a style that speaks to me in a way no on else does. His sense of humor, adventure and speaking of the truth even when it was not popular moves my soul.

2 – “The Treasured Writings of Kahlil Gibran”. Again I am cheating just a little for a number of Gibran’s books are contained in this one big volume. He had a special way of writing that touches the fiber of my being with their emotional truth. It moves my heart.

3 – “Why Your Life Sucks..” by Alan H. Cohen. There is no modern-living handbook that lays out how to achieve some measure of contentment and happiness so practically. His advice can be life changing. It was for me! I re-read this book around every two years.

4 – “Learned Optimism” by Martin Seligman PhD. Through the knowledge in this book I came to know that Optimism or Pessimism is a learned/chosen way of being ingrained by behavior and manner of thinking. One can change/grow, it just takes time.

5 – “Man’s Search For Meaning” Viktor Frankl. From a man who survived the Nazi death camps with his sanity I learned first hand that the quality of one’s life is not so much about what happens, but how we each allow what happens to effect us.

6 – “Walden” by Henry David Thoreau. If I could keep two or three books this one would be among them. Thoreau wrote in a way that speaks authoritatively from first hand knowledge how his by-the-lake experiment showed how little a man actually needs.

7 – “The Power of Now” by Eckhart Tolle. What I needed showed up at the exact right moment. When I was truly ready to begin to learn a path to a better life, this book came to me through a friend. The past is a delusion; the future a delusion. There is only ‘now’.

8 – “Awakening the Buddha Within” by Lama Surya Das. This book and Tolle’s “Now” came into my life at almost the same time. Each compliments the other. It was here I discovered the enlightening ‘Eightfold Noble Path” I imperfectly do my best to live by.

9 – “Conversations with God” by Neale Donald Walsch. Traditional Christianity calls this book heresy, but I find it to contain a great deal practical advice about views of life and God. Fact or fiction, the contents set my mind at ease more so than ever before.

10.- “Additional Poems to the Golden Treasury”. Published in 1931, a copy of this little red book came to me over 30 years ago. More than any other factor it strengthened a still continuing love of poetry. My thanks to a one-time mother-in-law for giving it to me.

11 – “Letters of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett 1845-1846”. No greater love story has ever been. My first-edition copy of this two-volume set only came into my life about six years ago. Through reading them the hapless romantic was kept alive within.

12 – “Leaving Microsoft to Change the World” by John Wood. All I have to do is look at this book to be reminded one person can make a huge difference if prepared to do what is necessary to accomplish a meaningful goal. It removes doubt about the power of one.

13 – “Growing Yourself Back Up” by John Lee. Another of the books I re-read every year or two. Small, simple and easy to read it’s been a big help in reconnecting me with my inner child. Finding out about another’s path to healing helped to heal me.

There are more and as I wrote down this list here I thought of at least a half-dozen other book with deep personal meaning. However, I have resisted the urge to lengthen the list past my initial selections. All total I paid no more than a few hundred dollars for the entire stack of thirteen, but their continuing value to me is near priceless.

To the writers I am thankful for the help each gave to me. To an even greater degree I am grateful to whatever divine force that brought book and author into my life at a time I could appreciate and learn from each one.

A book is the only place in which you can examine a fragile thought without breaking it, or explore an explosive idea without fear it will go off in your face. It is one of the few havens remaining where a man’s mind can get both provocation and privacy.
Edward P. Morgan

Things Aren’t Always What They Seem

“Beauty,” said the Beast, “if my presence is troublesome, I will end our conversation and leave you. For tell me, do not you think me very ugly?”

“It is true,” said Beauty, “for I cannot tell a lie, but I believe you are very good-natured.”
“Yes, yes,” said the Beast, “my heart is good, but still I am a monster.”

“Among mankind,” says Beauty, “there are many that deserve that name more than you, and I prefer you, just as you are, to those, who, under a human form, hide a treacherous, corrupt, and ungrateful heart.”

Later: Beast opened his eyes, and said to Beauty, “You forgot your promise, and I was so afflicted for having lost you that I resolved to starve myself, but since I have the happiness of seeing you once more, I die satisfied.”

“No, dear Beast,” said Beauty, “you must not die. Live to be my husband; from this moment I give you my hand, and swear to be none but yours. Alas! I thought I had only a friendship for you, but the grief I now feel convinces me that I cannot live without you.”

No sooner had she said this than the hide of the beast split in two and out came a most handsome young prince. The prince told her that he had been enchanted by a magician and could not recover his natural form until a maiden would, of her own free will, declare that she loved him.

Thereupon the prince… was married to Beauty, and they all lived happily ever after.

The theme of beauty and the beast is things are not always what they seem to be. One should not be deceived by appearances for beauty lies within. One must rather try to look past what the eye can see and look inside that person where his/her true personality is found.

Another old tale about things not being always as they appear:

Two traveling angels stopped to spend the night in the home of a wealthy family. The family was rude and refused to let the angels stay in the mansion’s guest room. Instead the angels were given a small space in the cold basement.

As they made their bed on the hard floor, the older angel saw a hole in the wall and repaired it. When the younger angel asked why, the older angel replied, “Things aren’t always what they seem.”

The next night the pair came to rest at the house of a very poor, but very hospitable farmer and his wife. After sharing what little food they had the couple let the angels sleep in their bed where they could have a good night’s rest.

When the sun came up the next morning the angels found the farmer and his wife in tears. Their only cow, whose milk had been their sole income, lay dead in the field. The younger angel was infuriated and asked the older angel how could you have let this happen?

The first man had everything, yet you helped him, she accused. The second family had little but was willing to share everything, and you let the cow die. “Things aren’t always what they seem,” the older angel replied.

“When we stayed in the basement of the mansion, I noticed there was gold stored in that hole in the wall. Since the owner was so obsessed with greed and unwilling to share his good fortune, I sealed the wall so he wouldn’t find it.

Then last night as we slept in the farmers bed, the angel of death came for his wife. I gave him the cow instead. “Things aren’t always what they seem”.

What initially looks true may prove false. What first appears wrong may in time prove to be correct. Truth parading as a lie makes fact no less a fact, nor does a falsehood become factual just because it looks true. Things are often not what they seem to be.

The person I have been guilty of accepting lies and deception about most in my life has been myself! Who was the biggest teller of false things? ME!  For the longest time I tried to be what I am not and kept hidden who I really was  as I tried to please others. With much effort, help and healing my view of self has become more clear and, more often than not, is seen accurately now. In forgiving and accepting myself I befriended “the beast” thereby allowing love to replace my self-contempt.  I am grateful for the life lessons learned that allows the first real happiness of my life.

The greatest achievement is selflessness.
The greatest worth is self-mastery.
The greatest quality is seeking to serve others.
The greatest precept is continual awareness.
The greatest medicine is the emptiness of everything.
The greatest action is not conforming with the worlds ways.
The greatest magic is transmuting the passions.
The greatest generosity is non-attachment.
The greatest goodness is a peaceful mind.
The greatest patience is humility.
The greatest effort is not concerned with results.
The greatest meditation is a mind that let’s go.
The greatest wisdom is seeing through appearances.

A Master of Love

Once upon a time, a Master was talking to a crowd of people, and his message was so wonderful that everyone felt touched by his words of love. In the crowd there was a man who had listened to every word the Master said. This man was very humble, and he had a great heart. He was so touched by the Master’s words that he felt the need to invite the master to his home.

When the Master finished speaking, the man looked into the eyes of the Master and told him, “I know you are busy and everyone wants your attention. But my heart is so open and I feel so much love for you that I have the need to invite you to my home. I want to prepare the best meal for you. I don’t expect you will accept, but I just had to let you know.”

The Master looked into the man’s eyes, and with the most beautiful smile he said, “Prepare everything. I will be there.” Then the Master walked away.

At these words, the joy in the man’s heart was strong. He could hardly wait to serve the master and to express his love for him. This would be the most important day of his life: He bought the best food and wine, and found the most beautiful clothes to offer as a gift to the master. Then he ran home to prepare everything to receive the Master, He cleaned his entire house, prepared the most wonderful meal, and made the table look beautiful. His heart was full of joy because the Master would soon be there.

The man was waiting anxiously when someone knocked at the door. Eagerly, he opened the door, but instead of the master, he found an old woman. She looked into his eyes and said, “I am starving. Can you give me a piece of bread?”

The man was a little disappointed because it was not the Master. He looked at he woman and said, “Please, come into my house.” He sat her in the place he had prepared for the Master, and gave her the food he had made for the Master. But he was anxious and could hardly wait for her to finish eating. The old woman was touched the generosity of this man. She thanked him and left.

The man had barely finished preparing the table for the master again when someone knocked at the door. This time it was another stranger who had traveled across the desert. The stranger looked into the man’s face and said, “I am thirsty. Can you give me something to drink?”

The man was a little disappointed again because it was not the Master. He invited the stranger into his home, and sat him in the place he had prepared for the master. He served the wine he had intended to give the Master. When the stranger left, the man again prepared everything for the master.

Someone knocked at the door again. When the man opened the door, there stood a child. The child looked up at the man and said, “I am freezing. Can you give me a blanket to cover my body?”

The man was a little disappointed because it was not the Master, but he looked into the eyes of the child felt love in his heart. Quickly he gathered the clothes he had intended to give the Master, and he covered the child with the clothes. The child thanked him and left.

The man prepared everything again for the master, and then he waited until it was very late. When he realized the master was not coming, he was disappointed, but right away he forgave the Master. He said to himself, “I knew I could not expect the Master to come to this humble home. Although he said he would come, something more important must have taken him elsewhere. The master did not come, but at least he told me he would, and this is enough for my heart to be happy.”

Slowly he put the food away, he put the wine away, and he went to bed. That night he dreamed the Master came to his home. The man was happy to see him, but he didn’t know that he was dreaming. “Master you came! You kept your word.”

The Master replied, “Yes, I am here, but I was here before. I was hungry, and you fulfilled my need for food. I was thirsty, and you gave me the wine. I was cold, and you covered me with clothes. Whenever you do for others, you do for me.”

The man woke up, and his heart was filled with happiness, because he understood what the master had taught him. The Master loved him so much that he had sent three people to give him the greatest lesson: The Master lives within everyone.

Perhaps you have never thought about it, but on one level or another, all of us are masters. We are masters because we have the power to create and to rule our own lives.
You have the same power as any other human in the world. The main difference between you and someone else is how you apply your power, what you create with your power. Be a master of love!

For the small measure of enlightenment I have achieved there is deep gratitude to the many people and dozens of books that have helped light my way (such as “The Mastery of Love” written by Ruiz where the story above comes from).  To those whose thoughts, words and personal assistance pick me up at the darkest hours and help me carry my burdens, I will always be humbly and profoundly grateful.

A Prayer for the day: Today is a new beginning. Help us to start our life over beginning today with the power of self-love. Help us to enjoy our life, to enjoy our relationships, to explore life, to take risks, to be alive, and to no longer live in fear of love. Let us open our heart to the love that is our birthright. Help us to become Masters of Gratitude, Generosity, and Love so that we can enjoy all of your creations forever and ever. Amen.

Above story and prayer by Don Miguel Ruiz from his book “The Mastery of Love”.
You can read the entire short book by Ruiz for free here LINK

Think Low and Think High

All my adult life I have bumped into conclusions made logically by scientists and researchers that say a person’s creativity peaks when they are young. There is no real consensus on how young this happens. Hypotheses vary from those who say eighteen months to others asserting peak creativity happens around twelve just before puberty.

The theories are that creativity is at its highest level when young while we “don’t know better” and have not been conditioned by reason and conformity. This way of thinking says in order to coexist with other people we learn to follow the rules and adhere to certain values (which are usually more about what you can’t do that what you can).  The result is creativity has to be placed into a straight-jacketed so we can follow what has already been instead of reinventing our worlds every day like a child does. Growing up we are taught to be polite and nice to people, to fit in, to adhere to what is “normal” (whatever that is!) and not scare others with our creative thoughts.

At least to a degree schools are conformity camps that, in varying degrees, attempt to drill what is conventional and customary into kids. While learning about life skills like readin’, writin’ and ‘rithmetic we also get smart-stepped into doing mostly what others do and have done. Generally we are taught there is one acceptable, true way of thinking and there is most often only one right answer for a problem (the one the teacher believes). Largely we end up being awarded for writing well, following instructions and regurgitating facts, figures and formulas and NOT for creative and lateral thinking. We are taught to rarely, if ever, question the wisdom and supreme knowledge of teachers and professors.

Research has now begun to show in adulthood we usually do lose a great deal of our creativity but it is more by choice than the cognitive fading that comes with age. The number one culprit falls under the heading of ‘use it or lose it’; we simply stop trying to be creative. We begin to do things one way, we get comfortable, don’t change and settle into easy to follow and relatively mindless ruts.

Habits are not the only things that hide away our creativity.  Falling into the ‘expert trap’ obscures it too. ‘Experts’ usually spend more time defending their “hill” than questioning it or developing other approaches. It is easy to become “all-knowing” on a subject and fall into the habit of allowing knowledge make one feel obliged to it.

Eureka! Before all my middle-aged friends begin to wring their hands in “lack of creativity anguish” I want to turn what I have written so far upside down and include material from an article in Psychology Today By Shelly Carson, PhD called “Creativity and the Aging Brain”. She wrote: In a recent study… the University of Toronto found that older participants were… more distractible than their younger counterparts. However, members of this older, distractible group were also better able to use the distracting information to solve problems presented later in the study.

Dr. Carson goes on to tell about other studies on aging and cognition that suggest an aging brain is marked by a broadening focus of attention. She says this lines up with numerous other studies that suggest that a broadly focused state of attention is a trait found in almost all highly creative people. The data suggest widened attention allows one to separate and distinguish quickly all sorts of varying information. Combining remote bits of information is the hallmark of the creative idea, Dr. Carson writes.

Still other credible research shows that the parts of the brain concerning self-consciousness and emotions are thinner in the aging brain which lines up with a diminished need to please and impress others. Dr. Carson calls this, a notable characteristic of both aging individuals and creative luminaries. She goes on to say, both older individuals and creative types are more willing to speak their minds and disregard social expectations than are their younger, more conventional counterparts.

In pondering the subject of creativity and reading about it, my conclusion is older people have a storehouse of knowledge gained from living, learning and experience. Taking bits of that knowledge and seeing them in new and original ways is what a creative brain does. The only barrier to being an older creative type is simply habits and ruts.

Highly fertile ground for deeply creative activity exists in my aging brain. To have more creativity all I need to do is throw off old ways of thinking and allow new ones to come in. That thought will send me out into the world today with a happily altered view and a grateful (and hopefully more creative) mind!

Think left and think right
and think low and think high.
Oh, the thinks you can think up
if only you try!
Dr. Seuss

A Cow in the Car

Through a good bit of intention and healing, I began to have dreams again about four years ago after barely dreaming for a long, long time. Most every morning I awake now with bits and pieces of my nighttime subconscious wandering in my thoughts.  Much like one who has eaten spaghetti can end up with a few specks of sauce on them I may not remember the whole dream, but wake with little splatters of it on my mind.

This morning as I rose and began the transition from being asleep to an awakened state I was aware of a few random pieces from the night’s dreaming forays. One found me walking down the steps for side seats at an arena for some sort of show and I was dismayed there were no hand rails. In my dream my thoughts were someone was going to fall and get hurt so I made my way down carefully.

In another dream remnant I was younger and still lived with my first wife. We had just moved to a different house and opening the front door early in the morning I was dismayed to see she had let a cow spend the night in our car (the cow apparently came with the house?!). When expressing my displeasure about the damage the cow had done inside the vehicle, her reply was something like “it had to stay somewhere and I didn’t know where else to put it”. Just as odd was the car I imagined was actually one owned a LONG time ago; a mid-70’s burgundy Pontiac Grand Prix “land-yacht”.

A hundred years ago Sigmund Freud thought dreams were a secret windows into the frustrated dreams of the unconscious and believed sex was the root cause of what occurs while dreaming. Dr. Freud opened the door to modern psychoanalysis and made many lasting contributions, but many of his thoughts about dreams, including that dreaming is all about sex, have been proven to be hogwash. Can you imagine what Freud might have said if I could have told him about my dream of the cow staying overnight in my car? Even the thought makes me laugh out loud!

Letting the thoughts about last night’s dreaming kick around in my head I got curious to know a little more and did a little surfing on the ‘net. First, I discovered most people over the age of 10 dream at least 4 to 6 times per night during REM sleep (Rapid Eye Movement). During REM periods our brains become as active as they are during waking, although not all parts of the brain are reactivated. Dreaming periods vary in length from 5 to 10 minutes for the first REM period of the night to as long as 30-35 minutes later in the night. Too bad we can’t remember them in detail as I bet they’d make great books and movie scripts sometimes!

Next I looked into what generally people dream about frequently. The following is a composite list from several sources of what is said to be the most common subjects for dreaming:

Being chased – Thought to be an indication of a threat that is felt in waking life.

Missing an important event because of being late – Looked at to be regret over a missed opportunity, inability to make a connection, or desire to pull oneself together.

Finding yourself naked in public – Perceived to have to do with feeling exposed, vulnerable and/or awkward and may or may not have any sexual meaning.

Falling – General interpretation is falling indicates feelings of insecurity, lack of support or feelings of isolation (common among professional men and women).

 Flying – Felt to represent ambitions and the important part is said to be how you are flying: successfully, trying and failing, flying high or low as possible, etc.

 Losing teeth – Thought generally to indicate insecurity about appearance. Also, since teeth are used to bite, chew, and tear, some dreaming about losing them can mean a loss of power or fear of getting old. (most common among menopausal women).

 Snakes – Many dream analysts believe dreaming of snakes signifies some hidden threat. Also, since snakes shed their skin, some believe dreaming of them may also signify renewal and transformation.

 Trapped – Perceived to mean one feels they cannot change their situation and are trapped by it; literally locked in a cage of sorts in real life.

I rarely stew about the subjects of my dreams and my memory of them evaporates quickly anyway for the most part. However, my dream about the cow spending the night in my car will be the subject of amusing thought for a good while to come. That dream image is vivid in my mind even as while writing this and makes me smile at its absurdity! Today I am grateful simply to have dreams, whatever they mean.

Dreams are answers to questions we haven’t yet figured out how to ask.