More With Less: The Importance of Strengthening What Matters

Fishing Boat

“Beware the barrenness of a busy life.” –Socrates


Have you ever shared the the experience of frantically searching for something that, ironically when you find it, has been right in front of you the entire time? Perhaps a set of keys? Glasses?  A favorite hat?

There’s a name for this phenomenon. It’s called a schotoma – a fancy sounding term for a mental blind spot. Subconsciously, we all build mental blind spots in our lives. The causes are varied, most often innocent and harmless. Most schotomas are rooted in pre-existing beliefs or triggered by our penchant of moving too fast to recognize the simplicity of a solution at hand.

A couple of weeks back, I experienced a friendship schotoma with a small group of old friends. It was perfect timing. Nearly the end of 2016. Year end. Inevitably, a time for reflection on the joys, difficulties, triumphs, and most meaningful events of the past year. This moment was no exception.

The past 12 months have been a whirlwind for literally everyone I know. Perhaps it’s just my peer group, and the stage of life we’re in, but everyone seemed overwhelmingly busy with work obligations, family matters, caught up in a frenzied fuss of community and world affairs.

In the United States, we’re coming off a toxic election year, responsible for draining the positive energy from many. Post-election attitudes continue to fuel feelings of fear, resentment, anger, and on the opposite side of the spectrum, nurture prejudicial surges of boldness and entitlement. Our country is more divided and dangerous than it has existed in generations.

So many people seem constantly stressed. Not just stressed. Overstressed. Struggling through and from crisis to crisis. Searching for the next clear sunrise and stretch of calm waters that will signify everything will be okay. A recent study showed 1 in 5 American adults regularly use anti-anxiety medications. That statistic is not okay!

Amidst all the busyness (or business) of life, the simplicity of what really matters is too often being lost.

“There is more to life than increasing its speed.” –Mahatma Gandhi

A couple week’s back, in casual conversation, I shared the frustration of ‘being busy being busy’ with an old friend. We soon realized our schedules were mirror images, and neither of us had spent in-person time with our core group of friends for way too long. We agreed it was time to get a small group of friends together…for simply no reason at all.

The next weekend we made it a point to connect at one of our homes. Five friends. Simple fellowship. Fresh food, authentic conversations, liberating libations, and a whole lot of trash talking over the pool table. It was fun, fulfilling, healing. It was human.

The experience reminded me of a story I first heard many years ago, originally written by Heinrich Boll. It’s a fable about the interaction between a humble Mexican fisherman and a driving American businessman. This quick parable is an absolute gem of one-minute-wisdom.

The Mexican Fisherman & the Harvard MBA

A vacationing American businessman standing on the pier of a quaint coastal fishing village in southern Mexico watched as a small boat with just one young Mexican fisherman pulled into the dock. Inside the small boat were several large yellowfin tuna. Enjoying the warmth of the early afternoon sun, the American complimented the Mexican on the quality of his fish.

“How long did it take you to catch them?” the American casually asked.

“Oh, a few hours,” the Mexican fisherman replied.

“Why don’t you stay out longer and catch more fish?” the American businessman then asked.

The Mexican warmly replied, “With this I have more than enough to meet my family’s needs.”

The businessman then became serious, “But what do you do with the rest of your time?”

Responding with a smile, the Mexican fisherman answered, “I sleep late, play with my children, watch ball games, and take siesta with my wife. Sometimes in the evenings I take a stroll into the village to see my friends, play the guitar, sing a few songs…”

The American businessman impatiently interrupted, “Look, I have an MBA from Harvard, and I can help you to be more profitable. You can start by fishing several hours longer every day. You can then sell the extra fish you catch. With the extra money, you can buy a bigger boat. With the additional income that larger boat will bring, before long you can buy a second boat, then a third one, and so on, until you have an entire fleet of fishing boats.”

Proud of his own sharp thinking, he excitedly elaborated a grand scheme which could bring even bigger profits, “Then, instead of selling your catch to a middleman you’ll be able to sell your fish directly to the processor, or even open your own cannery. Eventually, you could control the product, processing and distribution. You could leave this tiny coastal village and move to Mexico City, or possibly even Los Angeles or New York City, where you could even further expand your enterprise.”

Having never thought of such things, the Mexican fisherman asked, “But how long will all this take?”

After a rapid mental calculation, the Harvard MBA pronounced, “Probably about 15-20 years, maybe less if you work really hard.”

“And then what, señor?” asked the fisherman.

“Why, that’s the best part!” answered the businessman with a laugh. “When the time is right, you would sell your company stock to the public and become very rich. You would make millions.”

“Millions? Really? What would I do with it all?” asked the young fisherman in disbelief.

The businessman boasted, “Then you could happily retire with all the money you’ve made. You could move to a quaint coastal fishing village where you could sleep late, play with your grandchildren, watch ball games, and take siesta with your wife. You could stroll to the village in the evenings where you could play the guitar and sing with your friends all you want.”

This lesson of this tall tale is powerful: What really matters may be simpler and closer than what we think. Or, in schotoma thinking, it may be existing right in front of us the entire time.

For the sake of our collective mental health, we should seek to identify and claim our happiness-hampering schotomas on a regular basis, while perhaps simultaneously re-thinking society-ingrained beliefs that bigger is always better, more is necessary, and faster is the best way.

Sometimes simplicity, and our ability to recognize what is most important in the simplest manner possible, is the most important thing of all.

What really matters to you? What is of paramount importance in your life? Is it family? Friendships? An evolving relationship with Creator? Money or career? Happiness? Joy? Physical fitness?  Mental health? Love and relationships?

After identifying aspects of life that are most important, a great next step will be to prioritize these items from most important to least important. Then proceed to live life forward with greater simplicity and focus on top priorities…or, what really matters.

While it may seem contradictory, having a lot of everything is about as fulfilling as having nothing at all. It’s better to go deep than go wide. We must seek to recognize and solidify the simple strengths in our lives.

For however tall and wide a tree grows, its roots and underground support system grow equally deep and wide. This is what allows that tree to stand strong, weather storms, and grow to even greater heights. This is an amazing image to visualize as we seek to recognize, simplify, and strengthen what is most important in our lives.

In some small way, I hope this article has sparked a desire within someone to better seek and recognize the most important ingredients in life, and strengthen what truly matters.

Thank you for reading…wishing wellness and empowerment your way,

Dr. J

Transforming a Fearful Nation: Real World Expressions of Power vs. Force (Part 1)


“You cannot fix what you will not face.” –James Baldwin

A few weeks ago my 5-year old son wanted to have a party. Just a few friends over, play some games, run around the house, do what 5-year-olds do. No problem. Friends and fellowship are always welcome. But first he was instructed to clean his room.

After the usual hemming and hawing he conceded, trudging downstairs toward his room. Get your work done first, then reward. That’s been our household code of conduct since day one. Twenty minutes later he comes bounding upstairs, beaming a smile as wide as the wing tips of the toy airplane held in his hands.

“I’m done!” he exclaimed, “Room’s all clean!”

A short time later I’m down in his room checking out his work. At first glance the room appears spotless. Nothing on the floor. Bed made. Everything looking orderly and neat. Then I open the closet door and a cavalcade of clothes, toys, papers, and miscellaneous-items-from-who-knows-where come crashing to the floor.

Of course, he didn’t really clean his room. He simply moved the clutter and unsightly mess into the closet, closed the door, and hoped for the best.

Too often I observe a similar “Band-Aid” approach when dealing with injuries and pain in my private healthcare practice. A patient presents with a painful neck or back, but instead of wanting to address the source of their pain they prefer to consume a steady stream of pain killers to “feel better and heal”.

They appear surprised when I inform them the drugs aren’t doing a thing to help heal them, but are simply blocking the pain signals from traveling from the source of the pain through their nervous system to their brain.

“The painful problem is still there,” I express. “You just can’t feel it.”

The drugs are masking the pain. Temporarily hiding the pain. Acting like a Band-Aid over a cut. The cut is still there, it is simply being hidden from view by the Band-Aid.

Rule #1 in fixing a problem: Get to the root of the problem and address the cause, or guaranteed the problem will return.

This “treat-the-symptoms” approach seems inherent to much of humanity, and perhaps more importantly, expected by most of society. At all levels. Even with regards to a subject as ingrained and important as race-relations in America.

Out-of-sight-out-of-mind seems the preferred approach of many people when confronted with the nation’s dilemma of racial discord. Whether based in fear, pre-conceived bias, ignorance, or perhaps just plain laziness, a worrisome portion of the population exhibits no desire to address originating sources or roots of racial divide in the spirit of building toward a better, more genuine and harmonious future.

A few days ago, along with approximately 80 million other viewers, I watched the first presidential debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Following the debate the online world was abuzz with people feeling a need to share their most memorable takeaways from the opinionated clash.

My heart-stake takeaway moment occurred around the topic of race-relations, when the moderator asked the candidates what they would or could do to help heal the race divide in America.

Donald Trump’s eager reply was, at least in my mind, the same sort of culturally blind, race-privileged, pro-slavery view we might expect to hear in the confederate south prior to the abolition of slavery in 1865.

Moderator to Donald Trump: “What would you do to help HEAL the racial divide?”
Donald Trump: “Two words….LAW & ORDER.”

His answer appealed perfectly to his base of supporters, nourishing their fears of change and avoidance of difference, speaking nothing of the causes or sources of racial division, offering no constructive input that may help heal and deal with such divisions from the inside-out.

Instead, his answer was a super-adhesive Band-Aid solution of law and order. An attempt to make the problem appear calm, clean, perfect, and non-existent. Or, much like my 5-year-old, throw everything in the closet, close the door, and hope for the best.

Definitely not the unifying visionary leadership we may hope for from a leading presidential candidate. Rather the same forceful rhetoric of superficial solution that has been voiced for a couple of centuries. This at a time when America’s racial divide and discord exists as great, if not greater, than it ever has in the nation’s 240 year history. In a sense, a fitting testament to the snail-like evolution of racial cohesion that continues to exist in various segments of the country.

“Society constantly expends its efforts to correct effects instead of causes, which is one reason why the development of human consciousness proceeds so slowly.” –Dr. David Hawkins, Power vs. Force

Without question, Mr. Trump’s statement of law and order was a reference to the recent rash of clashes and civil disobedience protests held in major cities around the nation. Protests staged by significant numbers of citizens and groups in response to highly publicized and unjust police shootings and killings of people of color.

To be clear, unfair police violence toward people and communities of color is nothing new. The only thing new has been the smartphone technology allowing these acts to be captured and shared, literally in real time, with millions of people around the world. What used to occur regularly in the dark has now been brought to the light of the world, rightfully triggering the outrage and reaction it so justly deserves.

Newsflash to Mr. Trump and his band of merry supporters who seem to be constantly asking the question, “Why can’t things stay the same, like they were many years ago, and make America great again?” Life moves forward, karma exists, and nothing stays the same forever.

In a constantly-evolving reality you either grow, adapt, and innovate…or find yourself left behind. You would think that Donald Trump, as the amazingly successful (extremely questionable?) business tycoon he claims to be, would realize the importance adaptive evolution in the healing, health, and progress of an evolving nation. A nation he wishes to make great again.

Donald Trump’s greatest political strength has been his ability to perceive, concentrate, and voice the fears of his narrow-minded base, swirling and expanding those fears like a master charlatan, and channeling the energy of those fears in a hate-mongering way toward groups such as people of color, immigrants, Muslims, and more.

One of my favorite post-debate comments regarding the majority of Trump supporter’s dominating views toward people of color as one of America’s greatest problems came from a cousin in Ohio, a proverbial battleground state where racial divisions are great. I share the following spiel, which she wrote on her social media timeline, with permission:

All people of color don’t live in the inner-city. All people of color are not poor. The great majority of people of color are law abiding. All people of call don’t idolize church leaders. People of color don’t hate cops – we don’t like the bad ones and want them held accountable to the laws. We are tired of the stereotypes and labeling which leads to profiling. Simply stated, most people of color simply want to be left the hell alone, want disparities to close, and want the same equal treatment and privilege as everyone else. Make that happen and America won’t be great again, it will be great for once.”  -Monica Bowles

Make that happen and America won’t be great again, it will be great for once.

What a brilliant, human, and real statement. So authentic and personal, from a hard-working woman of color sharing a humanly universal desire to be treated fairly, without bias, and on a same-level playing field in a nation still ripe with opportunity to allow its growing population to achieve the greatest freedoms and successes the mind can imagine.

It’s a statement that could easily be directed specifically toward the ideology desiring to place people of color in a box and hide that box someplace distant. An ideology that would prefer to engage iron-handed law and order to maintain a pseudo-peaceful status-quo, silencing voices that are being treated unfairly and inequitably, wishing the difficult race conversation would simply go away.

No one, including myself, believes that bridging difficult racial divides on a mass scale will ever be easy. There is no one-size-fits-all answer or solution to the questions of healing existing disparities, inequities, unfair treatment, and brutalities woven as deeply into the nation’s creative fabric as the higher hope-filled ideal America yet has the potential to become.

Still, difficult questions must be addressed at their root, and truthful answers attempted in response to the question, “What would you do to help heal the nation’s racial divide?

Necessarily, there will be individual answers and answers of the collective. Like science, there is a very real possibility that more answers will lead to more and more questions. Each of which will have to be addressed layer-by-layer, much like the unpeeling of an onion.

Eventually, perhaps, these micro-undertakings will reach a critical mass, causing an unprecedented shift in the conversation which will truly address legitimate root causes of America’s racial divide. There is great work to be done, on both sides of the equation.

But first, the existence and ongoing reality of America’s detrimental culture of fear must be realized and understood. America’s culture of fear, so easily exploited by a rabble-rouser such as Donald Trump, is paramount in people’s avoidance of difficult race conversations and ongoing behaviors associated with prejudice and partisan pride.

The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown. –H. P. Lovecraft

Fear is at the root of many human shortcomings and behaviors, including how we often perceive and interact with other human beings. While familiarity fosters comfort, that which is unfamiliar, unfortunately, too often triggers unnecessary caution and fear. Unnecessary fear too often prevents constructive communication, interaction, and keeps groups of people bound in senseless bubbles of pseudo self-preservation.

Of course, fear exists for a reason, and at times serves a purpose necessary for survival. Like when we may be approached by a hungry bear while walking alone in the woods. In terms of civilized human interactions, however, fear too often acts in a detrimental manner, erecting walls and barriers to meaningful exchanges and collaborations that could allow us to realize how much we have in common, and that our similarities far outweigh our differences.

Part 2 of this series, Transforming a Fearful Nation: Real World Expressions of Power vs. Force, will focus on the concept of fear. How to recognize unnecessary fear. How to overcome fear. How to move past fear into the realm of courage, where amazing results may exist and occur.

But for now, as a reminder lesson from Part 1, remember Rule #1 in fixing a problem: Strive to get to the root of the problem and address the cause, or guaranteed the problem will return.

As always, thank you for reading…wishing wellness and empowerment your way,

Dr. J

The Truth About Sympathy, Empathy & Race in America (Version 2.0)

*portions of this piece were first published in the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s “The Village” Blog on December 15, 2014

Father & Son Smiling
Photo Credit: Katherine Harris

“We have no need for your sympathy. We welcome your empathy. We require neither to grow into the highest versions of human being Creator would intend us to become.” 

This morning I was burdened by a disheartening and uncharacteristic thought regarding my 5-year old son. Anybody who knows me knows he’s my life, pride, and joy. It was fleeting thought, passing almost as quickly as it occurred, but it occurred, and the fact it occurred speaks vulgarly of the cause.

In the wake of two more fatal police shootings over the past two days of Black men in the United States, one of which occurred in our hometown of Minneapolis / St. Paul, I had a natural desire to keep my son close. Upon waking this morning I decided to keep him home from daycare to spend the day together.
Then the enigmatic, fleeting thought occurred, “I wonder if he’d be safer spending the day at daycare, or with his mother or female cousin, instead of spending the day with me, a black man in America?

What kind of B.S. is that? What kind of psychological imprint must exist for such a thought to originate in the mind of a father? Chillingly, I realized if this thought could occur in my mind, as blessed, grounded, and optimistic as I am, what of countless others who may be less fortunate? The mental anguish being experienced by Black people in this nation hurts my existence to the very core.

I am an optimist by nature, the blessed second son of a father who was humbly raised in a small African Canadian town near the border of Detroit, Michigan. My father never knew his father, yet he strived, matured, and developed to become the kind of man every fatherless child looks up to as a strong male role-model and father figure.

My wife and I are in our forties, now raising a Black Son in the United States…and the optimism is waning. We live relatively well. I practice my passion as a natural healthcare provider, we are business owners, giving and striving to be the best examples of success we can in an urban setting of a major US city.

From the outside looking in life is good, with a beautiful family, comfortable home, and solid social ties, but from the inside looking out, as a community-vested Black Man in the United States, life is an everyday battle pitting individual and group self-worth against a society repeatedly showing disdain, disrespect, and ultimately contempt for the lives of young black men.

The air of racial tension in the United States is burdensome; a heavy and ever-extant cross to bear that is present in every waking facet of life. As a Canadian growing up near a border city, I used to marvel at the change in racial climate and energy the moment we crossed the border. Not to say racism and prejudice do not exist in Canada, they do, but in the United States these negative elements are super-charged and ever-present, like a destructive cancer on steroids spreading to every vital element of an aging and illness-infested body.

Today the disturbing image of Philando Castile, the innocent young Black man shot four times and killed by a policeman in a nearby suburb of the Twin Cities during a questionable traffic stop, slumped in the driver’s seat of his vehicle, dark red blood covering the front of his white t-shirt while his girlfriend live streamed the aftermath of the shooting on Facebook, is vivid on my mind. I hear the innocently compassionate voice of their 4-year old daughter, who was in the backseat of the car at the time of the shooting, trying to comfort her mother shortly afterwards while they sit in the back seat of a police car before being taken into custody and separated.

My son unintentionally glimpsed the graphic, bloody image of Philando Castile being shown on CNN as the story played heavily on the 24/7 news networks. He asked me about it. Hesitantly, I tried to play it off, saying it was TV, like as a movie, or make-belief, but I know he knows the truth. Kids are smarter, more comprehending at a younger age, than we give them credit for. There have been other similar race-related incidences close to home, like Jamar Clark, who was killed less than a mile from our house. Intuitively my son has picked up on race-themed crisis-conversations taking place.

Daddy, only if people are brown, the police shoot them, right?”

A question asked yesterday evening by my son. He has yet to attend his first day of Kindergarten. To those who would minimize, or outright dismiss, the notion that a problem even exists, or acknowledge that a problem exists but feel it’s all a self-inflicted exercise in self-pity and woe, here’s a question. How would it feel to have to answer such a question to your 5-year old child? How would it feel to second guess spending a day in public with your child for fear your very presence may put their safety in jeopardy? How insane is it, really, to even contemplate such questions?

To dispute there is a problem that a disproportionate number of Black people are unjustly killed at the hands of police year after year in the United States is a willful refusal of reality. In words of the iconic American writer Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Your actions speak so loudly I cannot hear what you are saying.”

I pay respect to a few of the fallen by writing their names…Mike BrownEric Garner, Walter Scott, Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, Freddie Gray, Sean Bell, Alton SterlingAmadou Diallo. Just a sample of the higher publicized cases we know about. Research the real numbers, the cases we know about, and the list is staggering.

All these killings are evidence against perhaps the most famous sound bite from Martin Luther King Jr’s most famous speech, in which he proclaimed, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

Created equal? Definitely. Valued and treated equally? Not a chance. The only self-evident truth regarding the treatment of Black people in America, especially young Black men, is their lives are not regarded equal. Unequally, all we hear is a broken record of recurrent themes and happenings in a nation warped and wrapped around indoctrinated prejudicial traditions, beliefs, and policies at its core.

Enter the dialogue of sympathy, empathy, and race in America. A look at the reactionary protests sparked by the most recent round of police killings and we see the disenfranchised, suffering, and moral minority striving to find effective voices and means to express frustrations, hurt, and anger. Black Lives Matter. Respect. A look at the social-media reactions of the rest of America, even well-intended individuals of other races joining with the protesters, and we see a plethora of pity posts or inflammatory rants, sympathy gestures, pure hatred, disdain, but very little empathy or true desire for change.

The difference between sympathy and empathy is major. Both are acts of feeling, but only one constitutes a true act of compassion that may potentially lead to authentic change. Sympathy is an act of feeling sorry for another individual or group without the ability to truly understand what they’re feeling. Conversely, empathy is a shared feeling – the ability to mentally and emotionally place oneself in another person’s shoes, to have an accurate sense of what they are experiencing and feeling.

Empathy requires mental work and imagination, or a similar life experience, to attain. Sympathy requires lip service and a brief acknowledgment, but no real feeling. Empathy is active, while sympathy is passive. By its very nature the word “active” implies movement; the word “passive” implies stillness. Movement is necessary for change, and change is necessary for progression.

As a nation, the United States needs to embrace the ideals of empathy, not sympathy, if its ever going to turn the corner on race relations. If a corner needs turning before a rumbling freight train falls off a cliff, then the crucial corner must be turned. In 1903 W.E.B. Dubois wrote, “The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color-line.” In 2016, one hundred and thirteen years later, it appears the problem of the 21st century remains the problem of the color-line.

How’s your level of optimism regarding race-relations doing today? That’s a question for people on both sides of the equation. Are we willing to come face-to-face with past or present privilege and disenfranchisement, and what can be done to bring a fairer chance of equity and equality across the board? Are we willing to have difficult conversations, and engage in self-empowering actions to shift from victim to victor mentality? Or do we even possess the desire or capacity to care?

Perhaps the greatest beauty of an idea is its indestructibility. Ideas exist forever. Combine that existence with the notion that nothing can stop an idea who’s time has come, an now is the time to move America beyond the deeply entrenched racial and prejudicial doctrines binding its blessings. There is incredible strength in collective mindset and motion, and that power can be used for good or evil. A collective vision of cohesiveness, communication, and unity has the power to loosen constraints and bring a torn nation together, moving us together toward a better common goal.

What good is a rant about problems without suggestion of solutions? We all have valid ideas, from simple to complex, which may help heal our lives, communities, and nation. What are some ideas and actions that might help this country to move in a direction more akin to the language, yet beyond the bleached vision and version, the forefathers envisioned?  Like many others, I have a few opinions. Here are three of my opinions regarding race in America that quickly come to mind:

1) At the highest level, there is a spiritual solution to every problem, including America’s race problem. Not a religious solution, but a spiritual solution. There is a big difference. By a spiritual solution I’m not suggesting the grace of a Higher Power to intervene. Rather, as individuals and a nation we must tap into the spiritual core that exists within each and every one, at our highest level of being, and allow that source to guide our actions daily.

2) There is no need to pretend everyone will or must always get along, but we can and must cordially co-exist on many different levels. Some individuals may intermingle races, cultures, social and economic stratospheres, while others may never evolve to this level of being. Some will choose to stay secluded and limited in closed-minded places, for whatever reason. That’s reality. That’s fine. However, within this model, we must prevent privilege, power, and authority from monopolizing opportunities of fairness, equity, and equality against the disenfranchised, poor, and oppressed. The pursuit of an equal playing field is a fight worth fighting. It is the essence of the American ideal of the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness.

3) An unprecedented shift in mindset is necessary on both sides of the race equation for meaningful progress to be made. For some, this mindset-shift will require the recognizing and acknowledgment of privilege, past and present, and asking what can be done to help reconcile unfairly gained privilege. For others, this mindset-shift will require the implementation of self-empowerment goals through means of self-responsibility, once again illuminating the victim-to-victor pathway and journey.

A people taking charge of their situation, striving for self-improvement through self-change, will necessarily become a successful and respected people.”

At 240 years old, the United States of America is still a relatively young nation. A young nation exhibiting the learned behaviors and growing pains of a bad, spoiled, and selfish childhood. The race, class, and privilege conflicts ingrained and currently on display in this country are, as Malcolm X said in 1963,  products of the chickens coming home to roost. It’s a karmic law – we reap what we sow. None may know the time, place, or how, but good will be rewarded with good, and the opposite will infinitely reign true.

Children require time, and some very trying and difficult times, to grow, mature, develop, and evolve. Hopefully the evolution is for the better. A person who views the world the same at 75 years old as they did at 25 has wasted a half century of their lives. Consider from where we’ve come. See the direction we are going. Envision a best case scenario where we may end up. It is my hope and prayer the United States of America may evolve into a much better and greater place.

For the record, my son and I enjoyed an excellent day together. For him, I will always be an example of strength, communication, love, and compassion, regardless what the world may label me. For him, I remain “Super Dad!”

Together we send thoughts and prayers of comfort and strength to all those going through anxious times during these difficult days. Stay the course. Continue to fight good and righteous fights in a positive way, and know every effort, down to the smallest effort, is not in vain. In the simple and prolific words of an old friend, “We’re all in this together.”

Thank you for reading…wishing wellness and empowerment your way,

Dr. J

 Legacy Lives Forever…and We Can All Leave a Legacy

Minneapolis downtown purple

“Write your eulogy while you’re alive…then go out and live a life that will make that eulogy 100% authentic, accurate, and proud.” –Dr. Juneau Robbins

Minneapolis, April 21, 2016 – It was one of those rare moments in life when you will remember exactly where you were, what you were doing, and who you were with when you heard the news. A surreal moment in time, shocking to your core. Every detail will be remembered as long as you live, with extreme vividness, as if you could re-live the moment in real-time, anytime.

A prideful city learns the loss of its greatest son. The nation and world is dazed, saddened and surprised to learn the loss of an amazing musical icon. By nightfall powerful pictures of cities and buildings around the world (some expertly photo-shopped by mourning fans blurring lines between fact and fiction) are bathed in a peaceful glow of purple light, paying tribute to the loss of purple royalty. Prince Rogers Nelson has transitioned to the other side. The artist known as Prince has died.

Living in Minneapolis, specifically North Minneapolis where the Artist was raised and matured, makes the loss feels incredibly personal. It’s more than the simple loss of a musical icon whose creative genius we all grew up with, evolved with, through the last several decades. In Minneapolis and immediate surrounding areas the personal imprint and touch of Prince’s influence is everywhere. From family and childhood friends, to legendary night spots, to eyewitness accounts and tales that would be difficult to believe if they involved anyone other than Prince. But the greatest tribute of all exists in the countless stories of Prince’s humble, personal, and generous giving spirit.

During the course of our lives each of us will experience several of these rare, captivating, and time-freezing moments. They will be very personal in nature. Not intentionally chosen by us, rather chosen by our era, upbringing, greatest influences, and values. Many of these time-freezing moments will revolve around death. The death of a loved one, the untimely death of an acquaintance, or the passing of a major public or social figure whom we revere. The strongest memories of the lives of people who die, once the shock, mourning, and healing run their course, lives in the legacy of how these people contributed to the betterment, or detriment, of humanity.

 Have you ever thought about how you want to be remembered?

Legacy is an interesting concept. Obviously Prince’s most visible legacy will be his forever musical gift to the world. The way he impacted countless lives worldwide, including my own, through his gift. He was a genius-level talent. An original, innovative, never-satisfied perfectionist who elevated all around him to another level versus settling for anything less than achieving the full potential of his vision. That’s a powerful legacy in itself, without even mentioning the seven Grammy Awards, over 100 million records sold, Academy and Golden Globe Awards, and induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Right now there are just over 7.4 billion people alive on earth. Statistically, greater than 99.9999% of the world’s population will never stand a chance of leaving a creative-genius legacy approaching anything near the level of Prince. But there’s another side to Prince’s legacy. A quieter, less glamorous side that most of the world will never know. His legacy of giving.

Whether gifting a small, inner-city school $200,000 to continue educating an under-served community, or paying a fellow musician’s medical bills, or helping outfit low income home owners with solar panels to decrease their monthly energy bills, or financing a program to help low-income kids learn computer coding, Prince was a generous philanthropist. Not only in the sense of giving money, but in the giving of his attention and time to identify worthwhile causes, imparting his influence and love to the betterment of people in need. The anonymous and selfless manner in which he consistently attempted to help people in need is a form of legacy that can be pursued, and achieved, by each and every one.

How do you want to be remembered when you die? What do you think others will say about you?  How are you treating other people? Not just people you like, but also those with whom you have disagreements? Will your legacy be one of living, giving, and love? Or one of selfishness and pettiness, known only for personal pursuits.

There is nothing wrong with personal pursuits. We all have selfish ambitions and goals we wish to pursue, but a full and fulfilling life requires balance, including what we receive and what we give. Our everyday actions are contributing to memories that will outlast us and the legacy that will outlive our physical existence.

I’m recalling the words shared on my father’s funeral program just a few short years ago. He was a servant-leader, humble to the core, a retired high-school teacher and small-city politician, who positively impacted the lives of many people daily in a very modest way. Some of the last words written about him were:

“A Life Of Abundant Love, Service to Fellow Man, Calm in the Midst of Conflict, Inspiration and Wisdom Shared, Is a Life Well Lived. You Will Be Missed. Thank you.”

Simple. Beautiful. If you’re struggling with thoughts of what your legacy may be, begin with being kind. People may forget what you do, but they will never forget how you make them feel. In the big scheme of things life is short and can be very unpredictable. Make a point to enjoy the time you have, tell those you love how you feel, and have no time for long grudges…either forgive or forget (that doesn’t mean repeat!). Plan for the inevitable (life insurance, will, etc.), and don’t die with your music within. If you have a dream, make every effort to pursue it. Don’t leave this life wondering what if?

Today Minneapolis held an incredible all-day block party in honor of our fallen Prince. It was a celebration. His untimely death was a hurtful loss for the city and an unfortunate loss for the world at large, but we are grateful for his existence. Grateful for his life and grateful for the way he shared his talents and benevolence with humanity. It is impossible to exist in sadness when gratitude is the greatest component of an equation.

It is said that which is unchanging is most real. The more we remember our memories, the stronger they become. When memories bring joy, they can still be enjoyed. They live on in the present. In great deeds something timeless abides. That’s a potential legacy available to everyone.

Thank you for reading…wishing wellness and empowerment your way,

Dr. J

Why Experiences Create The Most Amazing Memories

View from the Cliff House, San Francisco, CA

“Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory.” –Dr. Suess

Who doesn’t like a challenge? Here’s a very quick and exciting challenge for you. Take a moment to reflect on the greatest and most vivid memories of your life. Seriously, take a brief moment to slow down, stop, and think about it. Which memories comes to mind?

I recently did this challenge and realized the most joyful and vivid memories of my life involve spending time with family and friends, often engaging in activities costing no money at all.

As a child playing ping-pong with my brother on a heavy wooden table so rickety its fold-down metal legs could buckle at any second, and often did, comes to mind. One end of the table would come crashing to the cement floor with enough force to break your toes. An injury-trap waiting to happen, adding another level of suspense and challenge to the game. When we played ping-pong It was not about winning…it was about survival. It was fun.

Or taking memorable car rides through muddy cornfields in Canada’s corn belt with my father during summer breaks from school. He was a young teacher trying to feed a growing family on a young teacher’s salary, so he would take part time jobs inspecting corn crops to help make ends meet. We’d ride along dirt roads in the country for hours, sometimes he’d let me steer, do spin-outs in the fields, and take the car home covered in mud from top to bottom. Mom would ask what happened to the car. We’d look at each other and shrug our shoulders. Laughing. Joking. Bonding.

What memories came to your mind?  More likely than not, memories of fun times shared with people, places visited, and special experiences. Sure, there could have been some amazing birthday or holiday gifts, but even with those, the memories and experience shared with others as a result of the gifts, not the gifts themselves, probably feels most special.  Very few of life’s greatest memories are of material things themselves. Material things may help enhance experiences, but experiences are what creates the most vivid, powerful, and lasting memories.

Experiences can create a wealth of joy greater than riches.

Scientific research supports the idea that experiences bring people more happiness than do material things, and if spending time creating experiences is not an option, the mere anticipation of future experiences ranks a very close second. What does that mean? It means the anticipating of an upcoming trip, a night out with friends, concert tickets, or even a visit to the movies this weekend, gives us something to look forward to. An anticipated experience. The experiential beginning of a potentially wonderful memory.

The value any experience or memory begins the moment we begin thinking about it. We all possess the ability to create such memories and experiences with people we love and enjoy, and once such a positive idea is seeded, it is our responsibility to nurture and grow that seed into reality. We should set a conscious goal to create strong and positive memories that can be cherished and enjoyed forever, for ourselves and the people we like and love.

There is no amount of money that would tempt me to trade the precious memories and moments shared with my father and family, for so many reasons. But most importantly because those memories make me happy, bring me peace, and authentically resonate an irreplaceable quality of life worth living. If I ever have to choose between spending money on creature comforts vs. creating a positive lasting memory with my family or loved ones there is no question which direction I’ll be leaning.

While many memorable experiences unfold naturally, the creation of lasting memories can take planning and be intentional. It simply takes a little time and effort, and maybe a well-thought out expenditure of money, but it does not need to be a lot. If you struggle with planning ideas to create amazing experiences and lasting memories, here are five super suggestions that may help jump start your creative juices:

  • Throw a party – for any occasion. It doesn’t need to be a big party. Do it for someone you care about, or just to gather friends together for the sake of having a party. Use a theme, have a camera, food and beverages, games and fun.
  • Spend quality time – with your parents, spouse, children, friends, or others. Ask others about themselves, get them talking – people love to talk about themselves. This naturally builds rapport and relationship. Remember details and ask about irrelevant details next time you talk to them.
  • Gift experiences – instead of things. How about theater tickets or golf lessons instead of candy or a bottle of wine (though a bottle of wine my lead to some pretty interesting experiences too!). Think of an experience someone would normally not do. If it’s expensive and a mutual friend is involved, suggest others pitch in and make the experiential gift truly worthwhile.
  • Travel – it doesn’t need to be some far off, exotic location, though that’s certainly something to shoot for. Travel or holidays can be a day trip, or even an experience in your own city or area that you normally would not have
  • Spend time in nature – this has a number of tremendous health benefits, including calming .and focusing the mind and connecting us with the sense of a Higher Power. Being in nature can also contribute to well-being, creativity and happiness, along with providing a sense of simplicity and fulfillment.

Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with the pursuit of material wealth (even a lot of it) and attaining possessions, but we must remember that living a quality life is more about balance and perspective. At the end of the day the billion dollar CEO is buried in the same earth as the penniless pauper. In death we take no material possessions with us.

I’m not sure who said it first, but I believe they said it best, “Fill your life with experiences, not things.  Have stories to tell, not stuff to show.”

Be mindful and intentional about making great memories, then enjoy them for a life time. Experiences create the most amazing memories.

Wishing wellness and empowerment your way,

Dr. J

“Daddy…Put Down Your Phone!”


“Action expresses priorities.” –Mahatma Gandhi

It’s Super Bowl weekend.  My 5-year old son and I are downstairs playing in the carpeted rec room of our home.  He’s clad in a miniature-size game-day jersey, pretending he’s the superstar quarterback of the winning team, excited to be romping around, full of energy, playing and interacting with Daddy.

We’ve been tossing around a mini Nerf football, soft enough not to damage the walls or windows as a result of its erratic episodes of flight. He pretends to snap the ball to himself, drops back in the pretend pocket, pump fakes his right arm one time, then throws the football across the room in my direction. A surprisingly perfect spiral.

Half-heartedly I reach upward to catch the ball with my left hand, glancing away from my smart phone where I had been checking emails, or text messages, or social media updates, or something else I deemed urgent at the time.  Then I recall hearing the most pleading, sincere, and wanting tone a 5-year old could ever muster…

“Daddy…Put Down Your Phone!”

Boom. A eureka-moment reality check. A life-changing, priority-altering realization. Not only did I hear my son’s pleading tone…I listened.

Through his pleading tone, dejected body language, and despaired facial expression, my son renewed an already known realization in my mind. The realization that all things seemingly urgent are not necessarily important, and what is important needs to be prioritized. At that specific second, I silently vowed to re-assess and re-focus my priorities, not only toward my child, but in all aspects of my life.

We live in a furious-paced time, in a culture making constant unabashed attempts to demand our attention right now. The expectation of being constantly on and accessible via smart phones, instant messaging, urgent-sounding chimes, alerts and notifications…its madness. But how much of that culturally-ingrained sense of urgency is really important? What about in your life? That’s the question of today. The easy (and correct) answer is really pretty simple. Not much.

The offering to mindfully differentiate that which is urgent from that which is important is strong advice. Good advice. Perhaps most importantly, it is advice that can and should be applied to every aspect of our lives.  If you’re like most everyone I know, your days are increasingly becoming filled with obligations, commitments, and responsibilities. We must force ourselves to stop and ask, “How much of what I’m doing is really important?”

To prioritize what is important in our lives we must stop and think about everything biding for our time. Our work, health, family, friends, community, faith, finances, leisure, and more. Stopping to take stock is the first step, then we must identify what is seemingly urgent from what is truly important (if it’s neither urgent nor important it shouldn’t be on our “must do” radar anyway). Only then can we begin an uncompromising exercise of elimination and prioritization. An eliminectomy.

That which seems urgent will get in the way of what is important, just like the seeming urgency of checking my smart phone got in the way of the important experience I was spending with my son during Super Bowl Weekend.

How do we decide what is urgent vs. what is important? I like the statement by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, “Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.

Or, if a task or activity can be put off without dire consequence, it’s probably more urgent than important. If it’s something that contributes to long term happiness, close relationships, personal growth or goals, it’s probably important.

Here are 5 Action Steps I used to re-prioritize my priorities:

  1. Stop Everything. It’s impossible to think when your mind is cluttered with a million-and-one thoughts. Too many thoughts, can’t think. How’s that for irony? So stop, calm the mind, and give yourself a chance to authentically think.
  1. Write down values in priority order. Not tasks, but values. For example – Creator, Family, Finances, Community, Fun, etc.  These are items of personal value that contribute to long term happiness and fulfillment. Values must be known before they can be consciously pursued. Refer back to this list often – the things we see most frequently become ingrained in our subconscious, and will most likely become our reality.
  1. Write down tasks being done on a regular basis. Then identify items to reduce or eliminate that are unnecessary. Time is our most precious commodity, one that is so easily wasted. Reducing the unnecessary will create more time for what truly matters (that which is important).
  1. Group like activities and use technology for efficiency. For example, prepare multiple meals at the same time to avoid a tedious routine every meal, or have a set time for laundry, or checking e-mails or paying bills. When like activities are grouped together they are accomplished more efficiently. Offerings like auto pay to manage monthly bills helps avoid the hassle of opening envelopes, addressing checks, stamping envelopes, etc.
  1. Practice “Present Time Consciousness”. A fancy-sounding term that simply means “focus on what is in front of you with full attention”, one thing at a time with full presence. Make the task at hand the number one priority while it is being done. Avoid multi-tasking whenever possible…it really doesn’t save time, quality is compromised, and it creates stress!

By identifying what is most important in our lives, and prioritizing our actions to align with what is most important, it simply means we are becoming truer to ourselves. It’s an excellent process for everyone to undergo. A task we should pursue with knowledge and courage, helping us reach for our higher potential. Don’t be discouraged by setbacks along the way…we all have them. After all, we’re all just humans trying to become better version of ourselves.

Wishing Wellness & Empowerment Your Way,

-Dr. J