17 for ’17 – Embrace These 17 Growth Thoughts for 2017

Fireworks

“There is nothing as powerful as a changed mind.” –T.D. Jakes

There are few places as exhilarating to the senses as South Beach in Miami on New Year’s Eve. Definitely not a time or place for introverts, though the people watching is amazing. So many cultures, personalities, flavors, dancing, music, and moods, all melding together in a cauldron of high energy and celebration.

Last night was epic, ringing in the new year with my wife and 6-year-old son next to the waves of the Atlantic Ocean, slightly removed from the madness of party-central South Beach, but close enough to enjoy the high-octane energy of the night. This morning my mind was clear with goals and well-wishes of greatness for family, friends, and readers wanting to make the most of the upcoming year.

The power of a solid morning routine in creating an accomplished day (and life) cannot be overstated. For the most part, my morning routine involves waking up earlier than anyone in the house and finding a few moments of solitude to think, read, and enjoy a hot cup of coffee (cream no sugar).

From time-to-time ideas that I call Morning Coffee Thoughts – mantras, aphorisms, and affirmations of well-being – pop into my mind. This morning, the first morning of the new year, sparked 17 positive thoughts of sincere well-wishes for each and every one.

Some of these thoughts may resonate strongly with your being, others may not. Choose one or choose several…and allow them to help guide you toward a better life in the coming year.

Here are 17 for ’17…a collection of constructive and powerful well-wishes directly from me to you. Enjoy, and if you feel these are of benefit, please share!

1) May you maintain a mindset of optimism, confidence, and clarity from this day forward.

2) May your health, in all aspects, be a top priority.

3) May you conquer personal fears that have been holding you back, causing hesitation along your journey to achieving greater things.

4) May abundant love, with no fear of hurt, harm, or limitation, follow you daily.

5) May you be methodical in your pursuits, realizing all great things are built piece-by-piece, regardless whether the pieces are observable in physical form or not.

6) May you experience regular and restful days of simple joy.

7) May a persistent feeling of inner-peace be your constant companion regardless what is going on around you.

8) May your greatest gifts become so obvious you have no choice but to embrace and develop them.

9) May your territory be enlarged, protected, and used for greater good.

10) May humility be maintained as your greatness grows.

11) May you experience new travels, foods, and cultures with an open mind.

12) May balance be your lifestyle, not a needed vacation to recovery from everyday life.

13) May your friendships be easy, respectful, and supportive.

14) May alone time daily inspire impactful moments to think, renew, and give thanks.

15) May you find peace in being still.

16) May your work, play, and rest integrate seamlessly, leaving nothing undone that needs to be done.

17) May you share your greatness with the world and be abundantly compensated, in many ways, even without expectation of compensation.

I sincerely hope these well-wishes may be helpful in guiding your toward your best year ever in 2017. We’re in this together, seeking peace, prosperity, and potential-fulfilled. Let’s choose consistent optimistic realism and have a blast.

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

Dr. J

More With Less: The Importance of Strengthening What Matters

Fishing Boat

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

Schotoma!

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

The Chess Match: 8 Life Lessons in Success Through Chess

 

The Chess match
Photo Credit: Katherine Harris

“It’s like the game of life…the most prepared, determined, and flexible thinker wins.”

From the opening move it was going to be an epic weekend. My 5-year-old son and I home alone. Usually a recipe for adventure, and a few moments of concern. Our tradition is turning the lower level of our house into a G-rated man-cave. By the time mom returns home on Monday everything should be back in place. Hopefully.

Past father-son weekends have resulted in basketball hoops and backboards being drilled into rec room walls, Afros turned into Mohawks (his hair, not mine), and more than a few scraped knees and elbows from park and playground escapades. We have fun. Quality father-son times spent bonding.

This weekend we planned to party hard, staying up late every night and waking up early every morning. By ‘party’ I mean playing with Hot Wheels cars, transforming the downstairs room into a monster race course. By ‘up late every night’ I mean lying on the sofa under a blanket, eating snacks, watching Disney and Pixar movies on Netflix until we fall asleep. Living the life of pre-kindergarten excitement.

For two days we went strong, partying as planned. By early Sunday morning our father days had me in a father-daze, but we had one more adventure to go. Our last adventure transformed into an extraordinary day, providing several distinct ironies and one special epiphany.

My favorite moment of that day is captured in the photo appearing at the top of this piece. Nicknamed The Chess Match, it was taken in a North Minneapolis barbershop while participating in a Black Excellence Father’s Day photo shoot, captured by a young and talented photographer named Katherine Harris.

I love this impromptu photo, partially because it reminds me of special moments shared with my father when I was a child. My father taught my older brother and I to play chess at a young age. He passed away several years ago, so I cherish his memories strongly. It seems so fitting this photo was captured in the spirit of Father’s Day.

The huge black & white poster hanging in the background, a powerful and gritty image of jazz trumpeter and band leader Miles Davis, is dear to me. During my college years I had this exact poster hanging on my apartment wall. It triggers nostalgic memories of simpler times and the pure energy of genius-level talent.

The Miles Davis poster is flanked on either side by smaller framed photos of other iconic African American personalities, like Barack Obama, Spike Lee, Jimi Hendrix, and Afro-beat legend Fela…all moving muses inspiring excellence-level ambition. In the background played upbeat classic soul music…perhaps a track by Marvin Gaye or Earth Wind & Fire.

The photo captures a spirit true to the barbershop and photo shoot mission of Black Excellence. The proprietors of the barbershop have striven meticulously, and succeeded, in creating a space full of welcoming energy and an atmosphere of greatness. An environment instilling positive energy, leaving patrons in a more empowered place than when they arrive.

The entire day reminded me of a very simple principle; a strong and well-prepared foundation is the most important part of any structure. Nothing great or lasting can endure on a weak or shaky foundation.

The greatest epiphany I realized this day, watching my son play chess, observing how he felt his way through the game, was witnessing how the success principles of chess were being subconsciously ingrained into his knowledge base. This made me proud, and I realized an important ingredient of his foundation was being solidified.

When I was a teenager my father purchased an empty lot of land and a separate existing modular house located many miles apart. He planned to move the existing house onto the empty lot, but before he could do so a solid foundation on the empty lot had to be laid.

I remember the painstaking care it took to measure the correct dimensions for the foundation, dig the hole for the foundation, frame the foundation, and finally lay the concrete for the foundation. The foundation process took planning, precision, and time. Then, after weeks and weeks of planning and execution to lay the foundation, the house was moved and dropped on the foundation in a single day.

In a simple way, the example of my father’s foundation applies directly to the epiphany I realized with my son. By learning the lessons of success in chess, he is gradually learning the same success principles for life. His familiarity with the chess pieces was nothing new…he’s been able to name all the pieces on a chess board since the age of three. But until this day, I had never witnessed him to possess the mental ability to actually think the game.

“Life is like a game of chess, changing with each move” – Chinese Proverb

Since the invention of the game, great leaders, strategists, and thinkers have portrayed how strategies of chess can mimic many of the challenges, strategies, and concepts of life. Going forward, I’ll continue encouraging my son to discover, study, and develop chess strategies so he may advantageously apply these concepts to life.

Ashtapada is another word for chess. According to some, this word translates to mean “8 steps”. Following, briefly, are 8 classic lessons of success in chess that I feel mirror success in life. The list is by no means exhaustive, but every lesson is valuable:

1) Know the Rules: Rules exist for a reason – to put everyone one the same page, but not every rule is concrete or mandated to be followed. In chess, for example, forward-thinking mavericks have often broken traditional strategy rules and literally changed the game, all while playing by the rules of the game. The same applies to life. First, however, a thorough knowledge of the rules is necessary before the option of outwitting the rules becomes an option. Learn the rules.

2) Have Patience: Great things develop over time. Whether a game of chess, an amazing meal, a business plan, or a world-changing military plan, the best strategies require time to manifest. Show your hand too soon, before all parts are in place, and very often the end-game will be lost. Let it cook. Let it simmer. When making game-altering decisions in chess and life, allow the virtue of patience to clarify thought and action.

3) Memory & Focus: The term is Neuroplasticity –  the brain’s ability to grow in strength and function. We are what we repeatedly do. Developing excellence is no random act, but a habit. With repetition the ability to recognize winning patterns, plays, strategies, etc. becomes easier, like second nature. Combine memory and focus with intent, and success in the game of chess, and life, becomes much more likely. Use the power of memory and focus.

4) Learn Your Opposition: It’s a base law of the universe – nothing exists without its opposite. Some call it Yin-Yang, positive-negative, push-pull, male-female….one cannot exist without the other. Even within our best planned intentions, there exists an equal and opposite force desiring the opposite of what we intend. Our opposition. The more we know about our opposition, the easier it is for us to plan, adapt, and stay one step ahead. In chess, and life, learning the threats, skills, and intentions of our opposition serves greatly to our advantage.

5) Think Multiple Moves Ahead: Life is chess, not checkers, for those with the knowledge, experience, and opportunity to play. Like it or not, we’re all playing the game. Making an analogy to health, the habits we develop and act upon today, in terms of our eating, exercise, and lifestyle, will determine our well-being many years into our future. Being proactive, not reactive, determines how the game will progress. In chess, and life, choose to be proactive. Think multiple moves ahead.

6) Action is Necessary: Make a move or lose by default. Chess is a thinking game, which is excellent, but eventually all that thinking must result in a move. Or voluntarily lose the game. The same is true in life. It’s possible to get so caught up our thoughts, wondering which move is best, that we make no move at all. Some call it paralysis through analysis. A move must be made, otherwise nothing will ever change. In chess, and life, action is necessary to win.

7) Actions Have Consequences: Choices determine results, good, bad, or neutral. Make a good choice, more than likely enjoy a good result. Bad choice, endure a difficult result. Risk is necessary for reward, but the downside result must always be considered. Consequences are not always proportionate to the magnitude of events that produce them. In chess, and life, every action has a consequence. Act accordingly, and be prepared for the results.

8) 100% Responsibility for Results: In the game of chess, blaming anyone other than self for moves made on the board is difficult. Ultimately, the same is true in life. Many lives begin with undeniable disadvantages, for many reasons, but we must grasp the possibility of our greatness, do what is necessary to change situations, and do what is necessary to bring forth the results we desire. What is necessary is not always easy, but it’s still necessary. In chess, and life, taking 100% responsibility for results is a must.

Playing chess together is an amazing opportunity to strengthen the relationship between a parent and child. It’s a pursuit of present-time consciousness. Everything stops. Two people. Shared thoughts. Intellectual stimulation and free-flowing creative energy. As special as it was to capture The Chess Match in a photo with my son, the bond of our time together exists immeasurably greater.

Just as chess is an amazing game, fatherhood is an amazing privilege. With privilege comes responsibility. With responsibility, properly executed, comes excellence and reward. Excellence is a reward and opportunity to be pursued together.

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

Dr. J

The Power of One: How One-on-One Mentorship Could Change The World

Dr. Juneau Robbins

“Instill in a person a higher vision of themselves, of their talents and worth, of their immeasurable value, and odds are favorable they will strive to live up to those expectations.” – Dr. Juneau Robbins

Shots, shouts, and sirens. Last night more shootings in my North Minneapolis neighborhood. An innocent grandmother sitting in her minivan was caught in the crossfire of gang violence. Tragically, she lost her life. Somebody lost their mother, grandmother, sister, friend, and confidant. In a separate incident an innocent 7-year-old boy was shot in the leg. He will live to tell the tale.

Stories like this are becoming commonplace, and it takes honest effort to not become desensitized into considering this foolishness the new normal. It seems every week we hear news of another shooting or killing. It’s personal. It’s close. The neighborhood echoes with frustrated and fearful calls for someone to do something, anything…and with due respect, many people are trying.

Small scenes mirroring a bigger picture playing the same scenario in cities all across the United States. Why are attempts at solving this crisis so seemingly ineffective? The causes are complex, mangled and entangled to be sure. Ranging from gun control issues to parenting discipline to racial and socio-economic dynamics. But the greatest cause may actually be the simplest to identify, diagnose, and define. One word. Mindset.

While there are plenty of “community leaders”, non-profits, churches, and organizations seeking to change the situation, striving to improve the odds for young people, neighborhoods, and cities, the reality is that no one person, group, or organization can or will fully be able to solve the problem. But every person, group and organization can contribute something, at least one thing, toward the solution. We are all pieces of The Power of One.

I used to believe creating significant change for the betterment of society had to be on a massive scale to really make a difference. A scale like the Civil Rights Movement lead by a Martin or Malcolm, or India’s Independence Movement lead by Gandhi. With age and experience I’ve realized these great leaders, while magnetic, special and destined for their causes, were as much a product of being in the right place at the right time with the right message, as they were their talents.

The movement necessary to curb gun violence in America’s cities, to curb violent and self-destructive behavior in general, is a mostly a movement of the mind….call it a “Mindset Movement”. A movement in which cultivating and growing young minds toward their maximum positive potential, able to visualize healthy lives for themselves, families, and communities, is the chief and primary aim.

Looking back on life, I realize the strongest influential forces during youth’s most impressionable years were the everyday examples in my life, like my business English teacher, high school basketball coach, and especially my father. They were huge influencers in determining my decisions and direction because of their consistent and positive presence, not necessarily their talents (though their talents certainly did not hurt!). It wasn’t their charismatic ability to lead mass political or social movements that created their phenomenal influence, it was their constructive and constant presence.

Over the span of decades each one of these men significantly influenced the lives of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of impressionable young people like myself. Young people who have matured over time and are now in the prime of influencing others coming along behind us. Multiply each of those men by a hundred and in a few short generations their positive influence exponentially reaches tens of thousands. Quiet, exponential influence is an amazing return on influence investment.

Never underestimate The Power of One

Imagine this.

The passion of a youthful tryst creates the spark of life. Nine months later a child is born to a single mother, herself literally more than a child. She struggles daily to provide the most basic of needs to her greatest creation. It happens countless times daily, so common an occurrence it may seem like a MINOR thing.

Years pass and the child grows, their young thoughts and values shaped and molded daily by environments and events restrictive to their genius. Their self-image, self-talk, and budding self-esteem are strongly influenced by codes of the street, peers, and learned limitations passed down through generations.

Many in society would see these developments as expected and inevitable, occurring so frequently and commonly they seem like MINOR things.

Self-destructive choices and behaviors become the norm for this young seed. A victim mentality produces a short-sighted, selfish attitude and limited vision of what may be possible to achieve in life. For that child these are life-direction determining developments – these are MAJOR things.

Multiply that child by a few dozen and you influence the energy, attitude and safety of a school. Outside of school hours you literally affect the environment and livability of a neighborhood.

That child continues to age, grow, and mature. Physically stronger and independent to roam. Multiply that young person by a few hundred and you influence the energy, safety, and quality-of-life of an average-sized city.

Multiply that child by a few thousand and you impact the condition, vitality, and concerns of a major city.

Multiply that child by a few hundred thousand, even possibly a million, and you literally influence the politics, dynamics, and well-being of a nation.

So, the absence of a single positive and consistent influence in the life of one child is potentially powerful enough to affect the well-being of an entire nation. That is a MAJOR thing.

Backtrack to that child’s most formative years. Along comes an encouraging man or woman who is compassionate, grounded, and stable. An optimistic individual who sees the potential in that child, with a heart to give of themselves and their time.

Such individuals are plentiful around our cities and nation. In fact, so plentiful that as one person they may be considered a MINOR thing.

Say that man or woman routinely nourishes that child’s mind with positive reinforcement and encouraging words, consistently infusing that young mind with a confident vision of what they may eventually become. Individually, that initial exposure to a higher vision may be considered a MINOR thing.

That higher, positive image replaces the negative, self-limiting image in that child’s mind of what may be possible to pursue and accomplish in life. This may seem like a MINOR thing to the world, but it is a paradigm shift – a MAJOR thing to that child.

Multiply that encouraging man or woman (mentor) by a few dozen and you influence the energy, attitude, and safety of a school. Outside of school hours you literally improve the environment and livability of a neighborhood.

Multiply that encouraging man or woman (mentor) by a few hundred and you influence the energy, safety, and quality-of-life of an average-sized city.

Multiply that man or woman (mentor) by a few thousand and you positively impact the condition, vitality, and concerns of a major city.

Multiply that man or woman (mentor) by a few hundred thousand, even possibly a million, and you literally influence the politics, dynamics, and well-being of a nation.

Multiply that man or woman by a few millions and you literally impact the well-being of the entire world.

Mindset…the master maker. Having a consistent and positive presence in a child’s life during their most formative years is the most important factor in the healthy development of a child’s mindset. Initiating a higher vision-of-self while positively reinforcing talents, growing confidence, and exposing young people to safe, diverse, and healthy environments are keys to helping grow young people into healthy, contributing members of society, who will eventually pay it forward, acting as future mentors to future generations.

One-on-one mentorship is a MAJOR enough concept to build empowered human beings, communities, and nations all around the world. Not that “now and again” mentorship, but consistent and committed mentorship.

If only the solution were that simple. That’s what Edison thought about the electric light bulb at a time when humanity existed in darkness every single night. Now electric lights seems a pretty simple and taken-for-granted concept in our lives. It can happen.

Every problem has multiple solutions that can work in harmony toward a common goal, and every solution begins with a concept or idea. Very rarely a new idea. More often a refined and developed idea. Why should one-on-one mentorship be any different? The Power of One. Idealistic and simple. Powerful enough to positively influence the well-being of the world.

The Power of One is a piece of the solution available to everyone, and it may be pursued in many different ways. Whether choosing to participate in existing mentorship programs offered through local non-profits, churches, or organizations, or simply taking a consistent interest in a young person’s life accessible in everyday circles. It doesn’t need to be official to be effective. If you don’t know how to begin getting involved, simply begin asking questions. I guarantee the answer will present in short time.

Just a few thoughts from the mind of one who believes in The Power of One. If this post makes sense, please share. Let’s exercise our Power of One. Together we make a difference.

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

Dr. J

The Scorpion, The Bird & An American Election Night Reminder

      americanflagbird

“When someone shows you who they are believe them; the first time.”  –Maya Angelou

Sometime around 3 a.m. this morning, while witnessing the stunningly improbable, equally impressive, election victory of Donald Trump as president elect of the United States of America, I thought of an old favorite fable, The Scorpion & The Bird.  

As the tale tells, a scorpion and a bird sat on the side of a river. The scorpion wanted to cross the river, but being a terrible swimmer, he decided to ask the bird to carry him across the river on its back to the other side.

To which the bird responded, “Why would I do that? You’re a scorpion and you will sting me, then I will fall into the river and drown.”

The scorpion scoffs at the bird’s response. “If you fall into the river and drown, then I will fall and drown too. Where’s the logic in that?”

“I suppose you’re right,” reasons the bird. “Okay, I will carry you across the river. Jump on my back!”

The scorpion jumps on the back of the bird and the bird takes flight.

Halfway across the river the scorpion stings the bird. The bird becomes dazed and falls toward the water.

“Why did you sting me?” cries the bird, turning his head to look at the scorpion.

“You knew what I was before you let me on you back,” responds the scorpion. “It’s my nature and character, I cannot help what I do.”

The moral of the story is simple – there are certain things in life, be they animals, situations, people, nations, etc., that simply are what they are. Regardless of logic, their innate nature will ultimately rise to reveal a true character, even when that character may be dangerous, devolving, or detrimental toward self.

In 2016, the fact that America has democratically (by electoral college standards, not the popular vote) chosen to elect a misogynistic, bigoted bully to its highest office of leadership, is a clear result of whitelash against its changing racial, ethnic, and religious demographic.

Should that be surprising? Not really. The outcome of this election is simply an expression of America’s true core nature, which it is struggling to hang onto. The underlying message should resound loud and clear to all those who thought she was anything different.

Why would anyone be surprised? Disappointed? Perhaps. But not surprised. I’m pretty sure the founding fathers of the nation would be proud the nation they envisioned will remain true to its nature for just a little while longer.

For just a little while longer, because equally as loud and clear is the message that greater efforts, works, and successes, must be accomplished in evolving America toward becoming a more equal, just, and prosperous place for all. Eventually every pendulum swings – it’s just a matter of when, how far, and how fast.

I’ve been a resident of the United States for more than two decades now, but retain Canadian citizenship. This morning, for the first time in a long time, I looked at my Canadian passport, and for a moment it felt like a golden ticket. Then I quietly placed the passport back in its safety spot with a smile.

I’m going nowhere fast, except out the door to continue my everyday work and mission to help better my community, teach wellness and self-empowerment, and help others grow mindsets and ideologies that, with the help of Creator, may help them become more self-sufficient and able to pay that learned knowledge and sense of self-empowerment forward.

Fear of a Trump presidency is the furthest thing from my mind. Rather than feeling scared, or scarred, I feel motivated to work harder toward creating an American ideal that all Americans, and the rest of the world, may truly be proud of. We’ve witnessed America’s oppressed, underestimated, and downtrodden surviving much worse and become stronger, more resilient, and more resourceful for the process.

Every individual on the opposite side of this turn in history, myself included, should feel driven to accomplish more, organize greater, grow stronger, and continue major efforts to turn the tide of old America into a greater, better, more inclusive and visionary ideal for a growing majority population.

Just as the innate nature of America is currently clutching to hold onto the old-minded tenants of its founding character, the process of evolution is inevitable. Eventually the pendulum will swing to the point where returning to its original nature will become impossible. What that may truly look like, what it will take to accomplish, and how it will be accomplished, no one can truly know. Most likely it will be a messy, ugly, and hard fought path.

So, despite today’s disappointment, disbelief, or anger, or on the other side of the equation, elation and celebration, when the smoke clears from this election our minds must also be clear. At the end of the day, each and every one is responsible for determining his or her own destiny in life. Hopefully part of that destiny involves making the world a better place. That is a winning mindset to pursue.

There is power in vision & vision in power; together they have ability to impart massive social change for the better while allowing personal joy to exist.

Choose to make clear your vision, and work daily to claim your power, regardless who America’s next president may be. Don’t be scared. Be powerful.

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)

donaldtrump

“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

Darryl’s Story – A Lesson in Self-Belief

Old Book

“Sometimes the spark of success is simply refusing to allow the closed-minded and
limiting beliefs of others to define the reality of our potential.”

Without question the digital age is amazing, but old books have long been a treasured joy in my life. While I appreciate the modern conveniences of Google, GPS, and smartphones, there is nothing like paging through the slightly yellowed pages of a century-old book. Each page requiring a delicate turn for fear the slightly brittle paper may tear.

My senior year of high school I stumbled upon a set of books fitting this description to a T. Written in the early 1900’s, they were a series of short stories, bound in aged brown leather binding. One story from the bunch always stuck with me. I don’t know whether the story was actually fact or fiction, but it held such an incredible moral teaching I recall the basics of it to this day.

This story was about a young boy. I’ll call him Darryl.

From a very young age Darryl’s mother was overprotective of her son’s intellectual shortcomings. Since the beginning of his formal education he struggled with the basics of reading, writing, and math. His end-of-school-year report cards were filled with C’s, D’s, and even F’s.

Darryl’s mother would constantly make excuses why he could not achieve like other children, trying to make him (and herself) feel better. His teachers pushed him to learn a remedial trade, or seek and settle for a bare-bottom job, frequently telling him he would never achieve anything more.

At 19 years of age Darryl finally finished his schooling. He began searching for a full time job, taking with him the subconscious mother-teacher imposed mental label of a slow-learning underachiever with no real potential for success.

Darryl was not considered an even averagely bright person by most of society’s standards. He was unable to read, write, add or subtract, with a great deal of efficiency. Yet, Darryl had some very pleasing charms about him. He was very mannerly, personable, and pleasant to be around. He exhibited many natural gifts. Those who took time to get to know him considered him friendly.

On top of everything, most importantly, despite the negative labels and stigmas placed on him by authority figures and people surrounding him his entire life, Darryl was stubborn in his resolve to succeed. Every day, several times a day, he would repeat to himself, almost remedially, “I think I can, I think I can!” after his favorite childhood story The Little Red Engine.

One day Darryl heard of a job opening at a local convenience store for a position of inventory clerk. Remember this was in the early 1900’s…the job paid forty cents per hour. He applied for the job and fared quite well through the interview process until the interviewer asked him about his education.

Being honest in nature, Darryl admitted his struggle with reading, writing, and math. The store’s owner refused to hire him, for it would never do to have an inventory clerk who could not accurately read, write, add and subtract. Such a clerk would lose track of the store’s inventory, potentially harming the business.

Dejected, Darryl went to see one of his friends, who happened to own a widget supply business. He shared with his friend what had transpired at the job interview.

“I’ll tell you what I’ll do,” his friend responded sympathetically. “I’ll give you this box of widgets. It’s a product everybody can use. You go and sell these widgets and I’ll give you 100% of the profit.”

Darryl enthusiastically agreed and went forth. He went on a widget selling super-spree. He sold the widgets. All of them. With the money he made he purchased more widgets from his friend and resold them, again keeping the profit. He repeated this cycle over and over again.

Darryl discovered he possessed a skill for selling widgets that could be matched by very few others. It was not long until he set up his own widget supply business, and his business flourished.

A few years later Darryl had the opportunity to purchase the building that housed his widget supply business. It was a multi-unit building, giving him a chance to be a landlord, collect passive rental income, and set him for life. It was an incredible opportunity.

Excited, scared and apprehensive, Darryl went rushing to his bank.

To the bank manager, who by now knew him by name, Darryl exclaimed, “I need to borrow $10,000 and I need it soon! Can you let me have it? If I can get $10,000 I can buy this building. Can you please let me have it?”

The elderly banker looked at young Darryl curiously, smiling. “Why do you want to borrow that amount of money?” he asked. “Do you know how much money you have in this bank?”

“No.” Darryl replied sullenly. “I’m not very good at reading or writing, or with numbers. When my bank statements come I just file them away. All I know is I’m not struggling. But I think I can be successful.”

“Your balance is well over $25,000,” the banker stated. “You, son, are a very successful young man! You didn’t know that?” The banker paused, then said, “Imagine what you might have been if you could keep track of numbers!”

Darryl was silent for a long minute, thoughtfully reflecting back on his modest and frustrating beginnings.

Finally, he spoke.

“I MIGHT HAVE BEEN AN INVENTORY CLERK IN A CONVENIENCE STORY MAKING FORTY CENTS AN HOUR!”

Now, I’m sure the particulars of that story as I recall it, the numbers or widgets sold, or other small details are off, but the moral teaching shines clear. In all of our lives there will be people, sometimes well-meaning people, who will try to place us in boxes, imparting false and limiting beliefs on our lives based on their limited vision of what may be possible.

The truth is much greater and grander. It is what we choose to think and believe about ourselves that determines the rightful path of our pursuits. Nobody can (or should) believe in ourselves greater than we believe in ourselves. That’s an amazing concept, worth adopting to our very core.

Hopefully you enjoyed reading that story as much as I enjoyed recalling and writing it.

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

7 Lessons of Grit & Greatness Learned From ‘The Greatest’

alimemorialphoto

“His energy and presence existed much larger than his physical form. He walked with his own atmosphere. His atmosphere was his entourage.”

Nearly a quarter century ago, long before the age of smart phones and digital photos, I was blessed to be in the presence of The Greatest.

Imagine being in the same place at the same time as one of the greatest human beings walking the face of the earth, at one time the most famous living person on the planet, and not having the sense to memorialize the moment in a photo…even though a photo was taken. Regretfully, it happened to me.

Muhammad Ali was well past his athletic prime at the time. A weathered warrior in his early fifties, his fight with Parkinson’s disease already taking a visible toll on his body.  Still, he was an impressive figure. Literally and figuratively. His energy and presence existed much larger than his physical form. He walked with his own atmosphere. His atmosphere was his entourage.

This day I was downtown Minneapolis with a friend. It was a chance occurrence. There was a large crowd gathered in a city center plaza. Soon we discovered the reason for the gathering was Muhammad Ali. I don’t recall exactly why he was there, perhaps a book signing or celebrity endorsement, but we quickly hatched a plan to pitch for a photo.

Those were the days of disposable yellow Kodak cameras – the kind you drop off to a local drug store and wait a day or two for the film to be developed. We put ourselves in the path of The Champ as he exited the store and boldly asked for a picture. He was more than obliging. I remember him putting his arm around my shoulder and giving a friendly, confident squeeze. No real conversation. A simple cordial greeting, smile, and click. The perfect picture.

A fleeting moment forever imprinted in my mind, which is great because the film was never developed. Those were college days, moving to a new residence after every school year. The disposable camera probably wound up in an apartment junk drawer or hidden in a shoebox, discarded as trash many years ago.

The importance of following-up on opportunities, quickly and thoroughly, is a valuable lesson most of us will learn many times over our lifetime.   

 A lost opportunity, but the experiential memory is amazing.

How do you adequately pay tribute to a man as great as Muhammad Ali? A man who, for a full half-century, galvanized and inspired much of the world’s population regardless of race, creed, or color. A man who unabashedly thrived internationally as a voice of confidence, truth, and potential-fulfilled, with a heart to represent and speak for the lesser-heard, under-served, and under-represented people of the world. A man who’s demeanor, confidence, and energy was powerful enough to stand up to the most powerful government in the world in the midst of racial segregation and prejudice in the United States. Not only demanding, but commanding respect and admiration, regardless of opinion about his brashness, race, or athletic ability.

It’s a curious combination…the triad of bravado, wisdom, and compassion. It’s a beautiful combination.

The world is fortunate to have a great deal of Muhammad Ali’s passion, principles and charisma captured in print, audio, and video. Past generations were blessed with his presence, the present generation is being blessed, and future generations will be blessed by his preserved greatness. Indeed, he was a Creator-gifted human being who lived a life true to his beliefs, character, and potential. Collectively, the world expresses our thank you.

Detailing Ali’s athletic accolades is easy – any brief article or history book can list them. More interesting is how Ali’s physical combination of power, speed, agility, and grace mirrored the same tenants in his intellect. His athleticism was a microcosm, just a tiny piece, of the macrocosm of the man. His mental keenness and mental fortitude blended perfectly with his confidence, personality, spiritual-grounding, and love for humanity.  All allowing him to transcend sports to become an iconic, yet relatable, larger-than-life figure championed by all.

Muhammad Ali’s poetic personality and charismatic showmanship created many timeless quotations, many of which could be expounded into self-empowerment chapters of their own.  For the sake of brevity, here are 7 of my favorite Muhammad Ali quotations along with a brief explanation why they resonate with such power.

“We can’t be brave without fear.”

Everyone feels fear…there are zero exceptions to this powerful human emotion. It is not lack of fear that separates us. It is how we respond to fear that separates us. The greatest amongst us are simply braver than their fears and willing to act upon that bravery. Fears faced and conquered shatter perceived limits, and once limits are shattered the realm of unlimited possibility exists. The amazing message of this quotation – feel the fear and do it anyway, or make a conscious choice to live a limited life. That’s no way to live fully.

 “He who is not courageous enough to take risks will accomplish nothing in life.”

Everyone is gifted with at least one super talent that if pursued and developed will allow them to become great in that area. Finding that super talent, however, is a process many will never undertake. It can be difficult, but living a life of average and mundane is not the purpose of life. In order to discover our greatest gifts we must go against the well-intended advice of average and ordinary, usually coming from those who care about us most. Failure does not lie in not achieving something we set out to pursue, the greatest failure lies in not having the courage to try. The powerful message of this quotation – be courageous, take the risks, and pursue the dreams. Don’t settle for average when greatness is an option.

 “Often it isn’t the mountains ahead that wear you out; it’s the pebble in your shoe.”

The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. If you’re walking the only way to progress along the journey is to continually set one foot in front of the other…time and time and time again. Have you ever tried walking a considerable distance with a stone in your shoe? It may be one of the most annoying sensations imaginable. A smart man will take a moment of pause, remove the stone, and then continue on the journey. With the stone removed, focus once again returns to the bigger picture. The valuable message in this quotation – great things are accomplished in small steps, but to accomplish them you must keep on stepping. At times this may require pause and the removal of small irritations, annoying and unproductive, along the journey.

“Inside of a ring or out, ain’t nothing wrong with going down. It’s staying down that’s wrong.”

Grit and determination allow us to rise-up in situations where others may elect to stay down. In the pursuit of goals and dreams, or simply along the course of life, everyone gets knocked down. Usually multiple times. It doesn’t matter how strong, smart, or gifted we may be, everyone suffers defeats along the way. Once again, it’s how we respond to the situation that matters. The great ones collect their wits, rise-up, and soon are back in action. The more times you get knocked down and get up, the odds are improving in your favor. The motivational message in this quotation – if you get knocked down, don’t stay down. Rise up and continue to fight. Eventually you’ll be the winner still standing.

 “I hated every minute of training, but I said, ‘Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.’”

It’s the long hours of work behind the scenes when no one is watching, before the lights come on, before you show up at school or the office, before the big presentation, that makes the stage show shine.  Plain and simple, hard work and discipline are absolutely necessary to achieve great success. Life may look charmed from the outside looking in, but guaranteed it’s the work behind the scenes, the countless hours of practice, that makes the great become The Greatest. The simple message in this quotation – success is no good-luck accident. If you truly want it, be willing to put in the work.

“Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.”

Perhaps it was a quality rooted in his humble upbringing in the United States’ segregated south, but Muhammad Ali was a humanitarian to the core.  From a young age he exhibited a love, kinship, and heart to help those less fortunate than himself. To stand up for those who would be bullied, picked on, or treated unfairly. This was a quality that seemed to strengthen with Ali’s conversion and life-long practice of Islam. The greatest among us are not takers, they are givers. Perhaps because they are so spiritually filled themselves they feel no need to take. A vessel that is full cannot help but give. A quiet irony in life is the more you give the more you receive. The higher message in this quotations is simple – he who helps the most, wins. In the big picture being of service to our fellow man is being of service to ourselves.

“Me? Whee!”

These two words delivered by Ali at a 1975 Harvard lecture went on record as the shortest poem ever written. At the time he had been asked, “What it’s like to be as great as Ali?” With this two word response, living true to his reputation for playful bravado, he conveyed that being Ali was a lot fun! Some sources argue this poem was meant to be printed as “Me / We” – implying the connectedness of all people, which would hold amazing meaning in itself. Especially coming from Ali the humanitarian, also known as The People’s Champ.  Either way, this two word quotation holds an incredible meaning – either celebrate thyself, or realize we’re all connected and act accordingly.   

Muhammad Ali was a fighter to the very end. A fighter for empowerment, truth, equality, and the fulfillment of human purpose and potential. Indeed, he was an amazing athlete, named Sportsman of the 20th Century, but his skills in the boxing ring are not what made him The Greatest.

At the end of his physical life, even though his movements were shaky and slow, and his speech slurred, his mind was sharp and fully functioning. After all his other organs had failed his HEART would not stop beating. According to his family, for a full 30 minutes his heart just kept beating. A true testament to the strength of his will.

There is an ancient Sanskrit Proverb that says, “When you were born, you cried and the world rejoiced. Live your life so that when you die, the world cries and you rejoice.”

These words could be no more fitting than for Muhammad Ali. Many sportsman are considered great because of their skills, and other personalities have transcended sports to become iconic figures, but there can be only one ‘The Greatest’.  Muhammad Ali was, and will always be, The Greatest.

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

Dr. J

Love, Sacrifice, Security – A Mother’s Greatest Gifts

Mom & boys

“Her deathbed confession was more like a selfless revelation – an ode of love to her children.”

 Happy Mother’s Day!

Every Mother’s Day our thoughts roll around to the gratitude, appreciation, love, and respect we hopefully feel, and should be expressing, to our mothers, wives, sisters, and others all year round. Only this day we feel an obligation to show how we feel, and fill the coffers of card-making companies with purchases that articulate our feelings in ways many of us could never imagine.

I feel guilty saying clear memories of my biological mother are relatively few, even though she was an amazing and committed mother. The epitome of love and grace. A stable and self-sacrificial woman who routinely put her children’s needs in front of her own wants and needs well into my high school years…and that’s when we lost her. She died way too young. My memories of her do not do justice to the parenting pedestal she deserves.

I could chalk the fading memories of my mother up to years gone by – it has been more than 25 years. But even though specific memories of times and experiences shared may be fading, there is something far more powerful I can never forget. A feeling so ingrained in my being that I experience it daily. The passage of time can never dampen in my spirit how my mother made me feel – loved, sacrificed-for, and secure. Those are the foundation elements, the cornerstone building-blocks, upon which every positive character trait and confidence I exhibit today has been built.    

People may forget what you do, but they will never forget how you made them feel.

Selfless. Even in her final days, for months prior to her transition my mother was bed-ridden and hospitalized, but I never heard her complain for herself. I remember my father spending every waking moment by her side. He slept in her hospital room every night on a narrow, hard, roll-away cot, holding her hand, spending time, making sure she knew she was loved.

Every day after school I would visit her for hours. Just sitting, spending time, sometimes praying, telling her about my day. Rarely did she speak back. In her final days she did not have the strength to say much. Just occasionally open her eyes, force a faint smile, and acknowledge appreciation for the company.

Then a day or two before she died I remember her struggling to speak the final words I remember her saying. Simply she said, “I don’t want to leave you. You and your brother are too young. I need to make sure you’ll be okay.”

Her deathbed confession to me was more like a selfless revelation – an ode of love to her children. She was not thinking about herself at all. Rather, her thoughts were for her children. She wanted to express love and concern for her two sons. Wow! The briefest choice of words summarizing the deepness of a mother’s love. Selfless. Even as her end drew near, showing more concern for the future well-being of her children than for own terminally-ill situation.

My mother gave me the irreplaceable building blocks of love, sacrifice, and security. The building blocks of everything I continue to grow into and become. For that I can never repay her, and I highly doubt she would ever expect repayment of any kind. Still, it would be nice to tell her how incredibly much I will forever be grateful. Her early belief in me allowed me to grow greater belief in myself.  A belief that continues to grow, succeed, achieve, and evolve. Invaluable traits. Just a few of the gifts my mother gave me.

It is impossible to truly know something until it is experienced.  For example, I could describe to you how to swim, but you could never truly know how to swim until you get in the water and swim. Certain things can only be known through experience. Such it is with a mother’s love.

No child can truly know the deep sense of love a mother has for her children, except that mother. We can attempt to know. We can express our gratitude and try to reciprocate that love. But a mother’s love for her children is more powerful, deeper, and more expansive than we can ever authentically know. It’s a love beyond human comprehension, expanding into the spiritual.

Shortly after my mother’s passing I stumbled on an old, dusty book in the basement of my parent’s house. It had been there decades, untouched. Later I discovered what a classic it truly is. The book is The Prophet by Khahlil Gibran. In this book I found a verse that struck me in the greatest way. The verse reads:

“Your children are not your children.

They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.

They come through you but not from you.

And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.”

Amazing words, and I somehow believe all mothers know, whether realized or not, the truth in these words.

Mothers are like great vessels, in a spiritual, physical, and psychological sense, through which each of us are born, nurtured, and developed. A mother’s most basic gifts begin with love, sacrifice, and security, then evolves into countless other attributes that cause us to grow into the individuals we eventually become.

Mothers often consider children their greatest blessing, but the reality is the reverse. Mothers are our greatest blessing. The gift of a loving, caring, and sacrificing mother is greatest gift of all. We should make a commitment daily to treating our greatest gifts as they deserve to be treated.

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

Dr. J