Sunday, July 28, 2013

Fixing Victim Mentality for Good

Who is profiting from the George Zimmerman verdict?

Who is inciting the riots over the Zimmerman verdict? For Christ's sake (and I mean that most sincerely) Reverends Jackson and Sharpton: if you don't believe justice was served, move to a country without Habeas Corpus, and please take all the people who agree with you when you go. There are some countries left in the world where you can take justice into your own hands and do as you see fit. Please remember as you immigrate that you, too, might someday be on the wrong side of your new fellow citizens' opinion of what's just, and that you won't have your day in court in that new perfect world without the rule of law so dear to most civilizations. You might also consider the teachings of the religion you espouse as you, er, encourage your followers in the "justice for Trayvon Martin" movement.

If you are one of the folks who admires the above-mentioned Reverends-in-Name-Only, you have my compassion and understanding. I wish I could offer you an alternative to the anguish you feel, but I can't. You must find that on your own, and I know you will be more satisfied and peaceful when you realize you're only being held back by your own choices, and that you have the right to choose something else.

Let's look at a different issue.

Who is profiting from sexual abuse?

Why is it that some survivors of abuse must publicly tell the world about it, over and over and over? No doubt this must be cathartic for some, and I have no issues with abusers getting their just desserts, but I question the many many conferences and symposiums and blogs and preachers and psychologists who profit from public victim venting. I'm just as concerned about the voyeurs who get off on hearing the details over and over, and in many cases pay for the experience.

This is not to say that perpetrators of sexual abuse ought not face their accusers, but, in my opinion, it would be best if that happened in a court of law rather than on national television. Lecherous San Diego Mayor Bob Filner, as smarmy as he is, deserves his day in court. So does New York City Mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner. As offensive as they are, these despicable pawns of a corrupt political system are still Americans and subject to the same rule of law that released Zimmerman.

One of Music Care's community partners in the San Diego Veterans Coalition is attempting to draw attention to military sexual abuse. I suspect they'll bring plenty of heat and light to that topic, but how much attention will be paid to serious discussion of how to correct it? Sensationalism and sex sell. It's a lot harder to sell the fix.

A few years back, I attended the first-of-its-kind survivors' conference for men who, as kids, had been subjected to abuse. This annual conference is called "It Happens to Boys." Many stories were told involving abuse by priests, parents and inmates, but the most riveting speaker at the event was Robert J Ackerman, PhD. Among other things, Dr Ackerman is known for his book on the surviving children of alcoholics, and his presentation focussed attention on the tools one needs to survive abuse. It wasn't until the end of his talk that he mentioned, almost as an afterthought, his own experience of being abused. We need more public discourse of Dr Ackerman's style, rather than more stories of abuse by priests.

This male sex abuse conference has drawn plenty of attention to the issue. This kind of stuff sells. Why doesn't the fix sell better?

Last item: fundamentalism.

If you're part of a charismatic religion, you've probably felt the collective power of a fired-up group of folks who believes what you believe. It's an awesome power. Preachers and spiritual teachers use it, as do musicians, motivational speakers, military leaders and even CEOs of large companies (have you ever watched an Apple product announcement?). Collective group energy can become visceral, and highly-charged groups can become mobs and mosh pits almost on command. It feels good!

In some cases, fundamentalism has been used to terrorize others. The Westboro Baptist Church is a great example of American domestic terrorism, and radical Islam is well known on the world stage. Non-religious fundamentalism can also be destructive. Nationalism, political bigotry, racism and sexism are all examples of how national pride, political ideology, genuine racial or sex-based pride can turn harmful at the fundamentalist extremes. Belittling anyone for their nationality, political views, race, sex or sexual orientation is petty; wanting to simply wipe whole categories of brothers and sisters in the human race right off the map because of those things is criminal.

So what's to be done?

First: we all need to stop advocating at the extremes. 

It seems obvious that Zimmerman walked because of the rule of law, but too many good folks are convinced that the Florida jury who acquitted him was racist. These well-meaning folks who disagree with the Zimmerman verdict are, in a way, attracting issues to themselves that they really deserve not to have -- issues that are obscuring the alternative choices of a different way of understanding the Zimmerman verdict. Why? Because of those who profit from the angry mobs that believe Zimmerman is racist -- those who profit from having control over the angry mobs and feed them with lies that keep them subservient rather than permitting them personal responsibility.

Politics? Religion? Nationalism? Take a moment to just breathe...and think about the fact that you, too, are a human being, just like the human beings who have different political, religious or nationalistic views than you. Try to walk in their shoes and look at yourself from their point of view. It's possible you might see yourself differently. Allow for just a moment that other living, breathing people -- who might or might not be like you -- live on this planet too.

Second: we all need to stop living in the past. Learn from it, yes; live in it, no.

Sure: abuse is wrong. Perpetrators of abuse ought to be brought to retribution. So let's do that and move along already! Once the crime has been punished and the perp's behind bars, let go of the part of your life that was messed up and move forward to a new chapter. It's OK to say "I survived" but the rest of us are getting tired of hearing the story over and over. Figure out how to turn your experience into something worthy of the TED stage. If you can't do that, shut up. Folks Liek Dr Ackerman prove that continuing to re-hash your victimization is just as damaging to your prospects of a new life as the abuse itself -- it's self abuse in a way to not put the trauma behind you and grab the transformational lesson out of what happened. The world needs you as you have been changed by the abuse, not you the abused victim.

We must do a better job at learning from our history to be able to face the future more intelligently.

Third: listen like you mean it.

If you can't have a discussion with anyone without becoming enraged by opinions different than yours, get help. Check yourself in to a place where you can't hurt anyone. It's wrong to kill people who don't think, look or act like you. If we can learn to really listen to people who don't think, look or act like us, we might begin to understand that they are human beings, too.

Is any of this easy? No. Why do you think there are lechers, abusers and victimizers? Because none of this is easy. Profiteering from victims is easy because victims want to be led, coddled, sympathized with. They'll pay good money to be told they're OK, that God loves them, that their story of abuse is more shocking than the last one. They don't want to change because change can be difficult. If you follow the money you can find out who's enabling victims to avoid facing their music.

(Did you think I could write a whole blog without mentioning music?)

A lot of popular music is for victims. A powerful, musical victim-based message really helps enable a victim, and can obscure a victim's right to walk away from victimhood and toward personal responsibility. How? 

Music works physiologically, releasing hormones and neurotransmitters that change our emotional, mental and physical states. (Mosh pit, anyone? Ecstatic worship, anyone? Bliss out, anyone?) Add some powerful lyrics to a powerful piece of music and you really have control over your listeners, especially the ones unaware of their powerful right to choose. Why do you think codependent love songs sell so well as compared to other love songs? Why do you think the music of anger and rage sells so well as compared to other pop music?

Some say that expressing anger and rage, victimhood and violence in music is better than expressing it through violence. But let's have an antidote to all that destructive energy, shall we? If your music mirrors your rage and anger -- and perhaps the rage and anger of your audience -- you've got a responsibility to the rest of us! Make a difference in the world by transforming some of that angst energy to more socially-acceptable purposes. Some pop artists get this, and they're to be applauded. Let's do this more.

Do you think gangs could profit more from society as a whole than the small part of society that they control through fear?

Do you think religious fanatics could reach more people with love than with hatred and suicide bombs?

Do you think entire victimized nations could find a new way to integrate into the world if they shed the "everyone hates us" mentality that's held them back for hundreds of years?

I do.

Maybe through popular music we can reach across the victimization that separates us and create some new choices. I'd like to see what happens if we try.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Personal Responsibility, Wealth and Health

We Get What We Ask For

Yup. No doubt about it: what you want is powerfully attractive. Plenty of evidence for that so I won't deal with it here.

So what do you want?

Secure retirement?

Fulfilling work?

A partner? (Maybe the ideal partner?)

A family? (How about being more specific: a happy family?)

To be healthy? (To be mentally, emotionally and physically healthy?)

World peace?

It's important -- vital -- to make your wants specific, otherwise you might, for example, attract a partner who's less than ideal, or a family that's not happy, or health that's not optimal.

A long time ago I had this idea that a certain monthly income was the right number to hit, so I made it a goal. And guess what? After I got out of my own way, I got there. But I had a problem: my life changed to include kids and a house and schools and other things that weren't in my original idea of the perfect monthly income...and I didn't change my "want" to help meet my "need" until later on when even I realized something had to be done. When I changed my want to exceed my need, things changed to meet that new expectation. This really works. We really do get what we ask for -- and it makes sense to ask wisely.

Do you want real wealth and real health? 

Are you prepared to take responsibility for them? 

If so, keep reading. 

I'm going to illustrate the importance of mindful intentions and how music supercharges them.

This may blow your mind.

Wanting Money: A Short Economics Review....

This isn't a blog about money, but many of us measure things in terms of monetary value, so I'll use money as an example.

An Ideal Money-based Want

I know we all want to provide well for ourselves and those we love, so let's make that into a very specific want thusly:
  • I want to provide well for myself and for those I love, and I want an income from fulfilling work that lets this happen.
This is a "responsible want" because it has a clear, socially-agreeable intent (caring for myself and my family) linked to fulfilling work. Notice that it doesn't require a specific number of American dollars per month or per year, which (as I learned) was a bad idea as my needs and the resources to meet them changed. 

(Being on the dole isn't part of this want, although being the recipient of personal charity might be part of it in certain circumstances.)

Econ 101

If you would like to understand why the sample "want" above is so powerful, I can lay it out here in the form of a short economics lesson. If you already get it, skip this section to the one headed "Wealth."

The "experts" tell us that American dollars are worth less and less all the time. Exhibit A: you might be aware of the worldwide price of crude oil, which keeps dropping, and the price of gas at your local station, which keeps rising. Something seems to be interfering with the logic of this situation: if the price of the raw crude goes down, the price of refined gasoline ought to go down, too. Why?

Of course I'm going to over-simplify this, but the fact is that most of the world's oil producers don't like selling crude for American dollars because American dollars don't buy as much other stuff on the world market as they used to. That is, American dollars don't have the purchasing power on the world market that they used to have. So, even though the price of crude oil is quoted in American dollars, often the actual purchase of that oil is conducted in other currencies, which have more bang for their buck on the world market.

The worth of an American dollar on the world market concerns me -- and I hope it concerns you, too -- because American dollars are how I'm paid. If it takes more of my American dollars to buy gasoline because they're worth less to the rest of the world, that concerns me. I care about the rest of the world, and if the rest of the world doesn't want my American dollars because they aren't worth as much any more, I'm going to have to seriously adjust what I want. Right?

Wanting Wealth

Last week this blog was about wealth and the wealth revolution I believe is coming to America and perhaps to the entire world. No world citizen should have to worry about the value of the money they have, and yet the citizens and governments in China, Russia and many European Union countries are gravely aware that their currency is losing its power to buy stuff from the rest of the world. Here in America, the government still believes that it can print as many American dollars as it takes, but, as the crude oil price example shows, the world doesn't care about that because, once you have an American dollar in your fist, all you want is to know that you can exchange that American dollar for something equal to the value of the crude you sold. If that's not the case, why sell your crude for American dollars, when some other country's currency holds better value?

Wouldn't it be nice if our money bought more at the same price? There was a time where one American dollar was worth ten French francs, and American tourists could live like kings and queens in France. Not any more. Now it's certain foreigners whose currency is "strong against the dollar" who live like that in America. 

So, should we all just want more American dollars? I don't think that's the answer. Figuring out how to retain the value of our American dollar ought to be on the minds of every one of us who vote, since it's America's government policies that have the biggest impact on the value of the American dollar, but no one can say for sure how many American dollars you or I might need to buy the gas or milk we need tomorrow or next year or five years from now.

Have you noticed how retirement savings have been in the news, and how those savings are generally decreasing? Have you noticed how interest rates are very low on savings accounts? There's plenty of worry about Social Security, too, and how the government will be able to afford to give back to all the retirees at least as much as they've paid in. "No problem," says the US Treasury, "we'll just print more dollars!" And, yes, they have been doing that...with the effect that American dollars are worth less to the rest of the world for things like oil and Japanese imports.

One of the major "exports" America has are its government bonds: public debt. Buying American debt has been a great investment historically, because it has had a stable and guaranteed return. But American bonds are bought and sold in American dollars, and the world isn't as interested in American dollars as it used to be because they don't buy as much on the world market any more, compared to other currencies. To print more American dollars, the US Treasury has to back them with "full faith and trust" which used to mean every American dollar had a chunk of gold guaranteeing its worth. Not any more. Now American dollars are backed by...wait for it...a mortgage. Yes: since the "gold standard" was ditched, America's government mortgages the future earnings of its citizens to back up the value of American dollars, and it sells those mortgages as bonds (investments) to the rest of the world.

The rest of the world isn't interested in American bonds any more because they aren't as good an investment as the used to be.

So we have a double whammy impacting our wonderful want for wealth:
  1. American dollars are worth less to the world;
  2. Compared to other government's bonds, American bonds (debt) aren't as good an investment as they used to be.
Is this making sense to you? 

The mindful intention -- want -- where we started is powerful because it isolates your want from the difficulty American money is having in the world today. It's upper limit is set reasonably: enough to meet the most important need you have. You can make that need anything at all, but please avoid the trap I fell into: putting a dollar figure on it.

The sky's only just the beginning, people. You really can attract whatever you want, so want wealth with wisdom.

Resposibility Beyond Taxes

I'd love it if I didn't have to think about my money or my health and someone else or some service I subscribe to just figured out how to care for my livelihood. Trouble is, I can't figure out what person or agency or business would do that for me. Here's two examples:
  • Social Security (America's government-managed retirement fund) will probably run out of money -- money I've been forced to invest in the system -- before I retire and want mine back with interest;
  • Health Insurance (soon-to-be-government managed health care) is being set up so that the services I want may very well not be available to me even though I've been paying my insurer to provide them should I need them.
Remember that ideal "want?" Here it is again:

"I want to provide well for myself and for those I love, and I want an income from fulfilling work that lets this happen."

There's no mention of the government or someone else in that want; that's all about me taking responsibility on my own. I hear you saying that I'm still stuck with paying into Social Security and (soon) stuck with paying in to ObamaCare (as are all Americans), so how (I hear you ask) does one take personal responsibility in this case? Taxes basically enforce a certain kind of personal responsibility, so I'm talking about responsibility beyond paying taxes -- beyond government. But we're stuck with how can still take financial responsibility for our needs and wants?

Simple! By staying on point with our attractions -- our wants -- and making them powerful and not dependent on outside agencies or other people. This is all about YOU.

We've discussed attracting responsible wealth, now let's talk about attracting great health and the responsibility you have for it.

Responsible Health Care

If you're like me, you don't go running to see a doctor for every little thing that goes wrong. I like to stay out in front of stuff going wrong by doing yoga, eating healthy food and living a life free of substance abuse and overindulgence. I try to take good care of my mental and emotional health as well, and many of you know I do that using music.

I'm a huge advocate for responsible self care.

Contrast that to the health care industry, which -- in most cases -- is more about profiting from your symptoms. People with symptoms are expensive to treat, but treating unhealthy people is pretty much what the health care industry is all about. That is, if the health care industry was really about eradicating disease, there would be nothing left to treat. (What do you think the health care industry's collective "want" is anyway?) HMOs tried to get out in front of problems by teaching their members to be more healthy...and we all know how that turned out, as good as it looked on paper....

The wellness industry is about staying out ahead of symptoms and health issues by practicing things that make symptoms and health issues more difficult to acquire. Wellness is about "eating right for your type," "lifestyle," and a hundred other buzzwords that really mean "take responsibility for your health." Like the "health care" industry, you can spend all kinds of money in the pursuit of "wellness," but it is your own money because most of the methods used are not "covered" by insurance. Sure, the insurers will tell you that there's no wellness evidence or the wellness protocols are too new, but aren't they afraid that people will actually get healthier and take business away from the "health care" industry? Possibly... The "wellness" industry has a completely different mindfulness about it than the "health care" industry because it permits patients to take responsibility for their own progress and care.

Did you know you can learn to treat yourself successfully for physical, mental and emotional issues? There are evidence-based results for many "self-healing" practices based in religion, spirituality and medicine. You can relieve symptoms using Emotional Freedom Technique, which is based on acupressure points on your skull and upper body. You can heal physical and emotional issues with Advanced Integrative Therapy.Yup. Tru Dat. I could go on, but these links are great examples of the power of mindful intention to change the human system for health.


It's a buzzword, so I'm using it with care. We know that what you want powerfully attracts that want to you. So, to be responsible, be careful what you want. Be mindful that what you think about is actually attracted to you.

  • Fill your mind with lack, you will have lack.
  • Fill your mind with abundance, you will have abundance.
This is common knowledge! Some call it the Law of Attraction, some The Secret, and some disbelievers will do everything they can to disprove it. But it's a fact.

So, what's the best way to fill your mind with what you want?

You mind spends very little time on what's in front of it. You could be reading this and thinking of a dozen other things, or watching TV while you space out on tomorrow's meeting, or falling asleep with the TV on. Your mind is processing all that background stuff, and there is a LOT more background processing going on than the tiny slice of brainpower it takes to do the foreground task (make dinner, talk to your partner). But you have control over that background, too. How?


Music without words can give your background brain a boost, a rest or a buzz. It's a physiological fact.

Add words into the music and the background power of attraction starts to work, especially if you find yourself singing along (foreground). 

If the words support your wants, you'll have them even faster because both your foreground brain (tiny) and background brain (huge) are focussing you on what you want. If the words in the song are NOT about what you want, look out! You are still attracting what's in your background processor -- your brain or consciousness -- and so you'd better be sure you want what the song's got, 'cuz you gonna get it!!

Set Yourself Up For Success

We used to use that phrase in business to mean that arranging all the details in our favor would add up to our success. It's no different in self care.

Give your own self care a "healthy" boost by using music in the background or foreground to support your success -- mentally, emotionally and physically. If you work out to music, make sure that the words jive with your health goals. I have nothing against hip hop music, for example, but if I work out to it I try to find hip hop with words that don't drag me down into issues to which much of hip hop is related. Does that make sense?

If I want to listen to music at work, and I'm particularly interested in making some money at work, I won't play a song with lyrics that degrade wealth or celebrate poverty. That's not setting myself up for success.

Your music is your preference. I can't tell you what music to use, but I can show you how your favorite music works on you. Being mindful of music's impact on you physically, emotionally and mentally is critical to your success in giving yourself excellent care.

Our minds fully engage in music, whether we like it or not, and produce physiological effects on us when we hear music whether we like it or not. Your preferences are important; all I'm suggesting is that you are mindful about the music you use...because it will fully engage you. It can help you reach your want, or it can hinder reaching that want.

What's important is that you are aware.

Wrap & Strike

Thank you for hanging in through the economics lesson. I hope you get it that your wants don't have to be tied in to the world's issues with money, and that if you are very specific about how you state them, they won't be.

Thank you for hanging in through the personal responsibility stuff. I'm a big believer in the power of taking personal responsibility for what we want.

Thank you for hearing me on the power of music to boost our ability to both take responsibility for what we want and supercharge our drive towards it, whether than be wealth or health.

That's a wrap. Strike the set. See you next week.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Verdicts, Wealth and Personal Responsibility

I'd barely finished playing a gig Saturday evening in San Diego with The Cause at Stand Down when the verdict in the Zimmerman trial was announced. Like, me, most of the guys in the band grew up in the 60s, and we all remembered the power of the Viet Nam and civil rights protests, and how it was possible -- then -- to make change happen by organizing and being heard.

(Stand Down is an annual event that was started 26 years ago in San Diego, and has grown to many other cities around the United States. From Friday morning until Sunday afternoon, homeless Veterans are welcomed into a military-style camp where they can "stand down" from life on the street, have three square meals a day, get services provided by volunteers, non-profit NGOs, government agencies and others ranging from medical to legal to spiritual to practical, and remember -- for a few days -- the well-deserved honor of serving in the United States armed forces. Stand Down was started in San Diego by Viet Nam Veterans, and while there were many Veterans from that era in camp today, there were also many younger Veterans representing every conflict since, including some families.)

Back to the Zimmerman verdict...which reminded me of a topic I can't ignore.

I don't want to generalize, because there are so many successful organizers working hard for change today, so I'll make my observation in the form of a question: how is it that Americans have become so powerless? From abortion to Acorn to Occupy, the only thing we've got to our recent credit as grass-roots Americans is getting the government out of our marriages, and we're not even too good at that.

In the past, Americans effectively organized to right wrongs such as slavery, the oppression of women and fascism. American civil rights law and opposition to bad foreign policy began with the people, not the government, and fundamentally changed the nature of government's power over its citizens. But what has happened to allow government's power to become so pervasive since?

Since 9/11, we Americans have permitted government to oppress us in ways the Hippies or the Suffragettes would never have thought possible. We submit to invasive searches prior to boarding an airplane. We permit our personal communications to be monitored. We comply with laws that limit our ability to earn, plan, save and invest adequately for our long-term financial stability, provide health care and long term care for our families and loved ones, and even in some cases provide for our food and shelter. (Yes, some laws actually limit certain Americans' ability to pay for food and shelter!) We have allowed our government to extend its "network of care" to so many Americans that we are in serious danger of not being able to pay for it.

I believe Americans have become powerless because more and more of us sell our self reliance to our government. It's hard work to form a group to oppose a policy that could bankrupt us all, so we go along with our lawmakers when they say we need to provide "health care for all" or declare "war on poverty" or attempt to "leave no child behind." So much money has been spent to end poverty and improve government education without real results that it's reasonable to ask why we continue to spend. Is there a better way?

Our American government has gotten VERY good at spending our money, which we allow to be taken from us in the form of taxes. Sure, it's compassionate to help the poor, the suffering and the sick, but we have millions of people under the compassion umbrella, including those who are owed a Social Security check every month from the money they contributed to what we now learn is the biggest Ponzi scheme ever perpetrated on a do we expect the government to make those payments without taking more from us and leaving us less to spend ourselves?

Our American government has gotten VERY good at stifling innovation and creativity. Instead of rewarding inventors, we have huge bureaucracies whose job is to "regulate" them...and whose regulations are so overwrought and cumbersome that inventing something -- like a successful cure for cancer -- has a limited financial incentive. Billions of dollars of testing and research are required before a new medical treatment or drug gets government certification in America. Not a great incentive for creative researchers, but it does push drug companies to find and market other -- potentially dangerous -- uses for pre-existing drugs, some of which work and some of which cause more suffering. Is this what we want for health care? There are new regulations that could deny you treatment for certain conditions -- treatment you would otherwise be able to purchase but for the Affordable Care Act. Older Veterans suffering from Agent Orange or SV40 or Gulf War Syndrome are being sidelined for care in favor of the post-9/11 Veterans. Is this compassion?

Giving a portion of everything you earn to charity is good practice. So is saving a portion of everything you earn for your own long-term care. Americans have always had a choice about saving, but for as long as there have been taxes Americans have not truly had a choice about how their tax money is spent. The folks we elect to government are entrusted with that choice -- and they listen, not to us, but to the highest bidder. (Some have advocated for "taking the money out of politics" by restricting certain types of campaign contributions, but that's not the best answer.)

Yes, it's easier to take the handout and to vote for a government that promises to continue that handout. But that's just not smart, because, as entitled as you may be to the government's care, your long-term acceptance of assistance is going to bankrupt the government, frustrate the taxpaying citizens still lucky enough to have a job...and perhaps (I sincerely hope) start a wealth revolution.

  • A wealth revolution starts when the poor understand that America can no longer afford to have poor, unproductive citizens who take more than they earn. It's too easy to be poor in America. It oughtn't be that way.
  • A wealth revolution starts when working Americans tell the government to stop taking so much of their earnings in taxes.
  • A wealth revolution starts when Americans cut out the government middleman -- the government welfare middleman, the government retirement middleman, the government heath care middleman -- and take responsibility for their own welfare, retirement and health care.
  • A wealth revolution starts when we Americans tell our government to stop wasting our money trying to convert the world to democracy. Just because it is the best form of government we've got doesn't mean that it's the best thing for the rest of the world.

A wealth revolution could provide ordinary folks with the means to be more individually compassionate, charitable and pro-active. Being able to keep more of what we earn helps give us economic security, and from our own security we can extend kindness and charity more effectively to those who deserve it. We can do this one-to-one so much more effectively than government, and the satisfaction of helping a fellow American in need feels so much better than being taxed to fund food stamps.

A wealth revolution doesn't just make the rich richer -- government policy in America since the late 1990s has been making the rich richer. A wealth revolution makes it possible for every American to become richer by removing government barriers to wealth. Immigrants come to America for economic opportunity -- which still exists in America, but only to a certain point: the point where we try to stop depending on the government for assistance and find that we no longer enjoy most-favored-American status. Try to cross over from economic dependence to self-sustenance and we find we've have become the ones who pay for everyone else...and our dream of wealth evaporates.

So what does George Zimmerman have to do with this?

Zimmerman is the epitome of an American who took matters into his own hands. His acquittal is, perhaps, a lit candle in the darkness of American personal responsibility. It's tough to be responsible in America these days with so many regulations on reasonable speech, reasonable action, reasonable decisions. It's hard to take on a bully without being accused of anything from political incorrectness to hatred. But Zimmerman, right or wrong, took responsibility for a bad situation and was found to have acted within the law. We need more Americans who will take responsibility for their actions even in the face of outrageous opposition.

  • We need Americans ready and willing to publicly stand up to statism and advocate strongly for personal responsibility.
  • We need Americans ready and willing to band together again and take back our self-earned wealth.
  • We need Americans ready and willing to use our personal responsibility and self-earned wealth to transform the culture of dependence to a truly American culture of innovative self-reliance with compassion.

America has led the world by being a model for what happen when citizens are truly free -- to be productive, earn and keep the rewards of their productivity, and provide for the care and sustenance of their fellow citizens out of generous compassion. But we are losing that leadership, thanks to our indifference to our own government.

It's time to end the culture of lack perpetrated on us by those who believe they are better custodians of our wealth. It's time to enjoy the satisfaction of making individual blessings happen at the grass roots level, and put an end to the mistaken notion that some agency or non-profit is better at compassion than we are.

We deserve the warmth of genuine appreciation that comes from sharing our wealth with someone in need. We deserve a shot at showing the world that greed doesn't sustain America. We deserve a government that will get out of our way, encourage our individual generosity, responsibility, earning potential, and creativity. We deserve a wealth revolution.

Are you with me?

Monday, July 8, 2013



(No, don't just read it: really take a breath now.)

Notice the difference between the breath you take when you think about it and the breath you take when you don't.

(By the way, you might also want to notice that your body breathes pretty well all by itself, adapting to differences like stress, physical demands or sleep without even a conscious thought on your part.)

Back to that breath....

Was it full? Satisfying? Shallow? Hot? Cool? Did it make a sound? How would you describe it (to yourself)?

A friend of mine who wants to give up smoking thinks that, in addition to a nicotine hit, part of a smoker's fix is the long, slow breath. It takes a long, slow breath to fill your lungs. Try it.

Diaphragmatic Breath

Now, try breathing like this:

  1. Lie on your back on the floor (or other HARD surface -- not in bed)
  2. Place a heavy book on your stomach, right over your belly button
  3. Inhale slowly so that your breath causes the book to rise and fall
  4. Once you get the book to rise as far as you can, hold it steadily there and fill your lower and upper chest. When you have done that, you have enjoyed a full inhalation. 
This kind of breathing fully utilizes your diaphragm, and it's how athletes, singers and horn, woodwind and didgeridoo players breathe. I was taught this technique by retired Commander Melio Mayo who led Navy brass bands during World War II -- one of his great trumpet players was Harry James. You can teach yourself more about diaphragmatic breathing on this YouTube video.

(There's also a technique of "circular breathing" where you can inhale and exhale simultaneously -- watch the San Diego Didgeridoo Guy in the link above to see circular breathing in action, or take a lesson from Kenny G here.)

But back to that breath....

If you tried the diaphragmatic breathing 4-step method above for the very first time, I want you to notice the effort it took. Do you know you can make such a breath habitual? With some practice -- that is, making your diaphragmatic breath conscious as you breathe -- you will find that you can enjoy a fuller, deeper breath more often than not.

Why would you want to do that? Glad you asked, since that's the point of this blog.

Breath -- a full, sustaining breath -- is critical 
to a full and rewarding experience of life.
  • Shorten your breath, shorten just about everything related to life.
  • Lengthen your breath, lengthen just about everything related to life.
I'm not a clinician, but as a layman I've taken advantage of a lot of clinical research on the breath, as well as centuries of "anecdotal" evidence that exists in traditions and occupations that rely on breath: yoga, meditation, playing the French horn, clarinet and sax, running, playing soccer and mountain biking. I've also been privileged to have had care from practitioners who incorporate "breath work" in treatment. I'd like to share just one technique with you that will help you regulate the flow of your full, sustaining breath in a way that yogis claim also promotes longevity and can keep you antioxidant- (and disease-) free.

The Ujjayi Breath

Pronounced, OO-gye-EE, this breath is also known as "throat breathing" because when you inhale, the air makes a gentle roaring sound toward the back of your throat. You can do this by gently narrowing the throat as you inhale through your nose with your mouth closed. When you feel your lungs are full, exhale through your mouth with the same sound. (A decent example -- from a yogi -- is on YouTube here. I promise you you will feel better than the two women in the video look!)

You now have two simple tools for mindful breathing, and you can be confident that they are powerful. 

Why should I become conscious of the power of my own breath?

Mindful breathing is mindful living. Researchers at Institute of Heart Math and elsewhere are documenting the health-giving power that comes from becoming closely attuned to our "autonomic" nervous system, particularly the central bundle of nerves that connect the brain, heart, lungs, digestive and reproductive systems: the vagas nerve. Here are a couple of examples:


Breathe. Mindfully. Single biggest way. There are others of course, but let's stick with the breath for now.

Training yourself to breathe -- in whatever the best way is for you -- is an exercise in living. Your mindful experience of your own breath brings you "back" to a mindful experience of life. Once mindful breathing becomes a habit, you have chosen to enhance in your life far beyond what you experience now.

Try it.

You may feel better or more alive. You may find, with practice, that you are able to attain a satisfying "altered state" at will...simply through your breath. You will probably initially get pretty winded! It's OK; keep after it, being gentle in your practice, and stay persistent. Take a few gentle deep breaths when you wake in the morning to remind yourself of your practice. Don't worry if you aren't taking every breath diaphragmatically. Over time, your mindful practice will become habitual.

Even one deep breath each day is worth it. Once you've mastered a single breath, try for two. Then three. You can do this -- your body is designed to do this! Enjoy it.


Monday, July 1, 2013

The Trouble with Music Therapy

What is Music Therapy?

The American Music Therapy Association, of which I'm an associate member, defines Music Therapy as "the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program." 

There's much more information on the AMTA website here, including quotes by noted musicians, physicians and researchers, music industry notables, politicians and individuals who've had insight into the power of music.

It's important to be specific about Music Therapy, but there's a problem with this definition. By narrowing the scope of the practice to "clinical and evidence-based use of music" it isolates Music Therapy (and potentially Music Therapists) from much of the "real" world...the world where music is having a huge impact on everyone.

So What's The Problem?

"Spiritual" Music

A minister I correspond with was laughing during one of our email discussions about how, when he plays guitar and sings for his congregation, he's technically practicing music therapy without a board certification. I suppose a church isn't really a "clinical" setting, but people do go to church to deal with stuff, to heal, to find a sense of peace.

I've just finished reading a very cool book by Alan Light: The Holy or the Broken: Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley, and the Unlikely Ascent of "Hallelujah". Light chronicles the life span Cohen's "Hallelujah" including interview excerpts from many of the top artists who've covered it. You may remember k.d. lang's performance at the 2010 Olympics. About "Hallelujah," Light writes, quoting lang, that it
"...grew out of Cohen's sense of 'the irony of being a human being and looking for the religion in sex' -- a concise summary of the dichotomy at the heart of the song, and central to much of Cohen's work." (p 128)
Light then includes this fascinating k.d. lang quote:
"I think spirituality in general in our society has been diffused into some sort of relationship between the pop culture and our own personal pillars that we create for ourselves. As culture moved forward, we were counting on God less, and people settled into some sort of spirituality that they created for themselves, and a lot of it has to do with incorporating their own human desire. We're greatly craving some sort of spirituality in music....We're mulling over a lot, we're not being rammed with somebody else's doctrine down our throat, we're coming up with our own. It's less structured, less guided, and more individual, more personal." (p 129)
The point here is that lang joins the power of "Hallelujah" with our society's need for a more personal spirituality, and that Cohen's song makes that connection for so many of us.

Is singing in church or listening to "Hallelujah" music therapy? For many people, even though it certainly falls outside the clinical definition, the effects of listening to this amazing song are quite profound, perhaps religious, sometimes spiritual, maybe even palliative. If that's not healing through music, I wouldn't know how else to describe it.

"Nostalgic" or "Re-Membering" Music

Oliver Sacks has a wonderful YouTube video of the effects of music on an elderly man in nursing home. The elderly man is shown before the "music intervention" takes place, during the intervention and afterward. The change in his entire demeanor is obvious. (Since the nursing home is a "clinical" environment, I use the technical term "music intervention" purposefully.) Although we are not shown anything in the video that indicates a "therapeutic relationship" with a "credentialed professional" Music Therapist, it is obvious that the elderly man's response to music is powerful and transformative, at least for a time. The music brings him from being lethargic to animated, alert and active -- being alive. In a sense, listening to the music he loves brings this elderly gentleman back to remembering -- to the life he has loved.

Do you know anyone who responds like that to the music they love? My kids and my wife do, as do I! Do you?

More importantly, when we respond positively like that, are we giving ourselves Music Therapy? Not technically...but I'm sure you see my point.

Provocative Music

Even more to the point: provocative music gives you a visceral response. Hearing music that absolutely makes you wretch or cringe. Jumping to your feet at a baseball game when the organist plays "Charge!" or singing along to "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" at the 7th-inning stretch. Being moved to tears by the solitary trumpet at a military funeral playing "Taps." Any sexy music that turns you on. This is what I call "provocative" music.

Provocative music can have a "good" or "bad" effect, depending on whether or not you happen to like it, but all provocative music causes you to respond strongly, physically or emotionally. Since everyone responds to music differently, it's possible that a song which provokes you might have little impact on me. For example, I've found, generally, that playing recordings of rap or hip hop for an elderly audience can be provocative. On the other hand, playing Classical music by composers of the Romantic era to a middle-school audience can also provoke strong responses, ranging from vulgarity to instant ennui.

One would hope that a "credentialed professional" wouldn't purposefully provoke a patient, right? Not so: plenty of therapists do precisely that in order to move treatment forward. Ask a psychologist about the techniques used for treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) for example, and you may hear about "guided imagery," which is a somewhat benign way of recalling and re-inventing a significant personal experience. "Regression therapy" is a practice that purposefully prompts patients to recall and re-experience a moment of trauma, and there are sophisticated 3-D simulators in use to treat military post-traumatic stress by re-creating traumatic experiences.

So, if I intentionally listen to music that provokes a strong response with the goal of processing some feeling more fully, am I giving myself music therapy? Music Therapists might argue that I shouldn't do that for myself -- that I ought to have professional guidance to prevent having a poor response or perhaps to mold any response I might have in a healing direction, or that I ought to have evidence which could predict the outcome of my "intervention" before attempting it.

By that same logic, perhaps a Music Therapist ought to be present whenever anyone who wants to feel sexy puts on music before taking off their clothes....

So What's the Trouble with Music Therapy?

A powerful book, written in 2009 by Dr Diane Austin, summarizes her  years of using music as a practicing psychotherapist. Austin's doctoral degree is in Music Therapy. Her book is called "The Theory and Practice of Vocal Psychotherapy -- Songs of the Self." I believe it is a harbinger of the future of Music Therapy, since its focus is how to actually use music as a functional tool in general psychological clinical practice. Having clients improvise vocally -- actually sing their therapy sessions -- may seem foreign at first, but think about the access music gives to your psyche and you will begin to see the power in Dr Austin's approach.

(Clearly, music is used in clinical practice by Music Therapists in a variety of settings. Significant advances -- and solid evidence -- for music as a tool in treating Autism, stroke, chronic pain, traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress are well-documented and well known. Music Therapists continue to make solid cases for music as primary and/or adjunct treatment for many clinical conditions.)

The trouble with Music Therapy, as Austin's book illustrates, is that the variety of ways to apply music as an intervention are as varied as the number of people who listen to music multiplied by the variety of songs available. While there are some common practices evolving out of the music therapy literature and evidence-based studies, Austin demonstrates that successful treatment in "vocal psychotherapy" rests with the skill of the therapist. That is, just being a credentialed professional music therapist means about as much as being a credentialed healer in any of the other professions: it is still all about one's skills as a practitioner.

Or is it?

What about the people who are using music for "intervention" and getting results -- in church, in a nursing home, on the highway or the dance floor or in bed? Are they "practicing music therapy without a license?"

The trouble with Music Therapy is that it draws a line around what turns out to be a very general skill set (therapeutic uses of music), then forces folks who want to help others using their musical skills into a very narrow set of credentials prior to permitting them a paid profession -- and a paid profession at the very bottom of the pay scale for professional healers at that. A very active working Music Therapist for whom I have great respect has measured his income potential against the other healing professions and, based on the fact that he actually sees his patients an average of only 1.3 times ever, has made a choice to use his skills to better effect outside the realm of Music Therapy.

Could it be that ministers, physicians, musicians, songwriters -- anyone who has some working knowledge of the power of music -- are best serving as our advocates for its wider use...not as entertainment, but as self-intervention?

Imagine a Music Therapist who encourages clients to use music on their own? Sacrilegious! Sort of like the doctor saying "take two aspirin and call me in the morning." But don't we have plenty of "anecdotal" evidence for the power of doing just this?

Are we as a society so stuck on having evidence-based studies of successful music interventions that we're not willing to simply try listening to music as a transformative tool for for ourselves? Yes: some parts of society are stuck on the traditional model of treatment, and responsible Music Therapists working in that paradigm are doing great things to help many people. And no: some people are willing to try anything, especially things where other folks have had good results.

Lastly, what about the whole universe of non-clinical applications for music? Does it take a Music Therapist to properly choose the music you use to work out with? Does it take a Music Therapist to program a sound track for a movie? What about choosing the music you need to help boost your memory, retention and recall, as is done in university exam rooms in some parts of the world? Those are a few simple examples of how the power of music is used functionally on a regular basis and to great effect by folks who have skills outside the clinical arena.

So What's the Answer?

I believe that responsible Music Therapists and others in the healing professions have the vision to want to encourage people to explore the potential for music as a transformative tool, even if that's outside of the clinical treatment environment. Given the widespread nature of debilitating stress and the high cost of care for its symptoms, humanity is being forced to do what? Take better care of itself. One great way to do that -- a way that's free, safe and effective -- is to use music as a tool. Dr Sacks is right to point out the obvious: this stuff works.

Whether your question is for better health, deeper meaning, lasting love or simply a quick "fix" that gets you through a stressful moment, if you haven't given music a chance, I encourage you to do so the very next time you find yourself sick, stuck, lonely or stressed. While you could consult a professional for your care, you can jump-start that care on your own, right now, using music.