Saturday, January 18, 2014

Jerry Coleman and a Challenge to Veterans

Today I was humbled to attend the public memorial for Jerry Coleman at Petco Park. There will be plenty of press about Jerry's service in the United States Marines, in baseball and as a broadcaster, and there is nothing more I can add to what has been and will be said many times. The irony is that, while all of it is true, there was a quiet aspect of Jerry Coleman that embodies character traits many believe are missing in America these days.

Lt Col Coleman served as a pilot in two wars: World War II and Korea. As befitting many in "The Greatest Generation" he was not given to talking much about his military service. Folks from that era were above braggadocious self-aggrandizement, and frequently point to their brothers and sisters as the reason for whatever military or civilian success may have come their way. This was true of Jerry to a fault, as many of today's speakers confirmed, and it is honorable. That kind of character served them well, and gave their kids excellent role models to emulate.

The sad truth is that many of us in the Baby Boomer generation didn't emulate our parents sooner.

Something about what made Jerry Coleman tick got lost during the Vietnam era. We thought, perhaps, that we knew better -- that the stiff upper lip of proud and humble service didn't serve us. But, when some in America spit on the returning Vietnam Veterans, folks like Jerry kept going, continuing to lead by example with the same character that kept them at war until the job was done, honoring the memories of brother and sister heroes who did not come home through their own exemplary lives. Vets like Jerry Coleman spoke little about their military service, choosing instead to show us how being willing to give their lives for America could play out as husbands, fathers and grandfathers. If you are fortunate to have come from such a family, you have received a rare gift.

We are now almost 70 years away from the end of World War II, but the spirit that won that war is not forgotten. There are young Veterans living near many of us today who have the sparks of that spirit in them. Maybe they are noted public servants or businesspeople, or maybe they are homeless, but they share an oath of willingness to sacrifice their lives for...what?

This is today's challenge to Veterans of all eras: make your sacrifice come alive for the rest of us.

Most people are aware of the invisible wounds of war that afflict so many of our young Veterans today. If you are a young Veteran, take those wounds deeply into your psyche and let them inform the passion with which you tell your story, then tell your story. Tell it to those who love you. Tell it with sensitivity to your loved ones' ability to digest the tough stuff. Let your friends and family see the angst that goes with being a combatant today -- show us the tragedy of having to make instant moral decisions that may or may not be the right ones; show us the pain that goes with having to make those decisions. Show us how to make better choices in civilian life as a result of the ones you had to make in the Service. Show us how to lead, how to mentor, how being a brother or sister on the battlefield can strengthen the ties to friends and family here at home. Sure: you may not get it right the first time, but the people around you here at home need your experience -- however horrific -- and your openness. We live in an era where the most difficult choices are happening, not in the boardroom or the courthouse or the halls of government, but in the families and communities of military combatants, and we need leadership.

Most people have an understanding of the history of Vietnam, but not many of us know what it has been like to live as a Vietnam Veteran since then. If you are a Vietnam Veteran, you may have now retired both from the military and from a civilian career or two. You know what it has been like to live with your past. Tell us. Tell us about the choices that led you to Vietnam. Tell us about what it was like to fight there. Tell us how that changed you -- or didn't. Tell us what it has been like since you came home. Tell us how you began to work for peace, or worked for a defense contractor, and why. Tell us about your commitment to your buddies; about the ones that didn't come home; about how you were treated by others -- some of them friends or family -- who became conscientious objectors. Give us some insight into how difficult it has been, into what has made it more bearable. If you became successful in civilian life, tell us about what made that possible and how it happened. Help us understand the adversity and teach us how we might possibly do it better if we were ever given the opportunity. Maybe your grandsons and granddaughters need to hear this; maybe total strangers will hear it -- tell it far and tell it loud and help us understand how you came to be who you are today.

This is hard to do. It's not typically what those in military service do. But if only a few accept the challenge -- if only a few find the courageous humility to do so -- think of the potential for changing the future. Next time you find your kids or grandkids playing war games online, take them aside and tell them what it is really like in battle. Talk to them about what a Purple Heart really means. Give them some real life combat infantry tactics. Most importantly, help them understand what it really means to make the ultimate sacrifice, or to hold a buddy in your arms while he or she makes it. These are beautiful character-building opportunities our world can't afford to miss. Veterans: we need you.*

Jerry, thank you for your noble lifetime of service. Thank you for the inspiration of your service, from aviator to baseball player to broadcaster. Thank you for giving your voice to the Padres for more than 40 years. I hope your passing inspires us to keep on talking...about what it means to serve in the United States Military, as a civilian, as a father and grandfather, as a brother, colleague, mentor, leader and friend. God bless you, Jerry Coleman.

*A great online collection of Veteran stories has already begun at Make the Connection -- please share yours.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Sex, Drugs, Food and Music in the Workplace

One of my favorite go-to researchers on the topic of music and human physiology is Dr Daniel Levitin. He's documented the relationship between listening to music you love and the release of dopamine -- the feel-good hormone. Dopamine is also released by eating, having sex and by some drugs, including many of the illegal "recreational" ones.

Think about it for a second or two and you'll get the visual: romantic dinner, fine wine (a legal drug), soft lighting and music you both love.... But I digress.

Sex and Drugs in the Workplace? 

Now that I've got your attention, this isn't a post about sex or drugs at work -- bad idea, people. is it possible to feel good at work if your occupation is a grind? If your boss is an ogre? If you are working three jobs to make ends meet? I'm not talking about just making it through the day so that you can go home to your chosen dose of dopamine; I'm talking about using a legal, safe and effective workplace intervention to keep the dopamine going while at work all day long.

Food at Work

By way of an example, let's start with food. If you have ever been out to lunch with your team from the office, or been subjected to one of those embarrassing office birthday things, or keep a bowl of M&Ms or jelly beans or nuts at your desk, you'll have an idea of where this is going. Sharing a snack or a meal with your co-workers is a great way to build rapport "outside" the normal humdrum of workplace activity. Food boosts dopamine, you feel better (at least no longer hungry!) for a while, and in that better-feeling place you naturally feel more secure, lower your guard a bit and get to know something about your co-workers as human beings. However briefly, the shared food-based dopamine boost over lunch can create a way for your co-workers to know and relate to you better, possibly enabling a more productive working environment. Make sense?

Team-building trainings and conferences, especially ones that last a day or more, often have activities in them integrated to food: networking lunches or games during dinner are common ways that food-based dopamine helps people get to know and trust each other. The more time you allow to really enjoy the meal, the better for your digestive system -- and for your dopamine level.

That bowl of snacks on your desk? A great icebreaker, certainly, but I'm not suggesting a sustained sugar boost all day long. If you're going to put out an obvious social offering for your co-workers, please make it a healthy one --something enjoyable that takes a few moments to consume. Taking a snack break with a colleague gives you both time to get the dopamine boost together, and that's what you want when it comes to using food with the purpose of building rapport, getting to know a new colleague, even coming out of a tough meeting and needing that dopamine "reset."

(By the way, it's hard for me to understand folks grabbing lunch alone at their desks. I done it too. Time constraints on the job are a reality, but wouldn't you rather take 15 minutes to enjoy a meal than 5 minutes to gobble something unsatisfying and non-nutritious that you'll pay for later? You can have a nice solo dopamine boost from a slower meal, and a quick walk to the sandwich shop with a team member can work out better for your health and workplace satisfaction than holing up in your cube with FaceBook and fast food.)

The point here is integrating food and the people you work with for the best possible use of dopamine is a good idea.

Music at Work

Isolating yourself under headphones while in the office is one of those good/bad ideas. If you need the solo concentration to work a project well, by all means put on the tunes you love to get you feeling good about your work. On the other hand, your feel-good music might be separating you from your team. This balance is one you'll have to find based on your own specific workplace demands. Of course I'm an advocate for sound-tracking as much of your day to day as you can -- who wouldn't want that musical dopamine high all day? -- but there's a more useful way to bring music into your workplace.

I've spent too much of my musical performance time as a soloist. Don't get me wrong -- I really enjoy giving my one-man show -- but working with other musicians in rehearsal and performance made me realize how much I was missing by performing alone. Here's why....

Musicians playing together are all "on" dopamine. Yeah, I know some bands perform high on a bunch of other substances as well, but whatever the genre, the musical magic that happens is heightened by this shared physiological experience. The fact is, you can't make music you love without releasing some amount of dopamine into your system.

(To be complete, listening to or making music you hate triggers an adrenalin-based fight/flight/freeze response, which tends to isolate you from social interaction and therefore wouldn't be so good around the office. If your occupation happens to involve situation that produce adrenalin, such as "pro athlete" or "military combatant" or "peace office" or "first responder" your training is such that you can effectively do your job under heavy distress regardless of the hormones coursing through your system. Balancing the adrenalin rush with dopamine comes later, "inside the wire" or after the game or once the emergency is over, and without this balancing, your risk of an adrenalin addiction becomes a real concern. If this describes you, please get some professional attention -- you deserve it.)

Back to that making music together scenario....

Whether I lead a drum circle or present the power of music to an audience in a keynote address, there's always a shift in the room once people have made music together. In a small circle, as the dopamine kicks in and you and the other participants tune in to each other, you begin to know each other on a level that has nothing to do with what you wear, whether you like your job or not, what car your drive or the language you speak. Making music together just eliminates those superficial ways we relate to each other and provides a very safe, effective and legal means of reaching a deep connection and understanding with the other participants. In a large group, there's a powerful shared experience of creating music together. You can literally watch a change take place in the participants as the music progresses from start to finish.

Certainly dopamine facilitates that experience, but there are other factors working as well. It's a holistic thing (physical, social, emotional) that's complex enough to bore you completely. The point is that, after a group music-making exercise, there is a new openness in the participants' communication, a certain inflection of joy where there may have been stoicism and a willingness to relate as human beings without considering position, rank and seniority. In that powerfully open place, it becomes possible to achieve things as a team that would not have been done so simply without the musical intervention.

This is not to say that entire companies ought to drum together regularly, although that could be interesting. What I'm suggesting is that team leaders have powerful team-strengthening tools available to them that are safe, effective and legal...and largely unused. Most of the world's music can be found online for free. We can drum on a conference room table with our hands. We can stomp or tap our feet. We can sing -- even badly! or chant. There's quite honestly no limit on the ways we can make music together.

Yes, in America, there is a taboo about shared music making. Back in the day, companies such as Ford Motors and IBM actually began meetings by singing their respective company songs, which every worker -- from the Chairman to the journeyman -- knew by heart and could sing them robustly. Some of this tradition survives in civic clubs and at sports events, but, for the most part, it has simply disappeared at the office. Too bad; singing those songs at work brought people together in a way that felt good (dopamine) and welcomed a better level of interaction. 

The best "modern" surviving example of singing on the job could be the military chants drill sergeants use to keep their platoons moving on long marches. If you are a workplace team leader, maybe you could begin by using the vocal chant cadences here and modifying them to fit your specific team objectives, then trying them on your team in the conference room before meetings. It's a start, right?

(Spoiler alert: sales pitch coming!)

If leading your team in a chant or drumming on the desk isn't your style, reach out to Music Care Inc for some help. Our innovative training can get your team humming (literally!) and give productivity and team interaction a positive boost.

Music at work? Why not? Making music at work? What are you waiting for?

Thursday, January 2, 2014

ObamaCare vs Self Care

If you, like me, are attempting to "navigate" the new government bureaucracy that is supposed to be "health insurance" in the United States and are frustrated, I'd like to offer a life line.

Clearly, there are aspects of health care that are beyond the normal ability of most of us: we probably shouldn't perform open heart surgery on ourselves, for example. But when it comes to dealing with distress, anxiety and common-variety depression, there's an alternative to the ObamaCare mess that is affordable, safe and effective.

First of all, please know that most distress, anxiety and common-variety depression are feelings that are normal for most human beings. These feelings arise as warnings to us: ALERT is usually the indication. Notice what's causing the distress. Notice what's causing the anxiety. Notice what's causing the depression.

***BIG DISCLAIMER!!!*** If you can't figure out what is causing your feelings, please stop reading right now and GET HELP. IF YOU CANNOT GET OK ON YOUR OWN, please please please DO NOT self-medicate with harmful substances or hurtful practices. Licensed therapists, ministers, physicians and other professionally-credentialed individuals are available to help you sort out what is causing you to hurt. There's no real reason for your to suffer 100% of the time; there are ways to change that and you deserve to do so if that's what you want. There are many FREE resources you can find online if you need them -- search for your County's health services department or dial "2-1-1" to locate help, for example.

Back to the discussion about noticing the cause of my feelings....

My difficulty with noticing comes from maintaining my perspective; that is, the "bad" feelings, when they become debilitating, sometimes become too much for me to handle without tools and interfere with my ability to notice what's causing the feelings themselves. This blog post offers you some of my favorite musical tools for maintaining perspective so that you CAN notice what's causing your feelings and change them. (If you don't use it to blow your eardrums, music is economical, safe and effective.)

These tools are presented in order -- you will want to experiment with the first ones to help you master the next ones. I will offer you three tools here -- for more, please contact me!

Overwhelmed by your feelings? Go with it!

There is a common practice in mental/emotional health care that seems to have originated in Eastern wisdom and been adopted by Westerners. This practice engages you deeply and safely in a full experience of the feeling, whatever it is. This is in direct opposition to the "stiff upper lip" method of dealing with issues, which is how I grew up, and I find it quite freeing. Here's a quick "how to" for using music to fully experience a feeling.

First, select some music you love that matches the feeling you are having. That is, if you are grieving, don't choose your happy music. Instead, choose music that is sad, melancholy, tragic, depressing. You want the music outside of you mirror the feeling inside you.

Next, find a place where you can put on your headphones and listen without being disturbed by too much around you.

Then, LISTEN. Listen to your music over and over. Listen for as long as you feel sad -- sometimes a few minutes, or sometimes days or even weeks. If you needs days or weeks to fully feel the grief, please know that using music to support your grief in this way will permit you to feel it fully and more beneficially than if you did not consciously sit down and make time for your musical grieving.

You will notice at some point that your grief has passed. It's as if the feeling has been fully experienced and moved through you, leaving room for the next feelings to appear. Don't worry about the next feelings; your objective is to stay with your grief and the music in which you are "containing" that grief until you are done with that particular feeling of grief. 

This process works with ALL feelings. Don't trust me on this; prove it for yourself.

Need a quick pivot? Use a musical "corner."

In a traditional New Orleans funeral procession, mourners accompany the coffin on foot from church to cemetery, often joined by a brass band. The band starts the procession playing a dirge: slow, sad music that permits the mourners to grieve (see above!). At some point during the march, however, the music will change. Usually the same song that was played down-tempo is now played up-tempo. Right there in the funeral procession, the musical accompaniment changes from grief to joy. Why?

Have you ever attended a live concert? Recall the moment in the concert when the band played something slow? Back in the day, we all held lighters (or matches) in the air to join the feeling of the ballad; last time I witnessed such a thing (Hollywood Bowl with Crosby, Stills Nash and Young), everyone held up their lighted mobile phone. This is equivalent to the slow part of the New Orleans funeral procession.

Back to that live concert. Remember what happened after the ballad? Everything went crazy, right? CSN&Y started a medley of all their greatest hits, and 40,000 people sang along. In only a moment, that entire concert shifted from "ballad" feeling to "greatest hits" feeling. This is what I call a musical "corner."

I know: joining a New Orleans funeral procession or getting 40,000 people and a legacy musical act together for YOUR specific issue isn't practical. But you can make a playlist with a musical corner in it. All you need are two songs with clearly contrasting feelings. From the music you love, pick a song that's slow and one that's not slow, put them into a two-song playlist, put on your headphones and listen. It only takes as long as the two songs you love and you're done. Pivot accomplished.

Here's the magic: you don't even need a music player!

Need to support or corner a feeling? No music player handy? No problem!

Fortunately for you, human beings have a unique ability to recall music accurately. Ever been bugged by an ear worm (that annoying song stuck in your head that won't go away)? Use that ability of your brain to recall the music you WANT and put it to work.

You'll need a way to shut off the world while you "play" your music in your head (soundless, but you will respond as if you were actually hearing the music). I use noise-canceling headphones if they're available, or a walk outdoors, or just sitting in a chair for a few minutes. Even if I'm in the office, there are ways to "take 5" that are relatively quiet -- a restroom stall works OK. The point here is to turn off as much of the external noise as you can to give your ears a break.

Once you have relative silence around you, make the voice in your head become a DJ and tell it to play the song you want. This will take some concentration because that voice in your head like to talk about what it's doing ALL THE TIME, but with practice you will find you can rely on it to shut up and just listen for a bit. You can help the voice to stay quiet by focusing your attention on the music of your choice playing in your head. Try to stay with the music from beginning to end -- as you remember it. Whether you're supporting a feeling or creating a corner, you will find that the results surprisingly similar to the ones you get when you actually listen to a recording or live concert. Really.

Plan in advance: playlists for when you need them.

Last thing: you can organize your music for when you need it. Thanks to tools like and, you don't have to settle for whatever Pandora gives you. If your music isn't inspiring you any more, apps like Songza will actually serve up feeling-based playlists assembled by real human musical experts for your delight and edification (and use!).

I like to have a few feeling-specific playlists stashed away in Spotify for when I need them. It only takes a few minutes to organize your songs in this way, and when a feeling shows up that needs expression, my latest playlist is right there at my fingertips. You can make a two-song corner playlist from longer ones of contrasting feelings, or make specific two-song corner lists that work just as well. Go nuts! Storage is free (mostly -- I DO keep some songs in iTunes or offline Spotify playlsits for when I don't have decent cell coverage) and the music is "mostly" free (you know how it goes: pay the subscription to avoid the advertisements -- I don't like audio ads honking up my self care).

Happier new year....

I hope you'll join me in working to improve this year over last. (I don't actually make resolutions for the new year, but the notion of working to make things better is a practice I remember every time January First rolls around.) If there's any way you can make music a bigger part of caring for your sanity, that's a great start. If you find it works for you, spread the word. I'm just one person, and so are you, but if more an more of us start adding music to our practice, perhaps some of the world's noise will also be transformed.